Famed for its commerce, chiefly due to its situation between the Ionian and AEgean seas, on the isthmus connecting the Peloponnese with Greece. In Paul's time it was capital of Achaia, and seat of the Roman proconsul (Acts 18:12). Its people had the Greek love of philosophical subtleties. The immorality was notorious even in the pagan world; so that "to Corinthianize" was proverbial for playing the wanton. The worship of Venus, whose temple was on Acrocorinthus, was attended with shameless profligacy, 1,000 female slaves being maintained for the service of strangers. Hence, arose dangers to the purity of the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5-7), founded by Paul on his first visit in his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-17). The early Greek Corinth had been left desolate for 100 years; its merchants had withdrawn to Delos, and the presidency of the isthmian games had been transferred to Sicyon, when Julius Caesar refounded the city as a Roman colony.
Gallio the philosopher, Seneca's brother, was proconsul during Paul's first residence, in Claudius' reign. Paul had come from Athens, shortly afterward Silas and Timothy from Macedonia joined him. His two earliest epistles, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, were written there, A.D. 52 or 53. Here he made the friendship of Aquila and Priscilla, and labored at tentmaking with the former. Here, after his departure, Apollos came from Ephesus. The number of Latin names in Paul's epistle to the Romans, written during his second visit of three months at Corinth (Acts 20:3), A.D. 58, is in undesigned harmony with the origin of many of its people as a Roman colony. At the time of Paul's visit Claudius' decree banishing the Jews from Rome caused an influx of them to Corinth. Hence, many Jewish converts were in the Corinthian church (Acts 18), and a Judaizing spirit arose.
Clement's epistles to the Corinthians are still extant. Corinth is now the seat of an episcopal see. It is a poor village, called by a corruption of the old name, Gortho. The remains of its ancient Greek temple, and of the Posidonium or sanctuary of Neptune (N.E. of Corinth, near the Saronic gulf), the scene of the Isthmian games, are remarkably interesting. The stadium for the foot race (alluded to in 1 Corinthians 9:24), and the theater where the pugilists fought (1 Corinthians 9:26), and the pine trees of which was woven the "corruptible crown" or wreath for the conquerors in the games (1 Corinthians 9:25), are still to be seen. The Acrocorinthus eminence rising 2,000 feet above the sea was near Corinth, and as a fortress was deemed the key of Greece. N. of it was the port Lechaeum on the Corinthian gulf; on the other side on the Saronic gulf was Cenchraea (Acts 18:18). The ornate "Corinthian order" of architecture, and "the Corinthian brass" or choice bronze statuary, attest the refinement of its people.
FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS. Its authenticity is attested by Clement of Rome (Ep., c. 47), Polycarp (Ep. to Philipp., c. 11), Ignatius (ad Eph., 2), and Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., 4:27, section 3). Its occasion and subject. Paul had been instrumental in converting many Gentiles (1 Corinthians 12:2) and some Jews (Acts 18:8), notwithstanding the Jews' opposition (Acts 18:5-6), during his one year and a half sojourn. The converts were mostly of the humbler classes (1 Corinthians 1:26). Crispus, Erastus, and Gaius (Caius), however, were men of rank (1 Corinthians 1:14; Acts 18:8; Romans 16:23). 1 Corinthians 11:22 implies a variety of classes. The immoralities abounding outside at Corinth, and the craving even within the church for Greek philosophy and rhetoric which Apollos' eloquent style gratified, rather than for the simple preaching of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1, etc.; Acts 18:24, etc.), as also the opposition of Judaizing teachers who boasted of having "letters of commendation" from Jerusalem the metropolis of the faith, caused the apostle anxiety.
The Judaizers depreciated his apostolic authority (1 Corinthians 9:1-2; 2 Corinthians 10:1; 2 Corinthians 10:7-8), professing, some to be the followers of the chief apostle, Cephas; others to belong to Christ Himself, rejecting all subordinate teaching (1 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 10:7). Some gave themselves out to be apostles (2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 11:13), alleging that Paul was not of the twelve nor an eye-witness of the gospel facts, and did not dare to prove his apostleship by claiming support from the church (1 Corinthians 9). Even those who declared themselves Paul's followers did so in a party spirit, glorying in the minister instead of in Christ. Apollos' followers also rested too much on his Alexandrian rhetoric, to the disparagement of Paul, who studied simplicity lest aught should interpose between the Corinthians and the Spirit's demonstration of the Savior (1 Corinthians 2).
Epicurean self-indulgence led some to deny the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:32). Hence, they connived at the incest of one of them with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5). The elders of the church had written to consult Paul on minor points: (1) meats offered to idols; (2) celibacy and marriage; (3) the proper use of spiritual gifts in public worship; (4) the collection for the saints at Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1, etc.). But they never told him about the serious evils, which came to his ears only through some of the household of Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11), contentions, divisions, lawsuits brought before pagan courts by Christian brethren against brethren (1 Corinthians 6:1). Moreover, some abused spiritual gifts to display and fanaticism (1 Corinthians 14); simultaneous ministrations interrupted the seemly order of public worship; women spoke unveiled, in violation of eastern usage, and usurped the office of men; even the Holy Communion was desecrated by reveling (1 Corinthians 11).
These then formed topics of his epistle, and occasioned his sending Timothy to them after his journey to Macedonia (1 Corinthians 4:17). In 1 Corinthians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 5:9, he implies that he had sent a previous letter to them; probably enjoining also a contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Upon their asking directions as to the mode, he now replies (1 Corinthians 16:2). In it he also announced his design of visiting them on his way to and from Macedon (2 Corinthians 1:15-16), which design he changed on hearing the unfavorable report from Chloe's household (1 Corinthians 16:5-7), for which he was charged with fickleness (2 Corinthians 1:15-17). Alford remarks, Paul in 1 Corinthians alludes to the fornication only in a summary way, as if replying to an excuse set up after his rebuke, rather than introducing it for the first time.
Before this former letter, he paid a second visit (probably during his three years' sojourn at Ephesus, from which he could pass readily by sea to Corinth Acts 19:10; Acts 20:31); for in 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1, he declares his intention to pay a third visit. In 1 Corinthians 13:2 translated "I have already said (at my second visit), and declare now beforehand, as (I did) when I was present the second time, so also (I declare) now in my absence to them who have heretofore sinned (namely, before my second visit, 1 Corinthians 12:21) and to all others" (who have sinned since it, or are in danger of sinning). "I write," the Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and Sinaiticus manuscripts rightly omit; KJV "as if I were present the second time," namely, this time, is inconsistent with verse 1, "this is the third time I am coming" (compare 2 Corinthians 1:15-16).
The second visit was a painful one, owing to the misconduct of many of his converts (2 Corinthians 2:1). Then followed his letter before the 1 Corinthians, charging them "not to company with fornicators." In 1 Corinthians 5:9-12 he corrects their misapprehensions of that injunction. The Acts omits that second visit, as it omits other incidents of Paul's life, e.g. his visit to Arabia (Galatians 1:17-28). The place of writing was Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8). The English subscription "from Philippi" arose from mistranslating 1 Corinthians 16:5, "I am passing through Macedonia;" he intended (1 Corinthians 16:8) leaving Ephesus after Pentecost that year. He left it about A.D. 57 (Acts 19:21). The Passover imagery makes it likely the date was Easter time (1 Corinthians 5:7), A.D. 57.
Just before his conflict with the beastlike mob of Ephesus, 1 Corinthians 15:32 implies that already he had premonitory symptoms; the storm was gathering, his "adversaries many" (1 Corinthians 16:9; Romans 16:4). The tumult (Acts 19:29-30) had not yet taken place, for immediately after it he left Ephesus for Macedon. Sosthenes, the ruler of the Jews' synagogue, after being beaten, seems to have been won by Paul's love to an adversary in affliction (Acts 18:12-17). Converted, like Crispus his predecessor in office, he is joined with Paul in the inscription, as "our brother." A marvelous triumph of Christian love! Paul's persecutor paid in his own coin by the Greeks, before Gallio's eyes, and then subdued to Christ by the love of him whom he sought to persecute. Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, were probably the bearers of the epistle (1 Corinthians 16:17-18); see the subscription.
SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS. Reasons for writing. To explain why he deferred his promised visit to Corinth on his way to Macedonia (1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 16:5; 2 Corinthians 1:15-16), and so to explain his apostolic walk, and vindicate his apostleship against gainsayers (2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 2 Corinthians 6:3-18; 2 Corinthians 7:2; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 7:12). Also to praise them for obeying his first epistle, and to charge them to pardon the transgressor, as already punished sufficiently (2 Corinthians 2:1-11; 2 Corinthians 7:6-16). Also to urge them to contributions for the poor brethren at Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8). Its genuineness is attested by Irenaeus (Haer., 3:7, section 1), Athenagoras (De Res. Mort.), Clement of Alexandria (Strom., 3:94, 4:101), and Tertullian (Pudic., 13).
Time of writing. After Pentecost A.D. 57, when Paul left Ephesus for Troas. Having stayed for a time at Troas preaching with success (2 Corinthians 2:12-13), he went on to Macedonia to meet Titus there, since he was disappointed in not finding him at Troas as he had expected. In Macedonia he heard from him the comforting intelligence of the good effect of the first epistle upon the Corinthians, and having experienced the liberality of the Macedonian churches (2 Corinthians 8) he wrote this second epistle and then went on to Greece, where he stayed three months; then he reached Philippi by land about Passover or Easter, A.D. 58 (Acts 20:1-6). So that the autumn of A.D. 57 will be the date of 2 Corinthians. Place of writing. Macedonia, as 2 Corinthians 9:2 proves. In "ASIA" (see) he had been in great peril (2 Corinthians 1:8-9), whether from the tumult at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41) or a dangerous illness (Alford).
Thence he passed by way of Troas to Philippi, the first city that would meet him in entering Macedonia (Acts 20:1), and the seat of the important Philippian church. On comparing 2 Corinthians 11:9 with Philemon 4:15-16 it appears that by "Macedonia" there Paul means Philippi. The plural "churches," however, (2 Corinthians 8:1) proves that Paul visited other Macedonian churches also, e.g. Thessalonica and Berea. But Philippi, as the chief one, would be the center to which all the collections would be sent, and probably the place of writing 2 Corinthians Titus, who was to follow up at Corinth the collection, begun at the place of his first visit (2 Corinthians 8:6). The style passes rapidly from the gentle, joyous, and consolatory, to stern reproof and vindication of his apostleship against his opponents. His ardent temperament was tried by a chronic malady (2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 5:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
Then too "the care of all the churches" pressed on him; the weight of which was added to by Judaizing emissaries at Corinth, who wished to restrict the church's freedom and catholicity by bonds of letter and form (2 Corinthians 3:8-18). Hence, he speaks of (2 Corinthians 7:5-6) "rightings without" and "fears within" until Titus brought him good news of the Corinthian church. Even then, while the majority at Corinth repented and excommunicated, at Paul's command, the incestuous person, and contributed to the Jerusalem poor fund, a minority still accused him of personal objects in the collection, though he had guarded against possibility of suspicion by having others beside himself to take charge of the money (2 Corinthians 8:18-28). Moreover, their insinuation was inconsistent with their other charge, that his not claiming maintenance proved him to be no apostle.
They alleged too that he was always threatening severe measures, but was too cowardly to execute them (2 Corinthians 10:8-16; 2 Corinthians 13:2); that he was inconsistent, for he had circumcised Timothy but did not circumcise Titus, a Jew among the Jews, a Greek among the Greeks (1 Corinthians 9:20, etc.; Galatians 2:3). That many of his detractors were Judaizers appears from 2 Corinthians 11:22. An emissary from Judaea, arrogantly assuming Christ's own title "he that cometh" (Matthew 11:3), headed the party (2 Corinthians 11:4); he bore "epistles of commendation" (2 Corinthians 3:1), and boasted of pure Hebrew descent, and close connection with Christ Himself (2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 11:22-23). His high-sounding pretensions and rhetoric contrasted with Paul's unadorned style, and carried weight with some (2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 11:6). The diversity in tone, in part, is due to the diversity between the penitent majority and the refractory minority. Two deputies chosen by the churches to take charge of the collection accompanied Titus, who bore this 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:18-22).