Chapter 1. Paul and His Readers

(1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

Paul’s opening words to the church at Corinth follow a common first-century pattern in which the writer used the formula: A to B, greetings! Paul’s words contain certain specifically Christian greetings and ideas not found in contemporary secular letters.

Later Paul will severely criticize his readers. Here he offers praise for the grace of God that has transformed their lives and has provided them spiritual gifts for building up the church, a theme to be discussed later in the book (chs. 12-14).

A. Salutation (1:1-3)

1. Writer (1:1)

Paul identifies himself to the Corinthians, notes his call to be an apostle, and recognizes that this call is due to the will of God. He is careful to state that he had not assumed office on his own initiative. “All the providential circumstances of Paul’s birth and education, whereby his apostolic mission had been prepared for” are seen as a part of the will of God (Godet).

Sosthenes may refer to the former synagogue leader, now a brother in Christ (Acts 18:17). If this Sosthenes is the same as the synagogue leader of Acts, he had migrated to Ephesus from Corinth. Godet sees Sosthenes as Paul’s secretary, who shared to an extent in the composition of 1 Corinthians. The mention of his name suggests that he enjoyed a high consideration among the Corinthians and may have cooperated with Paul in the evangelization of Corinth and Achaia.

2. Recipients (1:2)

The Christians at Corinth are described first as the “church of God,” the term used by Paul to refer to the church in a specific location, and it refers to all believers in Christ in Corinth. They are also designated as those who are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Goodspeed describes the Corinthians as “those who are consecrated by union with Christ Jesus.” Later Paul will soundly rebuke the Corinthians for their sins, but here he forcefully asserts their sanctity. When the Corinthians embraced Christ by faith, they were “transplanted from the soil of our natural and profane life into that of his Divine holiness” (Godet). This description designates the spiritual potential of the position in which they were living.

The Corinthians are called to be saints, along with those in every location who call on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord. The phrase “with all . . . who call . . . ,” modifies “called.” God calls His people from every location, and all of His people acknowledge Christ as common Lord.

3. Greetings (1:3)

Paul’s greeting here is characteristic of his greetings in his other letters (Rom. 1:7; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3). Grace is that act of God which serves as the “ground of all Christian existence” (Barrett). Peace “is not simply the absence of strife, but the presence of positive blessings. It is the prosperity of the whole man, especially his spiritual prosperity” (Morris). These words by Paul are actually a prayer in which he urges the Corinthians to look again to the Father and the Son as the sources of full salvation.

B. Thanksgiving (1:4-9)

Galatians is the sole letter of Paul in which he passes immediately from his greeting to his subject without expressing thanksgiving. Paul’s intense feelings about the apparent defection of the Galatians led him to make this omission. In 1 Corinthians and in other letters he expresses gratitude for what God has previously done, and he states a desire for further progress. His words doubtless earned the good will of the Corinthians, but he is not merely making a clever ploy to earn their attention. Neither is he resorting to irony. His thanksgiving is spoken in full earnest, for he is genuinely thankful for God’s grace in their lives.

1. Gratitude for God’s Grace (1:4-6)

Although there were many problems in the lives of the Corinthians, there must have been a contrast between their lives and that of the heathen in Corinth (6:11). Paul’s gratitude is directed to God and is not addressed as a mere commendation to the Corinthians. The grace of God is the source of all their spiritual blessings and includes their entire experience of salvation. It is thus a general term and should not be limited merely to the spiritual gifts that Paul will discuss later.

In verse 5 Paul thanks God for two gifts that are highly prized by the Greeks. These are speaking, the proclamation of truth, and knowledge, the grasp of truth. Moffatt renders the verse: “In him you have received a wealth of all blessing, full power to speak of your faith, and full insight into its meaning.”

The Corinthians placed great emphasis on the rhetorical ability of the speaker, but Paul is not commending mere rhetoric here. Elsewhere he notes that the power of his message was based on his deep conviction and dependence on divine resources (1:18; 2:4; 4:20). Bruce notes that the Corinthians “prized knowledge because they believed it gave them access to the divine mysteries . . ., but it probably did not have for them the more technical sense of gnosis associated with the developed Gnosticism of the following century.”

Paul states in verse 6 that “the changed lives of the Corinthians demonstrated conclusively the validity of the message that had been preached to them” (Morris).

2. Results From God’s Grace (1:7-8)

The term “gift” in verse 7 can be used of salvation viewed as a gift (Rom. 5:15), God’s gifts in general (Rom. 11:29), or of the gifts of the Spirit (12:4). The expressions “speaking” and “knowledge” in verse 5 would suggest that the reference to “gifts” is describing “the new spiritual powers with which the Spirit had endowed the members of the Church at Corinth” (Godet). This present taste of the Spirit turned the thoughts of the Corinthians to those fuller experiences to be granted on the occasion of the return of Christ (Eph. 1:13, 14).

The term “blameless” in verse 8 suggests that the Christian is exempt from accusation. In the day of final judgment no charge can be placed against those who are declared safe through Christ (Rom. 8:33). J. B. Phillips renders the verse: “He will keep you steadfast in the faith to the end, so that when his day comes you need fear no condemnation.”

3. The Dependability of God’s Grace (1:9)

The character of God guarantees the acceptance of the believer on the day of Christ. Despite man’s unfaithfulness God Himself is faithful. Christians have a share in a fellowship with Christ, and they share in the position of the exalted Lord.

For Further Study

  1. Read articles on “Corinth” and on the Corinthian Epistles in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible.
  2. Read the letter of 1 Corinthians at least one time in a modern translation. Note repeated words, phrases, and themes. In a second or later reading make a personal outline of the letter.