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Bible Commentaries

Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

1 Corinthians 3

 

 

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Verse 18

2. The nature of the gospel. 1:18-3:4.

The gospel in its essence is not a wisdom, a philosophical system; it is a salvation. It is this thesis, summarily formulated in the second part of 1 Corinthians 1:17, which the apostle proceeds to develop in the following passage. We have already pointed out, p. 86 , the close relation in which it stands to the question that is the subject of this part of the Epistle, that of the parties formed in the Church.

The thesis itself is treated from two points of view which complete one another: in a first passage, 1 Corinthians 1:18 to 1 Corinthians 2:5, the apostle demonstrates it directly; in the second, 1 Corinthians 2:6 to 1 Corinthians 3:4, he prudently limits its application. Undoubtedly the gospel is not essentially wisdom; but it nevertheless contains a wisdom which is unveiled to the believer in proportion as the new life is developed in him, and which is really the only true wisdom.


Verse 6

The gospel contains a Wisdom 2:6-3:4.

The apostle had already declared in passing, 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, that for Jews and Gentiles Christ crucified, received by faith, becomes not only the power of God, but also the wisdom of God. This is the thought which he develops in the passage, which forms in a sense the antithesis, and thereby the complement of the preceding. The first proposition of 1 Corinthians 2:6 states its theme, just as the second part of 1 Corinthians 1:17 contained the summary of the passage 1 Corinthians 1:18 to 1 Corinthians 2:5.


Verse 1-2

Vv. 1 , 2. "And I also, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. 2. I have fed you with milk, not with meat: for hitherto ye were not strong enough, and not even yet are ye."

The apostle, after rising to the height assigned him by the revelation which he has received, severely humbles the presumption of the Corinthians.

The κἀγώ (T. R. καὶ ἐγώ) surprises; it seems as if it should be, "But I," instead of, And I also. "This wisdom we have, but I could not declare it to you." Yet the And I also is easily explained. Paul does nothing more than apply to himself, in his relation to the Corinthians, what he has just said of the relation of the spiritual man to purely natural men. "And I also, as a spiritual man, judged and acted accordingly; comp. the κἀγώ absolutely parallel, 1 Corinthians 2:1.

The word ἀδελφοί, brethren, serves to soften this personal application. — The I could not is an implicit answer to the disdainful charge of his enemies: "He knew not." It was in themselves the obstacle was; his not being able was caused by theirs; comp. the "he cannot understand," in speaking of the natural man, 1 Corinthians 2:14.

Paul no longer uses here ψυχικός, the natural man, which would have been too strong. For he did not mean that the Corinthians were entirely destitute of the Divine breath; how could they have been in possession of the χαρίσματα (gifts), the presence of which he had recognised in them (1 Corinthians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 1:7)? Hence it is he uses the term carnal, which does not exclude the possession, to a certain degree, of the new life. The Spirit is there, but He has not yet taken a decided preponderance over the instincts of the flesh, the unregenerate nature. By these, indeed, must not be understood merely sensual inclinations. This is plain from 1 Corinthians 3:3. For what was there sensual in the divisions which were produced at Corinth? The word flesh, which denotes strictly the soft and sensitive parts of the body, denotes also by extension natural sensibility, quick, even purely moral receptivity, for agreeable or disagreeable impressions in general. Thus the man who prefers the intoxicating pleasures of speaking in tongues to the holy austerity of prophesying, or the noble simplicity of teaching, is in Paul"s eyes like a yet carnal babe; comp. 1 Corinthians 14:20. Consequently those who have found in the different forms in which the preaching of the gospel has appeared in Corinth an occasion for inflating themselves or disparaging others, and thereby tearing the Church into factions, while satisfying their personal vanity, have shown how the flesh, self-complacency, still ruled the new life, and the action of the Spirit in them. Paul would not, however, have called such men psychical, as if the Spirit of God were not within them in any sense. Indeed, the psychical man may also be called carnal. But there is this difference,—that if in the regenerate man the flesh hinders the action of the Spirit, in the unregenerate man, who possesses only the breath of natural life (the ψυχή), it reigns as lord (Romans 7:14-18). The T. R. with some Byz. and Greco-Lats. reads σαρκίκοις, while the Alex. with D read σαρκίνοις. The two adjectives signify carnal. But the latter refers to the substance and nature of the being so qualified (2 Corinthians 3:3; Hebrews 7:16), the former to his tendency and activity. The word σάρκινος is rare in the New Testament, while σαρκικός is pretty frequently used. Thus we are not allowed to think that the first has been substituted for the second by the copyists, the more that σαρκικός reappears in 1 Corinthians 3:3 almost without a variant. The copyists had therefore no great inclination to substitute for it σάρκινος; while the relation between 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 3:3 could easily lead in 1 Corinthians 3:1 to the substitution of σαρκικοῖς for σαρκίνοις. We must therefore read σαρκίνοις in 1 Corinthians 3:1, and see in this term, which indicates the hurtful persistence of the state of nature, not so much a reproach as the statement of a fact fitted to explain Paul"s conduct when he was among them. This is confirmed by the expression, babes in Christ, which he adds as an equivalent term. The word characterizes a state of transition in a sense natural in the development of the believer. Time is needed to become a πνευματικός, as in the natural life there is need of growth to pass from the infant state to that of the mature man. It is obvious how much better than the other the term σάρκινος, carnal in nature, suited the ideas expressed in 1 Corinthians 3:1; and how far Meyer is mistaken in regarding it as conveying a more emphatic rebuke than the term σαρκικός in 1 Corinthians 3:3.


Verses 1-4

3:1-4.

After demonstrating that though the gospel is not a wisdom, yet it contains one, but one which cannot be expounded except to those who by their spiritual maturity are in a condition to understand it, the apostle applies this truth to his relation to the Church of Corinth. The passage 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 is the pendant of 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Edwards well says: I preached to you the gospel as a power (1 Corinthians 2:1-5); I could not preach it to you as wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).


Verse 2

Vv. 2. The figures used by the apostle relate to the term babes. Milk, according to 1 Corinthians 2:2, denotes the preaching of Jesus crucified, with its simplest contents and its most immediate consequences, expiation, justification by faith, the sanctification of the justified believer by the Holy Spirit, what saves by converting and regenerating. Meat represents what Paul has just called wisdom, the contemplation of the Divine plan in its entirety from its eternal predestination to its final consummation. The same figure occurs Hebrews 5:12; Hebrews 6:2, but with this difference, that there the persons in question are former Hebrews, and that the rudiments of religious knowledge (milk) are not exactly the same for those who were formerly Jews as for those who were formerly heathen.

The apostle says (literally), I have given you to drink, and that in relation to the two substantives, though the figure only corresponds to the first. It is a usual inaccuracy; comp. Luke 1:64. — The words, Ye could not yet, naturally refer to the time of Paul"s first stay. Meyer, Edwards think that it is unnecessary to understand an infinitive (to bear meat); perhaps they are right; it is in this sense that I have translated, "Ye were not strong enough." — Paul adds (what is still more humiliating) that this weakness characterizes even their present condition. The οὐδέ, and no more or not even, which is the reading of almost all the Mjj., is harder than the οὔτε, neither, of the T. R. This second reading is more delicate. I should not be surprised if the οὐδέ had been substituted for the οὔτε, because the τε wanted its correlative particle.

Billroth was the first to ask how this saying agrees with chap. 15 of our Epistle, where the apostle enters into such profound details respecting Christian eschatology. I think that the Ye are not able did not exclude an excursion into the domain of wisdom, when positive negations demanded it. And perhaps, as Rckert supposes, the apostle thought good to seize this opportunity to show his detractors how far he could rise when it pleased him to spread his wings.


Verse 3-4

Vv. 3 , 4. "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying and strifes, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? 4. For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I of Apollos, are ye not men?"

The apostle here uses, according to the great majority of the documents, the term σαρκικοί, carnal by acts. The matter in question is no more a simple state of weakness which continues in spite of regeneration, but a course of conduct which attacks the new life and tells actively against it. — The form ὅπου, there where, borrowed from the notion of place, is used here, as often, in a logical sense.

ζῆλος has most frequently in the New Testament an unfavourable sense: heat, jealousy; thence springs ἔρις, strife, which is only the manifestation of the ζῆλος in words.

The third term in the T. R., divisions, seems to be unauthentic; perhaps the enumeration of the works of the flesh, Galatians 5:20, gave rise to this interpolation.

Such a state can only arise from self-complacency, either on the part of the leaders or their adherents; and that is the flesh. What completes the proof that such a state is a fruit of man"s natural heart, is the analogy presented by the Church thus divided with the spectacle offered in the midst of the Greek people by the rival schools of philosophy. And doubtless that is what the apostle means by the expression: walking according to man, that is to say, following a conduct after the manner of man left to himself. No doubt a wholly different meaning could be given to the term, walking according to man, did we explain it by the following verse. It would signify: to make oneself dependent on a man, a party leader. But this meaning would depart somewhat from the idea which rules in this passage: the influence of the carnal mind on the conduct of the believer.


Verse 4

Vv. 4 expresses the result of the whole foregoing development, and forms the transition to the following passage. In order to attack the spirit of rivalry with effect, and the divisions which had invaded the life of the Church, Paul had gone to the very root of the evil: the false way of regarding the gospel itself. He had shown that the preaching of the gospel was, not the exposition of a new religious speculation, but the good news of a fact, and that a fact absurd in the eyes of reason: the salvation of humanity by a Crucified One; and now he deduces therefrom the true notion of the Christian ministry and of the part it has to play within the Church.

Holsten and others think that the apostle turns at this point to the partisans of Apollos to upbraid their infatuation for this teacher. This we think is an error arising from a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 3:4-5. We shall see that this special intention is foreign to the true sense of the following passage.


Verse 5

Vv. 5. "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Ministers by whom ye believed, and that, as the Lord gave to each."

There is no difficulty, whatever Hofmann may object, in connecting the then with the previous verse, provided we see in this verse the conclusion and consequently the summary of all that goes before from 1 Corinthians 1:17 and even from 1 Corinthians 1:12 : "Now if, in virtue of the very nature of the gospel (which is a salvation, not a system), its preachers are not what you make them when you say: I am of Paul or of Apollos, what are they then?" Rückert regards this question as an objection raised by an interlocutor of the apostle. But it belongs to the train of his argument; it is the theme of the whole following passage. Besides, Paul indicates such interruptions more precisely (1 Corinthians 15:35). — The Greco-Lat. and Byz. MSS. read τίς: who are they (as individuals)? The Alex. read τί: what are they (as to their office)? The second reading is more in keeping with the context. It is no doubt, as Meyer thinks, the personal names which have led to the substitution of the masculine for the neuter.

T. R. places the question relating to Paul before that which concerns Apollos, probably under the influence of the preceding verse and of 1 Corinthians 1:13. But the apostle has not here the same reason as formerly for putting himself first. For he is no longer dealing with a personal preference to be condemned; here he begins a matter of doctrine.

The ἀλλ᾿ ἤ, other than, in T. R. is probably a gloss; the answer is more direct: ministers. Such is the great word, that which without any roundabout states the nature of the position: not heads of schools, not founders of religious societies, as having a work of their own, but simple employés labouring on the work of another. This situation of ministers is characterized by two features: "By whom ye have believed." As Bengel well says: "By whom, and not in whom;" simple agents ( διά). The ye believed applies also to Apollos, though the Church was already founded when he arrived at Corinth; for he had increased the number of believers and contributed to sustain the faith of those whom Paul had led to believe.

καί, and that; and moreover: Neither do those agents who labour on another"s account do anything at their own hand. This is the second feature and, in a sense, the second form of their dependence: as the Lord gave to each. The following verse shows that Paul is here thinking of the kind of work which the Master commits to each labourer, while rendering him fit for it by personal gifts which He confers on him and by the special commission which He gives him.

The ἑκάστῳ, to each, is placed by inversion, as in 1 Corinthians 7:17 and elsewhere, before the conjunction, to bring out clearly the distinction between those different tasks. For hereby is completed the idea of dependence: All for a master, as all by this master! This master is denoted by the term ὁ κύριος, the Lord, in opposition to the preachers who are only διάκονοι, servants. This Lord, according to Chrysostom, de Wette, Meyer, is God; comp. 1 Corinthians 3:6. But in general in the New Testament, when the term κύριος does not belong to an Old Testament quotation, it denotes Jesus Christ. This is particularly the case in the first chapter of this Epistle. And 1 Corinthians 3:6 proves nothing in favour of the opposite sense, for the action of Jesus and that of God, though distinct, are not separate. Comp. 1 Corinthians 12:5, where the functions of ministers are also put in relation to Christ, as Lord of the Church, and their efficacy in relation to God, as the last source of all power.


Verses 5-20

Vers. 5-20.

In order to show what, in a religious organization like that which the gospel creates, is the place of preachers, the apostle takes two examples: Apollos and himself; and he develops what he means to expound regarding the true place of Christian preachers, by applying it more specially to those two principal agents of the Divine work at Corinth.


Verse 5

3. The true nature of the Christian ministry. 3:5-4:5.

In this passage, Paul expounds:

1. The place of preachers, in relation to the Church (1 Corinthians 3:5-20).

2. The place of the Church, in relation to preachers (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

3. He closes, as at the end of the two previous passages (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-4), by applying the truth expounded to his own relation to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).


Verse 6-7

Vv. 6 , 7. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase; 7. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase." — The asyndeton between 1 Corinthians 3:6 and the preceding one arises from the fact that the verse reaffirms in a new form the last proposition of 1 Corinthians 3:5, of which it is only the development. In the two functions of planting and watering, there reappears in specialized form the idea of distribution contained in the "as the Lord gave to each." In respect of Corinth Paul had received the mission of planting, that is to say, of founding the Church; Apollos, that of watering, that is to say, of developing the Church already founded. And if the labour of the one and the other had had some true success, it was due solely to the concurrence of God. As Edwards says: "God is the source of life in the physical as in the moral world. Man can indeed put the seed in contact with the soil; but life alone makes it spring and grow; and this life is not only beyond the power but even beyond the knowledge of man." The imperfect ηὔξανεν denotes a Divine operation, which was in process at the very time when Paul and Apollos were labouring.

The apostle wishes decidedly to take away all individual and independent worth from the labour of the two workers whom he has chosen as examples, in view of a Church which tends to falsify the position of its ministers. This choice then has a perfectly natural explanation: was it not by speaking of himself and his friend that he could, with least scruple, remind them of the humble position of Christ"s ministers, by leaving it to the Church itself to make application of the truth to the other workers whom it exalted?


Verse 7

Vv. 7. What harvest would have sprung up from the labour of the two workers without the life which God alone could give? What then are those workers?

There is ordinarily understood as the predicate of the last proposition: is everything. But why not simply retain the preceding predicate: is anything? If in this work God alone is anything, is not this equivalent to saying that He is everything? The reading οὐδέ, nor any more, in two Alex., insists perhaps too specially on applying the idea of nothingness to Apollos.

This first development, 1 Corinthians 3:5-7, is directed against the folly of raising servants to the rank of masters. The following combats the opposition which it is sought to establish between them by comparing them with one another, and taking the liberty of rating their respective merits.


Verse 8

Vv. 8. "Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one, but every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour."

The δέ is here a particle of transition, but with a shade of contrast: "Now, despite this difference of functions (pointed out, 1 Corinthians 3:5-7), these ministers are one." This unity is not that of their common nothingness (Bengel: "Neuter aeque quidquam est"), nor that of the part of simple servants (de Wette, Meyer, Heinrici, etc.); it is that of the work on which they labour together. To understand what Paul means by this unity, it is enough to consider the foregoing figures (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Between two gardeners, one of whom plants and the other waters one and the same garden, who would think of setting up any rivalry? Would not the labour of the one become useless without that of the other? What folly, then, to disparage the one and exalt the other!

But yet there will one day be—the second δέ is adversative—a difference established between them: the difference of the reward they will receive, which will depend on the degree of their fidelity in their respective labours. This idea, expressed in the second part of the verse, is that which Paul proceeds to develop in the passage, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Of course it is the Master who will pass this estimate; it will take place at the day of judgment. And so what folly it is to anticipate it by comparisons made beforehand! The terms ἴδιος μισθός, his own reward, and ἴδιος κόπος, his own labour, recall the saying, Galatians 6:5 : "Every man will bear his own burden." The estimate of the fidelity of each servant will not rest on the comparison of it with another"s, but on the labour of each compared with his own task and his own gift. Now who else than God could pronounce such a sentence? And not only has He alone the power, but He alone has the right. This is what is brought out in 1 Corinthians 3:9.


Verse 9

Vv. 9. "For we are labourers together with God; ye are God"s husbandry, God"s building." — It is not without reason that in the original the word θεοῦ, God"s, heads the three propositions of this verse. God alone is Judge, for He is the proprietor in whose service all this work is done. It is therefore a mistake in Holsten and others to refer the for to the idea of the unity of the workers (1 Corinthians 3:8 a). It bears on what immediately precedes (1 Corinthians 3:8 b). The worker"s responsibility in this labour is presented in two aspects; and first from the standpoint of the servant"s own position: συνεργοὶ θεοῦ, labourers together with God. It is grammatically inexact to apply the preposition σύν, in the word συνεργοί, to the community of labour existing among the workers themselves: "fellow-labourers in God"s service" (Bengel, Olshausen, Heinrici). This sense is connected with the false explanation which regards for as a confirmation of the unity of the workers among themselves (1 Corinthians 3:8 a). According to Greek usage, the regimen of σύν, in the composite συνεργός, is expressed by the following complement: comp. Romans 16:3, and Philippians 1:24, συνεργὸς ἡμῶν (the fellow-worker with us). The meaning therefore is: "We are at work with God Himself." Some have shrunk from this bold idea of making Christ"s minister in the Church the fellow-labourer of God. And yet what else is said by 1 Corinthians 3:6? In every sermon, in every instance of religious instruction, in every pastoral visit, is not the pastor the agent by means of whom God works in souls? But, perhaps, with a complement like θεοῦ, of God, there must be added to the idea of joint labour that of dependence. The meaning would then be: "God"s day-labourers, working with Him." Consequently it is His to pay the workmen, and to value their labour! Is it not His goods that are in question? To Him belongs the Church, His field, His house. The word γεώργιον is not fully rendered by the term field; this would rather be expressed by ἀγρός (Matthew 13:24; Luke 14:18). The term γεώργιον embraces the idea of cultivation along with that of the field; and therefore we translate "God"s husbandry." It is nearly the same with the term οἰκοδομή, which is unknown to classic Greek down to Aristotle (Edwards). It is taken here rather in the sense of a building in course of construction ( οἰκοδόμησις) than in the sense of a building finished ( οἰκοδόμημα); for, according to the context, the workmen are still at work. It is therefore to a Divine possession that the workers put their hand! We feel that the apostle has passed to a new idea, that of the responsibility of the workers. What gravity attaches to such labour! To cultivate a field the harvest of which is God"s! To build the house which God Himself is to inhabit! God alone can estimate such labour, and He will not fail to do so. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 describe this responsibility and the inevitable judgment which will hallow it. It is less to the Church than to preachers themselves that the immediate sequel is addressed. For several of them at Corinth were certainly not innocent of what had happened. The use of a second figure, that of building after that of a field (used in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8), is due to the feeling of the apostle that the latter does not suffice to depict what he is about to express. He needs one which lends itself better to the dramatic exposition of the two opposite results which human labour may have.

But before indicating this difference between the two kinds of building, the apostle thinks good to put his own work out of the question. For it is ended, and—as the result has proved—well ended.


Verse 10

Vv. 10. "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon; but let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon!"

The apostle first looks backwards (I laid), in order to put himself out of the question; hence the asyndeton.

The grace given him is that of founding the Church among the Gentiles, particularly at Corinth, with the totality of gifts which he received for this mission, and the use of them which he has been enabled to make. The phrase, according to the grace..., softens the eulogy which he seems to award himself in speaking, as he does here, of his work at Corinth.

One might see in the words, as a wise master builder, nothing more than an idea analogous to that expressed in Matthew 7:24-27. Paul would then simply mean: "I did not build on ground without laying a foundation; as a good architect, I provided a foundation for the building." But the idea of prudence, or better still, of ability, contained in the term σοφός, seems rather to relate to the manner in which he laboured in laying the foundation, than to the simple act itself of laying it. He took care to avoid factitious modes of procedure, means borrowed from human eloquence and speculation; he deliberately confined himself to bearing testimony to the fact of salvation, leaving the Holy Spirit to act, and refraining from entering before the time into the domain of Christian speculation; his wisdom, as a founder, was to make no account of wisdom; comp. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, and 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. — The master builder is not only he who draws the plan of the building,—in this sense the title would revert to God,—but also the man who directs its execution.

The perfect τέθεικα, which is read in the received text, might appear preferable to the aorist ἔθηκα of the Alexandrines; for the foundation, once laid, remains. But the aorist, which denotes the act done once for all, better contrasts Paul"s work with the subsequent labours which are still going on.

These labours are denoted by the term ἐποικοδομεῖν, "building on (the foundation laid)." The ἄλλος, another, is referred specially to Apollos. Two things should serve to set aside this idea: first, the present ἐποικοδομεῖ, builds upon; for, at the time when Paul wrote, Apollos was no longer at Corinth; then the word each which follows, and which shows that the ἄλλος, another, is a collective term. The word, in fact, denotes the whole body of individuals who, as prophets, teachers, or speaking in tongues, had laboured, since Paul"s departure, in developing the Church founded by him. Apollos was one of them, and he certainly belongs, in Paul"s view, to the number of those who had built with materials of good quality, 1 Corinthians 3:14; comp. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7. The end of the verse is an admonition addressed to all these workers, and prepared for by all that precedes from 1 Corinthians 3:8 b. The πῶς, how (that is to say: with what sort of materials), is the theme of the whole following development.


Verse 11

Vv. 11. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

The γάρ, for, announces an explanation of the warning contained in the βλεπέτω, let him consider well. The γάρ refers, not to 1 Corinthians 3:11 taken separately,—this verse is only a reservation, and, so to speak, a μέν relatively to the following δέ,—but to the whole passage, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. The apostle means that his work, all that has been his, has been relatively simple. He has had nothing else to do than take the foundation laid by God Himself in the person of the living Christ, dead and risen again, and lay it in the heart by preaching, as the foundation of Christian faith and salvation. The participle κείμενον, which is laid, refers to God"s work, and the verb θεῖναι to the labour of the preacher who founds the Church by testifying of this work. If the preacher would lay another foundation, it would be the beginning of a new religion and a new Church, but not the continuation of the Christian work. Now Paul is speaking here of preachers assumed to be Christians.

But the work of those who have to construct the building on the foundation laid is not so simple; and hence they should take good care as to the way in which they do it.


Verse 12-13

Vv. 12 , 13. "But if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13. 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."

The δέ is adversative: "My work, the part assigned to me, is done, and well done. But let those who labour now take heed what they do!" The εἰ might be taken interrogatively: Is it that? as sometimes. But it is simpler to translate it in its ordinary sense of if, and to find the principal proposition at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 3:13.

The guidance of converted souls is a much more delicate work than the labour bestowed on their conversion; in fact, it is easy to employ materials in the work of their spiritual development which shall be more hurtful than useful. Now the Church is God"s house, God"s habitation, and into such a building no materials should enter save such as are worthy of its sublime destination. Oriental palaces and temples presented to the eye only the most precious materials: marble, jasper, alabaster (precious stones), besides gold and silver in profusion. This is what is still seen at the present day when one penetrates into the interior of the dwellings of rich Oriental merchants. The houses of the poor, on the contrary, are built of wood and of earth hardened with straw, and covered with thatch. — The diminutives χρυσίον and ἀργύριον differ from χρυσός and ἄργυρος (in T. R.) only in this that they denote specially either an ingot, or a piece of gold or silver.

God, the owner of the Church which is to become His dwelling, is represented here as a Lord who has contracted with numerous builders each charged with a part of the building. They are of course held bound to employ only materials appropriate to such an edifice, and to the dignity of him who means to make it His habitation. Most modern commentators think that the three kinds, whether of good or of bad materials, represent the doctrines taught by preachers, the didactic developments added by them to the fundamental truth of the gospel, that of salvation. This, with shades of difference, is the opinion of Clement of Alexandria, Erasmus, Luther, Beza, Calvin, Grotius, Neander, de Wette, Meyer, etc. But is not this to forget that the edifice to be built is not a book of dogmatics, but the Church itself, composed of living personalities? Other commentators have been led by this reflection to apply the figure of the various materials to the different classes in the membership of the Church: so Pelagius, Bengel, Hofmann; preachers, according to this view, are regarded as responsible for the good or bad composition of the churches which they instruct and guide. But if Paul could censure those preachers for having tolerated unworthy members or allowed them to make their way into the Church, could he have accused them of having voluntarily introduced them into it, as would be implied by the figure of the bad materials employed in the work? And could preachers of this kind end with being saved (1 Corinthians 3:15)? The good or bad materials can therefore neither represent the doctrines preached, true or false, nor the members of the Church, worthy or unworthy. There remains only one interpretation, which is to a certain extent that of Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, and, in our day, of Osiander. The apostle means to speak of the religious and moral fruits produced in the Church by preaching. The spiritual life of the members of the flock is, in a certain measure, the teaching itself received, assimilated, and realized in practice. Either the pastor, by his preaching, his conversation, his example, the daily acts of his ministry, succeeds in developing among his flock a healthy religious life, drawn from communion with Christ, abounding in the fruits of sanctification and love; and it is this strong and normal life which St. Paul describes under the figure of precious materials; or the pastor, by his pathetic discourses, his ingenious explanations, succeeds indeed in attracting a great concourse of hearers, in producing enthusiastic admiration and lively emotions; but all this stir is only external and superficial; with it all there is no real consecration to the Saviour. This faith without energy, this love without the spirit of sacrifice, this hope without joy or elasticity, this Christianity saturated with egoism and vanity: such are the wood, hay, stubble. The apostle himself sets us on the way of this explanation when in chap. 13 he calls faith, hope, and love "the three things which remain;" these then are the materials which will survive intact the trial by fire.

It was for the successors of Paul and Apollos to judge whether they had continued in the spirit which had animated the authors of the work. Chaps. 12-14 show plainly enough that it was not so.

It would be a mistake to think that the gold, silver, precious stones represent three different stages of the Christian life. As, in the figure, these three kinds of materials have their normal place side by side with one another in the temple or palace, they must be taken to represent the different forms of spiritual life which are produced in souls by healthy evangelical preaching.

The apostle had declared, 1 Corinthians 3:8, that each would be appraised and recompensed according to the nature of his work. He now points out when and how this discrimination will take place.


Verse 13

Vv. 13. The same figure continues. The edifice before being inhabited by the Master must pass through the proof of fire, in which the materials of bad quality will be reduced to ashes, but from which the good materials will come forth intact.

Commentators are mostly at one in our time in applying the day of which the apostle speaks to the epoch of the Lord"s advent. Grotius thought of the meaning of the Latin dies in the phrase dies docebit: "time will show." Neander also held that the history of the Church is the grand means of putting to the proof the doctrines of teachers. Calvin, adopting a similar interpretation, understands by the day the time when true Christian knowledge comes out in its clearness; as happened, for example, at the epoch of the Reformation. But it is impossible to prove that this meaning, with its different shades, can be that of the term the day. Others have applied it to the date of the destruction of Jerusalem, because this event was particularly suited to dissipate in the Church the Jewish opinions which Paul was combating; but what Paul combats in this whole passage is worldly wisdom rather than theocratic prejudices. St. Augustine thought of the day of affliction which puts to the proof the reality of the inner life; and Hofmann, of Antichrist"s great persecution, which will bring victory to the good, defeat to the bad. It seems that such was the meaning already given to our passage by the author of the διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων (the doctrine of the twelve apostles) in the second century; for in chap. 16 the warning, "Watch," is first founded on the calamities of the last days, and next the author adds: "Then will appear, like a Son of God, the seducer of the world, and the race of men will come εἰς τὴν πύρωσιν τῆς δοκιμασίας (into the burning of trial)," words which can only be taken from our passage. But, when that day is referred to in Scripture, it is more distinctly qualified; comp. Ephesians 6:13 (the evil day); Hebrews 3:8 (the day of temptation); 1 Peter 2:12 (the day of visitation); Revelation 3:10 (the hour of trial), etc. It is therefore more natural to abide by the first meaning: the day of Christ, when the separation will be made between believers themselves; comp. 1 Corinthians 1:8, 1 Corinthians 4:5.

The manifestation which will take place at that time will be effected by means of fire. Many, and Meyer himself, seem to take this word in its literal sense, quoting as parallel 2 Thessalonians 1:8, where the Lord is represented as coming from heaven with flames of fire. But it must not be forgotten that the building to be proved exists only figuratively, and that consequently the fire which is to put it to the proof can only be also a figurative fire. The term therefore can only denote here the incorruptible judgment pronounced by the omniscience and consuming holiness of the Judge who appears. His Spirit will thoroughly explore the fruit due to the ministry of every preacher. When, in the Apocalypse, the judgment is described which the Lord passes on the Seven Churches, it is said in connection with that of Thyatira (Revelation 2:18): "These things saith the Son of God, who hath eyes like unto a flame of fire." The look of a holy man may become an insupportable fire to the wicked, how much more that of the Lord! This penetrating look will then separate between what is real, solid, indestructible, and what is only transient, apparent, factitious. The subject ordinarily assigned the verb ἀποκαλύπτεται, is manifested, is that of the preceding proposition, the day: "The day of Christ is manifested with fire or by fire. But then it seems no more possible to take the term fire in the figurative sense. Others take as subject that of the first proposition of the verse, the work: "The work is manifested by means of fire." But this sense leads to an intolerable tautology with the following proposition; the apostle does not so repeat himself. Bengel and Osiander understand as subject, the Lord; but to reach this subject we must go back to 1 Corinthians 3:11; then it is difficult to suppose that Paul would have said: "The Lord is manifested with fire." Is it not better to take ἀποκαλύπτεται in the impersonal sense? "For it is by fire that manifestation takes place," that is to say, that things are manifested as what they really are. This proposition enunciates not a fact, but a principle; hence the verb in the present ἀποκαλύπτεται, which contrasts with the two futures the preceding ( δηλώσει) and the following ( δοκιμάσει).

The ὅτι, because, supposes the principle recognised, that judgment, of which fire is the emblem, accompanies the day of the Lord.

From this principle flows the consequence enunciated in the last proposition. — If the pronoun αὐτό is authentic, which is read after πῦρ by the Vatic. and three other Mjj., it may be taken as relating to the fire: "the fire itself," that is to say: the fire in virtue of its own proper nature; or what seems simpler, it should be taken in relation to the work, ἔργον, and made the object of δοκιμάσει: "the fire will attest it, the work, so as to bring out what it is" ( ὁποῖόν ἐστι).

The double result of this putting to the proof is described in 1 Corinthians 3:14-15.


Verse 14-15

Vv. 14 , 15. "If any man"s work shall abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive the reward; 15. if any man"s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss [of reward]; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire."

΄ενει is generally taken as a future ( μενεῖ, shall abide), because of the future which follows κατακαήσεται, shall be burned. But there is no force in this reason; the act of burning is instantaneous; hence the future, which refers to a definite time, while that which abides, abides always: the thought expressed by the present μένει. The μισθὸν λήψεται, shall receive the reward, might be rendered in this everyday form: When it shall have been recognised that the work was of good quality, his cheque will be paid to him. This reward cannot be salvation; for the faithful workman was already in possession of this supreme blessing when he was labouring. We have to think then of more particular privileges, such as the joy of being the object of the Master"s satisfaction: "Good and faithful servant!" then the happiness of seeing invested with glory the souls whom a faithful ministry has contributed to sanctify; finally, the possession of a glorious position in the new state of things established by the Lord at His Parousia: "Thou hast gained ten pounds; receive power over ten cities" (Luke 19:17).


Verse 15

Vv. 15. To understand the picture which the apostle draws of the opposite result, we must undoubtedly suppose the workmen occupying the portion of the building which has been committed to them, and to which they are putting the last touch. In proportion as the fire, set to the building, consumes the combustible materials of which the bad workman has made use, the latter of course finds himself in danger of perishing along with his work; if he is saved, it can only be by escaping through the flames, and thanks to the solidity of the foundation.

The second future κατακαήσεται, shall be burned, is an ancient form (Homer, Hesiod) which had been replaced by the first future καυθήσομαι, and which reappears in the later Greek writers. By the perishable work of this labourer, Paul understands the Christian life without seriousness, humility, self-denial, personal communion with Christ, which has been produced among the members of the Church by the ministry of a preacher solely concerned to move sensibility, to charm the mind and please his audience.

The loss, ζημία, with which he is threatened, consists above all in the proved uselessness of his labour and in its destruction, which will take place under his own eyes. With what pain will he contemplate the merely external fruits of his brilliant or profound preaching passing away in smoke! Then he will see himself refused the reward of the faithful servant, the honourable position in Christ"s kingdom, to which he imagined himself entitled: the payment of his cheque will be refused him.

But the apostle adds that this worker shall be saved. Chrysostom and the old Greek commentators understood the word save here in the sense of keep: "kept in Gehenna to suffer for ever." But the pronoun αὐτός establishes an evident contrast between the reward lost and the person saved; then the verb σώζειν, to save, is always taken in a favourable sense; Paul would have required to say in the sense indicated τηρηθήσεται, shall be kept; finally, the διὰ πυρός, through fire, is not identical with ἐν πυρί, in fire. The apostle certainly means, that though this workman has put bad materials into the building, yet because he built on the foundation he will not be given over to condemnation. But if he reaches salvation, it will only be through the furnace, like one who is obliged, in order to save his life, to pass through the flames. This furnace comprehends all the terrors of this judgment: the shame of this revelation, the horror caused by the look of the offended Judge, the grief of seeing the work on which he congratulated himself reduced to nothingness, and the souls whom he thought he had built up incapable of undergoing the last trial, and lost partly through his fault...! "I have searched myself and I have found myself," said a dying pastor; "this is all the punishment God reserves for me." Were not these the first kindlings of the fire of which the apostle here speaks?

Some Catholic commentators have thought to find in the words, as through fire, a proof in favour of the doctrine of purgatory, and the Council of Florence, in 1439 , based the dogma on this passage (Edwards). This is to forget,—1. that the fire is allegorical like the building; 2. that it is only teachers who are in question; 3. that the trial indicated is a means of valuation, not of purification; 4. that this fire is lighted at Christ"s coming, and consequently does not yet burn in the interval between the death of Christians and that advent; 5. that the salvation of the worker, of which Paul speaks, takes place not by, but in spite of the fire.

There is something more serious than to build badly, and that is to do violence to what is already built. Such is the relation between the following passage, 1 Corinthians 3:16-20, and the preceding. Hofmann well states this transition: "Paul passes from those who took upon them, without serious reflection, to continue his work at Corinth, to those who did not fear to destroy the fruit of his labour." Only it need not be said: of his labour; for he has not given himself out as one of the ἐποικοδομοῦντες, of those who have raised the building on the foundation laid. We must therefore speak of the work done, and successfully done, after Paul"s ministry. To whom are we to ascribe such labour if not to Apollos, who had watered what the apostle had planted? As, then, it was impossible to apply to this teacher the figure of the bad workman in the previous picture, it is still more impossible to apply to him the figure of the destroyers in the following representation. And since the labour of demolition, about to be spoken of, is attributed to that same human wisdom spoken of in chap. 1 , we find the opinion confirmed which we had expressed in explaining the chapter, viz. that it had no reference whatever to the ministry of Apollos.


Verse 16-17

Vv. 16 , 17. "Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 17. If any man destroy the temple of God, him will God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."

The asyndeton between 1 Corinthians 3:15-16 is to be remarked; it is as if, on occasion of what the apostle has just said about bad workers, a sudden view took possession of his heart, that of the gravity of the act of those workmen who not only build badly, but who destroy what is already constructed. Everything in this abrupt transition betrays emotion; the interrogative form: Know ye not...? which appeals to the conscience of the Church and to the livelier feeling which it should have of its own dignity; the phrase, temple of God, forming a step higher than the simple building (1 Corinthians 3:9); finally, the two analogous gradations, that of the first φθείρειν, destroy, rising above the act of bad building thereon, and that of the second φθείρειν, denoting the punishment, rising above the simple fact of ζημιοῦσθαι, suffering loss (of reward).

We must avoid translating, "the temple of God." The Church of Corinth is not the universal Church. The absence of the article before ναός, temple, makes this word the indication of a simple quality: "Ye are a temple of God; ye partake of the sacred character of such a building!" This applies to every believer at Corinth, and at the same time to the Church as a whole. And how do they all possess such a dignity? The following proposition explains: God dwells in Christ, and Christ by the Holy Spirit dwells in the believer. The Father and the Son, according to the promise of Jesus, thus make, by the Spirit, "their abode in him" (John 14:23). The same figure: Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5.

The adjunct ἐν ὑμῖν, in you, may signify within you or in the midst of you. The context speaks rather in favour of the second meaning, since Paul is addressing the Church as such. But as God dwells among believers only on condition of dwelling in them, the second meaning implies the first. Is the apostle thinking of the temple of Jerusalem, for which henceforth the Church, the true spiritual temple, is to be substituted? Possibly. Now if it was a sacrilege to profane the shadow, what will it be to do violence to the body (Colossians 2:17)!


Verse 17

Vv. 17. Again an asyndeton. 1 Corinthians 3:16 was the minor of the syllogism of which 1 Corinthians 3:17 is the major: "Ye are a temple...; he is destroyed who destroys a temple..., therefore..." The conclusion which is self-evident is understood.

The future φθερεῖ, shall destroy, is no doubt the true reading, though the present φθείρει might also be defended as the present of the idea, and consequently of certain realization. In 1 Corinthians 3:15, notwithstanding the loss of the reward (the ζημιοῦσθαι), the salvation of the workman was reserved; here, it is excluded. The punishment increases with the guilt: "As thou has treated the house of God, thou shalt be treated." The Greco-Lat. reading, αὐτόν, him, emphasizes the identity of the man who has destroyed and who is destroyed. But the Alex. and Byz. reading, τοῦτον, him, this man, is at once better supported and more forcible.

The following proposition gives us to know the wherefore of this severe treatment; the dignity of the building to which this sacrilegious workman does violence. The force of the proof rests on the attribute ἅγιος, holy. What is holy, that is to say, consecrated to God, partakes of the inviolability of God Himself.

The apostle finding it superfluous to enunciate the conclusion in full, contents himself with suggesting it by the last words: "a holy temple, which ye are." The plural pronoun οἵτινες is a case of attraction from the following ὑμεῖς. This relative pronoun of quality is to be connected not with ναός only, nor with ἅγιος only, but with the entire phrase, ναὸς ἅγιος, holy temple.

To what persons did this warning and threatening apply? Evidently to those who had laboured at Corinth in such a way that they had ended with disorganizing the Church, poisoning its religious and moral life, and compromising the Divine work so happily begun and carried forward in that great city. Here it is, as it seems to me, that we find the full explanation of the end of chap. 2 , where Paul spoke of the psychical or natural man, distinguishing him from the yet carnal Christian (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). The majority of the Church of Corinth belonged to the second category; but there was certainly a minority in it whom the apostle ranked in the first. It was they whom he had in view in the last two so severe verses of chap. 2: the man who has only his natural understanding; and it is to them he returns in the verses immediately following, where he again, as in chap. 1 , puts worldly wisdom on its trial. We have already said: these various passages, as it seems to us, can only concern those of Christ, as they are unmasked in the Second Epistle. But why does the apostle address this warning not to the guilty themselves, but to the Church: "Know ye not that ye are a temple of God," and all that follows? It is because he wishes to excite the whole Church to a holy indignation, and to call forth within it a vigorous reaction against the authors of these troubles; comp. the appeal to the vigilance of believers, Philippians 3:2 : "Beware of evil workers." In the following verses, Paul shows the source of the evil, as he had already pointed it out in chap. 1 , in order to open the eyes of both.


Verse 18

Vv. 18. "Let no man deceive himself; if any man thinketh that he is wise among you, let him become a fool in this world, that he may become wise."

Again an asyndeton, testifying to the emotion which fills the apostle"s heart.

The illusion, to which he points in the first words of the verse, according to some, is the security in which those teachers live, not suspecting the danger which they run (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). But the words εἴ τις δοκεῖ, if any man thinketh, imagines, claims, lead us rather to connect the idea of self-deceiving with what follows. There are people who have claims to wisdom, and who display their eloquence within the Church. Edwards concludes from the ἐν ὑμῖν, among you, that if they were among them, they were not of them; otherwise Paul would have said, τίς ὑμῶν. The fact that those people were strangers may be true, but the term used does not necessarily say so. Its meaning is rather this: "If any individual whatever, Corinthian or other, while preaching the gospel in your assemblies, assumes the part of the wise man and the reputation of a profound thinker (1 Corinthians 4:10), let him assure himself that he will not attain to true wisdom till he has passed through a crisis in which that wisdom of his with which he is puffed up will perish, and after which only he will receive the wisdom which is from above." This crisis of death to false wisdom is what the apostle characterizes by the words: let him become a fool! To renounce this imaginary wisdom, which is only a human conception, to own his ignorance in what concerns the great matter of salvation, and, after taking hold of Christ crucified, who is foolishness to the wise of this world, to draw from Him the Divine wisdom which He has revealed to the world, such is the only way of realizing the claim expressed in the words, "thinketh he is wise."

Does the phrase, ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, in this world, belong to the preceding or the succeeding proposition? in other words, does this adjunct qualify the idea of being wise in the Church, or that of becoming a fool? In the former case the words would characterize a preacher who tries to gain the reputation of wisdom among Christians by putting himself forward in the midst of them as the representative of the wisdom of the world. In the latter case Paul would say: "If thou claimest to be a wise man in the Church, well! But in that case begin with humbling thy reason, accepting the foolishness of the cross, and with thus becoming a fool in the eyes of the wise of the world, and then thou shalt be able to become really the organ of Divine wisdom in the Church." Notwithstanding the able pleading of Rückert in favour of the former meaning, we think, with Hofmann, that the second deserves the preference. The antithesis between the among you and the in this world stands out more precisely, and the sense is simpler. — The following verses justify the necessity of dying to the wisdom of the world. Of old has not God, the only wise, charged it with foolishness? Two scriptural declarations are alleged in proof.


Verse 19-20

Vv. 19 , 20. "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He that taketh the wise in their craftiness.' 20. And again, ‘The Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise, that they are vain.'"

The first passage declares the power-lessness of the wisdom of the world to reach the ends at which it aims, consequently its vanity from the standpoint of utility. It is taken from Job 5:13. The devices of the wise themselves become the net in which God takes them, so that they are forced in the end to confess that the more subtle, the more foolish they have been. The verb δράσσειν, to close the fist upon (from δράξ, the fist), is much more expressive than the word καταλαμβάνειν used by the LXX. to render the Hebrew term. The apostle likewise improves the translation of the LXX. by substituting for φρόνησις, prudence, the word πανουργία, from πᾶν and ἔργον, the capacity for doing everything, not in good, but in evil, to attain the end in view.


Verse 20

Vv. 20. This passage is taken from Psalms 94:11. It proclaims the emptiness of human wisdom, not now as to its result, but as to its very essence. The Hebrew and the LXX. say, "the thoughts of man." The apostle says, of the wise, because it is through them that mankind exercise their understanding.

The verb knowing has two objects in the original texts (Hebrew and Greek), as is often the case; first, the object known, the thought; then what God knows of those thoughts: that they are vain. We cannot render this forcible turn of expression in French.

The apostle here judges human wisdom only from the point of view of the discovery and attainment of salvation. He certainly respects every sincere effort to discover the truth (Philippians 4:8); but salvation is a thought of God superior to all the discoveries of human wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6-8).

Though he had addressed the whole Church (1 Corinthians 3:17 : Ye are...), it was those who encouraged disorders whom the apostle had indirectly threatened in the foregoing verses. The three following verses contain the direction which it remains to him to give to the Church itself as to its conduct toward Christ"s true ministers. They are therefore the conclusion of the passage begun 1 Corinthians 2:5.


Verse 21

Vv. 21. "So then, let no man glory in men, for all things are yours."

The apostle began by reminding the Corinthians of what preachers are in relation to the Church: servants (ministers) of the one Lord; then, in a passage which may be regarded as an episode, he put before the eyes of the Church and of ministers themselves the grave responsibility incurred by the latter (1 Corinthians 3:10-20). Now he concludes; this is shown by the particle of transition ὥστε, so that; we can only translate it here by so then, because of the following imperative. We shall see that this same conjunction is ordinarily used in this Epistle to announce the practical conclusion to be drawn from a foregoing statement of doctrine; comp. 1 Corinthians 7:38, 1 Corinthians 11:33, 1 Corinthians 14:39, 1 Corinthians 15:58.

On the imperative after ὥστε, see on 1 Corinthians 1:31.

To glory in a person can only mean: to boast of one"s relation to him, to take honour from belonging to him, as a servant or a disciple takes glory from the name of an illustrious master. It is an allusion to the formulas: "I am of Paul,...Apollos,..." etc. Far from its being believers who belong to their teachers, it is much rather these who belong to them; and not only their teachers, but all things. Stoic wisdom had said: Omnia sapientis sunt, because the wise man can make use of everything, even of what is adverse to him. The believer can say so with a yet loftier and surer title, because he belongs to God, who puts all things at the service of His own. It is in this sense that Paul says, Romans 8:28 : "All things work together for good to them that love God." As he develops it in the same passage, God, in His eternal plan, has disposed all things with a view to the salvation and glory of those who He knew beforehand would believe on His Son. The contents of this πάντα, all things, are detailed in the following enumeration, which has been called, not without reason, "the inventory of the possessions of the child of God," and in which death itself figures.


Verse 22-23

Vv. 22 , 23. "Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours; 23. and ye are Christ"s, and Christ is God"s."

In the front are placed the names of the three teachers who had been made party chiefs, and in connection with whom all this instruction is given. To express his conclusion, Paul has only to give back the three formulas. Instead of saying, "I am Paul"s," the Corinthian should say, "Paul is mine." The Church is the end; the ministers are the means. Peter, with his personal memories of the life of Jesus, Apollos, with his knowledge of the Scriptures and the irresistible charm of his eloquence, Paul, with his superior knowledge of God"s plan for the salvation of the world and his incomparable apostolic activity, are not masters to whom the Church should bow as a vassal, but gifts bestowed on it, and which it is bound to turn to advantage, without despising one or going into raptures over another. Paul cannot, of course, give back the watchword of the fourth party in the same way; for in itself this formula exactly expressed the truth. We shall see, by and by, how he brings it back to its true meaning.

These three gifts represent one and the same idea, that of the ministry, that is to say, in general, gifts of a spiritual order. In contrast to them Paul names the world, the totality of beings who, outside the Church, may tell on the lot of believers, or of the Church itself. Animate or inanimate, the creatures obey Christ who has received power over all things, and, through Him, the Church, which is His body (Ephesians 1:22).

Of the powers acting in the world there are two, of formidable and mysterious greatness, which seem to decide the course of the universe, life and death. The first comprehends all phenomena which are characterized by force, health, productiveness; the second, all those which betray weakness, sickness, decay. From the one or other of these two forces proceed all the hostile influences of which the believer feels himself the object. But he knows also that he is not their puppet; for it is Christ his Lord who guides and tempers their action. Chrysostom, Grotius, and others have restricted the application of these two terms, life and death, to the teachers of the Church. But the apostle, on the contrary, would have them taken in their widest generality.

To these two pairs, that of the spiritual order and the terrestrial order, and that of life and death, the apostle adds a third in relation to time, things present, and things to come. The participle τὰ ἐνεστῶτα, strictly: what is imminent, here, as often, in contrast to "things future," takes the sense of things present. It comprehends all that can happen us in the present state of things, and as long as we form part of it; while the things to come denote the great expected transformation, with its eternal consequences. Then the apostle sums up his enumeration by reproducing the bold paradox with which he had begun: "Yea, I tell you, all is yours." It is easy to see what the apostle wishes: to exalt the consciousness of this Church, which is degrading itself by dependence on weak human instruments ( ἀνθρώποις, 1 Corinthians 3:21), to the height of its glorious position in Christ. He strives to restore it to self-respect. It is the same intention which comes out in the following words.


Verse 23

Vv. 23. We might be tempted to give the words, and ye are Christ"s, a restrictive meaning: "Ye are His alone, not your teachers"." But in the two analogous propositions, that which precedes and that which follows, Paul certainly does not mean: "All things are only yours," and "Christ is only God"s." It is not restrictions we have here, but strong affirmations; the thought is not limited, it rises. "All things are the Church"s, because it belongs itself to Christ, and depends on Him." It is in this saying, and ye are Christ"s, that allusion is found to the fourth party. It is not merely a few presumptuous people, puffed up with conceit of their own wisdom, who can say: And as for me, I am Christ"s; this is the privilege of the whole Church.

And, as if to put the last stroke to the annihilation of all human glory, Paul denies it even in the person of that Lord in whom all mankind might legitimately glory: and Christ is God"s. As the Church possesses all things because it depends on Christ, Christ possesses all things because He depends on God; comp. 1 Corinthians 11:3. God in Christ, such then for man is the one subject of glorying (1 Corinthians 1:31). It has been asked, from the first ages of the Church, whether these words referred to Christ as man, or as a Divine Being. The old commentators and several of the Fathers, even Athanasius (see Edwards), applied them to the eternal relation between the Son and the Father. This is done also by Meyer, Kling, etc. Hence would follow the subordination of the Son to the Father, even within the Trinity. Others, Augustine, Calvin, Olshausen, de Wette, Edwards, apply them to Christ only in His humanity, in order to maintain the essential equality of the Father and the Son. It must be remembered, above all, that they refer to the Lord in His present state of glory, for it is as glorified that He is the Head of the Church. But this itself proves that the first explanation is not less true than the second; they are as inseparable from one another as the two states, the human and Divine, in the person of the exalted Christ. That is to say, we apply the notion of dependence contained in Paul"s expression, not only to the Lord"s humanity, but also to His Divinity. Is not this implied besides in the names of Son and Word used to denote His Divine being? And is not Beet right in affirming that only this notion of the essential subordination of the Son to the Father enables us to conceive the unity in the Divine Trinity? The meaning therefore is, that as to His one and indivisible person as Son of God and Son of man, Jesus receives all from the Father, and consequently belongs to Him wholly. It is on this absolute dependence that His universal sovereignty rests.

As soon as the Church of Corinth rises to the view of these relations, what will become of the miserable desire among its members to magnify themselves and to turn what may be wanting to others into a ground of self-satisfaction? How will it be possible for one, when he contemplates the absolute dependence in which the Son abides relatively to the Father, still to glory in himself or in another? Each believer will possess everything, even the eminent teachers who enable him to make progress, as gifts from His hand.

After thus making the Corinthians ashamed of their guilty infatuations, it only remains to the apostle to check the rash judgments in which some indulge respecting him: this is what he does in the following passage, which closes this section.

 


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Bibliography Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:4". "Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/gsc/1-corinthians-3.html.

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