Corinthian House Churches
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Corinthian House Churches
Page 21

Saint Paul's Writings

Corinth RuinsWhen the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1.2 to the Corinthian house churches, the contemporary reader has no way of knowing whether he was addressing the total of believers in many house churches in the city, or not. He wrote, "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." The custom in these churches was to copy important letters from church leaders and pass them on to other churches in the area. It is quite possible that all the household churches were made aware of Saint Paul's epistle to one. Upon closer examination, however, we also discovered the possibility of at least seven assemblies of Corinthian Christians mentioned in Saint Paul's letters though there could have been even more that we are not aware of.

Aquila and Priscilla

Aquila and PriscillaFirst, there was the home of Aquila and Priscilla. Saint Paul called "Priscilla" by the shorter "Prisca," a common Latin name, but Saint Luke preferred the more formal Priscilla. They were wealthy Jewish converts to Christianity who settled in Corinth according to Acts 18.2 "There he (Paul) met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them." Emperor Claudius (BC 10-54 AD) around 49-50 AD had expelled a large number of Jews from Rome. Saint Paul began his stay in Corinth by living in the home of Aquila and Priscilla, where they carried out their trade like Saint Paul of tent making. Most likely, this was a type of street-level storefront home that doubled as a work/retail outlet and domestic residence common in those times.

Significant Places Worship

Saint PaulDuring Saint Paul's eighteen-month stay in Corinth according to Acts 18.11, he devoted himself to "teaching them the word of God." The house churches in Corinth must have been significant places for proclaiming the gospel, teaching and gathering believers for worship. At the end of that time, Aquila and Priscilla moved on to Ephesus with Paul according to Acts 18.18-19 where we read, "Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila and started a house church there. He went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.". Arthur G. Patzia in "The Emergence of the Church - Context, Growth, Leadership, and Worship" underlines Paul's greeting in Romans 16.3-5, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia." "Priscilla and Aquila" and "the church in their house" implied that they returned to Rome, probably after Emperor Claudius lifted his edict banning the Jews.

Ancient Corinth

Ancient CorinthThe Corinthian house churches and those of Cenchreae were clearly described in Saint Paul's writings. Saint Paul commended Phoebe as "a deacon" and "benefactor" or "patron" of the church at Cenchreae. "Phoebe" by the way, is also the name given to one of Saturn's moons and was photographed during the Cassini spacecraft mission in 2004. Moons of Saturn were originally named for Greco-Roman Titans and descendants of the Titans. But as new moons were discovered scientists began selecting other names from other mythologies, including Gallic, Inuit, and Norse. Phoebe is another name for the goddess that the Greeks called Artemis and the Romans called Diana. She was the youthful goddess of Earth's Moon, forests, wild animals, and hunting. Sworn to chastity and independence, she never married and was closely identified with her brother Apollo.

Deacon Phoebe

The fact that Saint Paul commended the Biblical Phoebe infers that Phoebe is an independent woman who has some wealth and is also one of the leaders of the Corinthian house churches in the harbor town of Cenchreae. Romans 16.1-2 reads, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me." We note that a "deacon" is a "servant" or "Christian designated to serve with the overseers/elders of the church in a variety of ways."✞

Cenchreae House

Since Cenchreae is only seven miles from Corinth, the Cenchreae churches were probably considered part of the Corinthian church group. "The church of God that is in Corinth" is described in 1 Corinthians 1.2 "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."

Ethnic Social Economic

The "whole church" mentioned in Romans 16.23 consisted of several local Corinthian household churches, each one somewhat different in its ethnic, social and economic mix of people. Saint Paul's reference in the same passage to "the church of God in Corinth" and to the believers coming together "as a church," in 1 Corinthians 11.18 which reads, "In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it." There was also another implication in Romans 16.23 where Saint Paul writes, "Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings." Gaius was probably hosting the entire group of Corinthian household churches, which suggests that there were occasions in Corinth when all the believers assembled.

Church Fragmentation

This thesis helps to explain some of the fragmentation in the Corinthian household churches concerning church leadership, worship, morality, and social status. Certain sections of Saint Paul's correspondence to the Corinthian house churches were probably sent to specific churches that were encountering particular problems. In time, these letters were shared with other churches in the city and read at their worship services before they were collected and edited into their current format as the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Corinthians.✞

Titius Justus

Eucharist WafersChristians met and worshipped at Corinthian church households described by Saint Paul in his letters and by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. Corinth is a city-state on the narrow strip of land that connects to the Greece mainland. It is between Athens and Sparta. Doctor Luke mentions a number of Corinthian church households in his Acts of the Apostles including that of Titius Justus or possibly "Titus Justus," whose name seems to indicate that he was a Roman by birth, a "worshiper of God," and a Gentile sympathizer to Judaism in Corinth whose house was next to the synagogue. In Acts 18.7 Saint Luke also writes, "then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God."

Evicted

Titius Justus had possibly been evicted from the synagogue and established a household of faith in his home. This meeting of Saint Paul with Titius Justus enable Saint Paul to reach the upper class of society. Crispus was an official of the synagogue and also held meetings in his home. The conversion and baptism of these individuals, including "the household of Crispus," indicated that there was a sizeable group of believers in Corinth during Paul's eighteen-month ministry. There was also the mention of Crispus baptism in 1 Corinthians 1.14. Saint Paul wrote, "I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius." There were also many other households of faith in Corinth according to Acts 18.7-11. No doubt the homes of Titius Justus and Crispus were utilized for church gatherings "teaching the word of God among them."

Household of Stephanas

Saint Paul also referred to the baptism of "the household of Stephanas" in 1 Corinthians 1.16 as one of the first converts in Achaia. In 1 Corinthians 16.15a, he wrote, "You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord's people." The fact that Stephanas was commended so highly by Paul for his devoted service to the saints leads us to suppose that he, too, may have hosted and led one of the Corinthian House Churches.

Church Leaders

Aegean SeaCorinthian House Churches were described widely in Saint Paul's writings as the basic Church unit of the new Faith in that place. There is an interesting reference in 1 Corinthians 1.11-17 to "Chloe's people." It reads, "My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas [that is "Peter"]'; still another, 'I follow Christ.'"

Chloe's Household

"Chloe's household" is sometimes also translated as "Chloe's people" and was a group of individuals who journeyed across the Aegean Sea from Corinth to Ephesus with the disturbing report about factions within the Corinthian church. Chloe's "people" may be a pseudonym for Chloe's household, which would have included members of her family and employees. Professor Gordon Fee (1934- present) the American-Canadian theologian, suggests that Chloe "was a wealthy Asian woman whose business interests caused her agents to travel between Ephesus and Corinth. If true, her economic means and concern for the church suggest that she also may have had a significant role in one of the house churches."

Gaius's Baptism

House Church LeaderSaint Paul names Gaius as one of three individuals he commends in the closing chapter of Romans, which he writes from Corinth. This explicit reference to Gaius in 1 Corinthians 1.14 on his baptism by Paul, "who is host to me and the whole church" leaves little doubt in Romans 16.23 that he too is another benefactor of the church. Paul also sends greetings from Erastus, whom he describes as "the city treasurer," and another brother, Quartus in Romans 16.23. While Erastus may not be one of Paul's fellow workers, his position gives him a higher social rank and economic status than most people, perhaps enough to make him another patron of a house church.

"Corinthian House Churches"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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