Members of the early Church who lived in Corinth struggled with many problems that exist in the world today, such as disunity, false teachings, and immorality. In 1 Corinthians we learn that Paul taught these Saints how to promote unity in the Church, how to learn the things of God, the role of the physical body as a temple for the Holy Ghost, the nature of spiritual gifts, the importance of taking the sacrament worthily, and the reality of the Resurrection. Through their study of Paul’s teachings recorded in 1 Corinthians, students can learn doctrines and principles that will help them live righteously in spite of the wickedness that surrounds them.
The opening verse of the First Epistle to the Corinthians indicates that it was sent by the Apostle Paul and a disciple named Sosthenes, who may have served as Paul’s scribe (see 1 Corinthians 1:1). While the details of Sosthenes’s role are unknown, it is clear that Paul was the author of the epistle’s content (see 1 Corinthians 16:21–24).
Paul wrote the epistle known as 1 Corinthians near the conclusion of his three-year visit to Ephesus (during his third mission), which likely ended sometime between A.D. 55 and 56 (see Acts 19:10; 20:31; Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles”).
This epistle was written to Church members in the city of Corinth. Paul had preached the gospel in Corinth for nearly two years (see Acts 18:1–18) and organized a branch of the Church there (see Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles”). Later, while Paul was preaching in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, he received communication from Church members in Corinth. He wrote a response to the branch (see 1 Corinthians 5:9), but unfortunately this epistle was lost and is therefore not found in our scriptures. Later, Paul received another report from Church members in Corinth concerning problems in the Church there (see 1 Corinthians 1:11), which he responded to by writing another epistle, which became known as 1 Corinthians. Hence, 1 Corinthians is actually Paul’s second letter to members in Corinth.
In Paul’s day, Corinth was the capital of the Roman province Achaia, which covered most of ancient Greece south of Macedonia. As a wealthy trade center, Corinth attracted people from throughout the Roman Empire, making it one of the most diverse cities in the area. Idol worship dominated Corinthian religious culture, and there were numerous temples and shrines throughout the city. At the time of Paul’s ministry, the Corinthians had a reputation for being grossly immoral. For instance, ritual prostitution was reportedly practiced at the temple of Aphrodite.
Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians makes it clear that Church members lacked unity and that some pagan beliefs and practices had begun to influence their observance of gospel principles and ordinances (see 1 Corinthians 1:11; 6:1–8; 10:20–22; 11:18–22). Paul wrote to Church members in Corinth to help them with their questions and problems and to strengthen the converts who struggled with abandoning their past beliefs and practices.
The New Testament contains more counsel and teachings from Paul to the Church members in Corinth than to any other branch. In fact, Paul’s two epistles to the Corinthians make up one-fourth of all of Paul’s existing writings.
In 1 Corinthians we learn that Paul explained that Jesus Christ had fulfilled the law of Moses. Paul emphasized the importance of “the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19) “under the law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21) in order to receive the blessing of salvation through the gospel.
1 Corinthians 1–11 Paul warns against divisions within the Church and emphasizes the importance of unity among Church members. He warns members against sexual immorality, teaches that the body is a temple for the Holy Spirit, and encourages self-discipline. He addresses specific questions regarding marriage and missionary service, as well as the ordinance of the sacrament and whether or not it is permissible to eat sacrificial meats that have been offered to pagan idols.
1 Corinthians 12–14 Paul teaches that we are to seek the gifts of the Spirit. He reminds the Corinthian Saints of the importance of apostles, prophets, and teachers and the care members should have for one another. He highlights the importance of charity above all other spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 15–16 Paul testifies that he stands among many others who are witnesses of the resurrected Christ. He teaches that everyone will be resurrected and that baptism for the dead affirms the truth of the future Resurrection. Paul explains that resurrected bodies will vary in degrees of glory and that Jesus Christ’s victory over the grave removes the sting of death. Paul organizes a collection for the poor Saints in Jerusalem.