1 Corinthians: A Church Divided -- By: John B. Polhill

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 06:3 (Fall 2002)
Article: 1 Corinthians: A Church Divided
Author: John B. Polhill


1 Corinthians: A Church Divided

John B. Polhill

John B. Polhill is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Polhill has taught at Southern since 1969. He has written numerous articles and a widely acclaimed commentary on Acts in the New American Commentary. This ar ticle is reprinted with slight adaptation from chapter twelve of John Polhill, Paul and His Letters (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1999). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Toward the end of his third missionary period, Paul had extensive contact with the Corinthian church. One would never guess this from the account in Acts. Acts mentions only a final visit of Paul to Corinth after completion of his long Ephesian ministry and before his departure to Jerusalem with a collection for the saints (Acts 20:1–3). It is apparent from Paul’s letters, however, that the apostle was quite involved with the Corinthians during the course of his third mission. Before the final visit mentioned in Acts 20:1–3, he wrote at least four letters to the Corinthians and made at least one additional visit to the city, which is not mentioned in Acts. It was a time of considerable stress for the Corinthians and for Paul. The church was divided, and some even challenged Paul’s apostolic authority.

Of the four letters to Corinth, two were written from Ephesus—1 Corinthians and an earlier letter that Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:9–13. This “previous letter” is evidently lost. This chapter will deal with this period of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. It represents the early stages of the conflict between Paul and the Corinthians. After the writing of 1 Corinthians the relationship between the Corinthians and their apostle worsened, necessitating a brief visit of Paul to Corinth from Ephesus, during which he seems to have been personally assaulted by at least one person.

Leaving in haste and frustration, he wrote an angry letter to the Corinthians, which is either lost or partially preserved in 2 Corinthians. In any event, 2 Corinthians records the events of this period of strained relationships. It will be the subject of the next chapter.

The Occasion and Purpose of 1 Corinthians

Paul’s third missionary period centered primarily in Ephesus, where he ministered for two-and-one-half to three years (Acts 19:1–20:1, 31). It was likely toward the end of this time, perhaps in the spring of A.D. 56, that Paul received news from Corinth which prompted his writing 1 Corinthians. He had ...

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