Archaeology and the New Testament (IX)

By Mike Willis

Paul in Corinth

Larry Ray Haffley

When Paul arrived in Corinth, he had reached “the most advantageously located city in Greece” for his purpose of spreading the gospel throughout the world. Commerce drew men from all over the world, as also did the famous isthmian games.1 Archaeology has found several things in this city relative to the New Testament.

Luke said that Paul reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue for a while. That Jewish people were in large enough number to have a synagogue is amazing in so distant a place from Palestine. In excavations in 1898, a stone was uncovered which bore seven letters which, when restored, said “Synagogue of the Hebrews.” “The stone once formed the lintel of a door and bore an inscription in Greek letters . . . Other discoveries in the neighborhood indicate that this was a residence quarter of the city, and we learn from Acts 18:7 that the house of Titus Justus where apparently Paul organized the first church in Corinth, joined hard to the synagogue.” 2

Paul stayed in Corinth over a year. When Gallio became proconsul of Achaia, the Jews unsuccessfully tried to prosecute Paul before the judgment seat of this ruler. An inscription found at Delphi spoke of Gallio as proconsul of Achaia. 3 The inscription is dated 51-52 A.D., coinciding with Pauls period in Corinth. Even “his Judgment seat has been identified in the ruins of the ancient city…” 4

While at Corinth on his third journey, Paul wrote the letter to the church at Rome in which he said, “Erastus, the city-treasurer greets you.” 5 Earlier mention of a man named Erastus occurred in Acts 19:22 when Paul sent hi and Timothy ahead of him into Macedonia. Another reference to him in 2 Tim. 4:20 said, “Erastus remained in Corinth. . . .” “In the course of excavations at Corinth in 1929 Professor T. L. Shear found a pavement bearing the inscription . . . which in translation reads, Erastus, procurator and aedile, laid this pavement at his own expense. An article was later written in the Journal of Hellenic Studies by A. W. Woodward, who remarked, The evidence indicated that this pavement existed in the first century A.D. and it is most probable that the donor is identical with Erastus the friend of Paul who is mentioned in the Epistle to the Romans. . . . Most scholars today are agreed that there is no good reason why the man who prepared the pavement inscription should not be the same as Erastus the chamberlain.” 6

In the first letter which Paul sent back to the church at Corinth, he instructed them concerning their course of action in eating meats. He said, “Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience sake.” 7 The meat market in Corinth has also been located. Cadbury says, “Almost the only Latin word used by Paul in his Greek letters is the macellum, or meat market at Corinth. This word also is now found in some Latin inscriptions dug up there. The excavators have uncovered now the Roman market itself.” 8

In the same epistle written back to the church at Corinth, Paul must certainly have had in mind the Isthmian games when he compared the fight of faith” to their athletic competition. Here is that passage:

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we are imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” 9

It takes just a slight stretch of ones imagination to conjecture that perhaps the young preacher Timothy might have been so impressed by the sight of these games that lie might have become interested in competing at some future date to such an extent that lie became so overly involved in his exercise program that Paul had to write:

“On the other hand discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily exercise is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 10 Whatever the situation, it makes a good theory!


I . Oscar Broneer, “The Apostle Paul and the Isthmian Games,” The Biblical Archaeologist, Reader 2, ed. David Noel Freedman and Edward F. Campbell, Jr. (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1964), p. 395.

2. George A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1946), p. 264.

3. R. K. Harrison, Archaeology of the New Testament (New York: Association Press, 1964), p. 43.

4. Henry J. Cadbury, The Book of Acts in History (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1955), p. 44.

5. Rom. 16:23.

6. James A. Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), pp. 397-398.

7. 1 Cor. 10:25.

8. Op. Cit., Cadbury, p. 44.

9. 1 Cor. 9:24-27.

10. 1 Tim. 4:7.8.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 49, pp. 8-9
October 19, 1972