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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
1 Corinthians 3



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. σαρκίνοις. So אABCD. The internal evidence is about equally divided. For we may fairly set the probability that a writer seeing πνευματικοῖς before him would alter σαρκίνοις into σαρκικοῖς, against the probability that σάρκινος, being the word in ordinary use, would be substituted for σαρκικός, which appears first in the N. T. There is however, for the text, the fact that the very MSS. which have σάρκινος here, have σαρκικός in 1 Corinthians 3:3.

Verses 1-4


κἀγώ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἠδυνήθην λαλῆσαι ὑμῖν. The Apostle has said much of the superiority of the wisdom which is the result of spiritual illumination. He now warns the Corinthians that the majority of them do not possess it, or at best but in the scantiest measure, and thus remain on the threshold of the Christian life.

πνευματικοῖς. Cf. δυνατοί, Romans 15:1, and τέλειοι ch. 1 Corinthians 2:6. Cf. also Galatians 6:1.

σαρκίνοις. The difference between this word and σαρκικός is that the termination -νος signifies the material of which a thing is composed (cf. λίθινος, ξύλινος, &c), while -κος denotes character or tendency. Thus σάρκινος signifies composed of flesh, σαρκικός, ruled by flesh.

νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ. It may not be amiss to remark that a man may be a ‘babe,’ even though he be ‘in Christ.’

Verse 2

2. ἐπότισα. This word is used in two senses by St Paul. Here it means to give to drink, in 1 Corinthians 3:6 to water. See ch. 1 Corinthians 12:13. Observe the instance of zeugma, whereby βρῶμα is construed with ἐπότισα. The A.V. meat signified no more than food when that version was made.

ἀλλ' οὐδὲ ἔτι. No, not even yet. οὐδέ suits the sense better than the rec. οὔτε which (though authorities differ on the point) would most probably mean ‘and neither are ye able.’ And it has incomparably better MSS. support.

δύνασθε. Cf. Psalms 138:6 (LXX.) οὐ μὴ δύνωμαι πρὸς αὐτήν.

Verse 3

3. ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. The word carnal conveys a stronger reproach than natural (see note on 1 Corinthians 2:14). The latter, as we have seen, signifies the man whose hopes and desires are bounded by the limits of the present life. The former is applicable to those who are under the dominion of the sensual passions. St Paul here inculcates a truth which may seem strange to our ears when he tells his Corinthian converts that a taste for religious controversy is a sign of the strength of the sensual nature in man. His language is less remarkable though not less true, when he reminds us (1 Corinthians 3:2) that an appetite for religious strife prevents us from discerning the deeper truths of the Christian faith. If it be asked how ‘they who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints’ can at the same time be carnal, we may answer, with Olshausen, that the spiritual man becomes carnal when he mingles his old unregenerate views with the new element of life he has received in Christ.

ζῆλος. This word often has a good sense in the N. T., as in John 2:17; Romans 10:2; 2 Corinthians 7:7; 2 Corinthians 7:11. But when coupled with other words, as here, it has a bad sense. Connected with ζέω to boil up, and perhaps with the intensitive prefix ζα-, it means eagerness, vehemence, in any cause, bad or good.

κατὰ ἄνθρωπον. After the manner of men. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 15:32.

Verse 4

4. ἄνθρωποι. See Critical Note. It is difficult to account for ἄνθρωποι having crept into the text, if it be not the true reading, whereas its correction by a transcriber into σαρκικοί would seem obvious and natural. If it be the true reading, it must mean ‘purely human,’ not sharing that Divine, regenerate life which is the special privilege of faith.

Verse 5

5. διάκονοι. Servants, those whose duty it is to wait upon their masters. See Buttmann, Lexilogus, s. v. διάκτορος. It is obvious that in the N. T. the strict ecclesiastical sense of words such as this, μυστήριον, σχίσμα, αἵρεσις and the like, cannot always be pressed. St Paul frequently terms himself a διάκονος. See Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:25.

καὶ ἑκάστῳ. This is to be construed with ἔδωκεν. And as the Lord gave to each. Men did not believe in Paul or Apollos, but in Christ. And the capacity for believing in Christ was God’s gift, though the preaching was no doubt the means whereby the gift was conferred.

Verses 5-23


Verse 6

6. ἐγὼ ἐφύτευσα, Ἀπολλὼς ἐπότισεν, ἀλλὰ ὁ θεὸς ηὔξανεν. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. The Apostle would lead his converts from the thought of those who had ministered the Gospel to them, to the thought of Him Whom they ministered. Man does but obey the Divine command in his ministerial work, the results are God’s. See note on 1 Corinthians 3:9. There is also (see ch. 1 Corinthians 4:6) a general reference to the Corinthian teachers intended here. But the Apostle desires to eschew personalities. It is to be observed that both here and in chap. 1 Corinthians 1:12, St Paul’s account of himself and Apollos is in precise agreement with that of St Luke in the Acts. In Acts 18 we read of the Church of Corinth being founded by St Paul. In the latter part of that chapter and in ch. Acts 19:1, we read of Apollos’ visit to Greece, and his stay at Corinth. The remark in this Epistle is a purely incidental one, but it agrees exactly with the history. St Paul founded the Church, Apollos ‘mightily convinced the Jews and that publicly,’ thus carrying on the work St Paul had begun. See Paley, Horae Paulinae, 1st Ep. to Corinthians 5, who points out the argument derivable from hence for the genuineness of both this Epistle and the Acts. For ἐπότισεν see 1 Corinthians 3:2.

Verse 8

8. ὁ φυτεύων δὲ καὶ ὁ ποτίζων ἕν εἰσιν. As though to make his depreciation of man as emphatic as possible, the Apostle uses the neuter gender here. The instruments are one thing, parts of a vast piece of machinery which God has put in motion for the salvation of the world. As channels of Divine grace it is our duty to forget their personality.

μισθὸν λήμψεται. The great truth contained in the first part of the verse is, however, capable of being misinterpreted. In reference to the work God’s ministers are but one. But in reference to their own individual action they are distinct. ‘Every man shall receive according as his work shall be.’ Else were God unjust.

Verse 9

9. θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί. For we are God’s fellow-labourers. The A.V. rather obscures the Apostle’s meaning here. His point is (see last verse and 1 Corinthians 3:23) that we all, though our individuality is not lost, are one in Christ. All are God’s, whether the labourers, the. field (γεώργιον) or the building. While συνεργοί looks to the latter part of 1 Corinthians 3:8, and asserts the individuality of the worker, θεοῦ keeps in mind the point of the first part of that verse, and proclaims the union of all in God. The σύν in συνεργοί refers to God.

Verse 10

10. τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι. Which was given to me, i. e. when I laid the foundation.

ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων. St Paul now desires to identify himself with the teachers of the Corinthian Church, so far as they were really carrying on the work which he had begun. His object is to combat the individualism which had led the Corinthian Church astray. If their teachers be genuine ministers of Christ, it is but one work that they are carrying on. They are merely proceeding with the superstructure of that which the Apostle had founded. Comparison of their personal claims with those of St Paul, and still more an attitude of antagonism to him and to one another, are fatal to the healthy growth of Christ’s Body.

ἔθηκα. I laid, according to the true reading. See Critical Note.

ἐποικοδομεῖ. Is building thereon. Are we to understand here any reference to a particular opponent of St Paul? Or is the ἄλλος purely general, and equivalent to ‘other people’? It is impossible to say positively.

ἕκαστος δὲ βλεπέτω. A fresh subject is here introduced. We are now told of what kind the labour of a minister of Christ is to be, and what his reward. There is, there can be, but One Foundation, but there are many ways of building on that foundation. ἕκαστος tends to support the view that St Paul intended no special individual by ἄλλος.

Verse 11

11. παρά. Beside. Cf. Plat. Phaed. 107 A οὔκουν ἔγωγε ἔχω παρὰ ταῦτα ἄλλο τι λέγειν.

τὸν κείμενον. ‘He does not say τεθέντα, laid, but κείμενον, lying, of His own accord.’ Bp Wordsworth. There is a reference here to the prophecy in Isaiah 28:16, which is quoted and applied to Christ in 1 Peter 2:6. See also Ephesians 2:20, and Psalms 118:22, quoted and applied to Himself by Christ in Matthew 21:42. It is to be noticed that it is no doctrine about Christ, but Christ Himself that is laid as the foundation. For upon Christ every act of the Christian, every faculty the Christian possesses, nay, his very life depends. ‘Without Me,’ i. e. cut off from Me, separated from Me, ‘ye can do nothing,’ John 15:5. See also ch. 1 Corinthians 1:9, and note. ‘Without the evidence of this inward life in men, it is impossible to imagine either Christian or Church.’ Olshausen. ‘The Apostle preached Christ—Christ the Example—Christ the Life—Christ the Son of Man—Christ the Son of God—Christ risen—Christ the King of Glory.’ Robertson.

Verse 12

12. εἰ δέ τις ἐποικοδομεῖ ἐπὶ τὸν θεμέλιον. It must be remembered that it is not the conduct of Christians, however applicable the principles here enunciated may be to it, but the doctrine of teachers which is spoken of here. The materials mentioned are of two classes, those that will endure fire, and those that will not. We may dismiss from our consideration such preaching as is clearly dictated by vainglory or self-interest, for the simple reason that it is not building upon Christ at all. The two kinds of preaching thus become, on the one hand that which leads to permanent results, the glory of God and the real well-being of man; and on the other, that which, though the offspring of a genuine zeal, is too much mixed up with worldly alloy of one kind or another to be of any real use to Christ’s cause.

χρυσίον, ἀργύριον. These are the diminutives of χρυσός and ἄργυρος. The latter signify the metal, the former small pieces of the metal, hence generally gold and silver coin. Here the idea is not the abstract one of the metal, but rather of the portions of the metal added by each particular workman to the adornments of the building. It is easy to see how this subtle distinction may have escaped the copyists. See Critical Note.

Verse 13

13. ἡ ἡμέρα. The judgment day, otherwise called ‘the day of the Lord’ as in ch. 1 Corinthians 1:8, 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Peter 3:10, &c.

ἐν πυρὶ ἀποκαλύπτεται. It is revealed in fire, as that in which the judgment day shall consist, i.e. the fire of God’s judgment, fire being one of His many attributes (Hebrews 12:29; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 9:3; Psalms 50:3; Psalms 97:3; Isaiah 66:15-16; Malachi 3:2-3; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). As fire does, so does God in the end thoroughly search out and destroy all that is vile or refuse, all that is not thoroughly genuine and durable. The present tense indicates the certainty of the coming of that day, like the perfect in Hebrew. Cf. Matthew 17:11; John 4:21; John 4:23; John 4:25; John 16:2.

δοκιμάσει. This word is used with different shades of meaning in this Epistle. Here it means to test simply (like its use in Arist. Nic. Eth. III. 10, where it is used of tasting wines). In 1 Corinthians 11:28 it signifies to test yourself with a view to a satisfactory result. In ch. 1 Corinthians 16:3 it means to approve.

Verse 14

14. μένει. Tischendorf and Westcott and Hort read μενεῖ, with the Vetus Lat. and the Peshito.

ἐποικοδόμησεν אABD. C only supports the rec. reading ἐπῳκοδόμησεν. Winer (Pt II. § 12) remarks that authority preponderates in favour of the augment in the tenses of the simple verb. But he omits to notice the fact that in its compounds the practice is the contrary.

Verse 15

15. κατακαήσεται. Shall be burned up.

οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρος. The absolute equality of all in the world to come is no part of St Paul’s system. ‘One star differeth from another star in glory’ (ch. 1 Corinthians 15:41). But the history of the Apostle himself is a sufficient evidence that God will not punish with the loss of His presence the man who has acted up to the highest dictates of a conscience not yet fully enlightened. The work perishes, but he who believed himself to be actively serving God when in fact he was doing harm shall not be driven into the outer darkness. ‘Sincerity does not verify doctrine, but it saves the man; his person is accepted, though his work perish.’ Robertson. Yet he will be saved ‘so as by fire.’ Surely the ‘smell of fire’ may be said to pass on him who sees all those works which he so honestly believed to be for God vanishing as worthless stubble in the searching trial which will ‘purge away all the dross’ of our human doings, and leave only what is of real value in God’s sight.

Verse 16

16. οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ναὸς θεοῦ ἐστέ; ‘Ναός, sanctuary, more sacred than ἱερόν; the Holy Place in which God dwells, ναίει.’ Wordsworth. Another view of the subject is now abruptly introduced. The figure in 1 Corinthians 3:10 is resumed, but is applied, not to the ministers, but to the people. As the teachers are to avoid unprofitable questions and seek ‘that which is good to the use of edifying,’ so the taught are to shun all that may do harm to the temple of God, that is the Church at large, for what is true of the individual (ch. 1 Corinthians 6:19) is true of the community. This figure of speech is a common one in the N. T. See 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:20; Hebrews 3:3; Hebrews 3:6; 1 Peter 2:5.

Verse 17

17. φθείρει. The A.V. defile is inadmissible here, inasmuch as the same word is used in both members of the sentence. Render, with R.V., destroy. He who persists in a wrong course of action brings destruction upon himself.

οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς. And such (i. e. holy) are ye, or more freely ‘The temple of God is holy, and so are ye.’ The implied syllogism is, The temple is holy; ye are the temple, therefore ye are holy.

Verse 18

18. αἰῶνι. See note on 1 Corinthians 1:20.

μωρὸς γενέσθω. Let him account himself a fool, put himself on a level with the ignorant and unintellectual, set no store by his worldly knowledge or intellectual powers, for they are of no account before God. A child-like willingness to be taught is the first step toward the true wisdom.

Verse 19

19. γέγραπται. In Job 5:13.

δρασσόμενος. Stronger than take, A.V. Rather seize.

ἐν τῇ πανουργίᾳ αὐτῶν. Literally, in their scheming. The word represents the numberless devices of the man who is wise in his own conceit.

Verse 20

20. καὶ πάλιν. In Psalms 94:11. It is curious that the first of these citations does not, and the second does, agree with the LXX.

διαλογισμούς. The reasonings, literally.

Verse 21

21. ὥστε μηδεὶς καυχάσθω ἐν ἀνθρώποις. We are to regard men as nothing in themselves, but in reference to their fellow men solely as the instruments of a Divine purpose, like all other things God has suffered to exist (1 Corinthians 3:22), a purpose beginning and ending with God, Whose we are, and for Whom alone we have been called into being. Even death itself has a part in that purpose, since through Christ it has become the gateway to everlasting life. See Collect for Easter Eve.

Verse 22

22. κόσμος. The Divine order of things in the visible universe, though at present that order is thrown into confusion by man’s sin. Cf. 1 John 2:16; 1 John 5:19.

ζωή. Life in its higher and diviner aspects, as ψυχή represents the life-principle at the root of our present existence, βίος our manner of living in this world.

θάνατος. As life is naturally a blessing to those who possess it, so even death is revealed in Christ to be part of a Divine scheme for man’s benefit, leading on to a higher life.

ἐνεστῶταμέλλοντα. These words have been variously explained. But taken in connection with the rest of the passage it seems best to explain ἐνεστῶτα of the things of this present life, and μέλλοντα of the glories hereafter to be revealed.

Verse 23

23. Χριστὸς δὲ θεοῦ. Even Christ is not existing apart and for Himself (cf. John 5:19-30), but is for ever united and conjoined with His faithful ones in the God and Father of all. ‘I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one.’ John 17:23. Cf. also ch. 1 Corinthians 15:28.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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