CITIES OF THE BIBLE
STUDY ON CORINTH
By Pastor Jared Decker
The ancient city of Corinth was very similar to today’s large cities. It was a busy metropolis where one could buy, sell, or trade just about anything their heart desired. With that great cosmopolitan atmosphere came great wickedness and debauchery. The name of the city itself means “ornament”. It was a very flashy, worldly city. During the reign of the Roman Empire, to be called a Corinthian was an insult, for it carried with it the meaning that one was base and vile. The Romans claimed that Corinth was so debauched, that just visiting the city was defiling. The apostle Paul visited and established a church in Corinth around A.D. 50 while on his second missionary journey. The books of First and Second Corinthians were written to the established church in Corinth. Paul wrote both some strong words of rebuke and encouragement to this church, because of the heathen condition of the city. To better understand the conditions that the church in Corinth had to combat, we must study the city itself.
I. Geographic Conditions
The city of Corinth was located just north of Greece on the four-mile-wide isthmus between the Ionian and the Aegean seas.This placed it in the extremely lucrative path of cargo ships trying to avoid the dangerous voyage around Greece. The original city was destroyed by Mummius (a Roman general) in 146 B.C. The city was later rebuilt by Julius Caesar, which greatly contributed to its gaining status as a Roman colony in 46 B.C. Because of their excellent geographic position and their status as a Roman colony, Corinth was acclaimed as the hub of the Roman Empire’s commerce.
II. Ethnic Conditions
Being a trade city, Corinth was a hotbed for almost any nationality. During Paul’s day, the estimated population was about 500,000. The majority of Corinth was made up of Romans, Greeks, and Orientals. There was a fairly large population of Jews there as well. The population varied constantly because of the large number of people that had mobile occupations. (i.e. sailors, soldiers, fishermen, and businessmen.)
III. Economic Conditions
The economic conditions of Corinth were extremely good. Not only did the city act as a transport station for imports, but it also manufactured some products of its own, including fine pottery and brass. Corinth was a vast storehouse of wealth and prosperity. This could be seen in the prosperous businesses, beautiful architecture, and the treasures of their temple. Because of its great wealth, it was a place in which the study of the arts and sciences flourished. Irving Jenson, in Jensen’s Survey of the New Testament, stated that “there were studios of language and schools of philosophy.” Luxury was the most common goal of all who lived in Corinth.
IV. Political Conditions
As a Roman colony, Corinth was under the Roman form of government. Corinth was the capital of the province of Achaia, and at the time of Paul’s visit, Gallio was the proconsul of the province. (See Acts 18:12) As the capital of the province, most of the government activity took place at Corinth. Needless to say, because of the depraved moral condition of the city, the political status quo was extremely liberal. Corruption was almost a natural habit to those in authority, as was the case with many Roman provinces.
V. Religious Conditions Past and Present
Sadly, the most notable thing about Corinth was the massive temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. This temple was the epitome of vile debauchery. The size of the temple was incomparable with anything outside of Rome. It was a place where 1,000+ consecrated “virgins” (prostitutes) made themselves available to anyone willing to walk into the temple. Sex orgies were usual practice, and the most depraved immorality was a common occurrence. However, this was not the only religion active in the city of Corinth. A pantheon of gods were worshipped and a variety of cults were prevalent. Judaism was present, and the Jews there built a synagogue. Upon his arrival in Corinth, the synagogue was the place where Paul spent the majority of his time preaching.(See Acts 18:1-4) When he preached to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, “they opposed themselves and blasphemed”.(See Acts 18:6) Upon this reaction, Paul turned his ministry to the Gentiles. The local church at Corinth began as a small nucleus of believers, most of whom were Gentiles, though some were Jews. While there, Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, two of the beginning church members. The church began to grow under the leadership of Paul, who was there for a year and six months according to Acts 18:11. After Paul left Corinth, he returned to Antioch to give the report of his missionary journey to the church there. While Paul was in Ephesus, he heard of some of the problems that were occurring in the church. The church at Corinth had not separated entirely from the world, therefore the world began to seep into the church. Quarreling among the membership had begun, and the church was not dealing with the matter of fornication. The members of the church were living the liberal lifestyle that most Christians live today, and Paul rebuked them for it. Paul wrote the book of I Corinthians from Ephesus as a letter of correction to solve these problems. After the letter from Ephesus, Paul visited the church at Corinth for about three months and ministered to them. Paul wrote a final letter to the church at Corinth from Macedonia. II Corinthians was a letter given mainly for instruction in doctrine and contained practical exhortation to the members of the church. At the end of this letter, Paul told them to prepare for his visit, but we have no record that he was able to visit again. We know very little about the church of Corinth once Paul’s letters ceased, but we do know that the church stayed in existence for a great amount of time. Today, Corinth has been degraded to a minute village with no significance to the world. The great Corinth, home of the mammoth temple to Aphrodite, lies in ruin. Its ruins remain as living proof that the broad path of the world leads to destruction. From luxury to rubble. Such is the case with any nation who denies God.