Click here to learn more!
1. Paul, called to be an Apostle In this manner does Paul proceed, in almost all the introductions to his Epistles, with the view of procuring for his doctrine authority and favor. The former he secures to himself from the station that had been assigned to him by God, as being an Apostle of Christ sent by God; the latter by testifying his affection towards those to whom he writes. We believe much more readily the man whom we look upon as regarding us with affection, and as faithfully endeavoring to promote our welfare. In this salutation, therefore, he claims for himself authority, when he speaks of himself as an Apostle of Christ, and that, too, as called by God, that is, set apart by the will of God Now, two things are requisite in any one that would be listened to in the Church, and would occupy the place of a teacher; for he must be called by God to that office, and he must faithfully employ himself in the discharge of its duties. Paul here lays claim to both. For the name, Apostle, implies that the individual conscientiously acts the part of an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19), and proclaims the pure doctrine of the gospel. But as no one ought to assume this honor to himself, unless he be called to it, he adds, that he had not rashly intruded into it, but had been appointed (36) to it by God.
Let us learn, therefore, to take these two things together when we wish to ascertain what kind of persons we ought to esteem as ministers of Christ, — a call to the office, and faithfulness in the discharge of its duties. For as no man can lawfully assume the designation and rank of a minister, unless he be called, so it were not enough for any one to be called, if he does not also fulfill the duties of his office. For the Lord does not choose ministers that they may be dumb idols, or exercise tyranny under pretext of their calling, or make their own caprice their law; but at the same time marks out what kind of persons they ought to be, and binds them by his laws, and in fine chooses them for the ministry, or, in other words, that in the first place they may not be idle, and, secondly, that they may confine themselves within the limits of their office. Hence, as the apostleship depends on the calling, so the man who would be reckoned an apostle, must show himself to be really such: nay more, so must every one who demands that credit be given him, or that his doctrine be listened to. For since Paul rests on these arguments for establishing his authority, worse than impudent were the conduct of that man who would think to have any standing without such proofs.
It ought, however, to be observed, that it is not enough for any one to hold out to view the title to a call to the office, along with faithfulness in discharging its duties, if he does not in reality give proof of both. For it often happens that none boast more haughtily of their titles than those that are destitute of the reality; as of old the false prophets, with lofty disdain, boasted that they had been sent by the Lord. Nay, at the present day, what else do the Romanists make a noise about, but “ordination from God, and an inviolably sacred succession even from the Apostles themselves,” (37) while, after all, it appears that they are destitute of those things of which they vaunt? Here, therefore, it is not boasting that is required, but reality. Now, as the name is assumed by good and bad alike, we must come to the test, that we may ascertain who has a right to the name of Apostle, and who has not. As to Paul, God attested his calling by many revelations, and afterwards confirmed it by miracles. The faithfulness must be estimated by this, — whether or not he proclaimed the pure doctrine of Christ. As to the twofold call — that of God and that of the Church — see my Institutes. (38)
An Apostle Though this name, agreeably to its etymology, has a general signification, and is sometimes employed in a general sense, to denote any kind of ministers, (39) yet, as a peculiar designation, it is applicable to those that were set apart by the Lord’s appointment to publish the Gospel throughout the whole world. Now, it was of importance that Paul should be reckoned in that number, for two reasons, — first, because much more deference was paid to them than to other ministers of the gospel; and, secondly, because they alone, properly speaking, had authority to instruct all the Churches.
By the will of God While the Apostle is accustomed cheerfully to acknowledge himself indebted to God for whatever he has of good, he does so more especially in reference to his apostleship, that he may free himself from all appearance of presumption. And assuredly as a call to salvation is of grace, so also a call to the office of apostle is of grace, as Christ teaches in these words:“
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” (John 15:16.)
Paul, however, at the same time indirectly intimates, that all who attempt to undermine his apostleship, or in any way oppose it, contend against an appointment of God. For Paul here makes no useless boast of honorary titles, but designedly vindicates his apostleship from malicious aspersions. For as his authority must have been sufficiently established in the view of the Corinthians, it would have been superfluous to make particular mention of “the will of God,” had not wicked men attempted by indirect means to undermine that honorable rank which had been divinely assigned him.
And Sosthenes our brother This is that Sosthenes who was ruler of the Jewish synagogue that was at Corinth, of whom Luke makes mention in Acts 18:17. His name is added for this reason, that the Corinthians, knowing his ardor and steadfastness in the gospel, could not but hold him in deserved esteem, and hence it is still more to his honor to be made mention of now as Paul’s brother, than formerly as ruler of the synagogue
(36) “ Constitue, ordonne, et establi;” — “Appointed, ordained, and established.”
(37) “ Et aujour d’huy, qu’est ce qu’entonnent a plene bouche les Romanisques, sinon cen gros mots, Ordination de Dieu, La sainte et sacree succession depuis le temps mesme des Apostres;” — “And at the present day, what do the Romanists sound forth with open mouth, but those grand terms, Ordination from God, — The holy and sacred succession from the very times of the Apostles.”
(38) Institutes, volume 3.
(39) Αποστολος, (an apostle) derived from αποστελλειν, (to send forth,) signifies literally a messenger. The term is employed by classical writer to denote the commander of an expedition, or a delegate, or ambassador. (See Herodotus, v. 38.) In the New Testament it is in various instances employed in a general sense to denote a messenger. (See Luke 11:49; John 13:16; Philippians 2:25.) In one instance it is applied to Christ himself, (Hebrews 3:1.) Most frequently, however, it is applied to those extraordinary messengers who were (to use the words of Leigh in his Critics Sacra) Christ’s “ legates a latere,” from his side. — Ed
2. To the Church of God which is at Corinth. It may perhaps appear strange that he should give the name of a Church of God to a multitude of persons that were infested with so many distempers, that Satan might be said to reign among them rather than God. Certain it is, that he did not mean to flatter the Corinthians, for he speaks under the direction of the Spirit of God, who is not accustomed to flatter. But (40) among so many pollutions, what appearance of a Church is any longer presented? I answer, the Lord having said to him, “Fear not: I have much people in this place” (Acts 18:9;) keeping this promise in mind, he conferred upon a godly few so much honor as to recognize them as a Church amidst a vast multitude of ungodly persons. Farther, notwithstanding that many vices had crept in, and various corruptions both of doctrine and manners, there were, nevertheless, certain tokens still remaining of a true Church. This is a passage that ought to be carefully observed, that we may not require that the Church, while in this world, should be free from every wrinkle and stain, or forthwith pronounce unworthy of such a title every society in which everything is not as we would wish it. For it is a dangerous temptation to think that there is no Church at all where perfect purity is not to be seen. For the man that is prepossessed with this notion, must necessarily in the end withdraw from all others, and look upon himself as the only saint in the world, or set up a peculiar sect in company with a few hypocrites.
What ground, then, had Paul for recognizing a Church at Corinth? It was this: that he saw among them the doctrine of the gospel, baptism, the Lord’s Supper — tokens by which a Church ought to be judged of. For although some had begun to have doubts as to the resurrection, the error not having spread over the entire body, the name of the Church and its reality are not thereby affected. Some faults had crept in among them in the administration of the Supper, discipline and propriety of conduct had very much declined: despising the simplicity of the gospel, they had given themselves up to show and pomp; and in consequence of the ambition of their ministers, they were split into various parties. Notwithstanding of this, however, inasmuch as they retained fundamental doctrine: as the one God was adored among them, and was invoked in the name of Christ: as they placed their dependence for salvation upon Christ, and, had a ministry not altogether corrupted: there was, on these accounts, a Church still existing among them. Accordingly, wherever the worship of God is preserved uninfringed, and that fundamental doctrine, of which I have spoken, remains, we must without hesitation conclude that in that case a Church exists.
Sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints He makes mention of the blessings with which God had adorned them, as if by way of upbraiding them, at least in the event of their showing no gratitude in return. For what could be more base than to reject an Apostle through whose instrumentality they had been set apart as God’s peculiar portion. Meanwhile, by these two epithets, he points out what sort of persons ought to be reckoned among the true members of the Church, and who they are that belong of right to her communion. For if you do not by holiness of life show yourself to be a Christian, you may indeed be in the Church, and pass undetected, (41) but of it you cannot be. Hence all must be sanctified in Christ who would be reckoned among the people of God. Now the term sanctification denotes separation This takes place in us when we are regenerated by the Spirit to newness of life, that we may serve God and not the world. For while by nature we are unholy, the Spirit consecrates us to God. As, however, this is effected when we are engrafted into the body of Christ, apart from whom there is nothing but pollution, and as it is also by Christ, and not from any other source that the Spirit is conferred, it is with good reason that he says that we are sanctified in Christ, inasmuch as it is by Him that we cleave to God, and in Him become new creatures.
What immediately follows — called to be saints — I understand to mean: As ye have been called unto holiness. It may, however, be taken in two senses. Either we may understand Paul to say, that the ground of sanctification is the call of God, inasmuch as God has chosen them; meaning, that this depends on his grace, not on the excellence of men; or we may understand him to mean, that, it accords with our profession that we be holy, this being the design of the doctrine of the gospel. The former interpretation appears to suit better with the context, but it is of no great consequence in which way you understand it, as there is an entire agreement between the two following positions — that our holiness flows from the fountain of divine election, and that it, is the end of our calling.
We must, therefore, carefully maintain, that it is not through our own efforts that we are holy, but by the call of God, because He alone sanctifies those who were by nature unclean. And certainly it appears to me probable, that, when Paul has pointed out as it were with his finger the fountain of holiness thrown wide open, he mounts up a step higher, to the good pleasure of God, in which also Christ’s mission to us originated. As, however, we are called by the gospel to harmlessness of life (Philippians 2:15,) it is necessary that this be accomplished in us in reality, in order that our calling may be effectual. It will, however, be objected, that, there were not many such among the Corinthians. I answer, that the weak are not excluded from this number; for here God only begins his work in us, and by little and little carries it forward gradually and by successive steps. I answer farther, that Paul designedly looks rather to the grace of God in them than to their own defects, that he may put them to shame for their negligence, if they do not act a suitable part.
With all that call. This, too, is an epithet common to all the pious; for as it is one chief exercise of faith to call upon the name of God, so it is also by this duty chiefly that believers are to be estimated. Observe, also, that he says that Christ is called upon by believers, and this affords a proof of his divinity — invocation being one of the first expressions of Divine homage. Hence invocation here by synecdoche (42) ( κατὰ συνεκδοχήν) denotes the entire profession of faith in Christ, as in many passages of Scripture it is taken generally for the whole of Divine worship. Some explain it as denoting mere profession, but this appears to be meager, and at variance with its usual acceptation in Scripture. The little words nostri ( ours) and sui ( theirs) I have put in the genitive, understanding them as referring to Christ, while others, understanding them as referring to place, render them in the ablative. In doing so I have followed Chrysostom. This will, perhaps, appear harsh, as the expression in every place is introduced in the middle, but in Paul’s Greek style there is nothing of harshness in this construction. My reason for preferring this rendering to that of the Vulgate is, that if you understand it as referring to place, the additional clause will be not merely superfluous, but inappropriate. For what place would Paul call his own? Judea they understand him to mean; but on what ground? And then, what place could he refer to as inhabited by others? “All other places of the world” (say they;) but this, too, does not suit well. On the other hand, the meaning that I have given it suits most admirably; for, after making mention of all that in every place call upon the name of Christ our Lord, he adds, both theirs and ours, manifestly for the purpose of showing that Christ is the one common Lord, without distinction, of all that call upon him, whether they be Jews or Gentiles.
In every place This Paul has added, contrary to his usual manner; for in his other Epistles he makes mention in the salutation of those only for whom they are designed. He seems, however, to have had it in view to anticipate the slanders of wicked men, that they might not have it to allege that, in addressing the Corinthians, he assumed a confident air, and claimed for himself an authority that he would not venture to assert in writing to other Churches. For we shall see by and by, that he was unjustly loaded with this reproach, too, as though he were preparing little nests (43) for himself, with the view of shunning the light, or were withdrawing himself in a clandestine way from the rest of the Apostles. It appears, then, that expressly for the purpose of refuting this falsehood, he places himself in a commanding position, from which he may be heard afar off.
(40) “ Mais (dira quelqu’un;) “ — “But (some one will say.)”
(41) “ Tu te pourras bien entretenir en l’Eglise tellement quellement estant mesle parmi les autres;” — “You may quite well have a standing in the Church in some sort of way, being mixed up among others.”
(42) Synedoche, a figure of speech, by which part is taken for the whole. — Ed.
(43) “ Nids et cachettes;” — “Nests and lurking-holes.”
3. Grace be to you and peace For an exposition of this prayer, let my readers consult the beginning of my Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:7;) for I do not willingly burden my readers with repetitions.
4. I give thanks to my God. Having in the salutation secured for himself authority from the station assigned him, he now endeavors to procure favor for his doctrine, by expressing his affection for them. In this way he soothes their minds beforehand, that they may listen patiently to his reproofs. (45) He persuades them of his affection for them by the following tokens — his discovering as much joy in the benefits bestowed upon them, as if they had been conferred upon himself; and his declaring that he entertains a favorable opinion of them, and has good hopes of them as to the future. Farther, he qualifies his congratulations in such a way as to give them no occasion to be puffed up, as he traces up to God all the benefits that they possessed, that the entire praise may redound to him, inasmuch as they are the fruits of his grace. It is as though he had said — “I congratulate you indeed, but it is in such a way as to ascribe the praise to God.” His meaning, when he calls God his God, I have explained in my Commentary upon the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:8.) As Paul was not prepared to flatter the Corinthians, so neither has he commended them on false grounds. For although all were not worthy of such commendations, and though they corrupted many excellent gifts of God by ambition, yet the gifts themselves it became him not to despise, because they were, in themselves, deserving of commendation. Farther, as the gifts of the Spirit are conferred for the edification of all, it is with good reason that he enumerates them as gifts common to the whole Church. (46) But let us see what he commends in them.
For the grace, etc. This is a general term, for it comprehends blessings of every kind that they had obtained through means of the gospel. For the term grace denotes here not the favor of God, but by metonymy (47) ( μετωνυμικῶς), the gifts that he bestows upon men gratuitously. He immediately proceeds to specify particular instances, when he says that they are enriched in all things, and specifies what those all things are — the doctrine and word of God. For in these riches it becomes Christians to abound; and they ought also to be esteemed by us the more, and regarded by us as so much the more valuable, in proportion as they are ordinarily slighted. The phrase in ipso ( in him) I have preferred to retain, rather than render it per ipsum ( by him,) because it has in my opinion more expressiveness and force. For we are enriched in Christ, inasmuch as we are members of his body, and are engrafted into him: nay more, being made one with him, he makes us share with him in everything that he has received from the Father.
(45) The same view of Paul’s design here is given by Theodoret: “ Μέλλων κατηγορεῖν προθεραπεύει την ἀκοὴν ὥστε δεκτὴν γενέσθαι τὴν ιατρείαν;” — “As he is about to censure them, he soothes beforehand the organ of hearing, that the remedy to be applied may be the more favorably receiv ed. ” — Ed
(46) “ Que chacun ha en son endroit;” — “Which every one has severally.”
(47) A figure of speech, by which one term is put for another — the cause for the effect, the effect for the cause, etc. — Ed.
6. Even as the testimony, etc. Erasmus gives a different rendering, to this effect, “that by these things the testimony of Christ was confirmed in them;” that is, by knowledge and by the word. The words, however, convey another meaning, and if they are not wrested, the meaning is easy — that God has sealed the truth of his gospel among the Corinthians, for the purpose of confirming it. Now, this might be done in two ways, either by miracles, or by the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit. Chrysostom seems to understand it of miracles, but I take it in a larger sense; and, first of all, it is certain, that the gospel is properly confirmed in our experience by faith, because it is only when we receive it by faith that we “set to our seal that God is true” (John 3:33.) And though I admit that miracles ought to have weight for the confirmation of it, yet we must go higher in search of the origin, namely this, that the Spirit of God is the earnest and seal. Accordingly, I explain these words in this manner — that the Corinthians excelled in knowledge, inasmuch as God had from the beginning given efficacy to his gospel among them, and that not in one way merely, but had done so both by the internal influence of the Spirit, and by excellence and variety of gifts, by miracles, and by all other helps. He calls the gospel the testimony of Christ, or respecting Christ, because the entire sum of it tends to discover Christ to us,“
In whom all the treasures of knowledge are hid” (Colossians 2:3.)
If any one prefers to take it in an active sense, on the ground that Christ is the primary author of the gospel, so that the Apostles were nothing but secondary or inferior witnesses, I shall not much oppose it. I feel better satisfied, however, with the former exposition. It is true that a little afterwards (1 Corinthians 2:1) the testimony of God must, beyond all controversy, be taken in an active sense, as a passive signification would not be at all suitable. Here, however, the case is different, and, what is more, that passage strengthens my view, as he immediately subjoins what it is (48) — to know nothing but Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:2.)
(48) “ Quel est ce tesmoignage;” — “What this testimony is.”
7. So that ye come behind in no gift ̔Υστερεισθαι means to be in want of what you would otherwise stand in need of. (49) He means, therefore, that the Corinthians abound in all the gifts of God, so as not to be in want of anything, as if he had said, “The Lord has not merely honored you with the light of the gospel, but has eminently endowed you with all those graces that may be of service to the saints for helping them forward in the way of salvation.” For he gives the name of gifts ( χαρίσματα) to those spiritual graces that are, as it were, means of salvation to the saints. But it is objected, on the other hand, that the saints are never in such abundance as not to feel in want of graces to some extent, so that they must always of necessity be “ hungering and thirsting ” (Matthew 5:6.) For where is the man that does not come far short of perfection? I answer, “As they are sufficiently endowed with needful gifts, and are never in such destitution but that the Lord seasonably relieves their need; Paul on this ground ascribes to them such wealth.” For the same reason he adds: waiting for the manifestation, meaning, that he does not ascribe to them such abundance as to leave nothing to be desired; but merely as much as will suffice, until they shall have arrived at perfection. The participle waiting I understand in this sense, “In the meantime while you are waiting.” Thus the meaning will be, “So that ye are in want of no gift in the meantime while you are waiting for the day of perfected revelation, by which Christ our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30) will be fully manifested.”
(49) The word is used in this sense in the following passages: Luke 15:14; 2 Corinthians 11:9; Philippians 4:12; and Hebrews 11:37. The proper meaning is — to come too late for a thing, and so miss of it. Xenophon uses it in this sense. Αβροκόμας ὑστερησε τὢς μάχης : — “Abrocomas came too late for the battle.” The word occurs in the same sense in Hebews 4:1 and Hebews 12:15. — Ed
8. Who will also confirm you. The relative here refers not to Christ, but to God, though the word God is the remoter antecedent. For the Apostle is going on with his congratulation, and as he has told them previously what he thought of them, so he now lets them know what hope he has of them as to the future, and this partly for the purpose of assuring them still farther of his affection for them, and partly that he may exhort them by his own example to cherish the same hope. It is as if he had said — Though the expectation of a salvation to come keeps you still in suspense, you ought nevertheless to feel assured that the Lord will never forsake you, but will on the contrary increase what he has begun in you, that when that day comes on which“
we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 5:10,)
we may be found there blameless.
Blameless In his Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians (Ephesians 1:4, and Colossians 1:22) he teaches that this is the end of our calling — that we may appear pure and unreproachable in the presence of Christ. It is, however, to be observed, that this glorious purity is not in the first instance perfected in us; nay, rather, it goes well with us if we are every day making progress in penitence, and are being purged from the sins (2 Peter 1:9) that expose us to the displeasure of God, until at length we put off, along with the mortal body, all the offscourings of sin. Of the day of the Lord we shall have occasion to speak when we come to the fourth chapter.
9. God is faithful When the Scripture speaks of God as faithful the meaning in many cases is, that in God there is steadfastness and evenness of tenor, so that what he begins he prosecutes to the end, (50) as Paul himself says elsewhere, that the calling of God is without repentance (Romans 11:29.) Hence, in my opinion, the meaning of this passage is, that God is steadfast in what he purposes. This being the case, he consequently does not make sport as to his calling, but will unceasingly take care of his work. (51) From God’s past benefits we ought always to hope well as to the future. Paul, however, has something higher in view, for he argues that the Corinthians cannot be cast off, having been once called by the Lord into Christ’s fellowship. To apprehend fully, however, the force of this argument, let us observe first of all, that every one ought to regard his calling as a token of his election. Farther, although one cannot judge with the same certainty as to another’s election, yet we must always in the judgment of charity conclude that all that are called are called to salvation; I mean efficaciously and fruitfully. Paul, however, directed his discourse to those in whom the word of the Lord had taken root, and in whom some fruits of it had been produced.
Should any one object that many who have once received the word afterwards fall away, I answer that the Spirit alone is to every one a faithful and sure witness of his election, upon which perseverance depends. This, however, did not stand in the way of Paul’s being persuaded, in the judgment of charity, that the calling of the Corinthians would prove firm and immovable, as being persons in whom he saw the tokens of God’s fatherly benevolence. These things, however, do not by any means tend to beget carnal security, to divest us of which the Scriptures frequently remind us of our weakness, but simply to confirm our confidence in the Lord. Now this was needful, in order that their minds might not be disheartened on discovering so many faults, as he comes afterwards to present before their view. The sum of all this may be stated thus, — that it is the part of Christian candor to hope well of all who have entered on the right way of salvation, and are still persevering in that course, notwithstanding that they are at the same time still beset with really distempers. Every one of us, too, from the time of his being illuminated (Hebrews 10:32) by the Spirit of God in the knowledge of Christ, ought to conclude with certainty from this that he has been adopted by the Lord to an inheritance of eternal life. For effectual calling ought to be to believers an evidence of divine adoption; yet in the meantime we must all walk with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12.) On this point I shall touch again to some extent when we come to the tenth chapter.
Into the fellowship. Instead of this rendering Erasmus translates it into partnership The old interpreter renders it society I have preferred, however, to render it fellowship, as bringing out better the force of the Greek word κοινωνιας (52) For this is the design of the gospel, that Christ may become ours, and that we may be engrafted into his body. Now when the Father gives him to us in possession, he also communicates himself to us in him; and hence arises a participation in every benefit. Paul’s argument, then, is this — “Since you have, by means of the gospel which you have received by faith, been called into the fellowship of Christ, you have no reason to dread the danger of death, (53) having been made partakers of him (Hebrews 3:14) who rose a conqueror over death.” In fine, when the Christian looks to himself he finds only occasion for trembling, or rather for despair; but having been called into the fellowship of Christ, he ought, in so far as assurance of salvation is concerned, to think of himself no otherwise than as a member of Christ, so as to reckon all Christ’s benefits his own. Thus he will obtain an unwavering hope of final perseverance, (as it is called,) if he reckons himself a member of him who is beyond all hazard of falling away.
(50) Calvin probably refers to the following (among other) passagess: — 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 10:23.
(51) “ La vocation done qu’il fait d’un chacun des siens, n’est point un jeu, et en les appellant il ne se mocque point, ainsi il entretiendra et pour suyura son ceuvre perpetuellement;” — “The calling, therefore, that he makes of each of his own, is not mere play; and in calling them he does not make sport, but will unceasingly maintain and prosecute his work.”
(52) Calvin in his Institutes, (volume 2,) after speaking of Christ’s being represented by Paul as “offered to us in the gospel with all the abundance of heavenly blessings, with all his merits, all his righteousness, wisdom, and grace, without exception,” remarks — “And what is meant by the fellowship κοινωνια of Christ, which, according to the same apostle (1 Corinthians 1:9) is offered to us in the gospel, all believers know.” — Ed
(53) “ La mort et perdition;” — “Death and perdition.”
10. Now I beseech you, brethren Hitherto he has handled the Corinthians mildly, because he knew that they were much too sensitive. Now, however, after preparing their minds for receiving correction, acting the part of a good and skillful surgeon, who soothes the wound when about to apply a painful remedy, he begins to handle them with more severity. Even here, however, as we shall still farther see, he uses great moderation. The sum is this: “It is my hope that the Lord has not in vain conferred upon you so many gifts, so as not to have it in view to bring you to salvation, but you ought at the same time to take heed lest graces so distinguished be polluted by your vices. See, then, that you be agreed among yourselves; and it is not without good reason that I call for agreement among yourselves, for I have been informed that you are in a state of disagreement, amounting even to hostility, and that there are parties and contentions raging among you, by which true unity of faith is torn asunder.” As, however, they might not perhaps be sufficiently aroused by mere exhortation, he uses earnest entreaty, for he adjures them, by the name of Christ, that, as they loved him, they should aim at promoting harmony.
That ye all speak the same thing In exhorting them to harmony, he employs three different forms of expression: for, in the first place, he requires such agreement among them that all shall have one voice; secondly, he takes away the evil by which unity is broken and torn asunder; and, thirdly, he unfolds the nature of true harmony, which is, that they be agreed among themselves in mind and will. What he has placed second is first in order, — that we beware of strifes. For from this a second thing will naturally follow, — that we be in harmony; and then at length a third thing will follow, which is here mentioned first, — that we all speak, as it were, with one mouth; a thing exceedingly desirable as a fruit of Christian harmony. Let us then observe, that nothing is more inconsistent on the part of Christians than to be at variance among themselves, for it is the main article of our religion that we be in harmony among ourselves; and farther, on such agreement the safety of the Church rests and is dependent.
But let us see what he requires as to Christian unity. If any one is desirous of nice distinctions — he would have them first of all joined together in one mind; secondly, in one judgment; and, thirdly, he would have them declare in words that agreement. As, however, my rendering differs somewhat from that of Erasmus, I would, in passing, call my readers to observe, that Paul here makes use of a participle, which denotes things that are fitly and suitably joined together (56) For the verb καταρτιζεσθαι itself (from which the participle κατηρτισμένος comes) properly signifies, to be fitted and adjusted, just as the members of the human body are connected together by a most admirable symmetry. (57)
For sententia (judgment) Paul has γνώμην : but I understand it here as denoting the will, so that there is a complete division of the soul, and the first clause refers to faith, the second to love. Then only will there be Christian unity among us, when there is not merely a good agreement as to doctrine, but we are also in harmony in our affections and dispositions, and are thus in all respects of one mind. Thus Luke bears witness to believers in the primitive Church, (Acts 2:46,) that they had “one heart and one soul.” And without doubt this will be found wherever the Spirit of Christ reigns. When, however, he exhorts them to speak the same thing, he intimates still more fully from the effect, how complete the agreement ought to be — so that no diversity may appear even in words. It is difficult, indeed, of attainment, but still it is necessary among Christians, from whom there is required not merely one faith, but also one confession.
(56) “ Et assembles l’une h l’autre;” — “And associated with each other.”
(57) The verb καταρτιζω properly signifies, to repair, or refit, or restore to its original condition what has been disarranged or broken; and in this sense it is applied to the repairing of nets, ships, walls, etc. (See Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19.) We might with perfect propriety understand the Apostle as alluding here to the repairing of a ship that has been broken or damaged, and as intimating that a Church, when shattered by divisions, is (so to speak) not sea-worthy, and must be carefully repaired, before she can be fit for purposes of commerce, by conveying to the nations of the earth the “true riches.” The allusion, however, most probably is, as Calvin thinks, to the members of the human body, which are so admirably adjusted to each other. It deserves to be noticed, that Paul makes use of a derivative from the same verb ( κατάρτισις) in 2 Corinthians 13:9, on which Beza observes, “that the Apostle’s meaning is, that whereas the members of the Church were all (as it were) dislocated and out of joint, they should now again be joined together in love, and they should endeavor to make perfect what was amiss amongst them either in faith or manners.” — Ed
11. It has been declared. As general observations have usually little effect, he intimates, that what he had said was more particularly applicable to them. The application, therefore, is designed with the view of leading the Corinthians to perceive, that it was not without good reason that Paul had made mention of harmony. For he shows that they had not merely turned aside from a holy unity, (58) but had even fallen into contentions, which are worse (59) than jarrings of sentiment. And that he may not be charged with believing too readily what was said, (60) as though he lightly lent his ear to false accusations, he speaks with commendation of his informants, who must have been in the highest esteem, as he did not hesitate to adduce them as competent witnesses against an entire Church. It is not indeed altogether certain, whether Chloe is the name of a place or of a woman, but to me it appears more probable that it is the name of a woman. (61) I am of opinion, therefore, that it was a well-regulated household that acquainted Paul with the distempered condition of the Corinthian Church, being desirous that it might be remedied by him. The idea entertained by many, in accordance with Chrysostom’s view, that he refrained from mentioning names, lest he should bring odium upon them, appears to me to be absurd. For he does not say that some of the household had reported this to him, but, on the contrary, makes mention of them all, and there is no doubt that they would willingly have allowed their names to be made use of. Farther, that he might not exasperate their minds by undue severity, he has modified the reproof by an engaging form of address; not as though he would make light of the distemper, but with the view of bringing them to a more teachable spirit, for perceiving the severity of the malady.
(58) “ La sancte union qui doit estre entre les Chrestiens;” — “That holy unity which ought to be among Christians.”
(59) “ Bien plus dangereuses;” — “Much more dangerous.”
(60) It is remarked by Beza that the verb here employed, δηλοω, (to declare,)has a stronger signification than σημαινω (to intimate,) just as there is a difference of meaning between the Latin words declarare (to declare) and significare (to intimate,) an example of which is furnished in a letter of Cicero to Lucretius, “ tibi non significandum solum, sed etiam declarandum arbitror, nihil mihi esse potuisse tuis literis gratius;” “I think it ought to be not merely intimated to you but declared, that nothing could be more agreeable to me than your letters.” The emphatic word εδηλωθν (it has been declared,) appears to have been made use of by the Apostle to convey more fully to the mind of the Corhlthians, that he had not hastily given heed to a mere report. — Ed
(61) Some have thought that by τῶς Χλόης,(those of Chloe,) the Apostle means persons who were in a flourishing condition in religion; from χλόη, green herbage, (Herodotus, 4:34, Euripides, Hipp. 1124.) One writer supposes Paul to mean seniores, (elders,) deriving the word χλόη from כלח, old age. These conjectures, however, are manifestly more ingenious than solid. It is certain that the name Χλόν (Chloe,) was frequent among the Greeks as the name of a female. It is most natural to understand by των Χλονς those of Chloe, as equivalent to των Χλονς σοικειως — those of the household of Chloe. — Ed
12. I say then, etc. Some think there is here an instance of μιμησις, imitation, as if Paul were here repeating their expressions. Now, although the manuscripts differ as to the particle ὅτι, I am of opinion that it is the conjunction ( because) rather than the relative ( which), so that there is simply an explanation of the preceding statement in this sense. “My reason for saying that there are contentions among you is, because every one of you glories in the name of some individual.” It will, however, be objected, that in these words there is no appearance as yet of contention. My answer is, that where there are jarrings in religion, it cannot but be that men’s minds will soon afterwards burst forth in open strife. For as nothing is more effectual for uniting us, and there is nothing that tends more to draw our minds together, and keep them in a state of peace, than agreement in religion, so, on the other hand, if any disagreement has arisen as to matters of this nature, the effect necessarily is, that men’s minds are straightway stirred up for combat, and in no other department are there more fierce contendings. (62) Hence it is with good reason that Paul brings it forward as a sufficient evidence of contention, that the Corinthians were infested with sects and parties.
I am of Paul He makes mention here of Christ’s faithful servants — Apollos, who had been his successor at Corinth, and Peter himself too, and then adds himself to their number, that he may appear to plead not so much his own cause as that of Christ. In any other point of view it is not likely that there were any parties that espoused the separate interests of ministers joined together by a sacred agreement. (63) He has, however, as he afterwards mentions, transferred to himself and Apollos what was applicable to others; and this he has done, in order that they might more candidly consider the thing itself, viewing it apart from respect of persons. It will, however, be replied, that he makes mention here even of those who professed that they were of Christ Was this, too, worthy of blame? I answer, that in this way he shows more fully what unseemly consequences result from those depraved affections, when we give ourselves up to men, as in that case Christ must be acknowledged merely in part, and the pious have no alternative left them, but to separate themselves from others, if they would not renounce Christ.
As, however, this passage is wrested in various ways, we must endeavor to ascertain more minutely what Paul intends here. His object is, to maintain Christ’s exclusive authority in the Church, so that we may all exercise dependence upon him, that he alone may be recognized among us as Lord and Master, and that the name of no individual be set in opposition to his. Those, therefore, that draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:30,) with the view of splitting the Church into parties, he condemns as most destructive enemies of our faith. Thus then he does not, suffer men to have such pre-eminence in the Church as to usurp Christ’s supremacy. He does not allow them to be held in such honor as to derogate even in the slightest degree from Christ’s dignity. There is, it is true, a certain degree of honor that is due to Christ’s ministers, and they are also themselves masters in their own place, but this exception must always be kept in view, that Christ must have without any infringement what belongs to him — that he shall nevertheless be the sole Master, and looked upon as such. Hence the aim of good ministers is this, that they may all in common serve Christ, and claim for him exclusively power, authority, and glory — fight under his banner — obey him alone, and bring others in subjection to his sway. If any one is influenced by ambition, that man gathers disciples, not to Christ, but to himself. This then is the fountain of all evils — this the most hurtful of all plagues — this the deadly poison of all Churches, when ministers seek their own interests rather than those of Christ. In short, the unity of the Church consists more especially in this one thing — that we all depend upon Christ alone, and that men thus occupy an inferior place, so as not to detract in any degree from his pre-eminence.
(62) “ Et n’y a en chose quelconque debars si grans ni tant a craindre que sent ceux-la;” — “And in no department are there disputes so great, or so much to be dreaded as those:”
(63) “ Autrement veu que ces trois estoyent d’un sainct accord ensemble en leur ministere, il n’est point vray-semblable, qu’il y eust aucunes partialitez entre les Corinthiens pour se glorifier en l’un plustost qu’en l’autre;” — “Otherwise, seeing that those three were united in their ministry by a sacred agreement, it is not likely that there were any parties among the Corinthians that were prepared to glory in one of them rather than in another.”
13. Is Christ divided? This intolerable evil was consequent upon the divisions that prevailed among the Corinthians: for Christ alone must reign in the Church. And as the object of the gospel is, that we be reconciled to God through him, it is necessary, in the first place, that we should all be bound together in him. As, however, only a very few of the Corinthians, who were in a sounder condition than the others, (64) retained Christ as their Master, (while all made it their boast that they were Christians,) Christ was by this means torn asunder. For we must be one body, if we would be kept together under him as our head. If, on the other hand, we are split asunder into different bodies, we start aside from him also. Hence to glory in his name amidst strifes and parties is to tear him in pieces: which indeed is impossible, for never will he depart from unity and concord, because “He cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13.) Paul, therefore, by setting before them this absurdity, designs to lead the Corinthians to perceive that they are estranged from Christ, inasmuch as they are divided, for then only does he reign in us, when we have him as the bond of an inviolably sacred unity.
Was Paul crucified for you? By two powerful considerations, he shows how base a thing (65) it is to rob Christ of the honor of being the sole Head of the Church — the sole Teacher — the sole Master; or to draw away from him any part of that honor, with the view of transferring it to men. The first is, that we have been redeemed by Christ on this footing, that we are not our own masters. This very argument Paul makes use of in his Epistle to the Romans (Romans 14:9,) when he says,“
For this end Christ died and rose again, that he might be Lord both of the living and the dead.”
To him, therefore, let us live and die, because we are always his. Also in this same Epistle (1 Corinthians 7:23,)“
Ye are bought with a price: be not ye the servants of men.”
As the Corinthians, therefore, had been purchased with the blood of Christ, they in a manner renounced the benefit of redemption, when they attached themselves to other leaders. Here is a doctrine that is deserving of special notice — that we are not at liberty to put ourselves under bondage to men, (66) because we are the Lord’s heritage. Here, therefore, he accuses the Corinthians of the basest ingratitude, in estranging themselves from that Leader, by whose blood they had been redeemed, however they might have done so unwittingly.
Farther, this passage militates against the wicked contrivance of Papists, by which they attempt to bolster up their system of indulgences. For it is from the blood of Christ and the martyrs (67) that they make up that imaginary treasure of the Church, which they tell us is dealt out by means of indulgences. Thus they pretend that the martyrs by their death merited something for us in the sight of God, that we may seek help from this source for obtaining the pardon of our sins. They will deny, indeed, that they are on that account our redeemers; but nothing is more manifest than that the one thing follows from the other. The question is as to the reconciling of sinners to God; the question is as to the obtaining of forgiveness; the question is as to the appeasing of the Lord’s anger; the question is as to redemption from our iniquities. This they boast is accomplished partly by the blood of Christ, and partly by that of the martyrs. They make, therefore, the martyrs partners with Christ in procuring our salvation. Here, however, Paul in strong terms denies that any one but Christ has been crucified for us. The martyrs, it is true, died for our benefit, but (as Leo (68) observes) it was to furnish an example of perseverance, not to procure for us the gift of righteousness.
Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? Here we have a second argument, which is taken from the profession of baptism; for we enlist ourselves under the banners of him in whose name we are baptized. We are, accordingly, bound (69) to Christ, in whose name our baptism is celebrated. Hence it follows that the Corinthians are chargeable with perfidy and apostasy, if they place themselves under subjection to men. Observe here that the nature of baptism resembles a contract (70) of mutual obligation; for as the Lord by that symbol receives us into his household, and introduces us among his people, so we pledge our fidelity to him, that we will never afterwards have any other spiritual Lord. Hence as it is on God’s part a covenant of grace that he contracts with us, in which he promises forgiveness of sins and a new life, so on our part it is an oath of spiritual warfare, in which we promise perpetual subjection to him. The former department Paul does not here touch upon, because the subject did not admit of it; but in treating of baptism it ought not to be omitted. Nor does Paul charge the Corinthians with apostasy simply on the ground of their forsaking Christ and betaking themselves to men; but he declares that if they do not adhere to Christ alone — that very thing would make them covenant-breakers.
It is asked, what it is to be baptized in the name of Christ? I answer that by this expression it is not simply intimated that baptism is founded on the authority of Christ, but depends also on his influence, and does in a manner consist in it; and, in fine, that the whole effect of it depends on this — that the name of Christ is therein invoked. It is asked farther, why it is that Paul says that the Corinthians were baptized in the name of Christ, while Christ himself commanded (Matthew 28:19) the Apostles to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I answer, that in baptism the first thing to be considered is, that God the Father, by planting us in his Church in unmerited goodness, receives us by adoption into the number of his sons. Secondly, as we cannot have any connection with him except by means of reconciliation, we have need of Christ to restore us to the Father’s favor by his blood. Thirdly, as we are by baptism consecrated to God, we need also the interposition of the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to make us new creatures. Nay farther, our being washed in the blood of Christ is peculiarly his work; but as we do not obtain the mercy of the Father, or the grace of the Spirit, otherwise than through Christ alone, it is on good grounds that we speak of him as the peculiar object in view in baptism, and more particularly inscribe his name upon baptism. At the same time this does not by any means exclude the name of the Father and of the Spirit; for when we wish to sum up in short compass the efficacy of baptism, we make mention of Christ alone; but when we are disposed to speak with greater minuteness, the name of the Father and that of the Spirit require to be expressly introduced.
(64) “ Mieux avisez que les autres;” — “Better advised than the others.”
(65) “ Combien c’est vne chose insupportable;” — “How insufferable a thing it is.”
(66) “ Addicere nos hominibus in servitutem “ — “ de nous assuiettir aux hommes en seruitude;” — “To give ourselves up to men, so as to be in bondage to them.” Calvin very probably had in his eye the celebrated sentiment of Horace, (Epistle 1 50:14,) “ Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri;” — “Bound to swear allegiance to no master,” while enforcing the sentiment by a powerful consideration, to which the heathen poet was an entire stranger. — Ed.
(67) “ Du sang de Christ, et des martyrs tous ensemble;” — “From the blood of Christ, and of all the martyrs together.”
(68) Leo, ad Palaestinos, Epistle 81. The passage alluded to above is quoted at large in the Institutes. (Volume 2.) “Although the death of many saints was precious in the sight of the Lord, (Psalms 116:15,) yet no innocent man’s slaughter was the propitiation of the world. The just received crowns, did not give them; and the fortitude of believers produced examples of patience, not gifts of righteousness; for their deaths were for themselves; and none by his final end paid the debt of another, except Christ our Lord, in whom alone all are crucified, all dead, buried, and raised up.” Leo, from whose writings this admirable passage is extracted, was a Roman bishop, who flourished in the fifth century, and was one of the most distinguished men of his age. He was a most zealous defender of the doctrines of grace, in opposition to Pelagianism and other heresies. — Ed.
(69) “ Obligez par serment;” — “Bound by oath.”
(70) “ Syngrapha (the term employed by Calvin) was a contract or bond, formally entered into between two parties, signed and sealed by both, and a copy given to each.” Cic. Verr. 1:36. Dio. 48:37. It is derived from a Greek term συγγραφὴ (a legal instrument or obligation.) Herodotus 1:48; and Demosthenes 268:13. Π. στεφ. — Ed
14. I thank my God. In these words he reproves very sharply the perversity of the Corinthians, which made it necessary for him to avoid, in a manner, a thing so sacred and honorable as that of the administration of baptism. Paul, indeed, would have acted with propriety, and in accordance with the nature of his office, though he had baptized ever so many. He rejoices, however, that it had happened otherwise, and acknowledges it as having been so ordered, in the providence of God, that they might not take occasion from that to glory in him, or that he might not bear any resemblance to those ambitious men who endeavored in this way to catch followers. But what if he had baptized many? There would have been no harm in it, but (as I have said) there is couched under this a heavy reproach against the Corinthians and their false apostles, inasmuch as a servant of the Lord found occasion to rejoice that he had refrained from a work, otherwise good and commendable, lest it should become an occasion of harm to them.
17. For Christ sent me not. He anticipates an objection that might, perhaps, be brought against him — that he had not discharged his duty, inasmuch as Christ commands his Apostles to baptize as well as teach. Accordingly he replies, that this was not the principal department of his office, for the duty of teaching had been principally enjoined upon him as that to which he should apply himself. For when Christ says to the Apostles, (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15,) Go, preach and baptize, he connects baptism with teaching simply as an addition or appendage, so that teaching always holds the first place.
Two things, however, must be noticed here. The first is, that the Apostle does not here absolutely deny that he had a command to baptize, for this is applicable to all the Apostles: Go and baptize; and he would have acted rashly in baptizing even one, had he not been furnished with authority, but simply points out what was the chief thing in his calling. The second thing is, that he does not by any means detract here, as some think, from the dignity or utility of the sacrament. For the question here is, not as to the efficacy of baptism, and Paul does not institute this comparison with the view of detracting in any degree from that; but because it was given to few to teach, while many could baptize; and farther, as many could be taught at the same time, while baptism could only be administered to individuals successively, one by one, Paul, who excelled in the gift of teaching, applied himself to the work that was more especially needful for him, and left to others what they could more conveniently accomplish. Nay farther, if the reader considers minutely all the circumstances of the case, he will see that there is irony (71) tacitly conveyed here, dexterously contrived for making those feel acutely, who, under color of administering a ceremony, endeavor to catch a little glory at the expense of another’s labor. Paul’s labors in building up that Church had been incredible. There had come after him certain effeminate masters, who had drawn over followers to their party by the sprinkling of water; (72) Paul, then, giving up to them the title of honor, declares himself contented with having had the burden. (73)
Not with wisdom of words There is here an instance of anticipation, by which a twofold objection is refuted. For these pretended teachers might reply that it was ludicrous to hear Paul, who was not endowed with eloquence, making it his boast that the department of teaching had been assigned to him. Hence he says, by way of concession, that he had not been formed to be an orator, (74) to set himself off by elegance of speech: but a minister of the Spirit, that he might, by plain and homely speech, bring to nothing the wisdom of the world. Now, lest any one should object that he hunted after glory by his preaching, as much as others did by baptism, he briefly replies, that as the method of teaching that he pursued was the farthest removed from show, and breathed nothing of ambition, it could give no ground of suspicion on that head. Hence, too, if I mistake not, it may readily be inferred what was the chief ground of the controversy that Paul had with the wicked and unfaithful ministers of the Corinthians. It was that, being puffed up with ambition, that they might secure for themselves the admiration of the people, they recommended themselves to them by a show of words and mask of human wisdom.
From this main evil two others necessarily followed — that by these disguises (so to speak) the simplicity of the gospel was disfigured, and Christ was, as it were, clothed in a new and foreign garb, so that the pure and unadulterated knowledge of him was not to be found. Farther, as men’s minds were turned aside to neatness and elegance of expression, to ingenious speculations, and to an empty show of superior sublimity of doctrine, the efficacy of the Spirit vanished, and nothing remained but the dead letter. The majesty of God, as it shines forth in the gospel, was not to be seen, but mere disguise and useless show. Paul, accordingly, with the view of exposing these corruptions of the gospel, makes a transition here to the manner of his preaching. This he declares to be right and proper, while at the same time it was diametrically opposed to the ambitious ostentation of those men. (75) It is as though he had said — “I am well aware how much your fastidious teachers delight themselves in their high-sounding phrases. As for myself, I do not simply confess that my preaching has been conducted in a rude, coarse, and unpolished style, but I even glory in it. For it was right that it should be so, and this was the method that was divinely prescribed to me. ” By the wisdom of words, he does not mean λογοδαιδαλία, (76) which is mere empty talk, but true eloquence, which consists in skillful contrivance of subjects, ingenious arrangement, and elegance of expression. He declares that he had nothing of this: nay more, that it was neither suitable to his preaching nor advantageous.
Lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect As he had so often previously presented the name of Christ in contrast with the arrogant wisdom of the flesh, so now, with the view of bringing down thereby all its pride and loftiness, he brings forward to view the cross of Christ. For all the wisdom of believers is comprehended in the cross of Christ, and what more contemptible than a cross? Whoever, therefore, would desire to be truly wise in God’s account, must of necessity stoop to this abasement of the cross, and this will not be accomplished otherwise than by his first of all renouncing his own judgment and all the wisdom of the world. Paul, however, shows here not merely what sort of persons Christ’s disciples ought to be, and what path of learning they ought to pursue, but also what is the method of teaching in Christ’s school. “ The cross of Christ (says he) would have been made of none effect, if my preaching had been adorned with eloquence and show.” The cross of Christ he has put here for the benefit of redemption, which must be sought from Christ crucified. Now the doctrine of the gospel which calls us to this, should savor of the nature of the Cross, so as to be despised and contemptible, rather than glorious, in the eyes of the world. The meaning, therefore, is, that if Paul had made use of philosophical acuteness and studied address in the presence of the Corinthians, the efficacy of the cross of Christ, in which the salvation of men consists, would have been buried, because it cannot come to us in that way.
Here two questions are proposed: first, whether Paul here condemns in every respect the wisdom of words, as opposed to Christ; and secondly, whether he means that eloquence and the doctrine of the gospel are invariably opposed, so they cannot agree together, and that the preaching of the gospel is vitiated, if the slightest tincture of eloquence (77) is made use of for adorning it. To the first of these I answer — that it were quite unreasonable to suppose, that Paul would utterly condemn those arts which, it is manifest, are excellent gifts of God, and which serve as instruments, as it were, to assist men in the accomplishment of important purposes. As for those arts, then, that have nothing of superstition, but contain solid learning, (78) and are founded on just principles, as they are useful and suited to the common transactions of human life, so there can be no doubt that they have come forth from the Holy Spirit; and the advantage which is derived and experienced from them, ought to be ascribed exclusively to God. What Paul says here, therefore, ought not to be taken as throwing any disparagement upon the arts, as if they were unfavorable to piety.
The second question is somewhat more difficult, for he says, that the cross of Christ is made of none effect if there be any admixture of the wisdom of words I answer, that we must consider who they are that Paul here addresses. The ears of the Corinthians were tickled with a silly fondness for high sounding style. (79) Hence they needed more than others to be brought back to the abasement of the cross, that they might learn to embrace Christ as he is, unadorned, and the gospel in its simplicity, without any false ornament. I acknowledge, at the same time, that this sentiment in some respects holds invariably, that the cross of Christ is made of none effect, not merely by the wisdom of the world, but also by elegance of address. For the preaching of Christ crucified is simple and unadorned, and hence it ought not to be obscured by false ornaments of speech. It is the prerogative of the gospel to bring down the wisdom of the world in such a way that, stripped of our own understanding, we show ourselves to be simply docile, and do not think or even desire to know anything, but what the Lord himself teaches. As to the wisdom of the flesh, we shall have occasion to consider more at large ere long, in what respects it is opposed to Christ. As to eloquence, I shall advert to it here in a few words, in so far as the passage calls for.
We see that God from the beginning ordered matters so, that, the gospel should be administered in simplicity, without any aid from eloquence. Could not he who fashions the tongues of men for eloquence, be himself eloquent if he chose to be so? While he could be so, he did not choose to be so. Why it was that he did not choose this, I find two reasons more particularly. The first is, that in a plain and unpolished manner of address, the majesty of the truth might shine forth more conspicuously, and the simple efficacy of his Spirit, without external aids, might make its way into the hearts of men. The second is, that he might more effectually try our obedience and docility, and train us at the same time to true humility. For the Lord admits none into his school but little children. (80) Hence those alone are capable of heavenly wisdom who, contenting themselves with the preaching of the cross, however contemptible it may be in appearance, feel no desire whatever to have Christ under a mask. Hence the doctrine of the gospel required to be regulated with this view, that believers should be drawn off from all pride and haughtiness.
But what if any one should at the present day, by discoursing with some degree of elegance, adorn the doctrine of the gospel by eloquence? Would he deserve to be on that account rejected, as though he either polluted it or obscured Christ’s glory. I answer in the first place, that eloquence is not at all at variance with the simplicity of the gospel, when it does not merely not disdain to give way to it, and be in subjection to it, but also yields service to it, as a handmaid to her mistress. For as Augustine says, “He who gave Peter a fisherman, gave also Cyprian an orator.” By this he means, that both are from God, notwithstanding that the one, who is much the superior of the other as to dignity, is utterly devoid of gracefulness of speech; while the other, who sits at his feet, is distinguished by the fame of his eloquence. That eloquence, therefore, is neither to be condemned nor despised, which has no tendency to lead Christians to be taken up with an outward glitter of words, or intoxicate them with empty delight, or tickle their ears with its tinkling sound, or cover over the cross of Christ with its empty show as with a veil; (81) but, on the contrary, tends to call us back to the native simplicity of the gospel, tends to exalt the simple preaching of the cross by voluntarily abasing itself, and, in fine, acts the part of a herald (82) to procure a hearing for those fishermen and illiterate persons, who have nothing to recommend them but the energy of the Spirit.
I answer secondly, that the Spirit of God, also, has an eloquence of his own, but of such a nature as to shine forth with a native luster peculiar to itself, or rather (as they say) intrinsic, more than with any adventitious ornaments. Such is the eloquence that the Prophets have, more particularly Isaiah, David, and Solomon. Moses, too, has a sprinkling of it. Nay farther, even in the writings of the Apostles, though they are more unpolished, there are notwithstanding some sparks of it occasionally emitted. Hence the eloquence that is suited to the Spirit of God is of such a nature that it does not swell with empty show, or spend itself in empty sound, but is solid and efficacious, and has more of substance than elegance.
(71) “ Ironie, c’est a dire, mocquerie;” — “Irony, that is to say, mockery.”
(72) “ Seulement en les arrousant d’eau: c’est a dire, baptizant;” — “Simply by sprinkling them with water, that is to say, baptizing.”
(73) “ Toute la charge et la pesanteur du fardeau;” — “The whole charge and weight of the burden.”
(74) “ Vn Rhetoricien ou harangueur;” — “A Rhetorician, or declaimer.”
(75) “ Ces vaillans docteurs;” — “Those valiant teachers.”
(76) The term λογοδαιδαλία properly denotes speech ingeniously contrived. It is compounded of λογος (speech) and Δαιδαλος (Daedalus,) an ingenious artist of Athens, celebrated for his skill in statuary and architecture. Hence everything that was skilfully contrived was called Daedalean. See Lucr. 4. 555, and 5. 235; Virg. G. 4. 179; and Aen. 7. 282. — Ed
(77) “ Eloquence et rhetorique;” — “Eloquence and rhetoric.”
(78) “ Vne bonne erudition, et scauoir solide;” — “Good learning, and solid wisdom.”
(79) “ Les Corinthiens auoyent les oreilles chatouilleuses, et estoyent transportez d’vn fol appetit d’auoir des gens qui eussent vn beau parler;” — “The Corinthians had itching ears, (2 Timothy 4:3,) and were carried away with a silly eagerness to have persons that had a good manner of address.”
(80) “ Les humbles;” — “The humble.”
(81) “ Ni a offusquer de sa pompe la croix de Christ, comme qui mettroit vne nuee au denant;” — “Nor to darken the cross of Christ with its empty show, as if one were drawing a cloud over it.”
(82) “ Brief, a seruir comme de trompette;” — “In short, to serve as a trumpet.”
18. For the preaching of the cross, etc. In this first clause a concession is made. For as it might very readily be objected, that the gospel is commonly held in contempt, if it be presented in so bare and abject a form, Paul of his own accord concedes this, but when he adds, that it is so in the estimation of them that perish, he intimates that no regard must be paid to their judgment. For who would choose to despise the gospel at the expense of perishing? This statement, therefore, must be understood in this way: “However the preaching of the cross, as having nothing of human wisdom to recommend it to esteem, is reckoned foolishness by them that perish; in our view, notwithstanding, the wisdom of God clearly shines forth in it.” He indirectly reproves, however, the perverted judgment of the Corinthians, who, while they were, through seduction of words, too easily allured by ambitious teachers, regarded with disdain an Apostle who was endowed with the power of God for their salvation, and that simply because he devoted himself to the preaching of Christ. In what way the preaching of the cross is the power of God unto salvation, we have explained in commenting upon Romans 1:16
19. For it is written, etc. He shows still farther, from the testimony of Isaiah, how unreasonable a thing it is that the truth of the gospel should be regarded with prejudice on the ground that the wise of this world hold it in contempt, not to say derision. For it is evident from the words of the Prophet, that their opinion is regarded as nothing in the account of God. The passage is taken from Isaiah 29:14, where the Lord threatens that he will avenge himself upon the hypocrisy of the people by this kind of punishment, that wisdom will perish from the wise, etc. Now the application of this to the subject in hand is this: “It is nothing new or unusual for men to form utterly absurd judgments, who appear in other respects to be distinguished for wisdom. For in this manner the Lord has been wont to punish the arrogance of those who, depending on their own judgment, think to be leaders to themselves and others. In this manner did He, among the Israelitish people of old, destroy the wisdom of those who were the leaders of the people. If this happened among a people, whose wisdom the other nations had occasion to admire, what will become of others?”
It is proper, however, to compare the words of the Prophet with those of Paul, and to examine the whole matter still more closely. The Prophet, indeed, makes use of neuter verbs when he says, Wisdom will perish and prudence will vanish, while Paul turns them into the active form, by making them have a reference to God. They are, however, perfectly the same in meaning. For this is a great prodigy which God declares he will exhibit, so that all will be filled with astonishment. Wisdom, therefore, perishes, but it is by the Lord’s destroying it: wisdom vanishes, but it is by the Lord’s covering it over and effacing it. As to the second term αθετεῖν, (which Erasmus renders reject,) as it is ambiguous, and is sometimes taken to mean efface, or expunge, or obliterate, I prefer to understand it in this sense here, so as to correspond with the Prophet’s word vanish, or be hid. At the same time, there is another reason that has weighed more with me, (83) — that the word reject was not in accordance with the subject, as will appear ere long. Let us see, then, as to the meaning.
The Prophet’s meaning, without doubt, is precisely this, that they would no longer have governors that would rule well, because the Lord will deprive them of sound judgment and intelligence. For as he elsewhere threatens to send blindness upon the whole nation (Isaiah 6:10,) so here, upon the leaders; which is just as though he were plucking the eyes out of the body. However this may be, a great difficulty arises from the circumstance, that the term wisdom or prudence was taken by Isaiah in a good sense, while Paul quotes it for an opposite purpose, as though the wisdom of men were condemned by God, as being perverted, and their prudence set aside as being mere vanity. I confess that it is commonly expounded in this way; but as it is certain that the oracles of the Holy Spirit are not perverted by the Apostles to meanings foreign to their real design, I choose rather to depart from the common opinion of interpreters than to charge Paul with falsehood. In other respects, too, the natural meaning of the Prophet’s words accords not ill with Paul’s intention; for if even the wisest become fools, when the Lord takes away a right spirit, what confidence is to be placed in the wisdom of men? Farther, as it is God’s usual way of punishing, to strike blind those who, following implicitly their own judgment, are wise in their own esteem, it is not to be wondered if carnal men, when they rise up against God, with the view of subjecting His eternal truth to their rashness, are turned into fools, and become vain in their imaginations. We now see with what appropriateness Paul makes use of this testimony. Isaiah declares that the vengeance of God upon all those that served God with their own inventions would be, that wisdom would vanish from their wise men. Paul, with the view of proving that the wisdom of this world is vain and worthless, when it exalts itself against God, adduces this testimony from Isaiah.
(83) “ Combien que j’aye vne raison encore plus valable, qui m’a induit a changer ceste translation;” — “At the same time, I have a still more forcible reason, which has induced me to alter this translation.”
20. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? This expression of triumph is added for the purpose of illustrating the Prophet’s testimony. Paul has not taken this sentiment from Isaiah, as is commonly thought, but speaks in his own person. For the passage which they point to (Isaiah 33:18) has nothing corresponding to the subject in hand, or nearly approaching to it. For in that passage, while he promises to the Jews deliverance from the yoke of Sennacherib, that he may magnify the more this great blessing from God, he shows how miserable is the condition of those that are oppressed by the tyranny of foreigners. He says, that they are in a constant fever of anxiety, from thinking themselves beset with scribes or questors, treasurers, and counters of towers. Nay more, he says, that the Jews were involved in such difficulties, that they were stirred up to gratitude by the very remembrance of them. (84) It is a mistake, therefore, to suppose that this sentence is taken from the Prophet. (85) The term world, ought not to be taken in connection with the last term merely, but also with the other two. Now, by the wise of this world, he means those who do not derive their wisdom from illumination by the Spirit through means of the word of God, but, endowed with mere worldly sagacity, rest on the assurance which it affords.
It is generally agreed, that by the term scribes is meant teachers. For as ספר, saphar, among the Hebrews, means to relate or recount, and the noun derived from it, ספר, sepher, , is used by them to signify a book or volume, they employ the term סופרימ, sopherim, to denote learned men, and those that are conversant with books; and, for the same reason, too, sopher regis is often used to denote a chancellor or secretary The Greeks, following the etymology of the Hebrew term, have translated it γραμματεις, scribes (86) He appropriately gives the name of investigators (87) to those that show off their acuteness by starting difficult points and involved questions. Thus in a general way he brings to nothing man’s entire intellect, so as to give it no standing in the kingdom of God. Nor is it without good reason that he inveighs so vehemently against the wisdom of men, for it is impossible to express how difficult a thing it is to eradicate from men’s minds a misdirected confidence in the flesh, that they may not claim for themselves more than is reasonable. Now there is more than ought to be, if, depending even in the slightest degree upon their own wisdom, they venture of themselves to form a judgment.
Hath not God made foolish, etc By wisdom here he means everything that man can comprehend either by the natural powers of his understanding, or as deriving aid from practice, from learning, or from a knowledge of the arts. For he contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of the Spirit. Hence, whatever knowledge a man may come to have without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, is included in the expression, the wisdom of this world This he says God has utterly made foolish, that is, He has convicted it of folly. This you may understand to be effected in two ways; for whatever a man knows and understands, is mere vanity, if it is not grounded in true wisdom; and it is in no degree better fitted for the apprehension of spiritual doctrine than the eye of a blind man is for discriminating colors. We must carefully notice these two things — that a knowledge of all the sciences is mere smoke, where the heavenly science of Christ is wanting; and man, with all his acuteness, is as stupid for obtaining of himself a knowledge of the mysteries of God, as an ass is unqualified for understanding musical harmonies. For in this way he reproves the destructive pride of those who glory in the wisdom of the world so as to despise Christ, and the entire doctrine of salvation, thinking themselves happy when they are taken up with creatures; and he beats down the arrogance of those who, trusting to their own understanding, attempt to scale heaven itself.
There is also a solution furnished at the same time to the question, how it happens that Paul in this way throws down upon the ground every kind of knowledge that is apart from Christ, and tramples, as it were, under foot what is manifestly one of the chief gifts of God in this world. For what is more noble than man’s reason, in which man excels the other animals? How richly deserving of honor are the liberal sciences, which polish man, so as to give him the dignity of true humanity! Besides this, what distinguished and choice fruits they produce! Who would not extol with the highest commendations civil prudence (88) (not to speak of other things,) by which governments, principalities, and kingdoms are maintained? A solution of this question, I say, is opened up to view from the circumstance, that Paul does not expressly condemn either man’s natural perspicacity, or wisdom acquired from practice and experience, or cultivation of mind attained by learning; but declares that all this is of no avail for acquiring spiritual wisdom. And, certainly, it is madness for any one, confiding either in his own acuteness, or the assistance of learning, to attempt to fly up to heaven, or, in other words, to judge of the secret mysteries of the kingdom of God, (89) or to break through (Exodus 19:21) to a discovery of them, for they are hid from human view. Let us, then, take notice, that we must restrict to the specialities of the case in hand what Paul here teaches respecting the vanity of the wisdom of this world — that it rests in the mere elements of the world, and does not reach to heaven. In other respects, too, it holds true, that without Christ sciences in every department are vain, and that the man who knows not God is vain, though he should be conversant with every branch of learning. Nay more, we may affirm this, too, with truth, that these choice gifts of God — expertness of mind, acuteness of judgment, liberal sciences, and acquaintance with languages, are in a manner profaned in every instance in which they fall to the lot of wicked men.
(84) The passage referred to in Isaiah is happily rendered by Lowth:- Thine heart shall reflect on the past terror: Where is now the accomptant ? where the weigher of tribute ? where is he that numbered the towers ? The last of these expressions Lowth explains to mean, “the commander of the enemy’s forces, who surveyed the fortifications of the city, and took an account of the height, strength, and situation of the walls and towers, that he might know where to make the assault with the greatest advantage.” — Ed.
(85) “The words of Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:20, ποῦ σοφός; ποῦ γραμματεύς; ποῦ συζητητὴς κ.τ.λ., are not, as some have imagined, a quotation of the words of this verse,” (Isaiah 33:18;) “the only points of agreement between them being merely the occurrence of γραμματεὺς, and the repetition of the interrogative τοῦ. It is not impossible, however, that the structure of the one passage may have suggested the other. ” — Henderson on Isaiah. — Ed
(86) The Hebrew phrase referred to occurs in Genesis 12:10 ספר המלך (the king’s scribe.) It is rendered by the Septuagint, ὁ γραμματεύς τοῦ βασιλέως The corresponding Greek term, γραμματεις is employed by the classical writers to denote a clerk or secretary, (Demosth. 269.19.) The γραμματεις (notaries) “had the custody of the laws and the public records, which it was their business to write, and to repeat to the people and senate when so required. ” — Potter ’ s Grecian Antiquities, volume 1. — Ed
(87) Calvin, here has manifestly in his eye the original meaning of συζητητης, which is derived from συν and ζητεω ( to inquire together,) and comes very naturally to mean one that indulges in arguments or disputes. The term was applied to the subtle Sophists, or disputants in the Greek academies. — Ed
(88) “ La prudence civile, c’est a dire la science des lois;” — “Civil prudence, that is to say, the science of laws.”
(89) See Institutes, volume 1. — Ed.
21. For since the world knew not. The right order of things was assuredly this, that man, contemplating the wisdom of God in his works, by the light of the understanding furnished him by nature, might arrive at an acquaintance with him. As, however, this order of things has been reversed through man’s depravity, God designs in the first place to make us see ourselves to be fools, before he makes us wise unto salvation, (2 Timothy 3:15;) and secondly, as a token of his wisdom, he presents to us what has some appearance of folly. This inversion of the order of things the ingratitude of mankind deserved. By the wisdom of God he means the workmanship of the whole world, which is an illustrious token and clear manifestation of his wisdom: God therefore presents before us in his creatures a bright mirror of his admirable wisdom, so that every one that looks upon the world, and the other works of God, must of necessity break forth in admiration of him, if he has a single spark of sound judgment. If men were guided to a right knowledge of God by the contemplation of his works, they would know God in the exercise of wisdom, or by a natural and proper method of acquiring wisdom; but as the whole world gained nothing in point of instruction from the circumstance, that God had exhibited his wisdom in his creatures, he then resorted to another method for instructing men. (90) Thus it must be reckoned as our own fault, that we do not attain a saving acquaintance with God, before we have been emptied of our own understanding.
He makes a concession when he calls the gospel the foolishness of preaching, having that appearance in the view of those foolish sages ( μωροσόφοις) who, intoxicated with false confidence, (91) fear not to subject God’s sacred truth to their senseless criticism. And indeed in another point of view nothing is more absurd in the view, of human reason than to hear that God has become mortal — that life has been subjected to death — that righteousness has been veiled under the appearance of sin — and that the source of blessing has been made subject to the curse, that by this means men might be redeemed from death, and become partakers of a blessed immortality — that they might obtain life — that, sin being destroyed, righteousness might reign — and that death and the curse might be swallowed up. We know, nevertheless, in the meantime, that the gospel is the hidden wisdom, (1 Corinthians 2:7,) which in its height surmounts the heavens, and at which angels themselves stand amazed. Here we have a most beautiful passage, from which we may see how great is the blindness of the human mind, which in the midst of light discerns nothing. For it is true, that this world is like a theater, in which the Lord presents to us a clear manifestation of his glory, and yet, notwithstanding that we have such a spectacle placed before our eyes, we are stone-blind, not because the manifestation is furnished obscurely, but because we are alienated in mind, (Colossians 1:21,)and for this matter we lack not merely inclination but ability. For notwithstanding that God shows himself openly, it is only with the eye of faith that we can behold him, save only that we receive a slight perception of his divinity, sufficient to render us inexcusable.
Accordingly, when Paul here declares that God is not known through means of his creatures, you must understand him to mean that a pure knowledge of him is not attained. For that none may have any pretext for ignorance, mankind make proficiency in the universal school of nature; so far as to be affected with some perception of deity, but what God is, they know not, nay more, they straightway become vain in their imaginations, (Romans 1:21.) Thus the light shineth in darkness, (John 1:5.) It follows, then, that mankind do not err thus far through mere ignorance, so as not to be chargeable with contempt, negligence, and ingratitude. Thus it holds good, that all
have known God, and yet have not glorified him, (Romans 1:21,)
and that, on the other hand, no one under the guidance of mere nature ever made such proficiency as to know God. Should any one bring forward the philosophers as exceptions, I answer, that in them more especially there is presented a signal token of this our weakness. For there will not be found one of them, that has not from that first principle of knowledge, which I have mentioned, straightway turned aside into wandering (92) and erroneous speculations, and for the most part they betray a silliness worse than that of old wives. When he says, that those are saved that believe, this corresponds with the foregoing statement — that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation Farther, by contrasting believers, whose number is small, with a blind and senseless world, he teaches us that we err if we stumble at the smallness of their number, inasmuch as they have been divinely set apart to salvation.
(90) The reader will find the same train of thought as above in the Institutes, volume 1. — Ed.
(91) “ Et outrecuidance;” — “And presumption.”
(92) “ Extrauagantes;” — “Extravagant.”
22. For the Jews require a sign This is explanatory of the preceding statement — showing in what respects the preaching of the gospel is accounted foolishness At the same time he does not simply explain, but even goes a step farther, by saying that the Jews do not merely despise the gospel, but even abhor it. “The Jews,” says he, “desire through means of miracles to have before their eyes an evidence of divine power: the Greeks are fond of what tends to gratify human intellect by the applause of acuteness. We, on the other hand, preach Christ crucified, wherein there appears at first view nothing but weakness and folly. He is, therefore, a stumblingblock to the Jews, when they see him as it were forsaken by God. To the Greeks it appears like a fable, to be told of such a method of redemption.” By the term Greeks here, in my opinion, he does not mean simply Gentiles, but has in view those who had the polish of the liberal sciences, or were distinguished by superior intelligence. At the same time by synecdoche, all the others come in like manner to be included. Between Jews and Greeks, however, he draws this distinction, that the former, striking against Christ by an unreasonable zeal for the law, raged against the gospel with unbounded fury, as hypocrites are wont to do, when contending for their superstitions; while the Greeks, on the other hand, puffed up with pride, regarded him with contempt as insipid.
When he ascribes it to the Jews as a fault, that they are eagerly desirous of signs, it is not on the ground of its being wrong in itself to demand signs, but he exposes their baseness in the following respects: — that by an incessant demand for miracles, they in a manner sought to bind God to their laws — that, in accordance with the dullness of their apprehension, they sought as it were to feel him out (93) in manifest miracles — that they were taken up with the miracles themselves, and looked upon them with amazement — and, in fine, that no miracles satisfied them, but instead of this, they every day gaped incessantly for new ones. Hezekiah is not reproved for having of his own accord allowed himself to be confirmed by a sign, (Genesis 19:29, and Genesis 20:8,) nor even Gideon for asking a two-fold sign, (Jude 6:37.) Nay, instead of this, Ahaz is condemned for refusing a sign that the Prophet had offered him, (Isaiah 7:12.) What fault, then, was there on the part of the Jews in asking miracles? It lay in this, that they did not ask them for a good end, set no bounds to their desire, and did not make a right use of them. For while faith ought to be helped by miracles, their only concern was, how long they might persevere in their unbelief. While it is unlawful to prescribe laws to God, they wantoned with inordinate desire. While miracles should conduct us to an acquaintance with Christ, and the spiritual grace of God, they served as a hindrance in their way. On this account, too, Christ upbraids them, (Mark 8:12.)
A perverse generation seeketh after a sign.
For there were no bounds to their curiosity and inordinate desire, and for all that they had so often obtained miracles, no advantage appeared to arise from them.
(93) There can be no doubt that Calvin refers here to an expression made use of by Paul in his discourse to the Athenians, Acts 17:27 Εἰ ἄρα γε ψηλαφήσειαν αὐτὸν καὶ εὔροιεν (if haply they may feel him out and find him.) The allusion is to a blind man feeling his way The same word is employed by Plato, (Phoed. footnote 47, edit. Forster.) ̔Ο δε μοι φαινονται ψηλαφῶντες οἱ πολλοι ὣσπερ εν σκοτει, (In this respect the many seem to me to be feeling their way as it were in the dark.) — Ed
24. Both Greeks and Jews He shows by this contrast, that the fact that Christ was so unfavorably received, was not owing to any fault on his part, nor to the natural disposition of mankind generally, but arose from the depravity of those who were not enlightened by God, inasmuch as the elect of God, whether Jews or Gentiles, are not hindered by any stumblingblock from coming to Christ, that they may find in him a sure salvation. He contrasts power with the stumblingblock, that was occasioned by abasement, and wisdom he contrasts with folly The sum, then, is this: — “I am aware that nothing except signs has effect upon the obstinacy of the Jews, and that nothing soothes down the haughtiness of the Greeks, except an empty show of wisdom. We ought, however, to make no account of this; because, however our Christ in connection with the abasement of his cross is a stumblingblock to the Jews, and is derided by the Greeks, he is, notwithstanding, to all the elect, of whatever nation they may be, at once the power of God unto salvation for surmounting these stumblingblocks, and the wisdom of God for throwing off that mask.” (94)
(94) “ Pour oster et faire esvanoir ceste vaine apparence, et masque de sagesse;” — “For taking away and causing to vanish, that empty show and mask of wisdom.”
25. For the foolishness of God While the Lord deals with us in such a way as to seem to act foolishly, because he does not exhibit his wisdom, what appears foolishness surpasses in wisdom all the ingenuity of men. Farther, while God appears to act with weakness, in consequence of his concealing his power, that weakness, as it is reckoned, is stronger than any power of men. We must, however, always keep it in view, that there is a concession, as I have noticed a little ago. For no one can but perceive, that in strict propriety neither foolishness nor weakness can be ascribed to God, but it was necessary, by such ironical expressions, to beat down the mad presumption of the flesh, which does not scruple to rob God of all his glory.
26. Behold your calling. As the mood of the Greek verb ( βλέπετε) is doubtful, and the indicative suits the context equally as well as the imperative, I leave it to the reader’s choice which of them he may prefer. The meaning is manifestly the same in either case, for supposing it to be the indicative ( ye see,) he would in that case summon them as witnesses — as of a thing that is manifest, and call them forward as it were to a thing that is present. On the other hand, understanding it in the imperative, he stirs them up, as it were, from their drowsiness to a consideration of the matter itself. The term calling may be taken in a collective sense to mean the multitude of those that are called — in this sense: “Ye see what description of persons they are among you that the Lord has called.” I am, however, rather inclined to think, that he points out the manner of their calling, and it is a most forcible argument, because it follows from this, that, if they despise the abasement of the cross, they in a manner make void their calling, in which God had acted in such a manner, as to take away all merit from human wisdom, and power, and glory. Hence he tacitly accuses them of ingratitude, because, forgetful alike of God’s grace and of themselves, they regard the gospel of Christ with disdain.
Two things, however, must be observed here — that he was desirous from the example of the Corinthians to confirm the truth of what he had said: and farther, that he designed to admonish them, that they must be entirely divested of pride, if they duly considered the order of things that the Lord had observed in their calling. To put to shame, says he, the wise and noble, and to bring to naught things that are Both expressions are appropriate, for fortitude and wisdom vanish when they are put to shame, but what has an existence requires to be brought to naught By the choosing of the poor, and the foolish, and the ignoble, he means, that God has preferred them before the great, and the wise, and the noble. For it would not have sufficed, for beating down the arrogance of the flesh, if God had placed them all upon a level. Hence, those who appeared to excel he put in the background, in order that he might thoroughly abase them. That man, however, were an arrant fool, who would infer from this, that God has in this manner abased the glory of the flesh, in order that the great and noble might be shut out from the hope of salvation. There are some foolish persons that make this a pretext for not merely triumphing over the great, as if God had cast them off, but even despising them as far beneath them. Let us, however, bear in mind, that this is said to the Corinthians, who, though they had no great distinction in the world, were nevertheless, even without any occasion, puffed up. God, therefore, by confounding the mighty, and the wise, and the great, does not design to elate with pride the weak, the illiterate, and the abject, but brings down all of them together to one level. Let those, therefore, that are contemptible in the eyes of the world, think thus with themselves: “What modesty is called for on our part, when even those that have high honor in the view of the world have nothing left them?” (98) If the effulgence of the sun is obscured, what must become of the stars? If the light of the stars is extinguished, what must become of opaque objects?” The design of these observations is, that those who have been called by the Lord, while of no estimation in the view of the world, may not abuse these words of Paul by pluming their crests, but, on the contrary, keeping in mind the exhortation —
Thou standest by faith, be not high-minded, but fear, (Romans 11:20,)
may walk thoughtfully in the sight of God with fear and humility.
Paul, however, does not say here, that there are none of the noble and mighty that have been called by God, but that there are few He states the design of this — that the Lord might bring down the glory of the flesh, by preferring the contemptible before the great. God himself, however, by the mouth of David, exhorts kings to embrace Christ, (99) (Psalms 2:12,) and by the mouth of Paul, too, he declares, that he will have all men to be saved, and that his Christ is offered alike to small and great, alike to kings and their subjects, (1 Timothy 2:1.) He has himself furnished a token of this. Shepherds, in the first place, are called to Christ: then afterwards come philosophers: illiterate and despised fishermen hold the highest rank of honor; yet into their school there are received in process of time kings and their counselors, senators and orators.
(98) “ Dieu ne permet de presumer d’eux mesmes;” — “God does not allow them to have confidence in themselves.”
(99) “ A faire hommage a Christ;” — “To do homage to Christ.”
28. Things that are not He makes use of similar terms in Romans 4:17, but in a different sense. For in that passage, when describing the universal call of the pious, he says, that we are nothing previously to our being called, which must be understood as referring to reality in the sight of God, however we may appear to be something in the eyes of men. Here, the nothingness ( οὐδενεια) of which he speaks must be viewed as referring to the opinion of men, as is manifest from the corresponding clause, in which he says that this is done in order that the things that are may be brought to naught For there is nothing except in appearance, because in reality we are all nothing. Things that are, therefore, you must explain to mean things that appear, so that this passage corresponds with such statements as these: —
He raiseth up the poor out of the dunghill, (Psalms 113:7.)
He raiseth up them that are cast down, (Psalms 146:8,)
and the like. Hence we may clearly see how great is the folly of those who imagine that there is in mankind some degree of merit or worthiness, which would hold a place antecedent to God’s choice.
29. That no flesh should glory Though the term flesh here, and in many passages of Scripture, denotes all mankind, yet in this passage it carries with it a particular idea; for the Spirit, by speaking of mankind in terms of contempt, beats down their pride, as in Isaiah 31:3 — The Egyptian is flesh and not spirit It is a sentiment that is worthy to be kept in remembrance — that there is nothing left us in which we may justly glory. With this view he adds the expression in God’s presence For in the presence of the world many delight themselves for the moment in a false glorying, which, however, quickly vanishes like smoke. At the same time, by this expression all mankind are put to silence when they come into the presence of God; as Habakkuk says —
Let all flesh keep silence before God, (Habakkuk 2:20.)
Let every thing, therefore, that is at all deserving of praise, be recognized as proceeding from God.
30. Of him are ye. Lest they should think that any of those things that he had said were inapplicable to them, he now shows the application of those things to them, inasmuch as they are not otherwise than of God For the words ye are are emphatic, as though he had said — “You have your beginning from God, who calleth those things which are not, ” (Romans 4:17,) passing by those things that appear to be; and your subsistence is founded upon Christ, and thus you have no occasion to be proud. Nor is it of creation merely that he speaks, but of that spiritual existence, into which we are born again by the grace of God.
Who of God is made unto us As there are many to be found who, while not avowedly inclined to draw back from God, do nevertheless seek something apart from Christ, as if he alone did not contain all things (100) in himself, he reckons up in passing what and how great are the treasures with which Christ is furnished, and in such a way as to intimate at the same time what is the manner of subsistence in Christ. For when he calls Christ our righteousness, a corresponding idea must be understood — that in us there is nothing but sin; and so as to the other terms. Now he ascribes here to Christ four commendatory titles, that include his entire excellence, and every benefit that we receive from him.
In the first place, he says that he is made unto us wisdom, by which he means, that we obtain in him an absolute perfection of wisdom, inasmuch as the Father has fully revealed himself to us in him, that we may not desire to know any thing besides him. There is a similar passage in Colossians 2:3 —
In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Of this we shall have occasion to speak afterwards when we come to the next chapter.
Secondly, he says that he is made unto us righteousness, by which he means that we are on his account acceptable to God, inasmuch as he expiated our sins by his death, and his obedience is imputed to us for righteousness. For as the righteousness of faith consists in remission of sins and a gracious acceptance, we obtain both through Christ.
Thirdly, he calls him our sanctification, by which he means, that we who are otherwise unholy by nature, are by his Spirit renewed unto holiness, that we may serve God. From this, also, we infer, that we cannot be justified freely through faith alone without at the same time living holily. For these fruits of grace are connected together, as it were, by an indissoluble tie, (101) so that he who attempts to sever them does in a manner tear Christ in pieces. Let therefore the man who seeks to be justified through Christ, by God’s unmerited goodness, consider that this cannot be attained without his taking him at the same time for sanctification, or, in other words, being renewed to innocence and purity of life. Those, however, that slander us, as if by preaching a free justification through faith we called men off from good works, are amply refuted from this passage, which intimates that faith apprehends in Christ regeneration equally with forgiveness of sins.
Observe, on the other hand, that these two offices of Christ are conjoined in such a manner as to be, notwithstanding, distinguished from each other. What, therefore, Paul here expressly distinguishes, it is not allowable mistakenly to confound.
Fourthly, he teaches us that he is given to us for redemption, by which he means, that through his goodness we are delivered at once from all bondage to sin, and from all the misery that flows from it. Thus redemption is the first gift of Christ that is begun in us, and the last that is completed. For the commencement of salvation consists in our being drawn out of the labyrinth of sin and death; yet in the meantime, until the final day of the resurrection, we groan with desire for redemption, (as we read in Romans 8:23.) If it is asked in what way Christ is given to us for redemption, I answer — “Because he made himself a ransom.”
In fine, of all the blessings that are here enumerated we must seek in Christ not the half, or merely a part, but the entire completion. For Paul does not say that he has been given to us by way of filling up, or eking out righteousness, holiness, wisdom, and redemption, but assigns to him exclusively the entire accomplishment of the whole. Now as you will scarcely meet with another passage of Scripture that more distinctly marks out all the offices of Christ, you may also understand from it very clearly the nature and efficacy of faith. For as Christ is the proper object of faith, every one that knows what are the benefits that Christ confers upon us is at the same time taught to understand what faith is.
(100) “ Toute plenitude;” — “All fulness.” (Colossians 1:19.)
(101) The reader will find the same train of thought as above in the Institutes, volume 2. — Ed.
31. He that glorieth let him glory in the Lord Mark the end that God has in view in bestowing all things upon us in Christ — that we may not claim any merit to ourselves, but may give him all the praise. For God does not despoil with the view of leaving us bare, but forthwith clothes us with his glory — yet on this condition, that whenever we would glory we must go out of ourselves. In short, man, brought to nothing in his own estimation, and acknowledging that there is nothing good anywhere but in God alone, must renounce all desire for his own glory, and with all his might aspire and aim at the glory of God exclusively. This is also more clearly apparent from the context in the writings of the Prophet, from whom Paul has borrowed this testimony; for in that passage the Lord, after stripping all mankind of glory in respect of strength, wisdom, and riches, commands us to glory only in knowing him, (Jeremiah 9:23.) Now he would have us know him in such a way as to know that it is he that exercises judgment, righteousness, and mercy For this knowledge produces in us at once confidence in him and fear of him. If therefore a man has his mind regulated in such a manner that, claiming no merit to himself, he desires that God alone be exalted; if he rests with satisfaction on his grace, and places his entire happiness in his fatherly love, and, in fine, is satisfied with God alone, that man truly “glories in the Lord.” I say truly, for even hypocrites on false grounds glory in him, as Paul declares, (Romans 2:17,) when being either puffed up with his gifts, or elated with a base confidence in the flesh, or abusing his word, they nevertheless take his name upon them.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent