Lectionary Calendar
Friday, June 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 3

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-4


1 Corinthians 3:1-4

1And I, [I also1] brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, [fleshy2] even as unto babes in Christ. 2I have fed you with milk, and [om. and3] not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither [nay, not even4] yet now are ye able. 3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, [om. divisions5] are ye not carnal, and walk as men? 4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal [men6]?


1 Corinthians 3:1. As in 1 Corinthians 2:1, so here Paul turns from his more general exposition to the consideration of his own ministry at Corinth. The points of connection are furnished in 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 14:0. The communication of wisdom on the part of the Apostles belonged only to the sphere of the perfect, of the spiritual; it could not be extended to those who were natural psychical (Seelische) and unreceptive of that which was of the Spirit. As every other person must have done therefore, I also was obliged to treat you as persons of the latter class.—was not able to speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto (merely) fleshy (persons), as unto babes in Christ.—Instead of ψυχικός, natural, lit. psychical, Ger. seelisch, he now uses σάρκινος and σαρκικός, fleshy and fleshly or carnal, the ordinary antithesis to πνευματικός, spiritual. The sense, however, is not changed by this, for the natural or psychical man is also at the same time a “fleshy” and “carnal” man (comp. 1 Corinthians 2:14), and we can neither say, with Bengel, that these latter expressions are milder, nor with Rückert, that they denote simple weakness, while the former implies hostile opposition; nor with Theophy. that they are stronger epithets than “psychical,” nor that the latter refers to the intelligence, while the former apply to the moral side of human nature, such as the desire and passions. Meyer 2d ed., “ψυχικός denotes the category to which σαρκινός and σαρκικός belong.” 3d ed., “ψυχικός: one who stands outside of the influence of the Spirit, who either has not received Him at all, or has been again deserted by Him.” Such a person is also σαρκικός. But not every σαρκικός as such is still a ψυχικός, because a σαρκικός may be also one who experienced the influences of the Spirit, but is not sufficiently actuated by his enlightening and sanctifying power to overcome the hostile power of the flesh; he still thinks, feels, judges, acts , κατὰ σάρκα (according to the flesh). “He is here not speaking of Christians as distinguished from the world, but of one class of Christians as distinguished from another.” Hodge.—Again it is a question how σάρκιυος, fleshy, and σαρκικός, fleshly, stand related to each other. The former elsewhere is used to denote made of the flesh, carneous. [Barytones in ινος denote the material of which a, λιθινος of stone, ξύλινος of wood, etc.]. The LXX. employs it to signify partly the earthliness and weakness of man in contrast with God (2 Chronicles 32:8), and partly what is tender and easily impressed in contrast with what is hard and stony (Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26. In like manner it occurs in 2 Corinthians 3:3). But σαρκικός is used in the New Testament, and afterwards by the church fathers, to designate the disposition and character as contrasted with πνευματικός. [Denominatives in κός express that which pertains to the noun from which they are derived, and are like our adjectives ending in ly]. Bleek in Hebrews 7:16 is of the opinion that in the first introduction of these terms they were used alike, and that it was hot until later that the ordinary ethical signification was limited to the form σαρκικός which occurs but rarely in the classics. Meyer on the contrary sharply distinguishes. According to him σάρκινος designates the unspiritual state of nature which the Corinthians still had in their early Christian minority, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit had as yet changed their character so slightly that they appeared as if consisting of men flesh still. But σαρκικός expresses a later ascendancy of the hostile material nature over the divine principle of which they had been made partakers by progressive instruction. And it is the latter which, as he thinks, the Apostle makes the ground of his rebuke. In so far, however, as both epithets are of kindred signification, he could, notwithstanding the distinction between them, affirm, “for ye are yet carnal.” So Meyer. The distinction between an intellectual weakness and narrow-mindedness in the first beginnings of Christianity (to which also the parallel expression νηπίοις, babes, refers), and a moral impurity and perverseness manifesting itself in the progress of Christian development, and involving also an intellectual incapacity for a true heavenly wisdom, is a distinction fully justifiable and consonant with the use of the terms σαρκικός and σάρκινος by the Apostle elsewhere. But that the term σαρκίνοιζ is to be here understood relatively, and as not denoting an entire lack of the πνεῦμα is clearly indicated by the phrase “as unto babes in Christ.” The time here referred to is that when they had just begun to receive Christian instruction, and were but recently admitted into fellowship with Christ by faith and baptism, and so become the children of God. They were of course then wholly immature and spiritually dependent, so that their conduct did not indicate the full impress of the Spirit. Their conscious will, the I, was still fettered by carnal and selfish habits, and their ability to comprehend the deeper grounds and relations of Christian truth was yet undeveloped. In short the allusion is to that crudeness which is seen in children. [And does not the word “fleshy,” seeing that the Apostle had in mind the image of babyhood, also clearly refer to the appearance of the babe also—a little lump seemingly of mere flesh, as yet evincing but little signs of mind or conscience, although containing these elements in the germ? One can hardly avoid discovering here one reason of the use of the word “fleshy” instead of fleshly, which is an opprobious epithet, applicable only to later years. That mere animalness, which is one of the beauties of the babe, becomes deformity and a disgrace in an adult. Hence the change of terms when the Apostle comes to speak of their after condition. They were σάρκινοι at first, but not developing their spirituality they become σαρκικόι]. That fondness for showy eloquence which was natural at the first passed over into the vanity and corruption of an egotistical partisanship, and so instead of attaining progressively a confirmed Christian character, they become carnal. In like manner the Rabbins also speak of little ones and sucklings. Schoettgen in loco. Wetstein 1 Peter 2:2; Matthew 10:42. On νηπίοις. comp. 1 Corinthians 14:20; Hebrews 5:13; otherwise Matthew 11:25.

1 Corinthians 3:2. The figure introduced in the previous verse is still further carried out.—I gave you milk to drink.—That is, he gave them nourishment suited to their age. To the beginners in the Divine life, He imparted such instruction as was easy to be understood, the rudiments of Christian knowledge (Hebrews 6:1), not strong meat such as adults only could digest, not the deeper truths of wisdom, which only those who had advanced in religious experience could properly receive, 1 Corinthians 2:6 ff.—not meat.—This is connected to the foregoing in the way of a zeugma. [Winer, § 66.100.]. Instead of ἐπότισα, have given to drink, which can only be asserted of the “milk,” and not of the “meat,” some other verb, such as ἔδωκα, have given, is to be supplied. “The distinction between ‘milk’ and ‘meat’ can lie only in the formal treatment of the same fundamental truth.” Neander. “To refer the distinction here to the subject-matter of the preaching, is required neither by the figure used, nor by the connection.” Burger. [“The same truth in one form is milk, in another form, strong meat.” Hodge. “Christ is milk for babes, and strong meat for men.” Calvin]. The reason of the above precedence was,—for ye were not as yet able to bear it.—The time here referred to was the commencement of his ministry, and that of their first conversion, and the verb ἐδύνασθε, able is to be taken in an absolute sense, as it is used also in the classics, “ye were not strong or capable enough.” Meyer.—nay, nor yet now are ye able.—The ἀλλά. [which we render “nay”], is climacteric: not only were ye unable, but indeed ye are so still.” It might appear inconsistent with this declaration that Paul proceeded in the 15 to expound to them the doctrine of the resurrection which certainly is strong meat rather than milk; but there was a special demand for such an exposition, which saved him from the charge of contradicting himself.

1 Corinthians 3:3. [Assigns the reason of the inability.—For ye are yet carnal—here we have σαρκικόι—not σάρκινοι, as the word of censure applicable only to their advanced stage, and showing that though they had been Christians for a long time, they had yet the fleshiness of children upon them, now become fleshliness. The proof of this]—for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions [?], are ye not carnal, and walk according to man?—Here he refers back to what was said in 1 Corinthians 1:10, ff. In Galatians 5:20 he also counts these same things as among the works of the flesh, comp. likewise Romans 13:13. Ζῆλος, envying; in classic as well as in Hellenic usage, this word occurs in a good sense, zeal, emulation, and in a bad one, jealousy, envy. Here it signifies partisan rivalry. Out of this arose ἔρις strife, i.e. verbal disputation. If διχοστασίαι, divisions (see Crit. notes) were genuine, we should have in this a climax, indicating the schisms before referred to. ̔́Οπου, whereas, occurs in the classics, also in a causal sense, because, in so far as, since. Passow. According to de Wette, it is like εἰ, a conditional designation of the reason, “if there be,” etc. According to Meyer it implies a local conception of the conditional relation: “where there is” (comp. Hebrews 9:16; Hebrews 10:18).—Κατὰ ἄνθρωπον (also Romans 3:5)=σαρκικῶς. It is the opposite to “walking in the Spirit,” Galatians 5:25. What he means to say is, ‘your conduct conforms to the ways of men as they ordinarily are in their apostate and irreligious condition.’

1 Corinthians 3:4. A further confirmation.—“For when one says, ‘I am of Paul;” and another, ‘I am of Apollos.’—The allusion to the parties is not as full as in 1 Corinthians 1:12, inasmuch as he has in this paragraph only to do with that of Apollos, or rather with the opposition existing between this and that called after himself.” Meyer. “These were at the same time the most important parties at Corinth.” Osiander. Here likewise the distinction is not stated according to grammatical rules. The ἐγὼ μέν, however, brings out the contrast with emphasis: “I, on my part;” or, “I, at all events.” (Comp. Passow μέν, A. I., II. 7; vol. II. 1. p. 175 and 177),—are ye not men.—The same usage as in 1 Corinthians 3:3 : κατ̓ ἄνθρωπον “after man’s fashion.” It was natural for the Jews to see in man (אָדָם), the earthly, an implication of what was defective, imperfect, indeed the exact antithesis to God, and whatever was godlike. Hence the expression in the Old Testament: “the children of men,” and especially “the daughters of men” (Genesis 5:0), in opposition to “the sons of God.” (This is, according to the only interpretation suited to the connection and the spirit of the Old Testament, which sets the sanctified portion of the race over against those who represent men, human nature severed from God). The expression as here used, is certainly unique, but entirely in accordance with the analogy of Scripture. “It means people who have not been lifted above human infirmity, and in whom the Divine element is utterly wanting.” Meyer.


Comp. on 1 Corinthians 1:12 ff.; 1 Corinthians 2:6 ff.; 1 Corinthians 2:1 ff.

1. [Christian truth is of different grades, and suited to different capacities. It has rudiments for the simplest child, and profundities which the angels desire to look into, and can never fully penetrate. It begins with the plainest facts of history, furnishing in these the foundation of a saving faith, but every one of these facts conduct us down into the deep things of God. Thus the Gospel is adapted to all classes of mankind. Its storehouse is furnished with all kinds of provisions, from the milk for babes to the strong meat for adults. In this we have one token of its Divine wisdom, and of its celestial origin and eternal destiny. Infinitude lies back of all its lowliest approaches to man in his fallen state, and in all it presents to faith, it furnishes that on which mind and heart shall feed for evermore].

2. The vanity of man apart from God. Human nature, originally so exalted in its likeness to God, so glorious in knowledge and voluntary power, has sunk so low by reason of sin, that God’s word, uttering ever the language of truth, associates with man (when regarded apart from the person of Jesus, and from what may be realized through Him) the conception of something small, weak, incapable, transient, vain, false; in short, of such imperfection and depravity as results from a rupture of our communion with God. Hence the inquiry, “who art thou, O man?” (Romans 9:20; comp. 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:3); and, “what is man?” Psalms 8:4; Psalms 144:3, ff.; and the saying, “all men are liars.” Romans 3:4. Indeed, as used in common parlance, the term is often one of contempt. Luke 22:60 : “Man, I know not what thou sayest.” Matthew 26:72 : “I do not know the man.” On the contrary, in Christ everything wins a different aspect. While in the Old Testament the term, “children of men,” is a disparaging epithet, Christ on the other hand, as “the son of man,” wears the honors of One, who, though He entered into all the weakness of human nature, and incurred its worst ills, yet rose again, and on this very account became the Mediator of a perfect communion with God, and the vehicle of all its consequent blessedness to the human race. By His righteousness He counterbalanced the sin of the old Adamic nature, and averts all its bitter results. He becomes also the sole Mediator between God and man, and appears as the One who from the lowest depths of humiliation, has been raised to utmost height of majesty. Comp. Matthew 20:18; Matthew 24:27, Matthew 25:31; Matthew 26:64, etc. All this was foreshadowed in the vision of Daniel, where the Son of man is seen to come in the clouds of heaven, and to whom is given eternal power and a kingdom without end (1 Corinthians 7:13), and where human nature thus honored by God, is contrasted with the brute nature, the beast, which develops itself in the kingdoms of this world. The oft-repeated title conferred on Ezekiel, בֶּן אָדָם: thou Son of man, may also be regarded as typical of this One who is preëminently the Son of man. It was bestowed on the prophet as the receiver of the Divine communications, and was as honorable as it was humiliating (comp. Gerlach on Ezekiel 2:1). Of the same sort was the epithet, “Man of God,” which was conferred on the prophets and other messengers of God, and passed out from the Old Testament into the New Testament. In fine, it may be affirmed generally that wherever, and to the degree in which communion with God is in any way predicable, the designation “man” at once obtains a higher signification, and becomes one of honor, and is prophetic of exaltation. Elsewhere it carries the opposite import.


Heubner:—1. The wisdom of the Christian teacher is shown in knowing how to adapt himself to different ages, and to regard the necessities of his congregation; and to build up beginners unto perfection (1 Corinthians 3:1). 2. To the carnal nature belong self-love, vanity, ambition; these traits are exhibited in strife and partizanship. There is a zeal which is nothing more than an eagerness to maintain our own opinion, cause, or party, simply because it is ours, and we expect to stand or fall with it, and not because conscience bids. From this comes strife, contention about points of difference. The issue is division. Since neither will yield, they separate. This accords with man’s fashion. Just as if Christianity were an affair of schools and sects, or as if one could act in the Church just as he does in the political world where factions and jealousies abound (1 Corinthians 3:2).

Rieger:—1. God’s method of instruction requires that we do not overload. Novices are to be treated as children. We are to be considerate of their weaknesses, and not to crowd upon them those deeper doctrines which can be properly judged of only by such as are spiritual and strong. 2. In regard to “milk” and “strong meat” let us not err. “Milk “is a designation not of cheapness and meanness, but of what is most truthful and most nourishing to the spiritual life.—“Strong meat” signifies not every thing which our intellectual curiosity may lust after, but the deeper disclosures of the fundamental verities of God’s kingdom, the knowledge of which promotes growth in grace. 3. The carnal mind, suspicious, opinionated, and thus divisive, not only begets oppositions in doctrine, but also diversities in practice, which end in schism.

Starke:—1. Cr: to become a believer is not the result of a fit of enthusiasm, as if the wind were to blow upon a person and he straightway became perfect; but we must hear, learn, pray, read, inquire until we are transformed from one degree of conviction unto another. 2. Hed: God’s children often have gross and unacknowledged faults which linger in them until they have waxed in faith and grown strong to overcome. 3. To discourse to young converts of the deeper mysteries of Christian doctrine were as irrational as to give strong meat to babes. And since with the majority growth is slow and difficult, we must often continue longer to deal out to them “the sincere milk of the Word.”

Gossner:—Every one thinks his party has the kernel and others only the shell. Whereas they all are apt to let the kernel alone and dispute about the shell, as if that were the kernel (1 Corinthians 3:4). So is it with those who, having begun in spirit, go back to the flesh. Mistaking incidentals for essentials, they grow weak in the inward man and are soon puffed up (1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 3:21).

W. F. Besser:—The mind of Christ tolerates no party-spirit, and no love of divisions. The conscience of many in this day is not sufficiently tender on this point. Indeed there are numbers who consider their Christianity so much the purer in proportion as they disregard the visible exhibition of Church unity, and are reckless in breaking the bond of peace which outwardly unites companions in one faith.

[R. W. Robertson:—“Strong meat” does not mean high doctrine such as Election, Regeneration, Justification by faith, but “Perfection,” strong demands on Self, a severe and noble Life. The danger of extreme demands made on hearts unprepared for such is seen in the case of Ananias.]

[N. Emmons. 1 Corinthians 3:2. Doctrines of the Gospel food for Christians. I. What doctrines the Apostle did preach to the Corinthians: a. Depravity; b. Regeneration; c. Love; d. Faith; e. Sanctification; f. Final Perseverance; g. Divine Sovereignty; h. Election. II. Why these are called milk:7 a. Because they are easy to be understood; b. Because they are highly pleasing to the pious heart; c. Because they are nourishing. III. Why the Apostle preached these rather than others to the Corinthians: a. Their internal state required such preaching; b. Their external state required it. Improvement. 1. If these doctrines are milk, what is meat? a. The rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic Law; b. The types and predictions of the Old Testament; c. The predictions of the New Testament. 2. The doctrines which Paul preached to the Corinthians, as shown above, have been misrepresented. 3. We have a criterion to determine who are the plainest preachers. 4. No people are incapable of hearing the doctrines Paul preached to the Corinthians].


1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 3:1.—The Rec. has καὶ ἐγώ, but with the far better and preponderant authorities A. B. C. D. E. F. G. Cod. Sin. Lach. and Tisch. read κᾀγώ [which, as Words says, “gives less prominence to the I, and accords more with the Apostle’s humility”].

1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 3:1.—The Rec. has σαρκικοῖς according to 1 Corinthians 3:3, where a preponderance of authorities declares for σαρκικοί, and only a few, governed by the original reading in 1 Corinthians 3:1, have σάρκινοι, Here as in Romans 7:14; Hebrews 7:16 we must read according to best authorities σαρκίνοις. [So A. B. C. D. Cod. Sin.—followed by Gries., Lach., Tisch., Words.. Alf., etc.].

1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Corinthians 3:2.—The καὶ, according to the best manuscripts [A. B. C. Cod. Sin.], is rejected by the great majority of translators and by the old church fathers.

1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Corinthians 3:2.—The Rec. ον̓τε instead of ον̓δέ is feebly supported and verbally incorrect.

1 Corinthians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 3:3.—Καὶ διχοστασἰαι is wanting in good authorities, A. B. [C. Cod. Sin.] and in the majority of versions and church fathers. Its omission is not to be explained. Probably inserted as a gloss from Galatians 5:20. [Wordsworth retains it].

1 Corinthians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 3:4.—Rec. ον̓χὶ σαρκικοὶ ἐστε. [Instead read ον̓κ ἄνθρωποί ἐστε. So A. B. C. Cod. Sin. Alf.. Stanley, Lach., Tisch., etc.] ονκ is better attested than ον̓χὶ and ἄνθρωποι still better. The Rec. reading is probably taken from 1 Corinthians 3:3.

[7]One would suppose the aforementioned doctrines to be the strongest kind of meat. The sermon is interesting as a specimen.]

Verses 5-15


1 Corinthians 3:5-15

5Who then is Paul, who is Apollos,8 but9 ministers by whom ye believed, even as 6the Lord gave to every man? I have [om. have] planted, Apollos watered; but God gave [was giving] the increase. 7So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 8Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man [each one] shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 9For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. 10According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have [om. have10] laid the foundation, and another 11buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.11 12Now if any man build upon this12 foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire [itself: αὐτό13] shall try every man’s work of what sort it Isaiah 14:0 If any man’s work [shall] abide14 which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.


“From this point onward to 1 Corinthians 3:23, Paul proceeds to explain in what light the Corinthians were to regard their spiritual teachers, and the work which these performed among them. And first, from 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, he deals with the relation which the human instrumentalities sustain to the Lord who employs them; then, from 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, with the responsibility which they have for their work and the decision to which it is liable; and, finally, from 1 Corinthians 3:16-23, with the position which the Church holds and ought to pursue towards them.”—Burger. 1 Corinthians 3:5.—Who then is Apollos? and who is Paul?—The reading τί: what, is at least as easily explainable on the ground that the answer given appears to point rather to “what?” than to “who?” as the reading τίς is capable of being accounted for from the effort to assimilate the genders.—[“οὖν: then, follows on the assumption of the truth of their divided state.”—Alford.] The question here put is not to be regarded as coming from the readers (Rückert) q. d. “Who are Apollos and Paul, if we may not have them as our leaders?” This thought would have been expressed in quite a different manner—more his own.—(Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:34; Romans 9:19 ff.). It is simpler to understand the connection thus: “You call yourselves after Apollos and Paul. Who are these persons, then? From the answer given, it is clearly implied that the partizanship of their followers does not accord with the spirit of the leaders they have chosen, and is condemned as a carnality.—Ministers, through whom ye believed.—Were ἀλλ̓ ἤ: but, to be taken as genuine (see under the text), then we should have here an emphatic implication that Apollos and Paul were nothing else than mere ministers. There is in these words a mixture of two constructions: οὐδὲν ἄλλο, ἀλλά: nothing else but; and οὐδὲν ἄλλο ἤ: nothing else that. So Meyer on 2 Corinthians 1:13. Fritzsche, according to Hermann on Viger, construes it otherwise: “but either—or I know not what.” The phrase is to be found in Luke 12:15, where its correctness is undisputed. It was plainly, therefore, not rejected because of its objectionableness. διάκονοι: deacons, ministers, is here to be understood in its broadest sense, as contrasted with leaders. We may supplement “of your Church,” comp. 1 Corinthians 3:21, and Matthew 20:28; or “of God,” or “of Christ,” comp. 1 Corinthians 3:6 ff; 2 Corinthians 6:4, etc. The words following would favor the one as well as the other, or perhaps hint at a combination of the two=“ministers of Christ in your behalf.” (Colossians 1:7.)—through whom ye believed.—Bengel says briefly and forcibly; “Through whom, not in whom” (James 1:7). They are thereby designated as instruments in God’s hand for the production of faith. And such they were in their function as preachers and teachers of truth. But this instrumentality was of different kinds; that of Paul, for the exercise of the faith, of Apollos, for its further development. This process is expressed in the aorist tense, as in Romans 13:11 : Galatians 2:16.—even as, the Lord gave to each one.—This statement is made to bring forward prominently the fact of the dependence of the ministers on the Lord, both for their gifts and their ministry, and so to dampen the disposition “to boast in men.” καὶ ἑκάστω ὡσ ὁ κώριος ἔδωκεν, not an instance of attraction, as if ἔκαστος sc. διάκονος ἐστιν, ὠς—ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ. But ἐκαστῷ stands first by way of emphasis, as in Romans 12:3, because having spoken of them in general, he wishes next to designate what is peculiar to each one. There is no need of taking “the Lord” to mean God, instead of Christ [so Hodge], contrary to the usage of Paul, nor are we compelled to this by 1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 3:9-10. The endowment of ministers with manifold gifts is also ascribed to Christ in Ephesians 4:7 ff. In what follows, when “God” is introduced, the Apostle is speaking of something else, viz. of the Divine blessing, and of the dependence on God for desired results.

1 Corinthians 3:6. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was giving the increase.—Under these figures Paul exhibits partly the diversity of operation between him and Apollos, and partly their equal dependence on Divine favor for success. Paul labored for the founding of the Church, for the planting of the spiritual crop; Apollos for the further development of the life of faith thus begun, for the edification of the Church; he watered and helped to mature the growing crop. But after all it was to God, as the efficient cause, that both owed the results obtained. It was His power, working in them and through them, that caused the faith to strike root, and spring up, and bring forth fruit. “Αὐξάνειν: to increase, a designation of the attainment of an object which had been furthered by the Divine powers at work in the instruments, and by divers other auxiliary operations of grace which accompanied or prepared the way for them. [“ηὔξανεν: was giving. Observe the force of the Imperfect, intimating a continued bestowal of Divine grace as distinguished from the transitory acts of His ministers whose operations are described by aorists.”—Words.].

1 Corinthians 3:7. So then [“ὤστε: an illative particle of frequent occurrence” Words.] neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth, but He that giveth the increase, even God.—The inference here drawn goes to the discrediting of all human organs taken by themselves, and to the rebuking of all partisanship, ἔστι τι: is any thing, either in numero est: in account (comp. Acts 3:36) or yet more strongly, is absolutely any thing. On the other hand, to the last clause we naturally supplement τὰ πάντα ἕστίν: is all (1 Corinthians 15:28; Colossians 3:11). Bengel: “is something, and, because He is alone, all things.” What is here viewed separately for the purpose of counteracting the tendency to unduly exalt the instrument is elsewhere taken together; the agency of the instrument and the agency of God in their concrete unity (Romans 11:14; 1 Timothy 4:16). [“In this passage ministers are brought into comparison with the Lord, and the reason of this comparison is, that mankind, while estimating grudgingly the grace of God, are too lavish in their commendation of ministers, and in this manner they snatch away what is God’s, with a view of transferring it to themselves.” Calvin.].

1 Corinthians 3:8. Now He that planteth and He that watereth are one.—[“ἕν; one thing neuter. God is ὁ εἱς, mas. He is the one agent; they are an instrument in His hands; and they are one as united together in Christ. But they are not what you would make them by your party factions to be, separate persons and rival heads and leaders of opposing sects.” Words.]. Paul does not here intend to deny the different merits of ministers or their separate worth, as though they all stood at par (Bengel, Billroth); he is referring only to their office and services. They are alike ministers. And in so saying he means to counteract all rivalry and all exaltation of one over another. The unity and mutual connection, which he asserts, do not, however, exclude diversities both in their labors and in the recognition of these labors, on the part of the Lord, in ways corresponding thereto.—And each one shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.—The words “his own”—“his own” stand in contrast with “are one.” Bengel styles it “an appropriate repetition antithetic to the “one.” κόπος. denotes not the result, but the labor, the effort put forth. This, however unsuccessful, involves a fidelity and devotion which can be estimated by God alone. κατά indicates also the qualitative, and not merely the quantitative relation—ἴσιον: own, that which especially belongs to each one, both in the labor expended and in the reward. The μισθός, as the context shows, signifies the Divine recompense. The full λήψεται (λήυψεται, Altic Ionic form) points to the reward which will be conferred at the coming of Christ. (Comp. 1Co 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; Daniel 12:3; Matthew 25:20 ff.; 1 Peter 5:4). This reward is praise bestowed for the labor done. According to Bengel, “Something more than salvation.” It is an addition to the blessedness common to all the subjects of grace, which, as Osiander observes, consists in the various degrees of glory (δόξα) conferred on them (comp. Luke 19:17 ff.); moreover it is a reward of grace, since the whole thing rests upon the plan and promise and operation of grace. Yet it is apportioned in righteousness, “to each one his own.” “Relatively to redemption nothing can be said of desert. But within the sphere of redemption, the question comes up, ‘how faithfully has a person employed the grace received and wrought with it. Here it can be asserted ‘To him that hath shall be given.’ This is what Paul means by reward.” Neander. That such a reward is to be expected appears from what follows:—

1 Corinthians 3:9. For we are God’s fellow-laborers, God’s husbandry, God’s building are ye.—The emphatic word here is θεοῦ, God’s. Since it is God’s work to which we devote our labor, each in his own part, we are therefore to expect it from His truthfulness that He will not refuse to us the corresponding reward. This reference to what precedes (Meyer) has a decided advantage over that interpretation which regards these words as a comprehensive exposition of the calling of spiritual teachers, and their debt of service to the congregation (1 Corinthians 3:5 ff.), and especially of their oneness in it (1 Corinthians 3:8). In this case the γάρ, for, in relation to the first clause, would be explanatory and in reference to the second, causal (Osiander). “It is also preferable to that interpretation which, in order to make out here a rebuke of party spirit, takes the sense to be: Every thing is to be ascribed to God; therefore to God be all the glory.” Burger. Inasmuch as the idea of a reward recurs also in what follows, it perhaps would be more proper to regard these sentences only as confirmatory of what was said respecting the reward. [Stanley takes the “for” as giving the reason for the oneness among the teachers. “Their object is the same (though their modes of working are different), for it is God who is our fellow-laborer, etc.; therefore they cannot be set against each other.” Hodge combines the two ideas]. Θεοῦ συνεργοί=God’s helpers, who work with God,—not: “who do God’s work associatedly” [as Olshausen], for this would be etymologically inadmissible. Even so συνεργὸν ἡμῶν, 1 Thessalonians 3:2. Although God works all in all, yet He works through His servants, whom He recognizes as helpers in His work, and whom he suffers to work, each one in his own peculiar way. Calvin: Eximium elogium ministerii, quod, quum per se agere possit Deus, nos homunciones tanquam adjutores adsiscat, per quos ita solus agit, ut tamen vicissim cum eo laborent (cf. Osiander in loco). Here we have a hint of the dignity of the ministerial office, and of our obligation to keep in view God’s objects in it. [Though, indeed, it must be said that the design of the argument is not to dignify the teachers, but to abate the excessive estimate put upon them]. Θεοῦ γεώργιον, a field belonging to God; so also θεοῦ οἰκοδομή], God’s building. The Genitive of cause (=it is God who built you) [so Alford] is less fitting here, since Paul is speaking in the context concerning the performance and the reward of teachers, and in these statements he is establishing the expectation that God will grant to them their reward on the ground that that on which they are at work, belongs to Him. Γεώργιον (also in Proverbs 24:30; Proverbs 31:16)= tilled land, a field, a garden, a vineyard; οἰκοδουή, a word of the later Greek οἰκοδομια=οἰκοδόμημα. Both indicate the kind of labor pursued by God’s co-workers: the cultivation of a field, the rearing of a building. But in making God (θεοῦ) prominent, the subjects on both sides retire into the background in a corresponding degree. Hence neither “we” (ἡμεῖς) nor “you” (ὐμεῖς) is expressed. Taking the whole context in its broader scope, and considering the aim of the whole paragraph, we might suppose with Chrysostom, that in the repeated mention of God in the last clause there was an implied rebuke of the tendency in the Church to call themselves after men [so Words.] (1 Corinthians 3:4) (cf. Osiander). The figure in οἰκοδομη (building), analogous to that in the “temple of God” (1Co 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21) is carried out still further in what follows.

1 Corinthians 3:10. Paul here proceeds to state what he himself had done towards erecting God’s building.—According unto the grace of God, which was given unto me.—By “grace” he means not the Apostolic office as such, but those peculiar endowments which qualified him for laying the foundation (comp. 1 Corinthians 1:3-4). Lit. ‘by virtue of the favor shown unto me.’ And this favor was manifest both in the call to office and in the bestowment of those gifts which enabled him to become a co-worker with God. By this acknowledgment of his indebtedness in advance, he obviates all misconception with a wise humility, and avoids all appearance of arrogance. The same expression occurs in Romans 15:15; Romans 12:3; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:2.—as a wise master master-builder I laid the foundation.—This was done in that preaching of Christ crucified, which had first elicited their faith (1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 2:2). [“θεμέλιον, a foundation. St. Paul uses the masculine form, 1 Corinthians 3:11, and 2 Timothy 2:19. St. Luke the neuter (Acts 16:26); which is Attic. The masculine is very appropriate here, because the foundation is Christ.” Words. In saying that he laid this “as” a wise masterbuilder, “he does not vaunt himself, but propounds himself as an example,” Chrysostom]. The wisdom he claims, might be regarded as that betokened in the act of laying a foundation, since the attempt to build without such preliminary work would indicate a lack of sense. Yet 1 Corinthians 3:11 seems to imply that he had reference to the nature of the foundation, in that it was the only one suited for a “building of God,” and such a one as a wise builder would alone lay. [Why not both?]. Σοφός, wise, skilful—thoroughly understanding his art. The same usage occurs in the classics. The claim here made, tells against the partisan disparagement of his labors.—and another buildeth thereon.—ἄλλος another, not merely Apollos, but also every person who had engaged in the work of the ministry at Corinth, “more especially those successors of his who were still laboring in the Church.” Osiander. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 4:15). To such, he, as the Apostolic “masterbuilder,” gives the caution.—But let each one look how he buildeth thereon.—“How,” i.e. in what way, and with what material. He thus warns them of the greatness of their responsibility, and of the importance of making the edifice correspond with the foundation. On this point he explains himself further by showing what is the only proper foundation of a church.

1 Corinthians 3:11. For other foundation can no man lay besides that lying there.—He here explains why he speaks simply of building the superstructure, and says nothing in regard to the foundation. This had been already laid, and was confessedly all right. There could possibly be no idea of changing or modifying that. [“In taking this for granted, he implies the strongest possible caution against attempting to lay any other.” Alf.]. The emphasis here rests on “foundation,” which is accordingly put first in the sentence, δύναται, not may, but can. Paul here wishes to express the absolute impossibility of change, without entirely destroying the character of the building. And hence there naturally follows the utter inadmissibleness of attempting to lay any other foundation. The thing is so contrary to the nature of the case, that no Christian teacher can be supposed willing to undertake it. παρά, alongside of, and yet not touching; hence, besides, beyond, contrary to. In regard to κείμενον, lying there it may be asked, whether the idea involved in τέθεικα, I laid, of 1 Corinthians 3:10, is here resumed, so that it refers to what Paul had done [“in which case it would have been τεθέντα.” Words.], or whether it implies what had been done by God in sending His Son to be our Redeemer, and laying him as the precious cornerstone of His Church [or whether it is with Words, to be taken in the middle sense as lying there “by His own free will and act.”]. Adopting the second of the above interpretations, the verb “I laid,” in 1 Corinthians 3:10, would indicate Paul’s accordance with the Divine procedure. He had laid in its place at Corinth that foundation which God had provided for the Church universal, by proclaiming Christ there as the only proper object of faith. This would accord better with the more general form κείμενον, and also establish the impossibility declared in the words, “can no man.” ‘If God has laid a foundation, then surely no Christian teacher will think of laying any other. Accordingly, I also have made this the basis of the Church at Corinth, and could do no otherwise.’ [“This Word, κεῖται, from which κείμενον comes, descriptive of Christ’s character as the one foundation of His Church, is applied to Him in His first presentation in the material temple at Jerusalem. Luke 2:34, οῦ̔τος κεῖται εἰς ποῶσιν. It is observable also that the man of sin, who places himself as a foundation of the Church, in the room of Christ, is called ὁ�. 2 Thessalonians 2:4.” Words.]. What this foundation is, is expressed in the relative clause,—which is Christ Jesus.—By this he means Christ in His own person, not simply the doctrine of Christ as being a fundamental doctrine. [“The former interpretation which is adopted by many distinguished commentators (de Wette, Alf., Stanley), is more in accordance with the common representations of scripture, and perhaps also with the form of expression here used. The second, however, is certainly more consistent with the context. In saying that he had laid the foundation, Paul could only mean that he had in Corinth taught the doctrine concerning the person and work of Christ.” Hodge. But surely it was not the doctrine as such that was the foundation. The doctrine availed only as it brought Christ directly and personally present to the mind of the Church, and induced them to build on Him. The distinction Kling maintains is a very important one. There is constant danger of persons mistaking the doctrine of Christ for the person of Christ. The former is the foundation of a theology, the latter of a life.]

1 Corinthians 3:12. The nature of the foundation being settled, he now proceeds to consider the several ways in which superstructure might be carried up.—But—[“The δέ implies that though there can be but one foundation, there are many ways of building upon it.” Alf.]—if any man build upon the foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble.—He here illustrates the various kinds of material that might be employed in the edifice, either worthy and durable, that could stand the test of fire, or worthless and incapable of passing the ordeal. Both sorts are mentioned in lively succession, without any express exhibition of the diversities implied. According to the best and largest number of commentators, from Clem., Alex., down to Osiander and Meyer, Paul here intends to denote by this building material, not persons, but doctrines, such as when joined with faith in Christ may or may not suit the foundation; such as in worth and durability do or do not correspond with the precious indestructible corner-stone. That the wood, hay and stubble were designed in general to signify such teachings as mingled the weak and disfiguring products of human wisdom, art, philosophy and Jewish traditions with the truth of God, is very evident. But any attempts to particularize, either as to the dogmas referred to, or as to the parts of the building they were intended for, would be futile and out of taste. Moreover, we are to hold fast to the idea of but one building contemplated, into which all the different kinds of material specified are worked, and not to imagine [as Wetst., Billr., Stanley] that two sorts of building are had in view, such as a palace and a hut; or that a whole city was intended, “the city of God,” for instance. We might also very appropriately, but rather by way of accommodation, bring under consideration here the distinctive practical fruits produced under the different kinds of teaching and the different sorts of church members brought in and trained under the same. [So Theodoret adopted by Stanley, who deems the practical fruits the main thing referred to, and adds, “He is here preparing the way for the accusation of the incestuous person.”]. To suppose, however, with Olsh., that there is any allusion to the private work of personal sanctification, would be untenable, inasmuch as the entire context treats solely of ministerial functions. Rückert’s interpretation is too abstract and general. Proceeding on the ground that “work” (ἔργον) with Paul signifies the entire business of life, he takes the sense to be: “only he who builds upon the true foundation in a right manner, so that his work will abide the test, is entitled to a reward. He who builds on it unsuitably, can expect none. This only, however, can be said for his comfort, that he will not forfeit his salvation since it was his will at least to further the work of the Lord.” On this whole subject, consult Osiander and Meyer. [“Precious stone” here means stones valuable for building, such as granite and marble. “Gold and silver,” were extensively employed in adorning ancient temples, and are therefore appropriately used as symbols of pure doctrine, “Wood, hay and stubble.” are the perishable materials out of which ordinary houses were built. Wood for the doors and posts, hay mixed with mud for the walls, and straw for the roof. These materials, unsuited for the temple of God, are the appropriate symbols of false doctrines.” Hodge].

1 Corinthians 3:13. Every man’s work will be made manifest.—The worth or worthlessness, the durability or perishableness of what a man has wrought is not to remain concealed.—For the day will declare it.—i. e., will make evident what is genuine or not genuine, what is truth and what mere show. This is a matter which often remains for a long time uncertain. But what are we to understand by this day of revelation? Not certainly the time of Jerusalem’s overthrow [as Starke], for the Apostle is not speaking here of Jewish traditions, the vanity of which would then be exposed. Nor yet time in general, or any prolonged lapse of time, for the term “day” is never used in this sense by the New Testament writers, nor would it suit the following context. Ever since the period of the Reformation, Calvin’s view has widely prevailed, that the allusion here is to the time when the pure knowledge of the Gospel should spread over the earth. So others also. But the apostolic usage and modes of thought warrant our understanding it only of the day of Christ’s second coming (comp. 1 Corinthians 4:5; Romans 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10). This is the period of that searching, sifting trial which is to begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), and which after manifold preludes will reach its consummation in the appearance of our Lord. In this sense the word “day” stands without any explanatory term in Hebrews 10:25; 1 Thessalonians 5:4 ss.—Because it is revealed in fire.—What is revealed? The work of which he has just said “it shall be made manifest.” To this it is objected that the sentence would in that case be tautological. But a repetition of this prominent thought will appear less strange in view of the fact that it is more distinctly defined by the additional words, “by fire,” and that the following clause appears to be a fitting further development of them. It would indeed be most natural to regard “day” as the thing revealed. [So Alf., Stanley, Words., Hodge]. But nowhere is it said that the day of the Lord is revealed. Such a mode of speech would be unusual. It were better, with Bengel, to supply “the Lord” as the nominative, since indeed it is the day of the Lord that is referred to, and this construction would have its parallel in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 : “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire.” Here lire is represented as accompanying the manifestation of Jesus, (not, however, as a means of vengeance). But such a supplying of a word is warranted only in case no other suitable explanation can be found. If then “work” be the proper subject, “the fire” must be taken to denote that by which the work is tested. The relation of this clause to the foregoing then would be this: because fire is the agency by which the work is tried, therefore will the day of the Lord, who is to appear in flaming fire (2 Thessalonians 1:0), the day which is to burn as an oven (Matthew 4:1), make this work manifest. [“To show the certainty and perpetual imminence of that fiery trial of the Last Day, Paul uses the present tense (ἀποκαλύπτεταἐ) is revealed!” Words.]—And each one’s work, what sort it is this fire itself shall prove.—This clause stands independently of ὅτι, because, and sums up the whole truth, stating once more the ordeal contemplated and the peculiar means of its accomplishment. It is the fire that is to try the work, and demonstrate its quality—τὸ πῦρ αὐτό, the fire itself, by its own specific action. That this means neither the Holy Spirit nor yet persecutions of any sort is evident from the interpretation given to the word “day.” Still less tenable is the Roman Catholic interpretation, which discovers herein an allusion to purgatory. (Council of Florence). [“The fire of which St. Paul speaks is the Fire of the Great Day; not a Fire of any intermediate state. And the Fire which he describes does not cleanse, as that intermediate fire is feigned to do, but tried and destroy. It is not a Purgatorial but a Probationary Fire.” Words. Besides “Paul is here speaking of ministers and their doctrines, and not of believers in general.” Hodge, 9, 1 Corinthians 5:1]. “We deny not that anticipations of the judicial fire of the Last Day may be traced in the fiery trials with which God will visit His own house (1 Peter 4:12-17); but the fire by which Christians will be refined and purged before the end comes will burn not on the other side but this side of death.” W. F. Besser. Neander on the contrary says: “The fire is an image of the progressive purifying process which goes on along the course of the development of the Church. This process will allow only what is genuine and Divine to stand.” It is, however, the outward and substantial manifestation of the judicial energy of the Lord, who will work as a purifying flame, so that everything in the labors of those who have been endeavoring to build up the Church, that does not carry the Divine impress, but is the vain and perishable invention of man, will be brought to nought. Of this manifestation we have a prelude now in the continuous judgment of the Holy Ghost, and in the persecutions which the Church here suffers. The effect of it is exhibited antithetically in

1 Corinthians 3:14-15. If any one ‘s work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward.—This is the positive side. Μενεῖ, shall abide (the future corresponds with κατακαήσεται), shall stand the fire which is to consume all that is unworthy. “Reward,” as in 1 Corinthians 3:8. By this we may understand on the one hand, a presentation before Christ as a faithful and true workman, whose work is honorable to the Master (1 Thessalonians 2:19 ff.; Philippians 2:15 ff.); and on the other hand, an appointment to higher trusts in the kingdom of God (Daniel 12:3; Matthew 19:28; 2 Timothy 4:8; Matthew 25:21-23). “The abiding of his edifice will be itself his great reward, just as Paul terms the fruit of his labor, and of his founding the Church his boasting and his crown in the day of the Lord (2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:19). Still we do not in this completely gauge the reward of a true builder.” W. F. Besser.—Next comes the negative side.—If any one’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss.—The omission of the conjunction is owing to the rapid rush of the thought, and renders the style more vivid. The “loss” spoken of is not of “the work,” but “the reward.” True, the judicial fire, which consumes all impure and untenable doctrines, will also consume his whole performance; but the consequence will be that he will forfeit his reward, and so incur damage (comp. ζημιοῦσθαι, 2 Corinthians 7:7-9; Philippians 3:8; Matthew 16:26). [“It is possible that this whole image, as addressed to the Corinthians, may have been suggested or at least illustrated by the conflagration of Corinth under Mummius; the stately temples (one of them remaining to this day) standing amidst the universal destruction of the meaner buildings.” Stanley].—But he himself shall be saved;—αὐτός δὲ, he himself, as contrasted with the reward [and also with the work]. Here it is presupposed that the individual has been building indeed upon the true foundation, Christ, but has failed only in respect to the manner of his building (from infirmity of the flesh or from ignorance, as Calvin suggests). Altogether superfluous and incorrect would it be to translate it ‘he can be saved.’ To supply the condition, ‘if it be possible,’ is wholly arbitrary; and still more so to assume that by ‘work’ is meant the scholars of a good teacher who perish without his fault. Many of the Fathers interpret σωθήσεται, be saved, in the sense of τηρηθήσεται, should be preserved, as if it meant: shall be not annihilated but kept alive in eternal torments and in fire. But this, apart from all other objections, is contrary to the usage of the word in the New Testament. It can only mean: he shall obtain salvation in Christ. “Here we have one clear evidence that salvation is not a reward, but is freely given to us through the merits of Christ.” W. F. Besser.—Yet so as through fire.—(διὰ πυρός). Herein is expressed the narrowness of the person’s escape. He will be snatched as a brand from the burning, saving nothing but his bare life (comp. Zechariah 3:2; Amos 4:11; Jude 1:23). The image is not that of a man living in a house, but of one occupied with the building of it, and who just delivers himself with great effort from the conflagration that has caught his work, and sees in sadness and anxiety the loss of all he has done, to the marring of his blessedness. And such a person attains only to a lower stage of bliss (comp. Matthew 20:16; Mark 10:31, last clause). So Meyer, rejecting however, the idea that words embody anything of the nature of a proverb, since Paul is here speaking literally of a consuming fire. But nevertheless the use of the word ώς, as, constrains us to regard it as such. For although we should interpret “as” in the same manner as we do in John 1:14, and render, ‘just as one would expect in the case of a conflagration,’ still it would amount to about the same thing. Only we might say it is not to be understood as a proverb merely (comp. Osiander, p. 174 f).


1. Ministers are co-workers with God.—It is in this that the highest dignity of the Christian teacher consists. To wish to be nothing but an instrument for performing the Divine will, to aim at nothing but the fulfilment of God’s designs, to desire to have and to exercise no power save what this line of action includes, to covet no reward, no honor, no enjoyment, excepting what comes from such labor, and helps to the more complete discharge of this calling, this is the characteristic of a servant of God, who follows Christ in self-denial and love, and purposes only to save souls for God and consecrates to this all his faculties, and is diligent to present to God a work pleasing to Him and honorable to His holy Son, and neither seeks nor strives after any glory for himself, but is content that God be exalted Supreme over all, and that His will alone should prevail. To such a person, nothing is too insignificant to be undertaken, provided it serves this end. No work will he be ashamed of or shun, even though it be among those who are low, or despised, or degraded, provided the gracious designs of God may be accomplished thereby. Such servants are, in truth, co-workers with God. He takes them into a fellowship of labor with Himself. He shares with them His exalted work of renewing, blessing, sanctifying and glorifying lost creatures. He shares with them also His authority, His power, His honor, His joy in this work. And this He is able to do because they have entered into a fellowship with Him in His thoughts and intentions by the operation of the Holy Ghost; because the spirit of Christ, God’s perfect servant, animates them; because His mind is also their mind; and because the holy will of a self-denying, self-devoted love is alive and strong in their hearts. For this reason, they will have nothing to do with partizanship. It sickens them to see poor lost souls clinging to them and wishing to make them masters alongside of Christ, or in His place; to see people following their directions, and exalting their merely human and personal peculiarities into a standard of authority by which to regulate their conduct. Such proceedings they repel, and they strive with all their might instead to fasten souls upon Christ as their only master. The higher God places them, the more intent are they on being nothing, and passing for nothing, in themselves. Then and thus the Church of God is built up in truth.

2. This Church is God’s field.—This truth controverts all party action in the same way that the view just given, of teachers being God’s servants and co-laborers, controverts it. The Church belongs to God; He it is who tills the field—externally, by the preaching of the Word—internally, by His Spirit. What teachers do is to plant and to water. But the word sown is His seed; all the ability employed in its first planting and after culture is His gift; on Him depends all success. Without His blessing, all planting and all watering, however skilful and careful, amount to nothing. What thus belongs to God is a sacred possession, which must be secured for Him. To wish to introduce another there as co-possessor is a wicked ignoring and contemning of God’s right. Indeed, not to acknowledge this right in its entireness, is virtually to deny it altogether. And such denial takes place when we adopt human teachers as our masters, and follow them, and call ourselves by their names. Then God is robbed of what is His (Romans 2:22).

3. The Church is God’s house.—Christ the foundation-stone, laid by Him.—This is the ground and measure of all sound teaching. The foundation is of Divine worth and of lasting duration. To build anything on this, which is not according to the mind of Christ, which does not carry the impress of His Spirit, which does not spring from Him, but which originates in a foreign spirit, and is the product of human art, or science, or opinion—this is to introduce into God’s building something, which, however highly it may be estimated by man, is in truth worthless. It cannot stand in the day of God’s judicial purgation, however skillfully we may be able to vindicate it on human grounds. When Christ reveals Himself as the One to whom all judgment is given, when, by his majesty as Judge, he sifts out and destroys everything that is not His, then will this be found not proof. The fire of His judgement will annihilate it. Thus will the work of such a person come to naught. He can not be honored as one who has assisted in God’s building. He cannot confront the Lord his judge with joy,—beholding in Him the Rewarder of his fidelity. On the contrary, he will shrink back in sorrow, pained at the thought of having wrought foolishly and to no purpose. Yet with all this, he will still have reason to congratulate himself that he may nevertheless snatch his soul from the flame which devours his unprofitable work. Thus it happens that the person himself may be saved, while all his doings prove worthless. From the common salvation, indeed, he may not be excluded, since he held fast to the foundation; but he forfeits the glory of being accounted a co-worker with God.

[4. Every believer’s work in life awaits a searching ordeal, which is to prove its genuineness. The times of such ordeal are called in Scripture “days of the Lord.” They occur for individuals and for communities all along the course of human history, and are the preludes to a final “day” when the Judge in person shall appear to purge His Church—the living temple—of all that is corrupt, and to set it up complete in the perfection of its beauty. Then will the value of each one’s labor be fully manifest.

But what the specific means of this ordeal will be is a matter of question. Whether it will be by literal fire or by some other more spiritual instrumentality, of which fire is but a symbol, it were hard to determine. The latter seems the more probable in view of the declaration of the Baptist that Christ would “baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Such a baptism of purification is observable even in this age to some degree; yet it is not by material fire. We see the chaff of false doctrine and hypocritical performances, consuming and passing out of sight, as if perishing in consuming flames, while the golden truths of God, wrought out in the experiences and doings of the true believer, grow brighter, and live on to be a blessing to subsequent ages; and who can tell in what way the precious shall be taken from the vile at the last day? Sufficient to be assured that the ordeal will be applied in the most searching manner, and that it awaits every member of the Church. Judgment is to begin at the House of God.]


Rieger: 1. Mischievous zeal. a. How kindled? By making too much of diversities of gifts in ministers. Here one is blamed if the Church be not edified, and there another is extolled, if by his preaching the light begins to burn more brightly, and people consider not that with the one as well as with the other, “the increase” depends on God, and that the inequality of results, so far as it lies with men, may be attributed not so much to the preacher as to the peculiarity of times and circumstances. b. How shall such evils be guarded against? Safety will be found just in proportion as the minister follows the simple word of God, and resolves to be nothing, and seek nothing for himself; just in proportion as he endeavors to improve impartially every thing that God sends, without attempting to determine prematurely to his own injury what the distinctive importance of it is in the sight of God.

2. Co-workers with God.—God has chosen laborers, a. not because he needs assistance, but b. out of his own good pleasure, inasmuch as he desires to work on men through men, so that each person’s love for the truth, and readiness to obey may be more signally manifested.

3. Caution in building.—a. In building each one must take heed not only that he builds on the foundation, but that he uses good material and builds well. He must speak the truth in love, bring sound doctrines into their proper connection, employ suitable aids to discourse, and learn the art of seizing upon the hearts and consciences of men. b. The hearers, too, have need of care rightly to improve their advantages, since much of the preacher’s success depends upon their fidelity in receiving and practising what they hear.

4. Differences in the superstructure, though resting upon the right foundation, are found according as a person a. either adheres to that which is closely akin to the foundation, selecting that which promotes the salvation and edification of souls, b. or prefers what is alien in character, resorting to what pleases men, or promotes his renown, or gratifies a vain curiosity, rather than to what is of solid worth and promotes vital godliness.

5. [Preparation for the final ordeal. If there is to be a day of visitation and trial, how important to be examining our own work in advance and subjecting it to the most rigid tests, lest we be overwhelmed at last with utter dismay at our loss, and have the mortification of discovering too late that we spent our strength for naught, and have only our souls for a prey. 1 Corinthians 3:13 ff.].

Starke:—All good comes from God and must be ascribed to him. No boasting. No exaltation of one at the expense of another (10, 11). Not wrong to prefer listening to enlightened and regenerated preachers, rather than to such as are carnally minded. Wrong comes when amid diversified gifts in genuine ministers we cleave to one and contemn the rest. This is to sin not only against those contemned, but also against God. This is to evince a lack of just spiritual taste, and to bring to the sermon, the ear rather than the heart. The preachers office an effective instrumentality for saving souls. The gifts and labors of the ministry diversified yet inseparable. One plays into the hands of the other. Preaching must be followed up. Instrumentalities are needed in the spiritual as much as in the temporal husbandry. Their efficient power, however, comes from God. It lies in the word as it lies in the seed. God works through the word on the heart. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Be satisfied with planting and watering. Should no crop ripen accept it as God’s will. Let not those more richly endowed and occupying more elevated positions exalt themselves above those holding a lower station. Nor let those below be troubled because they are there. All alike are servants of God (2 Corinthians 12:11) (1 Corinthians 3:8). Ministers labor with God, not as though associating their power with His, but as having His power working in them, (by the grace granted them of God, 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5 ff.); yet according to the degree of culture enjoyed by each one, and also according to the native talents possessed which the Lord sanctifies (Hedinger). He who wishes to have part in the heavenly paradise, must first consent to form a part of God’s earthly farm, and suffer himself to be ploughed, and sowed, and reaped (1 Corinthians 3:9). As a house is not built in a day, so neither is the Church. It rises gradually (1 Corinthians 3:9). Christ is the foundation, 1. in His Person, as God (Colossians 1:17), and man, (Acts 4:12), and in both his natures; the whole Church (Ephesians 2:20) and each believer is firm only when resting on Christ. Yea, since believers are “lively stones” (1 Peter 2:8) and Christ a living foundation, all the stones must be supposed to derive their life from Him. 2. in doctrine, by means of which we are brought to Him as the sole Life-giver (John 14:6), and by faith are justified, sanctified and glorified. They who would build a church for Christ by insisting only upon a reputable conduct, erect a structure without a foundation. It musty therefore, fall of itself (Ver.13). Better erect no superstructure and stop with the foundation, than to go on piling wood and stubble. Better simplicity in Christ with a little knowledge, than much learning without Christ, and a brain full of the fine spun cobwebs of worldly wisdom (Hedinger) (1 Corinthians 3:11). Fire tests and destroys. By the cross, by persecutions, by death through the judgment it will be shown what is wheat and what chaff, what is a pithy saying and what the dry lifeless conception of some subtle logician or wrangler of the schools (Hedinger) (1 Corinthians 3:13).

Heubner:—The Christian Church is a garden; ministers the gardeners. The analogy may be carried out to the full, both as to labor and dependence (1 Corinthians 3:6). God’s Spirit has his times and seasons for operation (1 Corinthians 3:7). Ministers, however various in character and office, have one problem to work out, and therefore should be harmonious. Hereafter all will enjoy the work of all (1 Corinthians 3:8). What an honor to assist the Almighty! God’s part in the work, however, is the chief thing. If He leaves the field—the human heart, waste, it lies eternally waste. But He does work on us. And how faithfully oftentimes on one single soul! Ministers come in as instruments. They work under Him upon the field, which has to be broken up by the ploughshare of the Law, sown with the seed of the Gospel, warmed by the influences of the Holy Spirit, and fructified by the dew and rain of divine grace (1 Corinthians 3:9). An ordeal is coming. Anticipate it. Examine thyself in all that thou thinkest, teachest, preachest. Inquire whether thou art trusting to thyself for vindication at the bar of God (1 Corinthians 3:13).

Gossner:—The love we show to ministers should be very different from that we show to Christ, They only proclaim grace; He bestows it. Hence while they are welcomed, He should be beloved. With them it is an honor if they may only preach, but He saves at the cost of His own blood (1 Corinthians 3:5.) God is so gracious that although He is the source of all goodness, yet He rewards His servants as if they had done it all (1 Corinthians 3:14).

[F. W. Robertson:—The preaching of Christ means simply the preaching of Christ. Recollect what Paul’s Christianity was—how he sums all up. “That I might know Him and the power of His resurrection,” etc. Settle it in your hearts; Christianity is Christ; understand Him, breathe His Spirit, comprehend His mind. Christianity is a life—a Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:11). There is a distinction between the truth of work and its sincerity. In that day nothing shall stand but what is true; but the sincere worker, even of untrue work, shall be saved. Sincerity shall save him in that day, but it cannot accredit his work (1 Corinthians 3:15).

M. Henry:—The ministry is a very useful and a very gracious institution; and faithful ministers are a great blessing to any people; yet the folly and weakness of people may do much mischief by what is in itself a blessing].

[1 Corinthians 3:5. If Paul and Apollos were nothing but servants, and refused the position of party leaders, how much more should this modesty appear in their successors. Who will arrogate the honors in a church which a Paul declines?]

[J. Saurin.11–15:—The different methods of preachers. I. The occasion of these words, as shown in the Epistle. II. The design of the Apostle,—to rectify our judgments in regard to three different classes of preachers; a. such as preach the word of man not only different from, but directly opposite to the word of God (1 Corinthians 3:11); b. such as preach the pure word of God free from human admixtures (1 Corinthians 3:12); c. such as indeed make the word of God the ground of their preaching, but mix with it the explications and traditions of men (1 Corinthians 3:12). III. Explain the metaphors, a. Christ, the foundation, b. Gold, silver, and precious stones—doctrines sublime, excellent, demonstrable, c. Wood, hay and stubble—doctrines less considerable, uncertain, unimportant, d. The revelation by fire—the examination and disclosures of the last judgment, not the destruction of Jerusalem, nor the fire of purgatory. IV. Application—in what manner we are to regard the three classes of ministers].


1 Corinthians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 3:5.—The Rec τίς, instead of which Lach. and Meyer read τί [following A. B. Cod. Sin. and others] is sustained by nearly the same preponderance of authorities as declare for the mention of Apollos first. The received text, which puts Paul first, is to be explained from 1 Corinthians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 3:6. The repetition of ἐστίν is also established by the better authorities.

1 Corinthians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 3:5.—Before διάκονοι the Rec. which Tisch., 6th ed., follows, has ἀλλ ̓ ἤ. This makes the question continue to ἐπιστεν́σατε. But the best authorities are against this reading, and it is therefore rejected by Lach. Tisch. and others. [For the true rendering see the Exegetical comment.]

1 Corinthians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 3:10.—The Rec. τέθεικα is retained by Tisch. Exodus 6:0 [also Alf., Words.]. But Lach. following A. B. C. [Cod. Sin.] reads ἔθηκα.

1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 3:11.—The Rec. Ἰησον͂ς ὁ Χριστός is feebly supported. BetterἸησον͂ς Χριστός. Tisch., Exodus 6:0, Χριστός ̓Ιησον͂ς.

1 Corinthians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 3:12.—τοντο͂ν is rejected by Lach. according to A. B. C. [Cod. Sin.] but is retained by Tisch. in accordance with many weighty authorities [so too by Wordsworth, Alford].

1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 3:13.—αν̓τό is inserted after πν͂ρ by Lachmann, Meyer, Tisch. [Alford, Wordsworth, Stanley] according to the beet authorities. [A. B. C. Cod. Sin. Origen, Chry. Eus., etc.]

1 Corinthians 3:14; 1 Corinthians 3:14. μενεῖ, future, is better authenticated [Latin version]. Received μένει [see note].

Verses 16-23


1 Corinthians 3:16-23

16Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, [God’s temple15] and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 17If any man defile [destroy] the temple of God, him16 shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are [of which sort are ye]. 18Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world,17 let him become a fool, that he may be [become] wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness 20with God: for it is written, He [that] taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. 21Therefore let no man glory in men: for all things are yours; 22Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are [om. are18] yours; 23And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.


[“He passes to another argument against the sin of ranging themselves in opposite factions under human leaders, particularly such as corrupt the essential purity and fundamental soundness of the spiritual fabric of the Church.” Words.].

1 Corinthians 3:16. Know ye not that ye are God’s temple?—It will hardly do to connect these words directly with the preceding—if for no other reason than simply because the threat of destruction made in the following verse stands in direct contradiction to the promise of salvation there held forth, showing that Paul has a new case in mind. [Olshausen, however, regards the Apostle as simply intensifying and carrying out still further his previous figure. The edifice is now spoken of as God’s temple, and the guilt of desecrating or injuring the building by introducing incoherent materials into its structure is enhanced in proportion. And still further, the taught as well as the teachers are also here brought into view. So substantially Hodge, Alf., Stanley; Calvin says more correctly: “Having admonished the teachers as to their duty, he now addresses himself to the pupils”]. Οὐκοἴδατε: know ye not? This phrase is not to be confounded with ἤ οὐκ οἴδατε: or know ye not?—and it might very well serve to introduce a new turn of thought, indirectly suggested by what precedes. Thus far, Paul has contemplated the Church as a building belonging to God, and has exhibited the great responsibility attendant on the work of erecting it, after the only proper foundation has been laid. Now he describes its sacred character more fully by likening it to a temple inhabited by God’s Spirit, the violation of which incurs condign punishment. By the question: Know ye not? he appeals directly to the consciousness of Christians and intimates to his readers that in that spirit of partisanship which they cherished and which was so destructive to the integrity of the Church, there was a strange and criminal obscuration of true Christian feeling, inasmuch as they were conducting themselves just as if they possessed it not, and knew not what belonged to their profession. In the objective clause the emphasis lies on temple (ναός), marking an advance upon the more indefinite term, building, used before. ναός, according to its derivation, (ναίω) means indeed a building in general. But the Greeks used the word only to denote the dwellings of gods, and especially that room where the image stood. [“ναὸς is more holy than ἱερόν.” Words.]. Here it denotes the spiritual sanctuary, the place where the true God reveals His presence, and bestows blessings, and is worshipped, forming one complete whole, and consisting of all such as carry in themselves the Spirit of God. This appears from the explanatory clause following—and (km explicative) that the Spirit of God dwells in you.—Hence Christians are called “a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5), also “a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22); comp. also 2 Corinthians 6:16 ff.; Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11; 2 Timothy 1:14; Ezekiel 37:27, etc. οἰκεῖν, to reside permanently (comp. John 14:23.) The words ἐν ὐμῖν, in you (not, ‘among you’), refers, like the statement: ‘ye are the temple,’ to the Church, or to individual believers, not, however in their separate capacity, but in their organic connection. Here the law of all organization obtains, that every organ is a complete whole in itself. As Christendom unitedly is a “temple of God,” so is also every Christian congregation and every individual Christian. But as the whole is to be understood and apprehended only in its parts, so are the parts to be understood only as connected in the whole. The translation: ‘the temple of God’ is by no means needed for the Bake of setting aside the idea of a plurality of temples. We can employ the rendering: ‘a temple of God,’ simply as signifying the kind of building implied. [Meyer on the contrary more justly says: “ναὸς θεου is the temple of God, not a temple, for Paul does not conceive of the various churches as various temples of God, which would be inconsistent with the Jew’s conception of God’s temple; but of each Christian church as in a mystic sense the temple of Jehovah. So there are not many temples, but one only, and many churches, each one of which is ideally the same temple of God.” So Stanley and Alford].

1 Corinthians 3:17. If any one destroy the temple of God, him will God destroy.—This is the first clause in an inference which rests upon the undoubted recognition of the inviolability of the temple of God, as maintained also in the Jewish Scriptures. All injuring, or desecrating, or even disturbing the sanctuary of God’s manifested presence, was deemed a sacrilege, which incurred the Divine vengeance. This is strongly indicated by the immediate succession of the same word in the two forms, φθείρει and φθερεῖ. “If any the temple of God destroyeth, destroy him shall God.” See a like case in Revelation 22:18. The punishment here implied as related to the old temple was that of temporal death. Used, however, in relation to the spiritual temple, the word, in the first instance, signifies the rupturing of the Church by violent partisanship, which must finally end in its entire dissolution; and in the second instance, as indicating the consequent punishment, it denotes exclusion from salvation (απώλεια), [Stanley says that “φθείρειν, in the LXX. and in the New Testament, seems to have lost the sense of ‘defile,’ and merely to retain that of ‘mar’ or ‘destroy.’ ” And so Hodge, who says “the passage may be rendered ‘If any man injure the temple of God, him will God injure.’ “Olshausen goes still further: “The connection shows that the word cannot be understood of absolute destruction. Probably the Apostle chose the strong word only on account of its having been used just before for the purpose of intimating that God would requite like with like.” But such modification of its plain meaning is certainly contrary to the parallel which the Apostle introduces. The violater of the sanctuary of the ancient temple was unquestionably punished with death. And to preserve the analogy, we ought to maintain the word φθείρειν in its original signification].

Next follows the proof with the application of the penal principle just stated to the case in hand.—For the temple of God is holy.—It lies in the very idea of a temple that it is holy and inviolable, and that therefore all injury done to it is a crime.—And of this sort are ye—οἵτινές ἐστε ὐμεῖς ὅστίς refers to the object generally as one of a class, and not definitely, thus serving to render a proposition general; here it means: of which sort, viz., “holy.” The antecedent here is not “temple,” but the adjective “holy.”19 That they were the temple of God he had already asserted in 1 Corinthians 3:16. “Recurring to 1 Corinthians 1:1 he hereby awakens a feeling of reverence and a holy communion of Spirit in opposition to that unworthy servility engendered by a divisive regard for human authorities.” Osiander. [“Meyer well remarks that this clause is the minor proposition of a syllogism: Whoever mars the temple of God, him will God destroy, because His temple is holy: but ye are are also holy as His spiritual temple: therefore whoever mars you shall be destroyed by God.” Alford].

1 Corinthians 3:18. The Apostle now proceeds to point out the real source of the mischief he rebukes. The rupture of the unity of the Church by a party spirit, sprang from a pride of knowledge, and a vain conceit of that wisdom which belonged to and this world, and not to God’s kingdom. This was especially the case with the party of Apollos, which the Apostle seems chiefly to have in his eye, throughout this chapter. As it took pride in Apollos, because of his dialectic and rhetorical skill and learning, and clung to these qualities in him, so also did it seek to imitate his manner, and signalized itself for laying a great stress upon secular wisdom, and for no little conceit in that respect. This tendency Paul denounces as unfounded in truth, and unsuited to such as strive for the kingdom of God. In his view it involves a self-deception, more or less gross, against which he felt constrained to warn them.—Let no one deceive himself.—The deception here consisted in a person’s imagining himself to possess a profound insight into the truth and ways of God, when in fact he was utterly devoid of it, yea, was involved in entire misapprehension and gross blindness in reference to it. Such delusion passes away only when all conceit of wisdom is given up, and a person is willing to be regarded a fool, or consents to renounce all secular wisdom in the exercise of that simple faith which he before had regarded as folly, and which passes for folly with the world. And this is what the Apostle requires when he says:—If any one thinketh to be wise among you in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise.—Δοκεῖν may mean either: to think, or to appear; hence the clause may here be translated, “if any one passes for a wise man, either in his own estimation,” or “in others’ estimation.” The former rendering is best sustained by what has been said before. Hence the exhoration, “let him become a fool,” must be understood as relating to his own, and not to others’ judgment, and in such a way that either the words παῤἑαυτῷ, in his own esteem, shall besupplied; or that the person be regarded as passing over to a standpoint, which had until then appeared to him and to others like-minded as folly. The latter sense best suits the word. [And here it must be borne in mind that this renunciation of our own wisdom, or of the world’s wisdom, is required because all such wisdom is one only in appearance, and not in reality. It is its intrinsic worthlessness that renders it discreditable]. The phrase “in this world,” lit. “in this age,” is not to be united with the clause following, [as Origen, Chrysostom, Luther, Rosenmuller] as though it meant, “let him become a fool in this world;” the order of the words forbids this. But it belongs to ‘wise,’ as designating the sphere where this wisdom prevails; q. d. ‘wise in this world’ (comp. 1 Corinthians 3:19). [Alf. following Meyer says: “it belongs not simply to ‘wise,’ but to the whole clause going before; to the whole assumption of wisdom made by the man, which as made in this present world, must be false; “for,” adds Meyer, “those very persons who thought to become eminent among Christians through their wisdom in this premessianic period, when the knowledge of Divine things is yet in its infancy, and exceedingly limited, were not really wise, but were ensnared by their own self-decit.” Such a limitation, however, of the meaning of the word αἰων, age, here is very questionable. It is plain from the following verse, that “this age” is to be interpreted not temporally, but qualitatively, as synonymous with “this world” (κόσμος)]. Ἐνὑμῖν, among you, designates the sphere in which the person supposed hopes to shine by his wisdom.

1 Corinthians 3:19-20. Sustain the previous exhortation, and shows that in becoming a fool a person but coincides with God’s judgment—For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God—As such, therefore, it deserves to be cast aside. “Wisdom of this world” (κόσμος), comp. 1Co 1:21; 1 Corinthians 2:6. “It is a wisdom ruled by the spirit of this world that oversteps its proper bounds, seeks to satisfy itself about divine and human things, is tainted with error, and therefore stands in direct opposition alike to the highest reason, and to God, and to great objects for which the world and man were created (μωρία).” Osiander. [παρὰ τῷ θεῷ—παρά is used with the Dative “to express standing before a person as a judge, and submitting to his decision or sentence.” Hence the expression ‘before God’ carries a deeper meaning than simply ‘in his sight.’ God has passed upon it and condemned it.]—The proof of this.—For it is written, “He taking the wise in their own craftiness.”—This passage is cited from Job 5:13, and is a part of the speech of Eliphas. It accords with the original text, and agrees in sense with the Septuagint. [The phraseology of the latter, however, is changed for stronger terms, δρασσόμενος, catching for καταλαμβάνων, taking and πανουργίᾳ, craftiness for φρονήσει, prudence]. The sentence is incomplete, since Paul quotes only the words suited to his purpose, omitting those on which these grammatically depend. Hence they need no supplement. Human wisdom, art, cunning are here stated to be incapable of standing before the wisdom of God, since God catches those who rely on these aids, in their own craftiness, and the very excellencies on which they pride themselves, are turned into a snare through which they are entrapped. By thus causing them to be destroyed by their own devices, God shows them up to be nothing less than the veriest fools. This citation, the only one in the New Testament, taken from the book of Job, like much which Eliphas spoke, belongs to that wisdom which uttereth her voice in the streets, and is marked as here with the stamp of Divine truth.—And again.—‘The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise that they are vain.’—This second passage, taken from Psalms 94:11, was originally directed against those proud contemners of God, who acted as if there were no God above, observing and noting down all their unrighteous deeds. In accordance with the object he has in view, Paul here employs the word “the wise,” instead of “men,” as it stands both in the original Heb. and in the Sept. But this is no arbitrary alteration, since the whole Psalm treats of those vain sophists, who pride themselves on their perverse and groundless notions respecting God. Διαλογισμοί in Hellenic speech, was used to denote all those capricious reasonings and reflections which either opposed Divine truth or tended to render it doubtful, comp. Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:17. Μάταιοι, groundless, void of truth, therefore, counter to wisdom, and belonging to folly. Whether this word in the original belongs to the wise themselves, or to their reasonings, is questionable. The essential meaning is the same in either case. [“It appears from these two verses thus placed in juxtaposition, that St. Paul followed the LXX., but uses his own discretion in doing so, and sometimes substitutes for it a translation approaching more nearly the original.” Words.].

1 Corinthians 3:21-23. From all this a warning is derived.—So then—ὥστε.—[“This word is used by St. Paul to introduce the summing up and conclusion of his argument here and elsewhere in this Epistle, 1 Corinthians 3:7; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1Co 8:33; 1Co 11:33; 1 Corinthians 14:39; 1 Corinthians 15:58.”—Words.] It serves even in classical writers to introduce an imperative clause when this follows upon another which contains the reason why such command is given. (Comp. Passow, ii. 2.) [Also Winer, N. T., Gr. Pt. 1 Corinthians 3:5, note 1; also Jelf. Gr. Gram. , § 867, 1].—Let no one glory in men.—That is, so far as they set up for themselves, and rely on their natural powers—not as possessed of spiritual gifts and because of such. In the latter case the boasting would be in the Lord. The caution is addressed to those who are inclined to make much of men in consequence of their education or supposed wisdom, cleaving to them in partisan attachment, and disparaging other servants of Christ in comparison, to the overlooking of the unity of the Church. Such persons are guilty of putting the highest value on what is merely a natural advantage. And all such should be avoided by reflecting, that the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For this there was an additional reason:—For all things are yours.—Here he exhibits to us the dignity of Christians, [in contrast with the World and its folly], as persons who, by virtue of their union with Christ and, through Him, with God, are precluded from dependence on men, and have a direct claim on every thing Which belongs to God and Christ, so that all things serve their advantage and promote their exalted destiny (Romans 8:28)—even as all things are compelled to serve Christ (Matthew 21:3; Matthew 27:60; Matthew 11:27). As Neander well says: “The sovereignty over the world was indeed conferred on man in his original estate. But this, being lost through sin, was restored again by redemption. The spirit which is bestowed on Christians, carries in itself a principle which every thing must eventually obey, and which will subjugate the world ever more and more, until at last the promise, that ‘the meek shall inherit the earth,’ is fulfilled, and the world has become the theatre of the Divine kingdom.” From the drift of the passage we may see the utter groundlessness of Billroth’s view, who supposes the warning here to be addressed to teachers, cautioning them against boasting on account of their partisans. In such a case, we should be obliged to interpret ‘yours’ of the teachers, which would be impossible. It is to the Church in general that Paul is here speaking. Instead of glorying with a one-sided partiality, in the fact that, this or that person belonged to them as their master, he would have them maintain a blessed consciousness of the privilege, that all things and persons belonged to them alike.

What in particular these things were, he goes on to specify, beginning with the teachers whom they had made the occasion of their strifes.—Whether Paul, or Apollos or Cephas.—(Comp. 2 Corinthians 4:5.) Each one of these they were all to turn to their own advantage, instead of adhering to any one exclusively. Here he could not add, “or Christ,” for this would be to reduce Christ to the same footing with his servants. The Christ-party do not come into view here, and could hot, “since their relation to the Apostles was only a negative one “(comp. on 1 Corinthians 1:12).—or the world.—“This leap from Peter to the whole world gives a sudden breadth to the discourse, as if he were borne on with a sort of impatience to set forth his theme in its fullest scope.”—Bengel. Comp. Romans 8:38. There is here neither a climax, as if he were proceeding upward from the lowest point, nor an argument from the less to the greater, [as Calvin, when he says: “If Christ has subjected to you also the world and life and death, how much more men, so that they should serve rather than rule you?”] Nor is the term ‘world’ to be understood as denoting: ‘the university of the learned;’ nor yet: ‘the knowledge of all natural things’ wherein the learned boast; nor: ‘unbelieving teachers as contrasted with the aforementioned believing ones;’ nor: ‘all the rest of mankind.’ But the word is to be taken in its most comprehensive sense; Christians, who are the destined “heirs of the world” (Rom. 4:38), have even now a claim upon the world. It belongs to them. It must serve them. Yet in order not to make the term synonymous with the expression: “all things” (1 Corinthians 3:21) we shall have to limit it (with Osiander) to mean the visible world, with a special reference to mankind dwelling in it. [“The present order of things,” says Hodge, “is maintained and directed to the promotion of the great work of redemption.” And Barnes well expands the thought, ‘the world is yours,’ under four particulars: (1) The world was made by the common Father, and all His children have an interest in it as His work. (2) The frame of the universe is sustained and upheld for their sake. (3) The course of providential events is ordered for their welfare. (4) They have the promise of as much of this world as is needful for them (Matthew 6:33; Mark 10:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:8)]. With this view the following members of the sentence best accord.—There we have indicated the most momentous states and changes belonging to this visible sphere.—or life, or death.—The former expresses the fullest exercise of all our vital energies in all its varied influence and bearings; the latter denotes the entire suppression of this activity. And both these must promote the advantage of believers and help onward their salvation. [“They are dispensed and administered so as best to fulfil the designs of God in reference to the Church. The greatest men of the world, kings, statesmen and heroes, ministers, individual believers and unbelievers, live and die just as best subserves the interest of Christ’s kingdom.”—Hodge. “ ‘Life is yours’: (1) Because believers enjoy it. It is a real life, not vain show. (2) Because its various events tend to promote their welfare and work together for their good.” “ ‘Death is yours’: (1) Because believers have peace and support in their dying hour. (2) Because it is the avenue which leads to their rest. (3) Because they should triumph over it, in that it will be swallowed up in the glory of a higher life, releasing us from what is mortal to put on immortality.”—Barnes.]—Or things present or things to come.—These terms alike refer to the present life, and include all its vicissitudes from the passing moment onward, whether joyful or sorrowful.—All are yours.—A summing up and emphatic reassertion of what he opened with. And from this he passes on to state the ground on which Christians possess such wealth; But ye are Christ’s.—[“Here the category changes; Christ is not yours in the sense in which ‘all things’ are—not made for and subserving you—but (δέ) you are His.”—Alford]. It is this fact which gives to believers their royal power over all creaturely existences. By partaking in Christ’s redemption, they once more attain unto a dignity which originally belonged to man (Genesis 1:26; Psalms 8:6) and which is promised God’s people (Exodus 19:6). And this is a dignity far transcending all that ever was surmised by Pagans or is expressed in their most famous sayings—such as: ‘the wise alone are kings—are rich—are free, “The analogousness of such language to that of the New Testament indicates the remaining traces of the nobility of human nature; but without Gospel redemption the dignity of man thus set forth would be wholly unrealized. Antiquity planted itself upon self-exaltation, Christianity on self-humiliation.”—Neander. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 John 5:1; Revelation 3:21; 1 Peter 2:9). By belonging to Christ, the Church and all its true members become partakers of his glory as the One to whom all things have been given by the Father. In their fellowship with Him—a fellowship involving entire dependence on their park—they are made independent of all else, and all else stands at their service. By the fact expressed in: “ye are Christ’s,” all partizanship is cut off, all generic differences are dissolved, and a proper relation to all teachers established. Meyer says finely that the active relation of possession mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:22 (‘all things are yours’) and the passive relation of being possessed here brought out (‘ye are Christ’s’) are both alike opposed to the disorders arising from subservience to human authorities. We may, perhaps, detect here a slight intimation intended for the Christ party, that in their partisan appeal to Christ there was an ignoring of that connection which all alike sustained to Him, and a disparaging levelling of their Lord to an equality with human leaders.—But Christ is God’s.—[“And even being Christ’s does not reach the highest possession: He possesses you not for Himself, but (δέ, again) the head of Christ is God,” (1 Corinthians 11:3).—Alford.] Thus it is shown that by belonging to Christ we indirectly belong to God, and are planted upon an immovable basis of independence and power (comp. John 10:28-30). And so, on the one hand, we see our union to God to be mediated by Christ, and, on the other, that Christ is subordinated to the Father, as shown in 1 Corinthians 11:3. To consider this subordination however as belonging solely to His human nature, would not accord with a correct view of the whole subject. It is the whole Christ that is here spoken of, and that too not simply as in His state of humiliation, but also in His state of glory (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:28; Philippians 2:9). In His essential equality with God, He is at the same time subordinated to God (comp. John 5:23-26; John 14:28; John 17:8). [“There is,” says Alford, “a striking similarity in the argument in this last verse to that in our Lord’s prohibition, Matthew 23:8-10, ‘But be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your Master, even Christ; and call no man your father upon earth, for one is your Father, who is in heaven.’ ”]. “This last clause gives to the whole course of thought a most exalted close, and to the argument presented its strongest and noblest foundation, and rounds off the whole paragraph by a most fitting allusion to the idea of the one holy temple of God with which it opened (1 Corinthians 3:16, comp. 1 Corinthians 3:9), in order to show Christians that by virtue of their union to God through Christ they are really taught of God.”—Osiander.


1. The sacredness and inviolability of the Church. It is God’s temple. If so, then it is the place of His gracious presence—His sanctuary, to be treated with tender reverence and awe. To introduce strange fire (Leviticus 10:1-2) into it is a sacrilege which incurs the heaviest judgment, even an exclusion from the communion of saints. Of this crime they are guilty who bring into the Church some other authority than that of God’s word, and pin their faith to something else than that which God has given, and prize another wisdom beside that which is in Christ. By such conduct the Church is desecrated, and robbed of its true character as the temple of God. In fact it is as such destroyed. And this occurs whenever party spirit prevails. In such a case man’s word and wisdom usurp the place of God’s word and wisdom. Then adhesion to some particular human leader is made a test of Christianity and a condition of brotherhood. Then Christ, “who of God is made unto us wisdom,” etc., (1 Corinthians 1:30), is crowded out of His supremacy. In place of this one holy image of God, the only proper pattern for believers, there comes in the idol of some human personality to be copied as the true standard of character, and this not for the sake of any resemblance it may bear to Christ, but for the sake of some natural peculiarities it may happen to possess. Instead of the flame of a holy love kindled by the Spirit and warming toward all, there burns the Are of human partialities, which begets alienation and hostility towards all who do not cherish like preferences; and when such are the results of party spirit, it must be seen that he who engenders or furthers this spirit mars the work of God, and desecrates His sanctuary. And can such a person hope to escape condign punishment from Him who is thus insulted in His own temple?

2. The Christian’s regal glory in its nature and grounds. “All things are yours and ye are Christ’s, and Christ’s is God’s.” Since God is love itself, He keeps nothing for Himself, but imparts to others all—yea, His very Being in the fulness of its perfections and blessedness. This He does in an original and eternal way within the sphere of the Godhead, to his only-begotten Son, who, by virtue of this communication, is, has, and can do every thing the same as the Father. He does it also in an indirect manner towards all creatures made in His image, according to their measure. Hence the appointment of man to lordship in his own province. [This lordship he indeed lost by reason of sin, and became the slave of the circumstances which he ought to have ruled. But in the work of redemption it has been restored to him through the interposition of this Son, who became the second Adam, and, in His assumed humanity, reestablished this supremacy for all who should believe on Him. “Fear not,” He says to His own, “for I have overcome the world.” Hence it is] in Christ that we see this appointment to Lordship actually fulfilled; and how it was fulfilled may be seen, both during His life of humiliation, when He controlled all things by the word of His power, and in His exaltation to universal power and authority at the right hand of God. In this power believers are now invited to share by union with Him. Through Him the whole creation stands subject to their disposal. Every thing He has is made to subserve the purposes of His love in them and promote their sanctification and glory.

But since now, for a period, their life is, to a certain degree, hid with Christ in God, so also is their power. Nevertheless this power is to be experienced even here in striking ways, and ever more and more through the prevalence of their prayers. And the terms on which they receive it show the ground on which it rests, viz.: the fellowship had with Christ, and through Him with God. Prevailing prayers are such as are offered in the name of Christ or according to the will of God (John 14:13 f.;John 17:23; 1 John 2:14), or as are presented in faith (Matthew 17:20). In them there is an identifying of ourselves with God through Christ, so that all private preferences are given up, and we keep ourselves in exclusive dependence on Him. Besides, as in Christ Himself there was manifested this same demeanor towards the Father; as He, the Divinely equal Son, kept Himself in perfect dependence on God, and determined to be nothing else but the revealer and executor of the Father’s will; as He, the first man, was obliged to qualify Himself for the exercise of Divine power in the way of obedience,—just so it is with believers. Their voluntary and complete dependence on Christ and through Him on God is the condition and source of their all embracing power. The fact that they belong to Him is the ground that all things belong to them.

[3. All sound title and right to use the creatures of God, together with the ability to use them to advantage, are conditioned on faith in Christ. He, having by His obedience recovered for man his lost sovereignty, makes those who believe on Him joint heirs with Him to this inheritance. And He also imparts to them that purity by which all things are pure to them. Hence to them every creature of God is good, when received with thanksgiving and sanctified with the word of God and prayer. And in the ordering of His providence all things are made to work together for their good. Not so is it with the wicked. A kind of natural right to possession and use they may indeed have in the present condition of things; but—it is under God’s toleration and only for a time. If they continue unbelieving to the last, they are finally despoiled of all. While even in this life the good they seem to have is no real good, and “nothing is pure, since even their very mind and conscience is defiled.” This is what Origen seems to teach. “All things belong to the saint. The whole world is the possession of faith. But the unbeliever has no claim to even an obolus; for the goods which he has he holds as a robber, since he knows neither how to use them nor yet the God that made them.” (Taken in substance from Wordsworth)].

4. [Christ is God’s. On the subordination of Christ to the Father, see on 1 Corinthians 8:6 and 1 Corinthians 11:3].


Starke:—To be “the temple of God,” inhabited by the Holy Spirit, is the highest dignity of Christians. It ennobles the humblest to a greatness that far surpasses all secular honor and glory. The Spirit dwells in us: 1, through faith in Christ; 2, through peace with God; 3, through hope; 4, through love; 5, through special gifts and powers; 6, through comfort, cheer, patience, joy in the cross; 7, through true life in the soul, continuing even when it passes out of the body; which itself also partakes of this life, whether it be in this or in the future state, (Selnecker) 1 Corinthians 3:16.—How fearful the woe which awaits those who mislead and destroy souls, either by false doctrines or by an ungodly life (1 Corinthians 3:17).—“Let him become a fool.” What a paradox! A fool first—then wise! The world seeks to be wise and then becomes foolish. But what is this “becoming a fool?” Not the losing of our understanding and will, [but the confession of ignorance, the avowal of our knowing nothing, that we may be willing to be taught, so as truly to know every thing] (1 Corinthians 3:18).—God sometimes lets “the wise” run their course, accumulate their knowledge, construct their cunning systems, so as at last to be caught as in a snare by their own devices, and be the more thoroughly convinced of their folly. [Few are so profoundly sensible of the incompetency of the human intellect and the meagreness of human attainments as those who have most profoundly and honestly explored and discussed the great problems of nature, humanity and God] (1 Corinthians 3:19). The Church is not for the teachers, that it should be subject to them and called by their names; but they are for it, to serve its welfare and build it up. Hence no man or set of men has power over Christians to prescribe laws for them and bind their consciences. Let no one therefore choose a mere man for his guiding star unconditionally, or follow his lead blindly; much less should any one count himself blessed in having adopted this one rather than that as the controller of his life and conscience. Nor yet let him provoke dissensions and divide the Church by asserting his partialities to an undue extent (1 Corinthians 3:21).—“All things are yours”—[all true Christian teachers of every name, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or Calvin, or Wesley, or Leighton, or Fuller. Every faithful minister profits the whole Church; and every member of the Church may and ought to derive benefit from the teachings of all. It is thus the mind is expanded beyond party limits into a true Catholicity]. And “this world,”—sun, air, water, fire, earth, all stand at your service, and ye can use them and praise the Creator for them. Your natural “life,” too, preserved by this world’s goods, [is, while preserved, for your advantage, even though it may be passed amid pains, and privations, and disabilities, that seem worse thin death]. Finally, “death” is yours, as it opens an entrance into eternal blessedness and glory (1 Corinthians 3:22).—‘Ye are Christ’s.’ He has bought you with His blood, and is your proper Lord and Master. He is the Head—you, the members. Hence cleave to Him only. Be called after him only. “Christ is God’s,” as the appointed Mediator and Ambassador of God to men. Likewise, as Head of the Church, He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, and acted ever in the Father’s service and to His glory (1 Corinthians 3:23).

Heubner:—The indwelling of the Spirit is opposed to all party strife. Hence in moments of holy inspiration, [in times of religious awakening], sectarianism melts, [and the hearts of believers of every name flow together], 1 Corinthians 3:16.—The conceit of our own unimpeachable wisdom is self-deceit or self-betrayal (1 Corinthians 3:18).—The wisdom which would know nothing of God and would discard a Saviour, will be finally exposed by God in all its nakedness, and all its aims baffled and punished (1 Corinthians 3:19).—To be proud of our own denomination or of our own leaders is nothing but a concealed self-love, which seeks to shine in the glory of another. And this is derogatory to the Christian name, for the believer is servant to no man (1 Corinthians 3:21).—Since all things are ours through Christ, all things should conduct the Christian to Christ. [Failing in this, their use and enjoyment become so far prejudicial and unlawful. They are then not properly “ours”]. (1 Corinthians 3:22).—“Ye are Christ’s,” then ye should serve Him, even as He, the image of God, served God in all things and conducted all to God (1 Corinthians 3:23.)

W. F. Besser:

1 Corinthians 3:18. “Be not deceived.” Self-deception is an injurious thing; it renders much labor useless, and despoils us of our reward. But worst of all is that self-betrayal which hardens the heart against brotherly admonition.—“Let him become a fool.” Such is the power and wonder working of God’s word, that it moves me to become an enemy to myself; and to empty myself of all that which best pleases my flesh; and to become a fool in this world, to give up the reputation of being a sagacious man, who moves on with the party of progress, and stands upon the apex of the civilization of the time; and so to pass into obscurity and contempt.—(1 Corinthians 3:19). God weaves a snare for the wise out of their own craftiness, wherein he catches them while they think to slip from Him by their arts: e. g., explaining away His miracles through their rationalism.—(1 Corinthians 3:21). The building here does not belong to the builders but the builders to the building.

1 Corinthians 3:22 as compared with 1 Corinthians 1:12. Christ does not stand in the second rank with His servants. He is the Lord of Glory. The declaration “all is yours” promises the world to Christians preëminently in this sense, that all secular art and service help to furnish mortar for building the temple of God. Christians are called not to curse the world, but to overcome and rule it for God. The world is nothing but a scaffolding that will be broken up when it has served its end in assisting to construct God’s house. But this house, which is destined to be eternal, are we.—All this world’s wisdom is folly with God, if it insists in playing the mistress in His house; but if it act the part of handmaid, it is in its place.—(1 Corinthians 3:23). Though Christ may employ His servants for bringing all those who have been purchased by His blood to become His by faith; still the saints thus called hang upon Christ, independently of any man, just as needles are drawn and held by the power of the magnet, even though some other needle, which had been first attracted, should sustain them by virtue of the magnetic power streaming through it.

[Barnes: 1 Corinthians 3:20. “Words of the wise, vain.” This admonition especially applicable to ministers. They are in peculiar danger on this subject, and it has been by their yielding themselves so much to the power of speculative philosophy that parties have been formed in the Church, and that the Gospel has been so much corrupted].

[J. Barrow: 1 Corinthians 3:16. The Divinity of the Holy Ghost. I. His nature and original—the Spirit of God. II. His personality—He dwelleth in us. III. His Divinity—Christians are called the temple of God because He dwelleth in them. IV. His sanctifying virtue—in that he constitutes us temples by His presence in us. Application. 1. We are obliged to render all adoration to the majesty of the Divine Spirit. 2. The consideration of His presence and work should awaken devoutest gratitude. 3. We should desire and pray for God’s Spirit. 4. We should demean ourselves worthily toward the Spirit. 5. The doctrine full of comfort and encouragement.—J. Howe:

1 Corinthians 3:16. The Christian a living temple, I. built, and II. inhabited, by the Holy Ghost.—See this whole subject largely discussed in Howe’s works, pp. 77–113.—R. South:

1 Corinthians 3:19. Worldly wisdom. I. Principles: a. Dissimulation in concealment or false pretences; b. Self-interest as opposed to conscience or religion; c. Self, the chief end; d. All its beneficence and gratitude are practiced with an eye to advantage. II. The folly and absurdity of these principles: a. The end pitched upon not suited to man’s condition, either as to duration or rational nature; b. The means pitched upon are unsuited to his end, inasmuch as they are insufficient and often contrary to it].


1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16.—[“God’s” should stand first as in the Gr. to mark the emphasis].

1 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 3:17.—Τοῦτον. Lach., Tisch., and others read αν̓τόν according to many and in part weighty authorities [A. D. F. Syr.]. Meyer: τοῦτον, because after εἴ τις in the protasis αὐτόν is most usually employed, and it was corrected to this as more usual.” [So Alf., Words., and others following B. C. L. Cod. Sin.].

1 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Corinthians 3:18.—[The proper order is, “If any one thinketh to be wise among you in this world.” See exegesis].

1 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 3:17.—ἐστιν is to be omitted according to preponderant authorities [A. B. C. D. F. Cod. Sin.].

[19]Hodge prefers the rendering of the E. V. which follows that of all the previous English versions, as well as the Syriac, Vulgate and Lather’s. And this rendering is sustained by Jelf. Gr. Gram. § 816. 7, § 821. 3. The plural in οἵτινες is to be explained on the principle of attraction.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/1-corinthians-3.html. 1857-84.
Ads FreeProfile