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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Introduction

CORINTH was a wealthy city, situated on the isthmus that divides the Morea from continental Greece. It was destroyed by Mummius (A.C. 146) by order of the Roman Senate, and a hundred years after restored by Julius Cæsar (A.C. 44). It was constituted by Augustus the capital of Achaia (A. 27). In the time of St. Paul, it more than recovered its former opulence and splendour. Owing to its favourable situation for commerce—having a ready communication with the East and West, by means of its ports on the Ægean and Ionian seas—it became the grand emporium in these parts. It abounded in riches, and their attendant vices, of every description. There were two leading vices, however, for which Corinth was particularly remarkable, viz., pride and impurity; the latter of which is often permitted by a jealous God, as the appropriate punishment of the former. The dissoluteness of the Corinthian women became, accordingly, proverbial throughout the rest of Greece; and the loathsome vice of impurity was, to a certain extent, publicly sanctioned—Venus being one of the tutelary deities of the city. We are informed by Strabo (lib. 9), and by Herodotus (in Clio), that the temple of this goddess at Corinth was wealthy enough to support more than one thousand courtezans devoted to infamy and prostitution. Such was the wretched state, such the deplorable spiritual condition of this city, on the occasion of the Apostle’s first visit (A.D. 52), which is recorded (Acts 18). He remained there eighteen months, and founded a Church composed partly of Jewish, but principally of Gentile converts.

OBJECT AND OCCASION OF THIS EPISTLE.—Its object was two-fold. First, to correct some disorders that had crept into the Church of Corinth; and, secondly, to answer some questions proposed to him by the heads of that Church (chapter 7, verse 1). The disorders that called for the Apostolic zeal of St. Paul were—first, a kind of schism, occasioned by an undue value attached by some among the Corinthians to the eloquence of certain preachers, who addressed them after the Apostle’s departure. The principal person to whom many of them attached themselves, even to the exclusion of the Apostle, was a certain Apollo, a Jewish convert, a man of distinguished eloquence, who arrived there with commendatory letters from the Churches of Ephesus, after St. Paul had departed for Jerusalem. Many attached themselves to Apollo, and gloried in him, as more eloquent than the Apostle. In the first chapter, the Apostle points out the utter folly of such notions, the direct tendency of which was no other than to have a division made of Christ, to whom all allegiance was virtually renounced by such a foolish line of conduct. He combats their false notions regarding the relative claims of these teachers to special respect, on account of their alleged superior eloquence; and he shows, from the very economy of redemption, how the Almighty, in bringing about this great masterpiece of his infinite power and wisdom, had excluded everything that might leave room for men wherein to glory, rejected human wisdom, and made everything attributable to himself alone.

Another abuse of a crying nature was a scandalous incestuous connection which a member of the Church of Corinth had with his stepmother—his father being still alive (chap. 5).

The next abuse was that of recurring to Pagan judges in cases of litigation. The Jews were allowed, by the laws of Rome, to settle their disputes by arbitration, without having recourse to the legally constituted tribunals; so might the Christians also, as the law made no distinction between them and the Jews. Hence, the ground of the Apostle’s censure regarding this practice (chap. 6).

Another disorder arose from the excesses committed in their Agapes, or feasts of charity, celebrated in the infancy of the Church immediately before holy communion. The Apostle animadverts on this abuse, and, at the same time, inculcates modesty in female dress, and commands the women to appear veiled in the churches (chap. 11)

Another disorder combated by him was their abuse of spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues. The gift was principally intended for the benefit of the Pagans, in order to induce them to embrace the faith; but its main end, so far as the Christians were concerned, was instruction. Now, to serve this end, interpreters were necessary; and it frequently happened that persons favoured with this gift seemed to have no concern, while exercising it, whether interpreters were present or not.

Many of the Corinthians had embraced the faith at an advanced period of life, after having been previously imbued with the scepticism of the Sadducees and the philosophical dogmas of the Greeks, which were principally opposed to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. The Apostle devotes the fifteenth chapter to this important subject, and establishes the fact of Christ’s resurrection, as the basis of his arguments in favour of the general resurrection of mankind. So far, the first object of this Epistle.

The second object which the Apostle had in view was, to answer certain questions proposed to him. He was consulted, it appears (chap. 7) about the states of matrimony and virginity; about the lawfulness of partaking of meats, etc., offered to idols (chap. 8). They also consulted him about the relative merits of the gifts of tongues and prophecy; the Apostle adjudges the preference in favour of the latter (chap. 14)

CANONICITY, LANGUAGE OF.—The Canonicity, or divine authority of this Epistle, was never questioned in the Church. It is also beyond doubt, that it was written in the Greek language—the language of the Church of Corinth at the time.

TIME AND PLACE OF.—The Greek copies insinuate that it was written from Philippi. This, however, is by no means probable, because the Apostle conveys in it the salutations of Priscilla and Aquilla, who, at this time, were at Ephesus. Moreover, he wrote from Asia (chap. 16, verse 19). Hence, the common opinion, which asserts that it was written at Ephesus, is by far the more probable. The common opinion also is, that it was written about the year 57 of our era. It was written, therefore, before the Epistle to the Romans, the date of which was not earlier than the year 58. It is clear that this Epistle was written prior to the Epistle to the Romans; for, in chapter 16, the Apostle exhorts the Corinthians to make a collection for the afflicted poor of Jerusalem, of which collection he speaks, in his Epistle to the Romans (chap. 15) as already made. Moreover, in this Epistle (chap. 16, verse 4), he expresses a doubt, as to whether he himself would be the bearer of their charity to the poor of Jerusalem or not; whereas, in the epistle to the Romans (chap. 15, verse 25), he says it is a matter fixed upon that he is to go. “But now I shall go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints.”








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