If Corinth had been Paul’s girlfriend, Paul’s buddies would have called her high maintenance.
There’s no indication Paul would have disagreed.
Based on what we read in his two surviving letters to Corinth, and on what he says about one “painful letter” that seems lost, this is a girlfriend that would have needed:
- Flowers, chocolates, and enough compliments to blush a narcissist.
- Anti-psychotic medication for a sociopath.
Corinth was a pain in Paul’s neck.
- Cliques developed, with some folks pledging their allegiance to Paul, some to a gifted speaker named Apollos, some to Peter, among other contenders. Some church members ended up suing each other in court.
- Fraud apostles-for-profit came to town with a different version of Jesus—apparently one that took offerings and featured loosey-goosey morals with sex sins. That might help explain why the members seemed okay with the church guy who was sleeping with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5:1).
- Worship of other gods remained a problem. Some thought it was okay to eat meat offered to idols. Others didn’t.
Paul started the Corinth church during his second mission trip, after philosophy scholars laughed him out of Athens. “When they heard Paul say that someone actually rose from the dead, they laughed at him…After Paul left Athens, he went to Corinth” (Acts 17:32; 18:1).
Paul’s MO (modus operandi, which means” method of operation”) was to go into a town and spend a few weeks telling people about Jesus. Just long enough, in some cases, to start a small church group.
Corinth blew his MO. For some reason, Paul stayed there for a year and half before moving on.
But the troubled church he left behind erupted with arguments, criticism, and questions—all of which Paul tried to address in his follow-up visits and in his letters, which were sometimes flowered in compliments and other times tight-packed in criticism.
Church leaders a few decades after Paul wrote that the church of Corinth was still one messed up place of worship, with church members constantly arguing with each other (see discussion Q&A 3, for 2 Corinthians 13.)
- “From: Paul…And from our dear colleague Sosthenes” (1 Corinthians 1:1).
- “From: Paul…And from our dear colleague Timothy” (2 Corinthians 1:1).
|50-51||55||STARTS CHURCH. Paul visits Corinth for the first of three times. Stays 1½ years, starting the church.|
|51||56||WRITES LOST LETTER #1. Paul writes first letter to Corinth (1 Cor. 5:9). It’s lost.|
|54||59||WRITES 1 COR. Paul writes 1 Corinthians probably early in the year.|
|55||60||SECOND VISIT. Paul visits Corinth. He faces criticism and leaves quickly (2 Cor. 2:1).|
|55||60||WRITES LOST LETTER #2. Paul writes a painful letter (2 Cor. 2:3-4 and 7:8). It’s either lost or at least partly preserved as 2 Cor. 10—13.|
|55||60||WRITES 2 COR. Paul writes 2 Corinthians after Titus returns from Corinth with the good news that the church took the advice Paul gave in the painful letter.|
|56||61||THIRD VISIT. Paul visits Corinth for the third and last time.|
Paul probably wrote 1, 2 Corinthians in Ephesus, during the three years he spent there planting the church.
Destination of letter
“To: God’s church in Corinth” (1:2). Corinth, a city in what is now Greece, was a busy transportation hub about a two-day walk south of Athens. Built on a narrow strip of land, it had nearby ports in two seas: the Aegean Sea in the east and the Ionian Sea in the west. Theoretically, this was a great location for getting the story of Jesus out there. If only that one church guy would stop sleeping with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5:1).