1 Corinthians

A verse-by-verse exegetical commentary on the Greek New Testament


Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church from Ephesus where he had stayed for some years while on his third missionary journey. This was possibly his second letter to the church, a view proposed by some commentators. This "lost letter" presumably addressed some specific moral problems in the church. Some commentators suggest this "lost letter" is actually woven into first Corinthians. Now, again, problems have arisen and thus Paul writes to combat them. Paul received word of the troubles from two sources: first from members of Chloe's household, visitors from Corinth to Ephesus; and second from a letter written to Paul from the Corinthian Church.

The structure of 1 Corinthians


1. Introduction, 1:1-9

i] Greeting - Grace and peace from God, 1:1-3

ii] Thanksgiving - Longing for Christ's return, 1:4-9


You must get along with each other.

2. Proposition, 1:10

The unity of the church 1:10.

Argument Proper - divided loyalties

3. Maintaining unity in the church, 1:11-4:21

i] Divisions in the church, 1:11-17

ii] Secular reasoning and the gospel are mutually exclusive, 1:18-2:16

a) We preach Christ crucified, 1:18-25

b) God chose the weak, 1:26-31

c) Human wisdom versus the Spirit and God's power, 2:1-5

d) The hidden wisdom of God, 2:6-16

iii] The unifying power of a genuine Christian ministry, 3:1-4:5

a) A wisdom unsuitable for babies, 3:1-9

b) Time will test the value of our lives, 3:10-17

c) True wisdom, 3:18-23

iv] Have regard for your apostle, 4:1-21

a) Stewards of God's mysteries, 4:1-5

b) The apostles as models of the wisdom of the cross, 4:6-13

c) An appeal to follow the example of their founding apostle, 4:14-21

Specific Issues

4. Some moral issues affecting unity, 5:1-6:20

i] The case of incest, 5:1-13

ii] Lawsuits before heathen judges, 6:1-11

iii] Immorality, 6:12-20

5. Celibacy, divorce and marriage, 7:1-40

i] Sex within marriage, 7:1-5

ii] Celebacy or marriage, 7:6-9

iii] Divorcing an unbelieving partner, 7:10-16

iv] The principle: remain as you are, 7:17-24

v] Celibacy, 7:25-40

a) Singleness is preferable, but not required, 7:25-28

b) Authentic Christian living, 7:29-31

c) Relationships and anxiety, 7:32-35

d) Marriage is not sin, 7:36-40

6. Eating food offered to idols, 8:1-11:1

i] The issue of Food offered to idols, 8:1-13

ii] Paul's own example on privilege verses service, 9:1-18

iii] Proclaiming the good news, 9:19-23

iv] Run the race to get the prize, 9:24-27

v] Learn from Israel's experience in the wilderness, 10:1-13

vii] Idolatry and Christianity, 10:14-22

viii] Be imitators of Christ, 10:23-11:1

7. Two matters related to congregational worship, 11:2-34

i] Proper dress within the congregation, 11:2-16

ii] Divisions in the Lord's Supper, 11:17-34

8. Speaking in tongues, 12:1-14:40

i] The gifts of the Spirit, 12:1-11

ii] You are the body of Christ, 12:12-31

iii] The greatest gift - love, 13:1-13

iv] Tongues and prophecy compared, 14:1-19

v] The preference for prophecy, 14:20-25

vi] Regulations for public worship, 14:26-40

9. The resurrection, 15:1-58

i] The faith once delivered to the saints, 15:1-11

ii] Christ's resurrection - the source of our hope, 15:12-19

iii] Christ's rule, 15:20-28

iv] The consequences of a fraudulent resurrection, 15:29-34

v] The analogy of seeds and bodies, 15:35-44

vi] Made like Christ, 15:45-49

vii] Victory through Jesus Christ, 15:50-58


10. Final instructions, 16:1-12

Exhortations, 16:1-12


11. Conclusion

Final words, 16:13-24


As is typical of Paul's letters, he follows the writing conventions of the time using a rhetorical form of argumentation. The most common form of rhetoric is found in judicial speeches of the time. The structure used in these courtroom speeches found its way into the speeches and writings of those who intended to persuade their audience - letters such as 1 Corinthians. Usually an exordium (an affirmation of the audience which seeks to elicit a positive response) gets things going - this format is evident in 1:1-9. Paul then in v10 presents his thesis / proposition / propositio. Then we have a narratio, a narration of the background issue facing the Corinthian congregation, namely, divided loyalties, 1:11-17, backed up by personal defense / justification (Paul, "is a preacher of the gospel, not a baptizer", Garland. Note the strong apologetic evident in 3:10-4:21), along with two digressio where particular issues are dealt with in more detail: "human wisdom and the wisdom of the cross are irreconcilable", Garland, 1:18-2:16, and the unifying affect of a genuine Christian ministry, 3:5-4:5. Specific issues are then tackled in the form of a series of proofs / probatio, 5:1-16:12, before a conclusion / peroratio, 16:13-18, along with epistolary greetings and remarks / conclusio, v19-24. For a more detailed analysis of this approach see Witherington.

The date of this Epistle

Acts 18:1 tells us that Paul left Athens and came to Corinth as part of his third missionary journey. The date would be around 50AD, given that the Jews had been driven from Rome by Claudius in 49AD and the Proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, administered the province from 52 to 53AD. Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, working with them in their tent-making business, ministering in the local synagogue and later, when he had been expelled from the synagogue, in a home nearby. Despite increasing opposition from the Jewish community, Paul ministered on till around 52/53AD when he moved on to Ephesus. Paul's ministry in Ephesus lasted for around three years and so this letter to the Corinthians was probably written somewhere around 55AD.

The troubles in the Corinthian fellowship

1. It seems that the church had divided into separate groups, or parties, which were fighting with each other. The divisions in the church seem to have developed around prominent personalities. Two, three, or even four different groups have been suggested by commentators:

i] The Paul group, those who recognize the authority of the church's founding apostle.

ii] The Apollos group. Apollos came to Corinth after Paul and may be the source of the secular/Greek wisdom that Paul identifies as a problem in the church. These are possibly the libertines - anything goes. It should though be noted that Paul makes no criticism of Apollos and so it is likely that he is not personally leading the "Apollos" group.

iii] The Peter group. Barrett argues that Peter visited Corinth and that the Peter group is made up of his converts and probably consists of those with a Jewish background. See Barnett for his assessment of this group.

iv] The "Christ" group. There are numerous suggestions as to the make-up of this group, but the best seems to be that this group/party consisted of ultra-orthodox Jewish believers, probably members of the circumcision party / judaizers. Clearly there are "nomists" in the congregation who are into "doing" rather than "receiving". Nomism (nomistic / pietistic Christianity), the heresy promoted by the members of the circumcision party (the judaizers), is the belief that, although a person is justified (set right before God, judged covenant compliant) on the basis of Christ's faithfulness ("faith of Christ") appropriated through faith, law-obedience ("works of the law" - obedience to the law of Moses) is essential to restrain sin and shape holiness (sanctify) for the maintenance of right-standing before God (covenant compliance) and thus the appropriation of God's promised blessings (the promised blessings of the Abrahamic covenant = life = the gift of the holy Spirit, etc.).

It is unclear whether the personalities identified by Paul (other than "Christ") are the actual leaders of the different groups, or whether Paul just uses these names as examples. In the final analysis it does seem likely that they are just examples used by Paul so as not to name the individuals concerned, and so not "shame" them, 4:6, 14. So, there was a pro Paul group who recognized Paul as their apostle, and there were other groups which opposed Paul's ministry. These divisions in the church were damaging fellowship.

2. Problems had also developed in the church as a consequence of an uncontrolled esoteric spirituality. The church was rife with members claiming the "gift of speaking in tongues." This "gift" was used to such an extent that the meetings had become a shambles. Spirituality, expressed in extraordinary religious signs and miracles, had produced a number of disastrous by-products:

i] The ministry of Paul was now under a cloud for his was not a "power" ministry. Spiritual qualifications were now being assessed on the basis of the dynamism of a person's oratory, etc.:

ii] The church was divided - party-spirit dominated;

iii] As already noted, the meetings were a shambles. The Word ministry was being subsumed in the fervor of religious ecstasy;

iv] An unhealthy asceticism had emerged in the congregation and this was probably contributing to the immorality of some members;

v] The emphasis on the "spiritual" had encouraged a lax view of personal righteousness;

3. Issues concerning the business of living with one foot in heaven and the other on earth. These "lifestyle" issues were raised in the letter addressed to Paul, eg., eating meat offered to idols.

4. A problem had developed in the church concerning the resurrection. Some members had come to the view that "there is no resurrection of the dead.''

Chapters 1-4

I appeal to you brothers and sisters that you agree with one another and that there be no divisions amongst you.

When I came to you, I did not set about forming my own party, ("baptising") but rather preached the gospel. I know you criticise my gospel because of its simplicity, ("weak") and indeed, it is simple. Yet, the gospel I preach contains great depths of wisdom which the Spirit reveals to many. Yet, while I was with you I only gave you the simple basis ("milk") because you were fleshly, but it was a valid basis and those who intend to build on it, must be careful how they build. Therefore, you should regard me ("us" ie. the apostolic witness) as a faithful servant of Christ and not judge me.

You, the Apollos group, regard yourselves as distinct from your other brethren, yet you are no different. It is true you have spiritual gifts, yet these are gifts from God. Therefore why do you boast. You think you are so great and yet here we are, the true apostles, facing trials and tribulations each day.

What I have said to you is as a father, and I am your father because I founded you in the gospel.
Chapter 5

It is reported to me that a man is living with his father's wife. Remove him from amongst you. Such behaviour affects the fellowship of the congregation and this is why I told you before, not to associate with immoral people. I was not referring to non-Christians, but rather to members of the congregation.
Chapter 6

I hear that you take each other to court before heathen judges. Do you not know you will judge angels, therefore lay the matter before the congregation.

On the issue of immorality, you people who proclaim total freedom in matters of the flesh, say that "all things are lawful", yet is it lawful to sin? He who sins is a slave to sin, yet I am a servant of Christ and will not be enslaved to anything. You also say "Food is meant for the stomach", that is, our sexual desires are there to be used and satisfied, yet this does not give you license to act in an immoral way. To join yourself to a prostitute is to make one flesh out of the two, thus you become one with rebellious sin. You end up sinning against yourself, the temple of the Holy Spirit, for which Christ died.
Chapter 7

I suppose it is good for a man not to touch a woman, yet we were not really designed that way, so it's best to get married and thus not sin. My personal advice is to remain in the state you're in, whether married or single, because the end, with its tribulation, is near, yet he who marries has not failed in any way.
Chapters 8-10

As for the issue of eating meat offered to idols; the principle is to act according to love and not just knowledge. Therefore, in eating such meat you may know that there is no God associated with it, yet your action may cause a brother to stumble, therefore the action was not according to love. For example, as an apostle, I have rights of financial support from you. To take it is correct and scriptural, yet I forbear this action so as to allow no obstacle to prevent the gospel and thus bring salvation to many. This is acting according to love. Although I am free from all men, I have become their slave. You want to be careful of your actions. The Israelites, as God's chosen people, fell in the wilderness. You might think you are secure, but watch out. Therefore, shun this worship of idols, for in some sense you are associating with demons when you link with pagan idolatry.

Do then what is for your neighbour's good ("act in love"). If there is a chance of leading a person astray, don't be in it. This is how I act; I set out to be right in everyone's eyes so that I may save many.
Chapter 11

With regard the proper dress rules for worship. A woman should wear a veil within the church to hide her natural (human) beauty and thus not distract members from their act of worship. Men should also dress appropriately.

By the way, I hear that there are divisions amongst you in the Lord's Supper. Some are hungry, some are drunk. Christ instituted the Lord's Supper so that we, as a group, may express our faith in his sacrificial death for us, with the result of an increased bond of fellowship. Therefore, when you participate, even promote such unloving behavior, you spurn what Christ did for you at Calvary. Thus, examine yourselves as to your relationship with your brothers and sisters, seeking to maintain a bond of fellowship, especially at the Lord's Supper.
Chapters 12-15

Now concerning speaking in tongues. When you were pagans you were involved in much tongue-speaking, but now that you are Christians the type of activities which have value have changed. eg., a state of powerful spiritual ecstasy does not, of itself, possess great worth, particularly if Christ is consequently defamed.

There are for us a variety of spiritual gifts, the important ones concern the proclamation of truth, while the least important are of an esoteric nature. These gifts have been given to the individual members of the congregation by the Holy Spirit. Each is important in its own way and therefore those who have one type of gift must not think theirs is the only type. There are many gifts of ministry, with the least important often being the most overt. This gives balance to the range of gifts in the church and therefore encourages unity in the fellowship.

You Corinthians are one body and as such have within the church numerous ministries, the greatest being the teaching ministries, while the least being tongues. You are not all one type. You are different and thus should express this fact in a range of ministries within the church. Above all, desire the higher gifts.

It is easy to think that if you have a gift you are complete, yet in fact, gifts are nothing without love. In eternity, gifts will not be needed, while love will remain. Love does not allow the festering of pride, etc. which can flow from an over-emphasis on gifts. Therefore, let love be your aim, and as well, desire the higher gift of prophesy.

Tongues are really of little value, they don't edify and have, in the past, had a bad history. In fact, unintelligible words from God are usually a sign of his judgement. Tongues are also very disturbing to non-Christians, while prophesy edifies and convicts the non-Christian.

If you must use tongues, make sure you can interpret what you are saying. Well then, when you do come together, limit tongues and make sure there is an interpreter. Organise those who are to prophesy, always making your aim the edification of the congregation.
Chapter 15

I hear that some doubts have developed with regard the resurrection, yet this is one of the basic truths of the gospel. Christ himself has visibly risen from the dead and is with his Father. At this very moment he is establishing his kingdom. In the coming day, when eveything is realized in Christ, all believers will rise from the dead to meet him.

Some ask, "How is the body risen?" Well, it is like a grain of wheat which goes into to the earth, but which comes forth in a totally different character. So it will be for us. Of course, those who are alive at Christ's coming will be changed in an instant.
Chapter 16

Paul concludes his letter with reference to the collection for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. He then covers a number of personal requests and finally, he gives his final greetings.

Bibliography: Commentaries - I Corinthians

Barnett, BST. Barnett, FOB. Barrett, Black's, 1971. Belleville, Word, 2007. B&L, Brookins and Longenecker, HGT, 2016. Bruce, NCB. Caudill, Broadman Press. Collins, Sacra Pagina. Conzelmann, Hermeneia, 1975. Evans, Clarendon, 1930. Fee, NICNT, 1987. Findlay, EGT. Fitzmyer, Anchor, 2008. Garland, BECNT, 2003. Goudge, Westminster, 1913. Grosheide, NICNT, Replaced. Hering, Epworth, 1962, translation. Keener, NCBC, 2005. Lightfoot (ch. 1-7). Lilas, CGTSC, 1889. Moffatt, MNTC, 1938. Morris, Tyndale, 2nd. ed. 1985. Naylor, EPSC, 2002. Orr, Anchor. Parry, CGTSC, 2nd. ed. 1937. Pfitzner, ChiRho. Reuf, Penguin. R&P, Robertson and Plummer, ICC, 1914. Simon, Torch. Talbert, Reading, 1987. Thiselton, NIGTC, 2000. Thrall, CBC, inc. 2 Corinthians. Witherington, SRC, 1995.


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