The City of Corinth and Its Surroundings

The prosperous city of Corinth was strategically located at one end of a narrow isthmus joining southern Greece with the Greek mainland. Its position gave it command over both maritime travel and land travel in the region, for virtually all land traffic moving between southern Greece and the mainland had to pass through the city, and ships traveling between Italy and Asia often chose to have their boats dragged across the isthmus along a track called the diolkos to avoid having to make the dangerous journey around southern Greece. The city enjoyed a long and prestigious history that can be divided into two parts at the year 146 B.C., when it was completely destroyed by the Romans. After this the city lay in ruins for about a hundred years until Julius Caesar refounded the city and repopulated it with Roman freedmen and Greeks. A large number of Jews resettled there as well. Thus, when Paul first visited the city during his second missionary journey after speaking at Athens (Acts 18), he immediately found an audience with some of those attending the synagogue there. Paul also met Priscilla and Aquila there, who were Jewish tentmakers like himself. Around the time Paul left Corinth for Syria, a man named Apollos moved to Corinth from Ephesus and became an influential leader in the church. Paul eventually returned to Corinth for a few months during his third missionary journey after he was forced to leave Ephesus because of a riot by the silversmiths (Acts 20:1-4). Paul wrote at least two letters to the Corinthians, and the moral challenges the believers faced there attest to the very pagan culture of the city of Corinth (1 Corinthians 5;1-13; 6:12-20; 8:1-13; 10:14-22; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). During the days before the city was destroyed by the Romans, the city had gained such a reputation for debauchery that the term “to corinthianize” meant to engage in sexual immorality, but it is not clear if this reputation continued after the city had been rebuilt. Corinth itself was not a port city, so the nearby towns of Lechaion and Cenchrea served these purposes for travel and commerce in the region. Luke explicitly notes that during his second missionary journey Paul had his hair cut off at Cenchrea in fulfillment of a vow he had taken, and then he left for Syria (Acts 18:18). In his letter to the Romans, which was likely written from Corinth during his third missionary journey, Paul also mentions the church in Cenchrea (Romans 16:1).

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