Corinthian House Churches
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21. Corinthian House Churches

Saint Paul's Writings

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

Aquila and Priscilla

Aquila and PriscillaFirst, there is the home of Aquila and Priscilla. Saint Paul calls "Priscilla" by the shorter name "Prisca," a common Latin name, but Saint Luke prefers the more formal "Priscilla." They are wealthy Jewish converts to Christianity who settle 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 expels a large number of Jews from Rome. Saint Paul begins his stay in Corinth by living in the home of Aquila and Priscilla, where they carry out their trade like Saint Paul of tent making. Most likely, this is a type of street-level storefront home that doubles as a work/retail outlet and domestic residence common in those times.

Significant Worship Places

Saint PaulDuring Saint Paul's eighteen-month stay in Corinth according to Acts 18.11, he devotes himself to "teaching them the word of God." The house churches in Corinth must be significant places for proclaiming the gospel, teaching and gathering believers for worship. At the end of that time, Aquila and Priscilla move 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" imply that they return to Rome, probably after Emperor Claudius lifts his edict banning the Jews.

Deacon Phoebe

Ancient CorinthThe Corinthian house churches and those of Cenchreae are clearly described in Saint Paul's writings. Saint Paul commends 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 is photographed during the Cassini spacecraft mission in 2004. Moons of Saturn are originally named for Greco-Roman Titans and descendants of the Titans. But as new moons are discovered scientists begin 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 is the youthful goddess of Earth's Moon, forests, wild animals, and hunting. Sworn to chastity and independence, she never marries and is closely identified with her brother Apollo. 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" describes a "servant" or "Christian designated to serve with the overseers/elders of the church in a variety of ways." 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."

Church Fragmentation

The "whole church" mentioned in Romans 16.23 consists of several local Corinthian household churches, each one somewhat different in its ethnic, social and economic mix of people. Saint Paul refers 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, "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 is 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 is probably hosting the entire group of Corinthian household churches, which suggests that there are occasions in Corinth when all the believers assembled. 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 are probably sent to specific churches that are encountering particular problems. In time, these letters are shared with other churches in the city and read at their worship services before they are collected and edited into their current format as the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Corinthians.✞

Titius Justus

Eucharist WafersChristians meet and worship 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 a narrow strip of land that connects to the Greek mainland. It is between Athens and Sparta. Doctor Luke mentions several 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 is a Roman by birth, a "worshiper of God," and a Gentile sympathizer to Judaism in Corinth whose house is 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." Titius Justus is possibly evicted from the synagogue and establishes a household of faith in his home. This meeting of Saint Paul with Titius Justus enables Saint Paul to reach the upper class of society. Crispus is an official of the synagogue and also holds meetings in his home. The conversion and baptism of these individuals, including "the household of Crispus," indicates that there is a sizeable group of believers in Corinth during Paul's eighteen-month ministry. There is also the mention of Crispus baptism in 1 Corinthians 1.14. Saint Paul writes, "I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius." There are also many other households of faith in Corinth according to Acts 18.7-11. No doubt the homes of Titius Justus and Crispus are utilized for church gatherings "teaching the word of God among them." Saint Paul also refers 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 writes, "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 is 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.

Chloe's People

Aegean SeaCorinthian House Churches are 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" is sometimes also translated as "Chloe's people" and is a group of individuals who journey across the Aegean Sea from Corinth to Ephesus with the disturbing report about factions within the Corinthian church. Chloe's "people" may include members of her family and employees. Professor Gordon D. 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 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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