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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 1

Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First CorintiansHodge's Commentary

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Verse 1


1. Corinth

The Grecian Peloponnesus is connected with the continent by an isthmus from four to six miles wide. On this isthmus stood the city of Corinth. A rocky eminence, called the Acrocorinthus, rises from the plain almost perpendicularly, to the height of two thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is sufficiently broad at the summit for a town of considerable size. From the top of this abrupt hill the eye reaches towards the east over the expanse of the Aegean Sea, with its numerous islands; and westward, towards the Ionian Sea, a prospect scarcely less inviting was presented. Looking towards the north, the eye rests on the mountains of Attica on the one hand, and northeastern Greece on the other; the Acropolis of Athens being clearly visible at a distance of forty-five miles. As early as the days of Homer, Corinth was an important city. Its position made it, in a military point of view, the key of the Peloponnesus; and its command of a port on two seas made it the center of commerce between Asia and Europe. The supremacy enjoyed by one Grecian State after another, had at last fallen to the lot of Corinth. It became the chief city of Greece, not only in authority, but in wealth, magnificence, literature, the arts, and in luxury. It was characteristic of the place, that while the temple of Minena crowned the Acropolis of Athens, the Acrocorinthus was the site of the temple of Venus. Of all the cities of the ancient world it was most notorious for licentiousness. It was entirely destroyed by the Roman consul Mummius, 120 years b.c., its inhabitants were dispersed, and the conqueror carried with him to Rome the richest spoils that ever graced the triumph of a Roman general. For a century after this event it lay in ruins, serving only as a quarry whence the Roman patricians gathered marble for their palaces. Julius Caesar, recognizing the military and commercial importance of the position, determined to rebuild it, and for that purpose sent thither a colony consisting principally of freed men. This accounts for the predominance of Latin names which we meet with in connection with the Christians of this city. Erastus, Phoebe, and Sosthenes are Greek names; but Gaius, Quintus, Fortunatus, Crispus, Justus, Achaicus, are of Roman origin. This colony, however, was little more than the nucleus of the new city. Merchants flocked thither from all parts of Greece; Jews also were attracted by the facilities of commerce; wealth, art, literature, and luxury revived. The Isthmian games were again celebrated under the presidency of the city. It was made the capital of Achaia, which as a Roman province, included the greater part of Greece. Under the fostering care of Augustus, Corinth regained much of its ancient splendor, and during the century which had nearly elapsed since its restoration, before it was visited by the Apostle Paul, it had reached a pre-eminence which made it the glory of Greece. It was at this time under the rule of the Proconsul Gallio, the brother of Seneca, — a man distinguished for integrity and mildness. His brother says of him: Nemo enim mortalium uni tam dulcis est, quam hic omnibus. His refusal to entertain the frivolous charges brought by the Jews against Paul (Acts 18:14-16, is in keeping with the character given of him by his contemporaries. He was one of the victims of the cruelty of Nero. ‹1›

2. Paul’s Labors in Corinth

As Corinth was not only the political capital of Greece, but the seat of its commercial and intellectual life; the place of concourse for the people not only of the neighboring cities, but of nations; a source whence influences of all kinds emanated in every direction, it was specially important for the diffusion of the gospel. Paul, therefore, leaving Athens, which he had visited in his second missionary journey, went alone to Corinth, where he was soon after joined by Silas and Timotheus, who came from Macedonia. (Acts 18:5.) A stranger in this great city, and without the means of support, he associated himself with Aquila, a Jew lately come from Italy, in consequence of the edict of Claudius banishing the Jews from Rome. While living in the house of Aquila, and working with him at his trade of tent-making, Paul attended the synagogue every Sabbath, and “persuaded the Jews and Greeks.” But “when they opposed themselves and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles. And he departed thence, and went into a certain man’s house, named Justus, one who worshipped God, and whose house joined hard to the synagogue. And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord, with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing it believed, and were baptized. Then spake the Lord to Paul by night, by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee; for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (Acts 18:1-11.) The success of Paul aroused the enmity of the Jews, who determined to arraign him before the Roman governor. As soon as the governor ascertained the nature of the charge, he refused to listen to it, and dismissed the accusers from the judgment-seat with evident displeasure which encouraged the bystanders to beat the Jews. Thus the opposers of the apostle were ignominiously defeated. After remaining some time longer in Corinth, he sailed from Cenchrea, the eastern port of the city, to Ephesus, with Aquila and Priscilla. Leaving his friends in that city, he sailed to Caesarea, and thence went up to Jerusalem. After remaining a short time in the Holy City, he went to Antioch, and thence, through Phrygia and Galatia, again to Ephesus. Shortly after Paul left Ephesus the first time, Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, having been more fully instructed in the doctrine of Christ by Aquila and Priscilla, went to Corinth, and there “mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, shewing by the Scripture that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:24-28.) It is altogether probable, considering the constant commercial intercourse between Corinth and Ephesus, that the apostle had frequent opportunities of hearing of the state of the Corinthian church during his three years’ residence in the latter city. The information which he received led him, as is generally supposed, to write a letter no longer extant, exhorting them “not to keep company with fornicators.” (See 1 Corinthians 5:9.) Not satisfied with this effort to correct an alarming evil, he seems himself to have made them a brief visit. No record is indeed found in the Acts of his having been to Corinth more than once before the date of this epistle; but there are several passages in his second epistle which can hardly be understood otherwise than as implying an intermediate visit. In 2 Corinthians 12:14 he says, “Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you.” This may indeed mean that for the third time he had prepared to go to Corinth; but this the context does not suggest, and would really amount to nothing. It was not how often he had purposed to visit them, but how often he had actually made the journey, which was the point on which stress is laid. In 2 Corinthians 13:1 he says, “This is the third time I am coming to you,” which is still more explicit. In 2 Corinthians 2:1 he says, “I determined I would not come again to you in heaviness.” This supposes that he had already made them one sorrowful visit, i.e., one in which he had been obliged to cause sorrow, as well as to experience it. See also 2 Corinthians 12:21, and 2 Corinthians 13:2, where further allusion seems to be made to a second visit. Notwithstanding his frequent injunctions, the state of things in Corinth seemed to be getting worse. The apostle therefore determined to send Timothy and Erastus to them. (1 Corinthians 4:17. Acts 19:22.) Whether Timothy reached Corinth at this time is doubtful; and it would seem from 1 Corinthians 16:10 that the apostle himself feared that he might not be able to accomplish all that had been appointed him in Macedonia, and yet get to Corinth before he arrival of this letter. After the departure of Timothy, Paul received such intelligence from the household of Chloe, and from a letter addressed to him by the Corinthians themselves (1 Corinthians 7:1), that he determined at once to write to them.

3. State of the Church in Corinth

The state of the church in Corinth may be partially inferred from the character and circumstances of the people, but with certainty only from the contents of this and the following epistles. As remarked above, the population of the city was more than ordinarily heterogeneous. The descendants of the colonists sent by Julius Caesar, the Greeks who were attracted to the principal city of their own country, Jews and strangers from all parts of the Roman Empire, were here congregated. The predominant character of the people was doubtless Grecian. The majority of the converts to Christianity were probably Greeks, as distinguished from Jews. (See 1 Corinthians 12:1.) In all ages the Greeks were distinguished by their fondness for speculation, their vanity and love of pleasure, and their party spirit. A church composed of people of these characteristics, with a large infusion of Jewish converts, educated in the midst of refined heathenism, surrounded by all the incentives to indulgence, taught to consider pleasure, if not the chief good, yet in any form a good, plied on every hand by philosophers and false teachers, might be expected to exhibit the very characteristics which in this epistle are brought so clearly into view.

Their party spirit. “One said I am of Paul, another I am of Apollos; another I of Cephas, another I of Christ.” Much ingenuity and learning have been expended in determining the nature of these party divisions. What may be considered as more or less satisfactorily determined is, —

1. That there were factions in the church of Corinth which called themselves by the names above mentioned, and therefore that the names themselves give a clue to the character of the parties. The idea that the names of Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, are used figuratively, when other teachers were really intended, is so unnatural, and has so little to sustain it, that it is now almost universally repudiated.

2. There can be little doubt that those who called themselves by the name of Paul, or made themselves his partisans, were in the main the Gentile converts, — men brought up free from the bondage of the Mosaic law, and free from the influence of Jewish ideas and usages. They were disposed to press to extremes the liberty of the gospel, to regard as indifferent things in themselves sinful, and to treat without respect the scruples of the weak.

3. The intimate relations which subsisted between Paul and Apollos, as indicated in these epistles, authorizes the inference that it was not on doctrinal grounds that the followers of the latter differed from those of the former. It is probable that those who objected to Paul that he did not preach with the “wisdom of words,” were those attracted by the eloquence of Apollos.

4. It is scarcely less certain that those who said, “We are of Peter,” were the Judaizers, as Peter was specially the apostle of the circumcision. There is no evidence, however, from this epistle, that the leaders of this party had attempted to introduce into Corinth the observance of the Jewish law. But they were determined opponents of the Apostle Paul. They had come to Corinth with letters of commendation (2 Corinthians 2:1). They were Hebrews (2 Corinthians 11:22); they professed to be ministers of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23); they were false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13); the ministers of Satan, handling the word of God deceitfully. These men, as is evident from the defense which the apostle makes of his divine commission (1 Corinthians 9:1-3, 2 Corinthians 12:11, 2 Corinthians 12:12), called in question his apostleship, probably on the ground that he was not of the original twelve. On this ground, also, to give themselves the greater authority they claimed to be disciples of Peter, who was the first of the apostles. They also accused Paul of inconstancy and insincerity (2 Corinthians 1:17-24. In short, they stirred up against him all the elements of discord which they could find in a congregation composed of such incongruous materials.

5. With regard to those who said, We are of Christ, only two things are certain. First, that they were as much to blame as the other parties. It was in no Christian spirit that they set up their claim to be of Christ. And secondly, that they assumed to have some relation to Christ, which they denied to others. Whether it was because they had seen and heard him, or because they claimed connection with “James, the brother of the Lord,” or because they were the only genuine Christians, inasmuch as through some other channel than the apostles, they had derived, as they pretended, their knowledge of the gospel, is a matter of conjecture. Billroth and Baur regard this class as identical with the followers of Peter, who claimed to be of Christ, because Paul was no apostle, and therefore his disciples were not “of Christ.” According to this view there were only two, instead of four, parties in Corinth — the followers of Paul and Apollos belonging in one class. This, however, does violence to the plain meaning of the passage in 1 Corinthians 1:12. These neutrals were probably the worst class in the congregation, as is commonly the case with those who claim to be Christians to the exclusion of all others.

Another great evil in the Corinthian church was the violation of the seventh commandment in various forms. Educated as we are under the light of the gospel, in which the turpitude of such sins is clearly revealed, it is impossible for us to appreciate correctly the state of feeling in Corinth on this subject. Even by heathen philosophers offenses of this kind were regarded as scarcely deserving of censure, and by the public sentiment of the community they were considered altogether indifferent. They were in fact so associated with their religious rites and festivals as to lose their character as immoralities. With such previous training, and under the influence of such a public sentiment, and surrounded by all incitements and facilities to evil, it is surely not a matter of surprise that many of the Corinthians should take the ground that things of this class belonged to the same category with questions of food (1 Corinthians 6:12). It is certain, from numerous passages in these epistles, that the church of Corinth was not only very remiss in the exercise of discipline for such matters, but also that the evil was widely extended.

Another indication of the latitudinarian spirit of one portion of the church, was their conduct in reference to the sacrificial offerings and feasts of the heathen. They had been accustomed not only freely to eat meat which had been offered in sacrifice to idols, but to attend the feasts held in the temples. As they were told as Christians that the distinction between clean and unclean meats was abolished, and that the gods of the heathen were nothing, they insisted on their right to continue in their accustomed habits. This gave rise to great scandal. The stricter portion of the church, whether Jews or Gentiles, regarded all use of sacrificial meat as involving in some form connection with idolatry. This, therefore, was one of the questions of conscience which was answered differently by different parties, and no doubt contributed to promote the divisions existing among them.

The turbulent and independent spirit of the people also was conspicuously manifested in their public assemblies. Instead of following the instructions of the apostles and the usages of the church, they converted the Lord’s Supper into a disorderly common meal; in violation of the public sentiment and the custom of all the churches, they allowed women to appear unveiled in their congregations and to speak in public; and in the spirit of emulation and ostentation they exercised their gifts of prophecy and speaking with tongues, without regard to order or edification. Besides all this, under the influence probably of the heathen philosophy, some among them denied the doctrine of the resurrection, and thus subverted the very foundation of the gospel.

Such is the picture presented in this epistle of one of the most flourishing churches of the apostolic age, drawn, not by an enemy, but by the apostle himself. with all this, however, there were not only many pure and exemplary members of the church, but much faith and piety even in those who were more or less chargeable with these disorders. Paul, therefore, addressed them as sanctified in Christ Jesus, thanks God for the grace which he had bestowed upon them, and expresses his confidence that God would preserve them blameless until the day of the Lord Jesus. This shows us how the gospel works in heathen lands. It is like leaven hid in a measure of meal. It is long before the whole mass is leavened. It does not transform the character of men or the state of society in a moment; but it keeps up a continual conflict with evil until it is finally overcome.

4. Date and Contents of the Epistle

The date of this epistle is determined by its contents. It was evidently written from Ephesus towards the close of Paul’s protracted sojourn in that city. He tells the Corinthians that he was to visit Macedonia, and would then come to Corinth, but that he must tarry in Ephesus till Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:5-8.) Compare also 1 Corinthians 1:19, which agrees with the account given in Acts 19:20; Acts 20:1, Acts 20:2. After the uproar excited by Demetrius, Paul, as we learn from these passages, did go to Macedonia, and then to Greece; and thence, with the contributions of the saints, to Jerusalem. Accordingly, in his epistle to the Romans, written from Corinth, he says, “Now I go unto Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and of Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are in Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:25, Romans 15:26.) These and other data seem to fix the date of the epistle about the year 57, or five years after his first visit to Corinth. There are no indications of a later date, unless any one should find it hard to believe that Paul had already suffered all that is recorded in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. Five times he had received of the Jews forty stripes save one, thrice he had been beaten with rods, once he was stoned, thrice he had suffered shipwreck, a day and a night he had been in the deep. These and the other dangers there enumerated seem enough to fill a lifetime. But this only shows how small a part of the labors and sufferings of the apostles is recorded in the Acts. It furnishes no sufficient reason for referring this epistle to a later period of the apostle’s career.

As this epistle was written to correct the various disorders which had arisen in the Corinthian church after the apostle’s departure, and to meet the calumnies and objections of the false teachers by whom the peace of the church had been disturbed, and his own authority called in question, its contents are to a corresponding degree diversified. The apostle begins with the assertion of his Divine commission, and with the usual salutation, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3. Then follows the general introduction to the epistle, commendatory and conciliatory in its tone and intention, 1 Corinthians 1:4-9. He then introduces the subject of the party divisions by which the church was disturbed, and showed how inconsistent they were with the relation which believers bear to Christ and to each other; and how careful he had been to avoid all appearance of desiring to be a party leader among them. He had even abstained from baptizing lest any should say he baptized in his own name, 1 Corinthians 1:10-16. He had baptized only a few among them, for his business was to preach rather than to baptize.

As one class of his opponents directed their attacks against his want of philosophy and rhetorical refinement as a preacher, he for a time leaves the subject of their party contentions, and addresses himself to these objections. He tells them that he did not preach the wisdom of this world, because God had pronounced it to be folly, because all experience proved it to be inefficacious to bring men to the knowledge of God, because God had determined to save men by the preaching of Christ as crucified, because their history showed that it was not the wise who embraced the gospel, but God so administered his grace as to force all men to acknowledge that it was of him, and not of themselves, that they became united to Christ, and thereby partakers of the true wisdom, as well as of righteousness, holiness, and redemption, 1 Corinthians 1:17-31. Such being the case, he had come among them, not with the self-confidence of a philosopher, but as a simple witness to bear testimony to the fact that the Son of God had died for our redemption. Under a deep sense of his insufficency, he spoke to them with fear and trembling, relying for success not on his own powers of persuasion, but wholly on the power with which the Holy Spirit accompanied the truth; knowing that the true foundation of faith was not argument, but the witness of the Spirit with and by the truth, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Howbeit, although he repudiated human wisdom, the gospel which he preached was the true wisdom, a system of truth which God had made known, which was far above the power of man to discover, but which the Spirit of God had revealed. This Divine wisdom he preached not in the words which the rhetorician prescribed, but which the Holy Ghost dictated. Both the truths which he taught, and the words which he used in communicating that truth, were taught by the Holy Ghost, If any man neglected what was thus presented, the fault was neither in the doctrines taught, nor in the mode in which they were exhibited, but in the objector. The things of the Spirit must be spiritually discerned, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.

The first evil: After this defense of his mode of preaching, the apostle resumes the subject of their divisions. He had preached to them in as high a strain as they were able to bear. They were but babes in Christ, and had to be fed with milk. That they were in this low stage of the Christian life was manifest from their contentions, 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. As these contentions had reference to their religious teachers, Paul endeavors to correct the evil by showing what ministers really are.

First, he says, they are mere instruments, — servants; men sent to deliver a message or perform a given work; not the authors of the system of truth which they taught. All authority and efficiency are in God.

Secondly, ministers are one. They teach the same doctrine, they have the same object, and stand in the same relation to God.

Thirdly, every one will have to answer for his work. If he attempt to lay any other foundation than Christ, he is not a Christian minister. If on that foundation he builds with sound doctrine, he shall receive a reward; if with false doctrine, he shall be punished.

Fourthly, human wisdom in this matter must be renounced. A man must become a fool in order to be truly wise.

Fifthly, such being the relation of ministers to the church, the people should not place their confidence in them, or regard themselves as belonging to their ministers, since all things were subordinate to the people of God, ministers as well as other things, 3:5-20.

Sixthly, ministers being stewards, whose office it is to dispense the truth of God, fidelity on their part is the great thing to be demanded.

So far as he was himself concerned, it was a small matter what they thought of his fidelity, as the only final judge was the Lord. The true character of the ministerial office he had illustrated by a reference to himself and Apollos, that they might learn to estimate ministers aright, and not contend about them. He then contrasts himself, as suffering, laboring, and despised, with the false teachers and their followers, and exhorts the Corinthians to be followers of him, and intimates his apprehension that he would have to come to them with a rod, 4:1-21. This is the end of that portion of the epistle which relates to the divisions existing in the church.

The second evil which it was the design of this epistle to correct, was the remissness of the Corinthians in the exercise of church discipline. Fornication was not only tolerated, but they allowed a man who had married his father’s wife to retain his standing in the church. Paul here interferes, and in the exercise of his apostolical authority, not only pronounces on this incestuous person a sentence of excommunication, but delivers him to Satan, 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. He enforces on the church the general duty to exclude immoral members from their communion, 1 Corinthians 5:6-13.

Thirdly, the practice which some of them had introduced of going to law before heathen magistrates, he severely condemns, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11.

Fourthly, the principle that all things are lawful, which the apostle had often uttered in reference to the ceremonial distinction between clean and unclean meats, some of the Corinthians had perverted as an argument to prove that fornication is a matter of indifference. The apostle shows the fallacy of this argument, and assures them that no sin is so great a desecration of the body, or more fatal to its union with Christ, and participation of the benefits of redemption, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

Fifthly, marriage was another subject about which the minds of the Corinthians were disturbed, and on which they sought the advice of the apostle. They wished him to tell them whether marriage was obligatory, or lawful, or expedient; whether divorce or separation was allowable; and especially, whether a Christian could consistently remain in the conjugal relation with a heathen. All these questions are answered in the seventh chapter, in which the apostle lays down the principles which are applicable to all cases of conscience in reference to that subject, 7:1-40.

Sixthly: Surrounded as the Corinthians were by idolatry, whose institutions pervaded all the relations of society, it became a question how far Christians might conform to the usages connected with heathen worship. The most important question was, whether it was lawful to eat meat which had been offered in sacrifice to idols. On this point Paul agreed in principle with those who took the affirmative side in this controversy. He admitted that the idols were nothing, and that what was offered them was nothing, i.e., received no new character from its having been a sacrifice, and that the use of it involved no communion with idolatry. A regard, however, to the spiritual welfare of others, should lead them to abstain from the use of such meat under circumstances which might encourage others to act against their own convictions, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.

In exhorting them to exercise self-denial for the benefit of others, Paul urged them to nothing which he was not himself willing to do. Although he enjoyed all the liberty which belongs to other Christians, and had all rights belonging to ministers or apostles, he had abstained from claiming them whenever the good of the church required. For example, although entitled on all the grounds of justice, usage, and of divine appointment, to be supported by those to whom he preached, he had sustained himself by the labor of his own hands; and so far as the Corinthians were concerned, he was determined still to do so. He was determined that his enemies in Corinth should not have the slightest pretext for accusing him of preaching the gospel from mercenary motives, 9:1-18. This, however, was not a solitary instance. In all things indifferent he had accommodated himself to Jews and Gentiles, to the strong and to the weak. He had exercised the self-denial and self-control which every combatant in the ancient games was obliged to submit to who hoped to win the prize, 1 Corinthians 9:19-27. What he did, other Christians must do. The history of the church shows that the want of such self-denial was fatal even to those who were the most highly favored. The ancient Israelites had been delivered out of Egypt by the direct and manifest intervention of God; they had been miraculously guided and miraculously fed in the wilderness, and yet the great majority perished. Their experience should be a warning to the Corinthians not to be overcome by similar temptations, and especially to be on their guard against idolatry, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. Their danger in this respect was very great. They knew that the Grecian deities were imaginary beings; they knew that things offered to those deities had no contaminating power; they knew that it was, under some circumstances, lawful to eat meat which had been thus offered; they were, therefore, in danger of being led to eat it under circumstances which would render them guilty of idolatry. As they were constantly exposed to have such meat set before them, it became a matter of the highest importance to know when it might, and when it might not be eaten with impunity. The general principle which the apostle lays down on this subject is, that all participation in the religious services of a people, brings us into communion with them as worshippers, and therefore with the objects of their worship. Consequently, to eat of heathen sacrifices under circumstances which gave a religious character to the act, was idolatry. It is not necessary that they themselves should view the matter in this light. They might worship idols, and incur the guilt and penalty of idolatry, without knowing or suspecting that they did so. To prove this, he appealed to their own convictions. They knew that all who came to the Lord’s table did thereby join in the worship of Christ; and that all who attended the altars of the Jews, and eat of the sacrifices, did thereby unite in the worship of Jehovah. By parity of reasoning, those who took part in the religious festivals of the heathen, joined in the worship of idols. And, although the idols were nothing, still the worship of them was apostasy from God, and the worship of devils, 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. On the other hand, to eat of these sacrifices under circumstances which precluded the idea of a religious service, was a matter of indifference. Therefore, if meat offered to idols was exposed for sale in the market, or met with at private tables, it might be eaten with impunity, 1 Corinthians 10:23-33.

Seventhly: Grave abuses had been introduced into the celebration of public worship at Corinth. The women spoke in public unveiled; the Lord’s Supper was degraded into a common meal; and the use of spiritual gifts gave rise to great disorder. With regard to the first of these abuses, the apostle teaches that, as by the divine constitution the woman is subordinate to the man, and as the veil was the conventional symbol of that subordination, for a woman to appear in public unveiled, was to renounce her position, and to forfeit the respect due to her sex, 1 Corinthians 8:1 -16. As to the Lord’s Supper, it seems probable that it was, in Corinth at least, connected with an ordinary meal, in which all the Christians met at a common table. For this meal each one brought what provisions he was able to contribute. Instead, however, of its being a feast of brotherly love, the rich ate by themselves, and left their poorer brethren no part in the feast. To correct this abuse, destructive of the whole intent of the sacrament, the apostle reminds his readers that he had communicated to them the account of the original institution of the ordinance, as he himself had received it of the Lord. According to that institution, it was designed not to satisfy hunger, but to commemorate the death of Christ. It was therefore a religious service of a peculiarly solemn character. The bread and wine being the appointed symbols of his body and blood, to eat and drink in a careless, irreverent manner, making no distinctions between the consecrated elements and ordinary food, was to be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, 11:17-34.

With regard to spiritual gifts, the apostle, after reminding the Corinthians that the possession of these gifts was one of the distinctive marks of their Christian, as distinguished from their heathen state, teaches that all these extraordinary manifestations of the Holy Ghost have a common origin; that they were all given, not for the exaltation of those who received hem, but for the edification of the church, and that they were distributed according to the good pleasure of God. He illustrates all these points by a reference to the human body. As the body is one, being animated by one soul, so the church is one, being animated by one Spirit. And as the vital principle manifests itself in different forms in the different members of the body, for the common good; and as the different members have their office assigned to them by God, and are mutually dependent, being bound together as a common life, so that one part cannot be injured or honored, without all sharing in the joy or sorrow, so it is in the church. There should, therefore, be no discontent or envy on the part of those who have subordinate gifts, and no pride or ostentation on the part of those more highly favored; especially as the more showy gifts were not the most useful. So far, therefore, as their gifts were objects of desire, they should seek those which were the most useful, 12:1-31.

There was, however, one thing more important than any of these gifts, and without which all others, whether faith, knowledge, or the power to work miracles, would be of no avail; and that is Love. The love which renders its possessor meek, kind, humble, disinterested, forbearing, and enduring. This is the highest grace, which is to endure when all these extraordinary endowments have passed away, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. The two gifts which were most conspicuous in the church of Corinth, were those of prophecy, and the gift of speaking in foreign tongues. The latter being the more wonderful, and exciting more admiration than the other, was unduly coveted and ostentatiously excersied. The apostle shows that it was very subordinate to the gift of prophecy, because the prophets were inspired to communicate, in an intelligible manner, divine truth to the edification of the church. Whereas, their speaking with tongues, where the language they used was not understood, could only edify themselves, 14:1-40.

Eighthly: Certain persons in Corinth denied the Resurrection. Whatever the grounds on which this doctrine was rejected, the apostle shows that its denial involved the destruction of the gospel, for if the dead cannot rise, Christ is not risen; and if Christ be not risen, we have no Savior. He therefore proves, first, the fact of the resurrection of Christ, and then shows that his resurrection secures that of his people, 15:1-36; and finally, that the objection that material bodies, such as we now have, are unsuitable to the future state, is founded on the false assumption, that matter cannot be so refined as to furnish material for bodies adapted to the soul in its highest state of existence, 15:36-58. The sixteenth chapter is devoted to directions relative to the collection for the poor, and to certain admonitions and salutations.

5. Importance of this Epistle

Paul’s relation to the church in Corinth was in some respects peculiar. He was not only the founder of the congregation, but he continued in the closest relation to it. It excited his solicitude, called for the wisest management, tried his patience and forbearance, rewarded him at times by signal evidence of affection and obedience, and filled him with hopes of its extended and healthful influence. His love for that church was therefore of special intensity. It was analogous to that of a father for a promising son beset with temptations, whose character combined great excellencies with great defects. The epistles to the Corinthians, therefore, reveal to us more of the personal character of the apostle than any of his other letters. They show him to us as a man, as a pastor, as a counselor, as in conflict not only with heretics, but with personal enemies. They reveal his wisdom, his zeal, his forbearance, his liberality of principle and practice in all matters of indifference, his strictness in all matters of right and wrong, his humility, and perhaps above all, his unwearied activity and wonderful endurance.

There is another consideration which gives a special interest to these epistles. They show more clearly than any other portion of the New Testament, Christianity in conflict with heathenism. We see what method Paul adopted in founding the church in the midst of a refined and corrupt people; how he answered questions of conscience arising out of the relations of Christians to the heathen around them. The cases may never occur again, but the principles involved in their decision are of perpetual obligation, and serve as lights to the church in all ages. Principles relating to church discipline, to social relations and intercourse, to public worship, the nature of the church, and of the sacraments, are here unfolded, not in an abstract form, so much as in their application. These epistles, therefore, in reference to all practical measures in the establishment of the church among the heathen, and in its conduct in Christian lands, are among the most important portions of the word of God.

Chapter I

Salutation, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3. Introduction, 1 Corinthians 1:4-9. The divisions which existed in the Church at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 1:10-16. Defense of the Apostle’s mode of preaching, 1 Corinthians 1:17-31.

Introduction to the Epistle — 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul declares himself to be a divinely appointed messenger of Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:1. In this character he addresses the church at Corinth, as those who were sanctified in Christ, and called to be saints. He includes in his salutation all the worshippers of Christ in that vicinity, 1 Corinthians 1:2; and invokes upon them the blessings of grace and peace, 1 Corinthians 1:3.

The introduction is as usual commendatory. He thanks God for the favor shown to the Corinthians; for the various gifts by which the gospel had been confirmed among them, and by which they were placed on a full equality with the most favored churches, 1 Corinthians 1:4-7. He expresses his confidence, founded on the fidelity of God, that they would be preserved from apostasy until the day of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:9.

1 Corinthians 1:1

Paul, called (to be) an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes (our) brother.

Paul, so called after his conversion and the commencement of his labors among the Gentiles. His Jewish name was Saul. It was common for the Jews to bear one name among their own people, and another among foreigners.

Called (to be) an apostle, that is, appointed an apostle. The apostleship being an office, it could not be assumed at pleasure. Appointment by competent authority was absolutely indispensable. The word apostle means literally a messenger, and then a missionary, or one sent to preach the gospel. In its strict official sense it is applied only to the immediate messengers of Christ, the infallible teachers of his religion and founders of his church. In calling himself an apostle Paul claims divine authority derived immediately from Christ.

By the will of God, that is, by divine authority. Paul was made an apostle neither by popular election, nor by consecration by those who were apostles before him; but by immediate appointment from God. On this point, see his explicit declaration, Galatians 1:1.

And Sosthenes (our) brother. In the Greek it is the brother. He was a brother well known to the Corinthians, and probably one of the messengers sent by them to the apostle, or whom they knew to be with him. In Acts 18:17 a man by this name is mentioned as the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth, and a leader of those who arraigned Paul before the judgment seat of Gallio. This identity of name is not a sufficient proof that the person was the same, especially as the name was a common one. The companions of the apostles, whom he associates with himself in his salutations to the churches, are not merely placed in the position of equality of office and authority with the apostle. On the contrary, they are uniformly distinguished in these respects from the writer of the epistles. Thus it is “Paul the apostle,” but “Sosthenes the brother;” or, “Paul the apostle and Timothy the brother,” Colossians 1:1 and elsewhere. They are associated in the salutation, not in the epistle. Very probably Sosthenes was the amanuensis of Paul in this instance, and Timothy in others.

Verse 2

1 Corinthians 1:2

Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called (to be) saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.

To the church of God. The word church is used in Scripture as a collective term for the people of God, considered as called out from the world. Sometimes it means the whole number of God’s people, as when it is said, Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, Ephesians 5:25. Sometimes it means the people of God as a class, as when Paul said, he persecuted the church of God, Galatians 1:13. Sometimes it means the professing Christians of any one place, as when mention is made of the church in Jerusalem, Antioch, or Corinth. Any number, however small, of professing Christians collectively considered may be called a church. Hence we hear of the church in the house of Philemon, and in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, Romans 16:5. It is called the church of God, because it belongs to him. He selects and calls its members, and, according to Acts 20:28 it is his, because he has bought it with his blood.

To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus. This is explanatory of the proceeding clauses, and teaches us the nature of the church. It consists of the sanctified. The word (ἁγιάζω) translated to sanctify, means to cleanse. And as sin is presented under the twofold aspect of guilt and pollution, to sanctify, or to cleanse from sin, may mean either to expiate built by an atonement, or to renew by the Holy Ghost. It is used for expiation by sacrifice in Hebrews 2:11, Hebrews 10:14, Hebrews 13:12, and elsewhere. The word also means to render sacred by consecrating any person or thing to the service of God. In the present case all these ideas may be united. The church consists of those whose guilt is expiated, who are inwardly holy, and who are consecrated to God as his peculiar people.

In Christ Jesus, that is, in virtue of union with him. It is only in him that we are partakers of these inestimable blessings. It is because we are in him as our head and representative, that we are justified by his righteousness; and it is because we are in him as a branch is in the vine, that we are purified by his Spirit.

Called (to be) saints, that is, by the effectual call of the Holy Spirit constituted saints. “The called” always mean the effectual called as distinguished from the merely externally invited. Saints. The original word (ἅγιος) sometimes signifies sacred, set apart to a holy use. In this sense the temple, the altar, the priests, the prophets, and the whole theocratic people, are called holy. In the New Testament the word is commonly expressive of inward purity, or consecration of the soul to God. Believers are saints in both senses of the word; they are inwardly renewed, and outwardly consecrated. It is not to be inferred from the fact that the apostle addresses all the nominal Christians in Corinth as saints and as sanctified in Christ Jesus, that they were all true believers, or that those terms express nothing more than external consecration. Men are uniformly addressed in Scripture according to their profession. If they profess to be saints, they are called saints; if they profess to be believers, they are called believers; and if they profess to be members of the church, they are addressed as really belonging to it. This passage teaches also, as Calvin remarks, the useful lesson that a body may be very corrupt both as to doctrine and practice, as such corruption, undoubtedly prevailed even in Corinth, and yet it may be properly recognized as a church of God. Locus diligenter observandus, ne requiramus in hoc mundo ecclesiam omni ruga et macula carentem: aut protinus abdicemus hoc titulo quemvis coetum in quo non omnia votis nostris respondeant.

With all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. To call upon the name of any one is to invoke his aid. It is properly used for religious invocation. Compare Acts 9:14, Acts 9:21 and Acts 22:16. Romans 10:12, Romans 10:13; 2 Timothy 2:22. To call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, is to invoke his aid as Christ, the Messiah predicted by the prophets, and as our almighty and sovereign possessor and ruler. It is in that sense Jesus is Lord. All power in heaven and earth has been committed unto him; and he died and rose again that he might be the Lord of the dead and of the living; that is, that he might acquire that peculiar right of possession in his people which arises from his having purchased them with his blood. To call upon the name of Jesus as Lord is therefore to worship him. It is to look to him for that help which God only can give. All Christians, therefore, are the worshippers of Christ. And every sincere worshipper of Christ is a true Christian. The phrase expresses not so much an individual act of invocation, as an habitual state of mind and its appropriate expression.

It might at first view appear from this clause that this epistle was addressed not only to the church in Corinth, but to all the worshippers of Christ. This would make it a catholic, or general epistle, which it is not. To get over this difficulty some explain the connection thus: ‘Called to be saints together with all who call upon the name of Christ:’ that is, the Corinthians as well as all other worshippers of Christ were called to be saints. A reference to 2 Corinthians 1:1 suggests a better explanation. It is there said, “To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints which are in all Achaia.” The same limitation must be supplied here. This epistle was addressed not only to the Christians in Corinth, but also to all their brethren in the province of which Corinth was the capital.

Theirs and ours. These words admit of two connections. They may be connected with the word Lord, ‘Their Lord and ours.’ There were certain persons in Corinth who claimed a peculiar relation to Christ, and said, “We are of Christ;” to whom Paul said, “If any trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, as he is Christ’s, so are we Christ’s,” 2 Corinthians 10:7. It is possible that he may have intended at the very opening of his epistle, to rebuke this exclusive Spirit, and to remind his readers that Christ is the common Lord of all who call upon him. The position of the words however renders it more natural to understand the apostle to mean, “in every place, theirs and ours.” If this be the true construction, then the sense may be, ‘In every place of worship theirs and ours.’ This interpretation supposes that the divisions known to exist in Corinth had led to the separation of the people into different worshipping assemblies. There is, however, not only no evidence that such external separation had occurred, but clear evidence in 1 Corinthians 11:18 to the contrary. Others understand the sense to be, ‘In every place, theirs and ours,’ i.e. ‘where they are, and where I am.’ This supposes the epistle to be general. A third interpretation has been proposed. The epistle is addressed to all Christians in Corinth and Achaia, wherever they might be. Every place is at once theirs and ours. Their place of abode, and my place of labor.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 1:3

Grace (be) unto you, and peace from God our Father, and (from) the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace is favor, and peace its fruits. The former includes all that is comprehended in the love of God as exercised towards sinners; and the latter all the benefits which flow from that love. All good, therefore, whether providential or spiritual, whether temporal or eternal, is comprehended in these terms: justification, adoption and sanctification with all the benefits which either accompany or flow from them. These infinite blessings suppose an infinite source; and as they are sought no less from Christ than from God the Father, Christ must be a divine person. It is to be remarked that God is called our Father, and Christ our Lord. God as God has not only created us, but renewed and adopted us. God in Christ has redeemed us. He is our owner and sovereign, to whom our allegiance is immediately due; who reigns in and rules over us, defending us from all his and our enemies. This is the peculiar form which piety assumes under the gospel. All Christians regard God as their Father and Christ as their Lord. His person they love, his voice they obey, and in his protection they trust.

Verse 4

1 Corinthians 1:4

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ.

Paul expresses his gratitude for the grace of God given to the Corinthians. The word grace, as just remarked, means favor, and then the blessings of which that favor is the source; just as we use the word favor sometimes for a disposition of the mind, and sometimes for gifts; as when we speak of receiving favors. The latter is the sense of the word in this place.

By Christ Jesus, or rather, in Christ Jesus. This limits and explains the kind of favors to which the apostle refers. He renders thanks for those gifts which God had bestowed upon them in virtue of their union with Christ. The fruits of the Spirit are the blessings referred to. These inward spiritual benefits are as much gifts as health or prosperity, and are, therefore, as properly the grounds of gratitude. All virtues are graces, gifts of the grace of God.

Verse 5

1 Corinthians 1:5

That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and (in) all knowledge.

This verse is explanatory of the preceding. Paul gives thanks for the grace which they had received, i.e. that in every thing they were enriched. In every thing (ἐν παντί), in every respect they were richly endowed with the gifts of the Spirit. In all utterance and in all knowledge; that is, with all the gifts of utterance and knowledge. Some were prophets some were teachers, some had the gift of tongues. These were different forms of the gift of utterance. In all knowledge, that is, in every kind and degree of religious knowledge. This interpretation gives a good sense, and is the one very generally adopted. The word (λόγος) translated utterance, may however be taken in the sense of doctrine, and the word (γνῶσις) translated knowledge, in the sense of insight. The meaning would then be, that the church in Corinth was rightly endowed with divine truth, and with clear apprehension or understanding of the doctrines which they had been taught. They were second to no other church either as to doctrinal knowledge or spiritual discernment. Λόγος, according to this view, is the truth preached; γνῶις, the truth apprehended. — Meyer.

Verse 6

1 Corinthians 1:6

Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you.

Even as, i.e. because, inasmuch as. They were thus enriched, because the testimony of Christ, that is, the gospel, was confirmed among them. The gospel is called the ‘testimony of Christ,’ either because it is the testimony concerning God and divine things, which Christ bore; or because it is the testimony which the apostles bore concerning Christ. Either explanation is agreeable to the analogy of the Scripture. Christ is called the true witness; and is said to have borne witness of the truth. Compare John 3:11, John 3:32, John 3:33; John 8:13, John 8:14. On the other hand, the apostles are frequently called the witnesses of Christ, and are said to have borne testimony concerning him. The gospel, therefore, is, in one view, the testimony which Christ bore; and, in another, the testimony which the apostles bore concerning him. The former is the higher, and therefore, the better sense. It is good to contemplate the gospel as that system of truth which the eternal Logos, or Revealer, has made known.

Was confirmed in you. This may mean either, was firmly established among you; or was firmly established in your faith. The gospel was demonstrated by the Holy Spirit to be true, and was firmly settled in their conviction. This firm faith was then, as it is now, the necessary condition of the enjoyment of the blessings by which the gospel is attended. Therefore the apostle adds.

Verse 7

1 Corinthians 1:7

So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ

Such was their strength of faith that the gifts of the Spirit were bestowed upon them as abundantly as upon any other church. This connection of faith with the divine blessing is often presented in Scripture. Our Lord said to the father who sought his aid in behalf of his demoniac child, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth,” Mark 9:23. And on another occasion, “According to thy faith be it unto thee,” Matthew 9:29. In his own country, it is said, he did not many mighty works “because of their unbelief,” Matthew 13:58. The Holy Ghost, therefore, confers on men his gifts in proportion to their faith. The word (χάρισμα) gift, is used both for the ordinary and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; most frequently for the latter. Here it includes both classes. The Corinthians had not only the inward gifts of repentance, faith and knowledge, but also those of miracles, of healing, of speaking with tongues, of prophecy, in rich abundance. No church was superior to them in these respects. The extraordinary gifts, however, seem to be principally intended. Paul’s commendation has reference to their wisdom, knowledge and miraculous gifts, rather than to their spiritual graces. Much as he found to censure in their state and conduct, he freely acknowledged their flourishing condition in many points of view.

Waiting the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Waiting (ἀπεκδεχομένοὐ), patiently expecting, comp. 1 Peter 3:20 or expecting with desire, i.e. longing for. Comp. Romans 8:19, Romans 8:20, Romans 8:23. The object of this patient and earnest expectation of believers is the coming (ἀποκάλυψιν) i.e. the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The second advent of Christ, so clearly predicted by himself and by his apostles, connected as it is with the promise of the resurrection of his people and the consummation of his kingdom, was the object of longing expectation to all the early Christians. So great is the glory connected with that event that Paul, in Romans 8:18-23 not only represents all present afflictions as trifling in comparison, but describes the whole creation as looking forward to it with earnest expectation. Comp. Philippians 3:20. Titus 2:13. So general was this expectation that Christians were characterized as those “who love his appearing,” 2 Timothy 4:8 and as those “who wait for him,” Hebrews 9:28. Why is it that this longing for the coming of Christ is awakened in the hearts of his people? The apostle answers this question by saying that the “first fruits of the Spirit” enjoyed by believers in this life are an earnest, that is, a foretaste and pledge, of those blessings which they are to receive in their fullness at the second advent. The Spirit, therefore, awakens desire for that event. See Romans 8:23. Ephesians 1:14. The same truth is here implied. The Corinthians had received largely the gifts of the Spirit: the consequence was they waited with patience and desire for the revelation of Christ, when they should enter on that inheritance of which those gifts are the foretaste and pledge. If the second coming of Christ is to Christians of the present day less an object of desire than it was to their brethren during the apostolic age, it must be because they think the Lord is “slack concerning his promise,” and forget that with him a thousand years is as one day.

Verse 8

1 Corinthians 1:8

Who shall also confirm you unto the end, (that ye may be) blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Who most naturally refers to God as its antecedent, because he is the prominent subject in the context; and because the reference to Christ would make the apostle say ‘Christ shall confirm unto the day of Christ;’ and because in the following verse, God is expressly mentioned. ‘Because God is faithful, he will confirm you,’ is the clear meaning of the passage. Besides, vocation and perseverance are, in the work of redemption, specially referred to the Father.

Shall also confirm you. God had not only enriched them with the gifts of the Spirit but he would also confirm them. The one was an assurance of the other. Those to whom God gives the renewing influence of the Spirit, he thereby pledges himself to save; for “the first fruits of the Spirit” are, as just remarked, of the nature of a pledge. They are an earnest, as the apostle says, of the future inheritance, Ephesians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 1:21, 2 Corinthians 1:22. Shall confirm (βεβαιώσει) i.e. shall make steadfast, preserve from falling. The word is used in reference to persons and things. God is said to confirm his promises, when he fulfills them, or so acts as to prevent their failing, see Romans 15:8 or when he demonstrates their truth, Mark 16:20. He is said to confirm his people when he renders them steadfast in the belief and obedience of the truth, 2 Corinthians 1:21. Unto the end, may mean the end of life, or the end of this dispensation, i.e. to the end of the period which was to precede the advent of Christ; or it may be understood indefinitely as we use the expression “final perseverance.” Unblamable, i.e. not arraigned or accused. He is unblamable against whom no accusation can be brought. In this sense it is said “a bishop must be blameless,” Titus 1:6.7. God will confirm his people so that when the day of judgment comes, which is the day of our Lord Jesus, i.e. the day of his second advent, they shall stand before him blameless, not chargeable with apostasy or any other sin. They are to be ‘holy and without blame.’ Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:23. When we remember on the one hand how great is our guilt, and on the other, how great is our danger from without and from within, we feel that nothing but the righteousness of Christ and the power of God can secure our being preserved and presented blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Verse 9

1 Corinthians 1:9

God (is) faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

God is faithful, one in whom we may confide; one who will fulfill all his promises. The apostle’s confidence in the steadfastness and final perseverance of believers was founded neither on the strength of their purpose to persevere, nor on any assumption that the principle of religion in their hearts was indestructible, but simply on the fidelity of God. If God has promised to give certain persons to his Son as his inheritance, to deliver them from sin and condemnation and to make them partakers of eternal life, it is certain he will not allow them to perish. This is plain enough, but how did the apostle know that those to whom he wrote were included in the number of those given to Christ, and that the fidelity of God was pledged to their salvation? It was because they were called. Whom he calls, them he also justifies; and whom he justifies them he also glorifies, Romans 8:30. The call intended is the effectual call of the Holy Spirit, by which the soul is renewed and translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. The only evidence of election is therefore vocation, and the only evidence of vocation, is holiness of heart and life, for we are called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Compare again Romans 8:29 where believers are said to be “predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son.” To this they are effectually called. They are made like Christ. Fellowship includes union and communion. The original word (κοινωνία) signifies participation, as in 10, 16, “participation of the blood of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 13:13“participation of the Holy Ghost.” We are called to be partakers of Christ; partakers of his life, as members of his body; and therefore, partakers of his character, of his sufferings here and of his glory hereafter. This last idea is made specially prominent. Believers are called to be partakers of the glory of Christ, Romans 8:17, Romans 8:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:14. It is because believers are thus partakers of Christ, that the apostle was assured they could never perish. The person with whom believers are thus intimately united, is the Son of God; of the same nature, being the same in substance and equal in power and glory. He is also Jesus, a man; consequently he is both God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person. This incarnate God, the Savior, is the Christ, of whom the Old Testament says and promises so much. He is also our Lord, we belong to him; he is our possessor, our sovereign, our protector. How can they apostatize and perish who stand in this relation to the eternal Son of God?

Verse 10

Of the Divisions in the Church of Corinth — 1 Corinthians 1:10-16

As one of the principal objects of this epistle was to correct the evils which had arisen in the church of Corinth, the apostle adverts, first, to the divisions which there existed. He exhorts the members of that church to unity, 1 Corinthians 1:10. The reason of that exhortation was the information which he had received concerning their dissensions. 1 Corinthians 1:11. These divisions arose from their ranging themselves under different religious teachers as party leaders, 1 Corinthians 1:12. The sin and folly of such divisions are manifest, in the first place, because Christ is incapable of division. As there is one head, there can be but one body. As there is but one Christ, there can be but one church. And in the second place, because religious teachers are not centers of unity to the church. They had not redeemed it, nor did its members profess allegiance to them in baptism, 1 Corinthians 1:13. These divisions, therefore, arose, on the one hand, from a forgetfulness of the common relation which all Christians bear to Christ; and, on the other, from a misapprehension of the relation in which believers stand to their religious teachers. Paul expresses his gratitude that he had not given any occasion for such misapprehension. He had baptized so few among them, that no man could suspect him of a desire to make himself the head of the church or the leader of a party, 1 Corinthians 1:14-16.

1 Corinthians 1:10

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but (that) ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

There is but one exhortation in this verse, which is expressed first in general terms, “that ye all say the same thing;” and is then explained in the negative form, “that there be no divisions among you;” and then positively, “that ye be perfectly joined together.”

By the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, i.e. out of regard to Christ, Romans 12:1, Romans 15:30; 2 Thessalonians 3:12. Their reverence and love of Christ, and regard for his authority as their Lord, should induce them to yield obedience to the apostle’s exhortation. It was not out of respect to him, but out of regard to Christ they should obey. This renders obedience easy and elevating. To say the same thing (τὸ αὐτὸ λέγειν) is a phrase of frequent occurrence to express agreement. It may be so understood here, and then the following clauses are explanatory. Or, it may be understood in reference to 1 Corinthians 1:12, of outward profession. ‘Do not say I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, but all say the same thing.’ The former explanation appears the more natural.

And that there be no divisions among you, literally, schisms. The word (σχίσμα) means,

1. A rent, as in a garment, Matthew 9:16.

2. Difference of opinion, John 7:43.

3. Alienation of feeling, or inward separation.

4. In its ecclesiastical sense, it is an unauthorized separation from the church.

The schisms which existed in Corinth were not of the nature of hostile sects refusing communion with each other, but such as may exist in the bosom of the same church, consisting in alienation of feeling and party strifes.

But (that) ye be perfectly joined together. The original word (καταρτίζω) means to repair, or to mend, Matthew 4:21, to reduce to place, as a dislocated limb; to render complete, or perfect (ἄρτιος); then figuratively, to restore or set right those in error; to prepare, to render perfect. Hence in this place the sense may be, ‘That ye be perfect,’ as the Vulgate renders it; or, ‘that ye be united,’ as in our translation; or, ‘that ye be reduced to order.’ The context shows that the idea of union is what the apostle intended. They were not to be divided, but united. This union was to be both in mind and in judgment (νοῦς and γνώμη). The former term may refer either to the intellect or feelings. The latter in the New Testament always means judgment or opinion. When the words are united, the former is most naturally understood of feeling, a sense in which the word mind is often used by us. The unity which Paul desired was a union in faith and love. Considering the relation in which Christians stand to each other as the members of Christ, dissensions among them are as inconsistent with their character, as conflict between the members of the human body.

Verse 11

1 Corinthians 1:11

For it hath been declared unto the of you, my brethren, by them (which are of the house) of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

This verse contains the reason of the foregoing exhortation. He urges them to union because he had heard they were divided. By those of Chloe, whether the persons referred to were the children or domestics of Chloe is left undetermined. Chloe was a Christian woman well known to the Corinthians; whether a member of the church in Corinth whose people had come to Ephesus where Paul was; or an Ephesian whose family had been to Corinth, and learned the state of things there, is a matter of conjecture. All Paul wished was to assure the Corinthians that he had sufficient evidence of the existence of contentions among them. This word (ἔριδες) strifes, wranglings, explains the nature of the schisms referred to in the preceding verse. These strifes, as appears from what follows, were about their religious teachers.

Verse 12

1 Corinthians 1:12

Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.

This explains the nature of these contentions. In almost all the apostolic churches there were contentions between the Jewish and Gentile converts. As Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles, and Peter of the Jews, Galatians 2:8 it is probable that the converts from among the Gentiles claimed Paul as their leader, and the Jewish converts appealed to the authority of Peter. It is plain from the contents of this and of the following epistle, that these contentions were fomented by false teachers, 2 Corinthians 11:13; that these teachers were Hebrews, 2 Corinthians 11:22 and that they endeavored to undermine the authority of Paul as an apostle. The two principal parties in Corinth, therefore, were Gentiles calling themselves the disciples of Paul, and Jews claiming to be the followers of Peter. The Gentile converts, however, were not united among themselves. While some said, we are of Paul; others said, we are of Apollos. As Apollos was an Alexandrian Jew, distinguished for literary culture and eloquence, it is probable that the more highly educated among the Corinthian Christians were his peculiar followers. Apollos is a shortened form of Apollonius, as Silas is of Silvanus. The first governor of Egypt appointed by Alexander bore that name; and probably on that account it became in that country so exceedingly common. As the Judaizers objected to Paul that he was not an apostle, these followers of Apollos undervalued him as a preacher. He was neither a philosopher nor a rhetorician after the Grecian school. We shall find the apostle defending himself against both these classes of objections. Who those were who said, we are of Christ, it is not so easy to determine. It is plain that they were as much to blame as the other parties mentioned. They must therefore have claimed some peculiar relation to Christ which they denied to their fellow believers, 2 Corinthians 10:7. Whether this exclusive claim was founded, as some suppose, on the fact that they had themselves seen and heard Christ; or whether they asserted their superior and more intimate relation to him on some other ground, is altogether uncertain. It would appear from the frequency with which Paul speaks of certain persons in Corinth “glorying in the flesh,” and “in appearance,” that this party claimed some peculiar external relation to Christ, and that their views of him were “carnal,” or worldly.

Verse 13

1 Corinthians 1:13

Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

The grounds of our allegiance to Christ, are, first, that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God; second, that he hath redeemed us; third, that we are consecrated to him in baptism. All these grounds are peculiar to Christ. To no other being in the universe do believers stand in the relation which they all sustain to their common Lord. As, therefore, there is but one Christ, but one redeemer, but one baptism, Christians cannot be divided without violating the bond which binds them to Christ and to one another.

Is Christ divided? Of course the answer must be in the negative. As Christ is incapable of division, as there can be but one Christ, the church cannot be divided. It is contrary to its nature to be split into hostile parties, just as it is contrary to the nature of a family to be thus divided. As the head is one, so are the members.

Was Paul crucified for you? Did Paul redeem you? Were you purchased by his blood, so as to belong to him? If not, then you are not his, and it is wrong to say, We are Paul’s. Believers bear no such relation even to inspired teachers, as to justify their being called by their names. They are called Christians, because they are the worshippers of Christ, because they belong to him, and because they are consecrated to him.

Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα), literally, unto the name, i.e. in reference to Paul, so that he should be the object of your faith and the one whose name you were to confess. By baptism we are brought into the number of the disciples and followers of him into whose name, or in reference to whom, we are baptized. As, therefore, all Christians are baptized unto Christ, and not unto the apostles, much less any uninspired teacher, it is Christ whom they should confess, and by his name they should be called.

Verse 14

1 Corinthians 1:14, 1 Corinthians 1:15

I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.

Although it was the duty of the apostles to baptize, Matthew 28:19 yet Paul rejoiced that it had so happened that he had administered that ordinance to only a few persons in Corinth, as thus all pretext that he was making disciples to himself, was taken away. Paul did not consider this a matter of chance, but of providential direction, and, therefore, a cause of gratitude. Crispus was the chief ruler of the synagogue in Corinth, whose conversion is recorded in Acts 18:8. Gaius is mentioned in Romans 16:23 as the host of the apostle.

Verse 15

1 Corinthians 1:14, 1 Corinthians 1:15

I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.

Although it was the duty of the apostles to baptize, Matthew 28:19 yet Paul rejoiced that it had so happened that he had administered that ordinance to only a few persons in Corinth, as thus all pretext that he was making disciples to himself, was taken away. Paul did not consider this a matter of chance, but of providential direction, and, therefore, a cause of gratitude. Crispus was the chief ruler of the synagogue in Corinth, whose conversion is recorded in Acts 18:8. Gaius is mentioned in Romans 16:23 as the host of the apostle.

Verse 16

1 Corinthians 1:16

And I baptized also the household of Stephanas; besides I know not whether I baptized any other.

Stephanas was one of the three messengers sent to inform the apostle of the state of the church in Corinth, and to deliver the letter to which reference is made, 1 Corinthians 7:1 comp. 1 Corinthians 16:15, 1 Corinthians 16:17. Paul says he baptized the household or family of Stephanas. Under the old dispensation, whenever any one professed Judaism or entered into covenant with God as one of his people, all his children and dependents, that is, all to whom he stood in a representative relation, were included in the covenant and received circumcision as its sign. In like manner under the gospel, when a Jew or Gentile joined the Christian church his children received baptism and were recognized as members of the Christian church. Compare Acts 16:15 and Acts 16:33.

Besides I know not whether I baptized any other. The nature of inspiration is to be learnt from the declarations of the Scriptures and from the facts therein recorded. From these sources we learn that it was an influence which rendered its recipients infallible, but it did not render them omniscient. They were preserved from asserting error, but they were not enabled either to know or to remember all things.

Verse 17

Paul’s Defense of His Manner of Preaching — 1 Corinthians 1:17-31

The apostle having been led to mention incidentally that he had baptized very few persons in Corinth, assigns as the reason of that fact that his great official duty was to preach the gospel. This naturally led him to speak of the manner of preaching. It was one of the objections urged against him that he did not preach “with the wisdom of words,” that is, that he did not preach the doctrines taught by human reason, which he calls the wisdom of the world. Through the remainder of this, and the whole of the following chapter, he assigns his reasons for thus renouncing the wisdom of the world, — and resumes the subject of the divisions existing in the church of Corinth at the beginning of the third chapter.

1. His first reason for not teaching human wisdom is that God had pronounced all such wisdom to be folly, 1 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Corinthians 1:20.

2. Expedience had proved the insufficiency of human wisdom to lead men to a saving knowledge of God, 1 Corinthians 1:21.

3. God had ordained the gospel to be the great means of salvation, 1 Corinthians 1:21-25.

4. The expedience of the Corinthians themselves showed that it was not wisdom nor any other human distinction that secured the salvation of men. Human wisdom could neither discover the method of salvation, nor secure compliance with its terms when revealed. They were in Christ (i.e. converted), not because they were wiser, better, or more distinguished than others, but simply because God had chosen or called them, 1 Corinthians 1:26-30.

The design of God in all this was to humble then so that he who glories should glory in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:31.

1 Corinthians 1:17

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

For indicates the connection. ‘I baptized few, for I was not sent to baptize, but to preach.’ The commission was, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” This does not mean that baptism was not included, but it does mean that baptizing was very inferior to preaching. It is subordinated in the very form of the commission, “Go ye therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them,” etc. The main thing was to make disciples; recognizing them as such by baptism was subordinate, though commanded. Baptism was a work which the apostles seem to have generally left to others, Acts 10:48. During the apostolic age, and in the apostolic form of religion, truth stood immeasurably above external rites. The apostasy of the church consisted in making rites more important than truth. The apostle’s manner of speaking of baptism in this connection as subordinate to preaching is, therefore, a wonder to those who are disposed unduly to exalt the sacraments, as may be seen in Olshausen’s remarks on 1 Corinthians 1:13-16. We must not infer from this that baptism is of little importance, or that it may be safely neglected. Although Paul controverted the Jewish doctrine that circumcision secured salvation and was necessary to its attainment, he nevertheless admitted that its advantages were great every way, Romans 3:2. And in the Old Testament it is expressly said that the uncircumcised man-child should be cut off from the people, i.e. deprived of the benefits of the theocracy. While therefore it is unscriptural to make baptism essential to salvation or a certain means of regeneration, it is nevertheless a dangerous act of disobedience to undervalue or neglect it.

His preaching Paul describes by saying it was “not with the wisdom of words,” (οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳ λόγου). So far as the signification of these words is concerned, the meaning may be,

1. Not with skillful discourse, that is, eloquence.

2. Or, not with philosophical discourse, that is, not in an abstract or speculative manner, so that the truth taught should be presented in a philosophical form. According to this view the doctrine taught would still be the gospel, but the thing rejected and condemned would be merely the philosophical mode of exhibiting it.

3. The meaning may be, not with a discourse characterized by wisdom; that is, the contents of which was human wisdom, instead of truths revealed by God. The context is in favor of the interpretation last mentioned. In this whole connection the apostle contrasts two kinds of wisdom. The one he describes as the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of men, or of the rulers of the world.

By this he means human wisdom, that which has a human origin. This he pronounces to be folly, and declares it to be entirely inefficacious in the salvation of men. The other kind of wisdom, he calls the wisdom of God, i.e. derived from God; the hidden wisdom, consisting in truths which human reason never could discover. The former he repudiates. He says, he did not come to preach the teachings of human reason, but the testimony of God. He was among them in the character, not of a philosopher, but of a witness. As in what follows the apostle argues to prove that human wisdom is folly and cannot save men, and gives that as the reason why he came preaching the doctrine of the cross, it seems plain that this is the meaning of the passage before us. ‘Christ sent the to preach, not with wise discourse, that is, not with human wisdom — not as a philosopher, but as a witness.’ His preaching therefore was the simple exhibition of the truth which God had revealed.

Lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect, i.e. rendered powerless and inoperative. If Paul in preaching had either substituted human wisdom for the doctrine of the cross, or had so presented that doctrine as to turn it into a philosophy, his preaching would have been powerless. It would lose its divine element and become nothing more than human wisdom. Whatever obscures the cross deprives the gospel of its power.

Verse 18

1 Corinthians 1:18

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God.

The preaching of the cross, or, the doctrine (ὁ λόγος), of the cross, that is, the doctrine of salvation through the crucifixion of the Son of God as a sacrifice for the sins of men. This doctrine, though to one class, viz., those who are lost, i.e. those certainly to perish, foolishness; yet to another class, viz., those certainly to be saved, it is the power of God. That is, it is that through which the power of God is manifested and exercised, and therefore it is divinely efficacious. All the hearers of the gospel are divided into two classes. To the one, the doctrine of salvation through a crucified Redeemer appears absurd. They are called “the lost,” not only because they are certainly to perish, but also because they are in a lost state while out of Christ, John 3:18. To the other, this doctrine is divinely efficacious in producing peace and holiness. These are called “the saved,” not only because they are certainly to be saved, but also because they are now in a state of salvation. Compare 2 Corinthians 2:15.

This verse contains the reason why Christ sent the apostle to preach, and why he preached the doctrine of the cross, and not human wisdom. That reason is, because the doctrine of the cross alone is effectual to salvation. This proposition he proceeds to establish by a series of arguments designed to prove that the wisdom of the world cannot save men. His first argument is derived from the express declaration of the word of God to this effect.

Verse 19

1 Corinthians 1:19

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and win bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

This is not to be considered as the citation of any one particular passage of the Old Testament, so much as an appeal to a doctrine therein clearly revealed. In a multitude of passages, and in various forms, God had taught by his prophets the insufficiency of human reason to lead men to the knowledge of the way of salvation. In Isaiah 29:14 nearly the same words are used, but with a more limited application. “The wisdom of the wise,” and “the understanding of the prudent,” are parallel expressions for the same thing.

Verse 20

1 Corinthians 1:20

Where (is) the wise? where (is) the scribe? where (is) the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

This is a challenge to the wise of every class and of every nation to disprove what he had said. It was too plain to be denied that God had made foolish the wisdom of this world, i.e. he had showed it to be foolish, and dealt with it as such. Among the Jews there were three classes of learned men, distinguished by terms corresponding to those which the apostle here uses. It is not probable, however, that Paul refers to that classification, because he is not speaking specially of the Jews. The first term (σοφός), wise man, is probably to be taken in a general sense including that of the two following words. ‘Where is the wise, whether Jewish scribe or Grecian sophist?’ The word scribe is the common designation of the learned class among the Jews. It was originally applied to the secretaries whose business it was to prepare and issue decrees in the name of the king (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25; 2 Kings 12:10; 2 Kings 19:2). Afterwards, and especially in the New Testament, it was used as the designation of those learned in the law, who were charged not only with its transcription, but also with its exposition, and at times with its administration. The same title was given in many of the Asiatic states to the magistrate who presided over the senate, took charge of the laws, and who read them when necessary to the peoples Acts 19:35.

Where is the disputer? (συζητητής) inquirer, questioner, sophist: the appropriate designation of the Grecian philosopher. Of this world, or age. This qualification belongs to all the preceding terms. ‘Where is the wise of this world, whether scribe or sophist?’

Verse 21

1 Corinthians 1:21

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

This and the following verses contain the apostle’s second argument in proof of the insufficiency of human wisdom. The argument is this: expedience having shown the insufficiency of human wisdom, God set it aside, and declared it to be worthless, by adopting the foolishness of preaching as the means of salvation. This argument therefore includes two distinct proofs. First, that derived from expedience; and secondly, that derived from God’s having appointed the gospel, as distinguished from human wisdom, to be the means of saving men.

For after that. It is to be remarked that the word for in Paul’s writings very often refers to something implied but not expressed in the context; most commonly it refers to the answer to a preceding question. It is so here. ‘Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? He has, for, etc.’ After that (ἐπειδή) properly, since. This particle, though in the Greek writers generally used of time, in the New Testament is almost uniformly used in a causal sense. This is its meaning here. ‘For, inasmuch as, or because.’

In the wisdom of God. This means either, in the wise ordination of God, or, in the midst of the manifestation of the wisdom of God. If the former interpretation be adopted, the meaning is, that it was a manifestation of divine wisdom to leave the world for four thousand years to test the power of human wisdom, that thus its insufficiency might be clearly demonstrated. The latter interpretation is generally adopted, and gives a better sense. ‘In the wisdom of God, that is, although surrounded by the manifestations of the divine wisdom in creation and providence, man failed to attain any saving knowledge of God.’ The world by (its τῆς) wisdom knew not God. This is not inconsistent with Romans 1:20 where the apostle says, God’s eternal power and Godhead are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. In this latter passage Paul speaks of the revelation which God had made of himself; in the former, of the use which men had made of that revelation. The revelation was clear, but men, through their imbecility and perverseness, did not comprehend it. In the midst of light they continued blind. The fault was in them, and not in the revelation. They did not like to retain God in their knowledge, Romans 1:28. Besides, sometimes the knowledge of God, in Scripture, means that speculative knowledge which human reason is adequate to derive from the works of God, and which renders their idolatry inexcusable; at other times, it means saving knowledge. Hence it is perfectly consistent to say in the former sense, that men by wisdom may attain the knowledge of God; and, in the latter sense, that they cannot attain that knowledge. Paul is here speaking of the knowledge which is connected with salvation. Such knowledge the world by wisdom had failed to secure. Therefore, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. “The foolishness of preaching” means the preaching of foolishness, that is, the cross. The doctrine of the cross was foolishness in the estimation of men. God thus put to shame all human wisdom by making a doctrine which the wise of this world regarded as absurd the means of salvation. This passage in its connection clearly teaches two great truths; first, that the cross, or the doctrine of Christ crucified, is the substance of the gospel, that in which its vitality and power consist; and secondly, that it is the preaching, or public proclamation (κήρυγμα) of that doctrine which is the great means of salvation. To this all other means, however important, are either preparatory or subordinate. It is to be remembered, however, that preaching, in the Scriptural sense of the term, includes the inculcation of the truth, whether to an individual or to a multitude — whether by the road side, or in the school, or lecture-room, or the pulpit. Philip, as he rode in the chariot with the eunuch, “preached to him Jesus,” Acts 8:35.

Verse 22

1 Corinthians 1:22, 1 Corinthians 1:23

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.

This passage is parallel to the preceding. ‘Since the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe — and since the Jews ask a sign and the Greeks seek wisdom, we preach, etc.’ That is, since human reason in all its developments, Jewish or Grecian, had failed, we preach Christ.

The Jews require, or, ask (αἰτοῦσι) a sign.‹2› This was characteristic of the Jews. They required external supernatural evidence as the ground of their faith. Their constant demand was, “What sign showest thou?” Matthew 12:39. Mark 8:11. John 6:30. To this disposition our Savior referred when he said, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas,” Matthew 16:4. The Greeks, on the other hand, seek after wisdom. They required rational evidence. They would receive nothing as true which they could not understand, and see the rational grounds of. These are types of permanent classes of men.

But we preach Christ crucified. This doctrine met the demands of neither class. It satisfied neither the expectations of the Jews, nor the requirements of the Greeks. On the contrary, it was to the Jews a stumbling-block. They had anticipated in the Messiah a glorious temporal prince, who should deliver and exalt their nation. To present to them one crucified as a malefactor as their Messiah, was the greatest possible insult. He was to them, therefore, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8. To the Greeks this doctrine was foolishness. Nothing in the apprehension of rationalists can be more absurd than that the blood of the cross can remove sin, promote virtue, and secure salvation; or that the preaching of that doctrine is to convert the world.

Verse 23

1 Corinthians 1:22, 1 Corinthians 1:23

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.

This passage is parallel to the preceding. ‘Since the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe — and since the Jews ask a sign and the Greeks seek wisdom, we preach, etc.’ That is, since human reason in all its developments, Jewish or Grecian, had failed, we preach Christ.

The Jews require, or, ask (αἰτοῦσι) a sign.‹2› This was characteristic of the Jews. They required external supernatural evidence as the ground of their faith. Their constant demand was, “What sign showest thou?” Matthew 12:39. Mark 8:11. John 6:30. To this disposition our Savior referred when he said, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas,” Matthew 16:4. The Greeks, on the other hand, seek after wisdom. They required rational evidence. They would receive nothing as true which they could not understand, and see the rational grounds of. These are types of permanent classes of men.

But we preach Christ crucified. This doctrine met the demands of neither class. It satisfied neither the expectations of the Jews, nor the requirements of the Greeks. On the contrary, it was to the Jews a stumbling-block. They had anticipated in the Messiah a glorious temporal prince, who should deliver and exalt their nation. To present to them one crucified as a malefactor as their Messiah, was the greatest possible insult. He was to them, therefore, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8. To the Greeks this doctrine was foolishness. Nothing in the apprehension of rationalists can be more absurd than that the blood of the cross can remove sin, promote virtue, and secure salvation; or that the preaching of that doctrine is to convert the world.

Verse 24

1 Corinthians 1:24

But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

The called (κλητοί) always mean the effectually called, as distinguished from those who are merely externally invited. There is a twofold call of the gospel; the one external by the word; the other internal by the Spirit. The subjects of the latter are designated “the called,” Romans 1:7; Romans 8:28. Judges 1:1. Revelation 17:14. Compare Isaiah 48:12. The Jews desired an exhibition of power; the Greeks sought wisdom: both are found in Christ, and in the highest degree. He is the power of God and the wisdom of God. In his person and work there is the highest possible manifestation both of the divine power and of the divine wisdom. And those who are called not only see, but experience this. The doctrine of Christ crucified produces effects on them which nothing short of divine power can accomplish. And it reveals and imparts to them the true wisdom. It makes them divinely wise; it makes them holy; it makes them righteous; and it makes them blessed. It does infinitely more than human wisdom could ever conceive, much less accomplish. It has already changed the state of the intelligent universe, and is to be the central point of influence throughout eternity. This is the doctrine which the wise of this world wish to see ignored or obscured in behalf of their speculations. Just as the heathen exchange the true God for birds and beasts and creeping things, and think themselves profound.

Verse 25

1 Corinthians 1:25

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

This is a confirmation of what precedes. The gospel is thus efficacious, because the lowest manifestation of divine wisdom exceeds the highest results of the wisdom of men; and the lowest exercise of God’s power is more effectual than all human strength. Or, instead of taking the verse in this general sense, the foolishness of God, may mean the gospel. The meaning then is, ‘The doctrine of the cross, though regarded as absurd and powerless, has more of power and wisdom man any thing which ever proceeded from man.’

Verse 26

1 Corinthians 1:26

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble (are called).

The connection is not with the preceding verse but with the whole preceding context. The apostle introduces a new argument in proof of the uselessness of human wisdom. The argument is derived from their religious experience. ‘You see, brethren, it is not the wise who are called.’

Your calling (κλῆσις) does not mean mode of life, profession, or station, as the word vocation often does with us. The Greek word is never used in this sense in the New Testament, unless 1 Corinthians 7:20 be an exception. It always refers to the call of God by his word and Spirit. It is to be so understood here. ‘You see, brethren, your conversion, that not many wise are converted.’ In this sense we speak of “effectual calling

Wise after the flesh, i.e. wise with human wisdom. Flesh in Scripture often means human nature. There are two kinds of wisdom, the one human, the other divine. There are, therefore, two classes of wise men; those possessing the wisdom which is from men, and those who have the wisdom which comes from God. Few of the former class become Christians; therefore it is not by wisdom that men find out God, which is what the apostle designs to prove.

Not many mighty, i.e. the great; οἱ δυνατοί, those having δύναμις, in the sense of power and authority. The opposite class is designated as the weak or uninfluential, see Acts 25:5. Not many noble, i.e. well-born. The converts to Christianity were not in general from the higher ranks in society. The things which elevate man in the world, knowledge, influence, rank, are not the things which lead to God and salvation. As there is no verb in the original to agree with these nominatives, “the wise,” “the mighty,” “the noble,” we may either supply the simple substantive verb are: ‘You see your calling, not many of you are wise, or mighty, or noble;’ or, we may supply, as in our version, the word called, ‘not many wise are called;’ or, the word chosen, ‘not many wise are chosen, for God hath chosen, etc.’ The sense remains the same. Human distinctions are insignificant and inefficacious in the sight of God, who is sovereign in the distribution of grace.

Verse 27

1 Corinthians 1:27

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.

In this and the following verses the apostle asserts affirmatively what he had just stated negatively, “God does not choose the wise, but he chooses the foolish.’

The foolish things of the world, (τὰ μωρὰ τοῦ κόσμου) the foolish portion of mankind. In this and in the following clauses the neuter is used although persons are intended, because the reference is indefinite. God hath chosen the foolish, the weak, the insignificant, etc. Hath chosen. It is implied in this form of expression, which is repeated for the sake of emphasis, that as, on the one hand, the wise and the great were not chosen on account of their wisdom or greatness, so, on the other, the foolish and the weak were not chosen on account of their want of wisdom or greatness. God chose whom he pleased. He chose the ignorant that he might confound the wise; and the weak, that he might confound the mighty. That is, that he might put them to shame, by convincing them of the little value of the things on which they prided themselves, and by exalting over them those whom they despised.

Verse 28

1 Corinthians 1:28

And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, (yea) and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are;

The base things, i.e. the base, the ignoble (τὰ ἀγενῆ), those without family, as opposed to the noble. Things which are despised, i.e. men in low condition, whom the rich and noble look upon with contempt. Things which are not, (τὰ μὴ ὄντα) those who are entirely overlooked as though they had no existence. There is a climax here. God has chosen not only plebeians, but of the plebeians those who were objects of contempt, and even those below contempt, too insignificant to be noticed at all. These, and such as these, does God choose to make kings and priests unto himself. To bring to nought, (καταργήσῃ), literally, that he might bring to nought. This is a stronger term than that used in the preceding verse, and here specially appropriate. God brings to nothing the things that are (τὰ ὄντα), i.e. those who make their existence known and felt, as opposed to those who are nothing. It is apparent from the dispensations of grace, that knowledge, rank, and power do not attract the favor of God, or secure for their possessors any pre-eminence or preference before him. This should render the exalted humble, and the humble content.

Verse 29

1 Corinthians 1:29

That no flesh should glory in his presence.

The design of God in thus dealing with men, calling the ignorant rather man the wise, the lowly instead of the great, is that no man should boast before him. No one can stand in his sight and attribute his conversion or salvation to his own wisdom, or birth, or station, or to any thing else by which he is favorably distinguished from his fellow-men.

Verse 30

1 Corinthians 1:30

But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.

To be in Christ Jesus is to be united to him,

1. Representatively, as we were in Adam, Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:22.

2. Vitally, as a branch is in the vine, or a member in the body, John 15:1-7.

3. Consciously and voluntarily by faith, Romans 8:1, et passim.

Of this union with Christ, the apostle teaches us here, first, its origin, and secondly, its effects. As to its origin, it is of God. Of him ye are in Christ Jesus. It is (ἐξ αὐτοῦ) of him as the efficient cause. It is to be referred to him alone that ye are in Christ. Your conversion or saving union with Christ is not due to yourselves; it is not because you are wiser, or better, or more diligent than others that you are thus distinguished. This which is the turning point in theology, and therefore in religion, is here most explicitly asserted. And it is not only asserted, but it is declared to be the purpose of God to make it apparent, and to force all men to acknowledge it. He so dispenses his grace as to make men see with regard to others, and to acknowledge with regard to themselves, that the fact that they are in Christ, or true Christians, is due to him and not to themselves. The effects of this union, as here stated, are, that Christ is of God (ἀπὸ Θεοῦ), as the author, made unto us,

1. Wisdom. Christ is the true wisdom. He is the Logos, the Revealer, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. No man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal him, John 1:18. Union with him, therefore, makes the believer truly wise. It secures the knowledge of God, whose glory is revealed in the face of Christ, and whom to know is eternal life. All true religious knowledge is derived from Christ, and it is only those who submit to his teaching who are wise unto salvation.

2. The second effect of union with Christ, is righteousness and sanctification (δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς); these are intimately united (τε καί) as different aspects of the same thing. Righteousness is that which satisfies the demands of the law as a rule of justification; sanctification, or holiness, is that which satisfies the law as a rule of duty. Christ is both to us. He is our righteousness, because by his obedience and death he has fully satisfied the demands of justice, so that we are “the righteousness of God in him,” 2 Corinthians 5:21. When we stand before the judgment-seat of God, Christ is our righteousness. He answers for us; he presents his own infinite merit as the all-sufficient reason for our justification. Romans 3:21, Romans 3:22; Romans 5:19; Philippians 3:9. He is also our sanctification. His Spirit dwells in all his people as the Spirit of holiness, so that they are transformed into his likeness from glory to glory. Wherever the Spirit dwells there are the fruits of the Spirit. Acts 26:18. Romans 8:9, Romans 8:10. Galatians 5:22. Ephesians 2:5, Ephesians 2:10.

3. The third effect is redemption, i.e. deliverance from evil. This term sometimes includes all the benefits received from Christ. When he is called our Redeemer he is presented as our deliverer from guilt, from hell, from sin, from the power of Satan, from the grave. But when redemption is distinguished from justification and sanctification, it refers to the final deliverance from evil. The “day of redemption” is the day when the work of Christ shall be consummated in the perfect salvation of his people as to soul and body. Romans 8:23. Ephesians 1:14, Ephesians 4:30. Hebrews 9:12.

Those, then, who are in Christ have divine wisdom or the saving knowledge of God and of divine things; they have a righteousness which secures their justification. There is no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:1. They are renewed after the image of God, and shall finally be presented without spot or blemish before the presence his glory. And they are partakers of eternal redemption or full deliverance from all the evils of sin, and are introduced into the glorious liberty of the children of God. These infinite blessings can be obtained only through Christ. Union with him is the necessary, and the only necessary, condition of our participation of these blessings. And our union with Christ is of God. It is not of ourselves, by our own wisdom, goodness, or strength, but solely by his grace; and therefore must be sought as an unmerited favor.

Verse 31

1 Corinthians 1:31

That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

That, i.e. in order that. The design of God in making wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption dependent on union with Christ, and union with Christ dependent, not on our merit, but on his own good pleasure, is that we should glory only in him; that is, that our confidence should be in him and not in ourselves, and that all the glory of our salvation should be ascribed to him and not to us. Such being the design of God in the work of redemption, it is obvious we must conform to it in order to be saved. We must seek wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption only in Christ; and we must seek union with Christ as an undeserved favor.

The passage quoted is probably Jeremiah 9:23, Jeremiah 9:24 the sense of which is condensed. In quoting the Old Testament the apostle frequently cites the words as they stand, without so modifying them as to make them grammatically cohere with the context. As in the Septuagint, which he quotes, the imperative mood is used, the apostle here retains it, and instead of saying, ‘In order that he who glories should glory in the Lord,’ he says ‘That, He that glories let him glory in the Lord.’ Comp. Jeremiah 2:9. Romans 15:3.

Bibliographical Information
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hdg/1-corinthians-1.html.
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