FOOTSTEPS: Three Things in Corinth Paul Likely Saw

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Ancient Corinth. Photo Credit: Chris Oxford / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

People are fascinated with time travel.  Perhaps that’s why we love watching shows in which people journey back in time.  In Back to the Future, Dr. Brown and Marty jump through history in the DeLorean Time Machine.  Dr. Who uses the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) phone booth.  Mr. Peabody and Sherman have the Way Back Machine.

Unlike fictional time-travel, archaeology allows us to really travel back in time and learn about the ancient world.  In our FOOTSTEPS series we’ve traced the travels of Joseph, Joshua,  Peter, and Jesus to view the world they lived in.  In this article we’ll explore three things the Apostle Paul saw in the city of Corinth.

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A reconstruction of the city of Corinth, as it would have appeared in the second century AD, shortly after the time of the Apostle Paul. Photo Credit: Davide Mauro / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Paul travelled much of the Greco-Roman world in his day.  It wasn’t the sightseeing that motivated him; rather he felt compelled to preach the gospel to Jews and Gentiles who had never heard the good news about Jesus (1 Cor. 6:19).  On his second missionary journey, he arrived in the city of Corinth and stayed for a year and a half “teaching the word of God among them” (18:11).

The ancient city of Corinth is situated on the narrow isthmus connecting the southern portion of Greece to the mainland.  The “golden age” of Corinth, in the 5th to 8th centuries BC, had long since passed by the time the Apostle Paul arrived, although it had somewhat returned to prominence in the 1st century AD.1   Here are three things in Corinth that Paul likely saw.

The Temple of Apollo

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The Temple of Apollo (some would argue it was the Temple of Juno) in Corinth. Seven of the original 38 columns are still standing today. Photo Credit: Ploync / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Excavations have revealed that during the time of Paul, many buildings were being rebuilt after their destruction by the Romans over 150 years earlier.2 The 6th-century BC Temple of Apollo, built in the Doric style, was one of the structures that had been restored in the 1st century AD by the time Paul arrived.3   Seven of its columns are still standing today.  The rebuilding of this and other structures in Corinth may explain Paul’s use of construction metaphors in 1 Cor. 3:10-11, which reads, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

The Market

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The North West Market of Corinth. Photo Credit: Bgabel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
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The Makellum (Meat Market) inscription at Corinth Museum in 1971. Photo Credit: Ferrell Jenkins, https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2013/11/04/the-meat-market-at-corinth/

As tentmakers, Paul and his companions, Priscilla and Aquilla, would have likely been very familiar with the Corinthian Market; they may have even plied their trade there (Acts 18:1-3).  Excavations have revealed that the North Market was built in the first half of the first century AD on the north slope of the Temple Hill.4   It was likely in this area that the local meat market was located.  An inscription was discovered in 1898 which reads, “MACELLV” – “Meat Market,”5 which scholar F.J. DeWaele believed came from the North Market.6 The Apostle Paul would later reference this market, instructing the church at Corinth to “eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.” (1 Cor. 10:25).

The Bema

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The Bema (Speakers Platform). located in the North West Market of ancient Corinth dates to the early first century AD. Photo Credit: Berthold Werner / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

During his stay in Corinth, the Jews of the city pressed charges against Paul and brought their case before the proconsul, Gallio.  In Acts 18:12-16, we read:

“But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” And he drove them from the tribunal.” (ESV)

The word, tribunal, is the Greek word bema, meaning judgment seat.  In the early 20th century, the bema of Corinth was unearthed in the Market. A Latin inscription discovered nearby helped with the identification.  It read in part, “…he revetted the rostra [the Latin equivalent of a bema] and paid personally the expense of making all its marble.”7  The bema of Corinth is a large, stone speakers’ platform rising 2.3m (7.5 ft) above the pavement of the Market.  In ancient times it was the place where official proclamations were publicly read, and where citizens appeared before civic officials.8  The Apostle Paul, likely remembering this incident, warned the Corinthians that, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10  ESV)

Summary

Archaeology can both affirm and illuminate the Bible.  Excavations have revealed the very places Paul visited in the city, and align with the biblical accounts of Corinth.  These places also form the background for many parts of his later letters, the books of 1 & 2 Corinthians. Knowing the historical context betters our understanding of the world in which the Apostle Paul lived.

 

Endnotes:

1 David Padfield, The Biblical City of Corinth, p. 1. Online: https://www.padfield.com/acrobat/history/corinth.pdf (Accessed Aug. 1, 2019).

2 Victor Paul Furnish, “Corinth in Paul’s Time – What Can Archaeology Tell Us?” Biblical Archaeology Review, 14:3 (May/June 1988): 16-17.

3 John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1991), 322.

4 Ibid, 324.

5 Ferrell Jenkins, “The Meat Market at Corinth,” Ferrell’s Travel Blog, November 4, 2013. https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2013/11/04/the-meat-market-at-corinth/ (Accessed Aug. 1, 2019).

6 John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1991), 326.

7 “The Judgement Seat” in NIV Archaeological Study Bible (ed. Walter C. Kaiser Jr and Duane Garrett; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 1891.

8 Alfred Hoerth and John McRay, Bible Archaeology: An Exploration of the History and Culture of Early Civilizations, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 257.

 

 

 

 

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