Notes from 1st Corinthians: Some History

Ruins of Ancient Corinth

Ruins of Ancient Corinth (Borisb17/shutterstock.com)

We are studying 1st Corinthians this summer and we thought it would be interesting to share a little of the history of the small church in Corinth that Paul made famous. Ancient Corinth sat on an isthmus that connected Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece. Originally a thriving area when Ancient Greece was the world’s super power, Rome destroyed it in 146 BC. Julius Caesar, in the year that he died, refounded the city as a means of rewarding his veterans from the Roman Legions for their service, and it was soon populated by veterans and freedman. As in today’s Houston, people there could move up the ladder of business and society in ways that were not possible in more established cities.

By the time of Paul’s visit in 49 AD, Corinth was a thriving, strategically located port town, with vast natural resources and a thriving tourism industry. There were two ports: one with sea-lanes leading to Asia and Ephesus and the other with sea-lanes leading to Italy. In addition, at the narrowest part of the isthmus the Romans had built a road that allowed smaller sea vessels to be moved overland and cut hundreds of miles off their voyages.

Corinth’s natural resources enabled the Corinthians to build and make many of the items they sold the tourists, to create good roads and to provide plenty of water for drinking and for making goods like bricks and roof tiles. Corinth was also the site of the Isthmian games, an Olympic-style sporting event, second in importance only to the Olympics. The games were held every other year and drew thousands of visitors, whom the Corinthians supplied with travel necessities such as tents and wagon wheels.

CorinthiansClass612x612So, Corinth was a boom town in the Roman empire. Because  veterans and freed men (slaves who had earned their freedom) made up the bulk of the population, there was not the structured hierarchy of the great cities, such as Rome or Athens. Society was much more open: if you worked hard and made money, you could advance to its highest levels. Not surprisingly, these were people who boasted often of their accomplishments. Here again we see a resemblance to modern Houston: Corinthians were masters of self-promotion.

Our class continues for ten more weeks, and we’d love to have you join us in the Theater at 9:30 am on Sunday!