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NEW TESTAMENT SURVEY NewTestament Survey


STUDY 13 - THE CORINTHIAN EPISTLES


For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.296-304; R.H.Gundry, pp.359-375. Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An Introduction to the New Testament, pp.89-109; 259-287.

1 CORINTHIANS


1. AUTHORSHIP AND DESTINATION

The Corinthian church
Paul arrived in Corinth on his second missionary journey via Athens.  He appears to have been rather depressed at the time, probably through lack of fellowship and support (1 Cor.2:3; Phil.4:15-16).  He worked with Aquila and Priscilla and witnessed in the local synagogue.  When he was rejoined by Silas and Timothy he intensified his evangelism with some success.  Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his household believed.  As opposition grew Paul was turned out of the synagogue, and he held meetings in the nearby home of a proselyte called Titius Justus.  It was only as the Lord encouraged the apostle by vision that he stayed in the city.  He was brought before Gallio (c.A.D. 50/51) but was dismissed when the proconsul heard that the charge was religious (Acts 18:1-17).  After a time Paul left the work in charge of some of his co-workers and travelled to Ephesus with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:18).  Leaving the couple there he went on to his base church in Antioch, thus completing his second missionary journey (Acts 18:22).  We need to complete the story by adding further details.

Background to the epistles
Paul's story here can be indicated by his three visits and four letters to Corinth:

  1. On his first visit to Corinth Paul founded the church.  This was on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-18).  Apollos followed Paul (Acts 19:1).

  2. The 'previous letter' was written on Paul's third missionary journey as he came to Ephesus (Acts 18:23:19:1).  News from Apollos prompted it (1 Cor.5.9). This letter is lost.

  3. First Corinthians was written after Paul had heard about the state of the church from Cloe's household and then from Fortunatus, Achaicus and Stephanus, who brought a letter containing questions on doctrinal and practical matters of importance (1 Cor.1:11; 16:17).

  4. News that the internal situation of the church had worsened caused Paul to pay a second visit ('the painful visit' is inferred from 2 Cor.2:1; 13:1,2). This visit is not found in the Acts.

  5. A 'severe letter' or 'sorrowful letter' was written on the apostle's return to Ephesus, "out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears".  This was sent by the hand of Titus (2 Cor.2:4).  The letter is probably lost.

  6. Second Corinthians was written when Paul heard the good news from Titus in Macedonia that his 'severe letter' had been effective (2 Cor.2:13; 7:13).  This epistle, 'the thankful letter', was delivered by Titus.

  7. Then, shortly after writing his fourth letter, Paul paid his third visit to Corinth as intimated by his promise, "This will be my third visit to you" (2 Cor.13:1).

Paul pioneered the church in Corinth - "In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel" (1 Cor.4:15). Yet his relationship with the community was a stormy one.

2. DATE AND PLACE OF WRITING

Place of writing
Paul wrote from Ephesus during his third missionary journey (1 Cor.16:5-9). Apollos and Peter had obviously left Corinth by this time. News from members of the church, together with a letter seeking advice, prompted him to write.

Date of writing
M.C.Tenney states:

"It was composed near the end of his sojourn at Ephesus, for he had already formulated his plans for leaving Asia and for making an extended visit to Macedonia and Achaia (1 Cor.16:5-7).  It must have been composed during the winter or in the [autumn], for he spoke of staying at Ephesus until Pentecost because of the success that was attending his work (16:8).  He was engaged in raising the contribution for the poor in Jerusalem, which he took with him on his last journey to that city (Acts 24:17)... Probably it was written in the winter of A.D. 55, during the peak of his work at Ephesus." [1]

3. CONTENTS AND OUTLINE

The contents of the epistle The contents of the first epistle are determined by the report that Paul hears by way of Cloe's household (1:11) and the letter he receives.  Notice the phrase 'now about' (Gk. peri de) in 7:1,25; 8:1; (11:2); 12:1; (15:1); 16:1. [2] Here is Tenney's main outline with added notes:

  • 1 Corinthians: The Problems at Corinth

  • Salutation (1:1-9)

  • Reply to the report from 'house of Cloe' (1:10-6:20) Involving: divisions, immorality and litigation

  • Reply to questions in the letter (7:1-16:9) Involving: marriage, meat offered to idols, veiling of women, the Lord's supper, spiritual gifts, the collection, the resurrection Concluding salutations (16:10-24).


4. EVALUATION

The epistle is the most business-like of all Paul's epistles and is intensely practical. It provides an insight into the apostle's personality and ministry, and reveals the life, ministry and problems of a Pauline (pioneer) church.  The apparent absence of a church oversight gives the letter special significance (consider the 14:26). [3]



2 CORINTHIANS

1. CONTENTS AND OUTLINE

Contents of the epistle
M.C.Tenney compares the second epistle to the first and says:

"The epistle differs from 1 Corinthians in dealing with personal matters rather than with doctrinal teaching or ecclesiastical order.  The human Paul is much in evidence: his feelings, desires, dislikes, ambitions, and obligations are all spread before his readers.  This epistle contains less systematic teaching and more expression of personal feeling that even 1 Corinthians, and its structure is not as clear-cut as is that of the former epistle". [4]

We adopt M.C.Tenney's outline:

  • 2 Corinthians: The Epistle of Paul's Ministry

  • Salutation (1:1-2)

  • Explanation of personal conduct (1:3-2:13)

  • The defence of the ministry (2:14-7:4)

  • Comment on effects of letter (7:5-16)

  • The grace of giving (8:1-9:15)

  • Personal defence (10:1-12:13)

  • Preparation for visit (12:14-13:10)

  • Concluding salutation (13:11-14).


2. PURPOSE OF THE EPISTLE

The Corinthian church had been infiltrated by false teachers who challenged Paul's character and his authority as an apostle. The 'super-apostles' (11:5) questioned the apostle's integrity and claimed he was a money-grabbing preacher.  But "Paul asks the Corinthians to consider that his personal life in their midst was always honourable and that his life-transforming message of salvation was true" (P.E.Hughes). [5] The epistle supplies details of the apostle's life not found in the Acts (e.g., his privations and revelations in chapters 11-12).

3. EVALUATION OF THE EPISTLE

In 2 Corinthians Paul has to vindicate his call and apostleship.  M.C.Tenney says:

"Second Corinthians affords an insight into the career of Paul that none of the other epistles gives. It was written not only to defend him against the occasional criticisms of the Corinthian church, but also against the slanders and accusations that his enemies raised against him wherever he was preaching.  The controversy that began in Galatia had created a powerful group of Judaising opponents, who did not scruple to use any methods, fair or foul, in order to discredit him.  Not only did he have to contend with the spiritual inertia and the evils of traditional paganism, but he also had to face the active malice of jealous and prejudiced leaders who professed to be Christians". [6]

ENDNOTES

1. This date would be c.A.D. 55-57.  See M.C.Tenney, p.297.

2. For example "Now about spiritual gifts..." (PerI de pneumatikon) in 1 Cor.12:1.

3. Paul addresses his letter to the whole church.  He does not appeal to leaders deal with the problems he addresses.

4. M.C.Tenney, p.301.

5. P.E.Hughes, "2 Corinthians" in E.H.Palmer (Gen.Ed.), The NIV Study Bible, p.1727.

6. M.C.Tenney, p.302.



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