Adam Clarke Commentary
1 Corinthians 1
The salutation of Paul and Sosthenes, 1 Corinthians 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:2. The apostolical benediction, 1 Corinthians 1:3. Thanksgiving for the prosperity of the Church at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 1:4. In what that prosperity consisted, 1 Corinthians 1:5-9. The apostle reproves their dissensions, and vindicates himself from being any cause of them, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. States the simple means which God uses to convert sinners and confound the wisdom of the wise, etc., 18-21. Why the Jews and Greeks did not believe, 1 Corinthians 1:22. The matter of the apostle‘s preaching, and the reasons why that preaching was effectual to the salvation of men, 1 Corinthians 1:23-29. All should glory in God, because all blessings are dispensed by Him through Christ Jesus, 1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Corinthians 1:31.
Paul, called to be an apostle - Bishop Pearce contends that a comma should be placed after κλητος , called, which should not be joined to αποστολος , apostle: the first signifies being called to, the other sent from. He reads it, therefore, Paul the called; the apostle of Jesus Christ. The word κλητος , called, may be here used, as in some other places, for constituted. For this, and the meaning of the word apostle, see the note on Romans 1:1.
Through the will of God - By a particular appointment from God alone; for, being an extraordinary messenger, he derived no part of his authority from man.
Sosthenes our brother - Probably the same person mentioned Acts 18:17 (note).
The Church of God which is at Corinth - This Church was planted by the apostle himself about a.d. 52, as we learn from Acts 18:1 (note), etc.
Sanctified in Christ Jesus - Ἡγιασμενοις , Separated from the corruptions of their place and age.
Called to be saints - Κλητοις ἁγιοις , Constituted saints, or invited to become such; this was the design of the Gospel, for Jesus Christ came to save men from their sins.
With all that in every place, etc. - All who profess Christianity, both in Corinth, Ephesus, and other parts of Greece or Asia Minor; and by this we see that the apostle intended that this epistle should be a general property of the universal Church of Christ; though there are several matters in it that are suited to the state of the Corinthians only.
Both theirs and ours - That is, Jesus Christ is the common Lord and Savior of all. He is the exclusive property of no one Church, or people, or nation. Calling on or invoking the name of the Lord Jesus, was the proper distinguishing mark of a Christian. In those times of apostolic light and purity no man attempted to invoke God but in the name of Jesus Christ; this is what genuine Christians still mean when they ask any thing from God for Christ‘s Sake.
Grace be unto you - For a full explanation of all these terms, see the notes on Romans 1:7.
For the grace - which is given you - Not only their calling to be saints, and to be sanctified in Christ Jesus; but for the various spiritual gifts which they had received, as specified in the succeeding verses.
Ye are enriched - ye abound - in all utterance - Εν παντι λογῳ , In all doctrine; for so the word should certainly be translated and understood. All the truths of God relative to their salvation had been explicitly declared to them; and they had all knowledge; so that they perfectly comprehended the doctrines which they had heard.
As the testimony of Christ, etc. - The testimony of Christ is the Gospel which the apostle had preached, and which had been confirmed by various gifts of the Holy Spirit, and miracles wrought by the apostle.
So that ye come behind in no gift - Every gift and grace of God‘s Spirit was possessed by the members of that Church, some having their gifts after this manner, others after that.
Waiting for the coming of our Lord - It is difficult to say whether the apostle means the final judgment, or our Lord‘s coming to destroy Jerusalem, and make an end of the Jewish polity. - See 1 Thessalonians 3:13. As he does not explain himself particularly, he must refer to a subject with which they were well acquainted. As the Jews in general continued to contradict and blaspheme, it is no wonder if the apostle should be directed to point out to the believing Gentiles that the judgments of God were speedily to fall upon this rebellious people, and scatter them over the face of the earth; which shortly afterwards took place.
Who shall - confirm you - As the testimony of Christ was confirmed among you, so, in conscientiously believing and obeying, God will confirm you through that testimony. See 1 Corinthians 1:6.
In the day of our Lord Jesus - In the day that he comes to judge the world, according to some; but, in the day in which he comes to destroy the Jewish polity, according to others. While God destroys them who are disobedient, he can save you who believe.
God is faithful - The faithfulness of God is a favourite expression among the ancient Jews; and by it they properly understand the integrity of God in preserving whatever is entrusted to him. And they suppose that in this sense the fidelity of man may illustrate the fidelity of God, in reference to which they tell the two following stories. “Rabbi Phineas, the son of Jair, dwelt in a certain city, whither some men came who had two measures of barley, which they desired him to preserve for them. They afterwards forgot their barley and went away. Rabbi Phineas each year sowed the barley, reaped, thrashed, and laid it up in his granary. When seven years had elapsed the men returned, and desired to have the barley with which they had entrusted him. Rabbi Phineas recollected them, and said, ‹Come and take your treasure,‘ i.e. the barley they had left, with all that it had produced for seven years. Thus, from the faithfulness of man ye may know the faithfulness of God.”
Unto the fellowship, etc. - Εις κοινωνιαν , Into the communion or participation of Christ, in the graces of his Spirit and the glories of his future kingdom. God will continue to uphold and save you, if you entrust your bodies and souls to him. But can it be said that God will keep what is either not entrusted to him; or, after being entrusted, is taken away?
Now I beseech you, brethren - The apostle having finished his introduction comes to his second point, exhorting them to abstain from dissensions, that they might be of the same heart and mind, striving together for the hope of the Gospel.
By the name of our Lord Jesus - By his authority, and in his place; and on account of your infinite obligations to his mercy in calling you into such a state of salvation.
That ye all speak the same thing - If they did not agree exactly in opinion on every subject, they might, notwithstanding, agree in the words which they used to express their religious faith. The members of the Church of God should labor to be of the same mind, and to speak the same thing, in order to prevent divisions, which always hinder the work of God. On every essential doctrine of the Gospel all genuine Christians agree: why then need religious communion be interrupted? This general agreement is all that the apostle can have in view; for it cannot be expected that any number of men should in every respect perfectly coincide in their views of all the minor points, on which an exact conformity in sentiment is impossible to minds so variously constituted as those of the human race. Angels may thus agree, who see nothing through an imperfect or false medium; but to man this is impossible. Therefore men should bear with each other, and not be so ready to imagine that none have the truth of God but they and their party.
By them which are of the house of Chloe - This was doubtless some very religious matron at Corinth, whose family were converted to the Lord; some of whom were probably sent to the apostle to inform him of the dissensions which then prevailed in the Church at that place. Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, mentioned 1 Corinthians 16:17, were probably the sons of this Chloe.
Contentions - Εριδες , Altercations; produced by the σχισματα, divisions, mentioned above. When once they had divided, they must necessarily have contended, in order to support their respective parties.
Every one of you saith - It seems from this expression that the whole Church at Corinth was in a state of dissension: they were all divided into the following sects
1.Paulians, or followers of St. Paul;
2.Apollonians, or followers of Apollos;
4.Christians, or followers of Christ.
See the Introduction, Section 5.
Is Christ divided? - Can he be split into different sects and parties? Has he different and opposing systems? Or, is the Messiah to appear under different persons?
Was Paul crucified for you? - As the Gospel proclaims salvation through the crucified only, has Paul poured out his blood as an atonement for you? This is impossible, and therefore your being called by my name is absurd; for his disciples you should be, alone, who has bought you by his blood.
Were ye baptized in the name of Paul? - To be baptized in, or into the name of one, implied that the baptized was to be the disciple of him into whose name, religion, etc., he was baptized. As if he said: Did I ever attempt to set up a new religion, one founded on my own authority, and coming from myself? On the contrary, have I not preached Christ crucified for the sin of the world; and called upon all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles, to believe on Him?
I thank God that I baptized none of you - None of those who now live in Corinth, except Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, Acts 18:8. And Gaius, the same person probably with whom Paul lodged, Romans 16:23 (note). Dr. Lightfoot observes: “If this be Gaius, or Caius, to whom the third epistle of John was written, which is very probable when the first verse of that epistle (3 John 1:1) is compared with Romans 16:23, then it will appear probable that John wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians. I wrote, says he, unto the Church - What Church? Certainly it must have been some particular Church which the apostle has in view, and the Church where Gaius himself resided. And if this be true, we may look for Diotrephes (3 John 1:9) in the Corinthian Church; and the author of the schism of which the apostle complains. See the Introduction, Section 8.
Lest any should say, etc. - He was careful not to baptize, lest it should be supposed that he wished to make a party for himself; because superficial observers might imagine that he baptized them into his own name - to be his followers, though he baptized them into the name of Christ only.
The household of Stephanas - From 1 Corinthians 16:15, we learn that the family of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, probably converted and baptized by the apostle himself. Epenetus is supposed to be one of this family. See the note on Romans 16:5.
I know not whether I baptized any other - I do not recollect that there is any person now residing in Corinth, or Achaia, besides the above mentioned, whom I have baptized. It is strange that the doubt here expressed by the apostle should be construed so as to affect his inspiration! What, does the inspiration of prophet or apostle necessarily imply that he must understand the geography of the universe, and have an intuitive knowledge of all the inhabitants of the earth, and how often, and where they may have changed their residence! Nor was that inspiration ever given so to work on a man‘s memory that he could not forget any of the acts which he had performed during life. Inspiration was given to the holy men of old that they might be able to write and proclaim the mind of God in the times which concern the salvation of men.
For Christ sent me not to baptize - Bp. Pearce translates thus: For Christ sent me, not so much to baptize as to preach the Gospel: and he supports his version thus - “The writers of the Old and New Testaments do, almost every where (agreeably to the Hebrew idiom) express a preference given to one thing beyond another by an affirmation of that which is preferred, and a negation of that which is contrary to it: and so it must be understood here, for if St. Paul was not sent at all to baptize, he baptized without a commission; but if he was sent, not only to baptize but to preach also, or to preach rather than baptize, he did in fact discharge his duty aright.” It appears sufficiently evident that baptizing was considered to be an inferior office, and though every minister of Christ might administer it, yet apostles had more important work. Preparing these adult heathens for baptism by the continual preaching of the word was of much greater consequence than baptizing them when thus prepared to receive and profit by it.
Not with wisdom of words - Ουκ εν σοφιᾳ λογου . In several places in the New Testament the term λογος is taken not only to express a word, a speech, a saying, etc., but doctrine, or the matter of teaching. Here, and in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, and in several other places, it seems to signify reason, or that mode of rhetorical argumentation so highly prized among the Greeks. The apostle was sent not to pursue this mode of conduct, but simply to announce the truth; to proclaim Christ crucified for the sin of the world; and to do this in the plainest and simplest manner possible, lest the numerous conversions which followed might be attributed to the power of the apostle‘s eloquence, and not to the demonstration of the Spirit of God. It is worthy of remark that, in all the revivals of religion with which we are acquainted, God appears to have made very little use of human eloquence, even when possessed by pious men. His own nervous truths, announced by plain common sense, though in homely phrase, have been the general means of the conviction and conversion of sinners. Human eloquence and learning have often been successfully employed in defending the outworks of Christianity; but simplicity and truth have preserved the citadel.
For the preaching of the cross - Ὁ λογος γαρ ὁ του σταυρου , The doctrine of the cross; or the doctrine that is of or concerning the cross; that is, the doctrine that proclaims salvation to a lost world through the crucifixion of Christ.
Is to them that perish foolishness - There are, properly speaking, but two classes of men known where the Gospel is preached: απολλυμενοι , the unbelievers and gainsayers, who are perishing; and σοζομενοι , the obedient believers, who are in a state of salvation. To those who will continue in the first state, the preaching of salvation through the merit of a crucified Savior is folly. To those who believe this doctrine of Christ crucified is the power of God to their salvation; it is divinely efficacious to deliver them from all the power, guilt, and pollution of sin.
For it is written - The place referred to is Isaiah 29:14.
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise - Των σοφων , Of wise men - of the philosophers who in their investigations seek nothing less than God, and whose highest discoveries amount to nothing in comparison of the grand truths relative to God, the invisible world, and the true end of man, which the Gospel has brought to light. Let me add, that the very discoveries which are really useful have been made by men who feared God, and conscientiously credited Divine revelation: witness Newton, Boyle, Pascal, and many others. But all the skeptics and deists, by their schemes of natural religion and morality, have not been able to save one soul! No sinner has ever been converted from the error of his ways by their preaching or writings.
Where is the wise - the scribe - the disputer of this world? - These words most manifestly refer to the Jews; as the places (Isaiah 29:14; Isaiah 33:18; Isaiah 44:25) to which he refers cannot be understood of any but the Jews.
For after that in the wisdom of God - Dr. Lightfoot observes, “That σοφια του Θεου , the wisdom of God, is not to be understood of that wisdom which had God for its author, but that wisdom which had God for its object. There was, among the heathen, σοφια της φυσεως , wisdom about natural things, that is, philosophy; and σοφια του Θεου , wisdom about God; that is, divinity. But the world in its divinity could not, by wisdom, know God.” The plain meaning of this verse is, that the wise men of the world, especially the Greek philosophers, who possessed every advantage that human nature could have, independently of a Divine revelation, and who had cultivated their minds to the uttermost, could never, by their learning, wisdom, and industry, find out God; nor had the most refined philosophers among them just and correct views of the Divine nature, nor of that in which human happiness consists. The work of Lucretius, De Natura Rerum, and the work of Cicero, De Natura Deorum, are incontestable proofs of this. Even the writings of Plato and Aristotle have contributed little to remove the veil which clouded the understanding of men. No wisdom but that which came from God could ever penetrate and illuminate the human mind.
By the foolishness of preaching - By the preaching of Christ crucified, which the Gentiles termed μωρια , foolishness, in opposition to their own doctrines, which they termed σοφια , wisdom. It was not by the foolishness of preaching, literally, nor by the foolish preaching, that God saved the world; but by that Gospel which they called μωρια , foolishness; which was, in fact, the wisdom of God, and also the power of God to the salvation of them that believed.
For the Jews require a sign - Instead of σημειον , a sign, ABCDEFG, several others, both the Syriac, Coptic, Vulgate, and Itala, with many of the fathers, have σημεια , signs; which reading, as undoubtedly genuine, Griesbach has admitted into the text. There never was a people in the universe more difficult to be persuaded of the truth than the Jews: and had not their religion been incontestably proved by the most striking and indubitable miracles, they never would have received it. This slowness of heart to believe, added to their fear of being deceived, induced them to require miracles to attest every thing that professed to come from God. They were a wicked and adulterous generation, continually seeking signs, and never saying, It is enough. But the sign which seems particularly referred to here is the assumption of secular power, which they expected in the Messiah; and because this sign did not appear in Christ, therefore they rejected him.
And the Greeks seek after wisdom - Such wisdom, or philosophy, as they found in the writings of Cicero, Seneca, Plato, etc., which was called philosophy, and which came recommended to them in all the beauties and graces of the Latin and Greek languages.
But we - Apostles, differing widely from these Gentile philosophers: -
Preach Christ crucified - Call on men, both Jews and Gentiles, to believe in Christ, as having purchased their salvation by shedding his blood for them.
Unto the Jews a stumbling block - Because Jesus came meek, lowly, and impoverished; not seeking worldly glory, nor affecting worldly pomp; whereas they expected the Messiah to come as a mighty prince and conqueror; because Christ did not come so, they were offended at him. Out of their own mouths, we may condemn the gainsaying Jews. In Sohar Chadash, fol. 26, the following saying is attributed to Moses, relative to the brazen serpent: “Moses said, This serpent is a stumbling block to the world. The holy blessed God answered: Not at all, it shall be for punishment to sinners, and life to upright men.” This is a proper illustration of the apostle‘s words.
Unto the Greeks foolishness - Because they could not believe that proclaiming supreme happiness through a man that was crucified at Judea as a malefactor could ever comport with reason and common sense; for both the matter and manner of the preaching were opposite to every notion they had formed of what was dignified and philosophic. In Justin Martyr‘s dialogue with Trypho the Jew we have these remarkable words, which serve to throw light on the above. “Your Jesus,” says Trypho, “having fallen under the extreme curse of God, we cannot sufficiently admire how you can expect any good from God, who place your hopes επ ‘ ανθρωπον σταυρωθεντα , upon a man that was Crucified.” The same writer adds: “They count us mad, that after the eternal God, the Father of all things, we give the second place, ανθρωπῳ σταυρωθεντι , to a man that was crucified.” “Where is your understanding,” said the Gentiles, “who worship for a god him who was crucified?” Thus Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness. See Whitby on this verse.
But unto them which are called - Τοις κλητοις . Those, both of Jews and Greeks, who were by the preaching of the Gospel called or invited to the marriage feast, and have accordingly believed in Christ Jesus; they prove this doctrine to be divinely powerful, to enlighten and convert the soul, and to be a proof of God‘s infinite wisdom, which has found out such an effectual way to glorify both his justice and mercy, and save, to the uttermost, all that come to him through Christ Jesus. The called, or invited, κλητοι , is a title of genuine Christians, and is frequently used in the New Testament. Ἁγιοι , saints, is used in the same sense.
The foolishness of God is wiser, etc. - The meaning of these strong expressions is, that the things of God‘s appointment, which seem to men foolishness, are infinitely beyond the highest degree of human wisdom; and those works of God, which appear to superficial observers weak and contemptible, surpass all the efforts of human power. The means which God has appointed for the salvation of men are so wisely imagined and so energetically powerful, that all who properly use them shall be infallibly brought to the end - final blessedness, which he has promised to them who believe and obey.
Ye see your calling - Την κλησιν . The state of grace and blessedness to which ye are invited. I think, βλεπετε την κλησιν , etc., should be read in the imperative: Take heed to, or consider your calling, brethren; that ( ὁτι ) not many of you are wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble: men is not in the original, and Paul seems to allude to the Corinthian believers in particular. This seems to have been said in opposition to the high and worldly notions of the Jews, who assert that the Divine Spirit never rests upon any man, unless he be wise, powerful, and rich. Now this Divine Spirit did rest upon the Christians at Corinth, and yet these were, in the sense of the world, neither wise, rich, nor noble. We spoil, if not corrupt the apostle‘s meaning, by adding are called, as if God did not send his Gospel to the wise, the powerful, and the noble, or did not will their salvation. The truth is, the Gospel has an equal call to all classes of men; but the wise, the mighty, and the noble, are too busy, or too sensual, to pay any attention to an invitation so spiritual and so Divine; and therefore there are few of these in the Church of Christ in general.
But God hath chosen the foolish things - God has chosen by means of men who are esteemed rude and illiterate to confound the greatest of the Greek philosophers, and overturn their systems; and, by means of men weak, without secular power or authority, to confound the scribes and Pharisees, and in spite of the exertions of the Jewish sanhedrin, to spread the doctrine of Christ crucified all over the land of Judea, and by such instruments as these to convert thousands of souls to the faith of the Gospel, who are ready to lay down their lives for the truth. The Jews have proverbs that express the same sense as these words of the apostle. In Shemoth Rabba, sec. 17, fol. 117, it is said: “There are certain matters which appear little to men, yet by them God points out important precepts. Thus hyssop in the sight of man is worth nothing, but in the sight of God its power is great; sometimes he equals it to the cedar, particularly in the ordinance concerning the lepers, and in the burning of the red heifer. Thus God commanded them in Egypt, Exodus 12:22: And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, etc. And concerning Solomon it is said, 1 Kings 4:33: And he discoursed of trees, from the cedar on Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. Whence we may learn that great and small things are equal in the eyes of the Lord, and that even by small things He can work great miracles.”
And base things - and things which are despised - It is very likely that the apostle refers here to the Gentiles and to the Gentile converts, who were considered base and despicable in the eyes of the Jews, who counted them no better than dogs, and who are repeatedly called the things that are not. By these very people, converted to Christianity, God has brought to nought all the Jewish pretensions; and by means of the Gentiles themselves, he has annihilated the whole Jewish polity; so that even Jerusalem itself was soon after this, trodden under foot of the Gentiles.
That no flesh should glory - God does his mighty works in such a way as proves that though he may condescend to employ men as instruments, yet they have no part either in the contrivance or energy by which such works are performed.
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus - Even the good which you possess is granted by God, for it is by and through him that Christ Jesus comes, and all the blessings of the Gospel dispensation.
Who of God is made unto us wisdom - As being the author of that evangelical wisdom which far excels the wisdom of the philosopher and the scribe, and even that legal constitution which is called the wisdom of the Jews, Deuteronomy 4:6.
And righteousness - Δικαιοσυνη , Justification, as procuring for us that remission of sins which the law could not give, Galatians 2:21; Galatians 3:21.
And sanctification - As procuring for and working in us, not only an external and relative holiness, as was that of the Jews, but ὁσιοτητα της αληθειας , true and eternal holiness, Ephesians 4:24, wrought in us by the Holy Spirit.
And redemption - He is the author of redemption, not from the Egyptian bondage, or Babylonish captivity, but from the servitude of Satan, the dominion of sin and death, and from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, or the redemption of the body, Romans 8:21, Romans 8:23. See Whitby.
According as it is written - In Jeremiah 9:23, Jeremiah 9:24: 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 loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth. So then, as all good is of and from God, let him that has either wisdom, strength, riches, pardon, holiness, or any other blessing, whether temporal or spiritual, acknowledge that he has nothing but what he has received; and that, as he has cause of glorying (boasting or exultation) in being made a partaker of these benefits and mercies of his Creator and Redeemer, let him boast in God alone, by whom, through Christ Jesus, he has received the whole.
1.This is an admirable chapter, and drawn up with great skill and address. The divided state of the Corinthian Church we have already noticed, and it appears that in these factions the apostle‘s authority had been set at nought by some, and questioned by many. St. Paul begins his letter with showing his authority; he had it immediately through Christ Jesus himself, by the will of God. And indeed the success of his preaching was a sufficient proof of the Divinity of his call. Had not God been with him he never could have successfully opposed the whole system of the national religion of the Corinthians, supported as it was by the prejudice of the people, the authority of the laws, and the eloquence and learning of their most eminent philosophers. It was necessary, therefore, that he should call the attention of this people to the Divine origin of his mission, that they might acknowledge that the excellency of the power was of God, and not of man.
2.It was necessary also that he should conciliate their esteem, and therefore speak as favourably concerning them as truth would allow; hence he shows them that they were a Church of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints; that they abounded and even excelled in many extraordinary gifts and graces; and that they were not inferior to any Church of God in any gift. And he shows them that they received all these through God‘s confirmation of that testimony which he had delivered among them, 1 Corinthians 1:4-7.
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