PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Acts 18; Paul and Corinth

10/28 1 Corinthians Background and History

We are going to take some time to study a fascinating letter from the Apostle Paul. Let me read you the first lines of the letter.

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth,

This is a letter that, more than most in the New Testament, gives us insight into Paul’s heart. Some of the details of this letter are difficult to understand, because we are listening in on one end of a conversation. Multiple letters and other communication went back and forth between Paul and the believers in Corinth. What we know as First Corinthians is actually the second letter Paul wrote to this young church. In 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul refers to a previous letter.

1 Corinthians 5:9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one.

This mention is all that has survived of this earlier letter. Apparently this letter was misunderstood by the church, and Paul needed to write again to clarify what he had meant. So the letter we have before us is actually his second letter. The church in Corinth had also sent the apostle a letter.

1 Corinthians 7:1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: …

In chapters 7-16, Paul answers at least 6 specific questions the Corinthians had asked him. So we find in this letter a kind of a Q&A with the apostle. Apparently, a report from ‘Chloe’s people’ had told him of trouble in Corinth (1:11). And Paul had no doubt heard from Apollos more details about the situation in Corinth, when he arrived in Ephesus. So Paul wrote this letter to address some of these issues and to answer their questions. He sent off this letter, and also sent Timothy to address the situations. Shortly after, new problems arose in the church. It appears there was a third letter, as well as a painful visit, that he refers to in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 2:1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. …9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.

2 Corinthians 7:8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it–though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while.

This tearful letter doesn’t seem to fit what we have in 1 Corinthians, and the painful visit couldn’t be his first visit when he planted the church, so there was another round of communication between 1st and 2nd Corinthians. Our 2 Corinthians would then be the fourth letter. We are listening in on one end of the communication, and trying to piece together what exactly is going on.

It will be helpful to become familiar with the background of this city and try to piece together the history of this church from the book of Acts. That is where we will spend our time this morning.


The city of Corinth was located in a very strategic place. It was on a narrow isthmus connecting Northern Greece to the Peloponnese peninsula. It was also close to two major ports; Lechaeum to the East and Cenchreae to the West. There was a 3.7 mile drag-way, called ‘diolkos’ where smaller ships and cargo could be put on rollers and portaged between the Corinthian and Saronic Gulfs, so they could avoid the long and treacherous trip around the south shores of the Peloponnese. The city itself was built on the north side of the Acrocorinthus, a 1900ft. natural citadel atop which stood the temple of Venus or Aphrodite, and to which the citizens could retreat to defend themselves when attacked. The city boasted an inexhaustible water supply in fountain of Peirene. This city had a totally immoral reputation. The historian Strabo records that there were 1,000 temple prostitutes that served the temple of Aphrodite. A ‘Corinthian girl’ was a way to refer to a prostitute, and ‘to corinthianize’ meant to indulge in immorality.

The city was completely destroyed by Roman General Leucius Mummius in 146BC in retaliation for the part it played in the revolt of the Achaian League against Rome. Its inhabitants were slaughtered or sold as slaves. It lay desolate for 100 years. Julius Caesar saw the potential of the location, and in 44 BC re-founded the city as a Roman colony. It was populated by free-men (which were slightly above a slave), a population of Jews, and many retired soldiers also settled there. There was no established status by birth, so Corinth provided an opportunity for anyone who could gain wealth to gain status and respect; the poor were despised or ignored. Corinth presided over the Isthmian games, held every 2 years, in which all the Greek city-states participated. This city became the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia. By the time Paul visited, the population was estimated at around 600,000.

Timeline for Paul:

Let’s look at an overview of Paul’s life and ministry.

Born in Tarsus as an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin, a Roman citizen (AD 5-10?)

Trained as a Pharisee by Gamaliel I (15-20?)

Death, resurrection of Christ (33)

(Acts 7-8) Present at stoning of Stephen; persecuted Christians (33-34)

(Acts 9) Paul’s conversion (33/34)

(Gal. 1:17) Paul in Arabia (33/34-36/37)

(Acts 9:26-30; Gal. 1:18) Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James (36/37)

(Gal. 1:21) Paul ministers in Syria/Cilicia (37-45)

(Acts 11:25-26) Paul spends a year in Antioch with Barnabas (44-47)

(Acts 11:27-30; Gal.2:1-10) Paul’s second Jerusalem visit (famine relief) (44-47)

(Acts 13-14) Paul’s first missionary journey (46-47)

(Acts 15) Paul’s third Jerusalem visit (apostolic council) (48-49)

(Acts 15-18) Paul’s second journey (including 1.5 years in Corinth) (48/49-51)

Here we want to pick up the story in detail from the book of Acts. On Paul’s first missionary journey he left Antioch with Barnabas and went to the island of Cyprus, then on to six cities in Lycia and Galatia. On his second journey, he took Silas and visited some of those cities in Galatia again, where he picked up Timothy and continued northwest around the Aegean Sea. In Troas, Paul saw a vision of a man from Macedonia urging them to come to Macedonia to help them (Acts 16:6-10). They traveled to Phillipi, where the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to what Paul was saying. But when Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl, her owners who had made a lot of money from her fortune telling, dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates and had them beaten with rods and imprisoned. They were put in the stocks in the inner prison.

Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.

The jailer and his family believed in Jesus and were baptized. The magistrates were informed they were Roman citizens and apologized for beating them and asked them to leave their city. They traveled to Thessalonica and Paul preached for three Sabbaths at the synagogue that Jesus is the Christ, and that according to the Scriptures it was necessary for him to suffer and rise from the dead. Some from the synagogue were persuaded, along with many devout Greeks and leading women. The Jews were jealous and incited a mob, but they could not find them, so they dragged Jason their host and some of the other brothers before the authorities and made accusation that they were preaching against Caesar, saying there was another king, Jesus. The brothers sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. Many there believed, but when the Jews from Thessalonica heard they were preaching in Berea, they followed them there stirring up the crowds against them. Paul escaped by sea, but Silas and Timothy remained behind in Berea. Paul came to Athens alone, where he reasoned in the synagogue and in the marketplace, and preached in the Areopagus, but with very limited success, a few believed, only two are named. It seems he left Athens alone and discouraged and headed for Corinth. He records his feelings in:

1 Corinthians 2:3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,

Apparently he was in desperate need of encouragement, because:

Acts 18:9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Let’s look at Luke’s record of what happened in Corinth.

Acts 18:1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.

This is a very helpful bit of information for nailing down the date of Paul’s stay in Corinth. This edict of expulsion is recorded by Suetonius, (Lives of the Caesars, Claudius 25.4 published 120AD). “Because the Jews of Rome were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus he expelled them from the city” This is likely a slight misspelling of Christus or Christ, which fits Paul’s recent experience that when he preached Jesus as the Christ, the Jews began riots. This decree of Claudius is dated AD 49.

Acts 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Corinth became a great source of encouragement. Silas and Timothy rejoined him there. When the Jews rejected his message, he turned to the Gentiles. It so happened that Titius Justus lived next door to the synagogue and opened his house to Paul as a place for him to preach Jesus. Many believed, including Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue. Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth teaching the word of God. This was the birth of the church in Corinth.

Acts 18:12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

Here we have another significant connecting point to secular history.

Lucius Junius Gallio, brother of famous philosopher Seneca, was appointed as the new Roman proconsul of Achaia July 1 of AD 51. A rescript from Claudius was discovered in Delphi mentioning Gallio as proconsul of Achaia in the period of the 26th acclamation of Claudius as Imperator (known from other inscriptions to cover the first seven months of AD 52). So Paul would have been brought before Gallio in the fall of AD 51.

Gallio’s handling of this case was significant for the future of Christianity in the Roman empire. He simply dismissed the case, assuming Paul was protected under Roman law as a Jew, and assuming that this was a religious debate within Judaism. This set a precedent for other Roman colonies, granting freedom to the preaching of Jesus. Gallio’s snub of the Jewish leaders provided an opportunity for the non-Jewish population to vent their anti-Jewish sentiment on the new synagogue leader Sosthenes. If this Sosthenes is the same as the Sosthenes mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1, then he must have subsequently become a believer in Jesus and followed Paul to Ephesus.

Acts 18:18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Here we see the start of Paul’s 3rd missionary journey. He had returned to Caesarea, Jerusalem, and Antioch, and then went to encourage the believers in many of the places he had visited previously. In Ephesus, we meet another key figure in the history of the church in Corinth.

Acts 18:24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

19:1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples.

Apollos was from Alexandria in Egypt. He met Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus, before Paul returned, and they explained to him the way of God more accurately. He was eloquent, passionate, powerful. He was encouraged to go to Achaia and settled in Corinth, where ‘he greatly helped those who through grace had believed’. Paul viewed Apollos as continuing the ministry he had started in Corinth. He says:

1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

And in the close of the letter, Paul refers to him as ‘our brother’.

1 Corinthians 16:12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

Paul spent 3 years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31). During his stay there, he received correspondence from the church in Corinth, and reports from Chloe’s people, and Apollos also returned to Ephesus toward the end of his stay there. He wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. Apparently, both his co-worker Timothy and his letter were unable to manage the situation so Paul paid Corinth an immediate short painful visit (2Cor.2:1). Paul was personally attacked in deeply insulting ways (2Cor.2:5-8, 10; 7:12) by self-proclaimed apostles who had infiltrated the church and were undermining his authority. He returned to Ephesus and decided not to return immediately as he had planned (2Cor1:16ff). Instead, he sent another (lost) letter; out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears (2cor.2:4), delivered by Titus. This letter assured them of his love, laid down the standards expected of the churches, and demanded punishment of ringleader who opposed Paul (2:3-9; 7:8-12).

Ephesus was now becoming dangerous; as he describes in

2 Corinthians 1:8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

He is likely referring to the riot in the theater started by Demetrius and the other idol-makers (Acts 19:23-20:1). Paul left Ephesus for Troas hoping to meet Titus returning with news from Corinth.

2 Corinthians 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

When Paul arrived in Macedonia, he was still troubled over Corinth, because he did not find Titus there.

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn–fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it–though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

Paul wrote what we have as 2 Corinthians from Macedonia, after Titus had brought his good report of their repentant response. Paul continued south from Macedonia to visit Corinth again, spending three months, during which he wrote the letter to the Romans (Acts 20:1-3). Paul then returned to Jerusalem, where he was arrested, imprisoned in Caesarea for two years, then on his voyage to Rome, was shipwrecked in Malta for 3 months. Paul finally made it to Rome in AD 60. He spent two years under house-arrest in Rome, then was released for a time before he was re-arrested and lay down his life for the cause of Christ in Rome.

What can we learn from all this?

If you are into history, this may be really interesting stuff. If you like puzzles and mysteries, then piecing all the facts and details together is very satisfying. If not, you’re probably bored out of your mind. I’m not interested in giving a history lesson for history’s sake. Here’s a few things I think we can take away from this.

-God’s word is true. We see so much historical confirmation of the details that demonstrate the accuracy of the bible.

-Corinth was an evil city. There is no place too dark or hopeless for us to bring the light of the gospel. The gospel has the power to transform lives.

-We see from Paul’s travels that God orders our circumstances and even our detours for his good purposes.

-Even Paul got discouraged. God comforts the downcast.

-From Paul’s example we can learn to love the gospel more than our own lives.

-From Paul’s example, we can learn to love the church, be grieved over division, pray and work hard for unity.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

October 28, 2012 - Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , ,

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