To Corinthianize or Not?
Even by the pagan standards of its own culture, Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity. To “corinthianize” came to represent gross immorality and drunken debauchery. In 6:9, 10, Paul lists some of the specific sins for which the city was noted and which formerly had characterized many believers in the church there. Tragically, some of the worst sins were still found among some church members. One of those sins, incest, was condemned even by most pagan Gentiles (5:1).
Many Bible students fail to realize that two different cities share the name Corinth. Even more confusing is the fact that both cities stand on the same location.
Corinth is located in Greece and was established as a Greek city. In 146 B.C. the city was destroyed by the Romans. Then, in 44 B.C. Julius Caesar ordered that Corinth be rebuilt as a Roman colony. In Conflict & Community in Corinth, Witherington notes,
This meant that the architecture of the city would take on a Roman look, that it would be ruled by a Roman form of government with Roman officials, and that the city would be colonized by Romans — chiefly some of Caesar’s veterans along with urban plebeians and freedmen and freedwomen from Rome itself and some Romanized Greeks.
With this in mind, it’s vital that Bible students distinguish between the customs of Greek Corinth and Roman Corinth.
According to Hays’ commentary on 1 Corinthians it was the older, Greek Corinth that had the greater reputation for sexual promiscuity. It is true that in the ancient world the term “corinthianize” meant “to fornicate”. However, this term was coined by the Greek comic playwright Aristophanes around 400 B.C.. This term also may have reflected the competition between Athens and Corinth rather than a reality that Corinth was significantly more promiscuous than other Greek cities.
You may have also heard that Athens was home to the temple of the god Aphrodite. This is true for both Greek and Roman Corinth. However, Strabo’s story of a thousand temple prostitutes in the temple of Aphrodite was firstly a reference to Greek Corinth and secondly has been discredited by other accounts.
None of this is to argue that prostitution and promiscuous sexuality were not part of Corinthian life in the time of Paul.
In the letters to the Corinthians, idolatry and sexual immorality both feature prominently in Paul’s concerns for the church there. They clearly were prominent elements of Corinthian culture. However, there is no evidence that the Roman Corinth that Paul knew was vastly more promiscuous than other sea ports and commercial centers of the day.
You can read more on this topic HERE.