We noted in our last study that the Corinthian church, at the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, was experiencing strife related to the misuse of spiritual gifts (see 1 Cor. 12–14). However, other issues were causing trouble among the Corinthian believers as well. As we see in today’s passage, the Christians in Corinth were separating into different factions.
Paul reports in 1 Corinthians 1:11 that some of “Chloe’s people” told him about quarreling in Corinth. These arguments were causing some to separate into different groups, each of which claimed to follow a particular individual (v. 12). Many commentators believe that Chloe was a Christian businesswoman, and her people were probably employees of hers who belonged to the Corinthian church or had met the Corinthian believers in the course of their work. In any case, the disturbance in Corinth was so profound that it motivated Chloe’s people to bring news of the arguments to Paul in Ephesus, where he was living and working when he wrote 1 Corinthians.
What was the nature of the factionalism at Corinth? It probably was not related to differences in foundational doctrine. Paul does not condemn any of the groups listed for the content of their teaching, and Paul was never afraid to condemn any teaching that denied the gospel (Gal. 1:8–9). Instead, it seems that different Christians in Corinth were using their association with particular teachers to try to assert power in the church. We should be clear, however, that this does not mean the named teachers approved of this.
In practice, the factionalism may have looked something like this: The first converts in Corinth might have said, “I follow Paul,” to claim a right to a greater position in the church because they were converted under the ministry of their church’s planter (Acts 18:1–8). Others, possibly because they prized eloquence of speech above all else, may have replied, “I follow Apollos,” and demanded that only the best speakers should lead the church (vv. 24–28). Maybe the individuals who professed, “I follow Cephas [Peter],” had a close personal connection to Peter and believed they should have authority because they knew one of the original twelve disciples (Matt. 10:2). Those who said, “I follow Christ,” might have been individuals who thought they were above the fray altogether, like those today who say, “No creed but Christ,” to argue that they follow no particular church tradition.