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An Introduction to First Corinthians

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I. AUTHOR: The Apostle Paul

A. It is generally agreed by all that Paul was the author of First Corinthians

B. The account of Paul’s founding of the church is reported in Acts 18 (see historical reconstruction below)

C. External evidence: also supports this conclusion1

1. Clement of Rome (c. 95-97)

2. Polycarp (c. 110-150)

3. The Shepherd of Hermas [Mandate 3:6 (1 Cor. 7:11); 4:4.1 (1 Cor. 7:38-40)] (c. 115-140)

4. Didache [10:6 (1 Cor. 16:22); 13:1-2 (1 Cor. 9:13-14); and 16:6 (1 Cor. 15:22)] (c. 120-150)

5. Irenaeus (c. 130-202)

6. Justin Martyr (c. 150-155)

7. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215)

8. Tertullian (c. 150-220)

9. Origen (c. 185-254)

10. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-386)

11. Eusebius (c. 325-240)

12. Jerome (c. 340-420)

13. Augustine (c. 400)

D. Internal Evidence:

1. Paul identifies himself as the author in 1 Corinthians 1:1; 16:21

2. Paul refers to himself within the epistle (1:12,13; 3:4,5,6,22)

II. The Founding of the Church

A. The Church in Corinth was planted on Paul’s second missionary journey in AD 50-51 after his visit in Athens (cf. Acts 15:36; 18:1-18)

B. Paul stayed with Roman Jews (who were expelled in AD 49 or 50) named Aquila and Priscilla eighteen months in Corinth teaching the word of God and working as tent makers (Acts 18:1-3, 11)

C. Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia and joined Paul in Corinth whereupon Paul devoted himself full time to the ministry of the word (Acts 18:5)

D. When the Jews rejected Paul, he left the synagogue and began meetings in the house of Titus Justus next to the synagogue (Acts 18:7-8)

E. The Jews brought Paul before Gallio (proconsul of Achaia AD 51 or 52) for breaking their law of worship, but he dismissed Paul since it was not a matter of “wrong or of viscous crime” (Acts 18:12-17)

F. Paul set off for Syrian Antioch (Acts 18:18--22)

1. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut from his vow (18:18)

2. Aquila and Priscilla accompanied Paul on his journey to Ephesus where they remained (18:18-19, 26)

3. Paul set off from Ephesus, landed at Caeserea, greeted the church there and went down to Syrian Antioch (18:21-22)

G. Paul spent some time in Antioch, and set off on his third missionary journey traveling back through Galatia, Phrygia and coming to Ephesus (18:23; 19:1)

H. Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, came to Ephesus, was instructed by Aquila and Priscilla (18:24-26), and went over to Corinth to teach God’s word (18:27--19:1 cf. 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:5-6)

III. Paul’s Subsequent Contacts with the Church at Corinth

A. On Paul’s third missionary journey Ephesus became his base of operations for three years (Acts 18:23; 19:1--20:1, 31).

B. An Unrecorded Visit

1. From Ephesus Paul made a visit which was not recorded in the book of Acts

The second visit to Corinth recorded in Acts 20:1-3 is probably the third visit which Paul promises to make in 2 Corinthians 12:14 and 13:1

a. “Here for this third time I am ready to come to you ....” (2 Cor. 12:14)

b. “This is the third time I am coming to you.” (2 Cor. 13:1)

2. Paul’s unrecorded visit (his actual second visit) is probably the sorrowful visit mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:21; 13:2 cf. 13:1)

a. Paul’s first visit (recorded in Acts 18) was not a sorrowful one.

b. From the point of view of 2 Corinthians the sorrowful visit has already occurred and the third visit has not yet occurred (cf. 2 Cor. 2:1 with 12:14; 13:1)

c. Paul does say that he does not want to come to the Corinthians in sorrow again (2 Cor. 2:1; 13:2) requiring discipline as before (2 Cor. 12:21)

C. A “Lost” Epistle

1. Paul wrote an epistle which the church does not now possess (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9, “I wrote you in my letter ....”)

2. While it is possible that this epistle was written before the unrecorded (sorrowful) visit, it seems more logical to place it after the sorrowful visit:

a. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 explains some of the contents of the lost epistle: not to associate with immoral people within the body and not with respect to unbelievers

b. If Paul had visited the Corinthians (in the unrecorded/sorrowful visit) after he wrote the “lost” epistle, then he would have probably explained this point in person rather than needing to explain it in another letter (our 1 Corinthians)

D. The Sending of Timothy

1. Paul later sent Timothy to Corinth by way of Macedonia (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10-11; Acts 19:22)

2. It is doubtful whether Timothy reached Corinth before the writing of 2 Corinthians

a. Acts 19:22 reports that Timothy went only as far as Macedonia

b. Corinthians 4:17 and 16:10-11 views the coming of Timothy as still future

c. Corinthians 1:1 reports Timothy as being with Paul in Macedonia

E. The Writing of 1 Corinthians

1. After the sending of Timothy, news of conflicts in the Church at Corinth reached Paul through “Chloe’s people” (Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus) (1 Cor. 1:11-12; 16:17)

2. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to the reports from “Chloe’s people” and probably sent it by Titus (cf. 1 Cor. “περὶ δὲ,” and 2 Cor. 7:12-15)

3. Either Titus, or whoever delivered 1 Corinthians, probably told the Corinthians of Paul’s intention to visit the Corinthians twice as is reported in 2 Corinthians 1:15--2:4

4. It is possible that 1 Corinthians is the sorrowful/severe letter written by Paul (2 Cor. 2:4; 7:8)

a. Some identify 2 Corinthians 10-13 as part of the “sorrowful” letter, but this assumes the disunity of 2 Corinthians.

b. While 1 Corinthians does not express a sorrowful tone on behalf of Paul. It seems that the term “sorrowful” in 2 Corinthians refers to the response of the Corinthians rather than the mindset of Paul (2 Cor. 2:4; 7:8)

c. Paul’s affliction (2 Cor. 2:4) was probably in having to make so many corrections to those whom he loved in the young church, but who trusted in natural wisdom.

F. The Anxious Concern of Paul

1. Paul seemed to have agreed with Titus to meet him in Troas when Titus returned from delivering the letter of 1 Corinthians to Corinth to report on the response to the Corinthian church to Paul’s severe letter of correction (2 Cor. 2:13)

2. Paul could not find Titus and thus went on to Macedonia (2 Cor. 2:12-13)

G. The Finding of Titus

1. Paul found Titus in Macedonia (2 Cor. 7:5-6)

2. When Paul heard of the response of the church to 1 Corinthians, he wrote 2 Corinthians from Macedonia (2 Cor. 7:5-16)

IV. The Date of First Corinthians is AD 55 or 56:2

A. Paul says that he wrote from Ephesus (16:16:8,9,19) which correlates with his third missionary journey (see above; Acts 18:23; 19:1--20:1,31)

B. Paul wrote the letter several years after his initial departure from Corinth in the fall of AD 51/52:

1. It was written subsequent to Apollo’s stay at the city (Acts 18:25,27; 1 Cor. 1:12)

2. It was written after Timothy and Erastus had been sent by Paul from Ephesus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22)

3. It was written after Timothy had been sent to Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17)

4. It took some time for the Corinthian problems to develop

5. It took some time for the news of the Corinthian problems to reach Paul

C. First Corinthians was written before the beginning of summer since Paul intended to leave Ephesus after Pentecost (spring, 1 Cor. 16:8)

D. First Corinthians was certainly written before winter since Paul wants to come to them and spend the winter (1 Cor. 16:6; Acts 20:31)

E. This adds up to four or five years after his initial departure from Corinth in the fall of AD 51 counting his journey to Jerusalem and extended stay in Syrian Antioch (Acts 18:18,23) and his almost three year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:8,10; 20:31)

V. Harold Hoehner’s chronology is as follows:3

A. Paul’s first missionary journey AD 49

B. Paul’s second missionary journey AD 50-52

1. Arrives in Corinth AD 50 or 51

2. Leaves Corinth AD 52

3. Returns to Syrian Antioch -- AD 52

C. Paul’s third missionary journey -- AD 53-57

1. Arrives in Ephesus in AD 53 and stays three years (Acts 19:10; 20:31)

2. Corinthians written -- AD 56

3. Arrival in Macedonia -- AD 56

4. Corinthians written -- AD 56-57

5. Arrives at Corinth -- AD 56 or 57

6. Leaves Corinth -- AD 57

VI. Note Well: There are other possible historical reconstructions of the events:

A. It is quite possible that the “unrecorded” visit took place after 1 Corinthians was written. In addition there could be another “lost epistle” to the Corinthians which is described in 2 Corinthians 2:4 and 7:8. Titus may have carried this letter also.

B. Possible additional orders are:

Founding visit / Former letter/ 1 Corinthians / Painful visit / Severe letter / 2 Corinthians / Anticipated visit

Founding visit / Former letter / Painful Visit / Severe letter / 1 Corinthians / 2 Corinthians / Anticipated visit

C. The Proposed order is as follows:

Founding visit / Painful visit / Former letter / 1 Corinthians (severe letter) / 2 Corinthians / Anticipated visit

VII. Purposes of First Corinthians

A. To address problems in a local church--Corinth

B. To counter worldly wisdom with Spiritual wisdom

C. To correct contentions brought to the church by Cloe’s servants (1--6; cf. 1:11) so as to bring about unity in practice

D. To address certain questions brought from Corinth for Paul (peri de; 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; 16:12)


1 Geisler, A General Introduction to the Bible, 187,193.

2 See W. Harold Mare, “1 Corinthians” in EBC, 10:180.

3 Harold Hoehner, “Chronology of the Apostolic Age,” Th.D. dissertation, Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1965.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines