Who wrote 1 Corinthians?

December 3, 2011

1 Corinthians was written by Paul. Recently I wrote about 1 Corinthians 15, and regular commenter and all around good guy, Mr Z, asked me why I thought 1 Corinthians was written by Paul. I am no Bible expert, but after going to have a look, here are some of my reasons:

The text says it was written by Paul

The letter begins by identifying the authors as Paul and Sosthenes. 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 says,

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 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: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The book ends, again identifying the author as Paul. 1 Corinthians 16:21 says,

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.

Paul refers to himself in the letter

Paul talks about himself, and what he did in Corinth in the letter. For example, 1 Corinthians 3:4-6 says,

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

There is a very similar passage in 1 Corinthians 1:12-13.

Acts 18 says Paul helped found the church in Corinth

Acts 18 describes Paul going to Corinth,

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he 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, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

The whole chapter is worth a read.

Early authors say it was written by Paul

Clement of Rome also wrote a letter to Corinth, in around 96 AD, which we can still read today. This is the first authentic Christian writing we have outside the New Testamant. In it, he refers to Paul’s earlier letters. In chapter 47 he says,

Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties had been formed among you.

It is not only Clement who suggests it was written by Paul, but also many other early writers.

Another example is the Muratorian fragment which I wrote about the other day. It says,

As for the Epistles of Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent. First of all, to the Corinthians, prohibiting their heretical schisms; next, to the Galatians, against circumcision; then to the Romans he wrote at length, explaining the order (or, plan) of the Scriptures, and also that Christ is their principle (or, main theme).

According to Bible.org, Paul’s writings are also referenced by Clement of Rome, Polycarp, The Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Eusebius, Jerome and Augustine.

It is similar to other writings by Paul

1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans and Philemon all have a very similar style so its seems natural that they also had the same author.

Most places I found say that all the experts say 1 Corinthians was written by Paul, and that the authorship is virtually undisputed. If there’s any reason to think he didn’t write it, I’d be happy to hear it.

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8 Responses to “Who wrote 1 Corinthians?”


  1. Chucky, My point wasn’t that he is not credited with writing Corinthians, but that you cannot be certain what historical figure wrote it. The author was an emotional writer whose writings conflict in non-trivial ways with other writers in the NT. Even some of his work seems to have been amended over time… by unknown authors.

    Further, I demonstrated how in 20 years time the truth of a matter can be completely lost. So the closeness of the dating here to Christ’s death does not accurately imply that Paul knew what really happened.

    An omnipotent being who wants his message clearly communicated could well have picked someone before Paul (maybe an eye witness) to do the writing. Instead we have Paul, a convert, writing how he believes the church should act. Ever notice when a smoker quits they often become overly intolerant of smokers? Not really surprising that such a turn around would happen to a human. Even the accounts of Paul’s conversion are disputed. How would it be that there are conflicting accounts if he was there writing about it?

    Where are the letters saying that so and so met with Paul, and this is what Paul said? Where are the first person accounts of Paul? Just as there are no first person accounts of Jesus, there are none of Paul. Who was Paul? Well, we have only the letters to tell us. Letters written with an agenda.

    Clearly, communication in the world at that time was not what we would want it to be. Paul is credited with most of Corinthians by biblical scholars. Who really wrote it? No one knows. All that can be said is that it was written by the same person(s) who are credited with the other writings which are credited to Paul.

  2. Chucky Says:

    Hi atheistlife/Mr Z,

    Is that your blog? We could get a bit of discussion going between us if you like.

    > My point wasn’t that he is not credited with writing Corinthians, but that you cannot be certain what historical figure wrote it.

    It was Paul. There’s no reason to doubt it, and many reasons to think that it was Paul.

    Of course, you are free not to believe whatever you like, but rejecting this just shows me that too much skepticism leads people reject what’s actually true.

    > Where are the letters saying that so and so met with Paul, and this is what Paul said?

    In Acts (in particular Acts 18). So, for example, it starts:

    > After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he 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, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks…

    As I said, the whole thing is worth reading.

    > Where are the first person accounts of Paul?

    Letters, surely, are first person accounts. Or do you mean of writings of people who knew Paul? Acts is written by Luke, and he writes about Paul in Corinth.

    > Further, I demonstrated how in 20 years time the truth of a matter can be completely lost.

    22 years ago, I was a kid in Vienna. The Hungarian border opened, and people came out of the East – they even came through our local station. I remember these events because they were dramatic. I was there. I saw them. You tell me that I and the hundreds of others who saw it are mistaken about what we saw and heard… I can only tell you what Paul writes in his letter. There’s hundreds of witnesses still alive, why not go ask them?

    As I say, you can feel free to ignore the witnesses who tell you about it. But I won’t follow you there. It would be unreasonable for me to dismiss the fall of the Berlin wall, because the witnesses are telling you something 20 years ago.


  3. Yep, wasn’t paying attention to where I was logged in. Mr Z is myatheistlife.

    Maybe I’m not being clear. Where (during Paul’s lifetime) are the writings or histories of others who met or observed Paul? Nothing is known of his life other than what he himself describes. With just his writings alone his story is told. Given this it’s not necessary that he had ever lived, only that his letters were written.

    Not all historians are willing to attribute to Paul all that he supposedly wrote. Seven are disputed. Paul was arguably the most bigoted and misogynistic writer of the NT.

    Just as it is not necessary for Jesus to have been real, it is not necessary for Paul to have been real. Yes that sounds conspiratorial, but remains true. The stories of both are all that would be needed for a group of people that ‘want’ to believe they existed.

    Hopefully you can see where I’m going with this. Where is the evidence that Paul existed? Evidence that is not contained wholly within the pages of the Christian bible and writings attributed to Paul?

    Being a citizen of Rome, there surely were others in the great empire that knew of Paul and his comings and goings. Where are there corroborative accounts? Why does Paul not record his activities during the time of Christ’s execution?

    There are many problems with the NT. These are only a few. His writings appear to be a mix of fact and fantasy. Just like a Dan Brown novel. Inspiring at face value but lack luster on investigation. I’m asking for the nitty gritty details of evidence, evidence which cannot be counted if it comes from writings which are attributed to Paul himself.

    I have/can show examples of how in less than one generation the facts of a matter can be obliterated and replaced by the desired ‘truth’ if some effort is made. The game ‘chinese whispers’ demonstrates how it can happen by accident. I’m only asking for actual evidence.

  4. Chucky Says:

    > Where (during Paul’s lifetime) are the writings or histories of others who met or observed Paul? Nothing is known of his life other than what he himself describes.

    I don’t understand why we’re having a hard time communicating. Luke was Paul’s companion. Luke writes about Paul in Acts. He talks about the same people.

    > Not all historians are willing to attribute to Paul all that he supposedly wrote. Seven are disputed.

    Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon are considered undisputed.

    > Evidence that is not contained wholly within the pages of the Christian bible and writings attributed to Paul?… Where are there corroborative accounts?

    There’s quite a few authors outside the Bible as well. I mentioned them in the blog post. One of them is Clement, who was writing from Rome. You don’t have to take my word for it, you can read it for yourself if you want.

    Who is it you expect to write about Paul who didn’t?

    > Why does Paul not record his activities during the time of Christ’s execution?

    Paul does talk about his history, for example, at the beginning of Galatians.

    > The game ‘chinese whispers’ demonstrates how it can happen by accident. I’m only asking for actual evidence.

    We have multiple copies of Paul’s letters. So if any one of them was changed later, we could tell because it would be different from the others.


  5. Chucky, why do you seem to like going around in circles. Clement did not know Paul. He does not provide a first hand account of Paul. Nobody provides a first hand account of Paul. That is my point. The contents of your bible does not count for this question of corroborative evidence.

    With Chinese whispers I was not referring to the letters attributed to Paul but rather to the actual information the author personally had. There is no guarantee that it was accurate.

    Yeah, the only history of Paul is provided in writings attributed to him. That does not count for this. Seriously, get with the program. I’m not asking what information does the bible provide about Paul, but what information do we have of Paul that is NOT from the bible or later writers referring to the writings attributed to Paul.

    Years from now some folk may refer to the stories that Dan Brown wrote. That won’t make Dan Brown’s character’s real people.

    Both the stories of Paul and Jesus are similar in that they are both supposedly miraculous individuals for which there is no (read zero) corroborative evidence outside the bible or from later writers referring to the stories which would be incorporated into the bible.

    They are mysterious individuals. Rumors of individuals. There is no lasting impression from them other than in the bible. The evidence is no different than had they been nothing more than stories to begin with. Show me some evidence that makes them seem more than just ancient Paul Bunyan stories. I don’t want scripture references or early Christian references to the writings attributed to Paul. Where is the evidence that he was a real person, and that the real Paul you have evidence for was the one who did the writing and spoke to a deity and went blind etc. Where is the evidence?

  6. Chucky Says:

    Hi Mr Z,

    > Clement did not know Paul. He does not provide a first hand account of Paul.

    Luke was my example of someone who provided a first hand account of Paul.

    Its not that important, but Clement may well have known Paul (it’s even possible that he’s the guy mentions in Philippians 4). Clement is an example of the second thing you asked for, someone in the Roman empire writing about Paul.

    > Paul but rather to the actual information the author personally had.

    Paul most writes about his own experience, and church discipline. But in 1 Corinthians 15 he says (the opposite to Chinese whispers), there’s many witnesses who people can ask..

    > Yeah, the only history of Paul is provided in writings attributed to him.

    I don’t understand why you say that. It’s not true. I’ve given you several examples which say exactly the opposite. Here’s another example I gave in the blog- Eusebius writing about Paul:

    http://www.fisheaters.com/eusebius.html

    Seriously, you’re rejecting the existence of a guy whose writings we have, whose work set of the early church in the Roman empire and for who we have numerous accounts both from within and outside the Bible. I guess from my point of view, this doesn’t make me doubt Paul existed. I’m more convinced that being too skeptical leads to rejecting what’s actually true..


  7. Chucky,
    Here is the problem I have. Even current day work with what is supposed to be Paul’s tomb in Rome does not prove it is Paul’s tomb. The artifacts there date to around 100 BCE at best. This is long enough after Paul’s ‘death’ that relic hunters within the church would have had reason to fake it, especially the Roman Church. There is no record of his execution, only people who write about the assumption of it due to the traditions, one being that his tomb was in Rome.

    Further, the critiques of the Pauline epistles often enough paints Paul as a wack-job. It is a lie to say that all biblical scholars accept that Paul wrote all of the works attributed to him. Likewise many accept that Paul wrote the rest because the writings state that Paul is writing them. Yes, there were reasons for someone to fake such letters. Sort of like faking a letter from King Arthur. Remember, at the time those persecuted by the Romans were in need of a Robin Hood. What better Robin Hood than a Roman persecutor who has been converted? It’s a perfect setup.

    The existence of a tomb labeled as Paul does not mean that it is actually Paul’s tomb. We need credible corroborative evidence. The tradition of Paul being buried in Rome does not date back to his lifetime. How many places claim to have John the baptist’s head or one of his bones?

    The critiques which paint him as crazy are better (more logically) explained if the writings were in fact written by several people (which seems to be the case) and so then we have to say that the existence of the writings themselves does not on it’s own prove that Paul existed, nor that he spoke with his god.

    This is problematic because without that the underpinnings of the Christian religion are basically lost, it has no foundation per se`. It certainly has fewer teeth. In fact, without the authenticity of Paul’s instruction to the Church the modern Christian church is doing things all wrong, or at least without the guidance of god’s self appointed apostle.

    What I’m saying is that what is called evidence for his existence is questionable, much of it is questionable in more ways than one. You do not seem to have any information which clears up the questions. You are willing to accept evidence which I find insufficient. All that you have offered are writings of people who lived at least 100 years after the death of Paul.

    We can move on to the next topic.


  8. Correction: I wrote BCE and I meant CE.


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