Corinth and Paul
Corinth was a major sea port on the Mediterranean Sea on the southern portion of Greece. For almost 1000 years it was a major port and city, larger than Athens, until in 146 BC they rebelled against Rome, and the city was levelled. The men were slain, women and children sold into slavery. In 44 BC, Julius Caesar began construction anew on the seaport. In Paul’s day, it was a city that was just over one hundred years old, but so profitable that within just a short time had become a large metropolis once again.
The Athenians looked down upon the Corinthians, slandering them about their sexual perversions. It was claimed that Corinth's temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, had 1000 sacred prostitutes serving at her temple on the top of a1886 foot hill. A Greek verb for fornication is korinthiazomai, which stems from the city’s name.
In the town center were many other temples, including temples and shrines for Apollos, other Greek gods, Asklepios (Apollos’ son, the god of healing), and shrines to the Emperor and his family.
This cosmopolitan city of trade and commerce was one of Paul’s first major mission areas.
Paul formed the Christian Church in Corinth and then spent three years in Ephesus, about 180 miles away. During this time (about 53-57 AD), Paul heard of problems arising in the Church at Corinth, and used this epistle to address them.
Corinth consisted mainly of Greek converts, many of whom tried to bring concepts from their pagan religions into the Christian faith. Being a cosmopolitan city, there would also be external influence from Jews, Gnostics, and the philosophies of the Greeks. The variety of beliefs trying to take over the basic Christian faith were causing huge divisions among the members there. Some scholars believe that only Jewish-Christians or Jewish-Gnostics were the actual rise of problems, but many of the problems occurring included sexual impurity - something unlikely from a member of any Jewish sect.
Paul begins his epistle
“Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God” (1 Cor 1:1).
Why would Paul have to establish his authority and apostleship to a people he had spent at least two years with? Because many had since come claiming authority and power from one source or another. In establishing at the very front of his epistle his authority, he hoped to be able to quell the divisions of those who would teach different things.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.” (1 Cor 1:10-15)
Obviously, the Corinthian members were claiming authority from the various missionaries that passed through the area or claimed to have been taught by, including Paul, Peter and Apollos (an early Christian missionary, not the pagan god). Paul was having to compete with a false image of himself! He was glad he only baptized just a few, so none could claim they received their authority from being baptized by Paul.
This shall be a common theme in areas that experience apostasy, and will even be dealt with decades later by the apostle John in his epistles and Revelation. Some members came forth claiming to have additional information or authority, sometimes hidden truths, as the Christian and Jewish Gnostics would claim to have. By the second century of the Christian era, some Gnostic and Christian/pagan groups would become so powerful as to threaten the young orthodox church.
Here, Paul seeks to stop it before it spreads. Explaining the problems he finds with the wisdom of men, he stated:
“For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor 1:22-27)
The rich and wealthy of Corinth were not necessarily being called as the leaders of the church. The Jewish-Christians were not necessarily being called as leaders, even though they had a background in the Law. Meanwhile, the Greeks often looked down on the simplicity of the gospel, because it didn’t fit in with their philosophy. Paul was trying to pull all the members back together into unity in Christ and his basic gospel. Paul understood that the gospel was foolishness to Greek philosophers and others. Yet, God would use that foolishness to confound the wicked and save the repentant believers.
So concerned was Paul that he would explain that they were not ready for gospel meat, but only the milk. Their divisions showed Paul that they were still babes needing the basic nourishment, even though others were offering to stuff heavier meals down their gullets (1 Cor 3:1-2).
Paul brought them back to the basics: faith in Jesus Christ, the atonement, repentance, and commandments. As explained in the Bible.org referenced below:
“Basically 1 Corinthians deals with abuses of liberty (just as Galatians deals with the stifling of the Spirit because of legalism). The correction Paul gives is not to question their salvation, but to challenge them in their sanctification. Although the apostle is dealing with several different issues, the general theme of the epistle is “the practical implications of progressive sanctification in the context of the Christian community.””
Salvation vs Sanctification
Salvation in Christ is a free gift. All mankind will resurrect. The only requirement to escape hell is to believe in Christ and repent of one’s sins. However, our degree or level of salvation is determined by sanctification: how holy we become as an individual. The greater our personal holiness and Christ-like abilities, the greater our personal reward and glory in the heavens.
The Book of Mormon notes that all will be resurrected among both good and evil. Then all will be brought to the presence of God through Christ. There, those who have repented and become worthy of Christ’s grace will remain, while those who refuse to repent will suffer from being filthy in God’s presence (Alma 11-12, Mormon 9:1-7).
Paul spends significant time discussing the commandments of God (1 Cor 3) and living by the power of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor 2). The Lord has taught us that as we move from one grace to a higher grace, we receive grace for grace until we receive a fullness of grace (D&C 93, 1 Cor 3:10). Grace is described as the sanctification process that occurs as we progress in the path of righteousness, once we’ve accepted Christ as our Savior. As such, we become sanctified little by little, until we become fully perfected in Christ, meet to receive his greatest rewards.
Our works are tested to see if we have truly become sanctified in Christ. As Paul explained:
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor 3:13-15).
And the greater the work we have brought forth on what we have truly become, the greater the reward in heaven.
First Corinthians at Bible.org: http://bible.org/seriespage/1-corinthians-introduction-argument-and-outline
First Corinthians at Wikipedia: