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Friday, July 12th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 9

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

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Verses 1-27

IX 1-22 Illustrations from St Paul’s Own Practice — He wished to show that he had often abstained from lawful actions for the sake of the salvation of others. In the sequel he mentions many kinds of forbearance (19-22) but the first-named one (his refusal to live at the expense of the Corinthians) eclipses all the rest and is spoken of with such abruptness and vehemence that the passage seems at first sight to be a digression, which it is not. Somebody—in all probability the False Apostles—had denied Paul’s right to maintenance (3-6) on the ground that he was not an apostle in the same sense as the Twelve. (See § 865h, i and 2 Corinthians 11:5-15.) Here then for the second time the strength of his feelings makes him depart from his plan of postponing a direct clash with this party (see ch 4). Hence also some of the ’boasting’ which we have in the Second Epistle, appears here also. Nevertheless the passage breathes the spirit of heroic charity, which for God’s sake and the salvation of souls’ thinks nothing too hard.

1-14, Proof of his Right to Maintenance—1. ’Free’: i.e. from the Jewish Law and from irrational scruples. See its use inverse 19. Perhaps it was also a catchword. ’Seen Christ’: his meeting with Christ on the Damascus road is mentioned as proof of his Apostolic vocation, Galatians 1:15-18.2. ’Seal’: their conversion proved his vocation, as the seal on an article would prove it to be genuine or somebody’s property.

3. ’Examine’: call to account: same word as in 4:3, where the same people probably are in view. ’This’: i.e. the following verses.

4. ’We’: in view of the singular in vv 3 and 15, it is clear that throughout this passage ’we’ means Paul alone. ’Eat’, etc.: i.e. to receive food and shelter from the faithful. 5. ’To carry about’: to bring with him, and expect the same hospitality for her. ’A woman a sister’: the first word can mean either woman or wife, the second is taken by nearly everybody to mean Christian here.

Two interpretations therefore are possible: 1. A Christian woman. 2. A Christian wife. Although some of the Twelve Apostles (including Cephas, i.e. Peter) had wives, Catholic commentators have generally preferred the first version, taking the words to refer to devout women such as those who assisted our Lord with their money and service (Luke 8:3). Only here is it implied that our Lord’s brethren (i.e. cousins) had travelled outside Palestine. Peter may have visited Corinth—see 1:12. St Paul’s critics evidently maintained that only the Twelve had a right to maintenance. Paul says that all missionaries have it, and therefore does not here labour to prove his equality to the Twelve (Introd. C 2 and 2 Corinthians 1:5-15). 6. ’Or is it only myself and Barnabas who have no right to cease from working (for our living)?’ Barnabas may have visited Corinth. In any case his name must have been well known at Corinth and he seems to have been disparaged by the False Apostles. Paul and Barnabas had not met, as far as we know, since their disagreement at Antioch five or six years before, Acts 15:37-9.8. ’According to man’: as a private opinion.

9. Quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4; see note there. ’Treadeth out’: ’threshes’. The text of course had its literal sense, but the principle, here confirmed by God, applied a fortiori to men.

10. ’For’, etc. ’Yes, it was written for our sake’. ’Receive fruit’: ’receive his share’.

11. ’Carnal ’earthly, material things’. Only necessaries are in question.

12. ’Others’ probably ’means some true missionaries, perhaps St Peter, etc., not the False Apostles who seem to have prided themselves on disclaiming the right to maintenance (see § 856h, i and 2 Corinthians 11:12). But the meaning may be: Others, i.e. all Christians, possess the same ’power’ as you do (same sense as in 8:9)— power to do anything not wrong in itself.

13. Refers to Jewish priests, who were largely supported by the use of the meat, bread, etc., of the offerings. ’Who work’, etc.: Who carry out sacred rites’.

14. ’The Lord ordained’, etc.: clearest in Luke 10:7, where he tells the Seventy to live on the charity of those they visit, and adds ’The labourer has a right to his wages’.

15-18 St Paul’s Renunciation of this Right —St Paul’s chief reason was the one given in 12—to prevent the Jews and others from being able to say that he profited by the gospel. In Corinth and Ephesus he insisted on earning his bread, but accepted gifts from the Christians of Philippi (2 Corinthians 11:8-9; Philippians 4:15) perhaps because there were few Jews at Philippi to calumniate him.

15b ’Neither do I write these (present) words in order that (I may receive free hospitality)’. ’For’, etc.: ’For I would rather die than—Nobody shall rob me of my boast’. The first sentence is broken off and left unfinished.

16. ’A necessity’, etc.: i.e. I have no choice. The compelling force was twofold, love of Christ and fear of being held responsible for the loss of souls.

17-18. St Paul’s thought as a whole is clear, but there are difficulties about single words, and our text may be corrupt somewhere. This is a paraphrase rather than a translation: ’If I did this (preaching the gospel) by my own free choice, I should deserve a reward. But if I have no choice about preaching the gospel, then I am like a slave carrying out a commission entrusted to him (and deserving no credit for doing so). How then am I to merit any reward? Only if I preach the gospel for nothing and do not make full use of the power that a missionary has’. By reward he means God’s special approval.

19-22 His Renunciation of Other Rights —Putting aside the thought of his critics at Corinth, he takes a wider scope and in a serener tone shows how he had habitually assumed burdens which he was not bound to carry, for the sake of making converts or of smoothing the path of Christians.

19. ’Free’, etc.: ’Subject to no master’.20. When living among Jews, he observed the Law in his actions so as not to shock them, cf. Acts 21:21-24. He did not mislead them into thinking he was no more than an ordinary Jew.

21b ’To men who have no law I became like a man without law’. To pagans he made it clear that he was not bound by the Jewish ceremonial law (which repelled them) and moreover he tried to meet them on some common ground—a bare belief in some Divine power—or he appealed to something already familiar to them, e.g. the altar to the unknown god. See his speech at Athens, Acts 17:16 f.

22. ’Weak’: Christians burdened with scruples and doubts (as in 8:9). For their sake he acted as if he shared their scruples. 22b. ’That by any and every means I might save men’.

23-27 The ’Unfading Wreath’ is worth the Uttermost Effort —This is really a bridge to the next section —the subject is no longer the salvation of others but our own.

23. ’Partaker’: i.e. that I too may (with those for whom I work) share in its blessings.

24. Short parable from Greek athletic contests which were extremely popular throughout the eastern provinces. The only moral is: a man may be a Christian and yet not be saved, just as a man may run and not win. There is no exact parallelism, and we must not press the comparison.

25. ’Everyone who enters for a contest practises the utmost self-denial’, in diet, etc. ’Corruptible crown’: a perishable wreath (or garland).’ A garland was the usual prize given to athletes. At the Isthmian Games, celebrated every two years close to Corinth, the garlands were of pine foliage.

26. ’at an uncertainty’: ’aimlessly’. ’Fight’: ’box’.

27. Probably: ’I hammer at my body and make it my slave’: he is speaking, it seems, of mortifications over and above the great inevitable hardships of his life. His picture is of a boxing-match between his soul and his body, in which the body gets the worst of it: ’a castaway’: i.e. rejected by God.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/1-corinthians-9.html. 1951.
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