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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Corinthians 1

Verse 1

(1) Paul, called to be an apostle.—Better, a called Apostle of Jesus Christ. His apostolic authority, which was questioned by some in Corinth, is thus set out at the commencement of the Epistle.

And Sosthenes our brother.Sosthenes the brother, probably the Sosthenes (see Note on 1 Corinthians 1:16) the chief ruler of the synagogue mentioned in Acts 18:17, one of the brethren well known to the Corinthians. From his name being thus joined with that of the Apostle, we may conjecture that he was his amanuensis in writing this Epistle, the salutation only (1 Corinthians 16:21) having been written by St. Paul’s hand.

Verse 2

(2) Church of God.—St. Chrysostom remarks how these opening words are a protest against the party-spirit prevailing at Corinth: “The Church of God—not of this or that man.”

Them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus.—This is not another class of persons, but a description of those who compose “the Church”—who are further described as “called to be saints”—i.e., “holy.” The term “saints” is never used by St. Paul with its restricted modern meaning, but is applied to the whole baptised Church. The English word which most nearly expresses the apostolic idea is “Christians”—used in its most comprehensive sense.

With all that in every place.—Better translated, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, both theirs and ours. The teaching of the Epistle is thus addressed to the Church at large, which is composed of all who call upon the Lord Jesus, whether it be in Corinth (“our” country—the Apostle identifying himself with his converts) or elsewhere. This idea of the Church, put forward in the very opening of the Epistle, at once directs the reader’s mind from the narrow spirit of faction which was exhibiting itself at Corinth. The words of this verse contain a strong testimony to the worship of Christ, not only as being practised in the Apostolic Church, but as being one of the very marks of true union with the Church.

Verse 3

(3) Grace be unto you, and peace.—This is the usual style of apostolic greeting (Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2), and with these words the address and greeting which open the Epistle conclude.

Verse 4

(4) I thank my God.—Expressions of thankfulness (1 Corinthians 1:4-9), serving also to secure at the very outset the attention of those to whom the Apostle is writing. He thus shows that he is not blind to, or forgetful of, their good qualities, although this Epistle is specially written to rebuke their present sins; and also that he is not about to utter words of hopeless condemnation, but of wholesome warning. The emphatic use of the singular, I thank my God, in contrast to the plural in the previous verses, indicates that St. Paul does not join Sosthenes with him as author of the Epistle, but that it is written in his name alone and with his sole authority.

The grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ.—Better, the grace of God given you in Christ Jesusi.e., given to you as being in Christ.

Verse 5

(5) Ye are enriched.—Literally, ye were enriched. “Utterance” is the power of outward expression of that “knowledge” which dwells within.

Verse 6

(6) Even as the testimony of Christ.—The testimony which St. Paul bore to Christ, and from Christ, was confirmed among them by this full bestowal of spiritual gifts.

Verse 7

(7) So that ye come.—Not exactly as in the English, “so that ye come behind” (or, are wanting) “in no gift,” but “the result being that ye come behind others in no gift.” You have as fully as any others those spiritual gifts which sustain you and enable you to wait for the revelation (i.e., the second visible appearance, which the early Church expected would soon occur) of our Lord Jesus Christ, not with fear, or with impatience, but with a calm trustfulness (Luke 17:30; Titus 2:13).

Verse 8

(8) Who.—The use of the words “day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” instead of “His day,” has been regarded by some as a sufficient evidence that “who” does not refer to Christ. This by itself would scarcely be so, for there are examples elsewhere of St. Paul using our Lord’s name where the possessive pronoun would have seemed more natural (Ephesians 4:12; Colossians 2:11). The general sense of the passage, however, and especially of the following verse, shows that the antecedent to “who” is not “Christ,” in 1 Corinthians 1:7, but “God,” in 1 Corinthians 1:4.

Three distinct periods are referred to in these verses—(1) the time when the grace of God was given them (1 Corinthians 1:4); (2) the present time while they wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus, endowed as they are with the qualities described in 1 Corinthians 1:5-7; and (3) the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is still future—if preserved blameless until that, then they are finally and for ever safe; and that they will be so preserved by God the Apostle has no doubt, for the reason stated in the next verse. (See 1 Corinthians 4:3.)

Verse 9

(9) God is faithful.—The One who called them “unto the communion of His Son” is faithful, and therefore He will complete His work; no trials and sufferings need make them doubt that all will at last be well. The same confidence is expressed in Philippians 1:6, and 1 Thessalonians 5:24.

Verse 10

(10) Now I beseech you, brethren.—With these words the Apostle introduces the topic which is indeed one of the chief reasons of his writing this Epistle (see Introduction), viz., the PARTY-SPIRIT existing in the Corinthian Church. The treatment of this subject occupies to 1 Corinthians 4:20. It is important to remember that the factions rebuked by St. Paul were not sects who separated themselves from the Church, but those who within the Church divided themselves into parties, each calling itself by the name of some Apostle whose teaching and practice were most highly esteemed. The nature and cause of these divisions we shall understand as we consider the Apostle’s exhortation to unity, and his rebuke of the spirit which gave rise to them.

By the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.—By his previous remark that they had been called unto “the communion” of this Holy Name, the writer has led up to the mention of Christ’s name—not in the form of an adjuration, but as reminding them of it. That very name adds strength to his exhortation to “speak the same thing”—i.e., to call themselves by this one name, and not each (as in 1 Corinthians 1:12) by a different designation, and that there should be no “schisms” among them. The word translated “divisions,” signifies literally a “rent,” in which sense it occurs in Mark 2:21 (“the rent is made worse”), and is used three times in St. John’s Gospel in the sense of schism or difference of opinion (John 7:43; John 9:16; John 10:19). See Note on John 7:43, as to the moral application of the word having probably come from Ephesus; and the idea of a tear or rent is carried on in the words, “be perfectly joined together,” which in the original signifies the repair of something which was torn, as in Matthew 4:21 we have the word rendered “were mending their nets.” The church at Corinth presents to the Apostle’s mind the idea of a seamless robe rent and torn into pieces, and he desires its complete and entire restoration by their returning to a united temper of mind and judgment as to word and deed.

Verse 11

(11) The house of Chloe.—Who Chloe was we cannot tell. Her name was evidently well known to the Corinthians, and some slaves of her household, probably travelling between Ephesus and Corinth, on their owner’s business, had brought to St. Paul the account of the distracted state of the church in their city.

Verse 12

(12) I of Christ.—It has been suggested that this is not the designation of a fourth party in the Church, but an affirmation by the Apostle, “I am of Christ,” in contradistinction to those referred to before, who called themselves after the names of men. But in addition to the fact that there is no change in form of expression to indicate a change of sense, we find evident traces of the existence of such a party (1 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 10:7).

Verse 12

(12) I of Christ.—It has been suggested that this is not the designation of a fourth party in the Church, but an affirmation by the Apostle, “I am of Christ,” in contradistinction to those referred to before, who called themselves after the names of men. But in addition to the fact that there is no change in form of expression to indicate a change of sense, we find evident traces of the existence of such a party (1 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 10:7).

Verse 13

(13) Is Christ divided?—Better, Christ is divided. Christ, in the communion of the Church, is rent, torn in fragments by you. The mention of the sacred name as a party-cry makes the Apostle burst into that impassioned exclamation. Then there is a momentary pause, and the Apostle goes back from his sudden denunciation of the “Christ” party, to those whom he had originally selected for typical treatment, viz., those who bore his own name, the two streams of thought, as it were, mingling and rushing together; and he asks (with a mind still full of the burning indignation aroused by the mention of the name of union as a symbol of disunion), “Was Paul crucified for you?” “Was your baptism in the name of Paul?” To each of which the answer must of necessity be “No.”

Paul being the founder of the Church, these questions apply more forcibly to the others also.

Verse 14

(14) I thank God.—“I am thankful to God that it was not so.” For if he had baptised a great many, some might have said he had created originally a party in his own name. Crispus (see Acts 18:8), a “ruler of the synagogue,” Gaius (or Caius, his Roman name), “mine host, and of the whole Church” (Romans 16:23): the evident importance and position of these two, and that they were the first converts, may account for the Apostle having departed from his usual practice in baptising them.

Verse 16

(16) Stephanas.—The mention of Stephanas and his household was, from the words preceding, evidently a subsequent correction by the Apostle. He had forgotten them, and was reminded of it possibly by Sosthenes, who was writing from his dictation, and would naturally have known the fact, for Stephanas was the “firstfruits of Achaia” (1 Corinthians 16:15), and Sosthenes had been chief ruler of the synagogue (Acts 18:17) when Paul had been brought before Gallio, deputy of Achaia. Stephanas himself was at Ephesus with St. Paul when this letter was written, and doubtless in daily intercourse both with him and with Sosthenes (1 Corinthians 16:17). Finding how his memory had failed him on this point, the Apostle adds, “And I know not,” &c. (i.e., I don’t remember) so as to prevent any cavil from hypercritical opponents.

Verse 17

(17) Not to baptize.—Preaching was eminently the work of the Apostles. The deacons used to baptise (Acts 10:48). The mention of “the preaching of the glad tidings” affords an opportunity for the Apostle stating in vindication of himself why that, and not philosophy, was the subject of his preaching, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” Such, and not inability or ignorance, was the grand cause of his simplicity.

Verse 18

(18) For the preaching.—In the original the contrast comes out more strongly between this and the previous statement, the same phrase being repeated, thus, “For the word of the cross,” in contrast to “the wisdom of more words” above. This is the word of real power.

Them that perish.—Better, those that are perishing, and us who are being saved, the former referring to those who have not received the gospel, and the latter to those who have (2 Corinthians 2:15; 2 Corinthians 4:3).

The power of God.—The cross and all that it represents is the greatest display of the power of God (Acts 8:10).

Verse 19

(19) For it is written.—This is a further explanation of why the word of the gospel, and not the word of merely human wisdom, is “the power of God.” The quotation which follows consists of two passages in Isaiah, and is taken from the LXX., one word being altered. We have here “bring to nothing,” instead of “I will conceal.” “Words which originally applied to those who assumed to be the guides of the Jewish race (Isaiah 29:14), apply with greater force to those who would presume to be Christian leaders.

Verse 20

(20) To the second quotation, which was originally a song of triumph over the enemies of Israel, the Apostle gives a general application.

The wise.—The general reference in this word is to those who would exalt human knowledge, while “the scribe” indicates the Jew, and the “disputer” the Greek, who discussed philosophy (Acts 6:9; Acts 9:29).

Of this world.—These words qualify all three mentioned, and not exclusively the disputer.” “World” (more literally, age) does not here mean the physical world, but, in an ethical sense, “this age,” in contrast to that which is “to come” (Matthew 12:32; Mark 10:30). It is employed afterwards (last word of 1 Corinthians 1:20, and in 1 Corinthians 1:21) to designate all who are outside the Christian communion, as in the next verse it is contrasted with “them that believe.”

Verse 21

(21) For.—This is an explanation and evidence of Low God made the wisdom of the world to be only “folly.”

After that (better, inasmuch as) is not here a note of time, but of causal relation.

In the wisdom of God.—These words can scarcely be taken as an expression of a kind of approval of God’s wisdom in so arranging the method of revelation, but rather as referring to God’s wisdom evidenced in nature, and in the teachings of lawgivers and prophets. The world by its wisdom did not attain to a knowledge of God in His wisdom displayed in creation (Acts 17:26; Romans 1:19).

It pleased God.—The world having thus failed to gain a true knowledge of God in His wisdom, He gave them that knowledge through that very proclamation of “the cross” which those “that perish” call foolishness. The contrast so strikingly put here is between (1) the failure of the world by means of its wisdom to know God, in His wisdom displayed to all in His mighty works, and to the Jews in His great teachers; and (2) the success of this “folly” of the gospel, as they called it, in saving all who believed it (Romans 1:16).

Verse 22

(22) For.—This is a further unfolding of the fact of the simplicity of the preaching of the Cross. It pandered neither to Jewish-minded persons (not in the Greek “the Jews,” “the Gentiles,” but simply “Jews,” “Gentiles”) who desired visible portents to support the teaching, nor to those of Greek taste who desired an actual and clear philosophic proof of it. (See Matthew 12:38; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; John 4:48.)

Verse 23

(23) But we preach.—The gospel of Christ crucified made its way by those very qualities which they regarded as “weakness and folly,” vindicating itself as “the power of God,” more mighty than any “sign” a Jew might ask for; and “the wisdom of God” surpassing any merely intellectual “wisdom” which a Greek might desire.

Verse 24

(24) Them which are called.—St. Paul always speaks of all Christians as “the called,” not using that word in the narrower sense to which some modern religious sects have restricted it.

Verse 25

(25) Because.—This introduces the reason why Christ, as being crucified, is the power and wisdom of God, viz., because God’s folly (as they call it) is wiser, not “than the wisdom of men,” as some understand this passage, but than men themselves—embracing in that word all that men can know or hope ever to know; and the weakness of God (as they regard it) is stronger than men.

Verse 26

(26) For ye see your calling.—Better, imperative (as in 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Corinthians 10:18; 1 Corinthians 16:10), For see your calling. The Apostle directs them to look at the facts regarding their own calling to Christianity, as an illustration of the truth of what he has just written, viz., that though there were, perhaps, a few of high birth and education who were called, and responded to that call, yet that these are “not many.” It has been well remarked, “the ancient Christians were, for the greater part, slaves and persons of humble rank; the whole history of the progress of the Church is in fact a gradual triumph of the unlearned over the learned, of the lowly over the great, until the emperor himself cast his crown at the foot of Christ’s cross” (Olshausen); or, as an English writer puts it, “Christianity with the irresistible might of its weakness shook the world.”

Verse 27

(27) Foolish things.—The neuter is used probably for the purpose of generalising, and it expresses the qualities of the men whom God has chosen—“the wise” is masculine in the Greek, showing that it is still of “persons” the Apostle is speaking.

Verse 28

(28) And things which are not.—This climax loses somewhat of its force by the insertion of the word “and,” which is not in some of the best MSS., and “yea,” which is not in any MS. Omitting the word “and,” the sentence is not an addition to the things already mentioned, but a general and emphatic summary of all the things which have been already contrasted with their opposites. After the words “hath God chosen” there is a slight pause, and then the Apostle describes all those things which he has declared to be God’s choice, as things which “are not”—i.e., do not in men’s estimation even exist (Romans 4:17; Romans 9:25; see also Job 34:19; Job 34:24).

Verse 30

(30) But.—So far from boasting in His presence, we all owe all to Him. He is the author of the spiritual life of us who are in union with Christ, “who was (not “is”) made wisdom unto us from God.” The past tense here refers us back to the fact of the Incarnation; in it Christ became to us God’s revelation of Himself, thus giving us a wisdom from the source of all wisdom, which surpasses utterly any wisdom we could have derived from nature or from man. Not only is Christ the source of whatever true wisdom we have, but also (so adds the Apostle) of whatever “righteousness” and “holiness” we have—spiritual gifts, as well as gifts of knowledge, come all from Him—and beyond all that, He is also our redemption, the “ransom” paid for us, by which we are redeemed from the bondage and slavery of sin. (See John 8:34; Romans 6:18; Romans 6:20; Romans 8:21; Romans 8:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19.)

Verse 31

(31) That.—So that it might be as the prophet wrote, “He that boasteth, let him boast in the Lord.” This is not a literal quotation, but only an adaptation and paraphrase from the LXX. of Jeremiah 9:23-24. Our only true boasting before God is that we are in Christ, that all we have we owe entirely to Him; we can only glory in, not ourselves or what we have or are, but in the fact that He is our benefactor. Thus, in St. Chrysostom’s quaint words, Paul “always fasteneth them on with nails to the name of Christ.”

This concludes St. Paul’s general explanation of God’s method, and he then turns to his own conduct, to show how entirely it was in harmony with God’s plan, which he has just explained and vindicated.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-corinthians-1.html. 1905.