I Corinthians

Author: Paul of Tarsus

Date Written: 55 or 56 AD


Paul wrote this letter in response to problems at the church in Corinth while he was staying in Ephesus.  He had originally evangelized people in Corinth in 51 and 52 while staying with Priscilla and Aquila (see Acts 18).  A few years later, a contingent from the Corinthian church brought him news of divisions and difficulties so Paul speaks to his own spiritual children in I Corinthians (4:14).  This is the second of four letters that Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church.  Unfortunately, only two have been preserved.


Knowing a little about Corinth's history is key for understanding the letter.  Corinth had been a major Greek city until the Romans destroyed it in 146 BC.  They rebuilt it in 44 BC as a Roman colony for freed slaves and military veterans.  It became the capitol of the province of Achaia (modern-day Greece) and a major trade city because of its control of two ports on opposite sides of the Greek peninsula.  It was famous for its licentiousness and social ladder-climbing.  Many pagan temples filled the city, being dedicated to gods and goddesses such as Aphrodite, Asclepius, Poseidon and even the Roman Emperor.  Every two years, Corinth hosted a mini-olympics called the Isthmian Games.  At the time that Paul wrote I Corinthians, Corinth was a booming metropolis, filled with mariners, merchants, tradesmen and tourists.


Paul makes four main points in the letter.  He rebukes the Corinthians for their divisiveness and sin (1-6).  Next he addresses specific questions they had about marriage and food offered to idols (7-10).  Then Paul takes up issues regarding the Mass, charismatic gifts, the centrality of love and the importance of prophecy (11-14).  Lastly, he focuses on the victory of the resurrection of the dead and gives his final greetings (15-16).


I Corinthians contains some core Christian teachings.  God has revealed his secrets to us (2:9-10) but he will test our works by fire in Purgatory (3:13-15).  We are obliged to avoid all sexual immorality and some of us are called to take vows of celibacy to serve the Church (5-7, 10).  Paul tells us not to cause our brother or sister to "stumble" through careless actions offensive to his or her conscience (8:13).  The words of institution for the Eucharist appear in 11:24-25 and we learn not to receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin because by so doing we bring judgment upon ourselves (11:29, CCC 1415).  Each Christian has special giftings which must be put to use for the upbuilding of the whole Church.  Our gifts are unique, but must work together for the good (12).  Love is the center of the Christian life.  Everything we do as Christians flows from God's love and leads back to his love (13).  Also, Paul teaches us that just as Jesus was raised on Easter Sunday, we will be raised from the dead at the end of time (15).  Ultimately, we are recipients of the greatest gift because God "gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:56).


By Mark Giszczak

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