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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 3

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

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Verses 1-17

1 Corinthians 3:1-17 . Renewed Condemnation of Party Spirit.— Paul has now reached a point where he can effect an easy return to the divisions at Corinth. He has been speaking of the spiritual man who is capable of receiving spiritual things as the “ natural man” is not. But such teaching he has not been able to give the Corinthians. For they are not spiritual, as is demonstrated by their party spirit. Here again he humbles the church in the very matter of which it was most proud. Its spirituality was its peculiar boast. It was richly endowed with spiritual gifts, and the excesses into which it had plunged were complacently paraded as evidence of enlightenment and illustration of the truth that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 . When Paul was with them he had to treat them not as spiritual but as fleshen, to feed them like infants on milk, for meat they were not able to bear ( Hebrews 5:12). And not even yet are they able, for where jealousy and wrangling exist are they not carnal, living and acting on a purely human plane? They are mere men, as if no higher power had lifted them to the superhuman level, since they boast of this human teacher and that. Paul and Apollos are just mere servants, the channels through which their faith was evoked. All they did was achieved through the gift of God. Paul planted, Apollos watered the seed, God’ s blessing alone made their work fruitful. They are nothing, God is all. Both toil for a common cause, each shall receive a reward proportioned to his labour. They are God’ s partners in work, the Corinthians are God’ s tillage, God’ s erection.

1 Corinthians 3:1 . carnal: two cognate adjectives ( sarkinos here, sarkikos in 1 Corinthians 3:3) are translated by the same word. The former means simply “ consisting of flesh” and may or may not be used in an ethical sense, whereas the latter has usually an ethical meaning. Yet the former might be even more ethically severe than the latter, for, if used with the ethical sense of “ flesh” attaching to it, it might mean composed entirely of flesh, carnal through and through. So probably in Romans 7:14. Here the leading idea is that suggested by what follows, a baby at the breast is just a lump of animated flesh, in which the mind has scarcely begun to dawn. Still the contrast with spiritual and the presence in the context of “ carnal” imparts an ethical tinge to the word.

1 Corinthians 3:4 . Observe that only two parties are mentioned and the others ignored. Possibly the latter constituted an insignificant section, possibly Paul selects himself and Apollos because he is going to speak of their work at Corinth. This would make it still more unlikely that Peter had visited Corinth.

1 Corinthians 3:9 . God’ s fellow-workers: probably “ sharers with God in His work” ; but possibly “ colleagues who belong to God.”

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 . The tone changes. It becomes cautionary, almost threatening. It is, therefore, unlikely that “ another” ( 1 Corinthians 3:10) is Apollos, towards whom in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 Paul’ s language has been cordial. It may be the leader of the Apollos section, perhaps the leader of the Cephas party. But “ each man” suggests that “ another” is equivalent to “ others.” Paul claims that at Corinth he had laid a foundation like an expert master-builder, but all his skill in founding churches was due to God’ s grace. Others were building on it, for no other foundation than his, i.e. Jesus Christ, was possible. But on the same foundation structures of very different materials may be built, costly and durable, or cheap and flimsy. The quality of each man’ s work will be tested by the Day of the Lord, for that is a fiery manifestation. If the work survives the test by fire, the builder will be rewarded; if it perish, he will lose his material and labour. Yet, since his error is one of judgment rather than intention he shall himself be saved, though he must pass to safety through the scorching flames. We may compare the Persian belief that at the judgment everyone must pass with his work through the stream of molten metal, which to the righteous seems like warm milk, to the wicked as what it actually is. There is no reference to purgatory in 1 Corinthians 3:15.

1 Corinthians 3:16 f. The metaphor of the building suggests that of the sanctuary. But the subject of 1 Corinthians 3:16 f. differs from that of the preceding section. There Paul dealt with injudicious builders, here with wreckers of the sanctuary. In the one case the man will be saved, though scarred and suffering loss, in the other he will be destroyed by God. As God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, so the Christian community is now the shrine which He inhabits. His holiness is therefore communicated to it, to desecrate it by faction violates the holiness of God which will react fatally against the offender.

Verses 18-23

1 Corinthians 3:18-23 . It is a False Wisdom that Pits one Leader against Another: All are Yours.— Paul warns against the self-deception which causes a man to overrate his own judgment. Better renounce his worldly wisdom, which God counts foolishness that he may become really wise. As Scripture says, God grips fast the wise in their cleverness ( Job 5:13), and He knows the emptiness of their thoughts ( Psalms 94:11, Paul substitutes “ the wise” for “ men” ). So let none boast that he takes any man for his leader, pluming himself on his discernment. Indeed it is to rate one’ s own dignity too low. For all things belong to the Christian. Christians do not belong to one leader, but all leaders belong to them. The world, too, is theirs, this physical universe with all its throng of sentient beings, life and death, the present, the future. But they are Christ’ s, and possess all things through His possession of them; and He too belongs to God and we are His. The Stoics had similar sayings—“ All things belong to the wise” (Zeno), “ All things are mine” (Seneca). Some of the more philosophical type at Corinth may have made this a kind of watchword. Paul endorses it, but redeems it by the reminder that while all things belong to the Christian, he is not the lord of the universe but himself belongs in his turn to Christ. It is characteristic of Paul to soar away from these petty squabbles to those ultimate principles where his mind was most at home . That he does not mention Christ along with the three human teachers is no argument for the non-existence of a Christ-party. He does not place Christ on a level with them. He would not say to his readers that Christ belonged to them, the great thing they needed to remember was that they belonged to Christ. Christ is mentioned— in His right place.

1 Corinthians 3:19 b. This and the quotation in Romans 11:35, the only quotations from Job in NT, differ considerably from the LXX; Paul probably had Job not in the LXX but another version.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/1-corinthians-3.html. 1919.
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