On his first visit, Paul came to Corinth from Athens. He apparently stayed in Corinth a year and a half, teaching the word of his god and baptizing believers (Acts 18:1, 8, 11). According to Acts, it was in Corinth that Paul, after his preaching was rejected by the Jews, first turned to the gentiles. “From now on,” he said, “I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6).
While the account of the apostle’s initial visit to Corinth in Acts is more or less dependable, the most fascinating window on Paul’s ministry in Corinth comes from his letters to the congregation—from 1 and 2 Corinthians.
There we learn that Paul drew his Corinthian converts from extremely diverse segments of the population that often differed in their opinions and practices regarding such matters as sex, involvement with the “world,” spiritual gifts and the future resurrection of believers. At least some of these Christians had serious suspicions about the legitimacy of Paul’s apostleship—and, indeed, even about his personal integrity.
When Paul speaks of his constant anxiety for the churches he has founded (2 Corinthians 11:28), he surely includes the troubled congregation of Corinth.
While Paul’s letters give us a glimpse of Corinth and its world, other ancient literary sources also help to flesh out the picture. Especially informative are classical Roman writers such as Cicero, Strabo, Plutarch and Pausanias.1
Finally, no picture of ancient Corinth would be complete today without the archaeological evidence. Excavation at the site has been going on for nearly 100 years (since 1896) under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.
Archaeological evidence attests to the existence of scattered settlements in the area of Corinth as early as the sixth millennium B.C. At the beginning of the first millennium, the Dorian invasion of Greece left its mark on the archaeological record in Corinth as it did elsewhere in Greece.
Only in the seventh century B.C., however, do we find the beginnings of a city. From about the middle of the seventh century, Corinth began to flourish, especially under the celebrated ruler Periander, who governed the city from about 625 to 583 B.C. At that time Corinth developed into a prosperous and influential urban center and even founded numerous colonies. By the end of the fifth century B.C., the city’s population had risen to about 10,000, which was extremely large for an ancient city.2
Corinth’s strategic location virtually assured its role as an economic and political power in the Mediterranean world. It was located at the lower end of a narrow isthmus that connects mainland Greece to the Peloponnese. It is about two miles inland from the Gulf of Corinth on the north and about seven miles inland from the Saronic Gulf on the east.
It not only commanded the land route into the Peloponnese from mainland Greece, it was also the “master of two harbors,” to use Strabo’s term.3
Corinth’s economic and strategic importance gave it a critical position in the association of Greek states known as the Achaean League, which was formed in 280 B.C. By the middle of the second century B.C., however, times had changed. Increasing pressure from Rome led Sparta to withdraw from the Achaean League. The remaining members, including Corinth, declared war on Sparta in 146 B.C. This precipitated a war between the League and Rome itself. Rome dispatched a force of nearly 30,000 men to Greece. Under the command of the Roman consul, Lucius Mummius, this army soundly defeated the Achaians at Leucopetra, somewhere on the isthmus, and two days later the defenses of Corinth were breached and the city captured.4
The destruction and loss of life in Corinth was enormous. However, contrary to the conclusions of some writers, both ancient and modern, the city was not utterly devastated, nor was it abandoned. Still it did not begin to regain its former glory until 44 B.C. when Julius Caesar designated Corinth a Roman colony. In his honor the city was renamed Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis (roughly, “Colony of Corinth in honor of Julius”).
The first colonial settlers from Rome probably arrived in Corinth before Caesar’s death. How many such settlers Rome sent out is not known, but ancient literary sources suggest that they were recruited primarily among freed slaves and the poor. This means that they probably included many Syrians, Egyptians and Jews, since a high percentage of the slave population of Rome at this time had been brought to the imperial capital from lands in the eastern Mediterranean. The poet Crinagoras was in Rome at about this time, and later wrote condescendingly of the colonists who were settled in Corinth:
“What inhabitants, O luckless city, hast thou received, and in place of whom? Alas for the great calamity to Greece! Would, Corinth, thou didst lie lower than the ground and more desert than the Libyan sands, rather than that wholly abandoned to such a crowd of scoundrelly slaves, thou shouldst vex the bones of the ancient Bacchiadae!”5
But colonial status meant not only the infusion of new elements into the population of Corinth, it also meant a transfusion of much-needed financial resources into the economy. Many of the great buildings of the city had lain in ruins or disrepair for a century or more before the city became a Roman colony. After colonization, this rapidly changed. Archaeologists continue to find evidence of major construction activity during the first century of our era, especially during the reigns of the Roman emperors Tiberius (14–37 A.D.) and Claudius (41–54 A.D.).
Thus, when the apostle Paul arrived in the Roman 017colony of Corinth about 50 A.D., he would have seen a number of the city’s official, commercial, and religious edifices being restored, and many new ones under construction. It may be that Paul has the sights and sounds of this building boom in mind when in 1 Corinthians he berates the fledgling church for being “men of the flesh,” rather than “spiritual men” and for failing to build on the foundation he had laid:
“According to the commission of God given to me like a skilled master-builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:10–11).
Paul warns those who do not build carefully and with quality materials on that foundation that they will be penalized for their shoddy work (1 Corinthians 3:12–15).
Perhaps some of his readers were themselves skilled stonemasons, or were otherwise employed in the building trades; in any case, surrounded as they were by public buildings in various stages of repair or construction, they could hardly have failed to appreciate the apostle’s point.
The prosperity that Rome brought to the city led many ancient writers to refer to it as “wealthy Corinth.”6 It clearly had a diversified economic base that included agriculture, manufacture, trade and commerce.
Although the average annual rainfall in the region is quite low, when the rains do come, they are very heavy, washing down substantial amounts of rich topsoil onto the coastal plain below the city. Thus, little irrigation was required to assure that vineyards, orchards, and crops of various kinds would flourish.7 The fertility of the coastal plain near Corinth was noted by Cicero in his treatise On the Agrarian Law 1.5; 2.51.8 The fame of Corinthian raisins is attested in the English word “currant,” which is a medieval corruption of “Corinth.”
Given the importance of agriculture to Corinth’s economy, the agricultural imagery Paul uses in both 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians would be meaningful even to Paul’s urban readers. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul uses agricultural imagery to support his argument that he, no less than other apostles, has a right to material 018support from his congregations. Citing the law of Moses (“You shall not muzzle an ox when he is treading out the grain,” Deuteronomy 25:4), he goes on to ask:
“Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefit?” (1 Corinthians 9:9–11).
Corinth was also known for its manufacture of goods, particularly bronze implements and decorative items. Several ancient authors attest to the distinctive quality of fine Corinthian bronze.9 It had an unusually high tin content (14%) that gave it an unusual color. Archaeologists have identified three bronze foundries from the early Roman colonial period. Is the famed brilliance of Corinth’s bronze mirrors in Paul’s mind when he writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18 of “beholding as in a mirror the splendor of the Lord”?
In the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians (“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” [1 Corinthians 13:2]), Paul contrasts the indirect viewing of an image in a mirror with an eventual direct vision of God:
“Love never ends; as for prophecy, it will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood” (1 Corinthians 13:8–12).
Is it possible that Paul was thinking specifically of Corinthian pottery when he describes apostles who bear the gospel as having “this treasure in clay pots” (2 Corinthians 4:7)? The archaeological evidence for pottery production in Corinth, including terra-cotta lamps, is abundant.
Until shortly before the turn of the era, Corinth’s trade was principally with the East, with Aegean cities as well as with cities as far east as Syria. Not surprisingly, however, after Corinth became a Roman colony its trade with the West increased. In the so-called Cellar Building, in the southwest corner of the Corinthian forum, archaeologists discovered cooking ware and other pottery from cities west of Corinth. The number of excavated artifacts manufactured in cities west of Corinth rapidly increases beginning in the last years of the first century B.C.
Corinth’s economy also benefited from transporting goods across the isthmus. At its narrowest point, the isthmus is only about three miles wide. Today a canal completed in 1893 connects the Aegean Sea on the east with the Adriatic Sea on the west. In antiquity, however, ships had to sail around Cape Malea at the 019southern end of the Peloponnese to get from the Aegean to the Adriatic or the reverse. As an alternative to this long, dangerous voyage, a grooved roadway called the diolkos was built across the isthmus early in the sixth century B.C. Portions of this roadway near the Adriatic side have been excavated and can still be seen. Small sea-going vessels would be loaded onto wooden cars specially constructed for this purpose and pulled from one side of the isthmus to the other at relatively little expense of time or money. In the case of larger ships, the goods were unloaded on one side, transported overland, and reloaded on the vessels waiting at the other end.
The diolkos was still in use in Paul’s day. (In 66 or 67, a few years after the apostle’s death, Nero’s engineers launched an unsuccessful attempt to cut a canal across the isthmus.)10
According to inscriptional evidence uncovered by the archaeologists, a severe famine occurred in 51 A.D., affecting the whole region of Achaia, of which Corinth was the capital. This date would place the famine during Paul’s first visit to the city. It is possible that Paul has this in mind when he writes metaphorically of needing to sow generously in order to reap in abundance: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
On the other hand, Paul addresses the Corinthian Christians as being fairly well off: He implies that they wanted to give him financial aid during his stay in Corinth, but he refused it (for example, 2 Corinthians 11:7). Paul does not regard it as any special burden for the members of the Corinthian Church to contribute to a collection for Christians in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8:10–15); he seems to contrast the relative prosperity of Corinthian Christians (2 Corinthians 8:14) with the extreme poverty of the Christians in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1–7). Even when crops failed, Corinth’s mercantile and commercial base must have provided the city with a substantial income.
As noted above, Corinth was not only a center of trade and commerce. In Paul’s day it was also the capital of Achaia, a Roman province created in 21 B.C. that was placed under the jurisdiction of the Roman Senate. Achaia included not only the whole Peloponnese, but also territory to the north on mainland Greece, including Epirus, Akarnania, Aetolia, and perhaps even Thessaly. In 15 A.D. the Emperor Tiberius brought Achaia under his direct imperial control, but then in 44 A.D. the Emperor Claudius reconstituted Achaia as a senatorial province. Such “public” provinces were administered by a proconsul chosen by the Senate and 020sent to the province for a one-year term, which began July 1 of each year.
According to Acts 18:12–17, the Roman proconsul in Corinth during Paul’s first visit was Lucius Junius Gallio, an older brother of the philosopher and sometime imperial advisor Seneca. Gallio probably took office in July 51. Paul was taken before Gallio when Jewish Corinthians accused Paul of “persuading men to worship God contrary to the Law” (Acts 18:12). Gallio ruled that he had no jurisdiction over such a charge (Acts 18:15).
After this episode, we are told that Paul stayed in Corinth “many days” (Acts 18:18). This implies that his stay in Corinth was very near its end; otherwise, the text would have said he stayed a month, or many months. Earlier we were told that he spent about a year and a half in Corinth on his first visit (Acts 18:11). Accordingly, assuming that Paul left Corinth shortly after the middle of the year 51 A.D., we can conclude that he had probably arrived early in 50 A.D.
Because Corinth was both a Roman colony and the capital of a senatorial province, its public life and even its appearance were significantly influenced by Rome. The official language in Corinth was Latin; the city was subject to Roman laws and its local government was like Rome’s.
Thanks to the careful work of archaeologists, we know that Corinth’s streets and roadways were laid out according to the Roman pattern, that a ceremonial platform (Greek: bema) in the civic center replicated the Rostra in the Roman forum, and that under Augustus, or perhaps Tiberius, Corinth’s theater was remodeled to accomodate Roman productions.
One of the many inscriptions archaeologists have uncovered probably refers to a public official of Corinth whom Paul appears to have identified by name in his letter to the Romans. In Romans 16:23 Paul conveys greetings to the Roman church from several people, one of whom is “Erastus, the city treasurer.” Since the apostle almost certainly wrote Romans from Corinth, Erastus was probably the treasurer of Corinth. (Erastus is specifically associated with Corinth in 2 Timothy 4:20, even though most scholars do not attribute that writing to Paul.)11 The Erastus inscription, which was found in Corinth in 1929, has been dated to the second half of the first century A.D. Originally it consisted of letters cut into limestone paving blocks and then inlaid with metal. Only two metal punctuation marks remain, however, although most of the inscription itself is still in a small plaza just east of the theater. It reads as follows:
[ … ] ERASTVS PRO AEDILIT[AT]E S P STRAVIT
“Erastus in return for his aedileship laid [the pavement] at his own expense.”12
No other person of this name is known to have been an official in Corinth, and since the name itself is not common, it would appear that this Erastus is the same one whom Paul and the author of 2 Timothy mention (see also Acts 19:22, where a man named Erastus is referred to as one of Paul’s helpers.). Although an aedile was not a city treasurer, but more like a commissioner of public works, one did not attain an aedileship without having first served the city in other important capacities. In the case of Erastus the aedile, we may suppose, one of those earlier offices was that of quaestor, or municipal financial officer.
Among the sculptural remains found in Corinth is a fine example from the late first or early second century of the goddess Fortuna, protector of cities, represented as usual wearing a gold crown shaped like a city wall. Known as a corona muralis, a wall crown, 021such a crown was bestowed by the emperor on the first soldier who was brave and able enough to make it safely over the wall into an enemy city. It has been suggested that this tradition provides the contrasting background to the account of Paul’s hasty flight from Damascus in 2 Corinthians 11:32–33, where he is stuffed into a basket and lowered through a window in the city wall in order to escape arrest by agents of King Aretas. What a striking contrast to the heroism for which the emperor awarded the coveted corona muralis. Paul’s readers would surely have been familiar with the corona muralis. For the Corinthians, Paul’s account of going over a wall to get out of a city and away from danger would have been stunning proof that he boasts not of his heroism but of his weakness (see, e.g., 2 Corinthians 11:29, 30). As judged by the Roman world, he would have to be described as a coward, not as a hero.
In 2 Corinthians 2:14, Paul writes of himself and other apostles that “Christ always puts us on display (as if we were prisoners in a triumphal procession).” The two Greek words I have translated as “puts us on display” are thriambeuonti hemas. These words have been translated in various ways, such as “in a triumphal progress,” “triumph over us,” etc. My own rendering, however, is based on recent scholarship, which has determined that the Greek phrase contains a rather specific allusion. I have tried to bring this out by adding the words in parentheses. The picture Paul’s words would call up in the minds of his readers, residents of a Roman colony, would be of the famous processions 022that were staged by the emperor to celebrate outstanding military victories. The conquering general and his army would put their prisoners of war “on display” by parading them through the streets of Rome, thus shaming and humiliating them. Paul wants the Corinthians to give up any notion that apostles are heroic figures, and to regard the apostolic vocation, instead, as one of suffering for the gospel, like humiliated prisoners on display in a triumphal military procession.
The archaeological remains allow us to imagine quite a bit about what life in Corinth was like in Paul’s day.
Among the most prominent ruins is a Doric temple situated on a low hill overlooking most of the rest of the city. It was originally built in the sixth century B.C., but was restored soon after the establishment of Corinth as a Roman colony in the first century B.C. Seven of its columns remain standing. It is usually associated with Apollo, but since this identification is not absolutely certain, archaeologists often refer to it simply as “the archaic temple.”
North of the archaic temple lies a market complex that dates from the first half of the first century A.D. It is well-designed for the storage and sale of produce, meat and fish. Each of the shops opens into a rectangular courtyard that is completely enclosed and framed by Doric columns.
Nearby is the theater of Corinth. Originally 023constructed according to the Greek pattern in the late fifth century B.C., it was reconstructed between 338 and 250 B.C., and then again several times by the Romans—beginning in the early first century A.D. South of the archaic temple are various other temples and religious shrines from Paul’s time, as well as major public buildings arranged in a more or less typically Roman-style forum.
In Paul’s day, a two-mile walk led from the port of Lechaeum (on the Gulf of Corinth) up to the forum. On the way could be seen on one side of the street various shops, a public bath, and a shrine dedicated to Apollo, as well as, on the other side of the street, a series of 16 small shops opening directly onto the Lechaeum Road. These shops formed the basement of a long, narrow basilica. This basilica—the north basilica—was one of the first large buildings constructed after Roman colonization of Corinth and probably functioned as the judicial headquarters for the colony. If Paul’s appearance before the Roman proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12–17) was in fact a formal proceeding against him, it would most likely have taken place here, not at the bema in the forum itself. The latter, an elaborate open-air platform, was used only for important, ceremonial occasions.
The Lechaeum Road from the port terminates at a large monumental arch (the propylaea), through which one entered the forum proper. Inside and directly to the left is the fountain of Peirene, a major source of the city’s water supply. This facility was quite thoroughly remodeled in the early years of the colony, during the reign of the emperor Augustus. Directly to the right of the arch, coming into the forum, is the entrance to the north basilica, and beyond that is the northwest stoa, a colonnaded walkway with shops also built during the reign of Augustus.
As early as the sixth century B.C., the city of Corinth sponsored a Panhellenic festival known as the Isthmian Games, dedicated to the sea god Poseidon. The festival was held on the isthmus, about ten miles northeast of the city. After the Roman colonization, 024these biennial contests were, for a time, sponsored by Sicyon (a city about 15 miles to the northwest), but by Paul’s time Corinth was again administering the games.
The festival in the year 51 would have opened before the apostle’s departure from Corinth, so he must certainly have experienced the excitement of people coming from all over Greece, crowding the grounds at Isthmia (the place on the isthmus where the various athletic and artistic events were held) and the streets and shops of Corinth. Perhaps he is recalling the Isthmian musical competitions when, writing to the Corinthians about the need to communicate the gospel clearly, he puts the rhetorical question: “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves; if you in a tongue utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air” (1 Corinthians 14:7–9).
One can almost hear the Isthmian Games in the background of the following passage (1 Corinthians 9:24–27):
‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).
When Paul compares his own self-control to the disciplined training of runners and boxers, he is probably thinking of the athletes he had seen at Isthmia. When he contrasts the “perishable wreath” for which the runners compete with the “imperishable wreath” for which Christians hope, he may well be recalling the victory crowns at Isthmia that were made of either pine or withered celery.13
Paul, like many itinerant teachers, philosophers, and pundits of his day, probably regarded the throngs of people on hand for the Isthmian Games as a marvelous audience for his message. The Roman orator-philosopher Dio Chrysostom has given us a vivid description of the ambiance at the festival (he purports 025to describe the scene in the fourth century B.C., but is only projecting backwards what obtained in the late first century A.D. when he wrote it). Dio paints a word picture of “crowds of wretched sophists around Poseidon’s temple shouting and reviling one another … ; writers reading aloud their stupid works, many poets reciting their poems … , jugglers, fortunetellers … , lawyers innumerable perverting judgment, and peddlers not a few huckstering whatever they happened to have.”14
One can imagine Paul shouldering his way through the crowds who came for the Isthmian Games, trying to ignore the noisy claims of those with merchandise, entertainments or ideas to sell, and finding at last a promising spot in which to begin his own preaching. Such a scene could well be in the apostle’s mind when he insists to the Corinthians that he and his associates “are not like so many, huckstering the word of God”; rather, they “are acting from pure motives” and “speaking in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17).
“There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning; but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me” (1 Corinthians 14:10–11). Paul is arguing that ecstatic speech (“speaking in tongues”) has no value unless someone is on hand to interpret it for others. When he speaks of the world’s “many different languages,” he may well be recalling his own experiences in the city, for Corinth was a truly cosmopolitan place.
It was also a place of “many gods” and “many lands” (1 Corinthians 8:5), as reflected in the city’s various temples and shrines. Worship of the gods and goddesses of the old Greek pantheon did not cease with Roman colonization. In Paul’s day statues of Athena and Apollo were still prominent in the city’s squares and public buildings. The remains of several temples and precincts sacred to Greek deities have been unearthed in front of the west terrace of the forum. One of the temples seems to commemorate the whole Greek pantheon; another is dedicated to Tyche (Roman Fortuna), the goddess of good fortune and, as we have seen, the traditional protector of cities.
An ornamental fountain, its waters cascading over sculpted dolphins, also stood along the forum’s west terrace. An inscription indicates that it was dedicated to Poseidon (Roman Neptune). This elaborate fountain features not only a statue of Poseidon but also one of Aphrodite (Roman Venus), the goddess of love, fertility and beauty. Aphrodite had a temple not far away, and a second one on the summit of Acrocorinth, a craggy mount that rises some 1,500 feet above the south terrace of the forum. However, Strabo’s claim (Geography 8.6.20) that a thousand prostitutes had once served Aphrodite’s temple at Corinth is hardly credible. Sacred prostitution was not common in Greece, the only other ancient writer who attests its practice at Corinth seems to have misunderstood his sources, and the temples dedicated to Aphrodite in the city were very small ones.15
About half a mile north of the forum was the Asclepion, a building complex dedicated to Asclepius, the god of healing. The Asclepion had facilities for bathing, dining and exercise, as well as sleeping quarters (an abaton), since it was thought that the god’s directions for a cure often came in a dream. Numerous terra-cotta models of parts of the human body have been uncovered here—votive offerings left by those 026who credited the benevolent Asclepius with relief from disease, pain or some other infirmity. Paul may be thinking of Asclepius’s cures when he speaks of his own “thorn in the flesh.” Three times he appeals to the Lord for relief, just as the pagans appeal to Asclepius. But the Lord replies: “My grace is enough for you; for power is made fully present in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Only two architectural fragments attest to the Jewish presence in Roman Corinth. One is a marble cornice block that seems to have been re-used as the lintel over the doorway of a synagogue. On the underside of the block is a Greek inscription that reads (as restored), “Synagogue of the Hebrews.” The second fragment is a marble impost which must have also come from a synagogue. It is decorated with Jewish ritual objects: three menorot (seven-branched candelabra), palm branches (lulav) and citron (etrog).
The decorative style of the impost suggests a date in the fifth century A.D., and the crude lettering on the lintel indicates a date as late as the fourth century A.D. Thus, neither of the synagogues of which these fragments were a part could have been seen by Paul.
A number of Christian gravestones from the latter half of the fourth century constitute the earliest archaeological evidence of a Christian presence in Corinth. The name on one of these, “Noumenis” (a shortened form of “Noumenios,” a name that may be of Jewish origin), could be that of a Jewish Christian—although most of Paul’s converts in Corinth were gentiles, and the church there undoubtedly remained primarily gentile throughout its history.
The earliest Christian basilica in the city dates from the end of the fourth century, by which time the policies of Theodosius I (379–395 A.D.) had helped to secure Christianity’s favored status in the Empire. In Paul’s day Christian congregations had to meet in 027private homes. The residential sections of Corinth remain unexcavated, but archaeologists have made careful studies of a first-century villa in nearby suburban Anaploga. Since even this fine house could have accommodated an assembly of only 30 or 40 people, Paul’s congregation was probably organized into subgroups that met together only on occasion. As Jerome Murphy-O’Connor has suggested, this situation may have contributed to the divisions in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 1:10–12), which evidently became acute whenever the whole congregation had to crowd into just one house for the Lord’s supper (see 1 Corinthians 11:17–34).16
The lavish remains of Roman Corinth from Paul’s day also remind us of one of the most fundamental issues that Paul and his congregations had to face: How could believers accommodate themselves to the realities of life in that age without forsaking the god in whom they had become heirs of an “age to come”? Or, to draw on phraseology employed by the apostle himself: How can believers “deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it” (1 Corinthians 7:31)? The more we learn about Corinth and the other cities in which Paul founded congregations, the more we appreciate the particularities and the complexity of this issue, and why the apostle was constantly burdened with anxiety for his churches (2 Corinthians 11:28).
On his first visit, Paul came to Corinth from Athens. He apparently stayed in Corinth a year and a half, teaching the word of his god and baptizing believers (Acts 18:1, 8, 11). According to Acts, it was in Corinth that Paul, after his preaching was rejected by the Jews, first turned to the gentiles. “From now on,” he said, “I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). While the account of the apostle’s initial visit to Corinth in Acts is more or less dependable, the most fascinating window on Paul’s ministry in Corinth comes from his letters to […]