Jesus Fish 3

New Testament Survey: The Book Of First Corinthians

Written By: Steve Shirley

The Book Of First Corinthians


  • Paul (1 Cor 1:1)(1 Cor 3:4-6)(1 Cor 4:15)(1 Cor 16:21) (For more on Paul see: Survey: Biography Of Paul)
  • The early church fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Eusebius) universally agreed, and it has never been seriously questioned, that Paul authored this book.
  • Most agree that this was the 4th of the 13 Epistles that Paul wrote.

The Stats:

  • Chapters: 16
  • Verses: 437 (The 2nd longest Epistle Paul wrote. First Corinthians has more verses, but Romans has more total words.)

Date Written:

  • 55-57 A.D.
  • It was likely written in the spring because Paul was staying in Ephesus until Pentecost (1 Cor 16:8) and he hoped to spend the winter in Corinth (1 Cor 16:6).

Place Written:

  • Ephesus
  • This was written near the end of the 3 years that Paul was in Ephesus during his 3rd missionary journey (1 Cor 16:8)(Acts 19:1).

Written To:

  • Christians at the church in Corinth.

Key Verses:

(1 Cor 1:18-19)(1 Cor 2:2,9,14)(1 Cor 3:15-17)(1 Cor 5:5)(1 Cor 6:19-20)(1 Cor 7:20)(1 Cor 8:9)(1 Cor 9:22,24-25)(1 Cor 10:23-24)(1 Cor 10:31)(1 Cor 11:29-30)(1 Cor 13:4-7)(1 Cor 15:14)


  • To address numerous problems in the church at Corinth that were brought to Paul’s attention concerning (“Now concerning:” [1 Cor 7:1,25][1 Cor 8:4][1 Cor 12:1][1 Cor 16:1]):
    • Divisions within the church: Ch 1-4
    • Immorality: Ch 5
    • Lawsuits amongst believers: Ch 6:1-8
    • Marriage: Ch 7:1-24
    • Virgins: Ch 7:25-40
    • Food offered to idols: Ch 8
    • The proper way to worship (head coverings: discussed below) Ch 11:1-16
    • Abuses of the Lord’s Supper: Ch 11:23-33
    • Abuses of spiritual gifts: ch 12-14
    • False teachings concerning the resurrection: Ch 15
  • Paul had apparently addressed the topic of “fornication” in a previous letter (1 Cor 5:9), but we do not have a copy of this letter today.
  • These problems apparently were brought to Paul by two different sources:
    • 1. The household of Chloe (1 Cor 1:11)
    • 2. A letter from Corinth by means of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (compare 1 Cor 16:17 to 1 Cor 7:1.) [It was probably returned with them also.]

About The City:

  • Corinth had been a flourishing city since about 6000 B.C., but it was completely destroyed by the Roman general Lucius Mummius Achaicus and his forces in about 146 B.C. It laid nearly desolate for about 100 years until it was rebuilt in about 46 A.D. by Julius Caesar.
  • It was located in southern Greece, about 48 miles west of Athens, and was the capital of the province of Achaia.
  • Mainly because of its strategic location, between the Aegean and Ionian seas, it had thousands of visitors a year.
  • Because the journey by boat around the region was dangerous, many boats were taken out of the water and rolled on logs across land from one sea to the other. Nero attempted to build a canal through Corinth, but it was not completed until 1893. This was a very prosperous business for the Corinthians.
  • Corinth was known for its wealth, luxury, commerce, artistry, and entertainment, but it was also known as a place of vice, corruption, and immorality.
  • They prided themselves on surpassing the other Greeks in the embellishment of their city and the adornment of their temples.
  • There were at least 12 or more temples scattered throughout the city dedicated to various “gods” and “goddesses” (i.e. Hercules, Athena, Poseidon, Asclepius, Hermes, and Apollo). The only thing still standing today from the original city of Corinth are seven columns from the temple of Apollo.
  • The largest, and perhaps most famous temple was that of Aphrodite “the Venus of all the people.” It had a thousand consecrated “priestesses,” each dedicated to the service of Aphrodite, in other words, they were prostitutes.
  • Prostitution was so rampant that the word “korinthiazomai” (“to Corinthianize”) came to be synonymous with prostitution and living an immoral and impure life.
  • The population of Corinth at the time Paul wrote his letter was anywhere from 500,000 to 750,000, of which the vast majority were slaves.
  • The language spoken in Corinth was mainly Greek.
  • It is interesting to note that of the few “catalogs of sins” that Paul wrote, one was in a letter to Corinth (1 Cor 6:9-10),  and one was written from Corinth (Rom 1:29-31).

About The Church:

  • The church at Corinth was planted by Paul (1 Cor 3:6,10) about 51 or 52 A.D. during his 2nd missionary trip. This is recorded in (Acts 18:1-17). He was there for 18 months (Acts 18:11). Paul considered himself the spiritual “father” of this church (1 Cor 4:14-15).
  • It was a gifted (1 Cor 1:4-7) but immature (1 Cor 3:1-2) church, consisting mainly of Gentiles (1 Cor 12:2), but also some Jews (Acts 18:8). Most of them came from the lower classes (1 Cor 1:26)(i.e. slaves: 1 Cor 7:21), although some may have been more affluent (1 Cor 11:22).
  • When Paul first arrived in Corinth, he met Aquila and Priscilla for the first time (Acts 18:1-2). He stayed with them because they were fellow tent-makers. He would work during the week and “reason in the synagogue every Sabbath” (Acts 18:3-4).
  • About 45 days after Paul’s arrival, Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia and Paul began devoting himself completely to the word (Acts 18:5). (It is believed that they brought an offering that allowed him to do so.) (It was also about this time that Paul wrote 1st Thessalonians.)
  • When the Jews opposed Paul’s teaching, and blasphemed, he began to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6). However, Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, and his household did become believers and were baptized (Acts 18:8). (Crispus was one of the few people Paul baptized (1 Cor 1:14-16).
  • Paul went to the house of Titius Justus, who lived next to the synagogue, and began preaching there (Acts 18:7). This was the beginning of the church in Corinth.
  • After Paul left, “an eloquent man” named Apollos came and took charge of the church (Acts 18:24-28). Paul planted, and Apollos watered (1 Cor 3:6).

Special Emphasis:

  • At least seven key words are found more in 1st Corinthians than any other book in the New Testament.
Wisdom: 18 times (interesting since the Corinthians took pride in their “wisdom.”) | Weak: 10 times | Body: 43 times | Knowledge: 11 times | Spiritual: 15 times | Gifts: 9 times | Judge: 13 times

Excursus On “Baptism for the Dead”

  • No one knows for sure what this verse (1 Cor 15:29) means, but we know what it doesn’t mean.
    • A person cannot be baptized for another who has died. Once a person has died, we can do nothing for them. Whatever decisions they made while on this planet are set for eternity once they die.
    • We cannot pray for a person who has died. We cannot fast for them. We cannot “buy” them out of a destiny apart from God if they didn’t accept Jesus while living on the Earth.
  • This is practiced by the LDS (Mormons) today, based not only on this verse, but also on their own scriptures.
  • When we have a verse that is hard to understand like this one, we should always look at the whole of scripture to see if others verses support our interpretation of the single verse. If there are not other verses, then we can usually assume that our interpretation is quite likely incorrect. We should never build a doctrine based upon a single verse!
  • Since there is no other place in the Bible that says anyone should be “baptized for the dead,” no one should make a doctrine based upon it.
  • We know from history and tradition that there were pagan and Greek cultures that literally “baptized for the dead” in the time that this was written. Apparently, Paul’s audience partly consisted of those who had either fallen into this practice, or at least were aware of it. However, we can see that Paul does make a distinction between believers and those who practiced this, because he says in verse 29, “why then are they (not we) baptized for the dead?” Paul was certainly not endorsing this practice.
  • If you look at the context of all the verses in (1 Cor 15), you can see that Paul is speaking about the importance of believing in the resurrection of the dead. First and foremost, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, but also the resurrection of all who die. Many of the people who practiced “baptism for the dead” also denied the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12). Paul was pointing out the illogic of their beliefs. How could they deny people are resurrected from the dead, but yet “baptize people for the dead?” It made no sense to get baptized for the dead if they didn’t believe in a resurrection from the dead.
  • Some commentators believe this is simply talking about baptized believers who were martyred, and then replaced by baptized believers. In other words, new Christians were baptized to replace those who had previously been killed for their faith: “baptized for (to take the place of) the dead.”

Excursus On “head coverings”

  • “Head coverings” are mainly spoken about from a woman’s viewpoint. It appears to be referring to her submission to a man, and more specifically a wife to her husband.
  • It does not literally mean to cover her head with something. However, Paul does use the local custom of Jewish women literally wearing a “head covering” to make his point.
  • Jewish women covered their heads in public as a sign of submission, and when they did not, it was a sign of rebellion. Paul tells us in (1 Cor 11:5) that, “every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all as if she were shaven.” (1 Cor 11:6) tells us that it was a shame for a woman to have her hair shaved off. According to tradition, this is how prostitutes were often identified.
  • Also, when the hair of men or women was shaved, it was a disgrace (Num 5:18)(Isa 7:20)(1 Chr 19:4), as well as a sign of uncleanness (Deut 21:12)(Num 6:9)(Num 8:7).
  • Not only does a lack of submission dishonor the man, but it also dishonors God. In the marriage relationship, it can cause the word of God to be blasphemed (Titus 2:5). God has made the man the head of the woman (1 Cor 11:3), and the wife is commanded to submit to her husband (Col 3:18)(Eph 5:22-24)(1 Pet 3:5-6). If women do not follow God’s commands to humble themselves, they aren’t submitting to God (James 4:7,10)(1 Pet 5:6)(Rom 10:3)(Ps 81:15).
  • This does NOT mean that God views a woman as less valuable than a man! God loves men and women equally. Jesus died for ALL men and women. In Christ, men and women share equally in the promises and blessings of God. But, God does make some distinctions between men and women, and one of these distinctions is that they are not positionally equal. The same can be said of Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Jesus is equal to the Father (Phil 2:5-6). He IS God! However, He also submits to the Father (1 Cor 11:3)(1 Cor 3:23)(1 Cor 15:24-28)(Jn 4:34)(Jn 5:30)(Jn 6:38)(Jn 14:28). Just as Jesus positionally submits, so the woman is to positionally submit to the man.
  • The man was not to have his head covered (1 Cor 11:4,7) because he was to be over the woman and “cover” her. If he covered his head, it was dishonoring to God because it showed he refused to take the role God had given him.
  • At the beginning of creation, the woman came from the man and was created for the man (Gen 2:18-24)(Gen 3:16)(1 Cor 11:9). The husband is commanded to love his wife (Eph 5:25,28,33). He is to treat her with understanding and honor as the weaker vessel or his prayers will be hindered (1 Pet 3:7). The woman is to respect her husband (Eph 5:33), and to submit to this God-given authority, and thereby have her “head covered.”


1. Introduction: The believer’s standing in grace, 1:1-9. 2. The contrast of their present factious state, 1:10-4:21. 3. Immorality rebuked; discipline enjoined, 5:1-6:8. 4. The sanctity of the body, and Christian marriage, 6:9-7:40. 5. Meats, and the limitations of Christian liberty, 8:1-11:1. 6. Christian order and the Lord’s Supper, 11:2-34. 7. Spiritual gifts in relation to the body, the church, and Christian ministry, 12:1-14:40. 8. The resurrection of the dead, 15:1-58. 9. Special directions and greetings, 16:1-24. (Survey from Scofield Reference Notes [1917 ed.]: Public Domain)
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