1 Corinthians 3
Pulpit Commentary
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
Verses 1-4. - The carnal conceit of the spiritually immature. Verse 1. - I... could not speak unto you as unto spiritual. Though softened by the word brethren, there was a crushing irony of reproof in these words: "You thought yourselves quite above the need of my simple teaching. You were looking down on me from the whole height of your inferiority. The elementary character of my doctrine was after all the necessary consequence of your own incapacity for anything more profound." As unto carnal. The true reading here is sarkinois, fleshen, not sarkikois, fleshly, or carnal; the later and severer word is perhaps first used in ver. 3. The word sarkinos (earneus), fleshen, implies earthliness and weakness and the absence of spirituality; but sarki-kos (carnalis) involves the dominance of the lower nature and antagonism to the spiritual. As mite babes in Christ. The word "babes" has a good and a bad sense. In its good sense it implies humility and teachableness, as in 1 Corinthians 14:20, "In malice be ye babes;" and in 1 Peter 2:2, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word;" and in Matthew 11:25. Here it is used in its bad sense of spiritual childishness.
I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
Verse 2. - I fed you with milk. The metaphor is expanded in Hebrews 5:13, "Every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the Word of righteousness; for he is a babe." The same metaphor is found in Philo; and the young pupils of the rabbis were called "sucklings" (תינוקות) and "little ones" (camp. Matthew 10:42). Not with meat; not with solid food, which is for full grown or spiritually perfect men (Hebrews 5:14). For hitherto; rather, for ye were not yet - when I preached to you - able to bear it. The same phrase is used by our Lord in John 16:12, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now;" and he taught them in parables, "as they were able to bear it" (Mark 4:33). Not even now are ye able. Though you imagine that you have advanced so far beyond my simpler teaching.
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
Verse 3. - For ye are yet carnal. This is the reason for the spiritual dulness which your pride prevents you from recognizing. Envying, and strife, and divisions. The two latter words are omitted in some of the best manuscripts, and may have been added from Galatians 5:20. Partisanship and discord, the sins of the Corinthians - sins which have disgraced so many ages of Church history - are works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19), and involve many other sins (James 3:16), and are therefore sure proofs of the carnal mind, though they are usually accompanied by a boast of superior spiritual enlightenment. As men; that is, "as men, not as Christians." To walk as a mere ordinary human being is not to "walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25); comp.," I speak as a man" (Romans 3:5).
For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
Verse 4. - For when one saith, I am of Paul. This is a proof that there were jealousies and partisanships among them. We again notice the generous courage of St. Paul in rebuking first those adherents who turned his own name into a party watchword. Are ye not carnal? The true reading is, "Are ye not men?" (א, A, B, C, and so the Revised Version); i.e. Are ye not swayed by mere human passions? The Spirit which you received at baptism ought to have lifted you above these mean rivalries. You ought to be something more than mere men. Religious partisanship is, in the eye of St. Paul, simply irreligious. He sets down party controversies as a distinct proof of carnality. Those who indulge in it are men devoid of the spiritual element.
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
Verses 5-15. - The one foundation and the diverse superstructure. Verse 5. - Who then is Paul? The better reading is what? (א, A, B). The neuter would imply a still greater depreciation of the importance of human ministers. Ministers. The same word as that rendered "deacons" (diakonoi); "ministers of Christ on your behalf" (Colossians 1:7). Through whom ye believed. Through whom," not "in whom" (Bengel). They were merely the instruments of your conversion. In the second Epistle (2 Corinthians 3:3) he calls them "the epistle of Christ ministered by us written... with the Spirit of the living God." As the Lord gave to him. The gifts differ according to the grace given (Romans 12:6).
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
Verse 6. - I planted. St. Paul everywhere recognized that his gift lay pre eminently in the ability to found Churches (comp. Acts 18:1-11; 1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:1). Apollos watered. If, as is now generally believed, Apollos wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, we see how striking was his power of strengthening the faith of wavering Churches. Eloquence and a deep insight into the meaning of Scripture, enriched by Alexandrian culture, seem to have been his special endowments (Acts 18:24, 27). The reference of the word "watered" to baptism by Augustine (Ep. 48) is one of the numberless instances of Scripture distorted by ecclesiasticism. God gave the increase (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5). The thought of every true teacher always is, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name give the praise" (Psalm 115:1).
So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
Verse 7. - Anything. The planter and the waterer are nothing by comparison. They could do nothing without Christ's aid (John 15:16), and were nothing in themselves (2 Corinthians 12:11). But God that giveth the increase. The human instruments are nothing, but God is everything, because, apart from him, no result would follow.
Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
Verse 8. - Are one; literally, one thing. God is the sole Agent; the teachers, so far from being able to pose as rival leaders, form but one instrument in God's hand. Their relative differences shrink into insignificance when the source and objects of their ministry are considered. His own reward... his own labour. In the lower individual sphere the work of teachers shall be fairly estimated and rewarded as in the parable of the pounds and talents (comp. John 4:36; Revelation 22:12).
For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.
Verse 9. - God's fellow workers. Throughout the Bible we are taught that God requires the work of man, and that he will not help those who will do nothing for themselves or for him. The world was to be evangelized, not by sudden miracle, but by faithful human labour (Mark 16:20). God's husbandry; rather. God's field, or tilled land. The thought which he desires again and again to enforce is that they belong to God, not to the parties of human teachers. The word" husbandry" may also mean vineyard, and the metaphor is the same as in Isaiah 5:1; Isaiah 27:2; John 15:1; Matthew 13:3-30; Luke 13:6-9; Romans 11:16-24. God's building. This is one of St. Paul's favourite metaphors, as in vers. 16, 17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:20 - 22; Romans 15:20; 2 Timothy 2:19 (comp. 1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 21:14).
According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
Verse 10. - According to the grace of God which is given unto me; rather, which was given. Here, again, we have St. Paul's baptismal aorist - his habit of regarding his whole spiritual life as potentially summed up in the one crisis of conversion and baptism. This phrase is a favourite one with him (1 Corinthians 15:10; Romans 15:15; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:2). As a wise master builder. "Wise" only in the sense of subordinating every pretence of human wisdom to the will of God; and here the adjective only applies to the wisdom required by a builder. In other words, "wise" is here equivalent to "skilful." Since Paul had received the grace of God for this very purpose, he was made "wise" by the knowledge of Christ (for the metaphor of building, see Matthew 7:24; Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:21; 1 Peter 2:5). The foundation; rather, a foundation. Though in truth there is but one foundation, as he proceeds to say, St. Paul always refused to build on the foundation laid by another (Romans 15:20). Another. Perhaps the special allusion is to Apollos.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Verse 11. - Other foundation can no man lay. Any "other" gospel is not merely "another," but "a different" gospel (Galatians 1:9). That which is laid; rather, that is lying (comp. 1 Peter 2:6). It has not been placed there (τεθέντα) by any human bands, but lies there by the eternal will. Which is Jesus Christ. "The doctrine of Jesus Christ is the foundation of all theology; his person of all life." This is again and again inculcated in Scripture: Isaiah 28:16, "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation." On this rock the Church is built (Matthew 16:18: Acts 4:11, 12; Ephesians 2:20).
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
Verse 12. - Gold, silver. Perhaps St. Paul thought for a moment of the gorgeous metals . rod rich marbles used in the Corinthian temples, as well as in the temple at Jerusalem. But it is surely fantastic to suggest that his reference is an historical reminiscence of the melting of gold and silver in the burning of Corinth by Mummius, nearly two hundred years before. Costly stones; i.e. costly marble from Paros, Phrygia, etc. Wood, hay, stubble. These words seem to symbolize erroneous or imperfect doctrines, which would not stand the test, and which led to evil practices. Such were the" philosophy and vain deceit," "the weak and beggarly dements," "the rudiments of the world," of which he speaks in Galatians 4:9; Colossians 2:8. So in the Midrash Tehillin, the words of false teachers are compared to hay. The doctrines to which he alludes are not and christian, but imperfect and human - such, for instance, as, "Humanas constitutiunculas de cultu, de victo, de frigidis ceremoniis" (Erasmus).
Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
Verse 13. - Each man's work shall be made manifest. The real nature - the worth or worthlessness - of each man's work, will be made clear sooner or later. The day shall declare it. "The day" can only mean "the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:8), which would specially "make manifest the counsels of the hearts" (1 Corinthians 4:5), and "judge the secrets of men" (Romans 2:16), and make all men manifest "before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:10). It shall be revealed by fire; rather, because it is being revealed in fire. The phrase "is being" is called bad English, but some such phrase is positively needed to render the continuous present tense, which here expresses certainty, natural sequence, perpetual imminence. This tense is constantly used to express the continuity and the present working of Divine laws (comp. Matthew 3:10). As the nominative is not expressed, it is uncertain whether "it" refers to "each man's work" or to" the day." Either gives an apposite sense (Malachi 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). Some would make "he" (namely, Christ) the nominative, because "the day" means "the day of Christ;" and in favour of this view they quote 2 Thessalonians 1:7, "The revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven in flaming fire." But the ellipse of an unexpressed nominative is harsh. The fire itself shall prove each man's work. This is the "probatory" or testing fire of the day of the Lord, of which we read very frequently in the Fathers. The doctrine of purgatory has been in some measure founded on this verse (Council of Florence, A.D. 1439); but such a view of it cannot be maintained. The reader will find the subject examined and the quotations from the Fathers given in the writer's 'Mercy and Judgment,' p. 69. All that is said here is that the fire of Christ's presence - the consuming fire of God's love - shall test the work, not purge it. The fire is probatory, not purgatorial, and it is not in itself a fife of wrath, for it tests the gold and silver as well as the inferior elements of the structure. It is the fire of the refiner, not of the avenger.
If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
Verse 14. - If any man's work shall abide. St. Paul is speaking primarily of teachers, though, of course, his words apply by analogy to all believers. He shall receive a reward. One of the teacher's rewards will be his converts (1 Thessalonians 2:19), who will be "his joy and crown of glorying" (Philippians 2:16); another will be "a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 5:2, 4; Daniel 12:3); yet another will be fresh opportunities for higher labour (Matthew 25:23).
If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Verse 15. - He shall suffer loss. He shall not receive the full reward to which he might otherwise look (2 John 1:8). He himself shall be saved. It is an inexpressible source of comfort to us, amid the weakness and ignorance of our lives, to know that if we have only erred through human frailty and feebleness, while yet we desired to be sincere and faithful, the work will be burnt, yet the workman will be saved. Some of the Fathers gave to this beautiful verse the shockingly perverted meaning that "the workman would be preserved alive for endless torments," "salted with fire" in order to endure interminable agonies. The meaning is impossible, for it reverses the sense of the word "saved;" and makes it equivalent to "damned;" but the interpretation is an awful proof of the distortions to which a merciless human rigorism and a hard, self styled orthodoxy have sometimes subjected the Word of God. Yet so as by fire; rather, through or by means of fire (διὰ πυρός). We may be, as it were, "snatched as a brand from the burning" (Zechariah 3:2; Amos 4:11; Jude 1:23), and "scarcely" saved (1 Peter 4:18). Similarly it is said in 1 Peter 3:20 that Noah was saved "through water" (δι ὕδατος). The ship is lost, the sailor saved; the workman is saved, the work is burned.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
Verses 16-23. - The peril and folly of glorying in men. Verse 16. - Know ye not. The phrase is used by St. Paul in this Epistle to emphasize important truths, as in 1 Corinthians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 6:2,.9, 15; 9:13, 24. Out of this Epistle it only occurs in Romans 6:16; Romans 11:2. That ye are the temple of God. "Ye," both collectively (Ephesians 2:21) and individually; "God's shrine;" not built for men's glory. The word "temple" in the Old Testament always means the material temple; in the Gospels our Lord "spake of the temple of his body;" in the rest of the New Testament the body of every baptized Christian is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:16), because "God dwelleth in him" (1 John 4:16; comp. John 14:23). In another aspect Christians can be regarded as "living stones in one spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:5). The temple; rather, the shrine (uses) wherein God dwells (naiei), and which is the holiest part of the temple (hieron).
If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
Verse 17. - If any man defile the temple of God. The verb is the same as in the next clause, and should be rendered, If any man destroy the temple of God; but the word is perhaps too strong, and the word "mar" or "injure" might better convey the meaning (Olshausen). The two verbs are brought into vivid juxtaposition in the original: "God shall ruin the ruiner of his temple." St. Paul was, perhaps, thinking of the penalty of death attached to any one who desecrated the temple of Jerusalem. Inscriptions on the chel, or "middle wall of partition," threatened death to any Gentile who set foot within the sacred enclosure." Which temple ye are; literally, the which are ye; i.e. ye are holy. St. Paul is here referring to the Church of Corinth, and to the false teachers who desecrated it by bringing in "factions of destruction" (2 Peter 2:1). Ideally the Church was glorious, "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Ephesians 5:27).
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
Verse 18. - Let no man deceive himself. Like the other formula, "Be not deceived" (1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Galatians 6:7); "Deceive not yourselves" (Jeremiah 37:9); "Let no man deceive you" (Marl 24:4; Luke 21:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Ephesians 5:6; 1 John 3:7). We are so liable to self deception (1 John 1:8; Galatians 6:3), as well as to being deceived by others (2 Timothy 3:13), that there was need to repeat this warning incessantly. Seemeth to be wise; rather, thinketh that he is wise. He is referring specially to the Apollos party, who vaunted their esoteric knowledge, and so were "wise in their own eyes, prudent in their own conceits" (Isaiah 5:21).
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
Verse 19. - The wisdom of this world. Here the word for "world" is kosmos, in the last verse it was alert. Kosmos is the world regarded objectively; aion the world regarded in its moral and intellectual aspect. He that taketh the wise in their craftiness. This is one of the few references to the Book of Job in the New Testament. It comes from the speech of Eliphaz in Job 5:13, but St. Paul substitutes the words "clutching" (drassomenos) and "craftiness" (panourgia) for the milder katalabon and phronesei of the LXX.
And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
Verse 20. - The Lord knoweth, etc. A quotation from Psalm 94:11. St. Paul substitutes "the wise" for the "men" of the original, because the psalmist is referring to perverse despisers of God. Dialogismoi is rather "reasonings" than "thoughts." It is used in a disparaging sense, as in Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:17.
Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
Verse 21. - Wherefore. St. Paul, with this word, concludes the argument of warning of the previous section, as in 1 Corinthians 3:7; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 8:38; 11:33; 14:39; 15:58 (Wordsworth). All things are yours. It is always a tendency of Christians to underrate the grandeur of their privileges by exaggerating their supposed monopoly of some of them, while many equally rich advantages are at their disposal. Instead of becoming partisans of special teachers, and champions of separate doctrines, they might enjoy all that was good in the doctrine of all teachers, whether they were prophets, or pastors, or evangelists (Ephesians 4:11, 12). The true God gives us all things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).
Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;
Verse 22. - Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas. All were their servants for Jesus' sake (2 Corinthians 4:5). Instead of becoming partisans of either, they could enjoy the greatness of all. Or the world. The sudden leap from Cephas to the world shows, as Bengel says, the impetuous leap of thought. There is a passage of similar eloquence in Romans 8:38, 39. The "hundredfold" is promised even in this world (Mark 10:29, 30). Or life. Because life in Christ is the only real life, and Christ came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (see Romans 8:38). Or death. To the Christian, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). So that death is no more than

"The lifting of a latch;
Nought but a step into the open air
Out of a tent already luminous
With light which shines through its transparent folds."
Or things present, or things to come. "He that overcometh shall inherit all things" (Revelation 21:7), because Christ has received all things from the Father.
And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's.
Verse 23. - And ye are Christ's (see 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Corinthians 15:23; Romans 14:8; Galatians 3:29). Christians possess because they are possessed by Christ (Meyer). Christ is our Master, and God our Father (Matthew 23:10). And Christ is God's; because "Christ is equal to the Father as touching his Godhead, but inferior to the Father as touching his manhood." Hence in 1 Corinthians 11:3 he says, "The head of Christ is God;" and in 1 Corinthians 15:28, we read of Christ resigning his mediatorial kingdom, that God may be all in all. Perhaps St. Paul implies the thought that Christ belongs, not to a party, but to God, the Father of us all. But the ultimate climax from Christ to God is found also in 1 Corinthians 4:1: Romans 15:5, etc.

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