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Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

1 Corinthians 4

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Verses 1-99

Ch. 4:1 7. The true estimation of Christ’s ministers and the true criterion of their work

After having pointed out the light in which the teachers of Christianity should be regarded, the Apostle in this chapter goes on to point out the practical difference between those who preach themselves and those who preach Christ, and urges all to a life like His, that He may have no need of rebukes when He comes.

1 . Let a man so account of us ] ‘Of the things of which we have spoken this is the sum.’ We are not to be regarded for any qualifications we may have of our own, but simply as ‘the servants of the Most High God.’

and stewards of the mysteries of God ] Literally, house-ruler , or house feeder . Cf. German Hauswalter from walten to rule, and the English house-keeper . What a steward’s office is, we learn from St Matthew 24:45 . And he is appointed to dispense the mysteries of the Gospel. This word is derived from a word signifying to close, to shut , and was in the old Greek civilization used to denote those rites which were only permitted to the initiated, and were kept a strict secret from the outside world. Of such a kind were the well-known Eleusinian mysteries, which were kept every fifth year at Eleusis in Attica, the rites of the Bona Dea, which were observed at Rome, and those of Isis and Mithras, which were of Egyptian and Persian origin. (See Article “Mysteria” in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities .) The word is used in Scripture in two senses, (1) for things hidden from the ordinary understanding, (2) of things formerly concealed in the counsels of God but revealed to those who believe the Gospel. We have examples of the former meaning in ch. 13:2 and 14:2 of this Epistle, in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 , and in Revelation 1:20 . The latter sense is met with in Romans 16:25 ; Ephesians 3:9 ; Colossians 1:26 , &c. The present passage appears to include both meanings. The ministers of Christ are to nourish their people on the knowledge of the truths of His Gospel, a knowledge (ch. 2:10 16) revealed only to the spiritual. No instance of the word in its more modern Greek sense of Sacraments is to be found in Holy Scripture. In the Septuagint it is frequently found in the Apocrypha (as in Tobit 12:7, 11), but the only instances of its occurrence in the Canonical books are in the Septuagint translation of the book of Daniel, ch. 2:18, 19, 27 30, 47, ch. 4:9 (where it is the translation of a Chaldaic word signifying “a thing hidden,” which in our Authorized Version is translated secret ) and in Isaiah 24:16 , where, however, the translators, as those of the Vulgate, appear to have been misled by the similarity of the Chaldee word to a Hebrew one. Luther, Ewald, and the English version translate the word by ‘leanness.’ It is also found in some editions in the Greek of Proverbs 20:19 . Cf. for similar sentiments to the above passage, Titus 1:7 , and 1 Peter 4:10 .

2 . Moreover it is required in stewards ] The majority of MSS. and versions read here at the beginning of this verse. The sense would then be, “in this world, moreover, it is customary to make diligent inquiry for a trustworthy man.”

3 . But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment ] Faithfulness is no doubt more urgently required in the discharge of this duty than of any other. But it is not man’s province to make the inquiry, but God’s. The word translated judged is the same which is used in ch. 2:14, 15, and should be translated ‘tried,’ ‘examined.’ As the Apostle ‘could not speak unto the Corinthians as spiritual’ (ch. 3:1), for they were ‘men’ and ‘walked as men’ ( vv . 3 4), so he altogether refuses to admit their right, or that of any other purely human tribunal, to institute an inquiry into his motives. The word translated judgment is ‘day’ in the original As instances of the use of the word day as in some sense equivalent to judgment, we may adduce the Latin diem dicere , to appoint the day of trial, and our word daysman , i.e. arbitrator, as in Job 9:33 . So Chaucer, Chanonnes Yemannes Tale , lines 15, 16:

“Lene me a mark, quod he, but dayes thre

And at my day I will it quyte the.”

And the Dutch dagh vaerden to fix a day, daghen to cite, as in a legal process.

4 . For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified ] ‘I know nothing by myself’ ( I know nought by myself , Tyndale) signifies I know nothing against myself, like the Latin “ nil conscire sibi ” in Hor. Ep . 61, or the nil mihi conscius sum of the Vulgate here. The expression “I know nothing by him,” as equivalent to “I know nothing against his character” is a common one in the North of England. Instances of this expression in old English writers may be found in Davies’ Bible English . St Paul, as in Acts 23:1 , gives the Corinthians to understand that he is not aware of any wilful dereliction of duty on his part. See 2 Corinthians 1:12 . We can hardly suppose that one who was so conscious of his many infirmities (see ch. 9:17, 15:9; Ephesians 3:8 ; 1 Timothy 1:13 , 1 Timothy 1:15 ) supposed himself to be altogether free from faults. The next verse implies the contrary, and we read in an Epistle written long afterwards (Philippians 3:13 ), that he did not consider himself ‘already perfect,’ but as pushing on towards his only ideal of perfection, the character of his Master, Jesus Christ.

yet am I not hereby justified ] “There may be many sins which we commit without being aware of them.” Chrysostom. Consequently God, and He alone, has power to pronounce sentence upon our doings.

5 . Therefore judge nothing before the time ] The precept is here applied to the relation of teacher and taught which is laid down generally in St Matthew 7:1 and Romans 2:1 . It is our duty to listen to the teaching of God’s ministers, test it humbly yet candidly and sincerely, by the aid of God’s word, to ‘hold fast that which is good’ and act upon it (1 Thessalonians 5:21 ), but to avoid all scrutiny and imputation of motives, since to search the heart is the prerogative of God alone. “Learn not to judge, for we do not know the secrets of the heart. We judge men by gifts, or by a correspondence with our own peculiarities, but God judges by fidelity.” Robertson.

6 . And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred ] The word in the Greek translated in a figure transferred signifies to change the shape of . The Vulgate renders transfiguravi , Wiclif transfigured , Tyndale described in mine own person , the Geneva version, I have figuratively described in mine own person . St Paul changes the names of the persons, substituting himself and Apollos for the teachers most in repute at Corinth, that he might thus avoid personality. But the principles laid down in the preceding chapters were to be applied universally.

not to think of men above that which is written ] The words to think are not to be found in many ancient copies. In that case we must translate, that ye may learn in us the precept, Not above what is written . Wordsworth quotes in illustration of the construction:


The rule of not too much , by Temperance taught.”

Paradise Lost , Bk. xi. l. 528.

is written ] i.e. in the Old Testament Scriptures. We have no certainty that any part of the New Testament was written at this time, save the two Epistles to the Thessalonians, and probably that to the Galatians. The only place in the New Testament where the term Scripture is applied to the books of the New Testament 2 Peter 3:16 . See ch. 9:10; 10:11; 15:3, 4, 45, 54. St Paul either refers to Jeremiah 9:23 , Jeremiah 9:24 , or to passages which speak of God as the source of all knowledge, such as Deuteronomy 17:19 , Deuteronomy 17:20 ; Joshua 1:8 ; Psalms 1:2 , 119:99, 100; Proverbs 8:9 ., &c.

7 . For who maketh thee to differ from another ] Cf. St John 3:27 ; James 1:17 . All the gifts they had received were of God, and this fact excluded as a matter of course all boasting or self-satisfaction. The Vulgate translates ‘maketh thee to differ’ by discerno , with the signification given above. This throws a light on the meaning of our English word discern in ch. 11:29, where see note.

glory ] Rather, perhaps, boast . See note on ch. 5:6.

8 16. Contrast between the Corinthian Teachers and St Paul

8 . Now ye are full, now ye are rich ] Here we have one of the sudden turns of feeling so remarkable in the Apostle’s style. Abruptly breaking off at the word ‘boast,’ he dashes off into an animated and ironical apostrophe. ‘I may well say ‘boast’ for boasting is your crying sin, but it is boasting in yourselves, not in God. All your wants spiritual and temporal now are satisfied, you have become rich, you are reigning like kings. But in your self-satisfaction you give not a thought to those whose labours have made you what you are. Would that it were really with you as you imagine it to be! Then we might hope for some remission of our trials, distresses, humiliations. But at present all the sorrow, suffering, shame is ours, while either in fact or in fancy you are enjoying all the good things given to Christians, immunity from suffering, quiet of conscience (Romans 8:1 ), wisdom, honour, inward satisfaction.’ The word translated full has the sense of being satiated with good things, (Vulgate, saturati ). Some editors read the verse as a series of questions. But the affirmative form strengthens the irony of the passage.

without us ] Though St Paul had admitted the Corinthians into the same blessings as he enjoyed himself, he had no share in their blessings.

and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you ] The Apostle does not regard the persecutions and distresses he underwent as desirable for their own sake, but only as means to an end. The empire of evil is not to be destroyed without a conflict, and the sufferings endured by Christ’s servants are the evidences that it is going on. But the best of those who are thus contending for the truth may lawfully wish that the conflict were over and the reign of the saints begun. Such a wish, in fact, appears to be expressed by the words, ‘Thy kingdom come.’

9 . For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were approved to death ] So the original version of 1611. Our modern Bibles read appointed with Tyndale and Cranmer. Cf. ch. 15:31; Psalms 44:22 ; Romans 8:36 ; 2 Corinthians 4:11 . It is possible that we have here, as in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 , an expression of that expectation of Christ’s speedy coming which we know was general among the Christians of the Apostolic age. We know (Mark 13:32 ) that the Apostle’s inspiration did not extend to this subject. However this may be, the Apostles are represented as coming last in a procession of gladiators, as devoted to death, (Tertullian renders the word bestiarios , “appointed to fight with beasts,” see ch. 15:32,) and the whole universe, angels and men, as spectators of the conflict. Cf. Hebrews 10:33 ; Hebrews 12:1 . The image is taken from the Isthmian games which were held near Corinth. See notes on ch. 9:24 27.

10 . We are fools for Christ’s sake ] Rather, on account of Christ, i.e. on account of His doctrine, which was looked upon as folly (ch. 1:23; 2:14).

ye are wise in Christ ] Prudent , Wiclif; prudentes , Vulgate. It is scarcely necessary to explain that this language is ironical. They were unquestionably ‘prudent’ in this, that they spared themselves the labours and anxieties in which St Paul was so ‘abundant’ (2 Corinthians 11:23 ).

11 . Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst ] The Apostle would point out to his converts the true glory of the Christian minister. Labour and suffering for Christ’s sake are the marks of the servants of God, not self-conceit and self-praise.

12 . and labour, working with our own hands ] Consult Paley, Horae Paulinae , 1st Ep. to Corinthians, No. vi, for a full discussion of the remarkable coincidence between this passage and the speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:34 , where, though the words were spoken on a different occasion, and are related by a different author, we find statements exactly corresponding. St Paul, in this Epistle written from Ephesus, and in that speech spoken at Ephesus, states that he laboured with his own hands there, and in both cases the remark is dropped undesignedly. The coincidence is the best proof possible of the genuineness both of Epistle and narrative. See also ch. 9:6 and Acts 18:3 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:9 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:8 .

being reviled, we bless ] Compare St Matthew 5:5 , Matthew 5:38-45 ; St Luke 23:34 ; St John 18:23 ; 1 Peter 2:23 .

13 . we are made as the filth of the world ] The word here translated filth means (1) that which is removed by cleansing and (2) an expiatory sacrifice , one who is delivered up to destruction, like Jonah, to save others as guilty as himself. St Paul does not assert that he is such a sacrifice, but that he is like one, because by his sorrows and sufferings many souls are brought to Christ. Cf. Colossians 1:24 , and Bp Wordsworth in loc .

and are the offscouring ] Literally, as the offscouring . This word in the original is derived from a verb signifying to rub, scrape, shave. It has similar significations to the preceding: (1) that which is removed by rubbing , (2) a sacrifice for the benefit of others . Suidas in his Lexicon states that it was a custom among the Greeks in times of calamity to cast a victim into the sea as a sacrifice to appease Poseidon, the god of the sea, with the words, “Be thou our offscouring.” In virtue of the humiliations and distresses endured by St Paul, he represents himself as becoming the refuse of mankind, in order that by this means he may bring blessings innumerable within their reach. So Tobit 5:18, “Let the money be sacrificed as nought for the sake of the child;” and Ignatius (to the Ephesians, ch. 8), “I am your offscouring ,” i.e. I am undergoing these afflictions for your sakes, and similarly in the Epistle attributed to St Barnabas (ch. 6), in all which places the same word is used.

of all things ] Better, of all men .

14 . I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you ] The object of the foregoing passage might be mistaken, and therefore the Apostle refers to the mutual relation between himself and the Corinthian Church. His object is not reproach, but the amendment of their lives. It is the rebuke of a father, not the strong language of a man justly indignant.

15 . yet have ye not many fathers ] We have here an interesting example of the fact that the spirit rather than the letter of Christ’s commands is to be observed, and that one passage of Scripture is not to be strained so as to contradict another. ‘Call no man your father on earth,’ says Christ (St Matthew 23:9 ): that is, as explained by the present passage, in such a spirit as to forget Him from whom all being proceeds.

in Christ Jesus I have begotten you ] i.e. because Jesus Christ dwells in His ministers, and their work is His. Cf. ch. 3:5 9.

16 . be ye followers of me ] Literally, imitators . Vulgate, imitatores . St Paul’s was no spurious humility, such as has too often taken the place of real gospel humility in the Christian Church. He could venture to refer to his own example, where his conscience told him he had honestly striven to carry out his Master’s commands.

17 21. Mission of Timothy, to be followed, if ineffectual, by strong measures on the part of St Paul himself

17 . For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus ] Literally, I sent , i.e. before this epistle was written, see note on ch. 16:10. St Paul’s affection for the gentle and somewhat timid Timothy is a remarkable trait in his character. From almost the beginning to the end of his ministry he had, not even excepting St Luke, no more trustworthy, affectionate, and faithful friend, nor one who more thoroughly understood his mind. Cf. Philippians 2:19 , Philippians 2:20 , Philippians 2:22 ; 1 Thessalonians 3:2 ; 1 Timothy 1:3 ; 2 Timothy 3:10 . It may be also valuable to remark how the common life of the believer and his Lord is ever present with St Paul. If Timothy is ‘faithful and beloved,’ it is ‘in the Lord;’ if St Paul has ‘ways,’ they are ‘in Christ.’ For Timothy’s parentage and connexion with the Apostle, see 2 Timothy 1:5 , and Acts 16:1 . It will be observed that the statement here undesignedly made is in precise agreement with Acts 19:22 . See Paley, Horae Paulinae, in loc .

my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord ] rather, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord , implying that Timothy owed his conversion to the Apostle, cf. 1 Timothy 1:2 , 1 Timothy 1:18 ; 2 Timothy 1:2 ; where the same word is used which is here translated ‘son.’

who shall bring you into remembrance ] A delicate hint that they had forgotten them.

my ways which be in Christ ] An equally delicate hint that they are not St Paul’s ways only.

as I teach every where in every church ] An additional reason why they should not be set aside at Corinth.

18 . Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you ] See note below, ch. 5:2. As the whole of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians shews (see for instance, ch. 10:2), there were those at Corinth who depreciated St Paul’s authority. Such persons persuaded themselves that they had so undermined his reputation that he would not dare to come again to Corinth, and they grew more self-asserting in consequence. But though St Paul submitted to contempt and insult from without, he demands the respect due to his office from those within. He bore the reproach of the infidel and scoffer: among his own people he acts upon the precept, ‘Let no man despise thee.’ Paley remarks on the undesigned coincidence between this passage and 2 Corinthians 1:15-17 ; 2 Corinthians 2:1 . It appears that there had been some uncertainty about the Apostle’s visit. It was this which had led some of his opponents to assert that he would never shew his face at Corinth again.

19 . if the Lord will ] See James 4:13-15 , who “justly derides that rashness among men, in that they plan what they shall do ten years hence, when they are not certain that they shall live another hour.” Calvin in loc . The Roman Catholic commentator, Estius, makes a similar observation.

not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power ] The power that is derived from Christ, which He Himself possessed to influence the heart of man. Such seems to be the more usual meaning of the word δύναμις in St Paul’s Epistles. Cf. Romans 1:16 ; 1 Corinthians 2:4 , &c. It includes, no doubt, the power of working miracles, for with one or two exceptions, the miracles of the gospel were manifestations of Christ’s power to deliver humanity from the dominion of evil and its consequences.

20 . not in word, but in power ] See note on ch. 1:5, where the word here used is translated utterance . In the last verse it is translated speech . Like our words sermon and discourse , it contains within itself the notion of matter and oral delivery. Of what the Apostle meant by power , we are scarcely fit judges. We have been too familiar with them from childhood to be able to comprehend what power the Apostles’ words must have had upon the hearts and lives of those who heard them. We may gain some slight idea by comparing them with the best passages of the earliest Christian writers after the Apostles; and still more by comparing them with the utterances of the Greek sophists and dialecticians of the time. The kingdom of God, St Paul would remind his hearers, i.e. His sovereignty over the human heart, is not simply an affair of the intellect, but of the spirit. It does not consist in the acceptance or establishment of certain propositions, but in influence over the life and conscience.

21 . with a rod ] That is either (1) with some commentators, e.g. Chrysostom, the resolution to deliver the rebellious over to Satan (see next chapter). If this be the case, the word ‘power’ in the last verse must include power to do harm. But it is better (2) to refer the expression to the severity of language which the Apostle would be compelled to use, if there were no signs of improvement when he came. This falls in best with the fatherly relation, involving of course the idea of correction, in which he describes himself as standing towards the Corinthian Church. See v . 15, and compare Proverbs 13:24 ; Proverbs 23:13 , Proverbs 23:14 , &c. The words ‘spirit of meekness’ in the last part of the verse confirm this last interpretation. The literal translation is ‘ in a rod,’ referring to the spirit in which the Apostle was to come. ‘Am I to come to you in a spirit of correction, or in a spirit of meekness?’

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.