By far Paul’s fullest discussion of the Spirit in the life of the Christian community comes to us in 1 Corinthians 12-14.  To make sense of that discussion, I need to say something about the letter of 1 Corinthians in general, and the community to which it is addressed.

Here is the introduction to the letter I give in my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford University Press):


Corinth was a large and prosperous city south of Thessalonica, in the Roman province of Achaia, of which it was the capital. Located on the isthmus dividing the northern and southern parts of modern-day Greece, it was a major center of trade and communication, served by two major ports within walking distance. The city was destroyed in 146 b.c.e. by the Romans but was refounded a century later as a Roman colony. In Paul’s time, it was a cosmopolitan place, the home of a wide range of religious and philosophical movements.

Corinth is perhaps best remembered today for the image problem it suffered throughout much of its checkered history, at least among those who advocated the ancient equivalent of “family values.” Its economy was based not only on trade and industry but also on commercialized pleasures for the well-to-do. It is not certain that Corinth’s loose reputation was altogether deserved, however; some modern historians have suggested that its image was intentionally tarnished by the citizens of Athens, one of its nearby rivals and the intellectual center of ancient Greece. It was an Athenian, the comic poet Aristophanes, who invented the verb “Corinthianize,” which meant to engage in sexually promiscuous activities. In any event, many people today know about the city only through the letter of 1 Corinthians, a document that has done little to enhance its reputation.

The congregation that Paul addresses appears to have been riddled with problems involving interpersonal conflicts and ethical improprieties. His letter indicates

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