FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.
CORINTH, as has been observed in the note on Acts 18:1, was a celebrated city of Greece; for some time, indeed, the most illustrious of all the Greek cities, and the capital of Achaia. It is said to have been founded 1514 years before the Christian era, by Sisyphus, the son of Eolus, and grandfather of Ulysses. Various reasons are given for its name, but most authors derive it from Corinthus, the son of Pelops. It was situated in the south part of the isthmus which joins the Peloponessus (now the Morea) to the continent. It consisted of a citadel, built upon an eminence, and thence called Acro-corinthus; besides which, it had two maritime towns subject to it, named Lecheum and Cenchrea. And so advantageously were these ports situated, that they might have gained the Corinthians a superiority, if not a command, over all Greece, had not their advantageous situation for commerce inclined them to attend to it, rather than war: for their citadel was almost impregnable; and, commanding both the Ionian and Ægean seas, they could easily have cut off all communication from one half of Greece with the other; for which reason this city was called one of the fetters of Greece. But as the genius of the Corinthians led them to prefer commerce to martial exploits, their city became the finest in all Greece. It was adorned with the most sumptuous buildings, as temples, palaces, theatres, porticoes, and other edifices, all enriched with a beautiful kind of columns, which, with their capitals and bases, gave rise to the Corinthian order in architecture.
This city continued to preserve its liberty till the year before Christ 146, when it was pillaged and burned by the Romans. It was, at that time, the strongest place in the world; but the inhabitants were so disheartened by a preceding defeat, and the death of their general, that they had not presence of mind enough even to shut their gates. The Roman consul, Mummius, was so much surprised at this, that, at first, he could scarce believe it; but afterward, fearing an ambuscade, he advanced with all possible caution. As he met with no resistance, his soldiers had nothing to do but to destroy the few inhabitants who had not fled, and plunder the city. The men were all put to the sword, and the women sold for slaves. After this, the city was ransacked by the greedy soldiers, and the spoils of it are said to have been immense. There were more vessels, of all sorts of metal, more fine pictures and statues, done by the greatest masters, in Corinth than in any other city in the world. All the princes of Europe and Asia, who had any taste in painting and sculpture, furnished themselves here with their finest moveables: here were cast the finest statues for temples and palaces, and all the liberal arts brought to the greatest perfection. Many inestimable pieces of the most famous painters and statuaries fell into the hands of the ignorant soldiers, who either destroyed them, or parted with them for a trifle. When the city was thoroughly pillaged, fire was set to all the corners of it at the same time. The flames grew more violent as they drew near the centre; and at last, uniting there, made one prodigious conflagration; at which time the famous metalline mixture is said to have been made, which could never afterward be imitated by art. The gold, silver, and brass, which the Corinthians had concealed, were melted, and ran down the streets in streams; and when the flames were extinguished, a new metal was found, composed of several different ones, and greatly esteemed in after ages.
The town lay desolate till Julius Cesar settled there a Roman colony; when, in removing the rubbish, and digging, many vases were found of brass, or earth, finely embossed. The price given for these curiosities excited industry in the new inhabitants. They left no burying-place unexamined; and Rome, it is said, was filled with the furniture of the sepulchres at Corinth. After this, Achaia being made a Roman province, and Corinth becoming the residence of the pro-consul, who governed it, this city soon regained its ancient splendour; for, its inhabitants increasing exceedingly, they began to carry on, by means of its two sea-ports, an extensive commerce, which brought great wealth into it. From that time forth, the arts which minister to the conveniences and luxuries of life were carried on at Corinth in as great perfection as formerly; schools were opened in which philosophy and rhetoric were publicly taught by able masters; and strangers from all quarters crowded to Corinth to be instructed in the sciences and arts: so that Corinth, during this latter period, was filled with philosophers, rhetoricians, and artists of all kinds, and abounded in wealth. These advantages, however, were counterbalanced, as before, by the effects which wealth and luxury never fail to produce: in a word, a universal corruption of manners soon prevailed; so that Corinth, in its second state, became as corrupt as in any former period whatever; even as when, according to Strabo, “there were more than a thousand harlots in the temple of Venus, who, in honour of the goddess, prostituted themselves to all comers for hire, and through these the city was crowded, and became wealthy.” And as it furnished to the debauched opportunities of gratifying their lusts, under the pretext of religion, it is easy to see what corruption of manners must have been caused thereby. Indeed, lasciviousness was carried to such a pitch in Corinth, that, in the language of these times, the appellation of “a Corinthian,” given to a woman, imported that she was a prostitute; and, Κορινθιαζειν, “to behave as a Corinthian,” spoken of a man, was the same as εταιρευειν, “to commit whoredom.” The apostle, therefore, had good reason, in this epistle, to exhort the Corinthian brethren to “flee fornication;” and, after giving them a catalogue of the “unrighteous, who shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10,) he was well entitled to add, “and such were some of you.” In short, the Corinthians had carried vice of every kind to such a pitch, that their city was more debauched than any of the other cities of Greece. Yet, even in this city, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ was preached with great success; a great reformation was effected in the manners of many of its inhabitants, and a flourishing Christian church was founded, in which were some Jews of note, (Romans 16:8,) and a great number of Gentiles; (1 Corinthians 12:2;) a church which hath continued, though not without many changes, to the present times.
Of the manner in which Christianity was first introduced into Corinth, see the notes on Acts 18:2-11. This was about A.D. 54, at which period the apostle continued in this city eighteen months, preaching with considerable success, first in the synagogue of the Jews, every sabbath day, and afterward in the house of one Justus, a religious proselyte, whom he had been instrumental in converting to the faith. Here the idolatrous inhabitants of the city, prompted by curiosity, came to him, from time to time, in great numbers, to hear his discourses. And having themselves seen, or having been credibly informed by others, of the miracles which he wrought, and of the spiritual gifts which he conferred on them who believed, they were so impressed by his discourses and miracles, that many of them renounced their ancient superstition. So we learn from Acts 18:8, where Luke tells us that “many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized.” Such was the state of the church at Corinth during the time of the apostle’s continuing with them. And soon after his departure, he appears, from 1 Corinthians 5:9, to have written a friendly letter of admonition and advice to them, which is now lost. His cautions and counsels not producing the desired effect, but various disorders and schisms quickly taking place, partly, it seems, through false teachers creeping in among them, he judged it needful to write to them more at large than he had done before, to prevent, if possible, the fruit of his labours from being entirely blasted; and this letter, which seems to have fully answered the end intended, has been preserved, by the care of Providence, for the benefit of the church in all ages.
With regard to the place where this epistle, which is now to come under our consideration, was written, there never has been any doubt among commentators. The mention that is made (1 Corinthians 16:8) of the apostle’s purpose of remaining at Ephesus till the pentecost, and the salutation of the churches of Asia, show that this letter was not written at Philippi, as the spurious postscript indicates; but at Ephesus, during his second abode in that city, of which we have an account Acts 19:1-41. It is not, however, so generally agreed at what particular time of the apostle’s abode in Ephesus this letter was written. Mill (Proleg. No. 9) says it was written after the riot of Demetrius, because the apostle’s fighting with wild beasts at Ephesus is mentioned in it, (1 Corinthians 15:32,) which he thinks happened during the riot. But Paul did not then go into the theatre, being restrained by the disciples, and by some of the Asiarchs, who were his friends, Acts 19:30-31. His fighting with wild beasts, therefore, at Ephesus, must have happened in some previous tumult, of which there is no mention in the history of the Acts. That this epistle was written a little while before the riot of Demetrius, appears probable from two circumstances. The first is, the apostle told the Corinthians, (Acts 17:8-9,) that he resolved to abide in Ephesus till pentecost, on account of the great success with which he was then preaching the gospel. The second circumstance is, that Demetrius, in his speech to the craftsmen, mentioned Paul’s turning much people from the worship of idols (and thereby putting an end to their occupation and wealth) as a recent event. These two circumstances joined, lead us to conclude that this epistle was written a little while before the riot; for if it had been written after it, the apostle could not have said, “I will abide at Ephesus till pentecost.” And on this supposition, that it was written a little while before that riot, its date may be fixed to about A.D. 57. As to the design of this first epistle to the Corinthians, it was intended, partly, to correct some corruptions and abuses among the believers at Corinth, and partly to answer certain queries which they had proposed to him. After expressing his satisfaction at all the good he knew of them, particularly at their having received the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, for the confirmation of the gospel, (chap. 1 Corinthians 1:1-9,) setting himself to correct the disorders and evils which had taken place among them, Hebrews , 1. Rebukes the factious men among them, and defends himself against one or more false teachers, who had alienated the affections of most of the Corinthians from him, 1 Corinthians 1:10 to 1 Corinthians 5:2. He considers the case of a notorious offender, who had married his father’s wife, that is, his own step-mother; and orders them to excommunicate this person, and to acknowledge no fornicator as a brother, 1 Corinthians 5:3. He reproves them for their covetous and litigious temper, which caused them to prosecute their Christian brethren in heathen courts of judicature, 1 Corinthians 6:1 to 1 Corinthians 9:4. Cautions them against fornication, a vice to which they had been extremely addicted before their conversion, (1 Corinthians 6:10-20,) and which some of them still reckoned among the things indifferent. In the next place, he answers certain queries which they had proposed: and, 1. He determines some questions relating to the marriage state, 1 Corinthians 7:2. He instructs them how to act with respect to things that had been offered to idols, 1 Corinthians 8:1 to 1 Corinthians 11:1. 3. He answers a query concerning the manner in which women should deliver any thing in public, when they thought themselves called to it by a divine impulse, 1 Corinthians 11:2-17; and he censures the unusual dress of both sexes, in prophesying, which exposed them to the contempt of the Greeks, among whom the men usually went uncovered, and the women veiled. He also takes occasion here to censure the irregularities committed at their celebrations of the Lord’s supper, and in the exercise of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, 1 Corinthians 11:18 to 1 Corinthians 15:4. He asserts the resurrection of the dead, which some among the Corinthians doubted, and others denied, chap. 15. He then concludes with some directions to the Corinthian church concerning the manner of collecting alms, promises them a visit, and salutes some of the members, chap. 16.