A Corinthian Chronology


One of my favorite New Testament churches is the church at Corinth. They didn’t always get everything right, and they caused Paul a lot of trouble, but when viewed through his apostolic eyes they are rightly seen as a trophy of God’s grace (1 Cor. 1:4-9; 2 Cor. 7:16).

AWIB-ISAW: Corinth, Acrocorinth (VII) View from atop the acropolis of the city of Corinth, the acrocorinth. by Kathryn McDonnell copyright: Kathryn McDonnell (used with permission) photographed place: Korinthos (Corinth) [http://atlantides.org/batlas/corinthus-58-d2] Published by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World as part of the Ancient World Image Bank (AWIB). Further information: [http://www.nyu.edu/isaw/awib.htm].

AWIB-ISAW: Corinth, Acrocorinth (VII)
View from atop the acropolis of the city of Corinth, the acrocorinth. by Kathryn McDonnell
copyright: Kathryn McDonnell (used with permission)
photographed place: Korinthos (Corinth) [http://atlantides.org/batlas/corinthus-58-d2]
Published by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World as part of the Ancient World Image Bank (AWIB). Further information: [http://www.nyu.edu/isaw/awib.htm].

While recently preparing to teach 1 & 2 Corinthians in our Sunday school New Testament survey, I got a little bit carried away in the details of Paul’s interaction with the church there, from his first visit in Acts 18 to his last recorded departure in Acts 20 – and is there ever a load of information to get caught up in!

This exercise helped me not only grasp the history of his interaction with the church there, but also to appreciate even more both Paul’s heartfelt ministry to Corinth and God’s grace in the Corinthians’ lives through the gospel. So I wanted to share my findings for your edification. I would love to hear what could be added or what needs to be changed in light of biblical data I have misread or simply missed, so please comment below!

  • First Visit – Founding of the Church (Acts 18:1-18, 2nd Missionary Journey)
    1. Paul arrives at Corinth and finds Priscilla (also “Prisca”) and Aquila, staying with them and working with them until Silas and Timothy arrive with funds from Macedonia (Acts 18:5; 2 Cor. 11:9).
    2. Paul stays at Corinth 18+ months (Acts 18:11).
    3. Paul leaves, accompanied by Priscilla & Aquila, whom he left at Ephesus during a temporary stop (Acts 18:18-21, 26) before continuing on to Antioch (18:22) to complete his 2nd Missionary Journey.
    4. He eventually begins his 3rd Missionary Journey, arriving at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20:1) and eventually spending 3 years there (Acts 20:31).
    5. Before he gets there, Apollos came to Ephesus preaching Christ incompletely, but is quickly instructed by Priscilla and Aquila before eventually heading across to Corinth (Acts 18:24-19:1) – setting the scene for some of Paul’s writing in 1 Cor. 1-4.
  • Paul writes the Previous Letter (1 Cor. 5:9-11) and sends it to the Corinthians.
  • The Corinthians write a letter to Paul concerning a number of issues (1 Cor. 7:1).
  • Paul (simultaneously?) receives a report from Chloe’s people about divisions in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 1:10-11). He also hears a report (possibly from Chloe’s people also) about tolerated immorality and civil lawsuits within the church (1 Cor. 5:1-6:11).
  • Paul writes 1 Corinthians in response to these issues and sends it to Corinth, probably by the hands of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaiacus (1 Cor. 16:15-18).
    1. He is not sure whether he will go to Jerusalem with the offering (1 Cor. 16:4).
    2. He is not sure where he will go after visiting Corinth, but he is planning to come (1 Cor. 16:5-7).
  • Paul determines to go to Jerusalem via Macedonia and Achaia in some order, then to Rome (Acts 19:21). Macedonia contained the churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea; Achaia contained the churches at Corinth and Cenchrea.
  • Paul makes a Painful Visit to Corinth.
    1. He intends to go Corinth (Achaia) -> Macedonia -> Corinth again (2 Cor. 1:15-16).
    2. He indicates (2 Cor. 12:14, 13:1) an upcoming 3rd visit, meaning he had a second one at some point before 2 Corinthians.
    3. But after this painful visit he determines not come to them in sorrow “again” (2 Cor. 2:1 – an indication that his [second overall] visit before the upcoming third one [2 Cor. 13:1] was this sorrowful/painful visit).
    4. He retreats somewhere rather than continuing the Corinth-Macedonia-Corinth plan (see next event).
  • Paul writes a Severe Letter and sends it along with Titus to Corinth.
    1. He is somewhere other than Corinth, of course (otherwise, why a letter?), and Troas (2 Cor. 2:12-13), when he writes this.
      1. He “went on” to Macedonia – meaning he was not coming from Macedonia, but heading that way via Troas.
      2. This means he probably wrote the Severe Letter from a position of having returned to Ephesus.
      3. Furthering this is that he seems in Acts 19 to go directly to Macedonia from Ephesus (a route that goes straight through Troas, 2 Cor. 2:12-13) rather than going first to Achaia/Corinth.
    2. He did this to avoid another visit that he knew would be painful (2 Cor. 1:23-2:4).
    3. He did it to put to the test whether the Corinthians were obedient in all things (2 Cor. 2:9).
    4. Technically, he directly wrote it concerning someone who had done wrong to someone else (2 Cor. 7:12a).
    5. But his bigger goal was to let the Corinthians see their own earnestness on behalf of Paul (2 Cor. 7:12b).
    6. They partially understood the letter (2 Cor. 1:13-14) and they responded fairly well to it, both disciplining the offender (2 Cor. 2:6, 7:12a) and repenting themselves of some probably-related wrongdoing (2 Cor. 7:8-11).
  • Paul goes to Troas, doesn’t find Titus (who will have information on the response to the Severe Letter), and moves on to Macedonia until he finds him (2 Cor. 2:12-13, 7:5).
    1. Meanwhile, Paul gives the churches there “much exhortation” (Acts 20:1-2).
    2. Paul also collects the offerings that Macedonia has set aside for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:1-5). Paul does not currently intend to pass back through Macedonia for this, and will only do so because his sea travel is thwarted by a plot from the Jews (Acts 20:3).
    3. Titus, greatly encouraged himself by Corinth’s response to the “Severe Letter,” brings news of the Corinthians’ repentant response to Paul (2 Cor. 7:5-16).
    4. Paul also meets up with Timothy, who is with him while writing 2 Corinthians (1:1).
  • Paul sends Titus and others to Corinth with 2 Corinthians in advance of his third visit.
    1. He wants to encourage the Corinthians to fully embrace Paul and Timothy (1:12-7:16) – so much so as even to be willing to commend them over against unbelievers (6:11-7:2) and false teachers (Chapters 10-13) – these two probably being the same group in this situation.
    2. He wants to ensure that the “previously promised bountiful gift” (2 Cor. 8:5) is ready to go when Paul and possibly some Macedonians (2 Cor. 9:2-4) arrive. Paul’s words are meant to explain and give support to the actions of Titus (2 Cor. 8:16-19) and those with him (2 Cor. 9:3) in this regard.
  • Paul makes his Third Visit at Corinth, where he stays three months, writing the letter to the Romans (Rom. 15:22-27; 16:23) and sending it by Phoebe from nearby Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1) before departing back through Macedonia on his journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:2-3).