The "first" epistle to the Corinthians

chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
There was an initial letter that Paul sent to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9). The Corinthians then responded with questions. Then Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in a response to their questions from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8).

However, in the AV:

1 Cor. 16:24 The first epistle to the Corinthians was written from Philippi by Stephanas, and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, and Timotheus.

Was there another "first epistle" written by the above? Or was this added later by someone other than Paul in error?
 

chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
Also, the Reformation Heritage Study Bible says in its introduction to 1 Corinthians:
Paul wrote the letter while at Ephesus before the celebration of Pentecost (16:8). He planted the church in Corinth in AD 51 and stayed in the city for “a good while” (Acts 18:18). The next year he went on to Ephesus where he stayed for almost three years. During the latter part of his time in Ephesus he wrote 1 Corinthians, placing the date in the spring of either AD 54 or 55.

I think this is incorrect. He stayed in Ephesus for 3 years during his third missionary journey. The one following Corinth was only briefly (Acts 18:19-21).
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Every missionary I know writes lots of letters (or these days, emails). It is a necessary way of keeping in touch with both supporters and, if one travels like Paul and has several churches that are under his care or have been, one's various churches. It should not be a surprise that in addition to the two canonical letters Paul wrote to Corinth, he also wrote others not intended to be canonical. The mention in 1 Corinthians 5:9 shows there was at least one of these, but common sense tells us there may have been several.

It's also reasonable to assume Paul's companions, who shared a similar work, would also write such letters. They would be neglectful shepherds if they didn't. So the 1 Corinthians postscript may well be true, even if it is not Scripture. However, I fail to see much importance in trying to determine the full number and order of all these non-canonical letters. If the postscript you cite is correct, it appears Timothy and the gang were first to send such a letter, even before Paul himself. But aside from the general principle that it's good for shepherds to remain engaged with their flocks, I'm not sure what application we might draw from this. I appreciate having background and context as we approach Scripture, but whose non-canonical letter came first feels pretty irrelevant.

And of course, when we label 1 Corinthians Paul's first epistle to Corinth it should be understood that we mean it is his first canonical epistle—the first to appear in the Bible. People who like to cast doubt on the canon seem to revel in pointing out evidence of non-canonical writings, as if we should be surprised to find out that the Bible authors also did some non-biblical writing, or as if this means part of God's word has been lost and what remains is somehow imbalanced. But it strains belief to think either that Paul only wrote Scripture and never wrote anything else, or to act as if everything he wrote had the same purpose and ought to be canon.
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
Do you think it's an error or was there another epistle to the Corinthians not written by Paul?
I'm saying the post-scripts at the end of the epistles which you see in some (not all) Bibles, saying where it was written and who wrote it, are not part of the canon. You can make of them what you will but yes, they can certainly be erroneous, as they are not scripture.

Paul may well have written another epistle to the Corinthians earlier than 1 Corinthians in the Bible, but if so it was not a canonical letter. There were two inspired epistles to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, written in the order we have them in the Bible. Maybe I'm being dense and not answering the question but not sure what else there is to it.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Also, the Reformation Heritage Study Bible says in its introduction to 1 Corinthians:
Paul wrote the letter while at Ephesus before the celebration of Pentecost (16:8). He planted the church in Corinth in AD 51 and stayed in the city for “a good while” (Acts 18:18). The next year he went on to Ephesus where he stayed for almost three years. During the latter part of his time in Ephesus he wrote 1 Corinthians, placing the date in the spring of either AD 54 or 55.

I think this is incorrect. He stayed in Ephesus for 3 years during his third missionary journey. The one following Corinth was only briefly (Acts 18:19-21).
Clearly, the three-year stay in Ephesus was during the trip we refer to as Paul's third journey. I suppose we could give that study Bible the benefit of the doubt and figure that whoever wrote that comment was simply being concise and leaving out Paul's trip back to Jerusalem and Antioch, much as we might not mention an extended home-church furlough as part of a missionary's bio today. After all, Acts itself mentions it only in passing and runs Paul's first stay in Ephesus together with his second one as part of a larger discussion of his ministry in Ephesus. When reading Acts, an inattentive reader might even miss the fact that a third journey has begun.

Or that writer in the study Bible could have been sloppy, forgotten about the trip home in between, and made an error.

Regardless, to avoid confusion, that sentence in the study Bible might have included a brief phrase acknowledging the trip back to Jerusalem and Antioch in the midst of what was otherwise an extended ministry in Ephesus. That would probably be helpful, and you were sharp to notice it. You could be an editor!
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
One of the confusing things about that note is the first reference is to a passage in 1Cor (16:8) and the second is to Act.18:18, and a hasty read then can confound the books being referred to. I think Jack is correct to say 1) the stop in Ephesus (Act.18:19) is extremely brief, was while in-motion toward Jerusalem after having left Corinth (and probably sailed directly across the Aegean); and 2) that the writer of the note has simply left out other places Paul went between time spent in the destination city (Corinth) and the city and year he wrote them back again.

Robert Reymond's timeline is one I refer to time and again, because it is handy to me and is helpful and concise and was up-to-date in any scholarly sense about 20yrs ago (when I was in seminary). He has the ministry in Corinth taking place between A.D. 50-52 lasting in the text from Act.18:1-18.

Then follows a quick trip to Jerusalem in A.D. 52, leaves in Act.18:18 arriving in Act.18:22, which v also tells us he left there immediately going to Antioch. The very next v23 has him starting his 3rd journey, so it was probably just a few months after he left Corinth he was back on the road, going overland to Asia ending up in Ephesus where he aimed to go and stay for his longest and most profitable missionary labor and success (in earthly calculus).

Reymond places Paul's ministry in Ephesus between A.D. 52-55, and he thinks the canonical correspondence was written in A.D. 55-56. 2Cor was probably written on the road taking him back to Corinth for three months (Act.20:1-3--when there he probably wrote his letter to the Romans, ca. A.D. 57); and then he's headed back to Jerusalem which visit precipitates his arrest in A.D. 57. I think Reymond's dates are as good as any. The difference between Reymond and the RHSB (as reported above) is only one year, Reymond being ahead by a year in his calculation.
 
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