The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Corinthians, Epistles to the

The American Cyclopædia
Corinthians, Epistles to the

CORINTHIANS, Epistles to the, two canonical epistles of the New Testament, ascribed by the unanimous testimony of Christian antiquity to the apostle Paul, and addressed by him to the church which he had planted at Corinth about A. D. 52. The first was written from Ephesus between the years 56 and 58. It was designed to rebuke party divisions and consequent disorders which had arisen in the Corinthian church, and also to give decisive judgments on certain practices, in regard to which the Corinthian converts had been affected by the proverbial immorality of the place. “Every one of you,” Paul wrote to them (i. 12), “saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ.” Critics are almost unanimous in assuming that the party of Paul consisted of Christians who had been converted by him, chiefly from paganism; that the party of Apollos favored a Hellenico-philosophical tendency, and adopted Alexandrian forms of thought; and that the followers of Peter encouraged the tendency, common in the early churches, to engraft upon Christianity the ritual and restrictions of Judaism. But the greatest difference of opinion exists as to the party of Christ, most of the writers on the subject agreeing however so far as to assume that this party objected to the authority which Peter, Paul, and Apollos enjoyed with the other parties, and wished Christ to be regarded as the only head and authority of the church. In the first four chapters the apostle condemns their assumption of wisdom and disposition to glory in men, and urges them to unity on the foundation which is laid in Christ. In the remainder of the epistle he censures the church for having tolerated immoralities, condemns lawsuits between Christians before heathen judges, and, in answer to queries proposed to him by the Corinthians, gives various instructions concerning marriage and celibacy, the use of meat which had been offered to idols, the exercise of supernatural gifts, and the proprieties of public worship. The epistle closes with an elaborate exposition of the doctrine of the resurrection, and with general greetings. The second epistle has been much admired for its oratorical structure. The occasion of it seems to have been less special, at least less urgent; for he congratulates the disciples on the effect of his former censures, which had produced a godly sorrow and a revival of proper discipline. The burden of the second epistle is to commend them for their steadfastness, to rejoice in the conviction that he had labored with them in all sincerity and with all zeal, and to apologize to them for what might appear to be a foolish pride. It vindicates the character and effects of the religion which he had proclaimed, and his own dignity and authority as an apostle, apparently with reference to anti-Pauline influences which were still operating in the church. This second letter was probably written from Philippi, and about one year after the sending of the first. The Pauline origin of these two epistles is generally recognized even by the theologians of the critical school, and in the modern controversies on the life and true teachings of Jesus they are on that account of special importance. It is inferred from 1 Cor. v. 9 that our first epistle to the Corinthians was preceded by one which is now lost. An apocryphal book extant in the Armenian language (latest edition by Aucher, Venice, 1819) claims to be this epistle, and has found a defender in Rinck, who has translated it into German (1823). A number of exegetical writers, as Olshausen, Bleek, Neander, Ewald, Hilgenfeld, and Klöpper (Exegetisch-kritische Untersuchungen über den zweiten Brief an die Korinther, Göttingen, 1869), assume that another letter which is likewise lost was sent after the first and before the second; while Weisse and Hausrath consider the second epistle as a combination of two or three different epistles, and in particular the first seven chapters to have been written later than the last four.