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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

1 Corinthians 9

Verses 1-99

Ch. 9:1 14. St Paul’s Defence of his Apostolic Authority

1 . Am I not an apostle? am I not free? ] This chapter is devoted to a defence of the Apostolic authority of St Paul, but there is an under-current of thought connecting it with the last which may easily be missed. In ch. 8. St Paul has been exhorting the Corinthians to sacrifice their own personal predilections for the benefit of others. In ver. 13 he declares himself to be ready to act upon this principle to the uttermost. But some may say, “Fine doctrine this, but does the Apostle practise what he preaches?” Robertson. He is about to give a proof of his sincerity by referring to his sacrifice of self for the good of others, when he anticipates in his mind the reply, You have no power to do otherwise: you are not an Apostle at all; and he replies to each of these statements in his usual fervid way, by asking of each of them, Is it really then true? This connection of ideas is strengthened if with the majority of MSS. and the Syriac and Vulgate versions (so Wiclif, Whethir I am not free? am I not Apostle? ) we transpose the two clauses, and read, “ Am I not free? am I not an Apostle? The argument is admirably summarized by Bp Wordsworth thus: “Am I not free? Am I not an Apostle? Am I not your Apostle?”

have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? ] One distinction drawn by St Paul’s opponents between him and the other Apostles was that they had seen and associated with Christ, while he had not. He rebuts this in the form of a question. He had seen the Lord (1) in the way to Damascus (Acts 9:3 , Acts 9:17 ); (2) after his return to Jerusalem (Acts 22:17, cf. ver. 14 of the same chapter, and Acts 9:26 ; Galatians 1:18 ); (3) at Corinth itself (Acts 18:9 , where observe that the Greek word does not signify dream, since it is used of the burning bush in Acts 7:31 as well as of the transfiguration in St Matthew 17:9 ); (4) on some occasion not specified (2 Corinthians 12:1 ), but probably during the Apostle’s sojourn in Arabia (Galatians 1:17 ), unless indeed it be the vision above-mentioned in Acts 22:0 .

2 . for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord ] If any Church had less right than another to question his Apostolic authority, it was the Church of Corinth, which he had founded (ch. 4:15), and on which so many spiritual gifts had been poured forth (ch. 1:5, 7, ch. 14). The Corinthians at least needed no other proof of the genuineness of his mission. “If any one wishes to know whether I am an Apostle, I will shew him yourselves; among whom are manifest and indubitable signs and proofs of my Apostolate; first the faith of Christ, which you have received at my preaching; then many and various gifts of the Holy Ghost.” Estius. For the word seal see St John 3:33 , John 3:6 :27; Romans 4:11 . A seal is used as the attestation of the genuineness of any document. Thus the existence of the Corinthian Church was the attestation of the genuineness of St Paul’s Apostolic authority.

3 . Mine answer to them that do examine me is this ] The Judaizers of whom we hear in the Epistle to the Galatians and in Acts 15:0 , are now heard of here also, and this Epistle seems to have stirred them up to a still stronger antagonism, for St Paul is obliged to travel over the same ground in his second Epistle, and with much greater fulness. St Paul, therefore, though he ‘transferred in a figure to himself and Apollos’ what he had said with reference to the Corinthian teachers, had nevertheless in view also some who disparaged his authority. It is worthy of note that the terms answer and examine in the original are the usual legal expressions (Olshausen), as though the Apostle conceived himself to be on his trial.

4 . Have we not power to eat and to drink? ] i.e. at the expense of the Church, cf. St Luke 10:7 . This privilege, said St Paul’s opponents, was confined to the original twelve Apostles of the Lord.

5 . Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife ] The ordinary interpretation of this passage is (1) that St Paul here asserts his right, if he pleased, to take with him a wife who was a member of the Christian body, and to have her maintained at the expense of the community. The word sister , like the words brother, brethren , is equivalent to ‘member of the Christian Church’ in Romans 16:1 ; St James 2:15 ; 2 John 1:13 (perhaps) and ch. 7:15 of this Epistle. This privilege was claimed by the other Apostles with a view, as Stanley suggests, of obtaining access to the women, who in the East usually dwelt apart. But there is (2) another interpretation which would translate the word here rendered wife by woman (as in the margin of our version), and suppose that the tie which connected St Paul with the Christian woman he claimed to ‘lead about’ with him was nothing but that of their common Christianity. In support of this view St Luke 8:2-3 , is quoted. This opinion can be traced back as far as Tertullian in the second century. But St Paul speaks of only one such person, and it is improbable that in a society so corrupt as the heathen society of that age everywhere was, the Apostles of Christ would have run so serious a risk of misconstruction as would have been involved in such a practice. The conduct of Simon Magus, who led about with him a woman of scandalous character, the misinterpretations so common in the Apostolic age of the innocent affection of the Christians for each other, and of their nightly meetings, shew how necessary prudence was. Besides, this interpretation misses the point of the argument, which was, that the original twelve Apostles claimed the right to throw not only their own maintenance, but that of the members of their families, upon the Church. The various readings found in this passage would seem to have been introduced to support the view that a wife could not here be intended.

the brethren of the Lord ] These have been regarded (1) as the children of Joseph and Mary, (2) the children of Joseph by a former wife, (3) as the kinsmen of our Lord, the word brother having been used in Hebrew to denote any near relation. See Genesis 13:8 , 29:12; Leviticus 10:4 . The question has been hotly debated. (1) or (2) seem the more obvious interpretation of the words; but in support of (3) we find from Scripture and ecclesiastical history that the names of our Lord’s brethren James and Joses and Simon and Judas were also the names of the sons of Alphæus, who were our Lord’s cousins. See St Matthew 13:55 , Matthew 13:27 :56; St Luke 24:10 ; St John 19:25 . Also St Matthew 10:3 ; St Mark 3:18 ; St Luke 6:16 ; and Eusebius, Eccl. Hist . iii. 11, 32. See Professor Lightfoot on the Epistle to the Galatians. Also Professor Plumptre on St James, in the present series.

6 . Or I only and Barnabas ] St Paul and St Barnabas (1) resigned their claim to support on the part of the Church, (2) they were not of the number of the twelve, (3) they were left by the Apostles to undertake the sole charge of the missions to the heathen (Galatians 2:9 ). On these grounds a charge was brought against them that they were no true Apostles of Christ. For Barnabas, see Acts 4:36 , Acts 4:11 :22, Acts 4:25 , Acts 4:29 , Acts 4:12 :25, Acts 4:13 :1, Acts 4:2 , 50, Acts 4:14 :12, Acts 4:15 :2, Acts 4:12 , Acts 4:37 ; Galatians 2:1 , Galatians 2:9 , Galatians 2:13 .

7 . Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? ] The charge is now refuted on five different grounds. The first argument is derived from the analogy of human conduct. Three instances are given, (1) the soldier, (2) the vine-dresser, (3) the shepherd, who all derive their subsistence from their labours.

8 . Say I these things as a man? ] i.e. from a purely human point of view. Cf. Romans 3:5 and Galatians 3:15 . This second argument is drawn from the law of Moses, and its force would be admitted by the Judaizing section of St Paul’s opponents.

9 . Doth God take care for oxen? ] Luther and Estius are here fully of one mind against those who suppose the Apostle to mean that God does not care for oxen. “God cares for all,” says the former, and the latter gives proofs of this care from Holy Writ, for example, Psalms 36:6 , Psalms 147:9 . But the precepts of the law were illustrations of general principles which extended far beyond the special precepts contained in it. Such a precept was that in Exodus 23:19 , ‘Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk,’ cf. 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21 , which had in view the general principle of the cultivation of a spirit of humanity. As an instance of the superior humanity of the Jewish law, Dean Stanley mentions the fact that “the Egyptians had an inscription, still extant, to this effect,” and that in Greece there was a proverb, “the ox on the heap of corn,” to describe a man in the midst of plenty which he could not enjoy. In this and many other instances we have to bear in mind that ‘the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.’ St Paul applies this passage from the Old Testament in an exactly similar manner in 1 Timothy 5:18 . It occurs in Deuteronomy 25:4 .

10 . he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope ] In this verse we may observe (1) that the word translated treadeth out in ver. 9 is here rendered threshing, because the usual Eastern mode of threshing corn was by means of oxen. See Art “Agriculture” in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible , and Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopædia . The flail appears to nave been occasionally used for the lighter kinds of grain (Ruth 2:17 ), and threshing instruments are occasionally mentioned in the later books of the Old Testament, e.g. 2 Samuel 24:22 ; 1 Chronicles 21:23 ; Isaiah 41:15 . And (2) we find in many MSS. the reading ‘ that he that thresheth may do so in hope of partaking .’ The text is in some confusion here.

11 . If we have sown unto you spiritual things ] St Paul’s third argument is drawn from the principles of natural gratitude. If we have conferred on you such inestimable benefits, it is surely no very burdensome return to give us our maintenance. Not, says Estius, that the one is in any sense the price paid for the other, for the two are too unequal: but that he who receives gifts so invaluable certainly lies under an obligation to him who imparts them an obligation which he may well requite by ministering to his benefactor in such trifles (see Acts 6:1-4 ) as food and drink. Cf. Romans 15:17 ; Galatians 6:6 .

12 . If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? ] Fourth argument. You have admitted the cogency of these arguments in the case of teachers who have less claim upon you than we have, to whom (ch. 4:15) you owe your Christian life itself.

Nevertheless we have not used this power ] St Paul is now about to enter upon the argument from which he was diverted by the thought which flashed across his mind in ver. 1. But another argument occurs to him, which he states in the next verse.

suffer ] Rather, perhaps, endure . Cf. ch. 13:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:1 . The word is used of vessels which endure pressure without breaking.

13 . Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things ] Fifth argument. The Jewish priests are maintained by the sacrifices of the worshippers. See Leviticus 6:17 ; Numbers 5:8-10 , and especially 18:8 20. So also Deuteronomy 10:9 , Deuteronomy 18:1 . This was an argument of which in dealing with Jews it would not have been well to lose sight. Whether an Apostle or not St Paul was at least occupied with sacred things, and so had a claim to live, or rather eat , the literal translation (see margin feed ) by means of the work he was doing.

partakers with the altar ] The sacrifices were apportioned out according to rule. Part was consumed on the altar; part was given to the priest; part was consumed by the worshipper. See passages cited in the last note.

14 . Even so hath the Lord ordained ] In St Matthew 10:10 , and St Luke 10:7 .

15 23. St Paul’s use of his Christian liberty is restrained by the thought of the needs of others

15 . But I have used none of these things ] Having disposed of the objections against his claims to Apostleship, he proceeds to the instance he had been intending to give of his voluntary abandonment of his rights as a Christian for the sake of others. Thus he vindicates his own consistency, shewing that the doctrine he laid down in ch. 6:12, and which he again asserts in ver. 19 of this chapter, is a yoke which he not only imposes upon others, but willingly bears himself.

than that any man should make my glorying void ] A remarkable inversion in the order of the Greek here has led some editors to prefer a different reading, which is found in some MSS., and which may be thus rendered: (1) It were better for me to die than my ground of boasting no one shall make ( it ) void ; or (2) It were better for me to die than no one shall make my ground of boasting void . But the latter introduces an unfinished construction more harsh than is usual in St Paul’s Epistles. The word here translated glorying is translated in the next verse ‘a thing to glory of.’ See note on the same word in ch. 5:6.

16 . necessity is laid upon me ] See Acts 9:6 , Acts 22:21 .

17 . For if I do this thing willingly ] Whether St Paul did his work willingly or unwillingly, he could not escape his responsibility. He had been chosen (Acts 9:15 , Acts 9:13 :2; Romans 1:5 , Romans 1:15 :16; Galatians 1:15 , Galatians 1:16 ; 1 Timothy 2:7 ; 2 Timothy 1:2 ) to bear the good tidings to the Gentiles, and ho man can disobey God and be guiltless. If he willingly obeyed God, he had a reward in the consciousness of having done his duty (ver. 18); if not, he still had been entrusted with the task. Cf. St Luke 17:10 .

reward ] Rather, wages . Cf. St John 4:36 ; St Matthew 20:8 , and St Luke 10:7 , where the same word is used.

dispensation ] Literally, stewardship , the work of one who has to dispense provisions or stores. The original meaning of the word dispensation , which is akin to spend , is the giving forth , as out of a store. So Dr Woodward, in his Natural Philosophy , writes, “This perpetual circulation is constantly promoted by a dispensation of water promiscuously to all parts of the earth.” And Latimer writes, “I pray you, what is to be looked for in a dispensour? This, surely; that he be found faithful, and that he truly dispense and lay out the goods of the Lord.” Sermon on the Unjust Steward , preached before Convocation, June 6th, 1536. Hence it came to have the meaning of a course, or order, of God’s providence, distributed or appointed by Him to man. But this is not the meaning here. Wiclif renders dispending is bitaken to me . Tyndale, office .

18 . What is my reward then? ] Literally, wages (see last verse). Either (1) as in our version, the preaching the Gospel without charge, and the consciousness of having served God faithfully thus obtained; or (2) as some would interpret, suspending the construction until the end of ver. 19, the satisfaction of having made more converts than any one else. But this involves (1) a harsh construction, and (2) a motive which appears foreign to the Christian character. For though St Paul in ch. 15:10 says, ‘I laboured more abundantly than they all,’ it is in no spirit of vain-glorious boasting. The translation ‘reward’ somewhat obscures the meaning. Christ had said, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire ,’ or wages , St Paul refers to this in ver. 17. In this verse he asks what his wages are, and replies that they are the preaching the Gospel without charge.

without charge ] This was St Paul’s usual ground of boasting. We find it in his earliest Epistle (1 Thessalonians 2:9 ; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:8 ). It formed part of his appeal to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:33 , Acts 20:34 ), and in the fervid defence of himself which we find in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians it occupies a prominent place. See 2 Corinthians 11:7-12 .

19 . made myself servant ] Literally, enslaved myself .

the more ] Not necessarily more than other people , but as our version implies, more than he would otherwise have gained .

20 . unto the Jews I became as a few ] As in Acts 16:3 , Acts 16:18 :18, Acts 16:21 :26, Acts 16:23 :6, Acts 16:26 :4, Acts 16:5 , Acts 16:6 , Acts 16:22 , Acts 16:27 . Some of these passages, though they refer to events which occurred after these words were written, are none the less useful as illustrations of St Paul’s principle of action.

21 . to them that are without law, as without law ] Literally, to the lawless, as a lawless man , i.e. to those who had received no external laws or statutes from God. St Paul’s accommodation to the prejudices of Gentiles may be seen in Galatians 2:3 , Galatians 2:12 , Galatians 2:14 .

being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ ] Cf. Galatians 6:2 A kind of apology is here made for the use of the term lawless. It was only intended in the sense just explained. Even a Gentile was under some kind of law (Romans 2:14 , Romans 2:15 ), and no Christian could rightly be called lawless, for he was subject to that inward law written in the heart, of which Jeremiah had prophesied (31:33), even the law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2 ), which, though it had set him free from a slavish bondage to ordinances (Colossians 2:20 ), had not set him free from the obligation to holiness, justice, and truth which is involved in the very idea of faith in Jesus Christ.

22 . To the weak became I as weak ] i.e. by an affectionate condescension to their prejudices (ch. 8:13; cf. Romans 15:1 ; 2 Corinthians 11:29 ).

I am made (literally, become ) all things to all men ] Not in the sense of sacrifice of principle, but by the operation of a wide reaching sympathy, which enabled him, without compromising his own convictions, to approach all men from their most accessible side. See notes on ver. 20, 21, and ch. 10:32.

24 27. Exhortation to Self-restraint

24 . Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? ] Not that this is the case in the Christian course, but that each should manifest the same eagerness and sustained effort as if the prize could be given to one only. The Corinthians are now exhorted to follow the example of their teacher in all self-mistrust and self-restraint. There can be little doubt that there is an allusion here to the Isthmian games, which took place every three years at a spot on the seacoast about nine miles from Corinth. This was one of those festivals “which exercised so great an influence over the Grecian mind, which were, in fact, to their imaginations what the temple was to the Jews and the triumph to the Romans.” Stanley. At this period, he remarks, the Olympic games, the chief national institution of the Greeks (see Art. “Olympia” in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities ), had possibly lost some of their interest, while the Isthmus had been the centre of the last expiring struggle of Greek independence, and was destined to be the place where, a few years after the date of this Epistle, Nero stood to announce that the province of Achaia had received the honour of Roman citizenship.

in a race ] Literally, in the stadium , or race-course . See Art. “Stadium” in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities . This was a fixed course, oblong in shape, with one end semicircular, fitted round with seats, that the spectators might see all that went on. It was “not a mere resort for public amusement, but an almost sacred edifice, under the tutelage of the patron deity of the Ionian tribes, and surrounded by the most solemn recollections of Greece; its white marble seats rising like a temple in the grassy slope, where its outlines may still be traced, under the shadow of the huge Corinthian citadel, which guards the entrance to the Peloponnesus, and overlooking the blue waters of the Saronic Gulf with Athens glittering in the distance.” Stanley.

prize ] Greek, βραβεῖον , from whence, through the late Latin word bravium , comes our English brave . See note on next verse.

25 . And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things ] The temperance of which the Apostle speaks was no light matter. For ten months had the candidates for a prize at these games to abstain from every kind of sensual indulgence, and to undergo the most severe training of the body. See Horace, De Arte Poetica , 412, and Epictetus: “Wouldest thou conquer at the games? Thou must be orderly, spare in food, must abstain from confections, exercise at a fixed hour, whether in heat or cold, drink no cold water, nor wine.”

a corruptible crown ] “A garland of olive, parsley, bay, or pine.” Stanley.

but we an incorruptible ] Cf. 2 Timothy 2:5 , 2 Timothy 2:4 :8; James 1:12 ; 1 Peter 4:4 ; Revelation 2:10 , Revelation 3:11 . There was no impropriety in this comparison. The Greek games were free from many of the degrading associations which gather round those athletic sports so rapidly gaining ground among ourselves. They had the importance almost of a religious rite, certainly of a national institution, and they were dignified with recitations of their productions by orators and sophists. Herodotus is even said to have recited his history at the Olympic games.

26 . not as uncertainly ] i.e. with no definite object , but “looking to some goal,” as St Chrysostom observes, and that goal the salvation of himself and others.

so fight I ] The Christian career is not merely a race, but a conflict, and a conflict not only with others, but with oneself. St Paul had to contend with the fleshly lusts of the body, the love especially of ease, the indisposition to hardship and toil so natural to humanity. See Romans 7:23 ; and for the life of pain and endurance to which he had enslaved himself, ch. 4 of this Epistle, ver. 9 13, and 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 .

not as one that beateth the air ] That is, not as one who struck out at random, but as one who delivered his blows with effect. Cf. Virg. Æn . v. 377, Verberat ictibus auras; 446, Vires in ventum effudit, and the German “ ins Blaue hinein .”

27 . but I keep under my body ] Literally, I strike under the eye, I beat black and blue . So the ancient Latin version of Irenæus renders it Corpus meum lividum facio . The Vulgate, less forcibly, castigo . Tyndale, tame . The same word is used in St Luke 18:5 of the effect of the repeated complaints of the poor widow. Cf. Shakespeare, King John , Acts 11:0 . sc. 1, “ Bethumped with words.”

and bring it into subjection ] Literally, lead it into slavery . The body was to be the absolute property of the spirit, to obey its directions implicitly, as a slave those of its master. Romans 6:19 . By a series of violent blows on the face, as it were, it was to be taught to submit itself to the dictates of its superior.

lest … when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway ] Castaway , Gr. ἀδόκιμος , one regarded as unworthy. Except in Hebrews 6:8 , this word is everywhere else translated reprobate in the New Testament, and so here in the Vulgate reprobus . Wiclif, repreuable . No strength of religious conviction, we are here warned, can supply the place of that continuous effort necessary to make our calling and election sure.’ Some have regarded the word ‘preached’ here (literally, heralded ) as having a reference to the herald who proclaimed die victor in the games. Dean Stanley reminds us that the victor sometimes announced his own success, and that Nero did so (cf. Suetonius, Nero , c. 24) a short time after this Epistle was written. But this somewhat misses the point of the Apostle’s meaning, which, if it is to be regarded as keeping up the metaphor derived from the games, is, that after having, as herald, proclaimed the victory of others, he himself contends and is worsted.

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"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/1-corinthians-9.html. 1896.