An American Commentary on the New Testament

Edited by Hovey, Alvah

Introduction to the First Epistle to the Corinthians


This church was founded by Paul himself, during his second missionary journey. Acts 18:1-18. The incidents of that first visit; his dwelling and working with Aquila and Priscilla, and successful reasoning with both Jews and Greeks in the synagogue; the opposition of the Jews, and Paul's leaving the synagogue, and resorting instead to the house of Justus; Paul's encouragement by a vision at night, and consequent residence and work in the city, for a year and six months; the uprising of the Jews against Paul, and Gallio's famous judgment; and finally, shortly after, his departure — are familiar. No other visit is recorded in Acts, but it is evident from 2 Cor. 12:14, 21; 13:1, 2, that Paul came to Corinth again, at some time between the founding of the church, and the writing of the Epistles. After Paul left Corinth, and just before he came to Ephesus, occurred the significant episode of Apollos' powerful preaching at Corinth, which occasioned Paul's interesting defence of the simplicity of his own preaching.

The character of the church was what we might expect. Splendidly situated in the heart of Greece, the city was wealthy and intelligent; but also corrupt, so as to attract the attention of even the corrupt ancient world. It was the seat of the Isthmian Games, and of the worship of Aphrodite. So the church was intelligent, rich in word and knowledge, but it was also tainted with impurity. And even its intellectual superiority proved a snare to it, leading to ambitions, rivalries, and divisions. Out of these two things came the Epistle.


There is no need to multiply proofs of this. Nobody doubts it in this critical age. But for external proof, we have, first, the testimony of the Epistle itself, which bears Paul's name. Second, the testimony of Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Irenĉus, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and others. For internal evidence, the Epistle corresponds to what we know of the church and of Paul, and its style is unmistakable.


It appears from 16:8, 19, that Paul was in Ephesus; from 16:5, that he was about to go to Macedonia; from 16:8, that it was some time before Pentecost; and from 16:10, 11, that he had sent Timothy to Corinth, but did not know that he had arrived yet. Turning now to the account in Acts, we find from 18:19, that Ephesus was the next place to which Paul came, after leaving Corinth; from 19:1 seq., that it was also the next place in which he founded a church; from 19:21, that he was intending to visit Macedonia and Achaia; from 19:22, that he sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia; both these last being in the last part of his stay in Ephesus. He was in Ephesus from A. D. 55-58. And the coincidence of these two accounts points, without doubt, to the conclusion that he wrote this letter near the end of his three years in that city, some time in the year 58.


These, we have to learn from the Epistle itself. Paul tells us that Chloe's people have brought him word of contentions among the members of the church. From 1:17 — 3:23, we learn that this contention arose partly from the preference of one party in the church for the more elaborate and subtle preaching of Apollos, and the disparagement of Paul's simple presentation of the gospel. Again in 5:1 seq., Paul speaks of a report brought him of licentiousness, and even of one case of incest, among the members of the church. In 5:9, he mentions a previous letter, with its instructions about the treatment of fornicators. In 6:1 seq., he speaks as if they were going to law with each other. In 7:1, he mentions a letter of inquiry received from them; and in the chapters following, he specifies the following matters included in this inquiry: first, the desirableness of marriage; second, the lawfulness of eating things offered to idols; third, the custom of women praying unveiled; fourth, the relative value of the charismata, or extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and especially of prophesying and speaking with tongues. He interjects, 11:17 seq., the subject of their disorderly conduct at the celebration of the Supper. And finally he speaks, 15:12. of the disbelief of some among them of the Resurrection; and 16:1 seq., of the collection for the saints at Jerusalem. The Epistle is intended to instruct the church about these practical matters, and is wholly practical, except the great chapter on the Resurrection. But the range of discussion is wide, and gives scope for the exposition of much underlying and fundamental principle.


The Greek manuscripts containing this Epistle, either entire or in part, are as follows:

1. The Vatican Manuscript. This belongs to the Fourth Century, and is generally conceded now to be the most important, as it is the oldest copy of the New Testament. It has for its sign the capital letter B.

2. The Sinaitic Manuscript. This also belongs to the Fourth Century, and in age and importance, is second only to the Vatican. Its sign is א Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

3. The Alexandrian Manuscript, belonging to the Fifth Century. Its sign is the capital letter A.

4. The Codex Ephraemi, of the Fifth Century. Its sign is the capital letter C. These four are manuscripts of the whole New Testament, though we have only fragments of C. They are all authorities of the first rank.

5. The Codex Claromontanus, containing the Epistles of Paul, and belonging to the Sixth Century. Its sign is the capital letter D.

6. The Codex Sangermanensis, sign E, of Paul's Epistles, belonging to the Ninth Century.

7. The Codex Atigiensis, sign F, of Paul's Epistles, belonging to the Ninth Century.

8. The Codex Boernerioynus, sign G, of Paul's Epistles, belonging to the Ninth Century.

9. The Codex Coislinianus, sign H, containing small fragments of 1 Corinthians and other Epistles of Paul. It belongs to to the Sixth Century.

10. The Codex Petropolitanus, sign I, belonging to the Sixth Century, and containing fragments of 1 Corinthians and other parts of the New Testament.

11. The Codex Mosquensis, sign K, belonging to the Ninth Century, and containing the Catholic Epistles and the Epistles of Paul.

12. The Codex Angelicus, sign L, of the Ninth Century, containing Paul's, and the Catholic Epistles.

13. The Codex Porfirianus, sign P, of the Ninth Century, containing the New Testament, except the Gospels.

Besides these, there are fragments, M, of the Ninth Century, and Q, of the Fifth Century.

There are also manuscripts in the later, running hand, all of them later than the Tenth Century, and signed with the Arabic numerals, 1, 2, etc.

Besides the manuscripts, reference is made to the following Ancient Versions.

1. The Old Latin, commonly called the Itala. It belongs probably to the Second Century. It exists in some thirty MSS., or more or less independent forms, among which the following contain the Epistles of Paul, viz., d, e, f, g, which are the Latin Versions of the MSS., D, E, F, G, cited above, and m. The sign of the Version itself, is — it. These small letters are the signs of the MSS. of the Itala.

2. The Latin Version of Jerome, commonly called the Vulgate, belonging to the Fourth Century. Its sign is vulg.

3. The Old Syriac Version, styled the Peschito, belonging to the Second Century. Its sign is syr ntr.

4. The later Syriac Version, called the Philoxenian Syriac, belonging to the Sixth, and the revision to the Seventh Century. Its sign is syrp. When the two Syriac Versions are quoted together, the sign is syrutr.

5. The Egyptian Version, belonging to Lower Egypt, dating back to the Second, or Third Century. Its sign is cop.

6. The Egyptian Version, belonging to Upper Egypt. Its sign is sah.

Of the above authorities, the manuscripts rank first, in nearly the order of their age, and the versions last, also in about the order of their age.