Some of the best loved passages in the whole Bible come from the correspondence of the apostle Paul to the Corinthian church. The letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians teach on a number of issues and give insight that no other books in the New Testament have.
Interestingly, Paul had a greater conversation with the Corinthian church than what many people realize on the surface.
He first came to Corinth on his second missionary journey, after being chased out of other Grecian centers such as Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. He met up with Priscilla and Aquila, fellow Jewish Christians and tentmakers. He stayed and worked with them, proclaiming the gospel in the famously immoral city. The record in Acts states he stayed there for “some time”, and then left to hit Ephesus on the way back to Antioch in Syria.
Paul hit the road almost immediately after his return, encouraging churches in Galatia before coming back to Ephesus, where he stayed for three years. It was during this time that scholars believe he wrote his letters to the Corinthian church. We have two letters included in the Bible, 1 and 2 Corinthians.
In 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 it refers to a prior letter that Paul wrote to the church, before 1 Corinthians. Apparantly he had written to them about issues regarding sexual immorality and he clarifies his position in the current letter. He gives much teaching in what we know as 1 Corinthians, and it seems to have been received poorly. When we move into 2 Corinthians, Paul references a “painful visit” in chapter 2 verse 1. It is thought that the letter of 1 Corinthians was not well received, and Paul made a visit to bring correction. After he left, he wrote yet another letter to the Corinthians, which seems to finally have the effect that he wanted, causing “sorrow that led…to repentence” (2 Cor 7:8-9, see also 10:9-11). Thus, the relationship between the teacher and the church is restored, and Paul can write a more joyful letter that becomes our 2 Corinthians.
This begs the question: what happened to the “other” Corinthian letters. By this count, there were at least four letters of Paul to the Corinthians. The two other letters I have mentioned have no other reference in Scripture, and no known copy or fragment exists. In early lists of approved New Testament books, there is no mention of other Corinthian letters. We have no idea, other than the two quick references listed above, what the other books contained.
I have heard people who criticize the Bible’s accuracy claim that the lack of 4 Corinthian letters shows the Bible wasn’t accurately preserved. To this I say hogwash. Just because it is mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean that it was meant to be in the Bible. Paul quotes a pagan philosopher, should the pagan’s works be in the Bible? I believe that what we needed was preserved, and these other Corinthian letters were of such a personal nature that they weren’t pertinent to be kept in a global/general teaching manual like the Bible.
But…what if one of the “lost” letters to the Corinthians was found? What if it held explosive teaching and prophecy, threatening the status quo and becoming the centerpiece of a battle between good and evil?
Check back tomorrow for more…
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