What do we know about the disunity that affected the Corinthian Christians? (1 Corinthians 1:10–17)

Richard D. Draper

While Paul labored in Ephesus, reports soon came to him that the troubles had again boiled up among the Saints. Either a Christian visitor or a local leader began to attack Paul and his teachings and was successful in leading a number of members away from the truth.

Paul had already faced opposition. By and large this came from the Judaizers, those rigorist Christians, mostly former Pharisees, who continued to insist that Christianity was a subset of Judaism and that the Saints had to obey the Mosaic law, albeit as interpreted by Messiah Jesus. The new attack, however, did not come from that source. It was grounded in a perversion of certain doctrines, chief among them the resurrection of the dead, but followed closely behind by the nature and importance of spiritual gifts and the propriety of eating food stuffs once offered as sacraments to idols.

The seat of the issue, however, came from just one problem—a number of the Saints continued to hold to some of the attitudes of the secular, immoral, materialistic, status-loving culture in which they lived. Because they did not give these up, they caused a devaluation of the universalism, including key truths and growing traditions, that the Church was promoting.

Exacerbating the problem was the lack of chapels where the Saints could meet together as a whole. At this period of time, they met, as noted above, in the more spacious homes of the wealthy. These homes, however, could not accommodate more than a couple dozen families. Therefore, a number of homes had to be used. When troubles developed, it was easy for the members to congregate with those who believed as they did while ostracizing those who did not. This condition allowed the fissures to widen, threatening the very foundation of the Church.

These problems sparked a response from Paul, who wrote a letter which has now become lost. In the lost epistle, it seems that Paul addressed specific concerns of the Saints and hoped his instruction would have settled these matters once and for all. Unfortunately, it did not, for there came another report to him “by them which are of the house Chloe” that the branches were further fracturing (1:11). Sometime in AD 55, the Apostle wrote this epistle, now preserved as 1 Corinthians.

Paul is clear that a major cause of his writing was the report of “Chloe’s people” that is, her business agents or managerial servants who oversaw her affairs at Ephesus and other ports. These brought word that conditions had worsened to the point that there were “quarrels” among the Saints (1:11). But there was another impetus, namely that of at least one letter he had received from branch members (see 7:1). It is likely that chapters 1–6 are a response to problems mentioned by Chloe’s people while chapters 7–16 respond to items in the letter.94 Given the organization of the letter, one thing seems sure: Paul organized his thoughts to meet all the concerns with memorable force.

Material adapted from Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes, Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, BYU Studies, 2010) in the BYU New Testament Commentary Series.

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