The Second Missionary Journey
Building the Church in the Cesspool
In the early spring of A.D. 52, Paul left Athens and made his way westward along the isthmus that connects the Peloponnesus with the mainland of Greece until he came the 53 miles to Corinth. It is a trip of several days by land or sea. The apostle may have sailed from Piraeus, the port of Athens, to Cenchrea, on the eastern shore of the Isthmus of Corinth. The city was on a plateau overlooking the isthmus.
CORINTH. The largest and most important city in Greece in Paul’s time was Corinth. It had a population of more than half a million people, two-thirds of whom were slaves. It was a great commercial metropolis, lying on the direct route between Ephesus and Rome. For a hundred years, it had been steadily growing in size and wealth, and it now occupied a position of great prosperity.
The old city, destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C., had been replaced by the new one founded by Julius Caesar just a hundred years later as a Roman colony, and made capital of Achaia by Augustus in 27 B.C.
Corinth was called “the bridge of the sea”—on the east lays the Aegean Sea and on the west is the Adriatic Sea. The city received shipping from Italy, Sicily, and Spain, as well as from Asia Minor, Syria, Phoenicia, and Egypt. Instead of going “round the horn” at Cape Malea at the south end of Greece, ships either docked at the Isthmus and transported their cargoes by land vehicles from one sea to another, or if the ships were small, they were dragged on rollers the five miles across the isthmus. This saved 200 miles. Nero began constructing a canal in A.D. 67, but the canal, running through the narrowest part of the isthmus near Corinth, was not completed until 1893.
The wealthy, commercial metropolis of Corinth attracted a great influx of people from West and East, along with all the attendant gains and ills of such growth. It was the center of immoral pagan worship. The Temple of Aphrodite (the counterpart of the Canaanite goddess Astarte) had one thousand female prostitutes. Besides its many temples and shrines, including the temple of Apollo, the remains which stand out on the landscape today, the city had two theaters to the north and west, one of which could seat 18,000 people.
The Temple of Poseidon was located about seven miles east of Corinth, not far from the eastern end of isthmus. The Isthmian games were held there bringing on an emphasis on luxury and worthless self-indulgence.
The people of Corinth lived in luxury, and the city had the reputation of being one of the most debased and corrupt cities in the Roman Empire. So widely known did the immorality of Corinth become that the Greek verb “to Corinthianize” came to denote “to practice sexual immorality.” It was the city of unbridled love.
Corinth was a seaman’s paradise and moral cesspool. Prostitutes roamed the streets, and its atmosphere was polluted with the alluring aura of sin. Paul’s Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas of the ancient world. A microcosm of the United States today—populous, proud, prosperous, philosophical, and polluted.
As often happens, vice and religion flourish side by side. Surrounded by corruption and every conceivable sin, new converts felt the pressure to adapt. Idolatry, immorality and immaturity saturated the people of Corinth. Here Paul would pastor and build his first church.