Parallels between First Century Corinth and Our Present Culture
So far, In our study of First Corinthians we have learned that Paul wrote the book. We studied that the word church meant “to be called”, and we discovered that those who were “called”, also had to choose to accept the invitation. We also learned that we had to accept the provision of righteousness that only Jesus Christ can give us, Today, we will learn about Corinth, the city to him this book (actually a letter) was addressed in this book. We will also learn how this city is a mirror of our society today.
Corinth had originally been part of the Greek empire before the Romans’ conquered the region in 146 BC. The Romans under Julius Caesar rebuilt it in 44 BC. When Paul wrote this first letter to the church at Corinth, the city had again become a cosmopolitan city of wealth and trade. First century Corinth was an environment of varying social classes, numerous and varied spiritual influences and with a culture shaped primarily by both Greek and Roman historical influences. Situated in a key geographical location that supported prosperity, Corinth developed a wealthy economy but a significant divide between rich and poor, resulting in a social elitism. It had a varied polytheistic approach to religion, but also supported a Jewish population and the emerging Christian movement. All of these factors contribute interpretation of First Corinthians, but understanding Corinth can also help us in understanding what we need to do as the church in today’s society.
By the time, Paul wrote this letter, the city supported diverse cultural influences. As a Roman colony, Rome’s influence upon culture, economy, and religion were in evidence, but the re-habitation of the city under Julius has included Italians and “dispossessed Greeks”, then later Hellenistic Jews. This multicultural society became a virtual melting pot. We can say the same for our culture. As our society becomes more globally influenced, our culture becomes a melting pot of cultures where cultural tolerance rules.
Economically Corinth’s society ranged from wealthy elite down to the lowest social classes. The city sponsored the Isthmian Games that brought revenue into the city. Merchants and traders supported other occupations in the city. Not all inhabitants of the city lived well. The socially disadvantaged and slave class, prostitutes, and a criminal element also lived there. Diseases amongst the population caused a high turnover of staff which warranted employment opportunity to newcomers. Our world culture also has the extremely rich, and the extremely poor. In extremely poor countries around the world, 25 thousand die of starvation every day, whereas in the United States, approximately 40% of food is thrown away because food’s overabundance.
Corinth was one of the most religious diverse cities of the Roman Empire. Roman Gods, Greek Gods, gods of new religious, philosophers, and Jewish Rabbis developed a religious society that sported a “just in case” spiritualism. Corinth was also known as the cultural center for the fertility goddess Aphrodite. Her temple in Corinth was rumored to be home to a thousand prostitutes. Some may have participated in church activities. This cult is said to have contributed to Corinth’s reputation for licentiousness. As we look at these religious issues, we get a better understanding about what Paul was up against. He certainly had serious issues to confront when we consider all the religious practices, associated with a plethora of pagan religious entities, including eating foods dedicated to other religious gods. In our culture religious ideologies also abound.
According to David Barrett of the “World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions – AD 30 to 2200,” there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many smaller ones.”
Paganism is probably the fastest growing religion in the west, paganism, and it is becoming a widespread cultural phenomenon. Anchored in ancient culture, paganism is the result of many different anti-establishment ideologies uniting and providing a pliable, culturally rich spiritual system seemingly suited to life in the modern, western world.
Whether Isis or Ma’at to Kemetic practitioners, Freyja to the Asatru, the Lady to Wiccans, or Artemis, Athena, or Hecate to Hellenic Reconstructionists, some aspect of the feminine Divine has become central to most if not all neo-pagan religions. Though individual practitioners may not choose to follow or honor a particular goddess, especially those who follow a henotheistic path, the religion that they identify with is still loyal to certain images of feminine divinity. The same goddess centered system is thriving in our current society.
As recorded in Acts 18, Paul brought Christianity to Corinth. He propagated the good news that Jesus Christ was Lord while Paul worked as a tent maker. Paul exploited the opportunity influence the spiritually insatiable hunger of the citizens of Corinth. He became socially imbedded into the culture. At this time the Church of Corinth was just a small seed beginning to sprout.
Today the churches of the world are divided on a number of fronts. Barrett states that 34,000 separate Christian groups have been identified in the world. “Over half of them are independent churches that are not interested in linking with the big denominations.”
Just as the Church at Corinth squabbled over social issues, the church of today does the same. Even those sitting next to you in church on the same pews may not have the same social ideology as you do. The church is divided along the lines of women in ministry, capital punishment, the homeless and refugees, abortion, nuclear deterrence, medical technology, public education, homosexuality just to name a few. Some groups believe that congregations should be homogenous. In other words, they believe that everyone should be alike. They believe that churches should be divided by social class, by culture, or by whatever societal denomination you choose. (Personally, I think that if we did that, we’d each eventually find ourselves sitting alone), but as we read I Corinthians, we will discover that Paul had a different idea about how the church in a culturally diverse place like Corinth should conduct service.
As we will discover later in this first chapter of First Corinthians (verse 10), Paul wanted no divisions in the church. He desired that we believers be united having the same mind and judgment. We will see however, that He did not think that all churches should be clones of one another. We will discover that he wanted The Church to be relevant to their overall society, and he knew that in order to do this, the church had to be united. This is a lesson of which we can all benefit.
What is your viewpoint concerning our diverse social structure? Do you think the church should be more tolerant? Do you feel that the church should be diverse or do you think that we should divide up into “relevant” social groups? Feel free to comment below. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com. I am here to assist you in any way I can.