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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 4

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

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Verse 1

Ministers of Christ (υπηρετας Χριστου). Paul and all ministers (διακονους) of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 3:5) are under-rowers, subordinate rowers of Christ, only here in Paul's Epistles, though in the Gospels (Luke 4:20 the attendant in the synagogue) and the Acts (Acts 13:5) of John Mark. The

so (ουτως) gathers up the preceding argument (1 Corinthians 3:5-23) and applies it directly by the

as (ως) that follows.

Stewards of the mysteries of God (οικονομους μυστηριων θεου). The steward or house manager (οικος, house, νεμω, to manage, old word) was a slave (δουλος) under his lord (κυριος, Luke 12:42), but a master (Luke 16:1) over the other slaves in the house (menservants παιδας, maidservants παιδισκας Luke 12:45), an overseer (επιτροπος) over the rest (Matthew 20:8). Hence the under-rower (υπηρετης) of Christ has a position of great dignity as steward (οικονομος) of the mysteries of God. Jesus had expressly explained that the mysteries of the kingdom were open to the disciples (Matthew 13:11). They were entrusted with the knowledge of some of God's secrets though the disciples were not such apt pupils as they claimed to be (Matthew 13:51; Matthew 16:8-12). As stewards Paul and other ministers are entrusted with the mysteries (see on 1 Corinthians 2:7 for this word) of God and are expected to teach them. "The church is the οικος (1 Timothy 3:15), God the οικοδεσποτης (Matthew 13:52), the members the οικειο (Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:19)" (Lightfoot). Paul had a vivid sense of the dignity of this stewardship (οικονομια) of God given to him (Colossians 1:25; Ephesians 1:10). The ministry is more than a mere profession or trade. It is a calling from God for stewardship.

Verse 2

Here (ωδε). Either here on earth or in this matter. It is always local.

Moreover (λοιπον). Like λοιπον in 1 Corinthians 1:16 which see, accusative of general reference, as for what is left, besides.

It is required (ζητειτα). It is sought. Many MSS. read ζητειτε, ye seek, an easy change as α and ε came to be pronounced alike (Robertson, Grammar, p. 186).

That a man be found faithful (ινα πιστος τις ευρεθη). Non-final use of ινα with first aorist passive subjunctive of ευρισκω, the result of the seeking (ζητεω). Fidelity is the essential requirement in all such human relationships, in other words, plain honesty in handling money like bank-clerks or in other positions of trust like public office.

Verse 3

But with me (εμο δε). The ethical dative of personal relation and interest, "as I look at my own case." Cf. Philippians 1:21.

It is a very small thing (εις ελαχιστον εστιν). This predicate use of εις is like the Hebrew, but it occurs also in the papyri. The superlative ελαχιστον is elative, very little, not the true superlative, least. "It counts for very little with me."

That I should be judged of you (ινα υφ' υμων ανακριθω). Same use of ινα as in verse 1 Corinthians 4:2. For the verb (first aorist passive subjunctive of ανακρινω) see on 1 Corinthians 2:14. Paul does not despise public opinion, but he denies "the competency of the tribunal" in Corinth (Robertson and Plummer) to pass on his credentials with Christ as his Lord.

Or of man's judgement (η υπο ανθρωπινης ημερας). Or "by human day," in contrast to the Lord's Day (der Tag) in 1 Corinthians 3:13. "That is the tribunal which the Apostle recognizes; a human tribunal he does not care to satisfy" (Robertson and Plummer).

Yea, I judge not mine own self (αλλ' ουδε εμαυτον ανακρινω). Αλλα here is confirmatory, not adversative. "I have often wondered how it is that every man sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others" (M. Aurelius, xii. 4. Translated by Robertson and Plummer). Paul does not even set himself up as judge of himself.

Verse 4

For I know nothing against myself (ουδεν γαρ εμαυτω συνοιδα). Not a statement of fact, but an hypothesis to show the unreliability of mere complacent self-satisfaction. Note the use of συνοιδα (second perfect active indicative with dative (disadvantage) of the reflexive pronoun) for guilty knowledge against oneself (cf. Acts 5:2; Acts 12:12; Acts 14:6).

Yet (αλλ'). Adversative use of αλλα.

Am I not hereby justified (ουκ εν τουτω δεδικαιωμα). Perfect passive indicative of state of completion. Failure to be conscious of one's own sins does not mean that one is innocent. Most prisoners plead "not guilty." Who is the judge of the steward of the mysteries of God? It is the Lord "that judgeth me" (ο ανακρινων με). Probably, who examines me and then passes on my fidelity (πιστος in verse 1 Corinthians 4:2).

Verse 5

Wherefore (ωστε). As in 1 Corinthians 3:21 which see.

Judge nothing (μη τ κρινετε). Stop passing judgment, stop criticizing as they were doing. See the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1. The censorious habit was ruining the Corinthian Church.

Before the time (προ καιρου). The day of the Lord in 1 Corinthians 3:13. "Do not therefore anticipate the great judgment (κρισις) by any preliminary investigation (ανακρισις) which must be futile and incomplete" (Lightfoot).

Until the Lord come (εως αν ελθη ο κυριος). Common idiom of εως and the aorist subjunctive with or without αν for a future event. Simple futurity, but held forth as a glorious hope, the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus as Judge.

Who will both bring to light (ος κα φωτισε). Future indicative of this late verb (in papyri also) from φως (light), to turn the light on the hidden things of darkness.

And make manifest (κα φανερωσε). (Ionic and late) causative verb φανεροω from φανερος. By turning on the light the counsels of all hearts stand revealed.

His praise (ο επαινος). The praise (note article) due him from God (Romans 2:29) will come to each then (τοτε) and not till then. Meanwhile Paul will carry on and wait for the praise from God.

Verse 6

I have in a figure transferred (μετεσχηματισα). First aorist active (not perfect) indicative of μετα-σχηματιζω, used by Plato and Aristotle for changing the form of a thing (from μετα, after, and σχημα, form or habit, like Latin habitus from εχω and so different from μορφη as in Philippians 2:7; Romans 12:2). For the idea of refashioning see Field, Notes, p. 169f. and Preisigke, Fachworter). Both Greek and Latin writers (Quintilian, Martial) used σχημα for a rhetorical artifice. Paul's use of the word (in Paul only in N.T.) appears also further in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 where the word occurs three times, twice of the false apostles posing and passing as apostles of Christ and ministers of righteousness, and once of Satan as an angel of light, twice with εις and once with ως. In Philippians 3:21 the word is used for the change in the body of our humiliation to the body of glory. But here it is clearly the rhetorical figure for a veiled allusion to Paul and Apollos "for your sakes" (δια υμας).

That in us ye may learn (ινα εν ημιν μαθητε). Final clause with ινα and the second aorist active subjunctive of μανθανω, to learn. As an object lesson in our cases (εν ημιν). It is no more true of Paul and Apollos than of other ministers, but the wrangles in Corinth started about them. So Paul boldly puts himself and Apollos to the fore in the discussion of the principles involved.

Not to go beyond the things which are written (το Μη υπερ α γεγραπτα). It is difficult to reproduce the Greek idiom in English. The article το is in the accusative case as the object of the verb μαθητε (learn) and points at the words "Μη υπερ α γεγραπτα," apparently a proverb or rule, and elliptical in form with no principal verb expressed with μη, whether "think" (Auth.) or "go" (Revised). There was a constant tendency to smooth out Paul's ellipses as in 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Corinthians 1:26; 1 Corinthians 1:31. Lightfoot thinks that Paul may have in mind O.T. passages quoted in 1 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 1:31; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 1 Corinthians 3:20.

That ye be not puffed up (ινα μη φυσιουσθε). Sub-final use of ινα (second use in this sentence) with notion of result. It is not certain whether φυσιουσθε (late verb form like φυσιαω, φυσαω, to blow up, to inflate, to puff up), used only by Paul in the N.T., is present indicative with ινα like ζηλουτε in Galatians 4:17 (cf. ινα γινωσκομεν in 1 John 5:20) or the present subjunctive by irregular contraction (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 203, 342f.), probably the present indicative. Φυσιοω is from φυσις (nature) and so meant to make natural, but it is used by Paul just like φυσαω or φυσιαω (from φυσα, a pair of bellows), a vivid picture of self-conceit.

One for the one against the other (εις υπερ του ενος κατα του ετερου). This is the precise idea of this idiom of partitive apposition. This is the rule with partisans. They are "for" (υπερ) the one and "against" (κατα, down on, the genitive case) the other (του ετερου, not merely another or a second, but the different sort, ετεροδοξ).

Verse 7

Maketh thee to differ (σε διακρινε). Distinguishes thee, separates thee. Διακρινω means to sift or separate between (δια) as in Acts 15:9 (which see) where μεταξυ is added to make it plainer. All self-conceit rests on the notion of superiority of gifts and graces as if they were self-bestowed or self-acquired.

Which thou didst not receive (ο ουκ ελαβες). "Another home-thrust" (Robertson and Plummer). Pride of intellect, of blood, of race, of country, of religion, is thus shut out.

Dost thou glory (καυχασα). The original second person singular middle ending -σα is here preserved with variable vowel contraction, καυχαεσαι=καυχασα (Robertson, Grammar, p. 341). Paul is fond of this old and bold verb for boasting.

As if thou hadst not received it (ως μη λαβων). This neat participial clause (second aorist active of λαμβανω) with ως (assumption) and negative μη punctures effectually the inflated bag of false pride. What pungent questions Paul has asked. Robertson and Plummer say of Augustine, "Ten years before the challenge of Pelagius, the study of St. Paul's writings, and especially of this verse and of Romans 9:16, had crystallized in his mind the distinctively Augustinian doctrines of man's total depravity, of irresistible grace, and of absolute predestination." Human responsibility does exist beyond a doubt, but there is no foundation for pride and conceit.

Verse 8

Already are ye filled? (ηδη κεκορεσμενο εστε?). Perfect passive indicative, state of completion, of κορεννυμ, old Greek verb to satiate, to satisfy. The only other example in N.T. is Acts 27:38 which see. Paul may refer to Deuteronomy 31:20; Deuteronomy 32:15. But it is keen irony, even sarcasm. Westcott and Hort make it a question and the rest of the sentence also.

Already ye are become rich (ηδη επλουτησατε). Note change to ingressive aorist indicative of πλουτεω, old verb to be rich (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9). "The aorists, used instead of perfects, imply indecent haste" (Lightfoot). "They have got a private millennium of their own" (Robertson Plummer) with all the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom (Luke 22:29 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Timothy 2:12).

Ye have reigned without us (χωρις ημων εβασιλευσατε). Withering sarcasm. Ye became kings without our company. Some think that Paul as in 1 Corinthians 3:21 is purposely employing Stoic phraseology though with his own meanings. If so, it is hardly consciously done. Paul was certainly familiar with much of the literature of his time, but it did not shape his ideas.

I would that ye did reign (κα οφελον γε εβασιλευσατε). More exactly, "And would at least that ye had come to reign (or become kings)." It is an unfulfilled wish about the past expressed by οφελον and the aorist indicative instead of ε γαρ and the aorist indicative (the ancient idiom). See Robertson, Grammar, p. 1003, for the construction with particle οφελον (an unaugmented second aorist form).

That we also might reign with you (ινα κα ημεις υμιν συνβασιλευσωμεν). Ironical contrast to χωρις ημων εβασιλευσατε, just before. Associative instrumental case of υμιν after συν-.

Verse 9

Hath set forth us the apostles last (ημας τους αποστολους εσχατους απεδειξεν). The first aorist active indicative of αποδεικνυμ, old verb to show, to expose to view or exhibit (Herodotus), in technical sense (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4) for gladiatorial show as in εθηριομαχησα (1 Corinthians 15:32). In this grand pageant Paul and other apostles come last (εσχατους, predicate accusative after απεδειξεν) as a grand finale.

As men doomed to die (ως επιθανατιους). Late word, here alone in N.T. The LXX (Bel and the Dragon 31) has it for those thrown daily to the lions. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (A.R. vii. 35) uses it of those thrown from the Tarpeian Rock. The gladiators would say morituri salutamus. All this in violent contrast to the kingly Messianic pretensions of the Corinthians.

A spectacle (θεατρον). Cf. Hebrews 11:33-40. The word, like our theatre, means the place of the show (Acts 19:29; Acts 19:31). Then, it means the spectacle shown there (θεαμα or θεα), and, as here, the man exhibited as the show like the verb θεατριζομενο, made a spectacle (Hebrews 10:33). Sometimes it refers to the spectators (θεατα) like our "house" for the audience. Here the spectators include "the world, both to angels and men" (τω κοσμω κα αγγελοις κα ανθρωποις), dative case of personal interest.

Verse 10

We--you (ημεισ--υμεις). Triple contrast in keenest ironical emphasis. "The three antitheses refer respectively to teaching, demeanour, and worldly position" (Robertson and Plummer). The apostles were fools for Christ's sake (2 Corinthians 4:11; Philippians 3:7). They made "union with Christ the basis of worldly wisdom" (Vincent). There is change of order (chiasm) in the third ironical contrast. They are over strong in pretension. Ενδοξος, illustrious, is one of the 103 words found only in Luke and Paul in the N.T. Notion of display and splendour.

Verse 11

Even unto this present hour (αχρ της αρτ ωρας). Αρτ (just now, this very minute) accents the continuity of the contrast as applied to Paul. Ten verbs and four participles from 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 give a graphic picture of Paul's condition in Ephesus when he is writing this epistle.

We hunger (πεινωμεν),

we thirst (διψωμεν),

are naked (γυμνιτευομεν), late verb for scant clothing from γυμνητης,

are buffeted (κολαφιζομεθα), to strike a blow with the fist from κολαφος and one of the few N.T. and ecclesiastical words and see on Matthew 26:67,

have no certain dwelling place (αστατουμεν) from αστατος, strolling about and only here save Anthol. Pal. and Aquila in Isaiah 58:7. Field in Notes, p. 170 renders 1 Corinthians 4:11 "and are vagabonds" or spiritual hobos.

Verse 12

We toil (κοπιωμεν). Common late verb for weariness in toil (Luke 5:5),

working with our own hands (εργαζομενο ταις ιδιαις χερσιν) instrumental case χερσιν and not simply for himself but also for Aquila and Priscilla as he explains in Acts 20:34. This personal touch gives colour to the outline. Paul alludes to this fact often (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 9:6; 2 Corinthians 11:7). "Greeks despised manual labour; St. Paul glories in it" (Robertson and Plummer). Cf. Deissmann, Light, etc., p. 317.

Being reviled we bless (λοιδορουμενο ευλογουμεν). Almost the language of Peter about Jesus (1 Peter 2:23) in harmony with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27.

Being persecuted we endure (διωκομενο ανεχομεθα). We hold back and do not retaliate. Turn to Paul's other picture of his experiences in the vivid contrasts in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 for an interpretation of his language here.

Verse 13

Being defamed we intreat (δυσφημουμενο παρακαλουμεν). The participle δυσφημουμενο is an old verb (in I Macc. 7:41) to use ill, from δυσφημος, but occurs here only in the N.T. Paul is opening his very heart now after the keen irony above.

As the filth of the world (ως περικαθαρματα του κοσμου). Literally, sweepings, rinsings, cleansings around, dust from the floor, from περικαθαιρω, to cleanse all around (Plato and Aristotle) and so the refuse thrown off in cleansing. Here only in the N.T. and only twice elsewhere. Καθαρμα was the refuse of a sacrifice. In Proverbs 21:18 περικαθαρμα occurs for the scapegoat. The other example is Epictetus iii. 22,78, in the same sense of an expiatory offering of a worthless fellow. It was the custom in Athens during a plague to throw to the sea some wretch in the hope of appeasing the gods. One hesitates to take it so here in Paul, though Findlay thinks that possibly in Ephesus Paul may have heard some such cry like that in the later martyrdoms Christiani ad leones. At any rate in 1 Corinthians 15:32 Paul says "I fought with wild beasts" and in 2 Corinthians 1:9 "I had the answer of death." Some terrible experience may be alluded to here. The word shows the contempt of the Ephesian populace for Paul as is shown in Acts 19:23-41 under the influence of Demetrius and the craftsmen.

The offscouring of all things (παντων περιψημα). Late word, here only in N.T., though in Tob. 5:18. The word was used in a formula at Athens when victims were flung into the sea, περιψημα ημων γενου (Became a περιψημα for us), in the sense of expiation. The word merely means scraping around from περιψαω, offscrapings or refuse. That is probably the idea here as in Tob. 5:18. It came to have a complimentary sense for the Christians who in a plague gave their lives for the sick. But it is a bold figure here with Paul of a piece with περικαθαρματα.

Verse 14

To shame you (εντρεπων). Literally, shaming you (present active participle of εντρεπω), old verb to turn one on himself either middle or with reflexive pronoun and active, but the reflexive εαυτοις is not expressed here. See on 2 Thessalonians 3:14. The harsh tone has suddenly changed.

Verse 15

To admonish (νουθετων). Literally, admonishing (present active participle of νουθετεω). See on 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14.

For though ye should have (εαν γαρ εχητε). Third-class condition undetermined, but with prospect of being determined (εαν and present subjunctive), "for if ye have."

Tutors (παιδαγωγους). This old word (παις, boy, αγωγος, leader) was used for the guide or attendant of the child who took him to school as in Galatians 3:24 (Christ being the schoolmaster) and also as a sort of tutor who had a care for the child when not in school. The papyri examples (Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary) illustrate both aspects of the paedagogue. Here it is the "tutor in Christ" who is the Teacher. These are the only two N.T. examples of the common word.

I begot you (υμας εγεννησα). Paul is their

spiritual father in Christ, while Apollos and the rest are their

tutors in Christ.

Verse 16

Be ye imitators of me (μιμητα μου γινεσθε). "Keep on becoming (present middle imperative) imitators of me (objective genitive)." Μιμητης is an old word from μιμεομα, to copy, to mimic (μιμος). Paul stands for his rights as their spiritual father against the pretensions of the Judaizers who have turned them against him by the use of the names of Apollos and Cephas.

Verse 17

Have I sent (επεμψα). First aorist active indicative. Probably Timothy had already gone as seems clear from 1 Corinthians 16:10. Apparently Timothy came back to Ephesus and was sent on to Macedonia before the uproar in Ephesus (Acts 19:22). Probably also Titus was then despatched to Corinth, also before the uproar.

In every church (εν παση εκκλησια). Paul expects his teachings and practices to be followed in every church (1 Corinthians 14:33). Note his language here "my ways those in Christ Jesus." Timothy as Paul's spokesman

will remind (αναμνησε) the Corinthians of Paul's teachings.

Verse 18

Some are puffed up (εφυσιωθησαν). First aorist (effective) passive indicative of φυσιοω which see on verse 1 Corinthians 4:6.

As though I were not coming to you (ως μη ερχομενου μου προς υμας). Genitive absolute with particle (assuming it as so) with μη as negative.

Verse 19

If the Lord will (εαν ο κυριος θεληση). Third-class condition. See James 1 Corinthians 4:15; Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 16:7 for the use of this phrase. It should represent one's constant attitude, though not always to be spoken aloud.

But the power (αλλα την δυναμιν). The puffed up Judaizers did a deal of talking in Paul's absence. He will come and will know their real strength. II Corinthians gives many evidences of Paul's sensitiveness to their talk about his inconsistencies and cowardice (in particular chs. 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 4:10; 1 Corinthians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 4:13). He changed his plans to spare them, not from timidity. It will become plain later that Timothy failed on this mission and that Titus succeeded.

Verse 21

With a rod (εν ραβδω). The so-called instrumental use of εν like the Hebrew (1 Samuel 17:43). The shepherd leaned on his rod, staff, walking stick. The paedagogue had his rod also.

Shall I come? (ελθω;). Deliberative subjunctive. Paul gives them the choice. They can have him as their spiritual father or as their paedagogue with a rod.

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/1-corinthians-4.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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