Paul’s Visits and Letters to Corinth

Even a quick skim of Paul’s two letters to the church in Corinth reveals that the apostle’s relationship with this congregation involved more than just what we read. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful if I described a chronology of Paul’s letters and visits to this great city. While the exact sequence and timing is often disputed, what follows is generally accepted as a faithful rendering of what the Scripture reveals.

Paul’s first visit occurred during his second missionary journey and lasted for almost two years (50-52 A.D.). At that time he met fellow tent makers Aquila and Priscilla who had been expelled from Rome with all other Jews under Claudius’ edict (49 A.D.). It is interesting to note that Roman historian Suetonius said that Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome on account of the turmoil that a figure named “Chrestus” was causing among the Jews. Many modern historians believe this to be a reference to the disruption the gospel brought to the Jews in Rome. Since Claudius only wanted to keep the peace, he solved the problem by kicking every Jew out of the city. It is not known whether Aquila and Priscilla were Christians when they arrived in Corinth or if they came to faith as they made tents with Paul. We do know that they were trained by Paul, became effective in helping ground others in the faith and that they became life-long friends with Paul, loving him enough to risk their own lives to help him (Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3-4).

In A.D. 52, Paul moved to Ephesus where he taught for three years (Acts 18:18-19:41). It was during this time that Paul sent Apollos to visit Corinth on his behalf. He also wrote his first letter to Corinth, a letter that has been lost to history. In it he gave a strong warning against associating with immoral people (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). Either by letter or by personal visits, Paul received news from Chloe’s household about divisions in the church (1 Corinthians 1:11) and questions delivered by Stephanas, Fortuntus and Achaicus (1 Corinthians 16:17).

In A.D. 55 or 56, while he was still in Ephesus, Paul began a flurry of activity that was centered on Corinth. He responded to these reports and questions by writing his second letter to Corinth (this is the letter we know as 1 Corinthians). Very soon after the letter, Paul made a second visit to the city which he called the “painful visit” (1 Corinthians 4:19; 2 Corinthians 2:1-2). A few months later he sent Titus to deliver his third letter to Corinth (which is now lost to history). This was a letter of “many tears” in which he pleaded with the Corinthians to change their behavior (2 Corinthians 2:3-9; 7:6-15). Paul then sought out Titus who reported that the congregation had responded well. While they were changing their behavior there were still questions about Paul’s authority as an apostle (2 Corinthians 2:13; 10:1-13:10).

Titus’ report prompted Paul’s fourth letter to Corinth, which was written approximately one year after his second (57 A.D.) and is what we know as 2 Corinthians. Soon thereafter, Paul made a third visit to Corinth. He stayed for about three months, finalized the collection for the church in Jerusalem and repaired whatever relational damage remained between him and the congregation (Acts 20:2-3; 2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1). Priscilla and Aquila returned to Rome; Timothy remained with Paul. Sometime between 57 and 61 A.D. Paul and his entourage delivered what must have been a sizeable relief gift to the Jerusalem church. He was soon arrested and began his trip to Rome as a prisoner in chains.


As I consider the stories of this dear brother’s life, I am struck by his faithfulness to Christ’s call. I am also struck by the “common” nature of what I read. He was a middle-class, blue-collar worker, a tent-maker by trade. He knew seasons when he had enough food and shelter and he knew seasons when there was not enough money to pay all the bills. He had some intellectual, relational, status and skill resources that could be applied in many ways. He came to Corinth in “weakness and fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). Along the way he experienced relational struggles and people misunderstanding what he was trying to say. People outside the church tried to stop him while some within the church sought to undermine him. He felt “hard pressed on every side” and was worried, carrying with him the daily “concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 11:28). He worked hard, was often fatigued and had a recurring illness that magnified his weakness and inhibited his abilities. Any of this sound familiar yet? 


There is much in the apostle Paul that reveals him to be a man of far greater faith and courage than many of us will ever know and so he seems distant and disconnected from us and our reality. At the same time, we see a profound humanness in this man, an every-man nature that creates a strong and definitive connection between his life and our own.


In these letters we see that Paul is a human being who daily stepped out in faith to use what he had where he was to express the truth of the gospel in word and deed as best he could over the entire course of his life. Go back and read that last sentence again, only this time put your name in the place of Paul’s (adding the “s” in front of “he” if necessary 😊). When put this way, it seems like the things Paul did are accessible to us; we can do them too! And who knows what God might do with our long obedience in the same direction.