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CHAPTER 3-section 1

What really happened at Corinth?

If the passages in Acts were the only Bible references alluding to tongues, there would be little ground for controversy or for the glossolalists to speak in unknown sounds. In that case their practice, as generally manifested today, would be clearly out of harmony with the Biblical guidelines. But Paul’s letter to the Corinthians contains passages that have given rise to serious misunderstandings.

What really happened at Corinth?

Let’s quickly glance back at the first century and take a look at the background of the church that created the controversy.

An ancient trading city, Corinth was refounded by Julius Caesar as a Roman colony in 46 B.C. Situated between the Ionian and the Aegean Seas, on the isthmus connecting Greece with the Peloponnesus, and supported by its renowned ports of Lechaeum on the west and Cenchreae on the east, it soon became a major crossroads of Mediterranean commerce. It is no wonder that the emperor selected it to be the Roman capital of the province of Achaia, establishing it as the seat of the Roman proconsul.

As a colony of Rome, its citizens were also Roman, but other nations were equally well represented—witness the fact that foreign deities such as Isis and Serapis were highly revered, with temples nearly as impressive as those of the famed Apollo and Aphrodite. Devil worship and sexual licentiousness were so prevalent that Aphrodite’s temple alone was staffed by more than 1,000 female slaves dedicated to satisfy the lusts of the goddess’s earthly subjects.

Realizing all of this, Paul’s efforts to evangelize Corinth could certainly not have been an easy task. Upon his arrival in Corinth, Paul first lived with Aquila and Priscilla. Acts 18:2. From here he preached to both heathens and Jews In answer to opposition initiated by two Macedonian visitors, Silas and Timotheus, Paul left and moved in with Justus, a Jewish man whose house was located next to the synagogue. Verses 4-7. His ensuing friendship with Crispus, chief ruler of the synagogue, resulted in his converting the ruler’s entire household, in addition to many other Corinthians.

"Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them." Acts 18:9-11.

For eighteen difficult months Paul labored there; then he left for Syria, leaving behind him the nucleus of a Christian church that was to continue his missionary work among the multitude of nationalities represented in the city.

While he was at Philippi, the first inklings of trouble among his newly created congregation reached him.

Chloe was the first one to break the distressing news to him. 1 Corinthians 1:11. Soon after, it was also reported to him by mail. 1 Corinthians 7:1. Then came the personal visits—with even more bad news. Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus undoubtedly felt that Paul had either not reacted in due haste or that the information supplied him had not been adequate. At any rate, they felt obligated to add their personal testimony to the already sordid reports. 1 Corinthians 16:17.

Listening to them, Paul became convinced that the church, formed during his second missionary journey and composed chiefly of former pagans, had fallen into a bad state of spiritual decomposition. The record of flagrant abuses of Christian living submitted to him were indeed horrifying—not just in number but more so in degree.

Paul must have been shocked when confronted with the reports.

There was, for example, gross division among the Christians; envying; strife (1 Corinthians 3:3); fornication; incest (1 Cor. 6:6); fraud (verse 8); association with drunkards, extortioners, and idolators (1 Cor. 5:11); heresies (1 Cor. 11:19); attending church in a state of intoxication (verses 1 & 21); ignorance of natural and spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1); denial of the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12); and abuses of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

Is it any wonder that Paul shuddered? 

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