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1 Corinthians 9

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

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Verse 1

Chapter IX

The apostle illustrates the duty of foregoing the exercise of our rights for the good of others, by a reference to his giving up his undoubted right to be supported by the church, vv. 1-18. He shows that in other ways he accommodated himself to the opinions and prejudices of others, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. He reminds his readers that nothing good or great could be attained without self-denial, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

The Right of Ministers to an Adequate Maintenance. The Necessity of Self-denial — 1 Corinthians 9:1-27

Having in the preceding chapter urged on the strong the duty of foregoing the use of their rights for the sake of their weaker brethren, the apostle shows how he had acted on that principle. He was an apostle, and therefore had all the rights of an apostle. His apostleship was abundantly clear, because he had seen the Lord Jesus and was his immediate messenger; and his divine mission had been confirmed, at least among the Corinthians, beyond dispute. They were the seal of his apostleship, 1 Corinthians 9:1-3. Being an apostle, he had the same right to be supported and to have his family supported, had he chosen to marry, as Peter or any other apostle, 1 Corinthians 9:4-6. This right to adequate support he proves, First, from the principle which lies at the foundation of society, that the laborer is worthy of his reward, 1 Corinthians 9:7. Secondly, from the fact that this principle is recognized in the Old Testament, even in its application to brutes, 1 Corinthians 9:8-10. Thirdly, from the principles of commutative justice, 1 Corinthians 9:11. Fourthly, from the fact that the Corinthians recognized this right in the case of other teachers, 1 Corinthians 9:12. Fifthly, from the universal recognition of the principle among all nations. Those who served the temple were supported from the temple, 1 Corinthians 9:13. Sixthly, from the express ordinance of Christ, who had ordained that those who preached the gospel should live by the gospel, 1 Corinthians 9:14. This undoubted right Paul had not availed himself of, and he was determined, especially at Corinth, not to avail himself of it in the future. By so doing he cut off occasion to question his motives, and gave himself a ground of confidence in resisting his opponents which he was determined not to relinquish, 1 Corinthians 9:15-18. This was not, however, the only case in which he abstained from the exercise of his rights for the good of others. He accommodated himself to Jews and Gentiles in every thing indifferent, that he might gain the more, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Such self-denial the heathen exercised to gain a corruptible crown — should not Christians do as much to gain a crown that is incorruptible? Without self-denial and effort the prize of their high calling could never be attained, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

Am I not an apostle? am I not free?‹10› have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?

The order of the first two of these questions is reversed by most editors on satisfactory external and internal evidence. Am I not free? That is, am I not a Christian, invested with all the liberties wherewith Christ has made his people free? Am I not as free as any other believer to regulate my conduct according to my own convictions of what is right; free from any obligation to conform to the opinions or prejudices of other men? This, however, is a freedom which I have not availed myself of. Nay more, Am I not an apostle? Besides the rights which belong to all Christians, have I not all the prerogatives of an apostle? Am I not on a level with the chief of the apostles? Who of them can show a better title to the office? There were three kinds of evidence of the apostleship.

1. The immediate commission from Christ in the sight of witnesses, or otherwise confirmed.

2. Signs and wonders, and mighty deeds, 2 Corinthians 12:12.

3. The success of their ministry.

No man could be an apostle who had not seen the Lord Jesus after his resurrection, because that was one of the essential facts of which they were to be the witnesses, Acts 1:22. Neither could any man be an apostle who did not receive his knowledge of the gospel by immediate revelation from Christ, for the apostles were the witnesses also of his doctrines, Acts 1:8; Acts 10:39; Acts 22:15. Galatians 1:12. The necessity of this immediate mission and independent knowledge is insisted upon at length in the epistle to the Galatians. In proof of his apostleship Paul here appeals only to two sources of evidence; first, to his having seen the Lord Jesus; and second, to the success of his ministry. Ye are my work in the Lord. That is, either, you in the Lord, your being in the Lord (i.e. your conversion), is my work; or, the words (ἐν κυρίῳ) may mean by the Lord, i.e. by his co-operation. The former explanation is to be preferred, as the apostle’s object is to state in what sense they were his work. It was as being in the Lord. The connection of this verse, and of the whole chapter, with what precedes is obvious. His design is to show that he had himself acted on the principle which he urged on others. Neither as a Christian nor as an apostle had he insisted upon his rights, without regard to the prejudices of others or the good of the church.

Verse 2

If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.

If to others, i.e. in the estimation of others, I be not an apostle, surely I am to you. Whatever pretense others may have to question my apostleship, you certainly can have none; for the seal of my apostleship are ye in the Lord. Your conversion is the seal of God to my commission. The conversion of men is a divine work, and those by whom it is accomplished are thereby authenticated as divine messengers. It is as much the work of God as a miracle, and therefore, when duly authenticated, has the same effect as an evidence of a divine commission. This, although valid evidence, and as such adduced by the apostle, is nevertheless very liable to be abused. First, because much which passes for conversion is spurious; and secondly, because the evidence of success is often urged in behalf of the errors of preachers, when that success is due to the truth which they preach. Still there are cases when the success is of such a character, so undeniable and so great, as to supersede the necessity of any other evidence of a divine call. Such was the case with the apostles, with the reformers, and with many of our modern missionaries.

Verse 3

Mine answer to them that do examine me is this:

That is, what precedes, and not what follows; for what follows is no answer to those who called his apostleship in question. Both the words here used, (ἀνακρίνω) to examine, and (ἀπολογία), apology, or answer, are forensic terms. Paul means that when any of his opponents undertook to question him, as it were, judicially, as to his apostleship, he answered, ‘I have seen the Lord Jesus, and he has set his seal to my commission by the success with which he has crowned my labors.’ This answer satisfied Peter, James and John, who gave to Paul the right hand of fellowship, seeing that to him had been committed the apostleship unto the Gentiles, Galatians 2:8, Galatians 2:9.

Verse 4

Have we not power to eat and drink?

Power here as above, 1 Corinthians 8:9, means right. Have we not the right to eat and drink? This, taken by itself, might mean, ‘Have we not the same right that others have as to meats and drinks? All distinctions on this subject are abolished as much for us as for others. Are we not free?’ The context shows, however, clearly that such is not the apostle’s meaning. The right in question is that which he goes on to establish. It is the right to abstain from working, and of being supported by the church. Having proved his apostleship, he proves his right to be supported, and then shows that he had not availed himself of that right. He could, therefore, with the greater freedom urge the Corinthians to forego their right to eat of things offered to idols for the sake of their weaker brethren.

Verse 5

Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and (as) the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?

This is an amplification of the preceding verse. Have we not the power, i.e. the right. To lead about, a form of expression chosen because the apostles were not stationary ministers, each with his own parish or diocese, but were constantly traveling from place to place. A sister, i.e. a Christian woman. A wife, this determines the relation which this traveling companion sustained. It is as much as saying, ‘A sister who is a wife.’ Many of the Fathers explain this passage as referring to the custom of rich women attending the apostles on their journeys in order to minister to their support. In this interpretation they are followed by many Romanists in order to avoid the sanction which the ordinary and only legitimate interpretation gives to the marriage of the clergy. As other apostles; literally, “the other apostles.” This does not necessarily imply that all the other apostles were married; but the implication is that as a body they were married men. Olshausen and others understand the apostle, in the 1 Corinthians 9:4-6, as asserting his liberty as to three points;

1. As to meats, ‘Have I not the same liberty that you claim as to eating and drinking?’

2. As to marriage, ‘Have I not the right to marry?’

3. As to support.

But this introduces more into the text than the connection warrants. There is no question about the right of marriage alluded to in the context; and what follows is a defense neither of his liberty to disregard the Jewish laws about meats and drinks, nor of his right to be married.

And the brethren of the Lord. Whether these were the children of Joseph and Mary, or the children of Mary, the sister of our Lord’s mother, is a point very difficult to determine. Tradition, or the general voice of the church, is greatly in favor of the latter opinion. The former, however, is probably the opinion embraced by a majority of modern commentators. The discussion of this question belongs properly to the evangelical history.‹11› The following passages may be compared on this subject: Matthew 1:25; Matthew 12:46; Matthew 13:55. Luke 2:7. John 2:12. Acts 1:14. Galatians 1:19. And Cephas; this is the name by which Peter is called whenever he is mentioned by Paul, except in the epistle to the Galatians; and Lachmann reads Cephas instead of Peter in Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:11, Galatians 2:14, leaving Galatians 2:8, Galatians 2:9 the only exception. That Peter was married is clear from Matthew 8:14. Mark 1:30.

Verse 6

Or I only and Barnabas, have we not power to forbear working?

The power to forbear working; literally, the right of not working. ‘Is there any reason why I and Barnabas should be the only exceptions to the rule that preachers of the word are to be supported by the churches?’ From this it appears that Barnabas, while the apostle’s missionary companion, followed his example in working with his own hands, that he might make the gospel of Christ without charge. Paul proceeds to demonstrate the right in question, not on grounds peculiar to the apostles or to that particular age of the church; but on grounds applicable to all ministers and to all ages. His first argument is from the universally recognized principle that labor is entitled to reward. This principle is illustrated in the following verse.

Verse 7

Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?

Here are three illustrations, taken from the common occupations of men, of the principle in question. The soldier, the agriculturist, the shepherd, all live by their labor; why should not the minister? His work is as engrossing, as laborious, and as useful as theirs; why should not it meet with a similar recompense? Who goeth to war, i.e. who serves in war, as a soldier, at his own charges (ῖδίοις ὀψωνίοις), on his own rations. What soldier in war is called upon to support himself? If you force him to do it, you make him a robber; and if ministers be required to support themselves, the danger is that they will be forced to become men of the world. It is not, however, the evil consequences, so much as the injustice of such a course, that the apostle has in view. What is true of the soldier is true of the farmer and of the shepherd, and of every other class of men.

Verse 8

Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?

Say I these things as a man? This phrase (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λαλεῖν), to speak as a man, or after the manner of men, means in general, to speak as men are wont to speak, to utter their thoughts, or principles, or use illustrations derived from their customs. Romans 3:5. Galatians 3:15. comp. Romans 6:19. The apostle means here to ask whether it was necessary to appeal to the usages of men in support of the principle that labor should be rewarded. Does not the law also say the same? i.e. does not the word of God sanction the same principle? The law (ὁ νόμος) means in general that which binds. It is applied to the law of God, however revealed, whether in the heart, the decalogue, the Pentateuch, or in the whole Scriptures. The context must determine the specific reference in each particular case. Here the law of Moses is intended.

Verse 9

For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?

For refers to the answer implied to the preceding question. ‘Does not the law say the same? It does: for it is written,’ etc. The passage quoted is found in Deuteronomy 25:4 where it is forbidden to put a muzzle on the oxen which draw the threshing machine over the corn, or which tread it out with their feet; as both methods of threshing were common in Palestine as well as the use of the flail or rods. Comp. Isaiah 28:28.; Isaiah 41:15. Hosea 10:11. Doth God take care of oxen? It is perfectly certain that God does care for oxen; for he feeds the young ravens when they cry; Job 38:41. Psalms 147:9. Matthew 6:26. Luke 12:24. This, therefore, the apostle cannot intend to deny. He only means to say that the law had a higher reference. Although the proximate end of the command was that the laboring brute should be treated justly, yet its ultimate design was to teach men the moral truth involved in the precept. If God requires that even the ox, which spends his strength in our service, should not be defrauded of his reward, how much more strict will he be in enforcing the application of the same principle of justice to his rational creatures.

Verse 10

Or saith he (it) altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, (this) is written: that he that plougheth should plough in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

“He sayeth it altogether.” This is not the meaning here; for this would make the apostle assert that the command in question had exclusive reference to men. The word (πάντως) should be rendered assuredly, as in Luke 4:43. Acts 18:21; Acts 21:22 and frequently elsewhere. ‘This command was assuredly given, says the apostle, for our sakes,’ i.e. for the sake of man — not, for us ministers, or us apostles. It was intended to enforce the principle that labor should have its reward, so that men may labor cheerfully. That (ὅτι); because. ‘It is written on our account, because he that ploughs should (ὀφείλει, 2 Corinthians 12:11) plough in hope,’ i.e. of being rewarded. “And he that threshes should thresh in hope of partaking of his hope,” i.e. of what he hoped for. The text is here doubtful. The reading preferred by most editors gives a simpler form to the passage‹12› — ‘He that thresheth (should thresh) in hope of partaking,’ (ἐπ ̓ ἐλπίδι τοῦ μετέχειν). The sense is the same. Some of the ancient, and not a few of the most distinguished modern commentators assume that Paul gives an allegorical interpretation to the passage in Deuteronomy. They understand him to say that the passage is not to be understood of oxen, but of us, ministers. ‘This command was given on account of us ministers, that we ploughers might plough in hope, and we threshers might thresh in hope.’ But this is entirely foreign from the manner of the New Testament writers.‹13› They never argue except from the true historical sense of Scripture. Galatians 4:21-31 is no exception to this remark; for that passage is an illustration and not an argument.

Verse 11

If we have sown unto you spiritual things, (is it) a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?

That is, if we have bestowed on you one class of benefits, is it unreasonable that we should receive from you another class? And if the benefits which we bestow are spiritual, such as knowledge, faith and hope, the fruits of the Spirit, and therefore of infinite value, is it much that we should derive from you carnal things, i.e. things necessary for the support of the body? On every principle of commutative justice, the minister’s right to a support must be conceded.

Verse 12

If others be partakers of (this) power over you, (are) not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.

This is an argument directed specially to the Corinthians. They had recognized in other teachers the right to a support; they could not, therefore, with any show of reason, deny it to the apostle. This power over you (τῆς ὑμῶν ἐξουσίας) i.e. the right of which you are the objects. For this use of the genitive, (power of you, for power over you), compare Matthew 10:1. John 17:2. Undisputable as this right was in the case of Paul, he did not exercise it, but suffered all things, i.e. endured all kinds of privations. The word means to bear in silence. Lest we should hinder (place any hinderance in the way of,) the gospel of Christ. Under the circumstances in which Paul was placed, surrounded by implacable enemies, it would have hindered the gospel had he done any thing which gave the least ground to question the purity of his motives. He was willing to suffer any thing rather man to give his opponents the slightest pretext for their opposition to him.

Verse 13

Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live (of the things) of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?

What Paul here says is true of all religions, though his reference is probably only to the Jewish. Those which minister about holy things (οἱ τὰ ἱερὰ εργαζόμενοι); those who perform the sacred services, i.e. those who offer sacrifices. Eat of the temple, i.e. they derive their support from the temple. Those attending the altar share with the altar, i.e. the priests receive a portion of the sacrifices offered on the altar. If this was an institution ordained by God himself, under the old dispensation, it has the sanction of divine authority. The apostle’s concluding and conclusive argument on this subject is contained in the following verse.

Verse 14

Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.

Even so (οὕτω καί), so also, i.e. as God had ordained under the Old Testament, so also the Lord (i.e. Christ) had ordained under the New. Christ has made the same ordinance respecting the ministers of the gospel, that God made respecting the priests of the law. The Lord hath ordained that, etc., (διέταξεν τοῖς), he commanded those who preach, etc. It was a command to ministers themselves not to seek their support from secular occupations; but to live of the gospel, as the priests lived of the temple. Matthew 10:10. Luke 10:8. This is the law of Christ, obligatory on ministers and people; on the latter to give, and on the former to seek a support from the church and not from worldly avocations. There are circumstances under which, as the case of Paul shows, this command ceases to be binding on preachers. These are exceptions, to be justified, each on its own merits; the rule, as a rule, remains in force. If this subject were viewed in this light, both by preachers and people, there would be little difficulty in sustaining the gospel, and few ministers would be distracted by worldly pursuits.

Verse 15

But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for (it were) better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.

None of these things, may refer to the various arguments above mentioned. ‘I have availed myself of none of these arguments;’ or, it may refer to the right itself, which was manifold, the right of a recompense for labor, 1 Corinthians 9:7; the right to an equivalent for benefits conferred, 1 Corinthians 9:11; the right to be treated as other ministers were, 1 Corinthians 9:12; the right to be dealt with according to the law of God in the Old Testament, and of Christ in the New. ‘I have used none of these rights. Neither have I written these things that it should (in future) be so done (i.e. according to what I have written) unto me (ἐν ἐμοί),’ in my case. Paul had no intention of changing his course in this matter. The reason for this determination he immediately assigns. For it were better for me to die than that any man should make my glorying void, that is, deprive me of my ground of glorying. What enabled Paul to face his enemies with joyful confidence, was his disinterested self-denial in preaching the gospel without reward. And this he calls his (καύχημα), or ground of boasting. That this, and not merely preaching the gospel, was the proof of his integrity to which he could confidently refer, he shows in the following verses.

Verse 16

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!

The reason why it was so important to him to refuse all remuneration as a minister was, that although he preached the gospel that was no (καύχημα), ground of boasting to him. That he was bound to do, yea, woe was denounced against him unless he did preach it. Nothing could be a ground of boasting, but something which he was free to do, or not to do. He was free to receive or to refuse a remuneration for preaching; and therefore his refusing to do so was a ground of glorying, that is, a proof of integrity to which he could with confidence appeal.

Verse 17

For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation (of the gospel) is committed unto me.

This is the proof that preaching was no ground of boasting. If he preached willingly, i.e. if it were optional with him to preach or not to preach, then it would be a ground of boasting; but if he did it unwillingly, i.e. if it was not optional with him, (as was in fact the case), he was only discharging an official duty, and had nothing to boast of. That Paul preached the gospel willingly, that he esteemed it his highest joy and glory, is abundantly evident from his history and his writings. Romans 1:5; Romans 11:13; Romans 15:15, Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Corinthians 15:10. Galatians 1:15, Galatians 1:16. Ephesians 3:8. The difference, therefore, here expressed between (ἑκών and ἄκων), willing and unwilling, is not the difference between cheerfully and reluctantly, but between optional and obligatory. He says he had a dispensation or stewardship (οἰκονομία) committed to him. These stewards (οἱκονόμοι) were commonly slaves. There is a great difference between what a slave does in obedience to a command, and what a man volunteers to do of his own accord. And this is the precise difference to which the apostle here refers. The slave may feel honored by the command of his master, and obey him gladly, still it is but a service. So Paul was commanded to preach the gospel, and he did it with his whole heart; but he was not commanded to refuse to receive a support from the churches. The former, therefore, was not a ground of boasting, not a thing for which he could claim the reward of special confidence; the latter was. He could appeal to it as a proof, not only of his obedience, but of the purity of the motive which prompted that obedience. A physician may attend the sick from the highest motives, though he receives a remuneration for his services. But when he attends the poor gratuitously, though the motives may be no higher, the evidence of their purity is placed beyond question. Paul’s ground of glorying, therefore, was not preaching, for that was a matter of obligation; but his preaching gratuitously, which was altogether optional. If, says he, my preaching is optional, I have a reward; not in the sense of merit in the sight of God, but in the general sense of recompense. He gained something by it. He gained the confidence even of his enemies. But as preaching was not optional but obligatory, he did not gain confidence by it. Mere preaching, therefore, was not a (καύχημα) ground of boasting, but preaching gratuitously was. A dispensation of the gospel is committed to me; in the Greek it is simply, ‘I am entrusted with a stewardship (comp. Galatians 2:7 i.e. an office), which I am bound to discharge. I am in this matter a mere servant.’ The principle on which the apostle’s argument is founded is recognized by our Lord, when he said, “When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do,” Luke 17:10.

Verse 18

What is my reward then? (Verily) that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.

To do what he was commanded was no ground of reward; but to preach the gospel without charge was something of which he could boast, i.e. make a ground of confidence. What then is my reward? i.e. what constitutes my reward? in the sense explained; what gives the a ground of boasting? The answer follows, (ἵνα being used instead of the exegetical infinitive; comp. John 15:8; 1 John 4:17.) that preaching I should make the gospel free of charge. In other words, that I should not use my right in the gospel. In other words, Paul’s reward was to sacrifice himself for others. He speaks of his being permitted to serve others gratuitously as a reward. And so it was, not only because it was an honor and happiness to be allowed to serve Christ in thus serving his people; but also because it secured him the confidence of those among whom he labored by proving his disinterestedness. The common version, that I abuse not, although agreeable to the common meaning of καταχράομαι, is not consistent with the context, and is not demanded by the usage of the word; see 1 Corinthians 7:31. It was not the abuse, but the use of his right to be supported, that the apostle had renounced.

Verse 19

For though I be free from all (men), yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.

The apostle’s self-denial and accommodation of himself to the weakness and prejudices of others, was not confined to the point of which he had been speaking. He constantly acted upon the principle of abstaining in things indifferent, from insisting on his rights. Though free from all, i.e. independent of all men, and under no obligation to conform my conduct to their opinions, I subjected myself to all. In what way he did this, and to what extent, is explained by what follows. His motive in thus accommodating himself to others, was, that he might gain the more, or the greater number, the majority; comp. 1 Corinthians 10:5. No one was more yielding in matters of indifference, no one was more unyielding in matters of principle than this apostle. So long as things indifferent were regarded as such, he was ready to accommodate himself to the most unreasonable prejudices; but when they were insisted upon as matters of necessity, he would not give place, no not for an hour, Galatians 2:5.

Verse 20

And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

To the Jews he became as a Jew, i.e. he acted as they acted, he conformed to their usages, observed the law, avowing at the same time that he did it as a matter of accommodation. Wherever the fair inference from his compliance would have been that he regarded these Jewish observances as necessary, he strenuously refused compliance. His conduct in relation to Timothy and Titus, before referred to, shows the principle on which he acted. The former he circumcised, because it was regarded as a concession. The latter he refused to circumcise, because it was demanded as a matter of necessity. There are two things, therefore, to be carefully observed in all cases of concession to the opinions and practices of others: first, that the point conceded be a matter of indifference; for Paul never yielded in the smallest measure to any thing which was in itself wrong. In this his conduct was directly the opposite to that of those who accommodate themselves to the sins of men, or to the superstitious observances of false religions. And secondly, that the concession does not involve any admission that what is in fact indifferent is a matter of moral obligation. The extent to which Paul went to conciliate the Jews may be learnt from what is recorded in Acts 21:18-27.

To those under the law. These were not converted Jews, because they were already gained to the gospel, and did not need to be won, which is the sense in which the expression to gain is used in this verse, as he had just spoken of gaining the Jews. Perhaps those under the law, as distinguished from Jews, were proselytes, i.e. Gentiles who had embraced Judaism. But most of these proselytes were not strictly under the law. They acknowledged Jehovah to be the only true God, but did not subject themselves to the Mosaic institutions. The common opinion is, that this clause is only explanatory of the former, ‘To the Jews, i.e. to those under the law, I became as a Jew, i.e. as one under the law.’

“Not being myself under the law,” μὴ ὣν αὐτὸς ὑπὸ νόμον, This clause happened to be omitted from the Elziver edition of the Greek Testament from which our translation was made, and therefore fails in the common English version. It is found, however, in all the more ancient manuscripts, in many of the fathers and early versions, and is therefore adopted by most modern editors. The internal evidence is also in its favor. It was important for Paul to say that although acting as under the law, he was not under it; because it was a fundamental principle of the gospel which he preached, that believers are freed from the law. “We are not under law, but under grace,” Romans 6:14. It was necessary, therefore, that his compliance with the Jewish law should be recognized as a matter of voluntary concession.

Verse 21

To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.

Those without law were the heathen, who had no written revelation as the rule of their conduct; comp. Romans 2:12. As, however, the word (ἄνομος), without law, means also reckless, regardless of moral restraint, Paul is careful to explain in what sense he acted as without law. When among the Gentiles he did not conform to the Jewish law; in that sense, he was without law; but he did not act as without law to God, i.e. without regard to the obligation of the moral law; but as under law to Christ, i.e. as recognizing his obligation to obey Christ, whose will is the highest rule of duty. In other words, he was not under the Jewish law; but he was under the moral law. He disregarded the Jewish law that he might gain those without law, i.e. the Gentiles. When in Jerusalem, he conformed to the Jewish law; when in Antioch he refused to do so, and rebuked Peter for acting as a Jew among the Gentiles, Galatians 2:11-21. It would have greatly impeded, if not entirely prevented, the progress of the gospel among the heathen, had it been burdened with the whole weight of the Jewish ceremonies and restrictions. Peter himself had told even the Jews that the Mosaic law was a yoke which neither they nor their fathers had been able to bear, Acts 15:10. And Paul said to the Galatians, that he had resisted the Judaizers, in order that the truth of the gospel might remain with them, Galatians 2:5.

Verse 22

To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made an things to all (men), that I might by all means save some.

By the weak many understand the Jews and Gentiles considered under another aspect, i.e. as destitute of the power to comprehend and appreciate the gospel. The only reason for this interpretation is the assumption that to gain in this connection must mean to convert, or make Christians of, and therefore, those to be gained must be those who were not Christians. But the word means merely to win over, to bring to proper views, and therefore may be used in reference to weak and superstitious believers as well as of unconverted Jews and Gentiles. As in the preceding chapter the weak mean weak Christians, men who were not clear and decided in their views, and as the very design of the whole discussion was to induce the more enlightened Corinthian Christians to accommodate themselves to those weaker brethren, it is altogether more natural to understand it in the same way here. Paul holds himself up as an example. To the weak he became as weak; he accommodated himself to their prejudices that he might win them over to better views. And he wished the Corinthians to do the same. I am made all things to all men. This generalizes all that had been said. It was not to this or that class of men, that he was thus conciliatory, but to all classes, and as to all matters of indifference; that he might at all events (πάντως) save some.

Verse 23

And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with (you).

This I do; or, according to the reading now generally adopted (πάντα instead of τοῦτο), I do all things, ‘my whole course of action, not merely in thus accommodating myself to the prejudices of others, but in every thing else, is regulated for the promotion of the gospel.’ This gives a better sense; for to say, This I do, would be only to repeat what is included in the preceding verse. Paul lived for the gospel. He did all things for it. That I may be a joint-partaker thereof, i.e. a partaker with others; not, with you, as there is nothing to confine the statement to the Corinthians. To be a partaker of the gospel, means, of course, to be a partaker of its benefits; the subject of the redemption which it announces. It is necessary to live for the gospel, in order to be a partaker of the gospel.

Verse 24

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

An exhortation to self-denial and exertion, clothed in figurative language. As the exhortation is addressed principally to the Gentile converts, the imagery used is derived from the public games with which they were so familiar. These games, the Olympian and Isthmian, the latter celebrated every third summer in the neighborhood of Corinth, were the occasions for the concourse of the people from all parts of Greece. The contests in them excited the greatest emulation in all classes of the inhabitants. Even the Roman emperors did not refuse to enter the lists. To be a victor was to be immortalized with such immortality as the breath of man can give. To Greeks, therefore, no allusions could be more intelligible, or more effective, than those to these institutions, which have nothing to answer to them in modern times.

Know ye not. He took for granted they were familiar with the rules of the games to which he referred. That those running in a race; literally in the stadium or circus in which the games were celebrated, so called because it was a stadium (a little more than two hundred yards) in length. All run, but one obtains the prize. It was not enough to start in this race; it was not enough to persevere almost to the end; it was necessary to outrun all competitors and be first at the goal. But one took the prize. So run that ye may obtain. That is, run as that one runs, in order that ye may obtain. The greatest self-denial in preparation, and the greatest effort in the contest, were necessary to success. In the Christian race there are many victors; but the point of the exhortation is, that all should run as the one victor ran in the Grecian games.

Verse 25

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they (do it) to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

Every one who striveth, etc. (πᾶς ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος) every one accustomed to contend, i.e. every professional athlete. The word includes all kinds of contests, whether in running, wrestling or fighting. Is temperate in all things, i.e. controls himself as to all things. He exercises self-denial in diet, in bodily indulgences, and by painful and protracted discipline. The ancient writers abound in rules of abstinence and exercise, to be observed by competitors in preparation for the games. They indeed for a corruptible crown, we for an incorruptible. If the heathen submitted to such severe discipline to gain a wreath of olive or garland of pine leaves, shall not Christians do as much for a crown of righteousness which fadeth not away?

Verse 26

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

I therefore, i.e. because so much effort is necessary to success. So run, i.e. run not in such a manner as one who runs uncertainly (ἀδήλως). That may mean unconspicuously, not as one unseen, but as one on whom all eyes are fixed. Or more probably the idea is, not as one runs who is uncertain where or for what he is running. A man who runs uncertain as to his course or object, runs without spirit or effort. So fight I. The allusion is here to boxing, or fighting with the fist. Not as one beating the air. Here again the figure is doubtful. A man who is merely exercising, without an antagonist, may be said to smite the air. A man puts forth little strength in such a sham conflict. Or the man who aims at his antagonist, and fails to hit him, smites the air. This is the better explanation. Virgil has the same figure to express the same idea. He says of a boxer who missed his antagonist, “vires in ventum effudit.” Aen. v. 446. In either way the meaning is the same. Nothing is accomplished. The effort is in vain. In 1 Corinthians 14:9, the apostle says of those who speak in an unknown tongue, that they speak into the air. That is, they speak to no effect.

Verse 27

But I keep under my body, and bring (it) into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away.

In opposition to the fruitless or objectless fighting just described, Paul says, I keep under my body; literally I bruise my body. (ὐπωπιάζω, to smite under the eye, to bruise, to smite, Luke 18:5.) His antagonist was his body, which he so smote, i.e. so dealt with, as to bring it into subjection; literally, to lead about as a slave. Perhaps in reference to the custom of the victor leading about his conquered antagonist as a servant; though this is doubtful. The body, as in part the seat and organ of sin, is used for our whole sinful nature. Romans 8:13. It was not merely his sensual nature that Paul endeavored to bring into subjection, but all the evil propensities and passions of his heart. Lest having preached to others (κηρύξας), Perhaps the apostle means to adhere to the figure and say, ‘Lest having acted the part of a herald, (whose office at the Grecian games was to proclaim the rules of the contest and to summon the competitors or combatants to the lists,) he himself should be judged unworthy of the prize.’ As, however, the word is so often used for preaching the gospel, he may intend to drop the figure and say, ‘He made these strenuous exertions, lest, having preached the gospel to others, he himself should become (ἀδόκιμος) a reprobate, one rejected.’ What an argument and what a reproof is this! The reckless and listless Corinthians thought they could safely indulge themselves to the very verge of sin, while this devoted apostle considered himself as engaged in a life-struggle for his salvation. This same apostle, however, who evidently acted on the principle that the righteous scarcely are saved, and that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, at other times breaks out in the most joyful assurance of salvation, and says that he was persuaded that nothing in heaven, earth or hell could ever separate him from the love of God. Romans 8:38, Romans 8:39. The one state of mind is the necessary condition of the other. It is only those who are conscious of this constant and deadly struggle with sin, to whom this assurance is given. In the very same breath Paul says, “O wretched man that I am;” and, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory,” Romans 7:24, Romans 7:25. It is the indolent and self-indulgent Christian who is always in doubt.

Bibliographical Information
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hdg/1-corinthians-9.html.
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