A Discourse Analysis of First CorinthiansRalph Bruce Terry
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2.1 The Rhetorical Situation

Setting and Background

The City of Corinth

The peninsula of southern Greece, known as the Peloponnesus, is connected to the main part of Greece by a narrow isthmus about 50 miles west of Athens. At its narrowest part the isthmus is only 3½ to 4 miles wide, separating the Corinthian Gulf on the west from the Saronic Gulf on the east. On the southwest end of the isthmus, just to the north of a mesa which rises to a height of 1886 feet above sea level, lies the ancient city of Corinth. Situated as it is at the crossroads of the major land route from north to south and the major sea route from east to west, the city early became a commercial center. The mesa, known as the Acrocorinth or Acrocorinthus, served as a citadel for the city. Six miles of wall surrounded the city on the north side. The city of Corinth itself was on a plain 300 feet above sea level, but it was provided with harbors on the two gulfs by Lechaeum (or Lechaion), about 1½ miles to the west, and Cenchreae, about 8¾ miles to the east (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 1980; Douglas and Hillyer 1980; Morgan-Wynne 1983, 4; and Bruce 1971, 18-19).

The ancient city was noted, not only for its military and commercial importance, but also for its worship of the goddess of love, Aphrodite. On top of the Acrocorinth stood a temple dedicated to her, which Strabo reported had been staffed by "a thousand temple-slaves, courtesans, whom both men and women had dedicated to the goddess" (Geography 8.6.20 [§378], quoted by Craig 1953, 4; Conzelmann 1975, 12, expresses his disbelief of this figure). Prostitution was so rampant that "to corinthianize" became a verb meaning "to practice fornication," especially in the Old Comedy (Morgan-Wynne 1983, 4; and Barrett 1968, 2).

All of this came to an end in 146 B.C. when the Roman general L. Mummius destroyed the city and carried its inhabitants off into slavery. Then in 44 B.C. the city was refounded by Julius Caesar as a Roman colony, under the name of 'Laus Iulia Corinthiensis'. Because of its location, it quickly gained in importance and in 27 B.C. was made the capital of the Roman province of Achaia (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 1980; and Bruce 1971, 18). The Roman influence is seen in the fact that names such as Crispus, Titius Justus, and Fortunatus, associated with Corinth in the New Testament, are Roman names. Also Corinth was the only city in Greece to have an amphitheater. The city became the wealthiest and most important city in Greece during the first century A.D. Its population has been estimated as high as 600,000, including its two port cities (Craig 1953, 3).

The temple of Aphrodite was reestablished on the Acrocorinth, although Strabo calls it a "little temple" (Conzelmann 1975, 12). The city center boasted temples for Apollo and Asclepius, the god of healing (Morgan-Wynne 1983, 4). Poseidon was an important god in Corinth, but there were also altars to Hermes, Artemis, Zeus, Dionysus, Heracles, and others (Craig 1953, 4). The sanctuaries to foreign gods include two to Isis of Egypt and two to Sarapis, both Egyptian deities (Smith 1977, 210-216; Conzelmann 1975, 12; and Pausanias Description of Greece, Corinth 4.6).

The Historical Background to I Corinthians

The apostle Paul came to the city of Corinth on his second missionary journey, probably in the spring of A.D. 50 (Barrett 1968, 5; Craig 1953, 4). Acts 18:1-18 records how Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, working with them as tentmakers during the week and preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath days. When Silas and Timothy finally arrived from Macedonia, he devoted himself to preaching and teaching all the time. Opposition arose from the Jews and Paul moved his preaching to the house of Titius Justus, a God-fearer who lived next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, was converted, along with many of the Corinthians. In all, Paul stayed about a year and a half, probably until the fall of A.D. 51 (Barrett 1968, 5; Craig 1953, 4). It was during this time that the Jews dragged Paul before the judgment seat of Gallio, the Roman proconsul. Their effort to stop his preaching by legal means failed, but it aids us in dating the event. An inscription found at Delphi places Gallio in Corinth between January 25th and August 1st in A.D. 52. It is therefore likely that he became proconsul in the spring of A.D. 51. This date may be a year too early, but the chronology is close if not exact (Conzelmann 1975, 12-13).

After Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla left Corinth for Ephesus, Apollos came to Corinth (Acts 18:27-19:1). Perhaps Peter also visited the city, for we find a Cephas party mentioned in I Cor. 1:12. When Paul returned to Ephesus on his third missionary journey, he began correspondence with the church at Corinth that included probably four letters from him and at least one letter from them. In I Cor. 5:9-11 Paul refers to a previous letter he had written them (unless, of course, the word "wrote" be taken as an epistolary aorist referring to I Corinthians). Some have identified this previous letter with II Corinthians 6:14-7:1, but it is more likely that this letter has been lost (Guthrie 1970, 425-426).

In reply, they sent a letter to Paul asking questions (I Cor. 7:1), perhaps carried by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (16:17). Several sections begin with the words Περὶ δέ 'Now concerning' (7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12); these are usually taken as referring to the Corinthians' questions in their letter (cf. Morris 1958, 115, 124, 166, 237, 242). If this is correct, the letter read something like the following reconstruction (this was composed using I Cor. 1:2, 14; 7:1, 25, 38; 8:1, 4; 10:23; 11:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12, 17; Rom. 16:23; III John 2; I Clement 1:1; Morgan-Wynne 1983, 7, 10-11; Bruce 1971, 102; Barrett 1968, 4; and Doty 1973, 2, 4-5, 30-31):


The church of God which is at Corinth to Paul. Rejoice.

We pray that you may be in health, even as we are. We thank God for you, remembering you in our prayers.

There have been some matters of discussion among us, and knowing your wisdom, we are writing for your decision in these matters.

Is it a good thing for a man not to touch a woman? If so, does a man do well if he should give his virgin in marriage?

Should we eat things sacrificed to idols? Some say that we all have knowledge that no idol is anything in the world and that there is no God but one. And we know that all things are lawful.

Now we remember you in everything and maintain the traditions even as you have delivered them to us. But as to spiritual gifts, is it better to speak in tongues or to prophesy in church?

How should we take up the collection for the saints in Jerusalem?

Some among us would like Apollos to return. Send him back to us soon.

This letter is sent by the hand of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus whom you know to be faithful in the Lord. They will tell you more than what we have written.

Gaius, and the church in his house, greets you. Crispus greets you. Greet Apollos. Greet Aquila and Prisca, and the church in their house. Rejoice.

Paul's answer to them was the letter we call I Corinthians. Subsequently Paul paid a second visit to Corinth, which he calls a "painful visit" (II Corinthians 2:1), apparently because he was rebuffed there. He followed this with a severe letter (II Corinthians 2:3-4, 9; 7:8, 12) which was delivered by Titus. Some have identified this with I Corinthians, while others have identified it with II Corinthians 10-13, but most likely it too is lost (Guthrie 1970, 429-438). Paul traveled to Troas and on to Macedonia hoping to meet Titus. When he met him, he rejoiced that his mission had been successful in producing their repentance. In response he wrote II Corinthians (or at least chapters 1-9).

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