Christians in First Century Corinth

by Hugh DeLong

We live (lived, past tense, as our world is quickly changing), in a time when Christianity (the basic principles) is the majority belief. The concept of one god is accepted. Such was not true back in the first century. The pagan world was full of gods. Such were woven into the very fabric of the lives of the people: there were gods of cities, gods of the empire, gods of the trade unions, gods of the family, etc.

Such gods were all accepted: just add another to your agenda. We find it strange that they would even have an altar unto "the unknown god" (Acts 17:23). We are accustomed to the idea that one would pick a god and give undivided allegiance to it, but that wasn't the way it worked. All gods were worthy of respect, honor, and worship. The whole household would worship the family god in the home. If you went to another city, you would acknowledge, respect, and even worship their gods. To not do so was a great insult. Well, actually, such simply was not done -- except by Jews and Christians.

Among the Romans, we would add to the above: Emperor worship … and especially the worship of the gods that protected the Empire. To refuse such worship was treason because to insult such gods would bring their anger and cause destruction and mayhem in the empire.

Society tolerated the Jews not acknowledging such gods because that was their ethnic and national religion. They had always been obstinate like that. But many Christians came from their own people, their own cities, their own families. Just the other day they would have acknowledged such gods, but now they refuse. While you could excuse the Jews for such, these converted friends and family were without excuse for no longer worshiping and referencing the gods. Thus, Christians were persecuted as atheists – unbelievers in the gods.

Jews also persecuted this new cult of Christians. Because of the new covenant – no circumcision, no priesthood or temple, no sacrifices, no Sabbath and holy days; Jewish believers were persecuted as apostates and false teachers. Add to this, the fact that they now accepted Gentiles into their number. Hence, much of the early persecution came from the Jews. Because of their new religious stance, believers were hated by all. So much for tolerance!

It is interesting that the pluralism of our modern world begins to look more like the first century in this regard. There is the widening of people's world understanding of all the other religions, peoples, and cultures. There is now the widening of acceptance of all: an acceptance of pluralism and a denial of the narrowness of truth. Believers in one God are now considered to be narrow-minded and judgmental.

Yet, "for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him" (I Corinthians 8:6). For us, "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The teaching and instructions in I Corinthians 8 – 10 are beginning to have much more meaning and application to our current world situation. We need to have the faith of our fathers. Do you?