First Corinthians is Paul’s masterly pastoral letter to a church, which he founded five years earlier, but which in the meantime has lost its way. In Ephesus Paul was visited by various groups from Corinth bringing disturbing reports of recent developments, but also a list of questions. A little sleuthing helps us recover an idea of the problems in Corinth as well as the questions to which they wanted answers. A less imaginative person may have simply addressed the problems and replied to the questions, but not Paul. Paul discerned in the problems and the questions five underlying issues. He has arranged his letter as a series of sermons – True Wisdom (1–4), Sexual Holiness (5–7), Temple Attendance (8–10), Behaviour at Church Meetings (11–14), Resurrection Hope (15). This letter is both timely and timeless. It was, doubtless, piercingly relevant for the Corinthians as they sat transfixed listening as it was read to them. But the letter continues to challenge readers today as they apply its principles to life in an increasingly unstable and hostile world – as Corinth was.
About Paul Barnett
Paul Barnett is retired Bishop of North Sydney and Honorary Visiting Fellow in Ancient History at Macquarie University, Sydney. He is also a Teaching Fellow at Regent College, Vancouver and a visiting faculty member at Moore Theological College, Sydney.