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Corinth: The City and the Church

Julian Spriggs M.A.


At the time of Paul's missionary journeys, Corinth was the leading city of Achaia. Achaia was the Roman province which covered the southern part of the modern nation of Greece. Athens was still the educational centre of Achaia, but Corinth was the capital of the Roman Province and the major commercial centre.

Corinth lay on a narrow isthmus, only six kilometres across, which connected the southern part of the Greek peninsula to the mainland, with sea to the east and west. This strategic position made Corinth one of the richest cities and greatest trading centres of the ancient world. All traffic from Athens and the North of Greece to Sparta and the Peloponnese had to pass through Corinth because of its position on this narrow neck of land.

In addition to the north-south trade, a great proportion of the east to west traffic also passed through Corinth. The three hundred kilometre journey by sea around the southern capes of the Peloponnese was very dangerous and dreaded by sailors. Many sailors said, "Let him who sails round Cape Malea forget his home" (Strabo Geography 8:6:20). Because of this, and to save time, many smaller boats were hauled across the narrow isthmus on rollers. Larger ships were unloaded and the cargo transported by land to ships on the other side. A paved road called the Diolkos (meaning 'to haul across') was built across the isthmus in the sixth century BC. This was six kilometres long, and between three and six metres wide. There were several attempts at cutting a canal across the isthmus. The first was by Alexander the Great. Another attempt by Nero in AD 66 was abandoned after experts told him that the seas on each side were at different levels, so flooding would occur! A canal was finally built in 1893.

Corinth had a strategic location at the foot of the Acrocorinth, a steep, flat topped mountain to the south of the city, that rose up to eight hundred metres. The acropolis was on the top, making it one of the most easily defended strongholds of that time. Corinth lay on a plateau overlooking the isthmus, near to three harbours. The two main harbours were Lechaeum (2 km west) and Cenchreae (12 km east). There was also the little used Schoenus (also to the west). So Corinth was known as the 'two sea'd Corinth'.

Objects of luxury soon found their way to the markets, which were visited by people from every nation in the civilised world: Arabian balsam, Phoenician dates, Libyan ivory, Babylonian carpets, Cilician goat's hair, Lycaonian wool, and Phrygian slaves. Corinth was especially famous for its production of high quality bronze-ware.

History of Corinth

The Phoenicians first settled there, introducing profitable business as well as their worship. Greeks later took control and named the city Corinth. Macedonians held the city from 335 to 197 BC, when the Romans took control, declaring it a free city in 196 BC In 146 BC, it rebelled against Rome and as reprisal, was destroyed by the Roman general Lucius Mummius. He killed all the male population, and sold the women and children into slavery, and took its famous art treasures to Rome, leaving the city in ruins for a hundred years.

Julius Caesar rebuilt it as a Roman Colony in 44 BC, with Latin as its official language. It soon regained prominence, becoming the capital of the Roman province of Achaia in 27 BC. The rapid growth in its population soon made it the third largest city of the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria. He populated it with freedmen from Rome, who became the most numerous inhabitants. There were also many Greeks, Jews and other peoples, making it a cosmopolitan port city. The population is difficult to estimate, but was probably around 200,000, plus 500,000 slaves, all squashed into a small area. It was a rough, tough city with a bad reputation. Much of Corinth was destroyed in an earthquake in AD 77, after which the city was rebuilt.

Modern Corinth, with a population of sixty thousand, was rebuilt a short distance away from the original site, because of an earthquake in 1858. Many of the ruins of the original city have been excavated.

Social and religious situation

In Paul's time, the city was marked by wealth, luxury and immorality, so much that 'to corinthianize' was a term given to anyone, anywhere, who lived a life of excess and immorality. Plato used the term 'Corinthian girl' as a euphemism for a prostitute. The relative newness of the city gave it an air of being a modern boom-town, with a great mixture of cultures, philosophies and religions. Constant trade built the wealth of the merchants, attracting people from both East and West, who brought a mixture of religions with them, including the original Greek religion and philosophies, together with the mystery cults from Asia and Egypt, as well as Judaism. The Greek writer, Pausanias, described over twenty-six sacred places devoted to different gods and lords.

Von Dobschütz wrote this:"The ideal of the Corinthian was the reckless development of the individual. The merchant who made his gain by all and every means, the man of pleasure surrendering himself to every lust, the athlete steeled to every bodily exercise and proud in his physical strength, are the true Corinthian types: in a word the man who recognised no superior and law but his own desires” (Morris, page 19).

Corinth was the centre for the Isthmian Games, which were held in nearby Istmia every other year, in honour of the god Poseidon. These were second in importance to the Olympic Games. Contests included running, boxing, wrestling and racing with horses and chariots. By request of Nero musical and poetry contests were added. Paul uses metaphors from the Greek games as illustrations (1 Cor 9:24-27). The imperishable crown promised for believers would contrast with the perishable crowns given at the Isthmian Games made out of withered celery plants.

Worship in the city was devoted to three main gods:
1) Aphrodite
There was a large temple of Aphrodite (the goddess of love and beauty) on the highest peak of the Acrocorinth, which according to Strabo had more than a thousand priestesses who were sacred prostitutes (this may be an exaggeration). Each evening they walked down the mountain in a long line (all dressed in white, with shaved heads) to the market place to get clients. The cult was dedicated to the glorification of sex, parallel to the worship of Astoreth and Ishtar from a thousand years earlier.
2) Melicertes
The temple to Melicertes, otherwise known as Poseidon (the god of the sea and navigation) was at the foot of the Acropolis. This was essentially the same deity or "baal" as was worshipped in Tyre, and introduced into Israel by Ahab and Jezebel.
3) Apollo
The temple to Apollo was in the city, he was the god of music, song and poetry and was the ideal of male beauty, making Corinth a centre for homosexuality.

Plan of Corinth, as it was in the first century

Archaeological evidence

Archaeological excavations have uncovered much of the life of New Testament times. The remains of the fish market, baths, lavatories, Roman businesses, legal offices, shops and temples have been found. Remains of theatres and amphitheatres have also been uncovered.

The place of Paul's trial before the proconsul Gallio has also been excavated. This was the governor's judgement seat which has an inscription saying 'rostra' (the Latin term for the Greek bema - Acts 18:12). An inscription saying, "Lucius the butcher", was found in a shop in the agora. The remains of the temple to Apollo are near the site of the meat market. Surplus meat from the temple was taken for sale in nearby shops. Paul addresses the issue of eating meat previously offered to idols (1 Cor 10:25).

The most important inscription was found in a block of marble near the city theatre on the pavement. "Erastus, for the office of Aedile, laid at his own expense". This was probably the same Erastus, the city treasurer, who sent greetings to the church in Rome, "Erastus, the city treasurer and our brother Quartus, greet you" (Rom 16:23). The Aedile had many duties, including being a treasurer. Part of the lintel from the synagogue has been discovered, with the inscription, “synagogue of the Hebrews”.

Paul's eighteen-month stay in Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-18) has been dated by an inscription which indicates that Gallio came to Corinth as Proconsul in AD 51. Gallio was the brother-in-law of Nero's philosopher and tutor Seneca. Gallio was appointed proconsul of Achaia in July AD 51. He left because of a fever and went on a cruise in AD 52. This gives an exact date for Paul's stay in Corinth of July AD 51. Gallio was known for his amiable character and wit, perhaps the Jews thought he would be sympathetic to them. However, he refused to act as judge of Jewish law and sent them away. An inscription from AD 52, found in Delphi (Greece) mentions Gallio.

The inscription contains nine fragments, which have been reconstructed to read, "Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, invested with tribunician power for the twelfth time, acclaimed Imperator for the twenty-sixth time, Father of the Fatherland. For a long time have I been not only well-disposed towards the city of Delphi, but also solicitous for its prosperity, and I have always guarded the cult of the Pythian Apollo. But now since it is said to be destitute of citizens, as L. Junius Gallio, my friend and proconsul, recently reported to me, and being desirous that Delphi should retain intact its former rank, I order you (pl.) to invite well-born people also from other cities to Delphi as new inhabitants ...".

Gordon D. Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT). Eerdmans 1987.
S.J. Hafemann Corinthians, Letters to the in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters. Ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid. IVP 1993
D.H. Madvig. Corinth in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE). ed Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Eerdmans 1979.
Leon Morris. I Corinthians. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. IVP 1985.

Ancient descriptions of the city of Corinth by Pausanias and Strabo

Photographs of Corinth
To see a collection of photographs of Corinth, the surrounding area, the Corinth Canal, as well as some archaeological artifacts from the city, go to: Photographs of Corinth

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John


Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?
Paul and the Greek Games

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS