To Whom Was Paul Writing?

The opening of 1 Corinthians sets the stage for what will follow in Paul’s letter. [1] This is not unique to this letter, but is often how Paul works. So it is good to spend this week making sure we’re on the same page before we digest any more.

One key question, which may sound obvious, is, “To whom is this letter addressed?” Is it simply to the “church of God in Corinth”? If so, is this letter very limited in its application to just the pastoral setting of that one church in that one city long ago?

Or is this letter to this church, and in response to its needs, as well as to “all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”? Is Paul addressing the Church (big C) as he addresses this Corinthian church (little C)? Because if he is, then his intent is larger and his teaching more dynamic as it applies even to us today, living centuries later.

Some scholars take the first view and see 1 Corinthians as an “occasional” letter very much written in response to the particulars of Corinth and its people. One commentary I’m using in studying this book is Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes by Ken Bailey and he offers an alternative. He doesn’t think Paul was quickly jumping from thought to thought as he addressed the particulars of Corinth–the issues he heard either by letter or word of mouth. Rather he sees a well-organized structure to 1 Corinthians and that the questions of Corinth are fit into Paul’s outline, and not that his outline is based first on their questions.[2]

Understanding a broader audience for Paul, we are now able to continue into the letter keeping our eyes open to what he wants this church, and all churches to understand and believe about our Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. This is why I’ve made the opening lines our memory verse. While others may pack more punch, the opening lines will benefit us throughout our reading. I posted this a week or so back, but this visualization may help you to memorize: 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 ↩

  2. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians., 23-26. ↩

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