New Defender's Study Bible Notes
Introduction to I Corinthians
The church at Corinth was founded by the Apostle Paul in about A.D. 51, while on his second missionary journey, shortly after his visit to Athens (Acts 18:1). Corinth is located in a narrow isthmus connecting Achaia with Macedonia, and is just a few miles west of Athens. During the first century it was a very large and prosperous city, with one harbor on the west side of the isthmus facing Italy, the other on the east facing Asia.
With many sailors coming and going all the time, as well as other tradesmen, the city became notorious for its immorality, especially in connection with its temple to Aphrodite, which was serviced by a thousand temple prostitutes. This character reflected itself in the many problems that soon surfaced in the Corinthian church.
On his first visit to Corinth, Paul ministered there for eighteen months (Acts 18:11), during which time he wrote the two Thessalonian epistles. The first epistle to the Corinthians was written some four or five years later while Paul was in Ephesus during his third missionary journey (I Corinthians 16:8,19).
Although a thriving church was established in Corinth, largely consisting of Gentiles (note Acts 18:8), it was strongly influenced by the city’s culture, giving Paul great concern. The epistle was written partly to answer their questions about such matters as eating temple meats, the use of spiritual gifts, and proper marriage relationships (I Corinthians 8:1-13; 12:1-14; 7:1-40). Even more, however, Paul was concerned about divisions in the church and their toleration of flagrant immorality among their members (I Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-8; 5:1-11; 6:9-20).
At the same time, the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians constitutes the greatest chapter to be found in any of the epistles on the glorious bodily resurrection. Many consider the first four verses of this chapter to be the defining passage on the saving gospel of Christ.
There are other important doctrines developed in the epistle, as well as numerous instructions concerning practical Christian behavior. Paul had actually written an earlier letter to them (note I Corinthians 5:9), on the morality question.
The authenticity of I Corinthians as a genuine epistle of Paul is all but universally accepted, even by skeptics. The present-day city of Corinth is located some distance away from the New Testament city. The remains of the latter have been well explored archaeologically, fully confirming the descriptions given in Acts and the two Corinthian letters. The Roman proconsul of Achaia (of which Corinth was the capital), a man named Gallio (Acts 18:12-17), is well known to secular history. An inscription containing his name and identifying him as proconsul of Achaia at the time has been found at Delphi, another city in Achaia.
The epistle is also known for its famous “love chapter” (I Corinthians 13). It is also known for its critique of human wisdom, so prized among the Greeks, in relation to divine wisdom as revealed through the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures (I Corinthians 1:17–2:16).
1:1 Sosthenes. “Sosthenes,” until just a short time before, had been ruler of the Jewish synagogue at Corinth (Acts 18:17), even suffering a beating by the Corinthian Greeks because of his involvement with the Jewish insurrection against Paul (Acts 18:12). Somehow the Lord had used these experiences to bring Sosthenes to believe Paul and accept Christ. He had even gone to Ephesus with Paul, and now was joining Paul in his letter back to his Christian friends in Corinth (I Corinthians 16:5-8; Acts 20:31.
1:2 sanctified. As the further development of his letter makes evident (e.g., I Corinthians 3:1; 5:1-2; 6:1), Paul knew these Corinthian believers were not “called saints” because of their saintly behavior. Rather, they were “sanctified in Christ Jesus”—that is, “set apart” to God through faith in Christ Jesus.
1:8 unto the end. It is obvious that even the first-century church was “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 1:7), looking for His imminent return and “the end” of the present age.
1:17 not to baptize. Paul did baptize believers, for this was a part of the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20), but baptism, as this verse makes very clear, is not a part of the gospel, and therefore not a requisite of salvation, for it is by the gospel that men and women are saved (I Corinthians 15:1-2).
1:18 foolishness. Those who regard Christianity as foolishness, rejecting and perhaps even ridiculing God’s Word, thereby prove to others that they are perishing in sin, on their way to hell.
1:19 it is written. Paul is quoting here from Isaiah 29:14, with somewhat similar relevant passages in Jeremiah 49:7 and Obadiah 8. The section from this verse through the end of chapter 2 is a sobering indictment of supposed human wisdom, as opposed to true wisdom in Christ (I Corinthians 1:30).
1:21 wisdom knew not God. Human wisdom—whether ancient Greek philosophy or modern evolutionary scientism—has always sought to explain the origin of the world by some means apart from its God and Creator. In the sight of God, this attempt is not true wisdom, true philosophy, or true science, but mere rebellious foolishness (Psalm 14:1; Romans 1:22).
1:21 foolishness of preaching. To the wisdom of the ungodly, “foolish preaching” is preaching the crucifixion of the world’s Creator by His creation.
1:22 require a sign. Note Christ’s rebuke of this carnal attitude in Matthew 12:39-40 and John 4:48.
1:26 not many. Paul does not say: “Not any,” but: “Not many.” There have always been a few brilliant or powerful or aristocratic men who have devoted their gifts to the Lord and His Word, but they have always been the exceptions. This passage, in fact, is a remarkably fulfilled prophecy, having remained incisively true for almost two thousand years. Rather than being discouraged by the intellectual snobbery of educated unbelievers, their very dominance in the world should be regarded as merely another proof of the inspiration of the Scriptures.
1:30 made unto us. All we are, and all we have—if it is of any value at all in the scale of eternity—is given us by our Creator and Savior Jesus Christ. “In [Him] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3); “[He] is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4); we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:2); and, “in [Him] we have redemption through His blood” (Colossians 1:14).
1:31 it is written. See Jeremiah 9:23-24. Pride is the devil’s sin (I Timothy 3:6), and “God resisteth the proud” (James 4:6).