From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 1-6                   Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011






Chapter 2:                                                                                                      [Page 24]


The Corinthian Church in its

Historical and Social Context







1.  Overview of the City’s History



            When a Roman army destroyed the city in 146 BC, it did a thorough job:  the enemy was thoroughly routed; the males were put to the sword and surviving women and children promptly enslaved.[1]  The city walls were torn down, the buildings smashed, and anything burnable was set to the torch.[2]  Unfortunately for the victors, Corinth enjoyed a quick comeuppance:  the triumphant soldiers carried the plague back to Rome with them.[3]

            In spite of the vast destruction inflicted by the conquerors (a devastation so widespread that it entered into the written tradition as total and complete),[4] enough remained to permit a modest remnant of the city to continue to exist on the spot,[5] though not without most of the surviving buildings being abandoned.[6]  The Romans formally refounded the community a century later with retired veterans of Roman legions[7] (as well as freedmen from the empire’s capital itself)[8] as the core elements of the new city.[9]  Part of Julius Caesar’s reason for encouraging the relocation of legionnaires and Italians into such colonies lay in the mushrooming of the urban Italian population in the preceding decades; about half of the rural free population had moved into the towns,[10] with the most attractive destination, of course, being the capital.

Although the revived Corinth was still in Greece, and of Greece, the foreign element was so important in its rebirth that the community was of a distinctive different cast than other contemporary Greek towns and cities.[11]  Indeed, the city’s heritage as a Roman colony continued to have a major cultural and attitudinal impact on the city throughout the first century.[12]  For example, only when Hadrian came to the throne in the second century AD, do we finally discover the majority of surviving inscriptions to be preserved in Greek.[13]  Before that time, 101 of 104 known inscriptions were in Latin.[14]

            After its re-founding, the same factor of strategic commercial location importance resulted in the town again mushrooming into a major metropolis.  Hence, in Paul’s day, Corinth was a huge city of half a million residents[15] and may well have substantially exceeded that number.[16]  A minority evaluation suspects that traditional estimates of the size of Roman cities has been considerably over-stated.  Even those that take this approach will typically concede that the city encompassed 70-80,000 individuals--still an impressive size community,[17] though others will, admittedly, opt for a much smaller figure.[18] 

Two-thirds of the population was likely slave and one-third free.[19]  Of the latter,



[Page 25]  an unknown number (though certainly modest in proportion to the total) enjoyed Roman citizenship as well--that did not automatically come with being free.[20]

            Politically, it served as the capital of the province of Achaia (Greece’s lower half)[21] and, as such, the residence of the Roman governor.[22]  Not surprisingly, it was also its largest city of the province.[23]  On an international level it ranked in the handful of most important cities in the entire Empire--right up there with Ephesus in the province of Asia and Alexandria in Roman Egypt.[24]

            On the local level, the city controlled Corinthia, whose geographic boundaries went northward to Halcyon Bay and to the South to near Mount Onium.[25]  The city was able to exercise dominance on both the nearby region as well as the entire southern half of Greece.  This importance briefly soared even higher during Nero’s fifteen month stay in Greece (66-67 A.D.), during which he proclaimed the self-governing rights and independence of Achaia.  With the widespread bitterness against him that characterized the following decades, it is hardly surprising that the regional “autonomy” did not last.[26]

            An 1800 foot high promontory soared into the sky behind the city and was known as the Acrocorinth.  It protected the city from hostile approach from that direction.  The city walls ran out from its edges and the circuit that brought it back to the Acrocorinth was six miles in length.[27]  They encompassed an area exceeding four square kilometers.[28] 

            Ancient cities were infamous for cramming multitudes of people into a very small space.  Regardless of the total residents, estimated population density of Roman cities was that of modern slums—around 200 people per acre.[29]  Corinth was able to strike at least some balance between large population and visual amenities.  It boasted an unusual amount of open space within the city proper; beneath the city’s acropolis it even had forested hills[30]  and accessible springs.[31]  In short, beauty and squalor lived side by side. 






2.  Ports



As a major trading port, it was the meeting place of a wide variety of cultures, nationalities, and cults.[32]  Many of their people were permanent residents; large numbers, however, were simply temporarily resident foreigners.[33] 

            The metropolis was blessed with two major nearby harbors:  Lechaeum faced on the Corinthian Gulf.  Trade from points as far west as Spain flowed through its facilities.[34]  Cenchreae fronted on the Saronic Gulf and gave access to the Aegean Sea.[35]  It was the prime beneficiary of goods from Roman Asia, Syria, and nearby areas.[36]  Trade goods from both directions were unloaded and moved across the isthmus to the sister port on the other side.[37]  Although distinguishable on a geographic and utilitarian basis, the two ports were not independent but were controlled by Corinth itself.[38]

            Smaller boats could be dragged across the isthmus on a special paved path built to accommodate such vessels.[39]  Strabo dubs the runway a “haul-across.”[40] Utilizing it saved a sea journey of 200 sea miles from one side of the peninsula to the other.[41]  It also did double duty as the shortest roadway for unloaded freight between the two seas.[42] 



[Page 26]         At first glance either approach sounds counter-productive and time-wasteful.  On the other hand, the sea route around the Peloponnesus was so potentially treacherous that prudent shippers often preferred such delays when they were feasible.[43]  The Greeks had two adages that pungently summed up the great danger.  One went, “Let him who sails round Malea forget his home.”[44]  The other urged, “Let him who sails round Malea first make his will.”[45]  

This natural danger served to enhance the revenues of the province:  Fees were collected on all merchandise shipped through the city and its ports.[46]  Commerce was expedited, the locals gained new sources of employment, the government obtained more revenue—a mixture which brought a large measure of satisfaction to all parties concerned.

            Yet building a canal to connect the two bodies of water still enjoyed a natural appeal to remove the ever-present danger of travel by sea.  As far back as the third century B.C., Macedon’s king Demetrius dreamed of the possibility as did Julius Caesar much later.[47]  Nero actually began the effort during his reign but the project was ultimately abandoned and only completed in the late 1800s.[48]  Even so, major efforts had been poured into the first century effort before it was closed down.  For example, after the Jews were conquered in A.D. 70, some six thousand prisoners were put to work on0 the project.[49] 

Pliny viewed the various failures as an indication that the very idea was sacriligious in nature.[50]  Strabo the geographer was more realistic in his evaluation:  of the effort of Demetrius in particular, he recorded that his engineers argued against the feasibility of the project.[51]  The failure to successfully complete the undertaking even in the days of Nero and his successors argues that their objections were fundamentally sound.  There was likely also a strong undercurrent of discretely expressed local opposition as well:  in the short-term such a massive building project would bring further prosperity to Corinth, but in the long term would the city even be needed if goods did not have to be transported across the isthmus and through their community?[52]






3.  Economy



            Strabo refers to the pivotal location of the city as the underlying reason for its booming economy, “Corinth is called ‘wealthy’ because of its place of trade, lying on the isthmus and being master of two harbors, of which one leads directly to Asia, and the other to Italy; and it makes easy the exchange of merchandise from both countries which are so far away from each other.”[53]

            Corinth was located at the pivotal location for north/south trade in Greece as well.  The only way to traverse those directions by land was through the narrow isthmus on which Corinth was built.[54]  Only some five miles wide, there was simply no way around it.[55] 

            The Lechaeum Road ended at the city’s agora (marketplace), some three hundred



[Page 27]  feet in width and about six hundred feet long.   Around it were many businesses, some of which appear to have been taverns.[56]   The Road itself was an impressive forty feet in width and was paved,[57] making transport that much easier and more convenient.  As it entered the agora, one passed under a massive arch with two chariots on top—one was driven by the sun god Helius and the other by Phaethon, his son.[58]

            Local businesses produced goods for domestic, regional, and international sales.  Its location between two seaports made it a “natural,” for the latter of course.  Most businesses were small ones and might be located anywhere space was available within the city.  On the other hand, there tended to be a concentration of specific trades on certain blocks of the community.[59]  This made it easier for potential buyers to find them and permitted the cementing of socio-business ties among small business people that were so important in a culture without a government social “safety net” for death and hard times.  

            These businesses were, typically, “small” businesses indeed.  Excavations near the market reveal the typical one to have been only four meters in depth.  The height was about the same and the store frontage on the street measured the same--or even less.[60]

            A trading center required banking facilities and Corinth had major ones available for both local and international merchants.[61]  In the days of Plutarch, it only had two competitors in that field within what ultimately became Greece:  the cities of Athens and Patrae.[62]  Also in keeping with Corinth’s major port status, was a large ship construction business that helped provide the need for seagoing vessels.[63]  In the pages of legend, the ship in which Jason hunted for the Golden Fleece had been built there.[64]  But it is in the pages of history itself that we read that the first triremes—the backbone of Greek naval offensive power—were originally a product of Corinthian shipbuilders.[65]  

            Its pottery exports also gained an international reputation.[66]  The region was also renowned as the source of “Corinthian brass,” a combination of copper, gold, and silver.[67] In Roman Corinth, however, the production of this product may never have reached the amount poured forth from the earlier incarnation of the city.[68] 

            From the standpoint of providing local needs for the community, the city was well situated.  Nearby were the two rivers Longopotamus and Nemea.  Between these and the abundant springs, an ample water supply blended with abundant fertile ground to assure a readily available supply of food for the city’s population.[69]




4.  Intellectual and Cultural Life



            The city cultivated the image of a place of learning.  Although Athens cherished the great philosophical sages of its past, in Paul’s day Corinth had surged beyond it in all areas of life—political importance, economic significance, and even intellectual and philosophical development.[70]  Hence philosophy and other “finer arts” were looked upon with respect and encouragement.[71]  Cicero recognized this and praised the city as “the



[Page 28]  light of all Greece.”[72]  

            The major “name” individual connected with the city’s intellectual community was that of Diogenes the Cynic.[73]  Indeed, he was buried just outside the city gates.[74]

            At a later date, Demetrius the Cynic did much teaching in the community.[75]  In light of the philosophical allegiance of these two individuals, it is perhaps not surprising that in the first center AD, Corinth was a major center of their “cynic” philosophy.[76]  Although the people took pride in such scholarship and learning, business remained the number one concern of the community.[77]

            Even so, the cultural gloss needed to enjoy their wealth and satisfy their ego was not neglected.  At least two major theaters provided periodic entertainment for the public.  A large hillside one could hold up to 20,000 people, though some estimates prefer a large but yet lower capacity.[78]  The Romans reconstructed the facility so that gladiatorial contests could be held there as well.[79]   In this mode, it enjoyed great popularity as well.[80]  Much of Greek culture was exported into that of Rome; this was one of the rare cases of Roman culture being favorably accepted into the Greek East.

A smaller roofed theater (called an odeum) was the site for musical concerts and could hold an audience of 3,000 viewers.[81]  Periodically plays would be presented there as well.[82]






5.  Moral Behavior



            The negative side of the community’s public image was it’s fabled anything goes attitude.  “To live like a Corinthian”[83] (the playwright Aristophanes)[84] and “to corinthiate”[85] were still, in Paul’s day, popular expressions to describe anyone given to an excessive and uncontrolled lifestyle.  In a similar vein, a prostitute was still known by the euphemism of a “Corinthian girl”[86] (Plato).[87]  To have “the Corinthian disease” meant one had contracted a sexually transmitted disease of some type.[88] 

            Corinth was a city in which anything could be bought if one had the money.  Combining this with its large size and it being a seaport probably all contributed to one of the other major negative aspects of the community—its high cost of living.  So widely recognized was this characteristic that Romans developed a proverb, “Few can afford a Corinthian holiday.”[89]  Hence the poverty level was presumably very high, as was common in that age.[90]  Yet just as the modern age distinguishes between “bad” and “worse” poverty, those living in Corinth almost certainly tended to be in the latter category because of its higher living costs.  

            Paul summed up well the popular image of Corinthians when he described the mentality of those who denied the resurrection, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (15:32).[91]  Eventually the negative public image became so locked in the public mind, that one could count on Greek playwrights to automatically picture any Corinthian as a drunk.[92]

            There may be an element of exaggeration in this portrayal, however.  Some have



[Page 29]  suggested that it grew out of intra-Greek competition for the role of most cultured and respected city of the region.  Or out of the earlier conflicts for regional dominance between Corinth and Athens.  After all, it was Aristophanes the poet--an Athenian--who conjured up the term “Corinthianize” as a synonym for sexual promiscuity and his popularity spread its usage far and wide.[93] 

            What with Corinth’s dream of being honored as a city emphasizing intellectual pursuits, this would certainly have been a clever way of undermining their sought for public prestige.  On the other hand, exaggerations usually have more than a little root in real life as well.  The fact that they “stick” is usually because there is enough reality in them that they retain credibility.



6.  Religion [94] 



The most important deity of the pre-destruction metropolis was Astarte/Aphrodite and she continued to be popular in Corinth[95] after the Romans rebuilt the city under Julius Caesar.  On the other hand, the cult never regained the numerical strength of devotees it had in the earlier period.[96]  Strabo describes the situation when the cult was at its height during the era of Greek independence, “The temple of Aphrodite was so rich that it owned more than a thousand temple-slaves, courtesans, whom both men and women had dedicated to the goddess.”[97]  In short, they served as combined priestess-prostitutes.

The two modest temples of the Roman period strongly imply that the number of such individuals had plummeted by the era of Paul.[98]  Indeed, the reliability of Strabo’s assertion concerning the earlier period has itself been challenged.[99]  Certainly Strabo’s rather snide insistence that it was “on account of these women that the city was crowded with people and grew rich”[100]—which blatantly overlooks that the city was superbly situated for international trade—argues that there was far more of an agenda driving the rhetoric than a mere description of the city.

            According to John T. Bristow, the prostitutes of Aphrodite came in two forms:  a large number of slaves which the temple owned and an elite of hetairai.  Hetairai in the Hellenized world were among the most educated of women, well dressed and skillful in applying cosmetics and adorning themselves, often able to discuss philosophy and literature with their educated clientele.  The freedom and status of the hetairai within Greek society often exceeded that of married women.”[101]
            Other goddesses found a place in the city as well.  Athena was cherished because of the local tie-in with her myth:  she had assisted Bellerophon capture Pegasus, a powerful winged horse, while it was drinking at a fountain in Corinth.  It also helped that Bellerophon was himself considered a native of Corinth.  Pegasus was then used by Bellerophon to kill a powerful female monster.  In tribute, Pegasus was imprinted on the city’s coins for hundreds of years.[102]

            Hera had her dedicated devotees in the city.[103]  As did the fabled Artemis in her Ephesian incarnation.[104]  Kore was another import from Asia as well.[105]  Shrines to Kore



[Page 30]  (= Persephone) and Demeter were common to all major cities of the Empire.[106]  (Kore, Demeter, and Isis [below] are classified under the “mystery religion” category in that they claimed to provide special esoteric insights not provided to other religious groups of the day.)[107]  Cybelle-Attis was worshipped,[108] though there was no temple in the city in Paul’s day.[109]

           Male gods had their place, too, of course.  The god Asclepius (alternatively spelled Asklepios) was honored both in his own right and for the healing he could bring to sufferers.[110]  Shrines existed in his honor at three hundred known sites, of which Corinth was one.  These were devoted to a combination of health improvement by natural means and miraculous cures by the deity.[111]  His cult reached a peak of popularity in the first two centuries A.D.[112]

Apollo enjoyed a temple in his honor and it had a massive statue of the god.[113]  As an imperially (re)founded city, it is not surprising to find the emperor cult a popular one.[114]  Heracles[115] was also reverenced as was Jupiter Capitolinus.[116]  Similarly, Dionysus and Hermes had their local groups of devotees.[117] 

            Poseidon (= Neptune, to the Romans) had a temple outside the town at the site of the Isthmian games.[118] The temple also contained statues of victors at those Games.[119]  Poseidon appeared on many Corinthian coins both out of respect for the deity and his tie-in with those very popular and respected games.[120] 

            International trade and diplomacy also brought deities from far away.  Isis and Serapis, though Egyptian gods, enjoyed places of worship within the town.[121]  Literary sources refer two shrines for Isis and a separate two for Serapis.[122]

            There were so many gods in the world that it was recognized that not all of them might have a shrine in the municipality.  To be sure that proper honor was given to all due it, one temple even had the dedication engraved on it, to “all the gods.”[123]  

            In this ocean of polytheism there was a sprinkling of monotheists.  Philo refers to a large Jewish community.[124]  Acts 18:4 mentions a synagogue, but the only archaeological evidence so far uncovered comes from an inscription referring to the one existing as of the second or third century.[125]  This may or may not have been identical with the one Paul knew, though the probability seems to be more against it.






7.  Introduction of Christianity



            The embryo of the congregation already existed before Paul’s departure from Athens and move to Corinth during his second missionary tour.  It consisted of Aquila and Priscilla and presumably at least a few others when Paul “came to them” (18:2).  Perhaps he initially stayed with Aquilla and Priscilla only because they all made their living as “tentmakers” (18:3).  Be that as it may, they must have found each either congenial company for he remained with them throughout his work in the city.

            Paul began a series of discussions “in the synagogue every Sabbath” (18:4) and spoke to convert “both Jews and Greeks” (18:4).  The reference could be to teaching



[Page 31]  publicly to Jews in the synagogue in contrast with private teaching in other places of Greeks.   Far more likely is the probability that this is to be taken as an indication that the synagogue consisted of both ethnic Jews as well as Greek proselytes to the faith.

            After Timothy and Silas joined him in the city (18:5), a breaking point was reached.  Certain Jewish traditionalists so “opposed” and “blasphemed” what was being said, that the apostle washed his hands of the synagogue and publicly declared, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (18:6). 

            At this point he “departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshipped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue” (18:7).  The use of “departed” suggests it was immediately after leaving the synagogue.  The point would be not that he moved his residence from with Aquilla and Priscilla to Justus’ home but that he moved where he was teaching from within the synagogue to next door. 

            The fact that he had broken with the synagogue and would never blacken their doors, must have overjoyed the traditionalists; the fact that he moved his operations next door would surely have equally outraged them when they recognized what he had done.  Even so “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue” also followed Jesus along “with all his household” (18:8).  Many other Corinthians heard Paul’s message, accepted it, and were baptized as well (18:8).

            Acts then records a vision of encouragement, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” (18:9-10).  Paul vitally needed such reassurance for he writes in 1 Corinthians 2:3 how he had been “with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.”  He was continuing to preach and to teach, but he made no pretense that he was not scared of how easily the situation could explode and destroy him.

            This uneasy and unwilling tolerance of the Christian “dissidents” lasted eighteen months (18:11).  Then Paul’s Jewish opponents hauled the apostle before Gallio, the proconsul under the charge of urging the people “to worship God contrary to the law” (18:13).  Before Paul could even open his mouth to defend himself, Gallio threw the entire issue out of court as belonging to internal Jewish religious disputes and representing nothing properly belonging before his own court (18:12-16).

            Paul “remained a good while” after these events before departing toward Ephesus (18:18-19).  Hence his opponents were ultimately rid of him but when he was ready to leave, not when they could compel him to leave or throw him in prison for remaining in their community.[126]            

            First Corinthians is an extraordinarily important writing, not merely because of the variety of religious issues it tackles.  It is rather paradoxical that because of its many faults, we find a fuller and more complete description of how a first century congregation actually functioned in “real life” than in any other epistle.[127]  In other New Testament letters, matters like the Communion, women’s role in the assembly, speaking in tongues, prophesying, and other matters are briefly alluded to, if at all, and then only in passing.  Because there were major departures in Corinth from the norm that Paul demanded, the very fact of deviance from his standard caused these matters to be discussed in greater detail than anywhere else.  





[Page 32]                                            

8.  Local Illustrations of                   

   Pauline Allusions



            There are clear correlations between archaeological and other data and what Paul writes in his epistle.  We will limit ourselves to three of them.

            Paul’s use of the illustration of a running contest in 1 Corinthians 9 to teach five overlapping principles (1)  not all who attempt to win actually do so (9:24a); (2) the need to run in such a manner that the probability of winning is maximized (9:24b); (3) self-control/moderation “in all things” in order to be able to win the prize (9:25a); (4) the awarding of a crown to the winner (9:25b); (5) the need for confidence in the ultimate victory. 

            The apostle then passes to “fight[ing]” contests, to make additional points in a similar vein:  (1)  the need to “fight” against the real foe and not an illusionary one (“beat[ing] the air,” 9:26b); (2)  the need to “discipline” the body and keep it under control (“subjection”) during the fight (9:27a) (3) lest one should be “disqualified” for improper behavior during the match (9:27b).

            Although these would be germane illustrations to any audience, they were especially relevant to such a city as Corinth, which hosted the widely respected Isthmian Games,[128]  which were held in honor of Poseidon (also see above).[129]  This produced an influx of both participants and observers from far and wide.[130]  The Games were surpassed in importance only by the Olympic Games[131] and were held in the spring every two years.[132]  

One estimate is that this attraction would draw over 70,000 visitors to Corinth.[133]  After the city’s re-establishment by the Romans, it appears that the games were initially held in Corinth itself and only returned to its traditional site at Isthmia in the decade of the 50s.[134]

            At least part of Paul’s initial ministry in the city was during 51 AD and that spring was the time of one of the regularly scheduled Isthmian Games.[135]  Even if we project slightly forward his arrival in Corinth, the chronology requires that he have been there for one of the games since they were held so often.  Hence, there is every likelihood that Paul personally observed at least some of the competitions himself. 

            With tentmaking his business, he is likely to have repaired tents used for housing[136] by the “tourists” (to project backward the modern terminology) or to have even made and sold new ones to the more well-heeled observers.  This trade would have brought him contacts (and potential converts) among both locals and these visitors who utilized his services.[137]      

            The Caesarean Games were also held periodically, as were the Imperial Contests.  When these coincided with the Isthmian Games, the importance, prestige, and (presumably) attendance increased as well.[138]  The specific contents of the games likely shifted a bit from emperor to emperor, according to what was perceived to be the most highly regarded by that official.[139]  Standard events would have included both athletic



[Page 33]  contests (including track events), chariot races, and musical concerts.[140]  Regardless of how the contents were exactly structured, such sport and cultural events were also always the occasion for important social gatherings involving cultic activities.[141]

            It should be noted in passing, that women participated in some of the athletic contests.  One proud father left an inscription praising his three daughters, all of whom had won a contest during the Games over a period of years.[142]

            The denunciation of sexual immorality (5:11, 6:9) in the form of gaining one’s immediate pleasures from a prostitute (6:15-17) fits in well with the character of the town.  As a seaport town, brothels were numerous and readily available for the sailors who passed through the community.[143]  Furthermore the popular cult of Aphrodite had its own “sacred” prostitutes who would have deemed the relationship a positive religious good[144]--to the extent that the practice still existing in any significant amount (see above).   

            Corinth was, sexually speaking, a wide-open city in which one could find any pleasure one wished.  And quite likely one or two one the visitor not yet thought of.   Yet even in a town with such willing condolence of “anything goes” in the sexual field, there remained some things so outrageous that it would not be accepted, such as the case of incest rebuked by the apostle. 

            Eating in a pagan temple (8:10):  As was typical in other cities, Corinth also had eating rooms attached to its religious complexes.[145]  Since Paul conspicuously does not condemn the Christian eating at such a place as worshipping the false god itself, this provides further evidence that these facilities were available for private meals between the god’s devotees and their friends.








[1] John R. Lanci, A New Temple for Corinth:  Rhetorical and Archaeological Approaches to Pauline Imagery, Volume 1 of the Studies in Biblical Literature series (New York:  Peter Lang, 1997), 26.  


[2] Charles H. Talbert, Reading Corinthians:  A Literary and Theological Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (New York:  Crossroad, 1989), xvi.   For source citations on the history of the city see xvi-xvii. 


[3] Jim McGuiggan, 1 Corinthians, from the Looking into the Bible series (Lubbock, Texas:  International Biblical Resource, 1984), 9. 


[4] J. Dorcas Gordon, Gordon, Sister or Wife?  1 Corinthians 7 and Cultural Anthropology,  Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 149 (Sheffield, England:  Sheffield University Press, 1997), 64-65.  



[Page 34]  [5] Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity:  Essays on Corinth, edted and translated by John H. Schutz (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1982), 79.  For a concise summary of the evidence see Gordon, n. 19, 65.     


[6] Stephen J. Chester, Conversion at Corinth:  Perspectives on Conversion in Paul’s Theology and the Corinthian Church (London:  T & T Clark, 2003), 306.


[7] Schnelle, 58. 


[8] Gordon, 65. 


[9] Lanci, 27, provides citations from ancient writers who emphasized the unsavory elements of those sent to the city.  


[10] Ibid., 26-27.  


[11] Parry, viii.        


[12] Lanci, 29; cf. 33.  


[13] Gerd Theissen, Social Setting, 79.      


[14] John K. Chow, Patronage and Power:  A Study of Social Networks in Corinth,  Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 75 (Sheffield, England:  Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), n. 3, 40.    


[15] Raymond Bryan Brown, 287; Gromacki, Survey, 199; Henshaw, 231; Hunter, 105.  For a diagram of major structures of the agora as it existed about the time of Paul’s founding the church in Corinth, see Pheme Perkins, Reading the New Testament:  An Introduction, Second Edition (Mahwah, N.J.:  Paulist Press, 1988), 176.  For a three-dimensional reconstruction of the same general area see Ben Witherington III,  Conflict and Community in Corinth:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 6-7.  For a diagram of the entire city of Corinth and the surrounding area, see Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, St. Paul’s Corinth:  Texts and Archaeology (Wilmington, Delaware:  Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983; 1987 printing), 20.         


[16] Everett F. Harrison, 267.  James L. Price, “The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians,” in The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, edited by Charles M. Laymon (Nashville, Tennessee:  Abingdon Press, 1971), 795, opts for a figure of 600,000 residents as does Vincent Branick, The House Church in the Writings of Paul (Wilmington, Delaware:  Michael Glazier, 1989), 58, the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre], The Navarre Bible:  St. Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians, translated by Michael Adams (Dublin, Ireland:  Four Courts Press, 1991), 24, and G. Coleman Luck, First Corinthians (in the Everyman’s Bible Commentary series (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1958), 7.            



[Page 35]  [17] Witherington, 18.   Donald Engels argues for about 80,000 in the city proper and another 20,000 in the nearest rural areas (Roman Corinth:  An Alternative Model for the Classical City [Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1990], 84).  For water supply as a factor in estimating population, see Engels, 179-181.  Kevin Quast, Reading the Corinthian Correspondence:  An Introduction (Mahwah, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1994), 19, suggests “over 200,000” for the total population.  


[18] Susan K. Hedahl and Richard P. Carlson, though, argue for a dramatically smaller town of over 30,000, in their article “An Exegetical Analysis of 1 Corinthians 13,” in Preaching 1 Corinthians 13, edited by Susan K. Hedahl and Richard P. Carlson, ([N.p.]:  Chalice Press, 2001), 7.   Victor P. Furnish, The Theology of the First Letter to the Corinthians (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1999), 2, speaks of a figure “in the tens of thousands.”  In light of the commercial importance of the city, these figures seem improbably low.


[19] [Navarre], 24; Kenneth Hein, Eucharist and Excommunication:  A Study in Early Christian Doctrine and Discipline (Bern, Switzerland:  Herbert Lang, 1973), 92; and Hubert Richards, The Gospel According to St. Paul (Collegeville, Minnesota:  Liturgical Press, 1990), 38.


[20] Helen Doohan, Leadership in Paul (Wilmington, Delaware:  Michael Glazier, 1984), 83, states that a third were “full citizens,” an improbably high percentage, though it should be remembered that many more would have had city citizenship rather than Roman.  To be a recognized “citizen” of a major city was a mark of distinction in its own right; to have Roman citizenship as well was the ultimate honor.   


[21] Branick, House Church, 58, and Everett F. Harrison, 267.   


[22] Rupert E. Davies, 13.  


[23] Elwell and Yarbrough, 288.


[24] Raymond Bryan Brown, 287.           


[25] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, in the Anchor Yale Bible series (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2008), 21.


[26] Ibid., 25.


[27] Raymond Bryan Brown, 287.          


[28] Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 21.


[29] Branick, House Church, 58.   


[30] Perkins, Reading, 175.  For a diagram of the layout of the central part of Corinth, see Mare, 186.  



[Page 36]  [31] Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 21.


[32] Hunter, 105.


[33] Klijn, 84. 


[34] Henshaw, 231; Edwin D. Freed, The New Testament:  A Critical Introduction (Belmont, California:  Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1986), 263.


[35] For a diagram of the port of Cenchrae as it existed in mid-first century A.D., see Murphy-O’Connor, Corinth, 18.       


[36] Freed, 263; Henshaw, 231.


[37] Elwell and Yarbrough, 289.


[38] Kilgallen, 5.    


[39] Ibid.  For various ancient accounts of the transit of boats by this means, see Robert M. Grant, Paul in the Roman World:  The Conflict at Corinth (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 16-18.      


[40] Geography, 8:2:1, as cited by Freed, 263.  


[41] Raymond E. Brown, note 1, page 512.   


[42] Thiselton, 1.  


[43] Martin, Foundations, 170; Thrall, 2; J. S. MacGorman, Romans, 1 Corinthians, in the Layman’s Bible Book Commentary series (Nashville, Tennessee:  Broadman Press, 1980), 96-97; Donald S. Metz, “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians,” in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, in the Beacon Bible Commentary series (Kansas City, Missouri:  Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1968), 296.  


[44] As quoted by William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, Second Edition, in the Daily Study Bible series (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1956), 1.


[45] As quoted by Ibid.


[46] John T. Dean, Saint Paul and Corinth (London:  Lutterworth Press, 1947), 15.   


[47] E. M. Blaiklock, Cities of the New Testament (London:  Pickering & Inglis, Ltd., 1965), 56.   


[48] Raymond E. Brown, note 1, page 512.  



[Page 37]  [49] Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in the New Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Books, 1995), 3-4.  


[50] William Baird, The Corinthian Church—A Biblical Approach to Urban Culture (New York:  Abingdon Press, 1964), 20, citing Pliny, Natural History, iv, 4.   


[51] Baird, Urban Culture, 20, citing Strabo, Geography, I, 3, 11.   


[52] Baird, Urban Culture, 20. 


[53] Geography, 8:6:20, as quoted by Freed, 263.  For a fuller form of the quotation, see  Engels, 50.  


[54] Coffman, 3; Ramsay, 123. 


[55] Mare, 175.  Such figures are estimates and will vary over time as the shoreline changes and different points in the isthmus are selected to make the measurement.  Raymond Bryan Brown, 287, as well as Price, 795, gives the width as four miles.


[56] Mare, 177.  


[57] Sherman E. Johnson, Paul the Apostle and His Cities (Wilmington, Delaware:  Michael Glazier, Inc., 1987), 95.    


[58] Baird, Urban Culture, 19.   


[59] Perkins, Reading, 175. 


[60] Ibid. 


[61] Lucas Grollenberg, Paul, translated from the Dutch by John Bowden (London:  SCM Press, Ltd., 1978), 66, and Robert A. Spivey and D. Moody Smith, Anatomy of the New Testament:  A Guide to Its Structure and Meaning, Fifth Edition (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:  Englewood Cliffs, 1995), 316.    


[62] Gerd Theissen, Social Setting, 101.      


[63] Kugelman, 254. 


[64] Blaiklock, 57.   


[65] Ibid.   


[66] Mare, 176. 



[Page 38]  [67] Ibid., and Gerd Theissen, Social Setting, 101.      


[68] For an evaluation that puts strong emphasis on this, see Witherington, 9-10, and note 23, page 10. 


[69] Fitzmyer, Frst Corinthians, 21.


[70] Sherman E. Johnson, 97.  In a similar vein, Laurence F. Kinney, Not Like Ordinary Men:  A Study of First Corinthians (Richmond, Virginia:  John Knox Press, 1961), 17.   


[71] Gromacki, Survey, 200; Henshaw, 231; Martin, Foundations, 171.  


[72] Pro lege Manil., 5, as quoted by Kugelman, 254. 


[73] Henshaw, 231.


[74] William F. Orr and James A. Walther, I Corinthians, in the Anchor Bible series (Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976), 119.   


[75] Schnelle, 59. 


[76] Ibid. 


[77] Gromacki, Survey, 200.   


[78] Baird, Urban Culture, 21, and Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Academie Books/Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 263.  In descending order:  Freed, 264, and Mare, 177, and Sherman E. Johnson, 98, estimate the number as 18,000.  Engels, 47, gives the figure as 15,000.   Perkins, Reading, 175, opts for a yet lower 14,000, as does Quast, 20,  and Anthony J. Tambasco, In the Days of Paul:  The Social World and Teaching of the Apostle (Mahwah, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1991), 63. 


[79] Baird, Urban Culture, 21.  Also see James Moffatt, xviii, 254.   


[80] Henshaw, page 232; Martin, Foundations, 171.


[81] Gundry, 263, and Sherman E. Johnson, 98.    


[82] Baird, Urban Culture, 21.   


[83] Henshaw, 231-232; Kugelman, 254. 


[84] Fitzmyer, First Corinthians,  35.


[85] Richards, Gospel, 37.



[Page 39]  [86] Harris, 26, and Kugelman, 254.       


[87] Fitzmyer, 35


[88] McGuiggan, 5. 


[89] As quoted by Richards, Gospel, 37-38.


[90] Hein, 92.    


[91] Frederick C. Grant, 63.      


[92] Barclay, 3. 


[93] Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament:  A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1997), 271.  In a similar vein, M. Eugene Boring, Klaus Berger, and Carsten Colpe, Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament (Nashville, Tennessee:  Abingdon Press, 1995), 408, believe that the claim of a thousand Aphrodite prostitutes was a slander fueled at least partly by Athenian rivalry with Corinth.   


[94] For a fuller discussion of such deities as the following, see Engels, 95-107.  For a description of the perceived physical appearance of the various deities, see Derek Newton, Deity and Diet:  The Dilemma of Sacrificial Food at Corinth (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 169), 135-144.   


[95] Doohan, Leadership, 83.   


[96] Edgar J. Goodspeed, An Introduction to the New Testament (Chicago, Illinois:  University of Chicago Press, 1937), 39.


[97] Geography, 8.20-21, 23, as quoted by Boring, Berger, and Colpe, 404.


[98] Raymond E. Brown, 513.      It is not uncommon to find the prostitute cult described as still flourishing in Paul’s time.  For example, Kinney, 38, Richards, Gospel, 37, and John Koenig, Christmata:  God’s Gifts for God’s People, in the Biblical Perspectives on Current Issues series (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1978), 86.    


[99] See the reasoning of Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians:  A Commentry on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, translated by James W. Leitch; edited by George W. MacRae; in the series Hermeneia--A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1975), 12.


[100] Geography, 8.20-21, 23, as quoted by Boring, Berger, and Colpe, 404.  They attribute the exaggeration to Strabo’s Athenian desire to deride its civic and commercial rival Corinth.



[Page 40]  [101] John T. Bristow, What Paul Really Said about Women (San Francisco:  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988), 52.   


[102] Talbert, xvii.   


[103] Freed, 264. 


[104] Orr and Walther, 119.   


[105] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, 1 Corinthians, in the Doubleday Bible Commentary series (New York:  Doubleday, 1998), 78.     


[106] Fotopoulos, 71.  For a discussion of its cultic calendar, see 72-76.   


[107] Chester, 303-304.


[108] Khiok-Khng Yeo, Rhetorical Interaction in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10:  A Formal Analysis with Preliminary Suggestions for a Chinese, Cross-Cultural Hermeneutic (Leiden, Netherlands:  E. J. Brill, 1995), 104.  


[109] Ibid., 105.  


[110] Freed, 264; Mare, 247; Witherington, 14-15.  For diagrams of the physical layout of the Asclepion see Perkins, Reading, 183.   


[111] Calvin J. Roetzel, The World That Shaped the New Testament, Revised Edition (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2002), 65.


[112] Fotopoulos, 50.   


[113] Freed, 264; Mare, 247.     


[114] Raymond E. Brown, 513. 


[115] Talbert, xvii. 


[116] Ibid.


[117] Yeo, 104. 


[118] Freed, 264.


[119] Ibid. 


[120] Mare, 247. 



[Page 41]  [121] Raymond Bryan Brown, 288; Raymond E. Brown, 513.  Freed, 264. 


[122] Fotopoulos, 114-115.  On archaeological remains, see Chester, 305.


[123] Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 78.       


[124] Embassy to Gaius 281, as cited by Schnelle, 58. 


[125] Schnelle, note 132, page 58.  On the widely divergent dates proposed for the inscription see Mare, 177. 


[126] For an analysis of what is known about the Jewish and Christian communities in Corinth, especially in the 150 years or so following the congregation’s founding, see Peter Richardson, “Judaism and Christianity in Corinth after Paul:  Texts and Material Evidence, in Pauline Conversations in Context:  Essays in Honor of Calvin J. Roetzel, edited by Janice C. Anderson, Philip Sellew, and Claudia Setzer (Sheffield, Great Britain:  Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 42-66. 


[127] Cf. Connick, 272. 


[128] Horton, 56; cf. 62.


[129] Raymond Bryan Brown, 344, and Grollenberg, 66.           


[130] T. Henshaw, 231.


[131] Raymond E. Brown, 513; Gundry, 263, and Polhill, 244.    


[132] Raymond E. Brown, 513; Everett F. Harrison, 268.


[133] Hedahl and Carlson, 7. 


[134] Fotopoulos, 152.


[135] Raymond E. Brown, 513, 514, and Kistemaker, Exposition, 312.  


[136] Perkins, Reading, 177. 


[137] Witherington, 19; cf page 209.  On types of potential purchasers as well as it being a trade that brought him into contact with a spectrum of potential converts for the gospel he preached, see Murphy-O’Connor, Corinth, 168-170. 


[138] Engels, 52.  


[139] Cf. Chow, 47.  



[Page 42]  [140] Grollenberg, 66.


[141] For a detailed discussion, see Newton, 110-114. 


[142] Graydon F. Snyder, First Corinthians:  A Faith Community Commentary (Macon, Georgia:  Mercer University Press, 1992), 2.  For the text of the inscription (which also points out their victories at other Games), see Murphy-O’Connor, Corinth, 16.  For a concise summary of the character of the Isthmian Games, see Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 94-95.     


[143] Connick, 276, Richards, Gospel, 37, and John DeMers, Journeys in Dust and Light:  A Modern Pilgrimage through the Life and Letters of Paul (Collegeville, Minnesota  Liturgical Press, 1993), 150. 


[144] Ibid. 


[145] Freed, 264. 



Roland H. Worth, Jr.

A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 1-6:

Interpreting the Text in Light of

Its Old Testament Roots


© 2011