Question: Who specifically was the Apostle Paul addressing in his first letter to the church at Corinth?
Answer: I believe it is no coincidence that you asked this question. It goes well with the background to our commentary study of the book of 1 Corinthians, which you may want to read if you haven’t done so yet.
The history of the church that St. Paul wrote to is found in Acts 18:1-17 so let’s look at this first: “After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.
When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’
And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.
Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’ And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat, saying, ‘This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.’ And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jew, there would be reason why I should bear with you. But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters.’ And he drove them from the judgment seat.
Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue (new one after Crispus got saved and had to step down)* [Comment by G.T. Panell], and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.” (By the way, it seems that this new leader of the synagogue, Sosthenes, also got saved, because he is mentioned as a brother in the first verse of 1 Corinthians.)
This is how the church in Corinth got started. Now as to your question, “Who specifically was Paul addressing in the church in Corinth?” He was addressing the whole church, but there were issues that had arisen and questions that were asked by the people in the church of Corinth. “Before suggesting the occasion of the letter, it would be wise to outline the order of Paul’s contacts and correspondence with the Corinthian assembly.
1. Paul’s initial contact was that referred to above, the visit in which the good news was first preached to the Corinthians. According to 1 Corinthians 2:1, 3:2, and 11:2, it seems that this was the only visit before the writing of the canonical 1 Corinthians.
2. After this initial visit Paul wrote the church a letter which has been lost 1 Corinthians 5:9. [This letter was not intended to be canonical]* G.T. Panell
3. When disturbing news came from the believers and a letter requesting information, Paul wrote [what is known as] (G.T.P.) 1 Corinthians.
.The occasion of the writing of 1 Corinthians may be traced to several things. In the first place, there had come to the apostle from two sources reports of divisions in the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:11; 16:17). The more serious of the alien elements may have been Judaists 1:11; 16:17) [those who believed that you had to keep the law in order to be saved, i.e. circumcision, etc.]* (G.T.P)
In the second place, there arrived in Ephesus from the Corinthian church Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (cf. 16:17). The trio brought a letter from the believers in which were contained a number of questions for Paul to answer. The questions may be seen in the recurring key phrase, ‘now concerning’ (peri de; see 7:1,25; 8:1 12:1; 16:1,12).
In the third place, certain subjects appear to be simply ‘the spontaneous outcome of the Apostle’s anxious thoughts about the Corinthian Church. Chief Characteristics of the letter. Perhaps the leading feature of this epistle is its emphasis upon the life of the local church. The order and the problems of a primitive church are before the reader. If Romans may be called a theological writing, I Corinthians is certainly a practical one. If in Romans Paul resembles the modern professor of Biblical Theology, in 1 Corinthians he resembles the pastor-teacher, faced with the care of the church on the firing line of Christian warfare.
On the other hand, the letter is not wholly practical in its emphasis. The most important chapter in the New Testament on the resurrection of Jesus Christ is probably 1 Corinthians 15, and certainly the most important section in the New Testament on spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12; 13; 14.
And, of course, this great letter is known supremely for its great lyric on love, chapter 13. Here one sees to what heights a man many climb in spiritual writing when borne aloft by the Holy Spirit of God. The genius of the man Paul flashes forth here with indescribable effect. Finally, it may be of interest to mention that is Paul’s longest epistle.” (The Wycliffe Bible Commentary).
I hope this answered your question and whet your appetite for reading our commentary on the book of 1 Corinthians,
Gary T. Panell
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