Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Preface to the First Epistle to the Corinthians
Corinth, to which this and the following epistle were sent, was one of the most celebrated cities of Greece. It was situated on a gulf of the same name, and was the capital of the Peloponnesus or Achaia, and was united to the continent by an isthmus or neck of land that had the port of Lecheum on the west and that of Cenchrea on the east, the former in the gulf of Lepanto, the latter in the gulf of Egina, by which it commanded the navigation and commerce both of the Ionian and Aegean seas, consequently of Italy on the one hand and of all the Greek islands on the other: in a word, it embraced the commerce of the whole Mediterranean Sea, from the straits of Gibraltar on the west to the port of Alexandria on the east, with the coasts of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. It is supposed, by some, to have been founded by Sisyphus, the son of Eolus, and grandfather of Ulysses, about the year of the world 2490 or 2500, and before the Christian era 1504 years. Others report that it had both its origin and name from Corinthus, the son of Pelops. It was at first but a very inconsiderable town; but at last, through its extensive commerce, became the most opulent city of Greece, and the capital of a powerful state. It was destroyed by the Romans under Mummius, about 146 years before Christ, but was afterwards rebuilt by Julius Caesar.
Corinth exceeded all the cities of the world, for the splendor and magnificence of its public buildings, such as temples, palaces, theatres, porticos, cenotaphs, baths, and other edifices; all enriched with a beautiful kind of columns, capitals, and bases, from which the Corinthian order in architecture took its rise. Corinth is also celebrated for its statues; those, especially, of Venus, the Sun, Neptune and Amphitrite, Diana, Apollo, Jupiter, Minerva, etc. The temple of Venus was not only very splendid, but also very rich, and maintained, according to Strabo, not less than 1000 courtesans, who were the means of bringing an immense concourse of strangers to the place. Thus riches produced luxury, and luxury a total corruption of manners; though arts, sciences, and literature continued to flourish long in it, and a measure of the martial spirit of its ancient inhabitants was kept alive in it by means of those public games which, being celebrated on the isthmus which connects the Peloponnesus to the main land, were called the Isthmian games, and were exhibited once every five years. The exercises in these games were, leaping, running, throwing the quoit or dart, bowing, and wrestling. It appears that, besides these, there were contentions for poetry and music; and the conquerors in any of these exercises were ordinarily crowned either with pine leaves or with parsley. It is well known that the apostle alludes to these games in different parts of his epistles, which shall all be particularly noticed as they occur.
Corinth, like all other opulent and well-situated places, has often been a subject of contention between rival states, has frequently changed masters, and undergone all forms of government. The Venetians held it till 1715, when the Turks took it from them; under whose dominion it has till lately remained. Under this deteriorating government it was greatly reduced, its whole population amounting only to between 13 and 14,000 souls. It has now got into the hands of the Greeks, its natural owners. It lies about 46 miles to the east of Athens, and 342 south-west of Constantinople. A few vestiges of its ancient splendor still remain, which are objects of curiosity and gratification to all intelligent travelers.
As we have seen that Corinth was well situated for trade, and consequently very rich, it is no wonder that, in its heathen state, it was exceedingly corrupt and profligate. Notwithstanding this, every part of the Grecian learning was highly cultivated here; so that, before its destruction by the Romans, Cicero (Pro lege Manl. cap. v.) scrupled not to call it totius Graeciae lumen - the eye of all Greece. Yet the inhabitants of it were as lascivious as they were learned. Public prostitution formed a considerable part of their religion; and they were accustomed in their public prayers, to request the gods to multiply their prostitutes! and in order to express their gratitude to their deities for the favors they received, they bound themselves, by vows, to increase the number of such women; for commerce with them was neither esteemed sinful nor disgraceful. Lais, so famous in history, was a Corinthian prostitute, and whose price was not less than 10,000 drachmas. Demosthenes, from whom this price was required by her for one night's lodging, said, "I will not buy repentance at so dear a rate." So notorious was this city for such conduct, that the verb κορινθιαζεσθαι, to Corinthize, signified to act the prostitute; and Κορινθια κορη, a Corinthian damsel, meant a harlot or common woman. I mention these things the more particularly because they account for several things mentioned by the apostle in his letters to this city, and things which, without this knowledge of their previous Gentile state and customs, we could not comprehend. It is true, as the apostle states, that they carried these things to an extent that was not practised in any other Gentile country. And yet, even in Corinth - the Gospel of Jesus Christ prevailing over universal corruption - there was founded a Christian Church!
Analysis of the First Epistle to the Corinthians
This epistle, as to its subject matter, has been variously divided: into three parts by some; into four, seven, eleven, etc., parts, by others. Most of these divisions are merely artificial, and were never intended by the apostle. The following seven particulars comprise the whole: -
I. The Introduction, Co1 1:1-9.
II. Exhortations relative to their dissensions, 1 Corinthians 1:9-4:21.
III. What concerns the person who had married his step-mother, commonly called the incestuous person, Co1 5:1-13, 6, and 7.
IV. The question concerning the lawfulness of eating things which had been offered to idols, Co1 8:1-13, 9, and 10, inclusive.
V. Various ecclesiastical regulations, 1 Corinthians 11-14, inclusive.
VI. The important question concerning the resurrection of the dead, 1 Corinthians 15.
VII. Miscellaneous matters; containing exhortations, salutations, commendations, etc., etc., 1 Corinthians 16.