Exposition of 1 Corinthians 1:1–3 Getting definite about identity

1 Corinthians 1:1–3

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — their Lord and ours:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 Getting definite about identity

We will soon see that faction-building — so common to the culture of Roman Corinth — had become a major problem troubling this young church. New Testament scholar Linda Belleville informs us that “At the heart of the Corinthians’ problems was an attitude of spiritual arrogance.”[1] Roman pride led to a false assumption of spiritual superiority.

Using a modified form of the standard greeting in letters of that period, Paul begins his attempt to cure the Corinthian identity problem by starting with Christ Jesus. Jesus is mentioned by name four times in the first three verses. Further, Jesus is called “Lord” three times. New Testament scholar James Dunn comments that the title “Lord” denotes: “dominance and the right of disposal of superior over inferior — whether simply master over slave, king over subject, or, by extension, God over worshipper. To confess someone as one’s ‘lord’ expresses an attitude of subserviency and a sense of belonging or devotion to the one so named.”[2]

So, a major idea in defining the identity of Christians is that Jesus is their Lord, not Caesar or any other person, such as the head of a faction.

Paul’s identity is also important to the success of this letter. In calling himself “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Cor. 1:1), Paul presents himself as the emissary of Jesus. According to ancient usage, an apostle is a “sent one,” and “’The one whom a man sends is like the man himself.’”[3]

In addition to identifying Jesus as Lord and himself as Jesus’ emissary, Paul also identifies the Corinthian recipients. Although there were probably several house churches in Corinth, Paul emphasizes their unity by calling them “the church of God in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). Paul goes on to say that the Corinthian believers have been set apart (“sanctified”) — a Greek verbal form indicating something done in the past and having a lasting result — to serve God. The full phrase “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2) means this setting apart occurs through union with Christ by faith.

Paul ends his initial greeting with a wish for grace and peace, precious gifts that can only come from the Father and the Son (1 Cor. 1:3).

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 1996) 17.

[2] James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Company, 1998) 247.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 25.

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