(a) External proofs. This Epistle was certainly known to the earliest ecclesiastical writers. Clement of Rome, who was the friend and companion of St Paul (Phil 4:3), and later Bishop of Rome (Euseb., Hist. Eccl. 111. 4), in his first letter to the Corinthians (47:1-3) wrote about the year 98 as follows: “Take up the Epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself and Cephas, and Apollo, because even the parties had been formed among you,” etc. Polycarp, the disciple of St John the Evangelist, in his letter to the Philippians (11:2) cites 1 Cor 6:2, attributing it directly to St Paul: “Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world, as Paul teaches.” The enumeration of the vices of the Philippians given by Polycarp in the same letter is exactly parallel with 1 Cor 6:9-10, and terminates with the very words of the Apostle: “They shall not possess the Kingdom of God.” In the Greek edition of the letters of St Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (circa 98-117), there are many quotations from this Epistle. St Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons and a disciple of Polycarp, cites (Adv. Haer. 111. 11, 9; 18, 2) the Epistle over sixty times, often observing that it is the work of St Paul and was written to the Corinthians. Clement of Alexandria (Pædag. 1. 6) and Tertullian (De rusur. mort. 18) also cites 1 Corinthians a great number of times, and frequently by name. Many other authorities might be given in proof of the authorship of this Epistle, but it will be sufficient to add that it was also admitted as authentic by Basilides, Marcion and other heretics of the first centuries.
(b) Internal proofs. Even a casual examination of the nature and contents of the present Epistle shows beyond question that it was written by St Paul. Its historical facts and dogmatic teaching, its peculiarity of language and style, the manner in which it refers to the Old Testament, the characteristic way in which arguments are developed, beginning with general principles and coming to particular conclusions, the personal touches which it bears on every page,-all prove conclusively that it could not have been written by anybody except the Apostle Paul. Moreover, all that we otherwise known of St Paul and of Corinth we find to be in perfect agreement with the information furnished by this Epistle. As Charles Baur has said (Der Apostel Paulus, Stuttgart, 1845, vil. I, p. 260), “this letter is tis own guarantee of authenticity; for more than any other writing of the New Testament, it carries us to the living midst of the a Church in formation and gives us an inner view of the development of the new life called forth by Christianity.”
6. Style and Language. Of all the Epistles of St Paul this one is perhaps the most distinguished for its simplicity and clarity, and for the beauty and variety of its figures of speech. The kind and number of subjects with which the apostle deals in this lettter surely accounts in great part for the pleasing qualities of his language, but doubtless therre was also a desire to prove to the Corinthians that he was not by any means so rude and ungifted in the use of speech as they may have concluded from his presence among them. Of course this letter, although much more logical than some other Pauline Epistles, is far inferior to Romans in argumentative force. In the latter Epistle there was question of establishing a great thesis and of unfolding the essence of his preaching. The present letter, on the whole, also comes far short of Second Corinthians in impassioned and sustained e, in anxiety for the spiritual welfare of his imperiled converts, in sterness and vehemence of feeling, in biting sarcasm, and in the general roll of his thunder peals against the enemies who would destroy his Apostolic authority and the fruits of his heroic life and labors; and yet the grace and polish of the diction here is far superior to theat of 2 Corinthians, and to many authoriteis this Epistle excels the other in the uniform loftiness of its eloquence (see Introd. to 2 Corinthians, 4-5).
This letter contains over 100 words not found in any other of the Pauline letters, and about the same number which occur nowhere else in the New Testament. There is a general regard for the rules of syntax, anc comparatively few of the sudden digressions and unfinished phrases so frequent in Second Corinthians. If certain words are employed too frequently for good taste, we can only say that this is a consequence of St Paul’s principle never to hesitate to repat the same word so long as it expressed his meaning.
7. Doctrinal Importance. In point of doctrine the First Epistle to the Corinthians is unexcelled by any other of St Paul’s letters. The unusual variety of the subjects treated mainly accounts for this. Practically every verse conveys some dogmatic or moral truth, as will appear in the exegetical treatment that follows. It will be enough here to point out the principle doctrines to which the Epistle refers, or which it discusses: (a) Baptism (1:13-14); (b)excommunication (5:3-5); (c) ecclesiastical tribunals (6:2-5); (d) the states of matrimony and celibacy (7:1-40); (e) the signification of Holy Communion (10:16-17); (f) the institution and celebration of the Eucharist (11:23-34); (g) the unity of the Church of which Christ is the head and the faithful the members (12:4-27); (h) the various ministries in the Church (12: 28-29); (i) the virtue of charity (13); (j) public worship, prayer, preaching, prophecy (14); (k) the Resurrection of Christ (15:4-7); (l) the general resurrection, the glorified bodies, the future life (15:25-58).
8. Division and Analysis. In this Epistle we distinguish three main parts: an Introduction (1 Cor 1:1-9), a Body (1 Cor 1:10-15:58), and a Conclusion (1 Cor 16).
1. The introduction contains: [a] the salutation of St Paul and his “brother” Sosthenes to the Church at Corinth and to all those who call upon the name of the Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:1-3); [b] and expression of thanksgiving to God for the gifts of speech and knowledge accorded the Corinthians, and a hope of their final perseverance, founded on the faithfulness of God and their communion with Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:4-9).
2. The Body of the Epistle falls naturally into two divisions, of which the first (1 Cor 1:10-6:20) reprehends the vices of the Corinthians, and the second, (1 Cor 7:1-15:58) replies to their letter and questions.
A. The First Part of the Body of the letter, also composed of two parts, condemns first the divisions in the Corinthian Church (1 Cor 1:10-4:21), and secondly the moral disorders among the faithful at Corinth.
There ought to be unity in the Church, but it is a fact that there are divisions among the faithful (1 Cor 1:10-12). These factions are most injurious to the Church of which Christ is the center and head (1 Cor 1:13-17a). The fact that the Gospel was preached in simplicity to the Corinthians should not be a cause of dissension or disagreement, because God’s message is not after the manner of human conceptions, but according to divine wisdom (1 Cor 1:17b-3:4). Preachers of the Gospel are simply ministers and instruments of God and must render an account of their stewardship (1 Cor 3:5-17). The faithful, therefore, ought not to glory in this or that preacher, but in God alone: He only is the judge of His ministers (1 Cor 3:18-4:6). Humility is necessary in preachers of the Gospel (1 Cor 4:7-13). St Paul has suffered much for the faithful, and they should imitate him (1 Cor 4:14-16). The Apostle is sending Timothy to visit the Corinthians and he himself will come shortly (1 Cor 4:17-21).
Following upon their lack of unity, moral disorders and relaxation of religious discipline set in among the Corinthians, The faithful should have put out of their number the incestuous man, whom St Paul now excommunicates (1 Cor 5:1-5). That case was a cause of grave scandal; the Corinthians should remember the warning contained in the Apostle’s first letter, to avoid sinners (1 Cor 5:6-13). Disputes among Christians should not be carried to heathen courts; those who are the cause of such lawsuits shall receive a severe judgment (1 Cor 6:1-11). All things lawful are not expedient; the faithful must fly from the sin of fornication.
B. The Second Part of the Body of the letter (1 Cor 7:1-15:58) replies to the questions and the doubts raised by the Corinthians.
Matrimony and its use are perfectly lawful (1 Cor 7:1-9). Marriage is indissoluble (1 Cor 7:10-24). The state of celibacy is more excellent than that of matrimony (1 Cor 7:25-40).
With regard to meats offered to idols it is to be noted that such meats are not bad in themselves, although it may necessary to avoid them on account of scandal (1 Cor 8:1-13). On account of the danger of scandal, the apostle says it is sometimes necessary to forego one’s rights, as he himself did in refusing support from the faithful (1 Cor 9:1-18). He suffered countless privations and made many sacrifices for the salvation of souls (1 Cor 9:19-23). Thus also should the Corinthians be willing to make sacrifices in order to save their souls (1 Cor 9:24-27). Many benefits received from God are no guarantee that we shall be saved (1 Cor 10:1-13). Therefore, all things being considered, the faithful should take no part in sacrifices offered to idols; we cannot be on the side of God and of His enemies at the same time (1 Cor 10:14-22).
At the public services of the Church women should have their heads covered, as is evident from various considerations (1 Cor 11:2-16). All disorders and unseemly conduct are especially out of place at the Eucharistic celebration (1 Cor 11:17-22). The institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the manner in which it should be observed (1 Cor 11:23-34).
The Corinthians have abused their spiritual gifts, allowing them to become an occasion of pride and envy. The extraordinary gifts which the faithful enjoy come from God. They should not be a source of discord, since they all come from the same Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:1-11). The faithful are all members of the same spiritual body; and hence they who possess lesser gifts should not envy those who are blessed with greater ones; and, on the other hand, those who are more highly favored should not despise their more humble brethren (1 Cor 12:12-30). While each one ought to be content with the gifts he has, it is not forbidden to desire the better ones (1 Cor 12:31). The most excellent of all the gifts and virtues is charity, without which everything else is as nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3). The nature of charity; it endures forever (1 Cor 13:4-13). Of the gifts of tongues and prophecy the latter is more excellent, because more useful to the faithful and to unbelievers as well (1 Cor 14:1-26). Some practical directions are necessary with regard to the use of the various spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14:27-36). St Paul observes that he is speaking with divine authority (1 Cor 14:37-40).
Regarding the resurrection of the dead St Paul affirms its truth and reality, proving it first from the Resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:1-28), and then from a practice of some of the faithful and from his own life and sufferings (1 Cor 15:29-34). Next the manner of the resurrection and the qualities of the glorified bodies are explained (15:35-50). The just shall be transformed at the coming of Christ (1 Cor 15:51-53). The victory of Christ over death (1 Cor 15:54-58).
3. The Conclusion of the Epistle (1 Cor 1:16) treats [a] of the collection to be made for the poor in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1-4); [b] of the Apostle’s forthcoming visit (1 Cor 16:5-9); [c] of the welcome that should be extended to Timothy and Apollo (1 Cor 16:10-12); [d] of the necessity of earnestness and love (1 Cor 16:13-14); [e] of the charity and gratitude the Corinthians ought to show towards their delegates Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Cor 16:15-18). The Epistle closes with a greeting, a warning and a blessing (1 Cor 16:19-24).