Signpost for Sunday 26 February 2017: 8th Sunday in Ordinary time: Isa 49:8-16a: Ps 131: 1 Cor 4:1-5: Matt 6:24-34.
On an isthmus in Greece, dominating the access to the southern part of Greece, is Corinth. It was also a very important seaport in the East-West traffic of the region. It was the centre of trade in luxury goods. Its Games were second only to the Olympics.
The behavior of the inhabitants of seaports has always been notorious. Lyttelton, Port Chalmers and Bluff in the South Island of New Zealand always provided more than their fair share of problem pupils for the schools of Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. I attended one Boys High Sschool and taught at the other two! But Corinth was worse than these. “To Corinthianise” or its Greek equivalent, was a word for acting in a debauched manner.
Corinth led the Greeks in war against the Romans and lost, and was reduced to ruin in 146 BC. But Julius Caesar rebuilt it a hundred years later as a Roman colony and the provincial capital. The result was a very cosmopolitan city – local Greeks, retired Roman soldiers, traders from the east, including Jews and Phoenicians. They very soon became the same quality as their predecessors (see I Cor. 6. 9-10).
Paul had fled Macedonia, and stayed briefly in Athens, where he had little success. Then he spent a year and a half in Corinth (Acts 28. 2-27). He boarded initially with Aquilla and Priscilla, and was assisted by Timothy and Silas. But his approach to the synagogue failed, except for the conversion of Crispus, its president, so he moved in with Justus, next door to the synagogue. From there he began to have good success among the general public.
In AD 52 a new Roman Governor, Gallio, was appointed. He was a charming gentle man. The synagogue officials brought charges before him, but these failed on the rock of Roman impartiality. After this time, Paul moved on to Syria.
There, in Ephesus, Paul heard of troubles in the Corinthian church. What we have today in two New Testament letters is probably out of order. Paul’s actual first letter is either contained in 2 Cor. 6. 14-7.1 or is lost. Certainly 2 Cor 6.13 and 7.2 read together with excellent sense and connection. Don’t forget that chapters and verses were invented in the middle ages: chapters in the thirteenth century and verses in the sixteenth; and the earliest writings did not have spaces between the words.
Much travelling among the traders kept news coming to Paul, and a letter certainly came (see 1 Cor 7.1). 1 Corinthians is probably the answer to this otherwise unknown letter.
The result of this letter was not very good, and we understand that Paul made a subsequent visit (see 2 Cor 12.14 where he speaks of yet another visit if it is needed). This did not solve the problems, so Paul wrote a severe letter, which is probably 2 Corinthians 10-13. The relief Paul felt when this had the desired result led him to write the final section of this correspondence; 2 Corinthians 1-9.