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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-21

IV The Apostolic Office and the Hostile Party —The chapter strongly resembles 2 Cor; there is irony, severity, strong emotion, evidence of unfriendly criticism, and a statement of the strange contradictions of the apostolic life. The simplest explanation is that the False Apostles were already active at Corinth, but Paul felt the time had not yet come for a pitched battle: these words were forced from him almost involuntarily by his bitter anxiety. Hence the obscurity of some sentences. See ch 9 and Introd. C (1) and F.

IV 1-8a The Apostles are answerable to God only — (cf.2 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Corinthians 12:19). He condemns the presumption of persons at Corinth who have adopted a superior and judicial attitude towards him.

1. ’Ministers’: ’Servants’. ’Dispensers’, etc.: ’Stewards of God’s secrets’,i.e. of the new truths hitherto hidden. A steward was usually a slave administering his master’s property under orders.

2. ’Faithful’: it is his master’s will that matters, not the opinions of strangers.

3. ’Judged’: called to account. ’Man’s day’: a curious unexplained phrase. The least improbable view is that Christians were so used to ’the Day of the Lord’ (i.e. of Judgement) that Paul could coin the phrase ’day of man’ (judgement of men or of the world) as an antithesis to it. For the malicious things said by the party of the False Apostles about Paul, see Introd. C 2 (§ 865h). ’My own self’: only a great saint can confidently leave his own imperfections to God. ’I live now not myself but Christ lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20).

4. ’I have no sense of guilt’, i.e. for unfaithfulness in his apostolic work.

5. ’Hidden’, etc.: ’Things hidden in darkness’: the secrets, good or bad, of each soul. ’From God’: (emphatic)—not from man. 6. ’I have diverted (or adapted) these words to Apollos and myself’:i.e. ’I have made us two the ostensible or nominal theme of my words.’ (By these words he probably means the entire passage on party divisions.) This is the interpretation of Chrysostom, Lightfoot and Plummer. He means therefore that his own party and Apollos’s (probably Peter’s also) were not causes of serious trouble, and that the authors of the grave division were persons whom he does not choose to name—evidently the False Apostles. ’That in us’, etc.: ’That you may learn from our case the rule "Keep to what is written" that you may not grow conceited for one man or another in opposition to somebody else’. The maxim ’Keep’, etc., is otherwise unknown, and there is probably some allusion which escapes us. It may however have been used by Jews to mean ’Keep to essentials or to certainties’ and may here be a warning against dangerous liberalism of doctrine, or the calumnies spread by the False Apostles against Paul.

7-8. Usually thought to be addressed to members of parties, but may include the unnamed leaders too. The sudden use of the singular in 7 may or may not be significant: such changes were common both in the Old Testament and in the discourses of popular philosophers.

7. ’Who has made you a better man than your neighbours?’8. Here and in 10 the bitter. irony is comparable to that of 2 Corinthians 11:19-20; 2 Corinthians 12:13. ’Full i.e. full-fed: they want nothing Paul can give. ’Reign’: ’You are like kings, and that without help from us’.

8b-13 The Heroic Patience required from the Apostles —This passionate outburst resembles two great passages in 2 Cor ( 4:7-13; 6:3-10). It was no doubt provoked by the effrontery and spite of the False Apostles’ party. The moderate partisanship of the other groups would never have stung so sharply.

9. ’For God, I think, has kept us the apostles to the end of the show, as they do with men sentenced to death’. In the hideous sports of the amphitheatre a group of criminals was often the last item: they killed one another or were massacred.

10. i.e. you care too much for the respect of this world (of pagans and Jews). See § 865f (also 10:14-22; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18) for evidence that the False Apostles allowed a compromise with paganism.

13. ’We are slandered and we answer with persuasion . . . the off-scouring of mankind’.

14-21 An Appeal to the Misguided and a Threat to the Stubborn —This mixture of tenderness and sternness ends the tempestuous episode. These sentences let us see Paul’s mind as he wrote—there were many at Corinth whom he hoped to reclaim, but there were others of whom he hoped little. Compare the last chapter of 2 Cor.15. ’Instructors’: the Greek word usually means a trustworthy slave whom a father employed to look after his son at school or university. ’Not many’: ’Not several fathers’ (there can be only one) . . . it is I who have begotten you’,i.e. by founding the church at Corinth. 17. Timothy had probably left Ephesus for Macedonia a little time before this letter was written, Acts 19:22. Apparently Paul had written to him asking him to go on to Corinth, where he was well known, for he had been Paul’s helper there, Ac 18; 2 Corinthians 1:19. ’Have I sent’: ’I am sending’.18. Some, thinking (or declaring) that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant, conceited’. Perhaps Paul had already once postponed his visit (Introd. E) and the hostile party had become bolder and may have made the delay a ground for slander.

19. ’Power’: see on 2:4. Note the strong resemblance of this passage to 2 Corinthians 13:2-4, where ’power’ is also used.

20. ’Kingdom of God’: here (as in Romans 14:17) it means ’the spiritual life of Christians’. Usually in St Paul it means Paradise (as 6:10). In the Gospels it usually means the Church, on earth or in heaven or both.

21. ’Which do you want?’ i.e. unless they repent and change, he will have to punish them. Cf.2 Corinthians 13:2. ’If I come again, I will not spare’. In both places he seems to be addressing the same party.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/1-corinthians-4.html. 1951.
 
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