Geography is important to any city. By looking at the placement of houses, entertainment and work places, one can slowly piece together both the citizens’ character and philosophy. Temples and important public buildings not only dictated where people socialized but provided people with a way of life. For ancient Roman and Greek cities, temple location was important. For this reason, Paul worked in the cities because the city determined a person’s religious and philosophical beliefs.
When Paul arrived in the ancient city of Corinth, there were two dominant temples. The temple to Venus, goddess of love, stood at the top of a hill. At the bottom, closer to the sea, stood the temple to Apollo, god of power. Their placement was not accidental. The power of Apollo is backdropped by the ocean – the greatest, untamed power in the world. Venus’ temple is atop a hill because love draws a person upwards to the gods.
Walking through the city, Paul would have seen prostitutes worshiping Venus and city rulers worshiping Apollo. The city revolved around these pagan gods. They represented the ideas and morality with which the people defined their lives and beliefs. It would seem reasonable that Paul’s first order of business would be to destroy the temples that caused such sin.
However, Paul did not destroy these temples. In a city dominated by perverted desires for power and eroticism, Paul lived for eighteen months making tents to earn a day’s wages. He lived with the Corinthians and sought to reconcile them to God by demonstrating Christ’s power and love. He did not destroy their temples, but rather, used temples to show them Christ. Through their false gods, Paul directs them to the true God.
In 2 Corinthians 5:18, Paul wrote, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” The ministry of Christians, according to Paul, is to reconcile the world to God just as Christ reconciled us to God. That is, to put humanity back into proper relationship with God.
Instead of physically destroying the temple to Venus, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 13, one of the most famous odes to love. In that chapter, through positive description and exhortation, Paul pointed to the fulfilling love of Christ. He overcame the eroticism of the city, not by destroying their passion, but by correcting it.
Similarly, Paul shows that God demonstrates his power in human weakness. Throughout 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, Paul gave numerous examples that demonstrated his own frailness in comparison to the power of Christ. He said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” In direct opposition to the power of Apollo, Paul pointed to the power of Christ which demonstrates itself not in human power but human weakness.
The two temples still stand in Corinth today. Although they are ruins, their presence still emanates the sin they each represent. Eroticism still grips the world and the lust for power is no less prevalent. Our public places (television, sport centers, internet etc.) are driven by power and eroticism and, therefore, direct most people’s lives. By restoring what has been perverted and rebuilding what has been destroyed, the source of true joy—Christian desires—can be revealed.