An earthquake destroyed old Corinth in 1858. The new city was rebuilt three and one-half miles to the northeast on the coast. It is one and one-half miles west of the Corinthian Canal, and 50 miles west of Athens. With the moving of the modern city, archaeologists have been free to excavate the ancient site since 1886.

After Rome destroyed Corinth in 146 B.C. 34 the city lay in ruins until it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. It was largely populated with freedmen–former slaves called libertini. Some of these may have descended from the people who were captured when Corinth was destroyed by the Romans 100 years earlier. Augustus made Corinth the capital of Achaia, which became the Roman province of Achaia in 27 B.C.

In Paul’s day, Corinth was the largest and most influential city in southern Greece.36 If Athens was the intellectual center of Greece, Corinth was its undisputed commercial center. The city’s magnificent buildings stretched across the four mile wide isthmus between central Greece and the Peloponnesus. The city’s quick rise to preeminence among the cities of Greece is attributed to its location on the north-south land route connecting central and southern Greece, and because it was centrally located on the east-west sea route between Italy and Asia Minor.

By the 1st century A.D., Corinth was an international center of trade and entertainment. Strabo, who visited Corinth in 44 B.C., had this to say after his second visit in 29 B.C.: 

  • [Corinth] is called ‘wealthy’ because of its commerce, since it is situated on the Isthmus and is master of two harbors, of which the one [Cenchreae; Acts 18:18; Rom. 16:1] leads straight to Asia, and the other [Lechaion] to Italy; and it makes easy the exchange of merchandise”

Corinth’s financial prosperity was the result of business activities, athletic games, the skills and quality of its statesmen and craftsmen, and immorality. The Temple of Aphrodite “owned more than a thousand temple-slaves, [prostitutes], whom both men and women had dedicated to the goddess.” It was because of these women, according to Strabo, that “the city was crowded with people and grew rich”

Cultic prostitution that brought wealth to a few contributed much to the corruption of Corinthian society. “It is no wonder,” wrote Pfeiffer and Vos, “that Paul had so much to say about the sacredness of the body in his first Corinthian letter.”40 The things that carried Corinth to the pinnacle of greatness also took it to the depths of depravity because the people chose evil instead of good. Paul warned:

  • Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are. (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

Because of its close connection to the sea, with ports to the east and to the west, the population of Corinth consisted largely of sailors, merchants, adventurers, and refugees, which included retired and discharged veterans. Many of these by their behavior helped undermine the stability that is characteristic of family oriented societies, and no doubt contributed to the rampant corruption described by Strabo. City life centered on the temples, athletics (including gladiatorial contests), trade, and economic growth. The Christians of Paul’s day considered Corinth a wicked city.

The Pan Hellenic games of Greece were held in four cities: Isthmia, Olympia, Delphi, and Nemea. Then, as now, all four cities prospered from the revenues produced by such games. Isthmia was less than 10 miles east of ancient Corinth. Paul passed this way as he travel toward Corinth on the road from Lechaion, which led directly to the center of town.

Large crowds attended the games that were probably held the year after Paul arrived in Corinth. The games may have been one reason he chose to come to Corinth when he did.

The games began with a sacrifice to Poseidon and included competitions in both athletic and musical events. Those who tend to romanticize Greek athletic events little realize how corrupt they had become in Paul’s day. Paul used the games to emphasize the need for self-control to win the eternal prize:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to received a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Cor. 9:24-25)

Paul chose Corinth as the center of his missionary activity because of its central location and because it had a large Jewish population. The Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in 49 B.C. Of these, some settled in Corinth. After Paul arrived in the city “he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, lately come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Cladius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, “and they worked, for by trade they were tentmakers” (Acts 18:2-3).

Paul turned to tent making because he had probably exhausted his funds by the time he reached Corinth. It wasn’t until Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia with money that Paul was able to give up secular employment and return to preaching, “testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:5).

The synagogue in which Paul preached is thought to be located east of the Lechaion Road and north of the agora (marketplace), near marble steps leading to the agora. In 1898, a large block of stone was discovered with the words “Synagogue of the Hebrews.” Archaeologists have identified the stone as the lintel of a synagogue, which dates to a later period than Paul. The synagogue of Paul’s day was possibly located under this one. Paul “argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks,” preaching and testifying that “Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:4-5).

One who believed Paul’s message was named Erastus, identified in Romans as “the city treasurer” (Rom. 16:23). An inscription from the excavations of Corinth concerns a man named Erastus, a Roman aedile (public official) of Corinth who laid a pavement “at his own expense.”46

The inscription was found in an area of stone pavement near the northeast corner of the theater. An aedile was in charge of city properties such as streets, public buildings, and the marketplace. The Erastus of the inscription was possibly the same person mentioned in the New Testament (see Acts 19:22, Rom. 16:23, and 2 Tim. 4:20). The reasons are: the pavement was laid about A.D. 50; Erastus is not a common name (it is not known from other sources): and the Greek word used by Paul translated “treasurer” in RSV accurately describes the work of a Roman aedile.

As in Thessalonica, unbelieving Jews inveighed against Paul and his Christian message, accusing him before Gallio of breaking the law. He was arraigned in the agora of Corinth, while standing on a platform called the bema(common name) or rostra (official name). But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack upon Paul and brought him before the 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 wrong doing or vicious crime, I should have reason to bear with you, O Jews; 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. And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to this. (Acts 18:12-17)

The bema where Paul probably stood was discovered in 1935, and was the “Corinthian version of the Imperial Rostra at Rome” (see McRay, pp. 333-334). It was originally covered with marble, and stood in the center of about 30 shops.

Excavations have confirmed Strabo’s comment that a wall surrounded the city except where it was protected by the Acropolis. The wall extended for about six miles around the city.

The agora was in the north central part of town. It was built on the north side of the acropolis about 400 feet above sea level. The acropolis rose 1,886 feet above sea level, or 1500 feet above the city. On a clear day, it is possible to see the acropolis of Athens from the acropolis of Corinth. The road to Cenchreae (seaport six and one-half miles southeast of Corinth) led from the southern edge of the agora.

Above the agora to the northwest was the Temple of Apollo. It measured 174 feet by 69 feet. Seven of the original 38 columns still stand. They are 24 feet tall and six feet in diameter. These fluted Doric columns were more impressive than many in Greece because they were made of single blocks of stone instead of being built up with drums of stone. Built in 600 B.C., the temple somehow survived the events of 146 B.C., when Rome destroyed the city.

Bible Study (Corinth)

Acts 18:1-6. From Athens, Paul came to Corinth (second missionary journey) and stayed 18 months (v11). He founded a church in Corinth as he preached the gospel to Jews and Gentiles. The time of Paul’s missionary service in Corinth has been dated by an inscription found at nearby Delphi, showing that Gallio came to Corinth as proconsul in A.D. 51 or 52.
Acts 18:2-3. Paul became acquainted with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth, with whom he stayed and even made tents (“he was of the same trade”). Paul later took them with him to Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla came to Corinth “because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.”
Acts 18:7-8. Paul stayed with Justus, whose house was next to the synagogue. The chief ruler of the synagogue, named Crispus, and his household believed the preaching of Paul and were converted. Many other Corinthians heard Paul, believed, and were baptized.
Acts 18:9-11. The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, commending him for his service. Paul was to continue preaching for the Lord had “much people” in Corinth. Paul continued in Corinth for 18 months.
Acts 18:12-17. Angry Jews brought Paul to the judgment seat (bema) to be arraigned before Gallio. Since it was not a matter of “wrongdoing” the proconsul left judgment to the Jews, saying “I refuse to be a judge of these things.”
Acts 18:18-21. Paul left Corinth with Aquila and Priscilla, whom he left in Ephesus to carry on the work while he went on to Jerusalem.
Acts 17:15, 18:1-5, 1 Thess. 1:1. Paul apparently wrote 1 Thessalonians from Corinth.
1 Cor. 1:14-16. Paul personally baptized Crispus and Gaius and the household of Stephanas.
Acts 18:24-28; 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:3-10. Apollos was a disciple who followed Paul and had significant influence on the Church in Achaia.
1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Cor. 7:13-15. Paul sent Titus and Timothy to Corinth to remind the people of the things they had received from the apostle, from which they received no little comfort.
1 Cor. 10:25. An excavation uncovered in one of the ancient shops of Corinth the inscription, “Lucius the butcher.” Another inscription calls theshop a macellum, or meat market (specifically, a place where food was prepared). Paul refers to a meat market in this verse.

Acts 18:1-21
1: After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; 
2: And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. 
3: And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers. 
4: And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. 
5: And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. 
6: And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles. 
7: And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man's house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue. 
8: And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized. 
9: Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: 
10: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. 
11: And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. 
12: And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat, 
13: Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law. 
14: And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you: 
15: But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters. 
16: And he drave them from the judgment seat. 
17: Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things. 
18: And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow. 
19: And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. 
20: When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; 
21: But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.