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Corinth

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The ancient ruins at Corinth.

Corinth (Κορινθος, Korinthos) is a Greek city situated in southern Greece along the isthmus land bridge between Greece and the Peloponnesus. Today, this city is moderate in size and population. However, the ancient city was one of the largest, most prosperous, and most powerful cities in the entire world.[1] This seaport city not only had bountiful wealth, they had magnificent structures. In Corinth there once stood the mighty temples of Aphrodite, Apollo, and Poseidon. Splitting through this luxuriant city was the broad limestone Lechaion Road. At the end of its path stood the massive agora (marketplace) of Corinth. However, despite their dazzling buildings and abundant prosperity, the Corinthians were corrupted and immoral. Their city was filled with drunkards, prostitutes, homosexuals, and other such sinners. Their horrific reputation as a city of debauchery only led to the further corruption of the city’s people. Yet in the midst of this wicked civilization, the apostle Paul came and began to establish a church of Christian believers. Soon Paul went into the streets to introduce the Corinthians to the mercy, joy, and salvation of Jesus Chrsit.[2]

Corinth's History

The ancient stone track, known as the Diolkos, served to ferry small sea vessels across the isthmus of Corinth.

In the 10th century B.C., the ancient city of Corinth was founded in the southern region of Greece. [3] Strategically located only fifty miles from Athens and two miles north of the four-mile wide land bridge between Greece and the Peloponnesus, called the isthmus, the city of Corinth lay situated at the gateway to Greece and Asia. This popular sea trade rout made the city’s inhabitants quite wealthy and caused the city to rapidly increase in size. [2]

The modern day canal that runs through the isthmus of Corinth.

In Corinth, on either side of the isthmus land bridge, there were two heavily frequented seaports, Lechaeum and Cenchreae. The western harbor, Lechaeum, lay situated in the Corinthian Gulf and took its cargo primarily to the regions surrounding Italy. On the eastern side of the isthmus was the port Cenchreae, located on the Saronic Gulf. The Cenchreae seaport transported its goods into Asia Minor. [4] The four-mile land bridge dividing the two seaports, the isthmus, stood in the way of ferrying cargo across the continents. So in 625 B.C. the current ruler, Periander, ordered the construction of a five-foot-wide track made out of rock to wheel small ships and their loads from one seaport to the other. [3] In 67 A.D., under Emperor Nero’s instruction, a canal was to be constructed across the isthmus. However, the project was disbanded and not finished until French engineers became involved from 1881-1893. [2]

The Roman consul, Lucius Mummius, destroyed the city of Corinth in 146 B.C., after a disagreement between the city’s leader, Corinth, and the rulers in Rome. When the city was level, all of the men were slaughtered and the woman and their children were sold as slaves. However, some fled from this massacre to the isle of Delos. [3] Later in 44 B.C. Julius Caesar ordered the reconstruction of the city, but he renamed it Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis, which means “Corinth the praise of Julius”. [2] Here Caesar sent freed slave to inhabit and develop the restored region. Due to its ideal location, the new Corinth quickly became as prosperous as the ancient city. The refugees on Delos returned and the area of Corinth soon became a metropolis of sea trade. [3]

While Corinth was prominent and well known for their successful sea trade and overall wealth, the people of the city were very wicked, immoral, and corrupt. They constructed numerous temples to honor pagan gods of the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. These cult worshipers soon began to corrupt the citizens of Corinth. [2] In the ancient ruins of the city, archeologists found numerous tavern, nightclubs, bars, and other such facilities that promoted prostitution, homosexuality, drunkenness, gambling, and other such heinous and unrighteous practices. These people gave Corinth a bad name, which resulted in many people from around the area come to Corinth specifically to engage in these immoral activities. [1] In those day, when referring to a prostitute, many would commonly call them a “Corinthian girl” [5] or if they said korinthiazesthai they were saying Corinthian, which in Greek meant a drunkard. Even in the theater, all representations of the Corinthian portrayed them as drunken fools. Yet despite this reputation of debauchery, Paul chose to go the Corinth and aid in the establishment of a church for Christian believers. [2]

Excavations

Temple of Aphrodite

The most prominent archeological discovery at Corinth is the remains of the Temple of Aphrodite. This majestic structure once stood atop the 1,886 ft acropolis known as the Acrocorinth. Here this infamous temple housed the worshippers of Aphrodites. Among these were 1,000 priestesses who were “sacred” prostitutes of Aphrodite. At night, these prostitutes descended from the Acrocorinth down into the city, where they offered their services to the sailors and tradesmen in town.[2] Today, there are no remains of the Temple of Aphrodite.[5] However, around the area which once was the Temple of Aphrodite there are many ruins of some form of fortification. These defenses were discovered to be built in the Middle Ages and still can be observed to this day on the western side of the Acrocorinth.[3]

The ruins of Apollo's Temple in Corinth.

Temple of Apollo

While the Acrocorinth along with the Temple of Aphrodite dominated the skyline, the Temple of Apollo resided in the lower city.[5] Built in the 6th century B.C., [4] this magnificent temple displayed thirty-eight columns [5] as well as a glorious bronze statue of Apollo. [2] However, the structure was demolished and all that remains today of its previous glory are seven of the thirty-eight columns. [5] Yet even after the destruction of the Temple of Apollo, several sanctuaries were built throughout the city so the people could worship and sacrifice to Apollo.

Temple of Poseidon

Since Corinth was a seafaring city that depended entirely on the sea for commercial prosperity, they exalted and highly praised Poseidon, god of the seas. Poseidon’s Temple was located in a village nearby the city of Corinth, In this village there were biennial Isthmian Games (similar to the Olympic Games, but not of such fame). It was at this event that the people of Corinth paid homage to the mighty sea god Poseidon. [2]

The exposed remains of the Lechaion Road.

Lechaion Road

Archeologists uncovered about 100 yards of the Lechaion Road that once stretched from Corinth to the port Lechaion, hence its name. This ancient avenue devised out of 8 yards slabs [2] of limestone made an effective means of transportation for all the citizens of Corinth.[4] Being approximately 40ft in width [5] this sophisticated road once possessed raised walkways, drainage systems, [4] and rows of ornate statues made in the images of the gods, including Hermes, Poseidon, and Artemis. Along either side of this street took countless shops and public buildings.[2] This road provided the major northern entrance into Corinth [5] as well as leading right into the heart of the agora, the central market place. [2] However, researchers have discovered stairs along the boulevard, suggesting that the Lechaion Road did not transport wheeled vehicles. [5]

Erastus

In the book of Romans, of the Holy Bible, the apostle Paul sends a letter to Rome to inform him of his future visits to assist and support the newly established church of Christian believers. In his final farewells, he refers to a man by the name of Erastus.

Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings. Romans 16:23 (NIV)

Paul states that Erastus holds the city’s (Corinth) position of director of public works (possibly treasurer). This gentleman than must have been wealthy and possessed some authority. The reason this figure is so important to the archeological excavations in Corinth is due to a certain inscription found in 1929 near the city’s theater. [4] Next to what once was a massive amphitheater, which once held over 14,000 people, is a small plaza, which possesses a plague. The inscription on the plague reads:“ERASTVS PRO AEDILITATE S P STRAVI”, meaning, “Erastus, in return of the aedileship, laid the pavement at his own expense”. [2]

Whoever this gentleman was he had a great quantity of wealth and due to his generous contribution to the construction of the city avenue he receive public appraisal. If this figure is the same one Paul speaks of in Romans and later in 2Timothy 4:20 (NIV), then it would affirm that Paul had connections with wealthy and influential public officials. When dating this inscription, researchers approximated the artifact originated in the second half of the 1st century A.D.. [4] This is precisely the time when Paul arrived in Corinth (51 A.D.). [6]

Bema

The remains of the ancient bema at Corinth.

During the excavations in Corinth, archeologists uncovered a marble covered structure in the ancient city’s ruins. After further investigation, this structure and the area surrounding was later identified as the judgment seat (bema) of Corinth. This bema would have once stood as an erect platform from which an arbitrator could judge the city’s trials. When Paul came before the Roman proconsul in Corinth, Gallio of Achaia, he could have indeed stood beneath this very bema. [2] At this location he might have defended himself against the accusations of his adversaries. It may have been here that Gallio dismissed the case from his court and saved Paul’s life [Acts 18:12-16 (NIV)]. The verification of scripture can be tested by the New Testament chronology [5]as well as inscriptions found in Delphi. Both of these sources speak of Gallio reigning as the Roman proconsul of Achaia from 51-53 A.D..This would align with the scriptural dates that speak of Paul arriving in Corinth around 50 A.D.. [2] However, some researchers question that this bema truly housed all the court business of the city. This resistance comes predominantly as a result of discovering a ruined basilica later excavated in Corinth. This structure many believe would have ideally served as the judicial headquarters of the city. [4] However, it is a general consensus that this bema locates where the legal operations of Corinth occurred and where the apostle Paul once stood on trial.

Agora

In the 1st century, the agora (market place) of Corinth was one of the most substantial in all of Greece. This location, being 236 yards east to west and 140 yards north to south, covered the area in marbles slabs that divided into to terrace levels. Here lay the commercial center of business, worship, and legal operations in Corinth. [2]

Trade

Back in ancient Corinth, this market would have possessed shops, restaurants, and nightclubs or bars on either side of the streets. Also in the agora there was evidence of hollowed out ditches, which could have kept fresh spring water or stored wine. Other items for sale in the street would have included pottery, bronze, orchard and vineyard products, which were all major industrial and agricultural products of the city.

Worship

Not only were there once industries along the agora, there were also once small temples and sanctuaries. Amongst these places of worships were shrines for the pagan gods of Demeter, Apollo, Tyche, Venus, Kore and Hera. All of these temples existed because the people of Corinth were diverse and worshiped a variety of gods and deities.

The Bema

The marketplace of Corinth was divided by the bema. This judgment seat as well as the bouleuterion (the location where the judicial council met) was amongst the court’s edifices around the region of the agora.[4]


Once in Corinth, Paul came to befriend Aquila and Priscilla, two Jews banished from Rome by Emperor Claudius. Since all of them were tent makers it may have been that they sold their merchandise at the agora. This opportunity would have provided Paul with a way to fund his missions as well as tell customers of the salvation of Christ. [5]

Paul’s Mission

The apostle Paul, who lived in the 1st century A.D., dedicated his life to travel across the world to spread the redeeming hope and salvation of Jesus Christ. In around 50 A.D., Paul made his way from Athens down to the city of Corinth. Located on the narrow isthmus uniting Greece to the Peloponnese, this city was the ideal location for establishing a church of believers. Here at the crossroads between Asia Minor and the Mediterranean there was a frequent flow of trade. At this established trading center, Paul could effectively spread the gospel to the all corners of the earth. [2]

At the time of Paul’s arrival, the city of Corinth was not more than a hundred years old. [3] This young, yet wealthy and substantial society (five times as large as Athens and house about 400,000 residents) [7] provided Paul with an opportunity to establish a strong Christian presence in the city. However, another thing that might have urged Paul to travel to Corinth was their reputation as an immoral and corrupted people. These people were known for their sins, which included prostitution, adultery, homosexuality, drunkenness, and many other wicked deeds. [1] Yet Paul saw hope in these people and began his ministry.

In Acts 18:4 (NIV)it states that Corinth did indeed possess a Jewish synagogue, [2] for the city’s inhabitant and their various beliefs were extremely diverse. However, Paul encountered adversity with the Jewish community in Corinth and chose to focus his ministry primarily on non-Jewish populations. For eighteen months Paul effectively taught the gospel to the people of the city, until the Jewish community again conflicted with Paul. They grabbed him and took hi m to the proconsul Gallio on the charge of violating the Jewish Law. However, the Roman proconsul rejected the case and dismissed their complaints as merely a conflict of interpretation concerning Jewish Law. As a result Paul was allowed to continue his missions. [3]

For the apostle Paul, there were a plethora of tribulations that he had to endure while residing in Corinth. The citizens were wicked and unrighteous with a reputation for drunkenness, prostitution, and immorality. Paul had to devise a way to effectively defend his faith, while at the same time inform the Corinthians that the gods they worshiped, mainly the Greek gods Apollo, Aphrodite, Poseidon, and Demeter, were false deities. [2]

Throughout Paul’s ministry, he visited Corinth on three occasions and wrote four letters. The original letter, referred to by Paul, as “the previous letter” was lost over time. The second letter however was saved and later became known as I Corinthians. Next came the “Severe Letter” in which Paul harshly confronted and challenged the Christians of Corinth, yet this transcript, like the first, also perished. Paul’s last manuscript written to the church or Corinth has endured and is today in the New Testament as II Corinthians. Throughout Paul’s letters and visits, he stresses how although members of the church all are unique the whole church body must become one, united in Christ. Paul also includes messages discussing many of the immoral sins that the people of Corinth so readily indulge themselves in. Although his ministry in Corinth brought him great affliction, Paul successfully established a Christian church amidst a city of wickedness. The sacrifice and dedication of the apostle Paul brought salvation to even the most evil and corrupt people, even the citizens of Corinth.[6]

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References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Corinth Chuck Missler, The Bible Church Online, 5/30/11.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 Corinth, Greece In The New Testament David Padfield, Church of Christ, 5/30/11.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Corinth Thomas Price and Allan Brockway, Allan Brockway, May 18, 1999.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Corinth in History and Archaeology by A.P. Staff, Apologetics Press, Inc., 5/30/11.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 Corinth Author Unknown, BiblePlaces.com, 5/30/11.
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Corinthian Letters Chuck Missler, Koinonia House Inc., 5/30/11.
  7. Paul In Corinth Wayne Blank, Daily Bible Study, 5/30/11.