Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

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Verse 1

Vv. 1. “Let a man so account of us as of ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

After explaining what preachers are not, to show that no man should make himself dependent on them, the apostle declares what they are, to withdraw them from the rash judgments of the members of the Church. He does so first by continuing to speak of himself and Apollos ( us; comp. 1Co 6:6 ), then he speaks singly of himself ( me, 1Co 5:3 ).

The word οὕτως , thus, which begins this passage, has been understood in the sense of so then. Thus taken, it would connect this passage with the preceding, announcing a consequence drawn from it. But 1Co 4:21-21 had already drawn the consequence ( ὥστε , 1Co 4:21 ) from the preceding exposition. And the logical relation between what follows and what precedes would rather be that of contrast. The end of v23 had raised the readers to such a height, that the apostle does not care to connect with it what follows by any particle whatever, and continues by an asyndeton. It seems to me indeed, as to Rückert, that the οὕτως is nothing else than the antecedent of of the ὡς , as, which follows; comp. John 7:46; Ephesians 5:33; James 2:12, etc. The meaning is: “ See how you ought to regard us.”

The word ἄνθρωπος might be translated by the French pronoun on; perhaps it is better rendered by each; comp. 1 Corinthians 11:28. Edwards sees in the use of the word an imitation of the Hebrew Isch. Bengel thinks that the term is intended to contrast man's judgment with that of God. I think the apostle wishes it to be felt that he is addressing the Church in the person of each of its members, and recalling to their minds the notion of ignorance and weakness attached to the condition of man.

The term ὑπηρέτης , which we translate by minister, strictly denotes a man who acts as rower under the orders of some one ( ὑπό and ἐρέσσω ); he is a man labouring freely in the service of others: it here denotes the acting and laborious side of the Christian ministry. The term οἰκονόμος , steward, dispenser, denotes, among the ancients, a confidential slave to whom the master intrusts the direction of his house, and in particular the care of distributing to all the servants their tasks and provisions ( Luk 12:42 ). This second term designates preachers as administrators of a truth which is not theirs, but their master's. It relates to the inward and spiritual side of the work of the ministry. The trust administered by them is the mysteries of God. This term mystery, in the singular, denotes the plan of salvation in general (see on 1Co 2:7 ). In the plural, it relates to the different designs included in this plan. The plural is here connected with the idea of distribution associated with that of steward. Perhaps Paul makes allusion to the choice which Apollos and he required to make among the manifold materials of Christian teaching, in order to use in every case only those which were appropriate to the state of the Corinthians ( 1Co 3:2 ).

The genitives of Christ and of God, which are certainly related to those of 1 Corinthians 3:23, remind us that preachers, as labouring in the active service of Christ, the Head of the Church, and charged with distributing to it the truths of God, have to give account before these supreme authorities and not before the members of the Church. They go where Christ sends them, and deliver what God has given them. They are not to be judged in this respect. The only thing that can be asked of them, is to be faithful in the way in which they fulfil the missions confided to them, and in which they conform their teaching to the measure of light which they have received.

Verses 1-5

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

In this passage, Paul expounds:

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

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

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

Verses 1-21

BODY OF THE Epistle. 1:10-15:58.

I. The Parties in the Church of corinth. 1:10-4:21.

EWALD has well stated the reason why the apostle puts this subject first, of all those he has to treat in his Epistle. He must assert his apostolical position in view of the whole Church, before giving them the necessary explanations on the subjects which are to follow.

Verse 2

Vv. 2. “Now what remains to require of stewards is, that a man be found faithful.” The meaning of the received reading ( ὃ δὲ λοιπὸν ζητεῖται ... ἵνα ) is this: “As to what may be required moreover ( λοιπόν , for the rest) of stewards, it is that...” According to this reading, the apostle means: the ministry of teaching being once confided by God to a man, the question is no longer if he is more or less eloquent, more or less profound, more or less captivating,

God, who chose and sent him, has alone to do with all these questions, but only if he is faithful, that is to say, if he gives out conscientiously what is committed to him, if he puts all the gifts and powers with which he is endowed into the service of this task; if, as a devoted servant, he has only one interest, the cause of his Master. He can only be called to account for the conscientious use of what he has received.

This clear and natural meaning suits the context and leaves nothing to be desired. But several Mjj. of the three families present different readings. Some (A C D F G P) read ὧδε λοιπὸν ζητεῖτε , which would signify: “For the rest in these circumstances seek in stewards that each be found faithful...” This meaning is inadmissible. In such a sentence two things, it is plain, are mixed up: an exhortation addressed to particular persons, the Corinthian readers ( seek), and a general principle ( in stewards; each, τίς ). The Sinaït. attempts to remedy this awkwardness by introducing after λοιπόν a τι , which can only be taken in an interrogative sense: “In these circumstances, moreover, what else seek ye in stewards, than that each...?” The meaning is good in itself; only, instead of in stewards, there would need to be in us. For if this question expresses a consequence to be drawn from 1 Corinthians 4:1, as the word ὧδε would demand in this state of things, it would require to be in us ( these particular stewards), and not in stewards in general. The τις following is likewise suitable only to a maxim.

There remains the reading of B: ὧδε λοιπὸν ζητεῖται ἵνα : “In this state of things, the only thing sought ( λοιπόν , the only thing which remains) in stewards is that...” This reading, though admitted by most commentators of our day, is no more admissible than the preceding, and for the same reason. The ὧδε , in this state of things, can relate only to the case of 1 Corinthians 4:1, and consequently to the ministers denoted by the ἡμᾶς , us (Paul and Apollos), while the words: in stewards, give to this saying the character of an entirely general rule of conduct. We must therefore return to the reading and sense of the T. R. This is one of those cases in which all the presumptions of external criticism are of no avail, whatever may be said against exegetical reasons. It is easy enough to explain what has given rise to the corruption of the text in part of the documents of the three families, and so early as in the old versions. The beginning was made by substituting for ζητεῖται , is sought, the imperative ζητεῖτε , seek, either to continue the series of the preceding imperatives ( καυχάσθω , λογιζέσθω ), and to give to the sentence a hortative turn (the same error as in most of the Mjj., Romans 5:1: ἔχωμεν , and 1 Corinthians 15:49: φορέσωμεν ), or as a mistake arising from the pronunciation of αι (in ζητεῖται ) as ε . The imperative once admitted, led to the change of ὃ δέ into ὧδε to make this verse an application of the idea of the preceding verse.

Λοιπόν , moreover, that is to say: beyond what God and Christ give to their agents; comp. the expressions: “the grace given unto me,” 1 Corinthians 3:10, and the ὡς ἔδωκεν , 1 Corinthians 3:5.

The relation between the two ideas of seeking and finding is evident. It is this relation which justifies the use of the conjunction ἵνα , that. Men seek with the view of finding.

The idea of the verse therefore is: that the only thing for which the steward is responsible, is his fidelity. Now this is the very point on which man's judgment is incompetent, 1 Corinthians 4:3-5.

Verses 3-4

Vv. 3, 4. “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged, of you or of a human tribunal; yea, I judge not mine own self. 4. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord.”

The two previous verses related to preachers in general, especially to Apollos and Paul. From this verse, the application becomes wholly personal to Paul. For in what he proceeds to declare, the apostle can evidently make no affirmation except in so far as concerns himself. ᾿Εμοί : “ with me (at least).” Paul cannot know whether Apollos thought like him on this point.

The preposition εἰς , which indicates motion, or tendency to a point, is slightly incorrect, with the verb of rest, ἔστι . It indicates the progressive reduction to a minimum of value, in proportion as the apostle weighs the judgments which are passed on him at Corinth. These unfavourable judgments become more and more with him the last thing which disquiets him.

The that ( ἵνα ) does not entirely lose the notion of aim: Paul has no interest whatever with a view to the fact that these judgments exist or do not exist. The term ἀνθρωπίνη ἡμέρα , which we render by a human tribunal, literally signifies a human day, a day of human assizes. The word day is used in the same way in the Latin phrase diem dicere. These last words contain a softening of what Paul had just said of the small value which he attaches to the judgments of certain Corinthians. The same indifference he feels in regard to all human judgment in general.

The term ἀνακρίνειν denotes rather the examination than the judgment; but as the examination issues in a sentence, and as we have no verb to render the strict sense, we must translate by the word judge.

Once on this way, the apostle goes to the very end. He does not himself feel adequate to judge himself with certainty. The ἀλλά indicates the gradation: “I refuse not only the judgment of others, but also that of myself;” comp. 2 Corinthians 7:11. He feels that in his inner man there are unexplored recesses which do not allow him to discover thoroughly the real state of things, the full integrity of his own fidelity, and consequently to pronounce a valid sentence on himself.

Verse 4

Vv. 4. His inmost conscience does not upbraid him with any unfaithfulness; but for all that ( ἐν τούτῳ ), he is not yet justified, that is to say, found irreproachable, by Him who searches the hearts and reins ( 1Co 4:5 ). It is usually objected that in this so simple sense, held by Chrysostom, Calvin, de Wette, Osiander, Edwards, the term δικαιοῦσθαι , to be justified, is taken in a purely moral sense, quite different from the ordinary dogmatic sense which it has in Paul's writings. That is not exact. The meaning of the word to be justified remains at bottom always the same: to be declared just. Only this declarative act is applied to another period, and given forth under other conditions than in the use which the apostle ordinarily makes of it. The time in question here is the day of judgment, not the hour of conversion; and consequently the condition of justification is not faith only, but holiness and fidelity, fruits of faith. At the time of conversion a man is declared just without yet being so; in the day of judgment, to be declared such he must be so in reality. The declarative sense of the word justify remains therefore as the basis of the use which the apostle here makes of the term; it is exactly the same in the passage Romans 2:13. Melanchthon, Calvin, Rückert, Meyer, Beet maintain the application of the term to justification by faith in the ordinary sense of the word. The following is the wholly different explanation which they give of the verse: “It is to no purpose that I feel myself guilty of nothing; it is not thereupon that my justification rests, but on Christ alone.” Rückert and Meyer allege in particular the position of the words ἐν τούτῳ , in this, after the negative οὐκ , a position which makes the negative, instead of bearing on the verb, bear on ἐν τούτῳ ; it is not therefore the being justified which is denied, but the being justified on this (ground), that is to say, through the fidelity of which Paul is conscious. He means: “I am justified not by this, but by something else.” His system was well enough known, Rückert thinks, to make every one comprehend what was the other understood way. But Osiander rightly answers, that in this case, what Paul affirms so energetically is a thing which is understood of itself. Who could imagine that the apostle thought of founding on his present apostolical fidelity the absolution of all the sins of his past life? Then it would be strange if in opposition to the means of justification, which he so expressly excludes, he purely and simply should understand that which he maintains. Finally, 1Co 4:3 ; 1Co 4:5 manifestly transporting us to the day of judgment, we are obliged to refer 1Co 4:4 also to that time. As to the position of the ἐν τούτῳ ( for this) after the negative, it is intended to emphasize the idea of for this in the sense of “ even for this,” without there necessarily being a contrast to any other way of justification.

According to an explanation not infrequent in Catholic writers, the apostle is supposed here to express the uncertainty in which he is plunged as to his state of grace, and to teach thereby even the impossibility of the Christian's attaining the assurance of salvation here below, unless by an exceptional revelation. Calvin has already set aside this misunderstanding. Paul denies the competency of any human judge whatever, even himself. But if he did not obtain from God the full approbation after which he aspires, and to which he hopes he has a right, it would not follow in his view that his salvation was thereby compromised. Has he not just affirmed that the workman who has built with bad materials, but on the true foundation, shall not perish, but lose only the reward of his work? How, then, should he put his own state of grace in doubt for some unfaithfulness which remained unperceived even by his conscience? Though blameable in one point, he would not therefore be rejected.

If the meaning which we reject had been the one Paul had in view, he must have gone on to say: “ For it is the Lord who justifieth me.” He says on the contrary, thinking of the judgment: “ Now it is the Lord who maketh the examination. ” The Sinaït. reads γάρ instead of δέ , which gives an excellent meaning: “I am not justified by the fact of my good conscience; for He who maketh the only valid examination, is the Lord.” But the δέ , however, better emphasizes the distinction between this Judge, whose examination alone is competent, and the fallible man who claims to pose as judge. The pres. participle ἀνακρίνων indicates the permanent function, the office. “He is the investigator of my life.”

Verse 5

Vv. 5. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who even will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”

This verse is, as it were, the full period put to the personal application which Paul has just made in 1 Corinthians 4:1-4. The ὥστε , so that, therefore corresponds to that of 1 Corinthians 3:21. There the meaning was: therefore no infatuation!

Here: therefore no judgment! The τι is rather a qualifying pronoun than the indication of the object of κρίνετε : “Do not pass any judgment!”

The words, before the time, are explained by what follows: till the Lord come, the true Judge. This character which belongs to Him exclusively is explained by the two following relative propositions. In fact, the infallible judgment of a human life supposes two things: the revelation of the acts of that life in their totality, even the most unknown, and the manifestation of the inner springs of the will, in the acts known or unknown. This is what Paul means by the two phrases: “ the things of darkness ” and “ the counsels of the hearts. ” The hidden acts, which will be brought to light, are not only the bad, but also the good (Matthew 6:3-4; Matthew 6:6; 1Ti 5:23-25 ). It is the more necessary to have regard to the last here as there is no question afterwards except that of praise.

The inner springs and feelings are what determine the true quality of actions in the eyes of God; it is therefore on the complete knowledge of them that the just appreciation of a human life rests.

The καί before φωτίσει , which we have translated by even, which others render by also, has been variously understood. Osiander, Rückert: “He will come not only to judge, but also to set in light.” This sense is inadmissible; for the second of these deeds should not follow but precede the first. Meyer: “Among other things, at His coming, He will also do this (set in light).” But why allude to other things, and what are those things? Hofmann establishes a correlation between the two καί in the sense of: both...and..., or of: not only..., but also. But why emphasize so strongly the hardly appreciable shade between the two almost synonymous verbs? It seems to me that the first καί , rendered by even, bears on the two following verbs, and contrasts the whole portion of the life known by other men with that which the Lord only knows and which He will then manifest. The second καί , and, serves only to connect the two parallel and equivalent verbs.

The and then brings out the gravity of this time of complete revelation; it contrasts it with the premature judgments of the Corinthians ( before the time). Praise: the true praise, that which will run no risk of being changed into a sentence of condemnation by a higher tribunal, like the premature praises which the Corinthians decreed to their favourite teachers. What a sting lay in this last word addressed both to the frivolous admirers and to the self - sufficient orators who had excited this profane enthusiasm! From the passage about to follow, 1 Corinthians 4:18-21, we shall be able to gather to what point things were already going at Corinth in this painful direction.

Verse 6

Ver. 6 is the transition from the foregoing exposition to the practical conclusion.

Vv. 6. “Now these things, brethren, I have presented, by way of applying them to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to go beyond this limit: that which is written; that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.”

By the address, brethren, Paul puts himself by the side of his readers. The verb μετασχηματίζειν properly signifies: to present a thing or person in a form different from its natural figure, to transform, disguise. It is in this sense that it is applied to Saul in the LXX., 1 Samuel 28:8 (Heinrici); comp. also 2 Corinthians 11:13-14. St. Paul means that in the preceding passage (from 1Co 3:5 ) he has presented, while applying them to himself and Apollos, the principles regarding the ministry which he was concerned to remind them of, in view of certain preachers and of the Church, which misunderstood them. He did not wish to designate those preachers by name, lest he should shock susceptibilities already awakened. He explains this method, which he thought himself called to use in the delicate circumstances, by the words δἰ ὑμᾶς , for your sakes, which here signify: “the more easily to gain your acceptance of the truth thus presented.” Expressions like these: “Paul is nothing, Apollos is nothing” ( 1Co 3:7 ), applied to other leading persons at Corinth, would have seemed injurious, while in the form used by Paul the truth declared lost all character of personal hostility. Hence it follows that the word ταῦτα , these things, applies solely to the last passage concerning the ministry, and not at all to the previous passages regarding the nature of the gospel. It is therefore a mistake to find here a proof in favour of applying to Apollos or his partisans the polemic against human wisdom in the first two chapters. The passage rather shows how thoroughly Paul felt himself one with Apollos, seeing he could treat him as a second self, and distinguish him so pointedly from the teachers who opposed him at Corinth.

After explaining the method used by him in the previous statement of doctrine, he points out the object of this teaching. In speaking thus of himself and his friend, he meant to indicate a limit they should never cross in estimating preachers whom the Lord gives them. All glory is to be refused to man in the spiritual work of which he is the agent. The T. R. gives as the object of μάθητε , that ye may learn, the infinitive φρονεῖν , to think of, aspire: “that ye may learn not to go in your thinking beyond...” But, according to the authority of the MSS., this word is probably a gloss; Hofmann thinks it borrowed from Romans 12:3. Rejecting it, the meaning remains the same; but the turn of expression is briefer and more pointed: that ye may learn the: not going beyond what is written (Greco-Lat. and Byz.), or the things which are written (Alex.). But of what is the apostle thinking in this ὃ or ἃ γέγραπται ? The words might relate to what Paul himself has just written in the foregoing passage. In this case we must adopt the Alex. reading, ἅ , the things which; for the form, what ( ὅ ) is written, would naturally apply to the Old Testament. But even with the Alexandrine form the application of the words to the preceding passage is far from probable. Would not Paul rather have said: ἃ προέγραψα or ἃ προεγράφη , what I have, or what has been written before? comp. Ephesians 3:3.

Or it has been thought that Paul was here referring to the words of Scripture which he had quoted above (1 Corinthians 3:19-20; 1Co 1:31 ). But those quotations were too remote to lead the readers to understand such an allusion. Bengel, Meyer, Kling, Edwards refer the words, what is written, to the Old Testament in general, that supreme law of human thought, which takes all glory from man and ascribes all success to God. But a quotation so vague and general is far from probable. It seems to me, as to several modern commentators, that we must here see a proverbial maxim, in use perhaps in the Rabbinical schools: “Not beyond what is written!” The article τό , the, which precedes the words, seems in fact to give them this quasi-technical character; comp. the article τό , Rom 13:9 and Galatians 5:14, thus used before well-known formulas. The meaning would then be: that ye may all retrace your steps in connection with what I have just told you of ourselves (Apollos and me), within the limit of a healthy appreciation: “Not beyond what Scripture says (Scripture which everywhere teaches the nothingness of man)!” This meaning thus amounts to the same as the previous explanation.

This first that, which is the explanation of for your sakes, must be a means in relation to a second more remote end. The meaning of the last proposition seems to me to come out clearly from the contrast between the two prepositions, ὑπέρ , in favour of, and κατά , against. The apostle has in view those members of the Church who were captivated by one teacher to the disparagement of another. The apostle calls this infatuation a being puffed up, because in exalting another man, one takes credit to himself for the admiration which he feels; one glories in being able to appreciate a superiority which others fail to know; the pride of the head of the party thus becomes the pride of the whole. The last words, against another, may refer either to this or that other teacher who is despised, or this or that other member of the Church who does not share the same infatuation, or who feels a quite different one. The contrast between the two adjuncts, for the one and against the other, seems to me to decide in favour of the first meaning. The pronoun εἷς , one, is used instead of τίς , anyone, with the view of isolating more completely the individual who poses as judge, and thereby breaks the unity of the body. And when this one is each one, what becomes of the Church?

It is difficult to explain the form of the word φυσιοῦσθε . If it is the indicative, this mood does not agree with the conjunction ἵνα , that; and if it is the subjunctive, the regular contraction would be φυσιῶσθε . This dilemma has driven Fritzsche and Meyer to give to ἵνα the meaning of where; which would signify, “a state of things in which.” But this meaning would be superfluous, and the word ἵνα is nowhere used in this way in the New Testament; even in classic Greek this use is found only in poetry. It must therefore be held either that in this case the apostle used an incorrect contraction, but one which might be common in later Greek or in the spoken language, or that he used the indicative mood with the conjunction ἵνα . This takes place often enough with verbs in the future, when it is wished to emphasize the reality of the action dependent on the that. By applying this construction here in the present, Paul would remind them forcibly that the fact, which ought not to be, is really passing at the time at Corinth. The same form reappears, Galatians 4:17 ( ζηλοῦτε for ζηλῶτε ), and again in the case of a verb in οω ; this circumstance might incline us to the first explanation.

The following verse proceeds to show all there is to be condemned in such a puffing up.

Verses 6-21

4. Pride the first cause of the evil. 4:6-21.

Here is the final and general application of the whole first part, relating to the divisions which had arisen in the Church. The apostle, after reminding the Corinthians of the true nature of the gospel, and deducing as a consequence that of the Christian ministry, makes palpable the vice which is eating into them: spiritual pride. He passes here from the defensive to the offensive; he has justified himself against the frivolous and rash criticisms of the Corinthians; he proceeds now to their judgment.

Verse 7

Vv. 7. “For who maketh thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? And if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?”

Here is the standard indicated by the It is written. For one of the fundamental truths of Scripture is that the creature possesses nothing which is not a gift of the Creator.

Sometimes the three questions of this verse have been applied solely to the party chiefs and not to the members of the Church. But the apostle does not distinguish so strictly between the admirers and the admired; for the line of demarcation between teachers and taught was not so exactly drawn then as it was afterwards.

The first question refers to the superiority claimed by each eminent member of a party relatively to those of the other parties. The apostle asks this man, who thinks himself superior to others, to whom he ascribes the honour of the privileged position he has gained. For this meaning of διακρίνειν , to distinguish, comp. 1 Corinthians 11:29; Acts 15:9. What is the answer expected? Some think it is: nobody. They rely on the fact that the answer to the second question is certainly: nothing. The apostle's object, on this view, is to deny even the superiority of which this individual boasts. But in this sense should not the apostle have written τί ( what is it that?) rather than τίς ( who is he that?)? Others think that the answer understood is God: “He that maketh thee differ from others by superiority of gifts, is not thyself, but God.” This sense is certainly better. But thereby the question becomes almost identical with the following one. Is it not better to state the answer thus: “ not thyself. ” There is thus in the following question a gradation indicated by the δέ . Indeed, this second question bears on the qualities which are matters of pride to the individual, his gifts, lights, eloquence, and the answer is: “absolutely nothing. ” The third question implies the conclusion to be drawn from the other two. The καί may be regarded as independent of εἰ : “If really ” (Hofmann, Holsten). But it may also form with εἰ a single conjunction in the sense of though: “How, though having received, dost thou boast as if thou hadst not received?” This is the most natural meaning; comp. Edwards.

In this interrogative form thrice repeated, and in the individual apostrophe, thou, the emotion, the indignation even, which fills the apostle, shows itself strongly. He is revolted at the thought of those empty pretensions, so contrary to the humility which faith should inspire. At this point the spectacle of the sin of the Church passes before his view with such liveliness that his discourse all at once takes the form of a long sarcasm. He thinks he sees before him the old Pharisaism raised again in the forms of the Christian life. His burning irony does not take end till 1 Corinthians 4:13, where it is extinguished in grief.

Verse 8

Vv. 8. “Now ye are full; now ye are rich; ye have reigned as kings without us; and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you!”

The asyndeton is a new evidence of emotion. The ἤδη , now, placed foremost, repeated, and that in the same place in the second proposition, well expresses the movement of this whole passage: “Now already!” Paul and the other apostles are still in a world of suffering; but at Corinth the Church already lives in full triumph.

The fulness denotes the imperturbable self-satisfaction which characterized the Corinthians. It is all over among them with that poverty of spirit, that hungering and thirsting after righteousness, those tears of repentance, which Jesus had made the permanent condition of life in Him ( Mat 5:1-4 ). They are people who have nothing more to ask, all whose spiritual wants are satisfied; they have reached the perfect life!

The expression, riches, no doubt, alludes to the abundance of spiritual gifts which distinguished this Church above all others, and which Paul himself had recognised in the outset ( 1Co 1:5 ; 1Co 1:7 ). The rebuke applies, not to the fact of their possession of gifts, but to the feeling of pride which accompanied it.

The aorist is substituted for the perfect, because the fulness is a state which remains, while the acquisition of riches is the initial and momentary fact.

The ἐβασιλεύσατε signifies, ye have become kings. The advent to royalty is expressed by the aorist; for the aorist of verbs in ευω denotes, not the state, but entrance into the state. This royalty is, of course, that of the Messianic epoch, when the faithful are to reign with Christ. This condition of things glorious seems to have already begun at Corinth. No more obscurity, no more infirmity! The Church swims in full celestial state. Unspeakable delights, sublime illuminations, miraculous powers, captivating sermons: it lacks nothing.

The words χωρὶς ἡμῶν , without us, have been understood in the sense of “in our absence,” or “without our co-operation;” as if Paul would say: “Grand things have passed at Corinth since we left you!” But in this explanation it is forgotten that the regimen without us takes the place, in this third proposition, of the ἤδη , already, which began the first two, and this leads to a meaning still more telling: “Without our having part in the elevation which is granted to you. Ye are rich, ye are kings; we others are not so happy....We still drag out the miserable existence of this nether world!” The without us paves the way for 1 Corinthians 4:9.

The last words are thus easily explained: “And would to God this grand news were true, that ye were really on the throne! For in that case, it is to be hoped that we should soon be seated with you.” This σύν , with, corresponds precisely to the χωρίς , without us, in the preceding proposition.

The γε , as always, is restrictive: “If this one wish were realized, all the others would be satisfied.” The restriction might also be understood in this sense: “If at least it were enough to desire it to secure that it should be!” This meaning seems to me less natural.

The second aorist ὄφελον (for ὤφελον ), I owed, and hence it would need, is often used as a conjunction with the ellipsis of the following εἰ ( if) to express utinam; the following verb is in the indicative, as dependent on the understood εἰ .

Verse 9

Vv. 9. “For I think that God hath set forth us apostles, as the last, as appointed to death, for we are made a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and to men.”

Most modern commentators make the irony stop here; they take the verb δοκῶ seriously: “ I deem that our position is full of sufferings.” But the for rather leads us to suppose that the irony continues. There was in the thought of being associated later in the kingship, which the Corinthians already enjoyed, something very strange when it was applied to the apostles, the founders and guides of the Church; for was it not they who seemed entitled to enter on possession of kingship before all other Christians? Hence the words, for I think. “Ye outstrip us in the kingdom of God; for I think that God has assigned us the last place, us the apostles!” To justify this ironical supposition, the apostle in what follows draws a picture of the reproaches and sufferings of the apostolic life, contrasting them with the royal airs which certain of the Corinthians assume. Some understand the words τοὺς ἀποστόλους ἐσχάτους in the sense of “the last of the apostles,” as if Paul alone were spoken of; comp. 1 Corinthians 15:9: “I am the least of the apostles,” and Ephesians 3:8: “To me who am the least of all saints.” Paul thus designates himself, it is said, either as the last called to the apostleship, or as formerly a persecutor. But why should Paul put the plural here if he was speaking of himself personally? comp. 1 Corinthians 4:3-4. Besides, to express this idea he must have used one or other of these forms: τοὺς ἐσχάτους ἀποστόλους , or τοὺς ἀποστόλους τοὺς ἐσχάτους , or τοὺς ἐσχάτους τῶν ἀποστόλων . Finally, the idea thus expressed would be opposed to the spirit of the context; for the peculiarity of being last of the apostles would be the very thing to justify God's supposed way of acting towards him, whereas Paul wishes to bring out the absurd character of such a supposition. We must therefore take τοὺς ἀποστόλους , the apostles, as in apposition to ἡμᾶς , us, and ἐσχάτους , the last, as the attribute of ἀπέδειξεν , He hath set forth: “He hath set us forth, us the apostles, as the last.” By the words us the apostles, Paul understands, not only himself, or himself and his fellow-labourers, but himself and the Twelve who still share with him both the labours and the reproaches of the testimony borne to Christ. May there not be in this extension of the thought to the Twelve (as in the analogous passage, 1Co 15:11 ), an evidence of the contempt with which those of Christ treated the Twelve no less than Paul? (See pp. 71, 79.)

The word ἀπέδειξεν (Beza: spectandos proposuit) indicates public exposure either to honour or reproach. The following words, as condemned to death, are explanatory of the attribute, the last. Down to the end of the verse the apostle is alluding to the gladiators who were presented as a spectacle in the games of the amphitheatre, and whose blood and last agonies formed the joy of a whole population of spectators. The passage 1Co 15:32 seems to prove that the figure was once at least a reality in apostolic life.

The term θέατρον , spectacle, is in keeping with this public exhibition. The κόσμος , world, here denotes the whole intelligent universe which plays the part of spectator. It is subdivided (comp. the two καί , both...and...) into men and angels. By the former we need not understand merely unbelievers, persecutors, but all mankind, hostile or in sympathy. And by angels should not be understood, with some, only bad angels, with others, only the good. The bad are not excluded, that of course; the good are naturally embraced in the term, as appears to follow from Ephesians 3:10.

Instead of the past ἐγενήθημεν , we were, or we became, it seems as if the present ἔσμεν , we are, were required. But the aorist serves to designate this mode of existence as the lot which was assigned them once for all. “It seems truly that it was God who arranged things thus: the Church on the throne, and the apostles under the sword!”

Verse 10

Vv. 10. “We are fools for Christ's sake, ye are wise in Christ; we weak, ye strong; ye honourable, we despised.”

The contrast between the two situations enunciated in 1Co 4:8-9 is expressed in 1Co 4:10 in three antitheses, which are, as it were, so many blows for the proud Corinthians. These words are addressed especially to the principal men of the Church, but at the same time to all its members who share in the pretensions of these proud party leaders. And, first, as to teaching, the apostles had to face the reputation of foolishness which the gospel brings on them, while at Corinth there is found a way of preaching Christ so as to procure a name for wisdom, the reputation of profound philosophers and of men of most reliable judgment ( φρόνιμος ).

Διά , on account of (for Christ's sake). As a Rabbin he might have become as eminent a savant as Hillel, as celebrated as Gamaliel; for Christ he has consented to pass as a fool. The Corinthians know better how to manage; they make the teaching even of the gospel ( ἐν Χριστῷ , in Christ) a means of gaining celebrity for their lofty wisdom.

The second contrast relates to conduct in general. They come before their public with the feeling of their strength; there is in them neither hesitation nor timidity. The apostles do not know these grand lordly airs. Witness the picture, chap. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, where Paul describes his state of trembling at Corinth. Finally, the third antithesis relates to the welcome received from the world by the one and the other. The Corinthians are honoured, fêted, regarded as the ornament of cultivated circles; there is a rivalry to do them honour. The apostles are scarcely judged worthy of attention; nay, rather reviled and calumniated. In this last contrast the apostle reverses the order of the two terms, and puts the apostles in the second place. This is by way of transition to one or two traits of detail in the apostolic life which he is about to draw. Indeed the word ἄτιμοι , despised, is the theme of the following verses.

Verses 11-13

Vv. 11-13. “Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst, are naked, buffeted, without certain dwelling - place; 12. labour, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; 13. being defamed, we intreat; we are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all, even until now.”

The first words, even to this present hour, reproduce the thought of the whole passage: “As for us, up to this hour, we are little aware that the dispensation of triumph has already begun.” The following enumeration bears, in the first place, on the privations and sufferings of all kinds endured by the apostles (1 Corinthians 4:11-12 a). To the want of suitable food and clothing there is sometimes added bad treatment; the word κολαφίζεσθαι may denote either blows with the fist or with the palm of the hand. Besides, as the rule, want of a fixed dwelling-place, of a home. Finally (1 Corinthians 4:12 a), the manual labour imposed on Paul, especially the voluntary obligation to gain his livelihood by his own work ( 1Co 9:6 ).

The enumeration goes on by indicating the humble and patient conduct of the apostles in the midst of these sufferings ( 1Co 4:12-13 ). Three particulars form a double gradation: insults with sneering ( λοιδορεῖσθαι ), persecutions in a judicial form ( διώκεσθαι ), calumnies which assail honour ( δυσφημεῖσθαι ). The T. R. reads βλασφημούμενοι ; but as the verb δυσφημεῖσθαι is much more rarely used in the New Testament, and as it is found in almost all the Mjj., it deserves the preference.

To sneering the apostles reply with blessing. The word εὐλογεῖν in the New Testament signifies to wish well, and that in the form which alone can render the wish efficacious, that of prayer.

To ill-treatment they reply by suffering ( ἀνέχεσθαι , to exercise self-control); they do not even complain. Finally, they oppose to calumnies kindly intreating; they beseech men not to be so wicked, to return to better feelings, to be converted to Christ.

But with this way of acting what do they get from the world? They become the object of its more complete disdain. This is what is expressed by 1 Corinthians 4:13 b. The term περικάθαρμα , filth, denotes literally what is collected by sweeping all round the chamber ( περί ); and περίψημα the dirt which is detached from an object by sweeping or scraping it all round. These two figures therefore represent what is most abject. It has been sought to give to these two terms a tragical meaning, that of an expiatory victim, a sense in which they were sometimes taken among the Greeks. At times of public calamity, a criminal was chosen who was devoted to the angry gods to appease their wrath. This man, who was, as it were, the defilement of the people incarnate, bore the curse of all and perished for all. He was designated by the terms κάθαρμα or περίψημα . The formula with which the priest hurled him into the sea was this (according to Suidas): περίψημα ἡμῶν γενοῦ , ἤτοι σωτηρία καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις (“be our expiatory victim, and so our salvation and deliverance”). Did Paul mean to allude to the religious sense of the two terms which he uses? I do not think so; the saying thus understood would take an emphasis which hardly suits the sorrowful humility of the whole passage.

The plural of the first substantive relates to the different apostles, while the second substantive in the singular makes them one mass, an object of contempt, which is still more forcible. The adjuncts of the world and of all both indicate the totality to which the apostles naturally belong, but from which they are distinguished as being the most contemptible it contains. To the plural, sweepings (filth), there corresponds the singular, of the world; and to the singular, the offscouring, the plural, of all: They are what Paul says: each for all, and all for each.

The last words, even until now, betray yet once more before closing the feeling of sorrowful irony which inspired the whole passage. They are the counterpart of the ἤδη , now, with which he had begun, and they sum it up likewise as a whole. Rückert cannot approve of the sarcastic tone of this passage. He says, frankly (pp. 124, 125): “This passage of Paul's has always produced on me a repulsive impression....There are found in it undeniable traces of wounded personal feeling, of irritation caused him by the loss of the consideration which he enjoyed at Corinth...everywhere there reigns concern about his own personality. I am pained to have to pass such a judgment on this great man; but he too was human...” This eminent commentator has not considered, 1. that as against proud infatuation, the weapon of ridicule is often the only efficacious one; 2. that the indignation which inspired this passage bore on a state of things which was not only an attack on the apostle's person, but a mortal danger to the spiritual life and the whole future of the Church; 3. that the following words, expressive of incomparable fatherly tenderness and solicitude, do not well agree with those wholly personal feelings, which he ascribes so daringly to the apostle.

Verse 14

Vv. 14. “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I admonish you.” ᾿Εντρέπειν , to turn one back upon himself, and hence: to cause shame. The apostle no doubt spoke to them in a humiliating way; but his object was quite different from that of causing them shame; he wished to lead them with a firm hand into another way. It is somewhat different in 1Co 6:5 and 1 Corinthians 15:34; here he has positively the intention of making them ashamed.

We need not read with some Mjj., νουθετῶν , admonishing you. This form is imitated from the preceding participle. It is a new proposition: “This is what I really do when speaking to you thus.” Νουθετεῖν , in a manner: to bring back the mind to its place; to lead one back to a calm and settled frame.

Paul has the right and it is his duty to act thus, for he is their spiritual father. He is himself the only one of their preachers who merits the name; this is what is brought out by the pronoun μου : “ my children. ” The following verse justifies the pronoun with its exclusive bearing.

Verses 14-21

Vers. 14-21 are the conclusion of all the apostle has written from 1 Corinthians 1:12. He first makes an explanation about the severe manner in which he has just spoken to them. It is not resentment or enmity which has inspired his words, it is the painful solicitude he feels for them ( 1Co 4:14-16 ).

Verses 15-16

Vv. 15, 16. “For though ye should have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16. I beseech you therefore: be ye imitators of me.”

In 1 Corinthians 4:15, Paul presents the almost ridiculous figure of a flock of pupils placed under the rod of several thousands of tutors. There is an allusion to that host of teachers who had risen up at Corinth after the departure of Paul and Apollos, and to whom was addressed the warning in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, regarding those who continued a building once founded. The pedagogue (tutor) among the Greeks was the slave to whom a child's education was committed till he reached his majority; literally: he who guides the child to school. ᾿Αλλά : here, like the at of the Latins. It was Paul to whom God had given to beget the Corinthians to that new life which the others only promoted; comp. a similar figure, Galatians 4:19. This term γεννᾶν , to beget, applies not only to the ministry of preaching, but to the intense labour of the whole man which is carried out in his personal relations and in the act of prayer.

It should be remarked that Paul prefixes to the idea of his labour the two qualifications: in Christ Jesus and by the gospel. It was in virtue of the communion and power of Christ, and by means of the gospel which he received from Him, that he was able to produce this spiritual creation. He thus excludes beforehand every appearance of boasting in what he says of himself in the last words: ἐγὼ ἐγέννησα .

But if it was Christ who acted with His power and word, it was nevertheless through him, Paul ( ἐγώ , I), that He produced this creation. Hence Paul's right and duty to exhort them, and even to admonish them as he does.

Verse 16

Vv. 16. A father has a right to expect that wellborn children follow his steps; hence the therefore. The apostle is thinking particularly of the absence of all self-seeking and self-satisfaction, of the abnegation and humility of which they had an example in him. The νουθετεῖν ( 1Co 4:14 ) referred especially to their past, and to all that was blameworthy in it; the παρακαλεῖν applies to the future, and to the good which ought to appear among them. The word γίνεσθε , become (be), reminds them how far they have gone astray.

To help them on the way of return to a new course, Paul sends them one of his most faithful fellow-labourers, whom he hopes soon to follow himself ( 1Co 4:17-21 ).

Verse 17

Vv. 17. “For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy, who is my beloved son and faithful in the Lord; he shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every Church.”

We need not take the aorist ἔπεμψα in the sense of the Greek epistolary past, when the author, transporting himself to the time when his letter shall be read, speaks in the past of a present fact. The passage 1 Corinthians 16:10-11, proves that the apostle means, I have sent, for Timothy had really started when Paul was writing, though he was not to arrive till after the letter; comp. Acts 19:21-22. How do such coincidences prove the accuracy of the narrative of the Acts!

In calling Timothy his son, he alludes to his conversion of which he had been the instrument, no doubt during his first visit to Lystra; comp. 2 Timothy 1:2. By this title he gives him, as it were, the position of an elder son relatively to the Corinthians, who, as younger children, should take rule from him. He characterizes him as beloved, which recommends him to their affection, and as faithful in the Lord, which is his title to their confidence. The term πιστός is used, like our word faithful, in the active sense: one who believes, or in the passive sense: one who may be believed, who should be trusted. It is the second sense which at least prevails here; he will be to them a sure counsellor in the things of the Lord.

His mission is to bring them into remembrance. This phrase, designedly chosen, distinguishes the part of Timothy from that of the apostle, and insinuates at the same time that the Corinthians are not ignorant, but that they have only forgotten.

What does the apostle understand by his ways which be in Christ? Is it the way in which he regulates his own conduct? But the words, “As I teach everywhere,” do not suit this meaning. Meyer thinks that the words, as I teach, may be applied to the way in which he acted when carrying out his office as a preacher. This is an inadmissible makeshift. Or should we, on the contrary, apply the phrase, my ways in Christ, to the contents of the apostolic preaching? This meaning is no less forced. It only remains, as it seems to me, to apply the καθὼς διδάσκω , as I teach, to the apostle's practical teaching (as it is summed up Romans 12-14), to the true method of Christian life: the humility, abnegation, self-forgetfulness, consecration to the Lord, which ought to characterize a true believer. This is the course which Paul himself has followed since he was in Christ (my ways in Christ); and it was this mode of acting pursued by the apostle which he inculcated in all the Churches. The word καθώς , even as, brings out the harmony between his life and this teaching.

The words everywhere and in every Church seem to be tautological. But the first signifies: in every sort of country, in Asia as in Greece. Timothy, who had followed him in all his journeys, could bear witness to this. In every Church signifies: in each Church which I found. He seeks to impress the same direction on these new communities; there is always the call to come down by humility, not to be exalted by boasting. No doubt there was the disposition to believe that Paul was imposing exceptional demands on the Corinthians. But no; they are the same as are accepted and practised by each of his Churches; comp. 1Co 1:2 , 1 Corinthians 14:33; 1 Corinthians 14:35-36. Timothy, who has himself witnessed all these foundations, will be able to certify them of the fact.

But this sending of Timothy might lead them to suppose that the disciple was a substitute for the apostle, and that after this visit the latter would not think of coming himself. This conclusion had already been expressly drawn, some had even made a triumph of it at the expense of the apostle. He had doubtless been informed of this by the three deputies, and it is to this insulting supposition that the final passage refers, 1 Corinthians 4:18-21.

Verse 18

Vv. 18. “But some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.”

The δέ is adversative: “ But do not proceed to conclude therefrom that...” The present participle ὡς μὴ ἐρχομένου , “as if I were not coming,” has been explained by supposing that Paul here is quoting verbally the saying of his adversaries: “He is not coming! ” This is far-fetched; the present is simply that of the idea; comp. 1 Corinthians 16:5.

Who are those some, so ready to interpret the steps taken by the apostle in a sense unfavourable to his character? The partisans of Apollo, answer many. There is nothing to lead us to this idea. On the contrary, we find, 2 Corinthians 10:9-10, a statement which is manifestly related to this: Paul's adversaries charged him with seeking to terrify the Church by threatening letters of excessive severity, but not daring to appear himself to bear out the energy of his language by his presence, because he was well aware of his personal weakness and insufficiency. It cannot be doubted that the people of this stamp were already at Corinth at the date of the First Epistle to the Corinthians and were passing such judgments. Now these people, as we know from Second Corinthians, were those of Christ ( 1Co 10:7 and 1Co 11:23 ). Such then were the men who, even at the date of the first letter, were allowing themselves to accuse the apostle so gravely. Perhaps, however, by the word some should rather be understood those of the Corinthians who had been led away, than those strangers themselves; in his First Epistle, Paul seems not yet inclined to come to close quarters with the latter.

The word are puffed up refers to the air of triumph with which this party hasted to proclaim the grand news in the Church: “Timothy is coming instead of Paul; Paul is not coming.”

Verses 19-20

Vv. 19, 20. “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will; and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. 20. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.”

The δέ is again adversative: “But this malicious forecast will be falsified.” The γνώσομαι , I will know, is the language of a judge proceeding to make an examination. This term has already a threatening solemnity; it gives a forewarning of the judgment about to follow ( 1Co 4:21 ).

Paul contrasts the word, here the fine discourses, the eloquent tirades, the profound deductions, which called forth the plaudits of the hearers, with the power; by which he designates the effectual virtue of the Divine Spirit which brings back souls to themselves, makes them contrite, leads them to Christ, and begets them to a new life. Paul will find out whether, with this abundance of talk which makes itself heard in the assemblies (chap. 14), there is found or there is lacking the creative breath of the Spirit. He is at home in this field; he will not be deceived like those poor dupes who have been misled at Corinth.

Them that are puffed up: all those self-inflated creatures, under whose eyes scandals are passing which they cannot or will not repress, who have only an insipid Christianity, and to whom applies the figure of salt without savour. Chap. 5, 1Co 4:2 in particular will show clearly what was already in the apostle's mind.

Verse 20

Vv. 20. The maximum of 1Co 4:20 explains the necessity of such a judgment. It is impossible to refer the notion of the kingdom of God, as Meyer would have us, to the Messianic future. Paul is certainly speaking of the kingdom of God in the spiritual sense in which it already exists in the souls of believers. There, where the will of God has become the ruling principle, and where man's will is only the organ of the former, God reigns from the present onwards; comp. Romans 14:17. This spiritual presence of the kingdom of God in the heart is what paves the way for its future appearing.

The most eloquent words do not guarantee the possession of this spiritual state, and cannot produce or advance it in others. What manifests its existence, is power to make hearts fertile in fruits of submission to the will of God.

Paul's work at Corinth will not be confined to taking knowledge of the evil; acts will follow as may be needed.

Verse 21

Vv. 21. “What will ye? That I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and with a spirit of meekness?”

It is as if Paul said to them: “Peace or war: choose!” The emotion caused by this challenge, so boldly thrown out, explains the asyndeton. The preposition ἐν , in, is applied in classic Greek, as here, to denote the use of a weapon.

The figure ῥάβδος , rod, is connected with that of father, used above. It is the emblem of the disciplinary power with which the apostle feels himself armed.

There is something startling in the antithesis: or with love. Supposing he required to use the rod, would he not do so in love? Certainly; but if there is love in the act of striking, there is also something else: hatred of evil. And this will have no occasion to show itself, except in so far as there shall be something to correct. Let us add that the Greek term ἀγάπη denotes the love of complacency which is expressed by approving manifestations.

Some have understood the phrase, spirit of meekness, as if it were, with a disposition of meekness. But it is impossible wholly to make abstraction of the Divine breath in the use of the word πνεῦμα , spirit. Paul knows well that the meekness he will use, if it is in his power, will not be natural good-naturedness, but the fruit of the Spirit, of which he himself speaks Galatians 5:23.

Already in these last verses we can discern the idea of discipline rising, which will be the subject of the following chapter. One is struck also at the degree of audacious hostility to which his adversaries in the Church had gone, in daring to express themselves in regard to him as they were doing ( 1Co 4:18 ), and in giving occasion to the use of so menacing a tone. But, as has been well observed by Weizsäcker, Paul does not wish for the present to open hostilities. He throws out a word in passing, then he resumes the course of his letter.

The first part of the Epistle is closed. The divisions which had arisen revealed to Paul the deep corruption which the gospel had undergone in this Church. He understood it: teachers are not changed into heads of schools, except because the gospel has been changed into a system. To ascend then to the true notion of Christianity, in order to deduce from it that of the Christian ministry, and to restore the normal relation between this office and the whole Church, such was his first task. The flock once gathered under the shepherd's crook, he may with hope of success attack the particular vices which had crept into it. These first four chapters are thus the foundation of the whole Epistle.

Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books".