Lesson 1 of 5
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Summary of 1 Corinthians


In response to a letter from the Corinthians making various inquiries about worship practices and ethics, as well as a personal report from “Chloe’s people” (1 Corinthians 1:11) that the congregation Paul has founded has fallen to quarreling, Paul writes to the Corinthians, directing them to approach their ethical dilemmas and resolve their interpersonal conflicts on the basis of their unity as members of the body of Christ. The letter recasts themes apparently popular among the Corinthians, such as knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual gifts, in light of the reversal of status implied by the news of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).


First Corinthians offers a window on a congregation and preacher trying to sort out the real-life implications of the gospel. How should Christians live in a culture at odds with their confession of faith? What commitments and practices enable Christians to honor one another in the midst of differences of opinion? The letter explores themes of Christian unity, ethics, and hope from the perspective of those upon “whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).


First Corinthians is the seventh book in the New Testament. It is the second in the collection of Paul’s letters, following Romans and preceding 2 Corinthians.


In 1 Corinthians 1:1, the senders of the letter identify themselves as “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes.” Paul is the Jew who was first a persecutor of the church and then, following an appearance of the risen Jesus to him, a fervent apostle and proclaimer of Jesus Christ as Lord of both Jews and Gentiles. Sosthenes may be the Corinthian synagogue official mentioned in Acts 18:17. He is nowhere else mentioned in the New Testament. Paul uses both the first-person singular and the first person plural in 1 Corinthians 1:1. The senders of the letter identify themselves as “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes.”


Paul likely founded the church in Corinth in the early 50s. He writes from Ephesus where “a wide door for effective work has opened” (1 Corinthians 16:9).


Paul responds to reports of dissension within the Corinthian congregation by reminding his readers of their unity in Christ and their responsibility to honor one another as members of the body of Christ.


First Corinthians is part of an ongoing correspondence between Paul and the church in Corinth. We can only guess-in more or less educated ways-at what exactly happened in Corinth and what sort of relationship Paul had over time with believers there. We read the letter much as we might listen to one side of someone else’s telephone call. That is, we are realistic about gaps in our understanding and careful in attempts to reconstruct the other half of the conversation. This level of humility is especially important when reading parts of the letter that are alien to our sensibilities or contrary to the understanding of the gospel we have as a result of engaging the whole of the biblical witness.