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New Testament Survey

1 Corinthians


First Corinthians

Key Verse(s):

Key Chapter(s):

Key Word(s) or Concept(s)


What is the spiritual condition of the audience?

How is this important to you?

What is the proper place of spiritual gifts in the church?

What is the most important element of all you do for Christ?

Without Christ present, how do we act?

Suggested Reading beyond the Key Chapter(s):

First Corinthians

revisedfinalbook152.gif This letter of Paul’s is the first in Scripture which addresses a serious problem within a church previously established by the Apostle. A good analogy might be that of the typical teenager. As long as the child is under the influence of his parents, he behaves properly. Once the child goes off to college, the direct influence of the parents is removed and the child tends to wander into new “adventures.” This is the situation with many of Paul’s churches.


Theme and Purpose

First Corinthians is a challenge to the church in their Spiritual walk, in their sanctification. The Corinthians were abusing their liberty in Christ and Paul sets out to correct these abuses. Note that Paul does not question the salvation of the church but rather deals with their methods and walk in Christ (1:1-9; 3:1-4). This is the overriding theme of the book, the progressive walk of the believer.

revisedfinalbook153.gif To sanctify is to set apart. When the setting apart is for God, it is a setting apart to holiness. Sanctification is the condition or process of being made holy. For the Christian, this is a three stage process. We were set apart at the time we accept Christ. But this letter to the Corinthians is not about salvation but about one’s faith walk. This progressive process of moving closer to God is called sanctification (Rom. 6:13; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:10; 1 John 4:7; 1 Cor. 6:19). In fact, in several places the Greek word is translated as holy or holiness rather than sanctify or sanctification. The last stage of sanctification is really glorification, the final translation of the believer into the true image of Christ (Rom 8:17, 30). This will occur when we go to be with the Lord at His Second Return.

More so than the other letters, this letter appears to be written, at least in part, to respond to specific questions raised by the church at Corinth (cf. 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; 16:12). Further, it is clear from the opening chapters, Paul desires to address specific problems in the church (which may or may not have related to the specific questions), to combat the worldly wisdom which had invaded the church with Spiritual wisdom, and to correct the contentions of Cloe’s servants (1:1-6, 11). The intent behind the letter might be summarized as the need to have unity in Christ.

This progressive walk which comes from unity in Christ is possible because Christ is the source and essence of our walk and unity in Christ.


But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
1 Corinthians 1:30


Corinth was one of the large metropolitan areas of the times. It had a population similar to that of Fairfax County. In general, life there was very immoral and pagan. These practices frequently “rubbed off” on the church, since friends, acquaintances, and fellow workers of the new Christians still held to these life styles. This added to the stress and pressure faced by these young Christians. In the ancient writings, a description of “to act as a Corinthian” meant to live a life of luxury and to practice sexual immorality. Most converts were Gentiles.


ole55.gif Does all this sound familiar?

Author – Date

Both in terms of external and internal evidence, the Apostle Paul is accepted as the author of this letter.

The letter was probably written to the church at Corinth from Ephesus (16:8,9,19) in AD 55/56. This correlates to the third missionary journey (Acts 18:23-21:16).

Special Considerations

There are both an unrecorded visit and a lost letter dealing with the church at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9, "I wrote you in my letter ...."). Some of the contents of this lost letter are found in 1 Cor 5:9-11 (not to associate with immoral believers and not to respect unbelievers). These points could have been explained in person if the unrecorded/sorrowful visit had occurred before the missing letter. Paul would not have needed to repeat them again in this letter.


It is clear that Paul made this unrecorded visit from Ephesus. This visit is unrecorded in the sense that Luke does not mention it in Acts. The second visit to Corinth recorded in the Acts (20:1-3) is really the third visit of Paul to the city, a visit promised in 2 Corinthians 12:14 and 13:1. Therefore, this second, unrecorded, visit is the sorrowful visit of 2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:21; 13:2. Obviously, Luke and the Holy Spirit did not consider the second visit of historical importance and the Holy Spirit did not inspire the missing letter.


Paul planted the church at Corinth on his second missionary journey in AD 50/51 (Acts 15:36; 18:1-18). Acts records that Paul spent eighteen months preaching the word in Corinth while he stayed with two Roman Jews, Aquila and Priscilla. The Apostle was joined by Silas and Timothy (18:5). Later, Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew became the preacher to this church (18:27-19:1; cf. 1 Cor 1:12; 3:5-6). Apollos had been trained in Ephesus by Aquila and Priscilla (18:24-26). revisedfinalbook157.gif

It must be remembered that the congregation at Corinth was a young congregation. As mentioned, the moral and social conditions of the city worked against the Gospel life style and added pressure to the converts. This accounts for the issues raised by their questions. Chapters 1-6 are most likely Paul’s response to the conflict created by the servants of Chloe, while the balance of the book is written in response to the questions raised by the church. This accounts for the lengthy teachings on separation and Spiritual gifts.

Three reasons are given for the factions within the church.

These all combine to lead to the moral problems of the church (5:1-6:20).

Paul’s overriding thought throughout this book, in both words and style, is set forth in detail in Chapter 13 and is summed up in 12:31 and 13:13.


31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1 Corinthians 12:31; 13:13

For Paul love is the key to all things. Christ showed love to us in His sacrifice on the Cross and this type of caring love is to be the guide we should use in dealing with other people and in all of our actions as a Christian.

In turn, this love in action is reflected in what Paul views as the true end of all Christian activity – bringing God the glory!


31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: 33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 10:31-33

A review of the outline of 1 Corinthians and the problems faced by the Apostle show why the emphasis lies on this duty of the believer. It appears that the Corinthians were following men more than God (1:12). They followed Paul, Apollos, Peter (Cephas), and Christ. Such a pattern created dissension and division in the Corinthian church. This approach is implied again in 3:4, 5. Paul’s statement of 3:6 is designed to counteract this tendency to treat the teacher as more important than the subject. This verse reflects the true approach we should all have of Christian evangelism.


I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
1 Corinthians 3:6

In the process Paul gives one of the clearest statements in Scripture to support the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer while showing that this indwelling was created by the death of Christ.


19 What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
1 Corinthians 6:19, 20

Chps 8, 9, 10 are about the believers conduct in relation to the believer’s liberty in Christ. In particular, Paul addresses the question of a believer not acting in any fashion which would cause another person to stumble.

Chp 11 address women and the Lord’s Table - note that the entire section from here through chapter 14 deals with public worship.

Chps 12, 13, and 14 are on spiritual gifts. Notice the key to these passages is the existence of the “love” chapter in the middle of those on spiritual gifts. This gives the real key to the use of spiritual gifts.

Chp 15 is on the Resurrection.

Chp 16 discusses the collection for the poor, as well as some personal notes and Paul’s closing.


Most churches use Paul’s verses on the Lord’s Supper (11:23-32) as the basis for Communion Services. It is to be noted that each of the synoptic Gospels has a version of these passages. The Lord’s Supper is found in Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:17-20.



The teachings of Chapter 15 on the resurrections cannot be over emphasized. This chapter plays an important role in one’s understanding of Revelation and the place of the Rapture in the Church’s future. There is not a single resurrection. There are two resurrection events, one of which take place in a series of occurrences. While it is true that Jesus raised people from the dead, these are not resurrections in a biblical sense. Resurrection is used to describe a person going to the place where he will spend eternity.



23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15:23-26



The order of the Resurrections is stated here. Christ is the first, the firstfruits Next comes those who are His. This is the Rapture described in 1 Thessalonians. After the Tribulation, the saints who die during this terrible seven-year period will be resurrected (Rev 20:3-5), together with the Old Testament saints (Dan 12:2; Isa 26:19). This is the “first resurrection,” the resurrection unto life (Rev 20:5 , 6). So, the first resurrection is a series of events, not a single resurrection.


revisedfinalbook166.gif Then the end comes. This end is described in Revelation, the resurrection and judgment of the dead, known as the Great White Throne judgment (Rev 20:5, 11-14). This is the second resurrection and is a resurrection unto death. In this case, death means eternal separation from God.

The benediction of 16:22-24 contains two Aramaic words which sum up the letter.


If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.
1 Corinthians 16:22


Anathema means to be cursed.

Maranatha means the Lord comes.


I.         Paul’s thankfulness for the Corinthians - 1:1-9

II.        Appeal for unity - 1:10-2:5

III.       Wisdom is a gift from God - 2:6-16

IV.      God does the work, we are his laborers - Chp 3

V.        Apostles of Christ - Chp 4

VI.      The immoral are judged - Chp 5

VII.     Don’t be like the world with law suits between believers- 6:1- 8

VIII.    Temple of God - 6:9-20

IX.      Marriage - Chp 7

X.        Food offered to idols - Chp 8

XI.      Christian rights - Chp 9

XII.     The wilderness example - 10:1-13

XIII.    Prohibition of idol feasts - 10:14-22

XIV.   Do all to the glory of God - 10:23-11:1

XV.     Public worship, the covering of the woman’s head - 11:2-16

XVI.   The Lord’s Supper - 11:17-34

XVII.  Spiritual Gifts - Chp 12

XVIII. Way of love - Chp 13

XIX.   Prophecy and tongues - Chp 14

XX.     The Resurrection - Chp 15

XXI.   Collection for the poor - 16:1-4

XXII.  Paul’s plans and concluding messages - 16:5-24




Are today’s churches faced with the same challenge’s as the one at Corinth?

Without the presence of an Apostle, how do our churches act?



Are spiritual gifts for today?

Consider Paul’s great challenge to the Corinthians:



Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:58

ole58.gif Can you meet this challenge?




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