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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 3

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

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Verse 1

But as unto carnal (αλλ' ως σαρκινοις). Latin carneus. "As men o' flesh," Braid Scots; "as worldlings," Moffatt. This form in -ινος like λιθινος 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 (σαρκινος) sold under sin," as if σαρκινος represented the extreme power of the σαρξ. Which does Paul mean here? He wanted to speak the wisdom of God among the adults (1 Corinthians 2:6), the spiritual (ο πνευματικο, 1 Corinthians 2:15), but he was unable to treat them as πνευματικο in reality because of their seditions and immoralities. It is not wrong to be σαρκινος, for we all live in the flesh (εν σαρκ, Galatians 2:20), but we are not to live according to the flesh (κατα σαρκα, Romans 8:12). It is not culpable to a babe in Christ (νηπιος, 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 Χριστω), 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 βρωμα). Note two accusatives with the verb, εποτισα, first aorist active indicative of ποτιζω, 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. Βρωμα 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 εποτισα with βρωμα. 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 (ετ γαρ σαρκικο εστε). Σαρκικος, unlike σαρκινος, like ικος formations, means adapted to, fitted for the flesh (σαρξ), one who lives according to the flesh (κατα σαρκα). Paul by ψυχικος describes the unregenerate man, by πνευματικος the regenerate man. Both classes are σαρκινο made in flesh, and both may be σαρκικο though the πνευματικο should not be. The πνευματικο who continue to be σαρκινο are still babes (νηπιο), not adults (τελειο), while those who are still σαρκικο (carnal) have given way to the flesh as if they were still ψυχικο (unregenerate). It is a bold and cutting figure, not without sarcasm, but necessary to reveal the Corinthians to themselves.

Jealousy and strife (ζηλος κα ερις). Zeal (ζηλος from ζεω, 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). Ερις is an old word, but used only by Paul in N.T. (see on 1 Corinthians 1:11). Wrangling follows jealousy. These two voices of the spirit are to Paul proof that the Corinthians are still σαρκικο and walking according to men, not according to the Spirit of Christ.

Verse 4

For when one saith (οταν γαρ λεγη τις). 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 (Παυλου). Predicate genitive, belong to Paul, on Paul's side.

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

Men (ανθρωπο). Just mere human creatures (ανθρωπο, generic term for mankind), in the flesh (σαρκινο), acting like the flesh (σαρκικο), not πνευματικο, as if still ψυχικο. It was a home-thrust. Paul would not even defend his own partisans.

Verse 5

What then? (τ ουν;). He does not say τις (who), but τ (what), neuter singular interrogative pronoun.

Ministers (διακονο). Not leaders of parties or sects, but merely servants through whom ye believed. The etymology of the word Thayer gives as δια and κονις "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 (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Timothy 3:12).

As the Lord gave to him (ως ο Κυριος εδωκεν). 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 3:1; 1 Corinthians 3:4 and it is made plain in chapter 1 Corinthians 3:1.

Verse 6

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

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

But God gave the increase (αλλα ο θεος ηυξανεν). Imperfect tense here (active indicative) for the continuous blessing of God both on the work of Paul and Apollos, co-labourers with God in God's field (verse 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 (Hωστε ουτε--ουτε--αλλ'). Paul applies his logic relentlessly to the facts. He had asked

what (τ) is Apollos or Paul (verse 1 Corinthians 3:5). The answer is here.

Neither is anything (τ)

the one who plants nor the one who waters . God is the whole and we are not anything.

Verse 8

Are one (εν εισιν). The neuter singular again (εν, not εις) as with the interrogative τ and the indefinite τ. 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 κοπον). 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 (θεου συνεργο). This old word (co-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 (θεου γεωργιον). God's tilled land (γη, εργον). The farmer works with God in God's field. Without the sun, the rains, the seasons the farmer is helpless.

God's building (θεου οικοδομη). God is the Great Architect. We work under him and carry out the plans of the Architect. It is building (οικος, house, δεμω, 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 σοφος αρχιτεκτων). 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 αρχιτεκτων, our architect. Τεκτων is from τικτω, to beget, and means a begetter, then a worker in wood or stone, a carpenter or mason (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). Αρχι- is an old inseparable prefix like αρχαγγελος (archangel), αρχεπισχοπος (archbishop), αρχιερευς (chiefpriest). Αρχιτεκτων 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 (τεκτονες, carpenters) work under the direction of the architect (Plato, Statesman, 259). "As a wise architect I laid a foundation" (θεμελιον εθηκα). 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 θεμελιον. The substantive θεμελιον is from the same root θε as εθηκα (τι-θημ). 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 εθηκα is the correct text, not the perfect τεθεικα.

Another buildeth thereon (αλλος εποικοδομε). Note the preposition επ 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 εποικοδομε). 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 (θεμελιον αλλον). The gender of the adjective is here masculine as is shown by αλλον. If neuter, it would be αλλο. It is masculine because Paul has Christ in mind. It is not here ετερον a different kind of gospel (ετερον ευαγγελιον, Galatians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 11:4) which is not another (αλλο, Galatians 1:7) in reality. But another Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:4, αλλον Ιησουν) 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 Χριστος). Literally, "alongside (παρα) the one laid (κειμενον)," already laid (present middle participle of κειμα, used here as often as the perfect passive of τιθημ in place of τεθειμενον). 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 Psalms 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 (ακρογωναιος, 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, λιθους τιμιουσ, ξυλα, χορτον, καλαμην). 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 (χορτος, grass, as in Mark 6:39) and stubble (καλαμη, old word for stubble after the grain is cut, here alone in the N.T., though in LXX as Exodus 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 verse 1 Corinthians 3:9 or to the character of the teaching as in verse 1 Corinthians 3:13. Probably both ideas are involved, for look at the penalty on shoddy work (verse 1 Corinthians 3:15) and shoddy men (verse 1 Corinthians 3:17). The teaching may not always be vicious and harmful. It may only be indifferent and worthless. A co-worker with God in this great temple should put in his very best effort.

Verse 13

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

It is revealed in fire (εν πυρ αποκαλυπτετα). 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 δοκιμασε) the quality of the material used in the building,

of what sort it is (οποιον εστιν), 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 (ε τινος το εργον μενε). 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 (κατακαησετα). First-class condition again, assumed as true. Second future (late form) passive indicative of κατακαιω, to burn down, old verb. Note perfective use of preposition κατα, shall be burned down. We usually say "burned up," and that is true also, burned up in smoke.

He shall suffer loss (ζημιωθησετα). First future passive indicative of ζημιω, old verb from ζημια (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 (ψυχην) or eternal life. But here there is no such total loss as that. The man's work (εργον) is burned up (sermons, lectures, books, teaching, all dry as dust).

But he himself shall be saved (αυτος δε σωθησετα). 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 πυρος). Clearly Paul means with his work burned down (verse 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 θεου εστε). Literally, a sanctuary (ναος, not ιερον, the sacred enclosure, but the holy place and the most holy place) of God. The same picture of building as in verse 1 Corinthians 3:9 (οικοδομη), only here the sanctuary itself.

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

Verse 17

Destroyeth (φθειρε). 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 φθειρω 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 (φθερε τουτον ο θεος). 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 (αγιος). Hence deserves reverential treatment. It is not the building or house of which Paul speaks as "the sanctuary of God" (τον ναον του θεου), but the spiritual organization or organism of God's people in whom God dwells, "which temple ye are" (οιτινες εστε υμεις). The qualitative relative pronoun οιτινες is plural to agree with υμεις (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 (ναος, sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit, which fact they had forgotten in their immoralities.

Verse 18

Let no man deceive himself (Μηδεις εαυτον εξαπατω). A warning that implied that some of them were guilty of doing it (μη 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 (δοκε σοφος εινα). Condition of first class and assumed to be true. Predicate nominative σοφος with the infinitive to agree with subject of δοκε (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1038). Paul claimed to be "wise" himself in verse 1 Corinthians 3:10 and he desires that the claimant to wisdom may become wise (ινα γενητα σοφος, purpose clause with ινα and subjunctive) by becoming a fool (μωρος γενεσθω, second aorist middle imperative of γινομα) 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 τω θεω). 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 δρασσομενος). Old verb δρασσομα, to grasp with the hand, is used here for the less vivid word in the LXX καταλαμβανων. 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 δραξασθε παιδειας, lay hold on instruction.

Craftiness (πανουργια). The πανουργος 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 (κα παλιν). Another confirmatory passage from Psalms 94:11.

Reasonings (διαλογισμους). More than cogitationes (Vulgate), sometimes disputations (Philippians 2:14). Paul changes "men" of LXX to wise (σοφων) in harmony with the Hebrew context.

Vain (ματαιο). Useless, foolish, from ματη, a futile attempt.

Verse 21

Wherefore let no one glory in men (ωστε μηδεις καυχασθω εν ανθρωποις). The conclusion (ωστε) from the self-conceit condemned. This particle here is merely inferential with no effect on the construction (ωσ+τε = and so) any more than ουν would have, a paratactic conjunction. There are thirty such examples of ωστε 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 (υμων). Predicate genitive, belong to you. All the words in this verse and 1 Corinthians 3:23 are anarthrous, though not indefinite, but definite. The English reproduces them all properly without the definite article except κοσμος (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 (ενεστωτα, second perfect participle of ενιστημ) 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.

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/1-corinthians-3.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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