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Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

1 Corinthians 3

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Verses 1-99

Ch. 3:1 4. The partizanship of the Corinthians a hindrance to spiritual progress

1 . And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual ] The Apostle has said much of the superiority of the wisdom which is the result of spiritual illumination. He now warns the Corinthians that the majority of them do not possess it, or at best but in the scantiest measure, and thus remain on the threshold of the Christian life.

3 . For ye are yet carnal ] The word carnal conveys a stronger reproach than natural (ch. 2:14). The latter, as we have seen, signifies the man whose hopes and desires are bounded by the limits of the physical principle of life. The former is applicable to those who are under the dominion of their sensual passions. He inculcates a truth which may seem strange to our ears when he tells his Corinthian converts that a taste for religious controversy is a sign of the strength of the animal nature in man. His language is less remarkable though not less true, when he reminds us ( v . 2) that an appetite for religious strife prevents us from discerning the deeper truths of the Christian faith. If it be asked how ‘they who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints’ can at the same time be carnal, we may answer, with Olshausen, that the spiritual man becomes carnal when he mingles his old unregenerate views with the new element of life he has received in Christ.

as men ] Rather, after the manner of men .

4 . are ye not carnal? ] The majority of MSS. and versions read ‘men’ here, instead of ‘carnal.’ It is difficult to account for the latter word having crept into the text, if it be not the true reading, whereas its correction by a transcriber into carnal would seem obvious and natural. If it be the true reading, it must mean ‘purely human,’ not sharing that Divine, regenerate life which is the special privilege of faith.

5 23. Christian Ministers only labourers of more or less efficiency, the substantial work being God’s

6 . I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase ] The Apostle would lead his converts to rise from the thought of those who had ministered the Gospel to them, to the thought of Him whom they ministered. Man does but obey the Divine command in his ministerial work, the results are God’s. See note on v . 9. It is to be observed that both here and in ch. 1:12, St Paul’s account of himself and Apollos is in precise agreement with that of St Luke in the Acts. In Acts 18:0 we read of the Church of Corinth being founded by St Paul. In the latter part of that chapter and in ch. 19:1, we read of Apollos’ visit to Greece, and his stay at Corinth. The remark in this Epistle is a purely incidental one, but it coincides exactly with the history. St Paul founded the Church, Apollos ‘mightily convinced the Jews and that publicly,’ thus carrying on the work St Paul had begun. See Paley, Horae Paulinae , 1st Ep. to Corinthians 5, who points out the argument derivable from hence for the genuineness of both this Epistle and the Acts.

8 . he that planteth and he that watereth are one ] As though to make his depreciation of man as emphatic as possible, the Apostle uses the neuter gender here. The instruments are one thing , parts of a vast piece of machinery which God has put in motion for the salvation of the world. As channels of Divine grace it is our duty to forget their personality.

9 . For we are labourers together with God ] The Apostle now gives the argument another turn. From man’s point of view the preachers of the Gospel are mere instruments in God’s hands. Not so from God’s. He regards them as responsible beings, responsible to Him for the work they do. But the results are still God’s and God’s alone. The ministers of Christ may be fellow-labourers with God, but the husbandry, the building, are God’s, and not theirs.

10 . According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder ] Rather, which was given to me , i.e. when he laid the foundation. St Paul now desires to identify himself with the teachers of the Corinthian Church, so far as they were really carrying on the work which he had begun. His object is to combat the individualism which had led the Corinthian Church astray. If their teachers be genuine ministers of Christ, it is but one work that they are carrying on. They are merely proceeding with the superstructure of that which the Apostle had founded. Comparison of their personal claims with those of St Paul, and still more an attitude of antagonism to him and to one another, are entirely out of place.

But let every man take heed ] A fresh subject is here introduced. We are now told of what kind the labour of a minister of Christ is to be, and what his reward. There is, there can be, but One Foundation, but there are many ways of building on that foundation.

11 . than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ ] “He does not say τεθέντα , laid , but κείμενον , lying , of His own accord.” Wordsworth. There is a reference here to the prophecy in Isaiah 28:16 , which is quoted and applied to Christ in 1 Peter 2:6 . See also Ephesians 2:20 , and Psalms 118:22 , quoted and applied to Himself by Christ in Matthew 21:42 . It is to be noticed that it is no doctrine about Christ, but Christ Himself that is laid as the foundation. For upon Christ every act of the Christian, every faculty the Christian possesses, nay, his very life depends. ‘Without Me,’ i.e. cut off from Me, separated from Me, ‘ye can do nothing,’ St John 15:5 . See also ch. 1:9, and note. “Without the evidence of this inward life in men, it is impossible to imagine either Christian or Church.” Olshausen. “The Apostle preached Christ Christ the Example Christ the Life Christ the Son of Man Christ the Son of God Christ risen Christ the King of Glory.” Robertson.

12 . Now if any man build upon this foundation ] It must be remembered that it is not the conduct of Christians, however applicable the principles here enunciated may be to it, but the doctrine of teachers which is spoken of here. The materials mentioned are of two classes, those that will endure fire, and those that will not. We may dismiss from our consideration such preaching as is dictated by vain-glory or self-interest, for the simple reason that it is not building upon Christ at all. The two kinds of preaching thus become, on the one hand that which leads to permanent results , the glory of God and the real well-being of man; and on the other, that which, though the offspring of a genuine zeal, is not according to knowledge.

13 . it shall be revealed by fire ] Rather, it is revealed in fire , being that in which the judgment day shall consist, i.e. in the fire of God’s judgment, fire being one of His many attributes (Hebrews 12:29 ; Deuteronomy 4:24 ; Deuteronomy 9:3 ; Psalms 50:3 ; Psalms 97:3 ; Isaiah 66:15 , Isaiah 66:16 ; Malachi 3:2 , Malachi 3:3 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:8 ). As fire does, so does God in the end thoroughly search out and destroy all that is vile or refuse, all that is not thoroughly genuine and durable.

15 . yet so as by fire ] The absolute equality of all in the world to come is no part of St Paul’s system. ‘One star differeth from another star in glory’ (ch. 15:41). But the history of the Apostle himself is a sufficient evidence that God will not punish with the loss of His presence the man who has acted up to the highest dictates of a conscience not yet fully enlightened. The work perishes, but he who believed himself to be actively serving God when in fact he was doing nothing shall not be driven into the outer darkness. “Sincerity does not verify doctrine, but it saves the man; his person is accepted, though his work perish.” Robertson. Yet he will be saved ‘so as by fire.’ Surely the ‘smell of fire’ may be said to pass on him who sees all those works which he so honestly believed to be for God vanishing as worthless stubble in the searching trial which will ‘purge away all the dross’ of our human doings, and leave only what is of real value in God’s sight.

16 . Know ye not that ye are the temple of God ] “ Ναός , sanctuary , more sacred than ἱερόν ; the Holy Place in which God dwells, ναίει .” Wordsworth. Another view of the subject is now abruptly introduced. The figure in v . 10 is resumed, but is applied, not to the ministers, but to the people. As the teachers are to avoid unprofitable questions and seek ‘that which is good to the use of edifying, so the taught are to shun all that may do harm to the temple of God, that is the Church at large, for what is true of the individual (ch. 6:19) is true of the community. This figure of speech is a common one in the N. T. See 2 Corinthians 6:16 ; Ephesians 2:21 , Ephesians 2:22 ; 1 Timothy 3:15 ; Hebrews 3:6 ; 1 Peter 2:5 .

17 . If any man defile ] Rather, if any man do hurt to the temple of God, to him shall God do hurt . The word is the same in both members of the sentence, and cannot therefore be rendered by the word defile .

which temple ye are ] Rather, which (i.e. holy) ye are , or more freely ‘The temple of God is holy, and so are ye.’ The implied syllogism is, The temple is holy; ye are the temple, therefore ye are holy.

18 . let him become a fool, that he may be wise ] Let him account himself a fool, put himself on a level with the ignorant and unintellectual, set no store by his worldly knowledge or intellectual powers, for they are of no account before God. A child-like willingness to be taught is the first step toward the true wisdom.

19 . it is written ] In Job 5:13 .

20 . And again ] This passage occurs in Psalms 94:11 .

21 . Therefore let no man glory in men ] We are to regard men as nothing in themselves, but in reference to their fellow-men solely as the instruments of a divine purpose, like all other things God has suffered to exist ( v . 22), a purpose beginning and ending with God, Whose we are, and for Whom alone we have been called into being. Even death itself has a part in that purpose, since through Christ it has become the gateway to everlasting life. See Collect for Easter Eve.

23 . Christ is God’s ] Even He is not existing apart and for Himself (cf. St John 5:19-30 ), but is for ever united and conjoined with His faithful ones in the God and Father of all. ‘I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one.’ St John 17:23 .

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.