Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day.

Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

1 Corinthians 3

Verse 1

But as unto carnal (αλλ ως σαρκινοιςall' hōs sarkinois). Latin carneus. “As men o‘flesh,” Braid Scots; “as worldlings,” Moffatt. This form in ινος̇inos like λιτινοςlithinos in 2 Corinthians 3:3 means the material of flesh, “not on tablets of stone, but on fleshen tablets on hearts.” So in Hebrews 7:16. But in Romans 7:14 Paul says, “I am fleshen (σαρκινοςsarkinos) sold under sin,” as if σαρκινοςsarkinos represented the extreme power of the σαρχsarx Which does Paul mean here? He wanted to speak the wisdom of God among the adults (1 Corinthians 2:6), the spiritual (οι πνευματικοιhoi pneumatikoi 1 Corinthians 2:15), but he was unable to treat them as πνευματικοιpneumatikoi in reality because of their seditions and immoralities. It is not wrong to be σαρκινοςsarkinos for we all live in the flesh (εν σαρκιen sarki Galatians 2:20), but we are not to live according to the flesh (κατα σαρκαkata sarka Romans 8:12). It is not culpable to a babe in Christ (νηπιοςnēpios 1 Corinthians 13:11), unless unduly prolonged (1 Corinthians 14:20; Hebrews 5:13.). It is one of the tragedies of the minister‘s life that he has to keep on speaking to the church members “as unto babes in Christ” (ως νηπιοις εν Χριστωιhōs nēpiois en Christōi), who actually glory in their long babyhood whereas they ought to be teachers of the gospel instead of belonging to the cradle roll. Paul‘s goal was for all the babes to become adults (Colossians 1:28).

Verse 2

I fed you with milk, not with meat (γαλα υμας εποτισα ου βρωμαgala humas epotisaεποτισαou brōma). Note two accusatives with the verb, ποτιζωepotisa first aorist active indicative of ρωμαpotizō as with other causative verbs, that of the person and of the thing. In the lxx and the papyri the verb often means to irrigate. εποτισαBrōma does not mean meat (flesh) as opposed to bread, but all solid food as in “meats and drinks” (Hebrews 9:7). It is a zeugma to use βρωμαepotisa with brōma Paul did not glory in making his sermons thin and watery. Simplicity does not require lack of ideas or dulness. It is pathetic to think how the preacher has to clip the wings of thought and imagination because the hearers cannot go with him. But nothing hinders great preaching like the dulness caused by sin on the part of auditors who are impatient with the high demands of the gospel.

Verse 3

For ye are yet carnal (ετι γαρ σαρκικοι εστεeti gar sarkikoi este). ΣαρκικοςSarkikos unlike σαρκινοςsarkinos like ικοςikos formations, means adapted to, fitted for the flesh (σαρχsarx), one who lives according to the flesh (κατα σαρκαkata sarka). Paul by πσυχικοςpsuchikos describes the unregenerate man, by πνευματικοςpneumatikos the regenerate man. Both classes are σαρκινοιsarkinoi made in flesh, and both may be σαρκικοιsarkikoi though the πνευματικοιpneumatikoi should not be. The πνευματικοιpneumatikoi who continue to be σαρκινοιsarkinoi are still babes (νηπιοιnēpioi), not adults (τελειοιteleioi), while those who are still σαρκικοιsarkikoi (carnal) have given way to the flesh as if they were still πσυχικοιpsuchikoi (unregenerate). It is a bold and cutting figure, not without sarcasm, but necessary to reveal the Corinthians to themselves.

Jealousy and strife (ζηλος και εριςzēlos kai eris). Zeal (ζηλοςzēlos from ζεωzeō to boil) is not necessarily evil, but good if under control. It may be not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2) and easily becomes jealousy (same root through the French jaloux) as zeal. Ardour may be like the jealousy of God (2 Corinthians 11:2) or the envy of men (Acts 5:17). ΕριςEris is an old word, but used only by Paul in N.T. (see note on 1 Corinthians 1:11). Wrangling follows jealousy. These two voices of the spirit are to Paul proof that the Corinthians are still σαρκικοιsarkikoi and walking according to men, not according to the Spirit of Christ.

Verse 4

For when one saith (οταν γαρ λεγηι τιςhotan gar legēi tis). Indefinite temporal clause with the present subjunctive of repetition (Robertson, Grammar, p. 972). Each instance is a case in point and proof abundant of the strife.

Of Paul (ΠαυλουPaulou). Predicate genitive, belong to Paul, on Paul‘s side.

Of Apollos (ΑπολλωApollō). Same genitive, but the form is the so-called Attic second declension. See the nominative ΑπολλωςApollōs in 1 Corinthians 3:5.

Men (αντρωποιanthrōpoi). Just mere human creatures (αντρωποιanthrōpoi generic term for mankind), in the flesh (σαρκινοιsarkinoi), acting like the flesh (σαρκικοιsarkikoi), not πνευματικοιpneumatikoi as if still πσυχικοιpsuchikoi It was a home-thrust. Paul would not even defend his own partisans.

Verse 5

What then? (τι ουνti ouṉ). He does not say τιςtis (who), but τιti (what), neuter singular interrogative pronoun.

Ministers (διακονοιdiakonoi). Not leaders of parties or sects, but merely servants through whom ye believed. The etymology of the word Thayer gives as διαdia and κονιςkonis “raising dust by hastening.” In the Gospels it is the servant (Matthew 20:26) or waiter (John 2:5). Paul so describes himself as a minister (Colossians 1:23, Colossians 1:25). The technical sense of deacon comes later (Philemon 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 1 Timothy 3:12).

As the Lord gave to him (ως ο Κυριος εδωκενhōs ho Kurios edōken). Hence no minister of the Lord like Apollos and Paul has any basis for pride or conceit nor should be made the occasion for faction and strife. This idea Paul enlarges upon through chapters 1 Corinthians 3; 4 and it is made plain in chapter 1 Corinthians 12.

Verse 6

I planted (εγω επυτευσαegō ephuteusa). First aorist active indicative of old verb πυτευωphuteuō This Paul did as Luke tells us in Acts 18:1-18.

Apollos watered (Απολλως εποτισενApollōs epotisen). Apollos irrigated the church there as is seen in Acts 18:24-19:1. Another aorist tense as in 1 Corinthians 3:2.

But God gave the increase (αλλα ο τεος ηυχανενalla ho theos ēuxanen). Imperfect tense here (active indicative) for the continuous blessing of God both on the work of Paul and Apollos, Corinthians-labourers with God in God‘s field (1 Corinthians 3:9). Reports of revivals sometimes give the glory to the evangelist or to both evangelist and pastor. Paul gives it all to God. He and Apollos cooperated as successive pastors.

Verse 7

So then neither - neither - but (ωστε ουτεουτεαλλHōste outė̇outė̇all'). Paul applies his logic relentlessly to the facts. He had asked what (τιti) is Apollos or Paul (1 Corinthians 3:5). The answer is here.

Neither is anything (τιti) the one who plants nor the one who waters. God is the whole and we are not anything.

Verse 8

Are one (εν εισινhen eisin). The neuter singular again (ενhen not ειςheis) as with the interrogative τιti and the indefinite τιti By this bold metaphor which Paul expands he shows how the planter and the waterer work together. If no one planted, the watering would be useless. If no one watered, the planting would come to naught as the dreadful drouth of 1930 testifies while these words are written.

According to his own labour (κατα τον ιδιον κοπονkata ton idion kopon). God will bestow to each the reward that his labour deserves. That is the pay that the preacher is sure to receive. He may get too little or too much here from men. But the due reward from God is certain and it will be adequate however ungrateful men may be.

Verse 9

God‘s fellow-workers (τεου συνεργοιtheou sunergoi). This old word (Corinthians-workers of God) has a new dignity here. God is the major partner in the enterprise of each life, but he lets us work with him. Witness the mother and God with the baby as the product.

God‘s husbandry (τεου γεωργιονtheou geōrgion). God‘s tilled land (γη εργονgēτεου οικοδομηergon). The farmer works with God in God‘s field. Without the sun, the rains, the seasons the farmer is helpless.

God‘s building (οικοςtheou oikodomē). God is the Great Architect. We work under him and carry out the plans of the Architect. It is building (δεμωoikos house, demō to build). Let us never forget that God sees and cares what we do in the part of the building where we work for him.

Verse 10

As a wise masterbuilder (ως σοπος αρχιτεκτωνhōs sophos architektōn). Paul does not shirk his share in the work at Corinth with all the sad outcome there. He absolves Apollos from responsibility for the divisions. He denies that he himself is to blame. In doing so he has to praise himself because the Judaizers who fomented the trouble at Corinth had directly blamed Paul. It is not always wise for a preacher to defend himself against attack, but it is sometimes necessary. Factions in the church were now a fact and Paul went to the bottom of the matter. God gave Paul the grace to do what he did. This is the only New Testament example of the old and common word αρχιτεκτωνarchitektōn our architect. ΤεκτωνTektōn is from τικτωtiktō to beget, and means a begetter, then a worker in wood or stone, a carpenter or mason (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). ΑρχιArchi̇ is an old inseparable prefix like αρχαγγελοςarchaggelos (archangel), αρχεπισχοποςarchepiscopos (archbishop), αρχιερευςarchiereus (chiefpriest). ΑρχιτεκτωνArchitektōn occurs in the papyri and inscriptions in an even wider sense than our use of architect, sometimes of the chief engineers. But Paul means to claim primacy as pastor of the church in Corinth as is true of every pastor who is the architect of the whole church life and work. All the workmen (τεκτονεςtektones carpenters) work under the direction of the architect (Plato, Statesman, 259). “As a wise architect I laid a foundation” (τεμελιον ετηκαthemelion ethēka). Much depends on the wisdom of the architect in laying the foundation. This is the technical phrase (Luke 6:48; Luke 14:29), a cognate accusative for τεμελιονthemelion The substantive τεμελιονthemelion is from the same root τεthe as ετηκαethēka (τιτημιti̇thēmi). We cannot neatly reproduce the idiom in English. “I placed a placing” does only moderately well. Paul refers directly to the events described by Luke in Acts 18:1-18. The aorist ετηκαethēka is the correct text, not the perfect τετεικαtetheika

Another buildeth thereon (αλλος εποικοδομειallos epoikodomei). Note the preposition επιepi with the verb each time (1 Corinthians 3:10, 1 Corinthians 3:11, 1 Corinthians 3:12, 1 Corinthians 3:14). The successor to Paul did not have to lay a new foundation, but only to go on building on that already laid. It is a pity when the new pastor has to dig up the foundation and start all over again as if an earthquake had come.

Take heed how he buildeth thereon (βλεπετω πως εποικοδομειblepetō pōs epoikodomei). The carpenters have need of caution how they carry out the plans of the original architect. Successive architects of great cathedrals carry on through centuries the original design. The result becomes the wonder of succeeding generations. There is no room for individual caprice in the superstructure.

Verse 11

Other foundation (τεμελιον αλλονthemelion allon). The gender of the adjective is here masculine as is shown by αλλονallon If neuter, it would be αλλοallo It is masculine because Paul has Christ in mind. It is not here ετερονheteron a different kind of gospel (ετερον ευαγγελιονheteron euaggelion Galatians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 11:4) which is not another (αλλοallo Galatians 1:7) in reality. But another Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:4, αλλον Ιησουνallon Iēsoun) is a reflection on the one Lord Jesus. Hence there is no room on the platform with Jesus for another Saviour, whether Buddha, Mahomet, Dowie, Eddy, or what not. Jesus Christ is the one foundation and it is gratuitous impudence for another to assume the role of Foundation.

Than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus (παρα τον κειμενον ος εστιν Ιησους Χριστοςpara ton keimenonclass="normal greek">παρα hos estin Iēsous Christos). Literally, “alongside (κειμενονpara) the one laid (κειμαιkeimenon),” already laid (present middle participle of τιτημιkeimai used here as often as the perfect passive of τετειμενονtithēmi in place of ακρογωναιοςtetheimenon). Paul scouts the suggestion that one even in the interest of so-called “new thought” will dare to lay beside Jesus another foundation for religion. And yet I have seen an article by a professor in a theological seminary in which he advocates regarding Jesus as a landmark, not as a goal, not as a foundation. Clearly Paul means that on this one true foundation, Jesus Christ, one must build only what is in full harmony with the Foundation which is Jesus Christ. If one accuses Paul of narrowness, it can be replied that the architect has to be narrow in the sense of building here and not there. A broad foundation will be too thin and unstable for a solid and abiding structure. It can be said also that Paul is here merely repeating the claim of Jesus himself on this very subject when he quoted Psalm 118:22. to the members of the Sanhedrin who challenged his authority (Mark 11:10.; Matthew 21:42-45; Luke 20:17.). Apostles and prophets go into this temple of God, but Christ Jesus is the chief corner stone (akrogōnaios Ephesians 2:20). All believers are living stones in this temple (1 Peter 2:5). But there is only one foundation possible.

Verse 12

Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble (χρυσιον αργυριον λιτους τιμιουσ χυλα χορτον καλαμηνchrusionχορτοςargurionκαλαμηlithous timiousxulachortonkalamēn). The durable materials are three (gold, silver, marble or precious stones), perishable materials (pieces of wood, hay, stubble), “of a palace on the one hand, of a mud hut on the other” (Lightfoot). Gold was freely used by the ancients in their palaces. Their marble and granite pillars are still the wonder and despair of modern men. The wooden huts had hay (chortos grass, as in Mark 6:39) and stubble (kalamē old word for stubble after the grain is cut, here alone in the N.T., though in lxx as Ex 5:12) which were employed to hold the wood pieces together and to thatch the roof. It is not made clear whether Paul‘s metaphor refers to the persons as in God‘s building in 1 Corinthians 3:9 or to the character of the teaching as in 1 Corinthians 3:13. Probably both ideas are involved, for look at the penalty on shoddy work (1 Corinthians 3:15) and shoddy men (1 Corinthians 3:17). The teaching may not always be vicious and harmful. It may only be indifferent and worthless. A Corinthians-worker with God in this great temple should put in his very best effort.

Verse 13

The day (η ημεραhē hēmera). The day of judgment as in 1 Thessalonians 5:4 (which see), Romans 13:12; Hebrews 10:25. The work (εργονergon) of each will be made manifest. There is no escape from this final testing.

It is revealed in fire (εν πυρι αποκαλυπτεταιen puri apokaluptetai). Apparently “the day” is the subject of the verb, not the work, not the Lord. See 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:8. This metaphor of fire was employed in the O.T. (Daniel 7:9.; Malachi 4:1) and by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:16.). It is a metaphor that must not be understood as purgatorial, but simple testing (Ellicott) as every fire tests (the fire itself will test, το πυρ αυτο δοκιμασειto pur auto dokimasei) the quality of the material used in the building, of what sort it is (οποιον εστινhopoion estin), qualitative relative pronoun. Men today find, alas, that some of the fireproof buildings are not fireproof when the fire actually comes.

Verse 14

If any man‘s work shall abide (ει τινος το εργον μενειei tinos to ergon menei). Condition of the first class with future indicative, determined as fulfilled, assumed as true. When the fire has done its work, what is left? That is the fiery test that the work of each of us must meet. Suitable reward (Matthew 20:8) will come for the work that stands this test (gold, silver, precious stones)

Verse 15

Shall be burned (κατακαησεταιkatakaēsetai). First-class condition again, assumed as true. Second future (late form) passive indicative of κατακαιωkatakaiō to burn down, old verb. Note perfective use of preposition καταkata shall be burned down. We usually say “burned up,” and that is true also, burned up in smoke.

He shall suffer loss (ζημιωτησεταιzēmiōthēsetai). First future passive indicative of ζημιωzēmiō old verb from ζημιαzēmia (damage, loss), to suffer loss. In Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25 the loss is stated to be the man‘s soul (πσυχηνpsuchēn) or eternal life. But here there is no such total loss as that. The man‘s work (εργονergon) is burned up (sermons, lectures, books, teaching, all dry as dust).

But he himself shall be saved (αυτος δε σωτησεταιautos de sōthēsetai). Eternal salvation, but not by purgatory. His work is burned up completely and hopelessly, but he himself escapes destruction because he is really a saved man a real believer in Christ.

Yet so as through fire (ουτως δε ως δια πυροςhoutōs de hōs dia puros). Clearly Paul means with his work burned down (1 Corinthians 3:15). It is the tragedy of a fruitless life, of a minister who built so poorly on the true foundation that his work went up in smoke. His sermons were empty froth or windy words without edifying or building power. They left no mark in the lives of the hearers. It is the picture of a wasted life. The one who enters heaven by grace, as we all do who are saved, yet who brings no sheaves with him. There is no garnered grain the result of his labours in the harvest field. There are no souls in heaven as the result of his toil for Christ, no enrichment of character, no growth in grace.

Verse 16

Ye are a temple of God (ναος τεου εστεnaos theou este). Literally, a sanctuary (ναοςnaos not ιερονhieron the sacred enclosure, but the holy place and the most holy place) of God. The same picture of building as in 1 Corinthians 3:9 (οικοδομηoikodomē), only here the sanctuary itself.

Dwelleth in you (εν υμιν οικειen humin oikei). The Spirit of God makes his home (οικειoikei) in us, not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48; Acts 17:24).

Verse 17

Destroyeth (πτειρειphtheirei). The outward temple is merely the symbol of God‘s presence, the Shechinah (the Glory). God makes his home in the hearts of his people or the church in any given place like Corinth. It is a terrible thing to tear down ruthlessly a church or temple of God like an earthquake that shatters a building in ruins. This old verb πτειρωphtheirō means to corrupt, to deprave, to destroy. It is a gross sin to be a church-wrecker. There are actually a few preachers who leave behind them ruin like a tornado in their path.

Him shall God destroy (πτερει τουτον ο τεοςphtherei touton ho theos). There is a solemn repetition of the same verb in the future active indicative. The condition is the first class and is assumed to be true. Then the punishment is certain and equally effective. The church-wrecker God will wreck. What does Paul mean by “will destroy”? Does he mean punishment here or hereafter? May it not be both? Certainly he does not mean annihilation of the man‘s soul, though it may well include eternal punishment. There is warning enough here to make every pastor pause before he tears a church to pieces in order to vindicate himself.

Holy (αγιοςhagios). Hence deserves reverential treatment. It is not the building or house of which Paul speaks as “the sanctuary of God” (τον ναον του τεουton naon tou theou), but the spiritual organization or organism of God‘s people in whom God dwells, “which temple ye are” (οιτινες εστε υμειςhoitines este humeis). The qualitative relative pronoun οιτινεςhoitines is plural to agree with υμειςhumeis (ye) and refers to the holy temple just mentioned. The Corinthians themselves in their angry disputes had forgotten their holy heritage and calling, though this failing was no excuse for the ringleaders who had led them on. In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul reminds the Corinthians again that the body is the temple (ναοςnaos sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit, which fact they had forgotten in their immoralities.

Verse 18

Let no man deceive himself (Μηδεις εαυτον εχαπατωMēdeis heauton exapatō). A warning that implied that some of them were guilty of doing it (μηmē and the present imperative). Excited partisans can easily excite themselves to a pious phrenzy, hypnotize themselves with their own supposed devotion to truth.

Thinketh that he is wise (δοκει σοπος ειναιdokei sophos einai). Condition of first class and assumed to be true. Predicate nominative σοποςsophos with the infinitive to agree with subject of δοκειdokei (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1038). Paul claimed to be “wise” himself in 1 Corinthians 3:10 and he desires that the claimant to wisdom may become wise (ινα γενηται σοποςhina genētai sophos purpose clause with ιναhina and subjunctive) by becoming a fool (μωρος γενεστωmōros genesthō second aorist middle imperative of γινομαιginomai) as this age looks at him. This false wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 1:18-20, 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:14), this self-conceit, has led to strife and wrangling. Cut it out.

Verse 19

Foolishness with God (μωρια παρα τωι τεωιmōria para tōi theōi). Whose standard does a church (temple) of God wish, that of this world or of God? The two standards are not the same. It is a pertinent inquiry with us all whose idea rules in our church. Paul quotes Job 5:13.

That taketh (ο δρασσομενοςho drassomenos). Old verb δρασσομαιdrassomai to grasp with the hand, is used here for the less vivid word in the lxx καταλαμβανωνkatalambanōn It occurs nowhere else in the N.T., but appears in the papyri to lay hands on. Job is quoted in the N.T. only here and in Romans 11:35 and both times with variations from the lxx. This word occurs in Ecclesiasticus 26:7; 34:2. In Psalms 2:12 the lxx has δραχαστε παιδειαςdraxasthe paideias lay hold on instruction.

Craftiness (πανουργιαιpanourgiāi). The πανουργοςpanourgos man is ready for any or all work (if bad enough). So it means versatile cleverness (Robertson and Plummer), astutia (Vulgate).

Verse 20

And again (και παλινkai palin). Another confirmatory passage from Psalm 94:11.

Reasonings (διαλογισμουςdialogismous). More than cogitationes (Vulgate), sometimes disputations (Philippians 2:14). Paul changes “men” of lxx to wise (σοπωνsophōn) in harmony with the Hebrew context.

Vain (ματαιοιmataioi). Useless, foolish, from ματηmatē a futile attempt.

Verse 21

Wherefore let no one glory in men (ωστε μηδεις καυχαστω εν αντρωποιςhōste mēdeis kauchasthō en anthrōpois). The conclusion (ωστεhōste) from the self-conceit condemned. This particle here is merely inferential with no effect on the construction (ωστεhōŝte = and so) any more than ουνoun would have, a paratactic conjunction. There are thirty such examples of ωστεhōste in the N.T., eleven with the imperative as here (Robertson, Grammar, p. 999). The spirit of glorying in party is a species of self-conceit and inconsistent with glorying in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31).

Verse 22

Yours (υμωνhumōn). Predicate genitive, belong to you. All the words in this 1 Corinthians 3:22 and 1 Corinthians 3:23 are anarthrous, though not indefinite, but definite. The English reproduces them all properly without the definite article except κοσμοςkosmos (the world), and even here just world will answer. Proper names do not need the article to be definite nor do words for single objects like world, life, death. Things present (ενεστωταenestōta second perfect participle of ενιστημιenistēmi) and things to come divide two classes. Few of the finer points of Greek syntax need more attention than the absence of the article. We must not think of the article as “omitted” (Robertson, Grammar, p. 790). The wealth of the Christian includes all things, all leaders, past, present, future, Christ, and God. There is no room for partisan wrangling here.

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.