Saturday, June 3rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Contending for the Faith Contending for the Faith
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ctf/ 1-corinthians-1.html. 1993-2022.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/
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Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
Paul: "Paul," originally called Saul (Acts 13:9), is first mentioned in the New Testament in Acts 7:58, as he was consenting to the stoning of Stephen, the first known Christian martyr. This is only the first of many zealous but wicked deeds done by Paul, a man who, according to Acts 8:3, "made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison." In Galatians 1:13, Paul speaks of the time past when he "...persecuted the church of God, and wasted it."
The turning point in Paul’s life took place as he was traveling to Damascus for the purpose of searching for and punishing Christians. Paul relates this account to King Agrippa:
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision (Acts 26:9-19).
In this heavenly vision, Saul is instructed to go into Damascus; and there he would be told what he must do (Acts 9:6). About the same time, another vision announces to Ananias that Saul of Tarsus is a chosen vessel to bear the Lord’s name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel (Acts 9:11-15). Ananias taught Saul, who "arose and was baptized" and "straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God" (Acts 9:18; Acts 9:20).
called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ: It appears from 1 Corinthians 9:1 that certain Judaizers are teaching that Paul is not a called "apostle"; therefore, he declares the divinity of his apostleship. Paul, just as the other apostles (Matthew 4:21), was "called" (kletos), meaning that he was "invited" or "appointed" by the Lord to be an apostle (Strong #2822). The word "called" is an adjective describing the noun "apostle." Paul was a called apostle of Jesus Christ.
The King James Version states that he was "called to be an apostle." The words "to be" are not in the original manuscripts but were added in an attempt to clarify the text: the addition makes the point that Paul is stressing more difficult to understand. A better translation would be, as is rendered by the Nestle Greek Text, "Paul, a called apostle." A.T. Robertson says that this phrase is "literally, a called apostle, not so-called, but one whose apostleship is due not to himself or to men, but to God" (Vol. IV 68).
Because of the seriousness of this letter, it was absolutely necessary for the Corinthians to understand the authority of Paul’s words. He has authority because he is a called "apostle." Thayer defines the word "apostle" (apostolos) as "a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders" (68-1-652); therefore, being a called "apostle" of Jesus Christ indicates that Paul is speaking for Jesus Christ. Throughout this letter, Paul repeatedly stresses the message he is delivering originated from the Lord and he is the messenger, as the following scriptures teach:
I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you (11:23).
...the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord (14:37).
I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received (15:3).
through the will of God: Paul was called "through the will of God." Strong’s Concordance says that the preposition "through" (dia) denotes "the channel of an act" (#1223). Paul did not become an apostle through a channel or plan set up by himself; instead, he became an apostle because it was God’s "will" (theleme). Thayer defines "will" as "what one wishes or has determined shall be done" (285-1-2307). The statement, "through the will of God," is enough to prove that Paul is not a self-made apostle. He is an appointed apostle through the determination of God.
and Sosthenes our brother: There is no way to know positively who this particular Sosthenes is because this was a common name during Paul’s day. There is a man by this name mentioned in Acts 18:17, but whether this is the same man is difficult to know. All that we do know for sure is this man is a "brother" or, as Thayer says, "an associate in employment or office" (11-1-80), indicating that Sosthenes is a Christian associate of Paul. The mention of Sosthenes’ name in the greeting of this letter indicates that he is probably known to the Corinthians.
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
Unto the church of God: Paul now specifies to whom this letter is written. He says, "Unto the church of God." Thayer comments that the "church" (ekklesia) in this place refers to "those who anywhere, in city or village, constitute such a company and are united into one body" (196-1-1577). The word "church" indicates "a calling out" (Strong #1577). These people were of the world, but now they have been called out of the world (by Paul’s teaching of the gospel) unto the Lord, into one body, the church (Colossians 1:18). They are now God’s possession.
Furthermore, the phrase "the church of God" has reference to the church of God the Son or the church of Christ. In Acts 20:28, Paul admonishes the elders in Ephesus to
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood (see Ephesians 5:25).
which is at Corinth: Many times inspired writers use the word "church" in a universal sense and refer to every person who has become obedient to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 5:23-29). Paul, however, uses the word "church" in a congregational sense, referring to the church in a given locality, specifically "at Corinth" (see the Introduction for details on the establishment of the church at Corinth).
to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus: The term "sanctified" (hagiazo) is defined by Thayer as "to purify internally by reformation of soul" (6-2-37). Strong says it means "to make holy; purify; consecrate; venerate" (#37).
It may seem strange that the Apostle Paul would use such a term as "sanctified" to identify a group of excessively sinful people such as some of those in the church in Corinth. He is, however, speaking of their past condition. Being "sanctified" or set apart to God is a designation applied to every child of God the very moment he becomes obedient to God’s plan of salvation. The word does not refer to a Christian’s degree of perfection. Jesus says, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). In order to be "sanctified" by the truth, Christians must allow the truth to be the rule of their lives. Sanctification is not something achieved by people; instead it is a relationship into which God calls them.
These Christians are sanctified "in Christ Jesus"; the death of Christ brought forth their sanctification. The writer of Hebrews says,
By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (10:10).
Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate (13:13).
Some denominations teach sanctification is a second blessing and once a person is sanctified he has no desire to sin and therefore cannot sin. We are made to realize the fallacy of this doctrine by looking into the lives of the Corinthians. They were, indeed, sanctified, but still Paul writes to them, warning of their sins as outlined below:
1. Divisions--chapters two-four
2. Incest--chapter five
3. Taking each other to law--chapter six, verses 1-11
4. Fornication--chapter six, verses 12-20
5. Marriage problems--chapter seven
6. Unlawful use of liberties--chapters eight-ten
7. Problems concerning authority--chapter eleven, verses 2-16
8. Problems with the Lord’s Supper--chapter eleven, verses 17-34
9. Misunderstanding of spiritual gifts--chapters twelve-fourteen
10. The resurrection--chapter fifteen
called to be saints: The phrase "called to be saints" is repeating and emphasizing the idea of being sanctified. The word "called" means the same as in verse 1. The Corinthians had been sanctified in Christ Jesus and were "called" (kletos) to be saints. Vine says they were "saints by calling" (12). This word "saints" (hagios) is defined as to be "sacred; blameless; consecrated" (Strong #40).
The word "saints" is not to be understood as a title for a select group of devout men and women many years after they have died. Sainthood is not something achieved by people whose virtues are superior to others. All who have accepted the gospel call are "called saints," and this calling is by Jesus Christ. Paul explains in 2 Thessalonians 2:14, "Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." Because the Corinthians are called by the gospel and are thus "called saints," they have the responsibility of living a life of holiness, completely separate from the world. In 1 Thessalonians 4:7, Paul writes, "For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness."
with all that in every place: This phrase informs the Corinthians that even though this letter is initially written to them, in response to their letters, the instructions are intended for all saints wherever they may be. Paul refers to other congregations throughout this letter; for example:
For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church (4:17).
But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches (7:17).
But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God (11:16).
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints (14:33).
call upon: To "call upon" (epikaleomai) the name of Jesus is to "invoke, adore, worship, the Lord, that is, Christ" (Thayer 239-2-1941). This calling upon is simply to bow to the authority of Jesus and to look to Him for the help that can come only from Him.
An examination of other passages where the idea of calling upon the name of Jesus is used will help us to have a better understanding of the teaching here. For example, a "calling" of Stephen was used in the sense of a prayer (Acts 7:59). He prayed for God to receive his spirit. Again, it is used as an appeal to God for salvation when Ananias instructed Saul, "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Acts 2:21 similarly teaches, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." In verse 2 of this chapter, Paul says that this letter is instruction for everyone who appeals to God for salvation and has acknowledged His authority.
the name of Jesus Christ our Lord: Because the Corinthians had not allowed the authority of Jesus to be the foundation of their lives, Paul repeatedly stresses the full title the "Lord Jesus Christ." Within the first ten verses, Paul refers to this title six times. It appears his purpose is to remind them this letter is inspirationally written with the approval of the Lord.
both theirs and ours: The phrase "both theirs and ours" has caused problems with some in trying to determine if it is joined with the word "Lord" or the word "place." Even though it is possible this phrase could refer to their Lord and our Lord, showing that Jesus is the Lord of all Christians wherever they may be, it should be applied to place, referring to Christians everywhere who call upon the name of the Lord. The pronoun "theirs" refers to "all that in every place," including congregations today that call upon Jesus. The pronoun "ours" identifies Sosthenes and Paul with their converts at Corinth who call upon the name of Jesus.
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace be unto you: The word "grace" (charis) "contains the idea of kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved" (Thayer 666-1-5485). This grace originates only from Christ: "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). "By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2). All spiritual blessings that Christians receive from Jesus Christ are a direct result of grace, about which Albert Barnes says,
It seems to be a word including all those blessings that are applicable to Christians in common; denoting an ardent wish that all the mercies and favors of God for time and eternity, blended under the general name grace, may be conferred on them (27).
One example of God’s "grace" is found in Paul’s life. He obviously realizes he did not deserve salvation and it came because of the grace of God. He says,
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (15:10).
Salvation, through grace, is offered to all mankind as Paul teaches in other scriptures. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" (Titus 2:11). "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2:8).
and peace: The word "peace" (eirene) refers to "the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is" (Thayer 182-2-1515). That this is the proper meaning can hardly be denied when reading Jesus’ words of comfort in John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." As grace originates from Jesus Christ, so does peace. "Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means" (2 Thessalonians 3:16). This type of peace can be experienced only by those in Christ. Jesus says,
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
The two words "grace" and "peace" are found in the greetings of every letter written by the Apostle Paul (with the exception of Hebrews). In the spiritual sense, "grace is in the Greek salutation, peace is the Jewish" (Vincent, Vol. III 186).
from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace come from both God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We have grace and peace from both or neither. The point is "he who has Jesus Christ as his Lord has God as his Father" (Kittel, Vol. IX 554). We cannot have one without the other. The inseparable union of God and Christ as presented in this salutation is found often in John’s writings:
That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him (John 5:23).
He that hateth me hateth my Father also (John 15:23).
Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also (1 John 2:23).
I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
I thank my God always on your behalf: The word "thank" (eucharisteo) is defined as "to be grateful" (Strong #2168). It appears to have been customary in writing letters in Paul’s day to express words of appreciation and thankfulness to God for the good qualities of those addressed. It is interesting to note that even though many of the members in the church in Corinth were wicked, Paul found something to thank God for. In this situation, Paul gives an example of how to deal with fellow Christians. Even though it sometimes becomes necessary to tell congregations or individuals their faults, we are remiss if we fail to thank God for the good that is within them.
for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ: For a moment, Paul lays aside the main purpose of this letter to express his gratitude to God for the gift of "grace" given to the Corinthians. The "grace" did not come "by" Jesus Christ; instead, according to the New International Version, it came because of their being "in Christ Jesus," by being members of Christ. There were many good things about the church in Corinth for which to be thankful.
The teaching beginning in verse 5 shows that Paul is not speaking of the grace that brought salvation; instead, he has in mind specific gifts that were given to the Corinthians when they were first converted.
That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
That in every thing ye are enriched by him: Paul is thankful that originally the Corinthians were "enriched" (ploutizo) with "every thing." This word "every thing" is to be limited to the things named, that is, "in all utterance, and in all knowledge." The word "enriched" is defined as "to be richly furnished" (Thayer 519-2-4148). The Revised Standard Version renders verses 4-6 in the past tense by saying,
I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge even as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you.
in all utterance: "Utterance" (logos) is defined as "a kind (or style) of speaking" (Thayer 380-2-3056). Strong’s Dictionary says the term means "something said including the thought" (#3056). Paul has reference to the Corinthians’ being spiritually enriched. They are rich with "utterance," which refers to an outward expression of truth.
and in all knowledge: The Corinthians are also enriched with "knowledge" (gnosis), meaning "intelligence" (Thayer 119-2-1108) and referring to the inward understanding of truth.
The two words translated "utterance" and "knowledge" are often found together in the scriptures: 1 Corinthians 12:8; 2 Corinthians 8:7; 2 Corinthians 11:6. More than likely, "utterance" and "knowledge" have reference to many brethren within the congregation in Corinth who are blessed with the spiritual gift of prophecy and the gift of speaking in tongues. Paul refers to "utterance" and "knowledge" in 1 Corinthians 12, where he says,
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues (8-10).
Undoubtedly, there are many with an excellent knowledge or understanding of God’s word who are great teachers. Paul instructs them concerning how they are to deal with the problems that arise where there are too many teachers. In chapter fourteen, he says,
How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted (26-31).
Paul is thankful that God has blessed the church at Corinth with men who have an understanding of God’s word. Therefore, this letter teaches of internal problems that did not come from their not knowing the truth but from their ignoring it because of pride and carnality.
Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
Even as the testimony of Christ: The words, "even as" (kathos), mean "since, seeing that, agreeably to the fact that" (Thayer 315-1-2531). Thus, Paul introduces the source from which the Corinthians are enriched with utterance and knowledge. These gifts came by the "testimony of Christ."
The word "testimony" (marturion) means "something evidential" (Strong #3142). There is unnecessary confusion about what the "testimony of Christ" means. It is unnecessary confusion because neither view excludes the other. For example, some understand that Christ is the subject. The "testimony" is concerning Christ, who He is, what He has done for us, what He means in our lives. On the other hand, some say "the testimony of Christ" has reference to the teachings of Christ (the gospel) delivered by the Apostle Paul. There is very little difference between these two views, and the correct understanding of "the testimony of Christ" is probably a combination of both. The passage has reference to everything concerning Christ; and as to whether this phrase has reference to the actual teachings of Jesus Christ or the Apostle Paul does not matter because Paul says, "I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you" (11:23) (see 14:37; 15:3).
was confirmed in you: All the teachings of Jesus Christ were "confirmed" (bebaioo) in the Corinthians by the miraculous gifts (utterance and knowledge, verse 5) being bestowed upon them. The word "confirmed" means to "make firm, establish, confirm, (or) make sure" (Thayer 99-2-950). Since these gifts had been bestowed upon the Corinthians, they were able to confirm the teachings of Christ to others.
Other places in the scriptures teach this same idea. For example, in Mark 16:20 the apostles "went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." Also Hebrews 2:4 teaches, "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" The miraculous gifts with which the Corinthians were blessed enabled them to "confirm" that this new gospel actually came from God.
So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
So that ye come behind in no gift: The spiritual gifts were so liberally given to the Corinthians that they came behind in no gift. The words "come behind" (hustereo) are defined as "to be in want of, lack" (Thayer 646-1-5302). Strong defines it as "inferior" or "deficient" (#5302).
They were so blessed with these gifts that they were in need of no other "gift." The word "gift" (charisma) indicates,
...extraordinary powers, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the church of Christ, the reception of which is due to the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit (Thayer 667-1-5486).
In verse 5, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are "enriched" in "every thing" ("utterance, and in all knowledge"). In verse 7, he reemphasizes this point by saying "ye come behind in no gift." In 2 Corinthians 12:13, he says, "For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong." Certainly they were blessed with miraculous abilities.
waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Waiting" (apekdechomai) means "to expect fully" (Strong #553). The Corinthians were fully expecting the Lord’s "coming" (apokalupsis) or His "appearance" (Thayer 62-2-602). In Romans, Paul makes the same point: "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God" (8:19). The Corinthians were so greatly blessed with the gift of knowledge that they should understand they must be constantly ready for the Lord’s return. Being able to teach, they should continually teach the truths of God’s word until the Lord Jesus returns.
Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who shall also confirm you unto the end: The Lord had firmly established the Corinthians in the truth by giving some of them the gift of knowledge. This gift should "confirm" the Corinthians’ faith until Jesus’ return.
that ye may be blameless: Being established in the truth, they would be found "blameless" when Christ returns to be glorified. The phrase "that ye may be blameless" is one word in the Greek (anegkletos) and is defined as "unaccused" (Strong #410). Being "blameless" does not mean they will be found sinless because the book of 1 Corinthians points out they were surrounded by many sins. The purpose of this writing was to rebuke them for their many sinful acts; however, they could be found "blameless" because, if they are obedient and repent of their sinful ways, God will forgive them. Blamelessness was conditional upon the Corinthians’ perseverance in the faith. Paul speaks of being blameless again in Colossians:
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister (1:21-23).
in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ: "In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" refers to "the last day of the present age" (Thayer 278-2-2250), alluding to the second coming of the Lord. In the Old Testament, this phrase refers to Jehovah; however, in the New Testament, it always refers to Jesus Christ. Similar expressions are found throughout the New Testament; for example: "the day of the Lord Jesus" (5:5); "the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6); "the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:10).
God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
God is faithful: God is "faithful" (pistos), indicating He is "trustworthy" (Strong #4103). This faithfulness of God guarantees that it will be no fault of His if the Corinthians fail to achieve fellowship with Jesus. The Corinthians certainly had sins in their lives; but Paul is assuring them, before dealing with their specific sins, that God is still "faithful" to forgive them. This same idea is taught in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
by whom ye were called: Christians are "called" (kaleo), indicating they are "invited" (Thayer 321-1-2564), to be in fellowship with Christ by the Father, who gives men the gift of prophecy so they can teach the gospel.
unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: Being in "fellowship" (koinonia), meaning "partnership" (Strong #2842), with Jesus Christ is the reason Christians must remain blameless. Accepting this "call" or "invitation" involves rejecting the world and suffering with Christ. When we accept the call, God is faithful to save us.
It is worthy of consideration to note that within verses 2-9 the Apostle Paul does not name any apostle or teacher; instead, he stresses the name of Jesus Christ nine times. His purpose is to draw the Corinthians’ minds to Jesus. As is seen beginning with verse 10, they are divided over the names of great teachers. Paul’s desire is for them to return to Christ.
Divisions in the Corinthian Church
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Now I beseech you, brethren: Once again, Paul is attempting to put Jesus Christ first in their minds. By saying, "I beseech you" (parakaleo), he is calling this important matter to the attention of his "brethren." The words "I beseech you" do "not mean ’I beg’ but rather ’I call upon you,’ ’I summon,’ ’I admonish you’" (Lenski 38). In calling them "brethren," Paul is acknowledging them as having been born again--they are children of God.
by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: To exhort by the "name" (onoma) of Christ is "to beseech one by employing Christ’s name as a motive or incentive" (Thayer 448-2-3686). As Paul has repeatedly done in the previous verses, he explains that the things he is about to say come from the authority of "our Lord Jesus Christ."
that ye all speak the same thing: The term "speak" (lego) means "to lay forth" (Strong #3004). Paul urges them to practice the same message he has taught them previously--the message that came from Jesus Christ (11:23; 14:37; 15:3). To "speak the same thing" is the only cure for division. These people knew what to speak: they knew what was pleasing to God because they were endowed with the gifts of "utterance" and "knowledge" (verse 5). "Speaking the same thing" is exactly the opposite of their conduct, as Paul mentions in verse 12; therefore, he is encouraging them to change and once again speak the same thing, "to have the same sentiments on the subjects which divided them" (Alford, Vol. VI 476). Paul teaches the same principle to the church at Philippi when he says, "Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind" (Philippians 2:2).
and that there be no divisions among you: "Divisions" (schisma) is defined as "dissension" (Thayer 610-1-4978). Strong says it means "a split or gap" (#4978). The Corinthians’ "divisions" did not involve a literal separation--they worshiped together, but there was trouble among them. There were "divisions" over teachers (1:12-4:21), over how to deal with immorality (chapter five), over going to law before the heathens (chapter six), over marriage (chapter seven), over eating sacrificial meats (chapters eight-ten), over the conduct of women (11:2-16), over the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), over spiritual gifts (chapters twelve-fourteen), and over the resurrection (chapter fifteen).
Concerning these nine matters, Paul instructs them to speak the same thing according to their spiritual knowledge.
but that ye be perfectly joined together: Paul admonishes the Corinthians to be "perfectly joined together" (katartizo). They were to be "strengthen(ed), perfect, complete, (their goals were to) make one what he ought to be" (Thayer 336-1-2675). Paul’s desire for them is to restore their unity. The Greek term translated "perfectly joined together" is also used in reference to mending nets: "And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them" (Matthew 4:21). To be perfectly joined together is the opposite of being divided.
in the same mind and in the same judgment: The definitions of the two words "mind" and "judgment" are so closely related that, at first, they appear to be synonyms; but they do have distinctive meanings. The word "mind" (nous) refers to the intellect or to "a particular mode of thinking and judging" (Thayer 429-2-3563). Paul has reference to the faculty by which truth is comprehended. He tells the Corinthians not to be divided in their thinking. He would have them "to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus" (Romans 15:5).
The term "judgment" (gnome) means "view (or) opinion" (Thayer 119-1-1106). Paul is not instructing the Corinthians to have exactly the same opinions on every aspect of every subject, but he is demanding that they are to live and worship in peace with each other. They are not to have the mind of confusion but the mind of Christ, as he instructs in chapter two, verse 16: "For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." To have the "mind of Christ" is to have a mind that will accept the word of God as the final authority. With such a mind all divisions are eliminated--God’s word will settle any problems.
When Christians do not have this mind, they will be divided. Paul is saying the Corinthians are not to be divided over the procedure of dealing with problems; they are to agree to allow God’s word to be the only rule of judging. Divisions do not arise over what God’s word says but what it does not say.
In spite of this teaching, the Corinthians continued to have problems. In fact, Paul writes this same group of Christians later and says, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20).
For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren: The word "declared" (deloo) is defined as "to make known by relating" (Thayer 131-2-1213). Paul has been told about some sins within the church in Corinth that could possibly cause division (verse 10); but still he refers to them, out of love and concern, as "brethren."
by them which are of the house of Chloe: Paul names the "house of Chloe" as his source of information. All we know about Chloe is that she was a Christian and probably a member of the church in Corinth. It does not appear that Chloe was the only one offering this information. As a matter of fact, she may not, personally, have given any information at all. Paul says the information came from her "house," or her household. Vine says,
the mention of them and of her name implies their willingness to be known as the informants. That the Apostle has no hesitation in identifying them provides sufficient evidence that it was not a case of mere tale-telling, but of God-fearing disclosure to the one who was especially qualified to handle the matter so that it might be dealt with after a godly sort. To impart the information thus was doubtless a grief and a burden and a testing of their faith (17).
that there are contentions among you: The word "contentions" (eris) signifies "a quarrel" (Strong #2054), indicating strife or bitter discussions that would easily deteriorate into divisions. Whenever the term "contention" is found in the New Testament, it always has reference to an evil act. Strife and quarreling were very common within the Corinthian church; it came about because, rather than having Jesus first in their lives, members were trying to get others to side with them.
Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
Now this I say: By the phrase "Now this I say," Paul is actually saying, "Now what I mean is" or "I say this because"; then in the next statement he explains why he has made the previous statement.
that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ: Paul is now explaining the word "contentions" in verse 11 by letting the Corinthians know he has been told they were quarreling about leadership. Some of the members looked to Paul, some to Apollos, some to Cephas, and some to Christ as their leader; and they were trying to get other members to side with them in their belief. None of these four, however, were in disagreement. Paul, Apollos, and Cephas looked to Christ as their leader, and certainly the Corinthian Christians should be doing the same.
There are various reasons for the Corinthians’ choosing one of these four individuals to be their leader. Possibly those who were members of the "Paul-party" looked up to him as their leader because he established the congregation in Corinth (Acts 18). The ones who followed the "Apollos-party" could have made their decision based on the fact that after he left Paul’s company he went to Corinth, and they found him to be "an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures" (Acts 18:24-28). Those of the "Cephas party" selected him as their leader possibly because he was one of the original apostles who walked with Jesus, possibly because he was the first to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 10), or maybe because he was regarded as the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7). Those of the "Christ-party" may have chosen Christ as their leader because of a correct understanding of God’s word. Regardless of their reasons, Paul would have them to drop their party names and trust only in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul, speaking of this same incident, says,
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building (3-9).
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
Is Christ divided: The term "divided" (merizo) means "apportion" (Strong #3307). Paul uses the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 7:17: "But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches." Thayer says that Paul is asking, "Has Christ himself, whom ye claim as yours, been like yourselves divided into parts, so that one has one part and another part?" (400-1-3307). By asking this question, Paul is attempting to make the Corinthians think logically about the divisions among them.
In short Paul is asking, "Is Christ divided four different ways?" The answer to this question, of course, is No! Therefore, they should realize since the literal body of Christ is not divided into four parts (for each division in the church), then neither should the spiritual body (the church) be divided into four parts.
was Paul crucified for you: Paul asks, "was Paul crucified for you" in order to center the Corinthians’ minds upon Jesus Christ. He is giving one example to prove that Jesus is his superior. The answer to this question is positively, No! Neither Paul nor Cephas nor Apollos was crucified "for" or in behalf of them--Christ was. Even though Paul refers only to those of the "Paul-party" in this question, the same answer would be true of Cephas and Apollos. Paul does not consider the Corinthians’ wanting to use his name as flattery; instead, he criticizes them for doing so.
or were ye baptized in the name of Paul: As in the previous questions, the answer to this question is No! The Corinthians were baptized believers; they were baptized, not in the name of Paul, but into Jesus Christ. Writing to the church in Galatia, Paul says, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27). If they were baptized "in the name of Paul," they would have been required to wear Paul’s name; if baptized in the name of Cephas or Apollos, they would have been commanded to wear their names; likewise, being baptized into the name of Christ meant they were devoted to and belonged to Christ and, therefore, were to wear His name and be governed by His authority only.
Denominations throughout the world today often wear the name of their founder. For example, the Lutheran church bears the name of its founder, Martin Luther, even though he asked that they not do so:
In the first place, I pray you to leave my name alone, and not to call yourselves Lutherans but Christians. Who is Luther? My doctrine is not mine! I have not been crucified for any one. St. Paul (1 Corinthians 3) would not that any one should call themselves of Paul, nor of Peter, but of Christ. How then does it befit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes, to give my name to the children of Christ. Cease, my dear friends, to cling to the party names and distinctions; away with them all; and let us call ourselves only Christians, after him from whom our doctrine comes (Works of Martin Luther, Vol. 18 293).
The same three questions, asked by the Apostle Paul, should be asked today of every religious group not wearing the name of Christ. "Is Christ divided?" "Was crucified for you?" "Were you baptized into the name of ?"
I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
I thank God that I baptized none of you: Because of the divisions within the Corinthian church and chiefly because Paul’s name was chosen as one of the party names, he is especially thankful that he had not personally baptized any of them. More than likely it was by the providence of God that Paul did not baptize more of the Corinthians.
but Crispus and Gaius: Paul names two exceptions to his statement that he baptized none of them: namely Crispus and Gaius. Crispus was a ruler of the Jewish synagogue and had heard Paul’s preaching and was baptized. "And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized" (Acts 18:8). Gaius was also baptized by the hands of Paul. Later he was Paul’s host as is mentioned in Romans: "Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you" (16:23).
Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
Paul emphasizes why he is thankful that he had not baptized many of the Corinthians. He would not have been wrong if he had baptized them, but he is relieved that he did not. If he had baptized them, they would be using that action as proof that Paul baptized in his own "name" (onoma) or by his own "command and authority" (Thayer 447-2-3686) instead of by the authority of Christ.
And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: It is difficult to determine exactly why Paul did not name the household of Stephanas with the two mentioned in verse 14. Some assume that he forgot and was reminded by Stephanas himself. Others believe that Paul was merely eager to state why he was thankful that he had not made a habit of baptizing them. When Stephanas was baptized, he was living in Achaia, not in Corinth; but later he and his household moved to Corinth as Paul indicates later in this same letter: "I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints)" (16:15).
besides, I know not whether I baptized any other: Paul protects himself from possibly having forgotten others that he may have baptized; however, he has made his point: as a rule, he did not baptize the people in Corinth, but he left that for others to do. Does it surprise us that Paul admits he may have forgotten? Some refer to the Holy Spirit’s bringing back all things to his memory. Jesus says, "The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26). Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit will not bring back to memory "all things"; but instead, all things that are important, that is "all things...whatsoever I have said unto you." The name of every individual Paul baptized is unimportant; the point is that he baptized only a few. Why? The explanation is given in the following section.
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: Godet says "...between verses 16 and 17 the logical connection is this: ’If I baptized, it was only exceptionally; for this function was not the object of my commission’" (84). In explaining that Christ sent him not to baptize, Paul focuses on the wisdom of preaching.
Paul is not teaching that baptism is unimportant but that it was not his mission to the Corinthians. His mission was to "preach the gospel." Paul preached the gospel, people believed and desired to obey, and others took care of the baptizing. The word "preach" (euaggelizo) means "to proclaim glad tidings; specifically, to instruct men concerning the things that pertain to Christian salvation" (Thayer 256-2-2097). Preaching was Paul’s primary mission when he went to Corinth.
The Importance of Baptism
1. Jesus commissions the apostles: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19).
2. Jesus stresses the importance of baptism by saying: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16).
3. Peter clearly says baptism was for the remission of sins. "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).
4. Ananias tells Paul to be baptized and wash away his sins. "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
5. Paul explains baptism is the way to get "into Christ." "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4).
6. Paul says baptism is the way to "put on Christ." "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27).
7. Peter informs us baptism "saves us." "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21).
The importance of baptism is recognized when we understand that without exception, every conversion case in the book of Acts points out the person was baptized.
Manner and Matter of Paul’s Preaching
not with wisdom of words: Vine says that this phrase literally means "’not in wisdom of word’ (that is, speech), relating probably both to the manner and the matter of the preaching" (21). It seems that many of the Corinthians based their trust upon those with eloquent speech, such as Apollos (see verse 12 concerning Apollos). Apollos preached the true gospel of Jesus Christ; but, obviously (even though it was not his desire), many in Corinth believed him and obeyed his words, not because of the truths presented, but because he presented them so eloquently.
There appears to have been many others who preached with "wisdom of words" because in verse 19 Paul quotes the Lord as saying, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." Paul is stressing he was sent to them to "preach," but not to preach the wisdom of his words, but to "preach the gospel." He desired to convert them, not with enticing speeches, but with the messages concerning Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says,
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (2:1-5).
lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect: When people are converted just because of eloquent speeches and emotions, they are not truly converted to Jesus Christ. Such people would obey anything because of the manner of teaching, regardless if truth were presented or not. Obedience to such teaching makes the cross of Christ "of none effect" (kentron), meaning to "deprive of force, render vain, useless" (Thayer 344-1-2758). Obedience to eloquent preaching does not save. Obedience to the preaching of the cross of Christ does save.
Paul writes ’the cross of Christ,’ because this is the very heart of the gospel. If the cross is canceled or lost, the entire gospel is gone. On the cross Christ died for our sins, and this is in brief what ’the cross’ signifies: atonement for sin and guilt, reconciliation with God, forgiveness and peace blood-bought. Everything else contained in the gospel radiates from this vital center. If this center is blotted out, all the rays emanating from it are dissipated in everlasting night (Lenski 52).
God’s Power and Wisdom
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
For the preaching of the cross: The word "For" indicates Paul is about to give proof for his statement in verse 17 concerning the cross of Christ being of none effect if it is preached with the wisdom of words. The term "preaching" (logos) literally means "words" (Thayer 380-1-3056). The phrase "the preaching (or words) of the cross" is contrasted with "the wisdom of words," mentioned in verse 17.
is to them that perish foolishness: Paul has reference to two groups of people: those who heard the "preaching of the cross" but rejected it and those who heard the "preaching of the cross" and obeyed it.
The word "perish" (apollumi) means "to destroy, that is, to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to, ruin, to render useless" (Thayer 64-2-622). Those who "perish" should not be understood as those who have died without obeying God’s law because the word "perish" (apollumi) is in the present tense, denoting a continuous action. The term "perish," therefore, is pointing to their present sinful lives, which are leading them toward eternal destruction.
Concerning those who rejected the teaching of the crucified Christ (those who perish), Paul says all the words spoken about the cross of Christ become "foolishness" (moria), "stupid, silly or worthless" (Vine 22). What is considered "foolishness" is not the act of preaching but the words preached. Vine says, "’The word (of the cross),’ that is, not the act of ’preaching,’ but the substance of the testimony, all that God has made known concerning the subject" (482). In Hebrews, the writer says, "For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (4:2).
but unto us which are saved it is the power of God: Now Paul refers to the second group of people, the "us," referring to all who heard the "preaching of the cross" and obeyed it. Just as the word "perish" is in the present tense, so is the word "saved," (sozo), which means "to deliver" or "to protect" (Strong #4982).
Paul’s message is that those who have accepted the preaching of the cross are the ones being saved by the power of God. The word "power" (dunamis) means "inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth" (Thayer 159-1-1411). "Power" has direct reference to the gospel. Paul says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Romans 1:16).
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise: In this passage, Paul quotes Isaiah:
Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid (29:14).
In this context, the wisdom of Hezekiah’s advisers is a parallel to the "wisdom of the wise" in the Corinthian church. Paul’s hope is that the "wise" in Corinth would realize that as God destroyed the wisdom of Hezekiah’s advisers, he will also do the same with all kinds of wisdom of man.
Beginning this verse with the word "For" indicates Paul is continuing his thoughts from verse 17. Paul says all the changes, schemes, and ideas coming from the wisdom of man, especially the Greek philosophers, will avail nothing. Through philosophers’ wisdom, the Corinthians may consider the preaching of the cross foolishness and may reject the resurrection (Acts 17:18); but, regardless of their ideas, God will "destroy" (apollumi), meaning to "render useless," their wisdom (Thayer 74-2-622). The idea is that the gospel is superior!
and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent: Paul’s message to them is that even though there are intelligent men with them, the Lord will "bring to nothing" (atheteo), or "neutralize" (Strong #114) their "understanding." The "prudent" (sunetos) is defined as the "intelligent, having understanding, wise, (or) learned" (Thayer 604-1-4908).
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
Paul appears to be copying the style of writing found in Isaiah 33:18: "Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?" This language almost appears to be offering a challenge to the wise men of the world. Paul is not concerned with where these people were; instead, by these questions, he is bringing to their minds a profound spiritual truth: worldly wisdom and human philosophers have accomplished nothing!
Where is the wise: "The wise" (sophos) has reference to Greek philosophers who were always searching for wisdom: "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom" (1:22). This question "implies that they have been made fools" (Lenski 56).
where is the scribe: The "scribe" (grammateus) is a "writer" (Strong #1122). With the exception of Acts 19:35, however, the "scribe" is always, in the New Testament, "an interpreter of the law" (Vincent, Vol. III 192). Scribes were a group of experts on the law of Moses.
where is the disputer of this world: This is the only place in the New Testament where the noun "disputer (suzetetes) of this world" is found. Evidently the disputers were debaters, not debaters of the truth but debaters of the world; they studied any subject for the purpose of arguing about it. This kind of person is a "learned disputant" (Thayer 594-1-4804).
None of these three classes of people ("the wise," "the scribe," "nor the disputer of this world") was obedient to the truth. In Luke 10:21, Jesus says,
I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.
hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world: "Made foolish" (moraino) actually means "to prove a person or thing to be foolish" (Thayer 420-2-3471). The preaching of the cross proves the wisdom of this world to be foolish. God made spiritual and eternal provisions for those who would listen to Him by giving His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. The preaching of the cross offers mankind salvation and the promise of an eternal home in heaven, whereas the wisdom of the world offers only temporary pleasures on this earth.
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God: "For after that" would have been better translated "seeing that" (Vincent, Vol. III 192). Paul is clarifying what he meant by asking "hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" The wise men of Corinth knew much about many things; possibly they thought they knew something about everything; however, when Paul went to Athens, he found them ignorant of the teachings of God (read Acts 17:16-34). Since the world did not know God, He planned, through His wisdom, a special way for man to learn of Him, as Paul teaches in the next phrase.
it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe: Paul is not implying that preaching is actually "foolishness." He uses this term because some of the "wise" men obviously had claimed that it was foolish. He is saying, therefore, if preaching is foolish, then God is "pleased" with this foolishness of preaching because it teaches man about salvation. The term "pleased" (eudokeo) means to "approve" (Strong #2106). It met with God’s approval for mankind to be saved through the foolishness of preaching. What "pleased" God was not the act of preaching but "the substance of preaching" (Vincent, Vol. 3 192). The gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16). When it is preached, it brings salvation.
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
For the Jews require a sign: Paul names one of the two classes of people to whom he has reference within the phrase "the wisdom of the world." It was characteristic of the Jews to ask for a sign when anything new concerning the Messiah was presented. The Old Testament promises that great signs would come with the Messiah; therefore, the Jews were often asking for those signs. For example Matthew says, "The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven" (16:1) (also see Matthew 12:38 and John 6:30).
and the Greeks seek after wisdom: The second class of people to whom Paul refers is the Greeks. They did not follow the Old Testament; therefore, they based their beliefs upon their own "wisdom." When new messages were presented to them, they had to be convinced by reasoning because they wanted a rational explanation for everything.
Lenski brings this teaching to our present day, by saying,
Both of these types of world (sic.) wisdom still persist but now in modernized form. Some want the church to heal all social and even all physical evils. They demand an imposing, outward ecclesiastical organization that will sweep the world before it. They look for a millennium and the outward triumph of the gospel over all the world. Signs, signs, big tangible, overpowering results! Others bank on their reason; they assume that their intellect is able to penetrate into everything. So they follow philosophy in its latest forms, "science" with its claims and hypotheses, other kinds of modern learning, and refuse to take seriously anything else. All these fail, and in the very nature of the case must fail (65).
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
This verse mentions three classes of people and their reactions to the crucified Christ: Christians, Jews, and Gentiles.
But we preach Christ crucified: The pronoun "we" refers, not to the Jews or the Greeks, but to the Apostle Paul and all Christian teachers who preach the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Preaching "Christ crucified" is what verse 21 refers to as "the foolishness of preaching." The crucifixion of Christ made a way possible for mankind to escape the penalty of sin; therefore, it must be preached. Paul is showing a contrast between what the Jews and Greeks look for and what Christians look for. Verse 22 shows the Jews searching for a sign and the Greeks for man’s wisdom; but Christians look for the crucified Christ.
unto the Jews a stumblingblock: A "stumblingblock" (skandalon) is "any person or thing by which one is drawn into error or sin" (Thayer 577-1-4625). Vine says that the word "stumblingblock" indicates "anything that becomes a hindrance to others, or causes them to fall" (26). Paul says, "As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed" (Romans 9:33). The Jews reject the very idea that Christ was crucified, that He died, that He arose again, and that salvation comes only through Him. The doctrine of the crucified Christ is a great obstacle for the Jews to overcome. They expected the Messiah to come in some glorious way to establish the Kingdom of Israel; and since Jesus did not come and remain with them, as they expected, they rejected Him as the Messiah. Peter refers to Jesus as "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed" (1 Peter 2:8).
and unto the Greeks foolishness: Most translations say Gentiles instead of Greeks. The reason for this is as follows:
The word ’Gentiles’ is a wider term which embraces all non-Jews and thus makes plain what Paul means by Greeks who, because of their culture and their learning, were the upper class and thus the chief representatives of all Gentiles (Lenski 67).
The Greeks (Gentiles) also looked upon the cross as something outside the realm of wisdom. With human minds, they could not understand how the Messiah could die and still save mankind from sin. Had Jesus come speaking some new philosophy that they could have easily understood, they would have accepted Him; but since He did not come as they expected, they rejected Him.
Celsus, a writer of the second century, wrote against Christianity. He considered the idea that Jesus was the Messiah because he died as an absurdity. In his writings, Celsus refers to Christians as "actually worshipping a dead man."
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
The attitude the Jews and the Gentiles had toward Jesus as being the crucified Christ is reflected in verse 23. Paul adds a third class of people in this verse--Christians, a group composed of both Jews and Gentiles, who accept Jesus as the crucified Christ.
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks: The "called" (kleetos) refers to everyone (Jews and Greeks) who are "invited (by God in the proclamation of the gospel) to obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God through Christ" (Thayer 350-1-2822). They are not, now, classified as Jews or Gentiles, but as Christians.
The "called" people are the same ones mentioned in verse 2: "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." Again the "called" people are the "saved" people referred to in verse 18: "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." And finally, the "called" people are those who "believe" (1:21).
Christ the power of God: The term "power" (dunamis) means "inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth" (Thayer 159-1-1411). The crucified Christ is the "power" of God. The term "power" is also found in verse 18 in reference to the "preaching of the cross." "Power," in this passage, is used metonymically of the person, Jesus Christ, in which God’s saving power shows its efficacy. Jesus is God’s power because through His death, burial, and resurrection, He became the instrument of man’s salvation. Christ is "power" because He became life for man. "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:4).
and the wisdom of God: The "wisdom" (sophia) of God indicates that Jesus and His work are the "broad and full intelligence" of God (Thayer, 581-2-4678). Vine says "the order (of) ’power’ and ’wisdom’ is significant" (27). We recognize God’s power before we recognize His wisdom. The power and wisdom of God are set in direct contrast to the weakness and ignorance of mankind. We see the superior wisdom of God referred to in Isaiah:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (55:8).
Through the mighty "wisdom of God," He has provided His "power" (the crucified Christ) as a way to allow man to gain salvation.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men: "The foolishness of God" refers to the foolish things of God, the things man thinks are foolish. It specifically has reference to the idea of the crucified Christ. The Gentiles, in their wisdom, believed the idea of the Christ dying on a cross was foolishness. What they considered foolish, however, exceeded the wisdom of the wisest man because they could not comprehend the greatness of God’s plan.
and the weakness of God is stronger than men: This clause is reemphasizing the previous statement. The Jews look upon the death of Jesus as proof that He was not the Messiah; instead, His death, they think, is a proof of "weakness" (asthenees), proof of being "unable to achieve anything great" (Thayer 80-2-772).
The two statements, "the foolishness of God" and "the weakness of God," do not indicate that these are really characteristics of God. God is not foolish or weak! Both statements are sarcastic. After man insinuated that God was foolish and His doctrines weak, Paul says, in so many words, "If God is foolish, then this foolish God is wiser than the wisest man, and His weaknesses are stronger than your strongest man." Godet says, "When God has the appearance of acting irrationally or weakly, that is the time when He triumphs most certainly over human wisdom and power" (109). The message presented in this verse is that God, in what appears to be foolish and weak, through the crucified Christ, did for man what man could not do for himself. He saved man! "For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you" (2 Corinthians 3:4).
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
For ye see your calling, brethren: Once again, Paul calls the Corinthians "brethren" in order to draw closer to them and to be more personal with them. The word "calling" (klesis) emphasizes the effects of the call, that is, who is called? Paul is attempting to draw the Corinthians’ minds to themselves. He is encouraging them to look among themselves and see what type of people are called by the gospel.
how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: Who is it that is called? Is it the "wise," the "mighty," the "noble?" No! Instead, it is the ordinary. It is not the prominent classes of the Corinthian society who accepted the gospel call; it is the poor, the less educated, the slaves. These words do not imply that no wise men of Corinth were converted because some were; for example: Crispus and Erastus. But as a rule the converted were the average men and women of Corinth.
Vine says that the phrase "after the flesh" goes with each of the three classes and refers to the "natural attainments and human qualities" (28). In other words, the ones who are not called are the "wise men after the flesh," the "mighty men" after the flesh, and the "noble" after the flesh.
The "wise men" refer to the philosophers.
The "mighty" are those who are in authority or in political positions of power.
The "noble" are the ones born into wealthy families.
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
This verse gives two of four statements proving that all things that are done are done because of God’s choice. His choice is to confound the "wise" with what seems ignorant to mankind and the "mighty" with things that appear to be "weak."
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise: The term "chosen" (eklegomai) means "select" (Strong #1586). Through the wisdom of God, He has selected the foolish and seemingly insignificant things to "confound" the wise men of the world. The word "confound" (kataischuno) means "to put to shame" (Thayer 331-1-2617). The world looks to the most wealthy, wise, and superior for leadership while God shames the wisdom of the world with the simple fishermen and tent makers.
and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty: This statement reemphasizes what Paul says earlier in this verse. The point is God does not look to the greatest; He looks to the least. He does not look to the strong but to the weak. The majority of converts in Paul’s day were slaves, not masters.
And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
And base things of the world: The "base things" (agenes) refer to those who are "of no family" (Thayer 6-1-36) or of "low birth" (Vine 29). The family Paul refers to by "base things" is of no high, well-known reputation. The neuter plural "things" refer to the opposite of the "noble" men mentioned in verse 26. Lenski says,
’The base things’ are the base-born things or more exactly the things that have nothing whatever in their birth or origin to distinguish them, the commonest of the common. These God chose (75).
In other words, God carries out His work with things and people that man, in his inferior wisdom, would not choose.
and things which are despised, hath God chosen: The term "despised" (exoutheneo) means "to make of no account, to despise utterly" (Thayer 225-1-1848). Such descriptions are made of Jesus as He stood before Herod: "And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate" (Luke 23:11). The phrase "set him at nought" is translated from the same Greek term exoutheneo as "despised" in this verse. These characterizations certainly apply to the life of Jesus; He came through a family of "low birth" through Joseph and Mary. Also, from birth to death, Jesus was "despised" because of His wisdom.
yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: The "things which are not" are not to be understood as things that do not exist but things that appear to the world to be of no value. The expression may refer to members of ignoble families whom the world rejects. God uses this type of people or things to "bring to nought" (katargeo) or "to render idle, unemployed, inactive, inoperative" the things that are recognized by the world as being important (Thayer 336-1-2673).
That no flesh should glory in his presence.
The term "flesh" (sarx) means "no man, no mortal" (Thayer 571-1-4561). The clause "That no flesh (mortal) should glory in his presence" shows the purpose of the four statements in verses 27 and 28. In other words, God chooses people whom man would not ordinarily choose; otherwise man would "glory" (kauchaomai) or "vaunt" (Strong #2744) in God’s presence. God’s desire is for man not to glory in men as the church at Corinth was doing (verse 12). Vine says,
For man to glory in anything of his own qualities, powers or attainments, is to substitute self for God and to expose himself to the power of God to put him to shame and bring him to nought (Vine 30).
Instead of glorying in man, we must glory in the crucified Christ.
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
In verses 26-29, Paul has given several comparisons for the Corinthians to consider and to see what their "calling" is not. Now in these last two verses, he desires for them to understand what their "calling" is and why. Their calling to God was not by the wisdom of man, but it was by Jesus Christ by the grace of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (15:10).
Because of God’s grace, we are to glory in God, not in man. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). By His grace, God has provided a plan of salvation for mankind to obey so that he can be saved. This is God’s gift to mankind.
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day...And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father (John 6:44; John 6:65).
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus: The Apostle Paul keeps focusing the attention of the Corinthians upon the man, Christ Jesus. They should not be boasting in man, but in Christ.
The words "of him" indicate that the believers are "in Christ Jesus" because of the grace of God and not through man’s own wisdom.
By the word "ye," Paul is wanting the Corinthians to consider themselves. He wants them to see a contrast between what they are now and what they once were. They once were of the world, out of Christ, but now, by the grace of God, they are "in Christ Jesus." Being "in Christ Jesus" implies being in communion with Christ.
who of God is made unto us wisdom: Instead of "is made," most authorities generally agree that "became" would have been the better translation ("who of God became unto us wisdom"). The Revised Standard Version renders this verse: "He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." This passage refers to the crucified Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection.
Jesus Christ is our "wisdom." This "wisdom" is not the type referred to in the previous verses, pertaining to man, but this is wisdom from God. This "wisdom" refers to all the gracious, heavenly, productive thoughts of God that are in Jesus Christ.
The following three terms explain how Christ is our wisdom:
and righteousness: "Righteousness" (dikaiosune) is literally defined as "integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting" (Thayer 149-1-1343). Wisdom is seen in the "righteousness" of Christ, just as it is seen in the righteousness of man.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:16-17).
and sanctification: Righteousness and "sanctification" are very closely related and form one idea. "Sanctification" (hagiasmos) is "the state of purity" (Strong #38) and refers to a righteous character that comes from being set apart for God. We are indebted to Christ for "sanctification"; He is the source of our sanctification, which came as the result of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. This "sanctification" comes from man’s obedience to God. "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17).
and redemption: "Redemption" (apolutrosis) is literally "a releasing effected by payment of ransom; redemption, deliverance, liberation procured by the payment of ransom" (Thayer 65-2-629). Jesus, the crucified Christ, is our "redemption"; He is the author of redemption; and without Christ, we could not be redeemed.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).
That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
That, according as it is written: The quotation that follows these words originally is found in Jeremiah:
Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD (9:23-24).
He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord: Paul now draws to a conclusion this part of his rebuke concerning the division in Corinth (he will have more to say on it in the next chapter). In verse 12, Paul lets the Corinthians know he has been informed that some of them were saying: "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." From verse 13 to this verse he has positively proved that man must not "glory" in himself or in each other, not even in Paul, but only in the Lord. "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" is Paul’s instruction concerning this matter. "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13).