Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 3

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

1 Corinthians 3:1. And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ those in whom the spiritual principles, like the higher faculties in a babe, lie all undeveloped. Spiritual, indeed, they were, for they were “in Christ;” but it was only as babes, unfit to digest the “strong meat” of that “hidden wisdom” which the apostle longed to impart to them as soon as they should reach the stage of “the perfect” (1 Corinthians 2:6).

Verse 2

1 Corinthians 3:2. I fed you with milk the elementary truths of the Gospel.

not with meat the profounder aspects of Christian truth.

For ye were not yet able, etc. See Hebrews 5:12-14.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 3:3. for whereas there is among you Jealousy each party for its favourite preacher.

and strife engendered by such jealousies (the next words in the received text, “and divisions,” are feebly attested, and indeed are out of place).

are ye not carnal, and walk as men? unrenewed men.

Verse 4

1 Corinthians 3:4. For when one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not as men? [1] men who have never passed into the new life.

[1] Not, as in the received text, “are ye not carnal?”

Verse 5

1 Corinthians 3:5. What then is Apollos, and what is Paul? Ministers mere servants.’ through whom (as instruments) ye believed, and each as the Lord gave to him.

Verse 6

1 Corinthians 3:6. I planted: Yes; the first ground at Corinth was indeed broken by me, and I am your spiritual father.

Apollos watered following up what I began. But though in husbandry planting goes before watering, each is necessary at its proper stage. Yet something above both was needed. but God gave the increase.

Verse 7

1 Corinthians 3:7. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

Verse 8

1 Corinthians 3:8. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one Gr. ‘one thing,’ co-operating to one end.

but each shall receive his own reward according to his own work. While the work is one, in one field, to one Master, on one principle, and to one end, each has his own sphere in it, his own gifts for it, his own success in it, his own reward for it. O how ought this to cheer the faithful labourer, who may be but moderately gifted, may be placed in a remote and uninviting part of the field, may have to fight with many obstacles and sore discouragements, and may live to see but little fruit of his best labour! (See John 4:36-38.)

Verse 9

1 Corinthians 3:9. Far we are God’s fellow-workers: ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building. After sinking himself, with his fellow-workers, to the level of mere servants, he now lifts them up to the dignity of co-operators with God Himself in one field, to one end.

But the new figure of a “building” suggests a new set of ideas, fraught with new lessons lessons which the former figure of “husbandry” was not suited to express.

Verse 10

1 Corinthians 3:10. According to the grace of God which was given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I laid a foundation alluding to our Lord’s parable of the “wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). But he takes care to ascribe the “wisdom” shown in this to “the grace of God.”

and another buildeth thereon. But let each man take heed how he buildeth thereon that is (as will presently appear), with what materials he builds.

Verse 11

1 Corinthians 3:11. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. The allusion is to that grand announcement, Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I have laid in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stent, of sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” There is a peculiar appropriateness in this quotation, from the similarity of the warnings which follow, in both cases. Christ, says the apostle here including all those doctrinal conceptions which are inseparable from right apprehensions of Himself is the great Foundation of faith and ground of hope.

Verse 12

1 Corinthians 3:12. Now if any man buildeth upon the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble. The highly artistic form of this statement should be noted.

Two triplets of materials are supposed to be built on the same true foundation. The one set of materials as incombustible as they are valuable-represent those ministers of Christ whose teaching is sound and faithful; the other as inflammable as they are inferior in value represent those whose teaching is the reverse of the former; The figure is an old biblical one, used in Psalms 118:22, “The stone which the builders refused is become the head (stone) of the corner.” This our Lord appropriates to Himself, as rejected by the builders of His day (Matthew 21:42). And as Peter alludes to these same unworthy builders in Acts 4:11, “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders,” so, in his following words, we have the very point before us, “Neither is there salvation in any other,” etc. Now, since in all these places the foundation is “Jesus Christ,” it follows that what is “built thereupon” must mean what is taught regarding Him considered as sound or unsound, wholesome or noxious. If so, then, those critics who led away by a different set of passages, in which believers themselves are viewed as stones of the spiritual temple understand the apostle to be treating of the admission of improper persons to Church privileges, misunderstand this passage. No doubt important lessons on that subject may be got from such a view of the passage. But it is not the subject here treated.

Verse 13

1 Corinthians 3:13. each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it not ‘some day’ sooner or later (as some critics), nor (with Calvin and others) ‘the day of clearer light’ or advancing knowledge; least of all, that never-failing refuge of poor critics, ‘the day of Jerusalem’s destruction;’ for what had those Corinthians to do with that? One definite day alone suits all that is here said “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16).

because it shall of revealed by fire (see 2 Thessalonians 1:7) literal fire, as seems clearly taught, the bursting forth of which will perhaps be the visible herald of Christ’s coming. At the same time, this fire as elsewhere so here is but as the symbol of that “fiery” judgment which shall search to the bottom every case, as indeed is immediately expressed.

and the fire itself shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is and with what result?

Verse 14

1 Corinthians 3:14. If any man’s work shall abide which he built thereupon as being built of the incombustible materials and on the true foundation, and hence able to abide the fiery trial.

he shall receive a reward with the welcome word of the Master Himself, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Verse 15

1 Corinthians 3:15. If any man’s work shall be burned as consisting of the inflammable “wood, hay, stubble,”

he shall suffer loss loss of his time, his pains, his hopes, his credit; his whole ministry, even though right at bottom, yet all of it which is of this character, disappearing.

but he himself shall be saved a statement of vast importance, as showing that the apostle is not speaking here of false teachers, but of the true servants of Christ.

yet so as by fire as of one who escapes from the fire by a rush, or is plucked out of it, his naked person alone saved.

Note. That the Church of Rome should deem such a passage any justification of their dogma of a purgatorial fire in the intermediate state is strange. For everything said of “the fire” here would seem to preclude any such interpretation.

(1) This fire is to “try every man’s work;” but no Romanist believes that of the purgatorial fire.

(2) The purgatorial fire precedes the judgment, being designed to prepare the imperfectly sanctified to abide it, whereas this fire is the judgment itself

(3) Those here spoken of are saved in the judgment, “ so ashy fire,” not by means of the fire, but simply with difficulty; whereas the Romish doctrine is that a purifying process by means of fire will have to be gone through to fit those in it for heaven a totally different idea.

Verse 16

1 Corinthians 3:16. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God? a sudden transition, apparently, from the teachers to the taught; yet this is more in appearance than reality. For the transition is simply from warnings against a dangerous pandering in teachers to the corrupted taste of their hearers to warnings directed to those vitiated hearers themselves.

and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? The word rendered “temple” here means, classically, ‘the dwelling-place of a deity.’ In the New Testament, when applied to the temple of Jerusalem, it denotes the holy of holies that most sacred part of it where of old the Shechinah, or visible symbol of the Divine Presence, was manifested. As applied to believers under the new economy, it means that they are “a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).

Verse 17

1 Corinthians 3:17. If any man shall destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy. The sin and its punishment are in the original purposely expressed by the same word; but this cannot be represented in English.

for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye not, as in the Authorised Version, “which temple ye are;” for that had just before been said, but ‘such holy persons ye are,’ inasmuch as ye are the temple of God.

What follows, to the close of this chapter, reiterates what had been said about the mischief which this false wisdom, and their disputes in connection with it, were doing at Corinth.

Verse 18

1 Corinthians 3:18. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinketh that he is wise in this world in the world’s sense of wisdom, let him become a fool (as to such wisdom), that he may be (truly) wise.

Verse 19

1 Corinthians 3:19. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (see on ch. 1 Corinthians 1:20).

For it is written (Job 5:13), He that taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

Verse 20

1 Corinthians 3:20. And again (Psalms 94:11), The Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise, that they are vain.

Verse 21

1 Corinthians 3:21. Wherefore, let no one glory in men in one preacher as opposed to another. For all things are yours.

Verse 22

1 Corinthians 3:22. whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas including all the characteristics of each; for as Christ’s donation to the Church, each and all are its common property. There is probably as much diversity in the gifts and graces of the Christian ministry as in the capacities, sympathies, attainments, and tastes of the Church’s members; and this is doubtless wisely arranged for the good of the whole. Some suit the educated and refined; some the masses. But the Pauls, the Apolloses, and the Cephases are alike ours, and each, therefore, should be honoured in his own sphere.

or the world now no longer master, but servant.

or life now much more than a mere natural blessing, but ours by the highest right, to the highest ends, and, viewed as such, enjoyed as never before.

or death once a dreaded, now a conquered enemy, and the gate of heaven.

or things present in all the good of them without their curse, and the ill of them without their sting; and may we not include among “things present” “the first-fruits of the Spirit,” “the earnest of our inheritance”?

or things to come but who can tell what these are, before they are reached? This might seem an exhaustive inventory; but as if to make room for anything that might seem to have been omitted, the apostle repeats his statement. all are yours.

Verse 23

1 Corinthians 3:23. and ye are Christ’s (possession), and Christ is God’s (possession). What a climax, and an anti-climax too, from all things down to ourselves, and from ourselves up again to God! But while all things are ours, by a seeming paradox there is something which is not ours. “We are not our own ” “we are Christ’s,” and none can pluck us out of His hands, as “Christ is God’s;” His Elect, in whom His soul delighteth, and from whom He cannot be separated. Thus, through Him that loved and gave Himself for us, those who are His are secured by a golden chain reaching up to the eternal throne.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.