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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Paul's Previous Dealings with the Corinthian Church.

1.

It was of immense importance to Paul that he was the founder of the church in Corinth, the one who laid their foundation, however many supplementary builders they may have had ( 3:10 ). As his ‘work in the Lord’, the existence of the Corinthian church is, for Paul, proof enough of his apostleship ( 9:1–2 ), even if it is clear from chs. 1–4 and 9 that not all the Corinthians are willing to recognize his status or authority. Paul recalls bringing the gospel to Corinth at a time which was fraught with ‘weakness, fear and trembling’ ( 2:1–3 ). Some of the details which we may piece together from 1 Corinthians accord well with the narrative of this founding visit in Acts 18:1–17 , for instance the conversion of Crispus (1 Cor 1:14; Acts 18:8 ), the contact with Prisca and Aquila (1 Cor 16:19; Acts 18:2–3 ) and his labour in Corinth with his own hands (1 Cor 4:12; Acts 18:3 ). Paul's own comments do not allow us to date this founding visit, but Acts connects it (at its close, after 18 months) with a trial before the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio. By good fortune, an inscription enables us to date Gallio's period of office to 50–1 CE, thus giving helpfully precise parameters to the date of Paul's time in the city. Acts also mentions, as a prelude to Paul's visit, Claudius' expulsion of Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2 ). Conflicting evidence in our sources leads some scholars to think that that expulsion took place in 41 CE, and it has been proposed that Acts 18 actually combines the accounts of two separate visits by Paul to Corinth, one in 41 and one in 50/51 CE (see Lüdemann 1984: 157–77). However, Jews were probably not expelled from Rome until 49 CE (see Barclay 1996: 303–6), and there is thus no reason to doubt the integrity of the account in Acts 18 or the dating of Paul's initial visit to 50/51 CE.

2.

Corinth was a cosmopolitan city, refounded as a Roman colony in 46 BCE, a seaport exposed to multiple influences from East and West (see ABD i. 1134–9 s. v. Corinth). According to Acts, Paul spent longer here than in most cities (at least 18 months, Acts 18:11, 18 ), a fact at least partly explained by the comparative lack of opposition he encountered in the city. The birth of the church also seems to have been unusually peaceful: Paul nowhere indicates any experience of harassment (see Barclay 1992 ). Paul established a core of believers, both Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor 1:22–4; 7:18 ), who were baptized in the name of Christ ( 1:13 ), received the Spirit ( 12:13 ) and started to meet for meals and worship in homes ( 11:17–34; Rom 16:23 ). Paul bequeathed to them a variety of credal traditions and practical instructions ( 15:3–5; 11:2, 23 ) but two factors combined to lessen his influence on the church once he had left the city. First, some of his own or subsequent converts were people of education and high social standing (see E.1) who developed independent views about the meaning of the Christian message (e.g. in relation to the resurrection of the body and sexual behaviour) and whose integration in Corinthian society made them reluctant to accept Paul's more sectarian social practices (e.g. in relation to sacrificial food). Secondly, situated at an international crossroads, the church in Corinth was visited by a variety of Christian leaders, some of whom won converts of their own and assisted the church to develop in ways of which Paul disapproved (e.g. Apollos and, probably, Peter/Cephas, 1:12; 9:4–5 ).

3.

The first signs of conflict between Paul and the Corinthian church are preserved in Paul's reference to their reception of an earlier letter he had sent ( 5:9–11 ). This letter is now lost, but it seems to have urged a moral discipline on the church which was not well received. Perhaps in response to that letter, the Corinthians wrote a letter referred to in 7:1 . It is possible to suggest some of the topics on which the Corinthians wrote to Paul: many may be introduced by the formula ‘now concerning’, which occurs not only in 7:1 , but also in 7:25 (on the topic of virgins), 8:1 (on food offered to idols), 12:1 (on spiritual gifts), 16:1 (on the collection), and 16:12 (on Apollos). Moreover, with the aid of a little imagination, we may even reconstruct what the Corinthians thought about some of the issues Paul addresses: in some cases Paul seems to cite back at them their own formulae, such as ‘all things are lawful for me’ ( 6:12; 10:23 ), ‘it is well for a man not to touch a woman’ ( 7:1 ), and ‘all of us possess knowledge’ (8.1). (For a full reconstruction of this interchange see Hurd 1965 ; for an imaginative exercise see Frör 1995 .) 1 Corinthians thus represents part of a dialogue between Paul and the Corinthians, a dialogue which, as 2 Corinthians indicates, caused considerable pain to both parties for years to come.

4.

As well as the Corinthian letter, Paul has received oral reports about affairs in the church, for instance from Chloe's people ( 1:11 ) and from Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus who may have brought the letter from Corinth ( 16:17–18 ). Some of the oral reports have caused Paul great concern ( 1:11–13; 5:1 ). Now, in response to both written and oral information, Paul writes our 1 Corinthians hoping that it, and Timothy's visit ( 4:17 ), will induce the necessary changes in the church before he has to correct them in person ( 4:21 ). It is clear from 2 Corinthians that that hope was not fulfilled.

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