I’m currently preparing a talk for a church on 1 Corinthians 3 – and I begin by comparing Dio Chrysostom’s picture of Corinth with Paul’s picture of Corinth:
The ancient Greek orator Dio Chrysostom speaks about a trip to the region of Corinth, which appears to represent the world of the late first century AD. He writes:
And there at this time, around the temple of Poseidon, one could hear many of the wicked Sophists [professional speakers], crying out and reviling one another, and their so-called disciples fighting one another. (Eighth Discourse: On Virtue: 8.9)
I visited this (Isthmian) “temple of Poseidon” a couple of years ago. There’s not much left of it. Looking now at the tree-dotted ruins, it’s hard to imagine what Dio describes – a bustling centre, with the disciples of competing speakers arguing with one another: “Our leader is the best!” “No! Our leader has far better rhetoric!” No! Our leader is the wisest philosopher!”
Can you imagine that going on in the grounds of this temple near first century Corinth? Imagine if that’s what Christian churches were like – fighting and squabbling and competing over which leader has the best style!
Well if we turn to 1 Corinthians 1:10-12, we’ll get the rather uncomfortable impression that this is precisely what the Christian church in Corinth was like:
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”