Lesson One – Paul Arrives in Corinth

Paul Arrives in Corinth


A study of Luke’s narrative called Acts is a prerequisite for reading several of the letters in the New Testament.  It is a “must do” for our study of the Corinthian letters because so much of the content is understood in the context of the Acts narrative.  For instance, Paul’s changing schedule and unrecorded visits to Corinth need to be sorted out before we can properly read II Corinthians.  The following chart should be fixed in our minds as we read the two Corinthian letters God has recorded for us and two others He did not record.



Luke’s narration in Acts 18:1-19 of Paul’s first trip to Corinth is a good place to start our historical analysis for studying all his letters.  The following are some points of interest:

  1. Luke’s introduction of Aquila and Priscilla gave us some insight into Paul’s source of financial support as he preached the gospel in Corinth.  He, like they, were tentmakers and he, like they, was not afraid to work in order to preach the gospel (I Cor. 9:17, 18; Acts 18:26).  This couple was with Paul when he wrote I Corinthians from Ephesus.  They did not wait for a physical church building to be built to cooperate with Jesus in the spiritual building of His church.  They used their own home for the assembly of the church in Ephesus (I Cor. 16:19).  And they did it again when they returned to Rome (Rom. 16:3-5).  The issue of Paul’s financial support produced some of the drama in the Corinthian letters.  Getting attuned to the drama is crucial for our study.  For example consider the following:
    a.      “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.”  I Cor. 4:11.  Paul very likely made use of hyperbole to describe the result of his lack of support to make other important points.  This is to say, he may have overstated his financial poverty.
    b.      “This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.  Don’t we have the right to food and drink?”  I Cor. 9:3, 4.  This was Paul’s opening remark in a long discourse about his rights as an apostle.  His appointment to the office of an apostle is a key factor for the proper understanding of these letters.  Please note the long list of rhetorical questions he presented in I Corinthians 9:1-18.  The use of this literary tool means Paul thought the recipients already knew the answers.  Paul wanted them to think through these issues on their own.  As a preaching and teaching apostle, he had rights for which he was not taking advantage.
    c.       “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.  On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.”  II Cor. 2:17.  We will need to pay attention to the way Paul used the fact that the Corinthians did not support him.
    d.      It was not about the money; Paul wrote, “Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?  I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you.  And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed.  I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and I will continue to do so.”  II Cor. 11:7-9.
  2. Another insight we glean from Luke’s narrative in Acts 18:1-4 is a suggestive time frame for Paul’s one and a half years in Corinth.  Claudius was the Emperor in Rome in A.D. 41-54.  He gave Judea to Herod Agrippa, who had the Apostle James killed (Acts 12:2).  Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome.  A couple by the name of Aquila and Priscilla was among those expelled.  They may have been Christians before they came to Corinth.  Gallio was Proconsul of Achaia in the 12th year of Claudius’ reign, as per the Delphi Inscription; therefore, it may be concluded Paul was in Corinth from A.D. 50-52 on his original trip.  We can better visualize the drama in Paul’s letters when we get the time, place and event in focus.  If we miss the drama in these letters, we will miss much of the message.
  3. Luke’s narratives in Acts introduce us to the recipients of Paul’s letters.  Paul followed Jesus’ evangelism plan in Corinth as he had in other places – to the Jew first and then the Gentile (Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16).  From Acts 18:1-18, we understand the church membership in Corinth was predominately Greek Gentiles.  After Timothy and Silas rejoined Paul, he preached full time in Corinth.  Perhaps, they brought him some financial support from the church at Philippi (Phil. 4:15, 16).
    When the Jews became abusive Paul afforded himself of Titius Justus’ house next door to the synagogue and began teaching Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.  Titius Justus may be the person Paul baptized who is called Gaius (I Cor. 1:14).  Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his household believed and were baptized along with many of the Corinthians.  Paul told the Corinthians he had come to Corinth in weakness, fear and trembling (I Cor. 2:3).  Things had not gone well in Athens.  It had been necessary for him to escape from the Jews in Thessalonica and Berea.  Jesus encouraged Paul.  He told Paul He had many people in this city and the Jews would not harm him – so Paul went to work (Acts 18:9, 10).
  4. Please note, the church in Corinth was built for God through Jesus Christ (Matt. 16:18; I Cor. 3:9).  Paul was sent to Corinth to lay the foundation which is Christ (I Cor. 3:10, 11).  He would also spend time watering this church but he could not make it grow (I Cor. 3:7).  He was a fellow worker with God.  God would make it grow.  The aim was to build a church that would serve as the temple of God in Corinth (I Cor. 3:16).  Paul was not sent to Corinth to build a religious denomination or a Roman Catholic Church.  These were all built according to the wisdom of man.  However, some people in the Corinthian church had begun to sow the seed for churches that would not qualify as the temple of God (I Cor. 1:12).  This was the problem then and it is the problem now.  Hanging a “Church of Christ” sign on a church building and proclaiming “we speak where the Bible speaks” will not solve the problem of division.  This is what we shall learn in our study.
  5. Luke gave us some insight about the tenaciousness of the Jewish leaders in his Acts narrative and we need to pay close attention to the character of some Jews.  They were a jealous and violent people (Acts 13:45; 14:19, 20).  We are reminded of Jesus’ characterization of the Pharisees in Luke 11:37-53.  Even though Paul had left the Synagogue in Corinth the Jews were still unhappy.  They took him to court.  When Gallio threw them out they openly beat up Sosthenes, another synagogue ruler who became a Christian.  We will want to give some thought as to why Paul signed Sosthenes on as the co-author of I Corinthians.  If these Jewish leaders were willing to take Paul to court and beat up the Jewish Christians while Paul was present, we need not think they would leave the church alone after he left.  We will take up this point in our following lessons as we continue our historical analysis in preparation for reading the Corinthian letters.  In the meantime we may want to consider the identity of those “false apostles” mentioned in II Corinthians 11:12-15.

There are at least four basic principles we need to apply to the reading of a letter whether it is found in the Bible or in our mail box.

One.     What was going on where the letter was received?  This is the aim of historical analysis. We want to pinpoint the main reason(s) Paul wrote.  There may be several reasons but generally there will be a main reason.  We must understand what was happening where the letter was received; however, in this case much of the drama was happening between the writer and the recipients.  We will need to catch onto and stay with this intense drama all the way through the letters.  

Two.     If they had a problem: We ask; “Was it doctrinal or spiritual growth in nature?”  Then we ask: What did the author say to correct the problem?  His solution is what we bring to the “here and now.”  This is the hermeneutical aspect of applying biblical interpretation principles.  The historical and literary analysis is for the “then and there” – the exegetical aspect.

Three.  Another principle of good interpreters is to follow the literary style of the writer.  Paul is a master stylist; however, if we do good work in points 1 and 2 we will have no trouble following his “chain of thought.”

Four.    Also, we need to understand what the recipients had been taught when they were converted to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Paul spent a year and a half teaching the Corinthians what every church member, them and us, should know about our life in the kingdom of God.  He also told them how to apply it to the way God created mankind.  We may need to make sure we know what they knew from his previous teaching, unless he explains it in his letters.  In many cases he will assume they knew about that which he wrote.  If we don’t know what they knew, we need to research the doctrine.

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.   I Cor. 2:12, 13

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why do we need to study Acts in order to read the Corinthian letters?
  2. What might lead us to think there are at least two Corinthian letters we do not have in our Bible?
  3. Which of Paul’s trips to Corinth did Luke not narrate for us?
  4. How did Luke’s introduction of Aquila and Priscilla open the door to an important aspect of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians?
  5. How are Aquila and Priscilla “role models” for Christian couples today?
  6. What has become a key for dating Paul’s time in Corinth on his first trip?
  7. How did Paul raise funds to care for his physical needs while he preached the gospel of God in Corinth?
  8. What was the statement Paul made to the Jews before he changed the place he taught?
  9. What were the names of some Jews who may have been members of the Lord’s church in Corinth?
  10. Describe Paul’s role in Corinth.
  11. Why might we suspect the Jewish leaders in Corinth, who did not accept Jesus Christ, would give the church trouble?
  12. List briefly four simple principles for reading a letter.

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