The Corinthians were citizens of Corinth, which was the chief town in Achaia, a Roman province. During Paul’s second missionary journey, he lived there for a year and a half and this visit was followed by a visit from Apollos. Paul’s two epistles to them reveal that the church was split into two groups in Corinth.
Paul’s first epistle to them was written near the end of his three years in Ephesus and the second was written during his trip through Macadonia. Corinth was a very international city because the trade between Asia and Western Europe passed through it. When Paul first visited the city, staying two years, most of his converts were Greek. Prior to the writing of the first letter we have, he visited them again, checking on rising disorder. He wrote them a letter, but it no longer exists. Peter may also have visited them, as well as other Jewish Christians delivering letters of commendation from Jerusalem.
Paul’s first epistle addressed a growing dissension among the Saints in Corinth. They were dividing themselves into groups based on who they preferred to follow. Some were followers of Jesus, but others considered themselves followers of Paul or other disciples. Paul reminded them that he had not atoned for their sins. Only Jesus Christ did that, and they were to be unified as followers of Christ.
Paul reminded them that milk comes before meat and that they were receiving only the “milk” portion of instruction because they weren’t yet ready for the rest of the gospel. He also taught them that they are temples of God’s and that they must not defile the temple God gave them. He taught them that ministers of God must live up to God’s standards and so the apostles had done so, often suffering as a result.
Paul used this epistle to answer questions the church members had asked him concerning missionaries. He suggested it was better for them to be unmarried, if possible. He also suggested it was better to remain married, even when married to a non-believer.
Paul explained that while there are many gods, to them there was only one God, God the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. He cautioned them to be humble and obedient, making certain their behavior didn’t lead anyone else astray.
Paul outlined spiritual gifts that could be found among the members and reminded them of the importance of the Holy Ghost in carrying out these gifts and in gaining a testimony.
In this first epistle, Paul gave a powerful and influential sermon on charity:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
(New Testament | 1 Corinthians 13:1–13)
Paul refers to several teachings which are core to Mormon doctrine, but which are no longer practiced in other faiths. One is baptism for the dead. Paul explains to them that Christ really did rise from the dead and that if He had not, then there was no point to their preaching, their faith, or their practices, including the practice of baptism for the dead:
29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
(New Testament | 1 Corinthians 15:29)
Paul also refers to the three degrees of glory awaiting those who die:
40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead.
(New Testament | 1 Corinthians 15:40–42)
In the second epistle, Paul reminds them that they should comfort others in the same way they have been comforted by God. He discusses the qualities of a Christian ministry, using the apostles as an example. Paul addresses a report he has received from Titus and his own feelings concerning the issues, reminds them of a collection for the poor that is forthcoming, and encouraged them to test themselves in righteousness. He told them to be certain they kept the commandments.