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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 3

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

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Verse 1

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

And I - i:e., as the natural (animal) man cannot receive, so I also could not (was not able-namely, at my second visit-to) speak unto you deep things of God, since spiritual things can be made intelligible only to the spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13); but I was compelled to speak to you as I would to MEN OF FLESH. 'Aleph (') A B C Delta G f g, Vulgate, read this for "carnal." Fleshy [ sarkinois (G4560)] implies men wholly of flesh. Carnal, or fleshly, implies not that they were wholly unregenerate (1 Corinthians 2:14), but that they had a carnal tendency [1 Corinthians 3:3, sarkikoi (G4559)] (for instance, their divisions), notwithstanding their conversion (1 Corinthians 1:4-9).

Babes - neophytes; contrasted with the perfect (fully matured) in Christ (Colossians 1:28: cf. Hebrews 5:13-14). They had life in Christ, but it was weak. He blames them for being still in a degree (not altogether; therefore he says "as") babes in Christ, when by this time they ought to have "come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). In Romans 7:14, also the oldest manuscripts, read, 'I am a man of flesh,' which goes toward proving that Paul there describes his regenerate but imperfect state.

Verse 2

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

Milk - the elementary "principles of the doctrine of Christ" (Hebrews 6:1). The profounder doctrines in this letter were for the more mature believers among them.

Verse 3

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

Envying - jealousy, rivalry. This refers to their feelings; "strife," to their words; "divisions," to their actions. An ascending climax: envying produced strife, and strife divisions (factious parties) [ dichostasiai (G1370) is supported by 'Aleph (') Delta G f g; but A B C, Vulgate, omit it]. His language becomes severer as he proceeds: in 1 Corinthians 1:11 he had only said "contentions;" he now multiplies words (cf. the stronger term, 1 Corinthians 4:6, than in 1 Corinthians 3:21). Carnal - "strife" is a "work of the flesh" (Galatians 5:20). The "flesh" includes all feelings that aim not at the glory of God and the good of our neighbour, but at gratifying self: not merely the lower appetites.

Walk as men - as unregenerate men (cf. Matthew 16:23). "After the flesh, not after the Spirit," as becomes those regenerate by the Spirit (Romans 8:4; Galatians 5:25-26).

Verse 4

For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

Are ye not carnal? (1 Corinthians 1:12.) 'Aleph (') A B C Delta G f g, Vulgate, read 'Are ye not men?' - i:e., 'walking as men' unregenerate (1 Corinthians 3:3).

Verse 5

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

Paul ... Apollos. 'Aleph (') A B C Delta G f g, Vulgate, read in the reverse order, Apollos ... Paul. He puts Apollos before himself, in humility.

Who then - seeing that ye severally strive so for your favourite teachers, "Who is (of what intrinsic power is) Paul?" If so great an apostle reasons so of himself, how much more does humility, rather than self-seeking, become ordinary ministers.

But ministers ... So 'Aleph ('). A B C Delta G f g, Vulgate, have no "but." "Who is Apollos ... Paul? (mere) ministers (a lowly word appropriate here, servants) by whom (not 'in whom;' by whose ministrations) ye believed."

As the Lord gave to every Man_1:-1 :e., to the several ministers (Romans 12:6-7).

Verse 6

I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. I ... planted, Apollos watered (Acts 18:1; Acts 19:1). Apollos was born in the learned city Alexandria: he originally "knew only the baptism of John;" but subsequently being taught in the Gospel by Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus, he, at his own desire, was sent by the brethren to Corinth, and there followed up the work which Paul had begun. Eloquent and mighty in the Scripture, "he mightily convinced the Jews ... publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ." Paul's forte was in planting new churches.

God gave the increase - i:e., the growth (1 Corinthians 3:10; Acts 18:27). "He helped them much which had believed through grace." Ministers are nothing, and God is all in all; yet God works by instruments, and promises the Spirit in the faithful use of means. This is the dispensation of the Spirit: ours is the ministry of the Spirit.

Verse 7

So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

Neither is he that ... any thing ... but God - namely, is all in all. "God" is emphatically last in the Greek, 'He that giveth the increase (namely), GOD.' Here follows a parenthesis, from 1 Corinthians 3:8 to 1 Corinthians 3:21, where, "Let no man glory in MEN" stands in antithetic contrast to GOD here.

Verse 8

Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

One - one in standing before God; able to do nothing without God. It is only their relative faithfulness with their gifts which will place them higher or lower (Matthew 25:14-30); therefore they ought not to be made by you the occasion, of party divisions.

And every man - rather, 'but ( de (G1161)) every man.' Though in service they are essentially "one," yet every minister is separately responsible, and "shall receive his own (emphatically repeated) reward, according to his own labour." The reward is something over and above personal salvation (1 Corinthians 3:14-15; 2 John 1:8). He shall be rewarded according to, not the amount of work done, but "according to his own labour." It shall be said to him, "Well done, thou good and (not successful, but) faithful servant, enter thou," etc.

Verse 9

For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry ye are God's building For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.

God - Translate, as the Greek collocation, and the emphasis on "God" thrice repeated, requires, 'For (in proof that "each shall receive reward according to his own labour," from God) it is of God that we are fellow-workers (labouring with, through His marvelous condescension, but under, belonging to, and drawing all our grace from Him as His servant, 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 6:1: cf. Acts 15:4; Note, 1 Thessalonians 3:2) of God, that ye are the field (agriculture), of God that ye are the building.' "Building" is a new image, suited better than husbandry to set forth the different kinds of teaching and their results, which he is now about to discuss. 'To edify' or 'build up' the Church is similarly used, Ephesians 2:21-22; Ephesians 4:29.

Verse 10

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

Grace ... given unto me (1 Corinthians 3:5). Paul puts this first, to guard against usurping a particle of the divine glory in pronouncing himself "a WISE master-builder."

Wise - i:e., skillful. His skill is shown in laying the foundation (1 Corinthians 2:2). The unskillful builder lays none (Luke 6:49). Christ is the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11).

Another - whoever comes after me. He does not name Apollos, for he speaks generally of all successors. His warning, "Let every man (especially, though not exclusively, every teacher) take heed how," etc., refers to other successors than Apollos, who doubtless did not build wood, hay, etc., on the foundation (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15). Believers, too, have to take heed what superstructural doctrine they build upon Christ in themselves and in those whom they influence.

How - with what material: how far wisely, and in builder-like style (1 Peter 4:11).

Buildeth thereupon. Here the superstructure raised on Christ is not, as in Ephesians 2:20-21, of believers, the "lively stones" of the Church (1 Peter 2:5), but the doctrinal and practical teaching which succeeding teachers added to Paul's first teaching; not that they taught what was false, but their teaching was subtle and speculative, rather than solid and simple.

Verse 11

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

(Isaiah 28:16; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:20.) For. My warning (1 Corinthians 3:10) is as to the superstructure, not as to the foundation: "For other foundation can no man lay than [ para (G3844), besides] that laid (by God)."

Jesus Christ - the person as well as the doctrine; Jesus, GOD-SAVIOUR; Christ, MESSIAH or ANOINTED.

Can no man lay - since the only one recognized by God is already laid.

Verse 12

Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

Now [ de (G1161)] - "But." The "gold, silver, precious stones," which all can bear fire (Revelation 3:18; Revelation 21:18-19; Isaiah 54:11), are teachings that will stand the test of judgment: "wood, hay, stubble," are those which cannot-not positive heresy, for that would destroy the foundation (which all admitted is Christ), but teaching mixed up with human philosophy and Judaism-curious rather than useful. Besides the teachings, the superstructure represents also the persons cemented to the Church, the reality of whose conversion, through the teachers' instrumentality, will be tested at the last day. Where there is the least grain of real faith, it shall never be lost (1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 4:12): the straw only feeds the fire (Matthew 5:19).

Verse 13

Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.

Every man's work - each superstructure on the foundation.

The day - of the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:8; Hebrews 10:25). "The day" - i:e., the day of days, the long-expected day.

Declare it - old English for 'make it clear,' (1 Corinthians 4:5).

It shall be revealed by fire - it, i:e., "every man's work." 'He,' the Lord, whose day it is (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). Literally, 'is being revealed (the present implies the certainty and nearness of the event, Revelation 22:10; Revelation 22:20) in fire' (Malachi 3:2-3; Malachi 4:1). The fire (figurative here, as the gold, hay, etc.) is not purgatory (as Rome teaches, i:e., purificatory and punitive), but probatory; not restricted to those dying in 'venial sin'-the supposed intermediate class between those entering heaven at once, and those dying in mortal sin, who go to hell-but universal, testing the godly and ungodly alike (2 Corinthians 5:10: cf. Mark 9:49). This fire is not until the last day; the supposed fire of purgatory begins at death. The fire of Paul is to try the works, the fire of purgatory the persons, of men. Paul's fire causes "loss" to the sufferers; Rome's purgatory, great gain-namely, heaven at last to those purged by it, if only it were true. It was not this doctrine that gave rise to prayers for the dead, but the practice of praying for the dead (which crept in from the mistaken solicitude of survivors), that gave rise to practice of praying for the dead (which crept in from the mistaken solicitude of survivors), that gave rise to the doctrine.

Verse 14

If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

Abide - the testing fire (Matthew 3:11-12).

Which he hath built thereupon - on the foundation.

Reward - wages, as a builder. Converts built on Christ, the foundation, through, his faithfulness, shall be his "crown of rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:19).

Verse 15

If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

If ... be burnt - If any man's work consist of such materials as the fire will destroy.

Suffer loss - i:e., forfeit the special "reward;" not that he shall lose salvation (which is a free gift, not a "reward," or wages), for he remains on the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:12; 2 John 1:8).

Saved; yet so as by fire - rather, 'so as if through fire' (Zechariah 3:2; Amos 4:11; Jude 1:23). The 'as if' shows the phrase to be figurative: having a narrow escape (Psalms 66:12; Isaiah 43:2). The 'Lord suddenly coming to His temple' in flaming "fire" all parts of the building which will not stand that fire will be consumed; the builders will escape with personal salvation, but with the loss of their work. Again, we may regard the superstructure as representing less essential matters added to the essentials: a man may err as to the former, and have the mortification of seeing much of his labour lost, and yet be saved; but not so as to the latter (cf. Philippians 3:15).

Verse 16

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Know ye not - It is no new thing I tell you, in calling you "God's building;" ye are the noblest of buildings, "the temple of God."

Ye - Christians form together one vast temple. Not, 'ye are temples,' but "ye are the temple" collectively, and "lively stones" (1 Peter 2:5) individually.

God ... Spirit - God's indwelling, and that of the Holy Spirit, are one; and therefore the Holy Spirit is God. No literal "temple" is recognized in the Christian Church. The only one is the spiritual temple, the whole body of believing worshippers which the Holy Spirit dwells in (1 Corinthians 6:19; John 4:23-24). The synagogue was the model of the Christian house of worship. The temple was the house of sacrifice, rather than of prayer. Prayers in the temple were silent and individual (Luke 1:10; Luke 18:10-13), not joint and public, nor with reading of Scripture, as in the synagogue. The temple (since naos (G3485) means, from a root 'to dwell') was the earthly dwelling-place of God, where alone He put His name. The synagogue (i:e., an assembly) was the place for assembling. God now has His earthly temple, not of wood and stone, but the congregation of believers, the 'living stones' in the 'spiritual house.' Believers are all spiritual priests in it. Jesus, our High Priest, has the only literal priesthood (Malachi 1:11; Matthew 18:20; 1 Peter 2:5).

Verse 17

If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

If any ... defile ... destroy - rather, as the Greek is the same in both, 'destroy ... destroy;' or [ ftheirei (G5351), ftherei (G5351)], 'If any corrupt, God will give him to corruption.' God repays in kind by righteous retaliation. The destroyer shall be destroyed. The destroyers are distinct from the unwise builders (1 Corinthians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 3:15); these hold fast the "foundation" (1 Corinthians 3:11); therefore, though they lose their superstructure and the special reward, yet they are themselves saved, though by a narrow escape: those, on the contrary, assailed with corrupt teaching the foundation, and so the temple itself, and shall therefore be destroyed. All, whether teachers or laymen by profession, are "priests unto God" (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). As the Aaronic priests were doomed to die if they violated the old temple (Exodus 28:43; Leviticus 16:2), so any Christian who violates the spiritual temple shall perish eternally (Hebrews 10:26). All who build hay, etc., as a superstructure, are herein warned; for though, if they retain "the foundation," they shall be saved, however narrowly, yet they are in danger of corrupting this, which would entail their own destruction. Theophylact, from the parallelism between 1 Corinthians 3:15 and 1 Corinthians 3:17, takes 1 Corinthians 3:15, 'he shall be reserved (not annihilated as his work) so as to be burned in the fire' eternally; answering to 'him God shall destroy' (Mark 9:44). But this Greek of "saved" is not so used in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 3:17 seems rather a further and more deadly stage of error.

Holy - inviolable (Habakkuk 2:20).

Which temple ye are - or 'the which [ hoitines (G3748)] (i:e., holy) are ye;' therefore, to tamper with the foundation being a violation of the temple's inviolability entails ruin.

Verse 18

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

Seemeth - i:e., is, and is regarded by himself and others.

Wise in this world - wise in mere worldly wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20).

Let him become a fool - by receiving the Gospel in its unworldly simplicity, and so abjuring worldly wisdom, that law may seek the true wisdom from God, the obedience of faith (Galatians 6:7).

Verse 19

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

With God - in the judgment of God.

It is written - in Job 5:13. This formula of quoting SCRIPTURE establishes the canonicity of Job.

He taketh the wise in their own craftiness - proving the "foolishness" of the world's wisdom, since God makes it the very snare to catch those who think themselves so wise. Literally, He who taketh [ drassomenos (G1405)], graspeth with his hand, etc., the whole sentence not being quoted, but only the part which suited Paul's purpose.

Verse 20

And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

From Psalms 94:11, Septuagint There it is of men; here it is "of the wise." Paul by inspiration states the class whose "thoughts" [ dialogismous (G1261); Hebrew, Machsheboth] (rather, "reasonings," as suits the context) the Spirit designated in the psalm, "vanity" - namely, the "proud" (1 Corinthians 3:2) and worldly wise, whom God in 1 Corinthians 3:8 calls "fools," though they "boast themselves" of their wisdom in pushing their interests (1 Corinthians 3:4).

Verse 21

Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;

Let no man glory in men - as the sphere in which he glories; resuming 1 Corinthians 3:4: cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 1:31, where the true object of glorying is stated: "THE LORD." Also 1 Corinthians 4:6.

For all things - not only all men. For you to glory in men is lowering yourselves from your high position as heirs of all things. All (including your teachers) belong to Christ, and therefore to you, by your union with Him: He makes them and all things work together for your good (Romans 8:28). Ye are not for the sake of them, but they for you (2 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 4:15). They belong to you, not you to them.

Verse 22

Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;

Enumeration of the "all things." The teachers in whom they gloried he puts first (1 Corinthians 1:12). He omits after "Cephas," or Christ, to whom exclusively some (1 Corinthians 1:12) professed to belong; for he stands infinitely above the category, Paul, Apollos, etc.; since only through Him they are what they are; but substitutes "ye are Christ's" (1 Corinthians 3:23).

World, or life, or death, or things present (until Christ's coming and kingdom) ... things to come (after it). Not only shall they not "separate you from the love of God in Christ" (Romans 8:38-39), but they "all are yours" (Mark 10:29-30), as they belong to Christ your head (Hebrews 1:2).

Verse 23

And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's.

Ye are Christ's - not Paul's or Apollos', etc. (Matthew 23:8-10; Romans 14:8). Not merely a section, but ye all are Christ's (1 Corinthians 1:12).

Christ is God's (1 Corinthians 11:3). God is the ultimate end of all, even of Christ, His co-equal Son (1 Corinthians 15:28; Philippians 2:6-11).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-corinthians-3.html. 1871-8.
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