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1 Corinthians

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible What is This? Provides accessible, authoritative coverage for all major topics pertaining to the study of the Books of the Bible.

1 Corinthians

The letter known as 1 Corinthians was one of several letters that the apostle Paul dispatched to house churches in Corinth, the capital of Achaia (southern Greece), in the 50s C.E. Some of those letters appear to be lost, and many scholars today consider 2 Corinthians a composite letter that contains fragments of other correspondence (see 2 Cor). Like other letters in the Pauline corpus 1 Corinthians is named for its recipients (1:2). It is the seventh book in the New Testament; its canonical order, as the second book in the Pauline corpus, was determined primarily by its length. Scholars classify 1 Corinthians as one of Paul's major letters because its authenticity is well established and it contains a number of significant themes. As a whole the Corinthian correspondence illustrates how Paul and his fledgling churches in Achaia were often at odds. These letters were part of his strategy to reclaim them.


While some scholars dispute the authorship of a number of Pauline letters based on stylistic, historical, and theological criteria (e.g., Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, and the Pastoral Letters), no serious challenges exist to Paul's authorship of 1 Corinthians. Still, Paul's letters are best understood not as the product of a single individual but as a collaborative effort between Paul and his coworkers (Capes 2007, pp.68–78; Richards 1991).

Paul “the apostle of Jesus Christ” and Sosthenes “our brother” were cosenders of 1 Corinthians (1:1). Paul's name is naturally listed first in the salutation, as he was the apostle and founder of at least some of the Corinthian house churches. Although for us the identity of Paul's cosender is unclear, since no further description than “our brother” is employed, Sosthenes was likely well known to the first audience of this letter (see Acts 18:17).

Based on 1 Corinthians 16:21, we may also conclude that Paul used an amanuensis (a secretary) to assist in the composition of this letter. It was commonplace for the apostle to employ a secretary's time and skills in writing his letters and to authenticate them at the end with his own hand (e.g., Gal 6:11; Rom 16:22; cf. Col 4:18 and 2 Thess 3:17). The extent of secretarial influence in this or any letter is difficult to determine. However, scholars generally regard most secretarial contributions to the style and content of a letter to be under an author's watchful eye (Richards).

Date and Historical Context.

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus sometime before Pentecost (16:8) around 54–55 CE; but this letter was at least Paul's second to the troubled congregation. In 1 Corinthians 5:9 Paul refers to a previous letter (now lost) he had written instructing the Corinthians not to associate with immoral people. Apparently those who first received the letter misinterpreted his intention and separated from the unbelievers “of this world.” When Paul became aware of moral failures in the church, he clarified his meaning with an admonition to avoid Christ-believers who engage in immoral behaviors (5:9–13).

Several factors led the apostle to dispatch 1 Corinthians. First, he had received a report from Chloe's people (1:11) that the church was rife with quarrels and divisions. Paul was deeply disturbed by the news but could not personally make a visit at this time; so he sent his coworker Timothy to renew his pastoral interests and remind them of his ways (4:14–17). Second, a delegation from Corinth arrived in Ephesus (16:15–18) apparently confirming the earlier reports of trouble in Corinth and carrying a letter from the church that posed several questions to him about matters in which they needed some guidance. Paul felt a deep burden for his churches; he knew these reports and this letter demanded a response. But since he could not leave for Corinth immediately, he crafted and dispatched this letter. The structure of 1 Corinthians reflects broadly the issues presented: (1) chapters 1–6 deal with the reports of internal problems and disunity; and (2) chapters 7–16 answer the questions raised by the Corinthians' letter to him.

Paul in Corinth.

When Paul arrived in Corinth, the capital of Achaia was a wealthy, cosmopolitan city. Its vigorous economy had much to do with its strategic location. On a north-south axis, Corinth was situated on the isthmus connecting the mainland of Achaia (Greece) to the Peloponnesus. On an east-west axis, Corinth was the “master of two harbors”—as Strabo the geographer put it (Geography 8.6.20)—one heading east to Asia (Cenchrea), the other west to Italy (Lechaeum). Engineers had built a dry canal across the narrowest points between the Saronic and Corinthian gulfs so that ships and their cargo could be pulled overland and avoid the long, treacherous sea journey around the Peloponnesus. As a strategic member of the Achaean League, classical Corinth had been a thriving Greek city-state. Archaeological evidence suggests that a majority of Greco-Roman gods had a temple or shrine at one time or another in Corinth.

Despite the strong alliance between Corinth and other Achaean city-states, Rome's eastward expansion brought death, destruction, and slavery to

1 Corinthians

Gallio Inscription.

Discovered at Delphi in the early twentieth century, the inscription helps to date Paul's stay in Gallio's Corinth to 51 or 52 c.e. In this fragment, the Greek form of “Gallio” is visible in the fourth line from the top.


view larger image

Corinth's citizens in 146 B.C.E. For a century the defeated city sat in ruins, largely uninhabited until Julius Caesar ordered its recolonization in 44 B.C.E. Afterward it became a thoroughly Roman city built on a Roman plan and colonized by Roman citizens, many of whom were veterans and freed slaves (Strabo, Geography 8.6.23). Rome governed the region by appointing a proconsul to represent imperial interests. In Paul's day the seat belonged briefly to L. Iunius Gallio. According to Acts 18, during Paul's initial visit to Corinth Jewish opponents brought the apostle up before the governor on charges that he had violated the law. After hearing the case, Gallio refused to rule on the matter since the charges had to do primarily with Jewish, not Roman, matters. The archaeological discovery of the “Gallio inscription” at Delphi in the first part of the twentieth century has provided scholars with a fixed date in order to begin to construct a chronology of Paul's mission activities. The inscription, along with the account in Acts and the letters of Seneca, Gallio's brother, help to locate Paul in Gallio's Corinth in 51 or 52 C.E. (Murphy-O'Connor 1995, p. 15).

Structure and Outline of 1 Corinthians.

Paul's letters were unique compositions, but their structures were based on the Greco-Roman letter form (Richards, 128–198). The body of 1 Corinthians reflects the occasions for the letter: (1) reports of problems in the church and (2) a letter from Corinth seeking his guidance.

I. Opening greeting and thanksgiving (1:1–9)

II. Paul's response to reports of problems in the Corinthian church (1:10—6:20)

A. Divisions in the church (1:10—4:21)

B. Immorality in the church (5:1—6:20)

III.Paul's response to a letter from the Corinthian church (7:1—16:12)

A. About marriage (7:1–40)

B. About food sacrificed to idols (8:1—11:1)

1. The problem and its affect (8:1–13)

2. Paul's example: Giving up his rights (9:1–27)

3. Lessons from the past (10:1–22)

4. Concluding admonitions (10:23—11:1)

C. About worship (11:2—14:40)

1. Head coverings in worship (11:2–16)

2. The LORD's Supper (11:17–34)

D. About spiritual gifts (12:1—14:40)

1. Various gifts, one body (12:1–30)

2. Love: The more excellent way (13:1–13)

3. Prophecy and tongues (14:1–25)

4. Bringing order to worship (14:26–40)

E. About resurrection (15:1–58)

1. Handing on the gospel: The resurrection of Christ (15:1–11)

2. The resurrection to come (15:12–34)

3. The nature of the resurrection body (15:35–58)

F. About the collection for Jerusalem (16:1–4)

IV. Conclusion: Travel plans, exhortations, and final greetings (16:5–24)


Paul adapted the Greco-Roman letter form to his own purposes.

1:1–9 Opening Greeting and Thanksgiving.

After identifying himself and his cosender, Sosthenes, Paul addressed the recipients as “the church of God” located in Corinth. He described these “saints” as part of a universal movement constituted through a religious act, namely, invoking the name of the LORD Jesus Christ (1:2). Following his stereotypical greeting (1:3; “grace and peace to you…”), he diverged from the standard health-wish to include his own epistolary feature, a thanksgiving to God. Paul expanded the thanksgiving by previewing themes he intended to take up in the rest of the letter (1:4–9).

1:10—6:20 Paul's Response to Reports of Problems in the Corinthian Church.

The body of this letter begins with an apostolic appeal (“by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”) to agreement and unity. Chloe's people had informed Paul that the Corinthian community was in danger of disintegrating into various factions. According to Paul's description, everyone had taken sides out of appreciation for and loyalty to various Christian teachers, including Paul himself. He referred to these schisms as those who belong to Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter), and Christ (1:12). Paul's discussion of the problems does not offer us sufficient information to reconstruct the exact nature of the disagreements between the various parties. In the nineteenth century F. C. Baur argued that 1 Corinthians provided evidence of a persistent conflict between Petrine and Pauline factions over the nature of the gospel (Baur 1831). But scholars today are not convinced that Baur's reconstruction is correct, and 1 Corinthians 3:5–9 and 4:6–7 appear to situate the conflict more precisely between followers of Apollos and Paul.

What seems clear is that the Corinthians focused their attention on human eloquence, wisdom, and sophistry, that is, with how something is said rather than what is said. Paul countered by reminding them of their baptism in Christ and arguing that human eloquence and worldly wisdom only detracted from the cross and its power (1:10–17). But he knew that the message of a crucified Messiah had drawn a hard line between insiders and outsiders. For those experiencing salvation, the message of the cross was the power of God, but for those outside and destined for destruction it was utter foolishness. Scripture itself (Isa 29:14), according to Paul, had pointed to a day when God would confound the wisdom of the world with his own, divine wisdom located paradoxically in the crucified Messiah (1:18–25). The Corinthian believers, most of whom lacked pedigree and influence, had become participants in God's recent actions to overthrow worldly systems of prestige and power through Jesus, who had become God's wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption for his followers (1:30). Paul reminded the Corinthians of his own example as well in proclaiming the gospel. He did not arrive in Corinth with a message delivered in eloquent speech but rather in weakness, fear, and trembling as a demonstration of the power and the Spirit (2:1–5). God's wisdom, decreed from before the ages, had been hidden from “the rulers of this age;” but now it has been revealed to believers through the Spirit. This Spirit imparts true wisdom and knowledge to those who are spiritual and possess the mind of Christ; yet those who are “unspiritual” (or “natural”) find themselves incapable of understanding the benefits of the Spirit (2:6–16).

The rhetoric Paul employed demonstrates his disappointment with the state of the Corinthians' life together. Reports of quarreling and jealousy convinced him that they were spiritual infants whose connection to the “flesh” had not been broken (3:1–5). For Paul “the flesh” belonged to this age and was destined to pass away. Still it exercised its tyranny over weak and frail humanity by yielding to the power of sin (Furnish 1968, pp. 117–8). The jealousy and factiousness reported in Corinth demonstrated that these believers were animated more by the flesh than by the Spirit. Properly understood, Paul and Apollos were mere servants of the gospel and its LORD. They shared a common purpose, but God was truly the one at work in them. Paul may have laid the foundation, but others like Apollos were called to build upon it without calling attention to themselves. Ultimately, the true nature of everyone's work will be revealed on the eschatological “Day” (3:13–15).

In 3:16–17 Paul famously referred to the church as “God's temple” and threatened any who tear down the church with destruction at the hands of God. Though later in the letter Paul's “temple” language describes the body of the individual believer (6:19), here it clearly has to do with the community of faith (compare a similar usage by the sectarians in Qumran; 1 QS 9.5–6). For Paul, divisive actions and boasting over human leaders were a real threat that must be taken seriously. But these are not the only problems reported to Paul about the Corinthian church. He was shocked to hear about an embarrassing case of sexual immorality that had gone unaddressed. He immediately called for the assembly to discipline the man by handing him “over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the LORD” (1 Cor 5:4–5). The point of this disciplinary action was not to punish the offender but to call him to repentance. Still the church's purity and reputation must be protected from an act considered immoral and illegal even by outsiders. Paul was also grieved to learn that believers were depending on secular courts to help them settle their disputes (6:1–8). For him the church should be an alternative community where “saints” judge these lesser matters now because they will judge even weightier matters in the world to come. Still if no one in the churches is wise enough to arbitrate these lawsuits, it would be better to be defrauded than to bring shame on the whole community. If believers want to manifest divine wisdom, they do so by suffering injustice in identification with the crucified Messiah. Finally, Paul dealt with reports that some Corinthian believers were engaging the services of prostitutes (6:12–20). These behaviors were not the ways of those who stand to inherit God's kingdom. They may have characterized their former lives, but the Corinthian believers were changed people, washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the LORD Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God (6:9–11). Some had apparently adopted the [Pauline?] slogan, “all things are lawful for me,” to justify their actions (6:12). But, according to Paul, they misapplied it; freedom does not mean “anything goes.” The believer's body belongs to the LORD and is the temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 3:16–17). No believer should unite with a prostitute precisely because the body is destined for resurrection and is a member of Christ. As such it is to be the sphere of God's glory, not of sexual immorality (6:12–20).

7:1—16:12 Paul's Response to a Letter from the Corinthian Church.

In chapter seven Paul turns his attention to a letter he had received from the churches posing a series of questions. Even if Paul's relationship with certain segments of the churches was beginning to feel the strain at this juncture, the survival of this letter demonstrates that many continued to look to him for help and guidance.

The first question they asked had to do with the appropriateness of marital celibacy (7:1–40). Why this was advocated by some in Corinth is unclear. Some may have been influenced by those philosophers who taught that by disciplining the body and its appetites a person is able to attain a higher, spiritual status (Yarbrough 1985, pp. 32–34). Others may have interpreted Paul's preaching on the imminence of the second coming as a reason to forgo bodily pleasures.

Although Paul himself was single and urged others to pursue a single lifestyle if they were so gifted (7:7–8, 32–34), he understood the temptations associated with sexual desire. Accordingly, marriage is appropriate but marital celibacy is not, except for short periods of prayer by common agreement. Both husbands and wives have a mutual responsibility to satisfy the conjugal rights of the other. Still he promoted singleness as a real option in light of the nearness of the Parousia (coming of Christ) and some of the problems associated with marriage. The unmarried, he argued, may devote themselves more completely to the LORD than the married, who will always have to struggle with divided loyalties. Regarding divorce, Paul instructed believers not to be the one to initiate it because marriage has a sanctifying effect on unbelieving partners and their children (7:10–16). When unbelievers, on the other hand, decide to leave their believing spouses, they should be free to go without creating any restrictions on the believers. Ultimately, Paul urged all to remain as they were when God called them, for the time was short and the world was coming to an end (7:17–30).

The next question had to do with another divisive problem in the church between those who did and did not eat food that had been sacrificed in a pagan temple (8:1—11:1). The former defended the practice by appealing to knowledge: idols do not really exist, and there is no God but one. Therefore, they considered themselves free to eat the meat if they desired. Paul agreed with their knowledge but disagreed with their behavior because they disregarded the offended consciences of brothers and sisters who did not possess such knowledge. In effect Paul reframed the issue and made it a matter of love (cf. 13:1–13). Knowledge, uninformed by love, may lead to a blatant disregard for others. Love, however, always builds up and seeks the good of others. Their knowledge and exercise of liberty had become a stumbling block to the weak (8:9). Now Paul challenged them to exercise their liberty in a new direction; rather than using it to eat food sacrificed in a pagan temple, he urged them to use it to pursue love and refuse to eat such food so long as the practice caused offense. Though it was not a sin to eat food sacrificed to idols, their actions had become sinful because they cavalierly ignored the consequences of their behavior on others. The apostle laid down the principle: for Christians knowledge and personal liberty must always give way to the needs of others. This is the essence of love. Paul himself had lived by this love principle when he decided to forgo the right he had to financial support from the Corinthians (9:1–27). Though many criticized their apostle for not accepting their assistance, he nevertheless surrendered the right so that the gospel could progress without hindrance. In so doing, Paul made himself a slave to all for the sake of the gospel (9:19–23) and an example to be imitated (10:31—11:1).

The apostle had more to say on the dangers inherent in a community fractured over the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols. He understood that these were matters not only of fellowship and conscience but of economics as well, for many Corinthians were simply too poor to eat meat unless it was distributed at a temple sacrifice. Still Paul remained resolute on the matter, confident that the LORD's table could provide the proper setting for dealing with economic disparity and communal unity.

By appealing to the scripture and comparing the present crisis in Corinth to the wilderness experience of the Israelites, Paul sounded a solemn warning. Although God had acted decisively to redeem his enslaved people and provided them with spiritual food and drink (10:4; from the rock who was Christ), he nevertheless was not pleased with their actions and destroyed them. According to Paul, these events “happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come” (10:11). The churches in Corinth must not think that God will deal with them any differently; they were facing similar temptations and dangers that could be avoided only by turning to God (10:13). This is why Christ-believers must not attend the banquets held in the shadow of pagan temples under any circumstances (10:14–22). To do so violates tenets and practices of the faith. According to Paul, to drink the cup and eat the bread of the LORD's table involve sharing in the body of Christ; likewise to drink the cup and eat the bread in pagan temples involve sharing with demons. Even if idols are nothing, the practice is not neutral and must be avoided. And yet buying this food in the market and eating it in private homes constitute different issues that involve concern and sensitivity to those around the table (10:23–30). In the end Paul encouraged believers to do everything to God's glory and set aside personal liberty in view of the good of the “many” (10:31–33).

Ironically, the divisions that plagued Corinth may have been most acutely felt in their gatherings for worship. In 11:3–16 Paul provided a scriptural and natural argument for why women/wives should pray and prophesy with heads covered while men/husbands should do so with heads uncovered. Whether this refers to the wearing of a veil or to the length of hair (women long, men short) is unclear. Because the passage appears to interrupt the flow of Paul's discourse from 11:2 to 11:17 and because the content and style is unusual for Paul, some have suggested this section is a later interpolation. Other scholars reject this theory and regard it as consistent with Paul's own complex pastoral and theological personality. As a man of his day, it is likely that Paul would have seen his world in hierarchical terms, with headship construed as source and/or authority (God → Christ → man/husband → woman/wife). To maintain good order, it is the responsibility of each to reflect “the glory” of its head. Although the situation behind his remarks is unknown, it appears that some married women were violating local customs and blurring lines of sexual identity. While such matters are often culturally determined, for Paul culture was subject to the gospel and must be evaluated against its bold claims. In particular he considered the narrative of creation instructive and authoritative in discerning what practices should be kept or discarded.

According to reports (11:18–20), the Corinthian church was also deeply divided over what took place when they gathered over fellowship meals. In particular, the haves would arrive early and go ahead with their meals, neglecting the have-nots who would arrive later to an empty table. Again, ironically, these fellowship meals were tied directly to the LORD's Supper. So Paul condemned them for disregarding the poor and reminded them of the true meaning of their eucharistic gatherings.

Paul's account of Jesus' last meal with his disciples is the earliest record we have of the LORD's Supper (11:23–26). It bears close narrative resemblance to Luke's account (Luke 22:19–20; cf. Mark 14:22–24; Matt 26:26–28). Utilizing the language of tradition (11:23; “received…handed on…”), Paul interpreted the meal ideally as a perpetual remembrance of a community in solidarity until the second coming (11:26; “until he comes”). There is after all one bread and one body (10:17; cf. Did. 9–10). But the Corinthian practice had effectively negated the desired, unifying effects and brought instead division and divine judgment on the church. Paul appealed to them to wait for one another so that their future gatherings would not lead to condemnation (11:33–34).

In chapters 12–14 Paul dealt with issues posed to him regarding spiritual gifts. The extent of his response indicates the deep-seated nature of the division between those who possessed and did not possess certain highly valued gifts. He situated his argument as a matter of Spirit-inspired speech beneath the common confession “Jesus is LORD” (12:1–3). As the argument unfolds, he acknowledged the diversity of gifts as sourced in the same Spirit, the same LORD (Jesus), and the same God. He recognized too the communal nature of these gifts: “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (12:7; see Ellis 1989, pp. 26–47).

For Paul the human body provided a helpful analogy for understanding the unity of the church amidst such diversity of gifts. It is likely some in his audience would have recognized the analogy from political and philosophical discourse. Paul expanded the image to describe the church as “the body of Christ.” Just as a human body has many members with various functions, so the church as the body of Christ is one and yet it celebrates many members with various gifts (1 Cor 12:12–26). For Paul baptism in the Spirit eclipsed every economic, social, and cultural distinction and initiated a believer into the body of Christ (cf. Gal 3:27–29). Therefore, every member of the body is valuable and the gifts employed are useful to the life of the body. In fact, Paul went to great lengths to show how each member is necessary and interdependent on the other. Yet mutuality does not mean equality, as Paul clearly demonstrated by ranking the gifts (12:27–31). For him apostles and prophets stood atop the list while various kinds of tongues were listed last. From the context of his argument, it seems Paul placed this gift last because some in Corinth were privileging it and disrupting worship (14:6–40). Nevertheless, he urged them to “strive for the greater gifts.”

Paul's prose is interrupted with a passage (now famous) in praise of love. The apostle did not depict love as a gift but as “a still more excellent way” (12:31). As a “way” love is distinct from the gifts; it is the manner in which the gifts are to be exercised. Without love spiritual gifts bring no benefit to the individual or the community; they accomplish nothing for the common good. The qualities of love Paul detailed (13:4–7) stand in contrast to the kinds of behavior reported to him from Chloe's people and the Corinthian delegation. So he confronted them with a different, higher standard of agapē (love). Nevertheless, the spiritual gifts belong to the current age and are certain to pass away “when the complete comes” (13:10). By “the complete” Paul meant the Parousia of Jesus and the general resurrection (Gorman 2004, p. 274; cf. Barrett 1968, p. 306). Even though the gifts come from God, they impart benefits which are temporary, imperfect, and partial. At the Parousia imperfection gives way to perfection and the gifts are no longer needed. Still faith, hope, and love, the celebrated triad of Christian virtues, endure into the coming age.

Paul concluded his response on spiritual gifts by advocating that prophecy is the highest gift, particularly in contrast to “speaking in tongues” (14:1–33). As a Jew, Paul would have understood prophecy more through the phenomena of the Hebrew prophets than the ecstatic oracles of the Hellenic world. Prophecy involved divinely inspired utterances of both men and women (11:4–5) addressed to the community gathered in worship for the purpose of building up, encouragement, consolation, and instruction (14:3, 19). Chapter 14 provides the most detailed description of the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues” in the New Testament (cf. Acts 2:4–18; 19:6). Compared to prophecy, speaking in tongues is indistinct (14:7–9), unintelligible (14:2), and useful primarily for personal edification (14:4). Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, unbelievers who enter the community may well mistake tongues for frenzied madness. Prophecy, on the other hand, is to be preferred because it is intelligible, builds up the community, and causes unbelievers to repent and see God at work in the community (14:24–25). Even though Paul himself spoke in tongues (14:5), he preferred to prophesy as he wrote famously: “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:19). So Paul did not forbid the corporate use of tongues, but he did provide some guidelines for its use. In particular, tongues must be accompanied with an interpretation and must be done in an orderly fashion (14:27–28, 39–40).

A controversial passage (14:34–36) limiting women's speech in the assembly is considered by many scholars a later interpolation (see discussion in Thiselton 2000, pp. 1146–62). Since Paul accepted a woman's role in prophesying and praying (11:5), it is difficult to understand why or how he would limit it in this case. Manuscript evidence may support this conclusion since these verses are found in different places in early manuscripts. If it is original, then it is likely not addressed to women in general but married women in particular. Alternatively, the passage may reflect a Corinthian slogan which Paul challenged.

Paul had become aware that some in Corinth were denying the resurrection of the dead (15:12). Likely this had to do with a common Hellenistic belief that the human body and soul were distinct and would be separated at death. Afterward the body decays while the soul lives on. Essentially, this perspective on the human person and the immortal soul meant there was no need for a bodily resurrection. Paul deconstructed their argument by returning to the central affirmations of the gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (15:1–11). To drive home the point, he produced a list of resurrection witnesses including Cephas (Peter), James (Jesus' brother), and Paul himself, the persecutor turned apostle. For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus disproved the claim that there is no resurrection of the dead. Death may well have been a reality since Adam, but resurrection had become the new reality since the resurrection of Christ, the new Adam. His resurrection became the guarantee that at the Parousia those who belong to Christ will themselves be resurrected (15:23). The end will come, according to Paul, with the destruction of every power including death, the final enemy. In concluding his thoughts on the resurrection, Paul turned his attention to the nature of the resurrection body (15:29–50). Employing a variety of analogies, he argued that the resurrection body would be a body of God's choosing, distinct from yet continuous with the physical body. For Paul, the resurrection will radically transform weak, perishable bodies into powerful, imperishable bodies no longer subject to the authority of sin and death. As for those who are still alive at the Parousia, they too will experience a similar transformation “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (15:51–52). At the Parousia the dead are raised and the living are transformed; both “put on” an immortal, imperishable body and death is “swallowed up in victory” (15:54, alluding to Isa 25:8).

The final issue Paul addressed in this letter had to do with a collection for the saints (16:1–4). For various reasons (e.g., persecution, famine), Christians in Jerusalem were facing difficult economic times. To deal with their hardships and build goodwill between Paul's gentile churches and the mother church in Jerusalem, Paul had arranged for churches he knew to collect an offering and send representatives to Jerusalem. The instruction to put aside these funds “on the first day of every week” (16:2) suggests that the house churches gathered regularly on Sunday.

16:5–24 Conclusion: Travel Plans, Exhortations, and Final Greetings.

Paul concluded his letter in a customary way by sharing his travel plans, offering some final instructions, and extending greetings from “the churches in Asia.” The specific greeting of Aquila and Prisca (16:19; also called Priscilla in Acts 18) implies that the couple was known to the Corinthians, perhaps from a prior stay in the city (cf. Acts 18:2–3). After spending Pentecost in Ephesus and a trip through Macedonia, Paul planned to return to Corinth for an extended stay. In the meantime they should expect Timothy to arrive in order to further the LORD's work. The reference to Stephanas and the delegation from Achaia suggests that they served as the couriers of his correspondence.

As was his habit, Paul authenticated the letter in his own hand (16:21). A unique feature of this closing was his use of the marana tha (Our LORD, come!), an Aramaic phrase Paul transliterated into Greek (16:22). The use of an Aramaic expression in a letter written in Greek suggests the saying had become traditional and would have been understood at least by some in Corinth. It is best taken as a prayerful longing for Jesus to return (cf. Rev 22:20; Did. 10.6). Following his stereotypical final greeting, “the grace of the LORD Jesus be with you” (16:23), the apostle expressed his love for the church.

Reception History.

Christians began collecting Paul's letters around the end of the first century C.E. This collection resulted in a body (corpus) of letters that eventually became part of the New Testament canon. Every known account of the accepted books from the period contains 1 Corinthians; for example, in the Muratorian Canon (Rome, perhaps c. 200 C.E.) the two Corinthian letters head the list of Pauline letters. Marcion too included 1 Corinthians in his abbreviated canon. Early manuscript evidence confirms 1 Corinthians' place among the Pauline letters. Although a number of fragmentary manuscripts exist from the first centuries of this era, the earliest complete manuscript of this letter is P46 (ca. 200 C.E.).

The early church fathers were attuned to many of the questions Paul dealt with in this letter. As they faced heresies, factions, immoralities, and challenges to authority in their own day, they found guidance in Paul's letters. Patristic sources contain thousands of allusions to and quotations of 1 Corinthians, the earliest in the letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians ca. 100 C.E. The earliest complete commentary on 1 Corinthians came from an unknown scholar in the last half of the fourth century C.E. Erasmus designated him Ambrosiaster because for centuries the commentary was mistakenly credited to Bishop Ambrose. John Chrysostom (347–407 C.E.) composed forty-four homilies on 1 Corinthians offering his audience not only practical advice but also a verse-by-verse exposition of the text.

Aspects of Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians have shaped subsequent Christian faith and practice. His devotion to the message of the cross (1:18) in this and other major letters form the foundation for the theology of the cross found in many Protestant circles. His directive regarding the sexually immoral man (5:1–8) has become one of the key passages on the exercise of church discipline. For example, in arguing that a true church is a disciplined church, John Calvin depended on 1 Corinthians (Institutes 4.12.1–7.). Martin Luther made use of 1 Corinthians 9 in developing his notion of Christian freedom. Inspired by Paul's rhetoric and example, he wrote famously: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all” (The Freedom of a Christian Man). Paul's teaching on spiritual gifts (chs. 12–14) has been used both to inspire and delimit the expression of spiritual gifts like tongues in the churches. One chapter in particular (ch. 13) has become famous despite its original context. Paul's celebrated prose on love as a way to overcome division in the community is often quoted in marriage ceremonies. Finally, many believers stayed true to their Christian faith despite the threat of martyrdom in part due to Paul's teaching on the resurrection (ch. 15). Though this was not the purpose of Paul's teaching, it provided hope for the persecuted that death was not final and in the last days they would be resurrected. Throughout church history Christian interpreters have read Paul's teaching on resurrection in different ways. While many understand that Paul is speaking of a literal, bodily resurrection that takes place at the Parousia, others have read Paul more in line with Hellenistic thought as an advocate of a final, spiritual resurrection.



  • Barrett, C. K. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Harper's New Testament Commentaries. New York: Harper & Row, 1968. A commentary with original translation by a noted New Testament scholar.
  • Baur, F. C. “Die Christuspartei in der Korinthischen Gemeinde, der Gegensatz des petrinischen und paulinischen Christentums in der ältesten Kirche, der Apostel Petrus in Rom.” Tübinger Zeitschrift für Theologie 4 (1831): 61–206. An influential article that posited a serious breach between Paul's gentile Christianity and Peter's Jewish Christianity.
  • Bruce, F. F. 1 and 2 Corinthians. New Century Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1971. A commentary based on the Revised Standard Version.
  • Capes, David B., et al. Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2007. An introduction to Paul's letters with an emphasis on social history and theology.
  • Collins, Raymond F. First Corinthians. Sacra pagina 7. Collegeville, Minn.: Glazier/Liturgical, 1999.
  • Conzelmann, Hans. 1 Corinthians. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975. A commentary on the Greek text of 1 Corinthians.
  • Ellis, E. Earle. Pauline Theology: Ministry and Society. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1989. A theological study of Paul's understanding of Christian ministry.
  • Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987. A commentary on the Greek text of 1 Corinthians.
  • Furnish, Victor Paul. Theology and Ethics in Paul. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1968, 2009.
  • Furnish, Victor Paul. The Theology of the First Letter to the Corinthians. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999. A study of important theological themes in 1 Corinthians.
  • Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2003.
  • Gorman, Michael J. Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004. A study of the theology of Paul's letters with particular attention to the theme of “cruciformity.”
  • Hays, Richard B. First Corinthians. Interpretation. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox, 1997. A commentary for preachers and teachers.
  • Horsley, Richard A. 1 Corinthians. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville, Abingdon, 1998.
  • Meeks, Wayne. The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983. An early and still valuable investigation into the social setting of Paul's mission.
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome. Paul the Letter Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1995.
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome. St. Paul's Corinth: Texts and Archaeology. Wilmington, Del.: Glazier, 1983, 1990, 2002. A classic treatment of the archaeology of Corinth at the time of Paul and its influence on reading the Corinthian letters.
  • Richards, E. R. The Secretary in the Letters of Paul. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/42. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr-Siebeck, 1991. A monograph that explores letter-writing practices and secretarial influence of Paul and other ancient letter-writers.
  • Robertson, A., and A. Plummer. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1914. A classic commentary on the Greek text of 1 Corinthians.
  • Talbert, Charles H. Reading Corinthians: A Literary and Theological Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. New York: Crossroad, 1987. A commentary that examines literary aspects of the letter as a basis for theological inquiry.
  • Theissen, Gerd. The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth. Edited and translated by John H. Schütz. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982. An investigation into the social-historical background of Paul's churches.
  • Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000. A detailed commentary on the Greek text of 1 Corinthians.
  • Witherington, Ben. Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995.
  • Yarbrough, O. Larry. Not Like the Gentiles: Marriage Rules in the Letters of Paul. Atlanta: Scholars, 1985.

David B. Capes

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