The city of Corinth, mentioned in the New Testament, was a cosmopolitan city that very much resembled our modern cities in culture, belief and attitudes. Though the city was considered a hub of intellectual pursuit, as well as a commercial crossroads, it was decadent and morally corrupt. Von Dobschutz wrote, “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 recognized no superior and no law but his own desires.” This observation could be a description of just about any of our modern cities instead of a city over two thousand years old.
The city sat on a narrow neck of land between the Corinthian Gulf and the Saronic Gulf and because of that location it became a centre of trade for the entire Eastern Mediterranean. In 146 BC invading Roman armies destroyed the Greek city and left it in ruins for almost a hundred years until it was rebuilt as a Roman colony. Because of its new status as a Roman city and its favorable trade routes the little colony soon blossomed into a large thriving city that attracted Syrians, Jews, Asiatics, and Egyptians as well as people from a host of lesser known territories and nations.
Though trade made the city rich, prostitution and licentiousness made the it famous throughout the Roman world. A great temple to the goddess Aphrodite contained a small army of prostitutes numbering well over a thousand. Whenever the city fathers needed to make important decisions they invited as many prostitutes as they could round up to come and pray with them. Shrines and altars to Aphrodite, “the patron of harlots,” littered the city streets and were well attended by prostitutes and praying devotees.
The city was also known for its Isthmian Games where the finest athletes in all of Greece came to compete. These games were so important to the culture of the area that during the years that the city lay in ruins at the hands of the Romans the games continued.
With a beautiful climate, wonderful agricultural soil for growing grapes and a host of lesser crops, along with its easy access to trade routes the city became wealthy beyond its wildest dreams. Wealth found its outlet through prostitutes and debauchery. “To Corinthianize,” became a catchword throughout the region meaning to go to the Devil. If you asked someone from one of the surrounding cities what they thought of when Corinth was mentioned they would say, “culture and courtesans.” One theologian commenting on the Corinthians summed it up, “Corinth’s population was a medley of races which had apparently retained most of the worse features of the original stocks.”
Corinth was a city of statesmen, intellectuals, merchants, artists, craftsmen and prostitutes all from different cultures, backgrounds and status that led to a simmering witches brew of sexuality, greed, pride, arrogance, and selfishness that could only be satisfied by “excess”. The city was the first Greek city to allow gladiatorial games and with a population of around 600,000 (400,000 of which were slaves), there were lots of spectators.
But, for all these drawbacks the city had an advantage that would make it a center of evangelism throughout the Roman world. Though all roads lead to Rome it seemed that all roads led from Corinth. Leon Morris notes that with the large floating population that were in port for a few days and then off again, “anything preached in Corinth would be sure of a wide dissemination.”
Paul comes to the city alone and feeling discouraged. His work in Philippi had faced severe persecution from the devout Jews living in the city, as well his work in Thessalonica and Beroea had faced similar problems. Now he was in one of the most hedonistic and cosmopolitan cities in the Roman Empire with few friends and no support from his fellow ministers.
I decided to write about the Corinthians because I have been wondering about how Christians, in our modern world, should go about sharing the gospel in a secular and often hostile world that is not a whole lot different philosophically than the Corinthians. In the comments section after this blog please let me know what your thoughts are on reaching our secular cities. Do we need to do pre-evangelism before we do evangelism? Are we using outdated methods to reach a sophisticated, secular audience? What place do small groups and house churches have to play in sharing the gospel? Should we reflect more love and less “thou shall do as I say” in our outreach? What about making friends and modeling Jesus through our lives?
Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts and I am sure our readers would enjoy and learn from your suggestions as well. Remember there is no wrong answer, I’m just trying to get a sense of what it is that God would have us do when it comes to being “His feet, His hands, His mouth, and His eyes,” in our neighbourhood.