Shop to the North of the Forum, Temple of Octavia behind. Corinth
Public Toilets. Corinth
Paul's Letters to the Church at Corinth
This short excerpt from Chapter 8 of the book "Paul" by Gunther Bornkamm is very helpful in enabling the reader of Corinthians 1 and 2 to understand exactly what Paul is dealing with in writing these Epistles. The whole of Chapter 8 of the book is a very full discussion and explanation of these two Epistles, which can make for difficult reading, until one realises the events behind them.
As can be seen from the photos on the left, Corinth was a wealthy, bustling, cosmopolitan city in Paul's day. CLICK ON PHOTOS for larger images, credits and excellent descriptions of their historical significance - many of these photos have a close connection with Paul. (Holy Land Photos.Org).
Chapter 8: Corinth
"The present-day reader may be surprised to find that in Corinth the dominant question as to the Christian's proper conduct in his own sphere of life, his freedom and its limits, what he might do without scruple and what was forbidden to him as a Christian, often arose in areas where one would not have expected it.
"A chief reason for this is that in the post-classical world in which Christianity grew up, the spheres of the cultic and the secular in paganism ran into one another in quite a different way from what they do today. This explains, for example, why, in 1 Corinthians 8-10 Paul was obliged to discuss at such length what was for the Corinthians anything but a captious question - whether a Christian might buy meat offered for sale in the market place which might have been left over from the sacrifice in one of the nearby temples and found its way to the stalls. (see photos on left for proximity of some temples to shops and forum - ed.) Or the question of whether a Christian might have an easy mind in joining heathen friends and relatives at a meal following a sacrifice.
"To these and other everyday questions the "spirit-filled" people had given a considered answer applicable to every case: "All things are lawful" (1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23). They paraded their freedom to the point of licentiousness, in contrast to the rest, whose scruples made them uneasy about any defilement and, to preserve their faith, forced them into a strict asceticism.
"The "spirituals" indeed went further: they even used their watchword "freedom" to justify intercourse with prostitutes, which in the common pagan view was quite unexceptionable and permissible. Why should the Christian have inhibitions in this matter? This sort of thing was just natural, the result of being in the world, and without effects on the "spirit-filled" person's "real self". (1 Corinthians 6:12 et seq).
"Paul does not deal with the question by way of casuistry and law. He allows freedom where it is compatible with faith. But he also says "No, and no again" where there is notorious playing fast and loose with the Christian faith, where outrage is done to moral principles accepted on all hands - even by the heathen (1 Corinthians 5:1 et seq) - and where it involves betrayal of the new life available in Christ to believers (1 Corinthians 6:1 et seq).
"1 Corinthians 8-10 in particular is significant in that Paul resolutely brushes aside all the enthusiansts' pseudo-theological arguments to justify themselves by taking the theme of responsibility for the others before God and the world as his line of approach to the questions. This is also very apparent in the detailed treatmnt of the serious abuses in the Corinthians' worship.
"When they celebrated the Lord's Supper, they were sincerely convinced that in the sacrament they participated in the redmption wrought by Christ. Yet, at the common meal accompanying it, those better off did not bother about the poorer who came later and had nothing with them.
"In Paul's view this was profanation of the "Body of Christ" - the church (1 Corinthians 20 and 11). He takes the same means of checking the tumultuous contests of the "spirituals" who broke out into ecstatic utterance during worship, and insists on the intelligible, clear word of preaching which might convince outsiders and unbelievers, and win them over...
"Paul took two ways of flinging himself into this chaos and reducing it to order. First, he sent 1 Corinthians, it being in fact, as shown by 1 Corinthians 5:9, at least his second letter to this church. Second, he sent his true helper Timothy to Corinth. Initially both seem to have had some effect. Nevertheless, as 2 Corinthians shows, this was not lasting, and Paul had soon to pass through a renewed and much more acute phase in the struggle with opponents who led the Church astray and stirred it to rebellion against the apostle himself.
"We can at least sketch the causes and course of these dramatic events..."
Bornkamm goes on to discuss the fragmentary nature of 2 Corinthians, which he explains is not a single letter, but a collection of several of Paul's letters to the Church at Corinth at various times during this struggle, put together later (not even in chronological order) by someone else so they could be transmitted to other churches. He draws from these fragments the course of events in the battle between Paul and his detractors.