1 Corinthians: Standing Firm in a Pagan Culture

by Steve Ray on June 25, 2017

(In this article I emphasize the city of Corinth, the immorality and the actual letter; in the next article on 2 Corinthians I will emphasize Paul and his apostolic calling along with the actual letter.)

It was a wicked city. The sandals from travelers of every country in the Empire trudged over its cobblestone streets. Vice and immorality was imported along with exotic cargo and trade goods from around the world—but sensuality and license were also part of the city’s stock, trade, and religion.

As a major crossroad of the Empire, ships were unloaded, dragged over the isthmus, and reloaded for transport around the world. During the loading and unloading of ships thousands of travelers entered Corinth to revel in her pleasures and bask in her luxury. Roman soldiers, imperial dignitaries, shipmates, slaves, traders, preachers, and prostitutes all passed through the beautiful Roman city nestled in the Greek province of Achaia.

St. Paul—the rugged traveler and fiery preacher—arrived by ship or along the coastal road from Athens, the philosophical and intellectual center of Greece and the world. He now stood looking out over the city of Corinth, the economic and commercial center and the Roman capital in Greece. To the south, and majestically rising almost 2,000 feet above the city of Corinth, stands the mountain of Acrocorinth. Here, overlooking the city below stood the famous temple of Aphrodite.

The finite and pagan gods of Greece and Rome were often as immoral as the human residents. People resemble their deities. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, of sexual freedom and courtesans. The Temple of Aphrodite at one time boasted of a thousand temple prostitutes who paraded their “sacred service” in the city and certainly were behind Paul’s exhortation to avoid union with prostitutes (1 Cor 6:15-16).

It is in this newly rebuilt city, under the shadow of the temples of Apollos and Aphrodite, and milling about in the pagan throngs among pagan shrines and deities, that St. Paul preached the word of God. Here he lived for eighteen months, and founded a church. It was here that he was dragged to the Judgment Seat to make defense of his gospel (Acts 18:12) and it is to Corinth that he wrote three letters. “Wait,” you say, “I only know of First and Second Corinthians. Where do you find a third letter?” We will discover that in a moment.

Paul arrived in Corinth about ad 51 or 52. He walked up the Lechaion Road through the Agora (marketplace) into the heart of Corinth. Two Jews befriended Paul and invited him to share their trade for making much needed money. Aquilla and Priscilla were tent-makers, which was Paul’s trade as well (Acts 18:3). With his usual pattern of going to the Jew first, Paul “argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4) but when the Jews rejected Paul’s message he shook out his garments and went out to the Gentiles. God told him to stay in Corinth and not to be afraid, so Paul “stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11).

For the whole story, click here.

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