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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 3

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

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Verses 1-23

The Fault of Party Spirit

The immaturity of the Corinthian converts and their unfitness for anything but elementary instruction in the faith is proved by their mutual jealousies and their disagreements about their teachers.

1-9. Paraphrase. ’Te yourselves, brethren, are an illustration of what I say. (2) I have treated you as beginners and given you elementary Christian teaching, for hitherto you have been unfit for any other. (3, 4) You are still but immature Christians, as the strife and division about your teachers show. (5-7) We apostles are but instruments in the hands of God to secure your salvation; we are powerless of ourselves. (8, 9) Both of us are alike in this respect, and all we are concerned with is the faithfulness of our work. For we co-operate to carry out God’s purpose in tilling the field of your spiritual life, or, as we may put it, in contributing to the building of your Christian character.’

1. Not.. as unto spiritual] The hidden wisdom of which the Apostle has been writing is not for them. Carnal] The Gk. means ’fleshy,’ and points to the fact that they were mere infants, so to speak. It is interpreted by the words which follow.

2. Milk] the rudiments of the gospel; the alphabet of Christianity. We find samples of it in Paul’s preaching (Acts 13:14-43; Acts 17:2-3; Acts 18:22-28; Acts 19:2-4).

Meat] more advanced teaching regarding the purpose of Christ’s coming and the faith and hope of Christians, such as is presented in the Epistles to the Romans, Colossians, and Ephesians.

3. Carnal] The Gk. here is different from that in 1 Corinthians 3:1, and means ’fleshly,’ i.e. walking in the lusts of the flesh.

4. Carnal] The Gk. is again different from 1 Corinthians 3:1 and 1 Corinthians 3:3, and means, as RV, ’men.’

5. Ministers] i.e. servants who ministered to your needs. Even as the Lord gave] i.e. according to the ability given by God.

6. I have planted] St. Paul founded the Church at Corinth (Acts 18:1-18). Apollos watered] Acts 18:27.

8. One] lit. ’one thing,’ i.e. having a common aim.

9. Labourers together with God] RV ’God’s fellow-workers.’ Perhaps, better, ’fellow-workers for God,’ the emphasis all through being on God’s power and work. The Apostles were fellow-workers with one another, but not fellow-workers with God in quite the same sense. Husbandry] i.e. tilled field. Building] The Apostle in the next few vv. develops the illustration taken from building, with which as a frequenter of cities he was more familiar. For this metaphor cp. Ephesians 2:20-22; Colossians 2:7.

10-15. Paraphrase. ’Let me remind you that by the favour of God I was the founder of your Church. Those who followed me took up my work. (11) The foundation I laid was faith in Jesus Christ. (12) No one can lay any other; but every builder is responsible for what he builds upon it. (13) The tests applied to the spiritual lif e and character of the Church will prove his faithfulness or his unworthiness in the day when the Lord returns in judgment. (14, 15) If the spiritual life of his converts be healthy and their growth in goodness evident, he will be rewarded; but if not, he will lose his reward and barely secure his own salvation.’

10. Another buildeth] Apollos and others carried on the work begun by St. Paul. How he buildeth] The Apostle indicates the great responsibilities of Christian ministers and teachers,

11, 12. Other foundation] Faith in Christ as Saviour and willing submission to His influence are the foundation on which Christian character must be built. If these are set aside, the character is not based on Christ, and all teaching which does not begin from the statement of these principles and retain them as its basis is not in any true sense Christian.

13. The day] i.e. the day of judgment or the day of the Lord. The imagery of fire testing the building is both natural and suggested by the OT. accounts of the manifestations of Jehovah.

15. Saved] because of his own Christian life. Yet so as by fire] As the builder may escape with his life while the flames destroy the building on which he is engaged, so the Christian teacher may be saved himself, though his teaching be proved worthless for edification. ’Sincerity does not verify doctrine, but it saves the man’ (F. W. Robertson).

16, 17. Woe to the teacher who by pernicious teaching or example injures or destroys the spiritual life of members of the Church of Christ: God shall do even so to him. If any man defile] A worse case than 1 Corinthians 3:15. There the merely unprofitable teacher himself escapes; here the positively hurtful is punished. Holy] i.e. sacred, not to be injured with impunity.

Which temple ye are] RV ’and such are ye,’ i.e. holy.

18-23. Paraphrase. ’Do not deceive yourselves; but if there be any of you priding himself on his worldly wisdom let him quickly unlearn it, that he may learn the true wisdom. (19, 20) For as Holy Scripture teaches, worldly wisdom is but folly in God’s sight. (21-23) Do not, therefore, use the names of your teachers as party watchwords, boasting about your devotion to this or that one. Learn what is good from them all, for they all alike belong to you. And not only do they belong to you, but all things belong to you; and you belong to Christ; and Christ Himself belongs to God.’

19. The wisdom of this world] The conceit and vanity of men are folly with God. The results of this folly in Christian teachers are indicated in 1 Corinthians 3:15, 1 Corinthians 3:17. It is written] Job 5:13.

20. And again] Psalms 94:11.

21. Glory in men] boast of their preference for this or that teacher, as they had been doing (1 Corinthians 1:12).

21. All things are yours] To him who is united to Christ all things belong, contributing to the growth of his Christian character and the increasing perfection of his spiritual life. He learns from all teachers; the world provides him with the means of growth in grace, for all his experiences in its possessions and work influence his spiritual life; life is full of divine meaning and purpose; death is revealed to him as the gate of life; he is delivered from any danger to his spirit arising from the perplexities of the present or the problems of the future (things to come).

23. Ye are Christ’s] i.e. you belong to Christ, not to Paul or Apollos or Cephas. And Christ is God’s] i.e. God is over all; even Christ belongs to Him. And as we are Christ’s, we belong to God. Theodoret remarks, ’Christ belongs to God, not as God’s creature, but as God’s Son.’ Perhaps the Apostle simply desires to assert that God is supreme over all: cp. 1 Corinthians 15:24; John 4:34.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/1-corinthians-3.html. 1909.
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