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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 9

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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The substance of this long digression so far as the present chapter is concerned may be thus expressed: ‘I have been urging on you the duty of refraining from things lawful when by indulging in them the consciences of your weaker brethren are wounded, and their souls imperilled. But in this I enjoin nothing which I myself do not practise. For example, though entitled, on every principle of natural right and Scripture precept, to temporal support from the churches to which I minister in holy things, I have studiously refrained from receiving it, both from you and from other churches, lest I should lay myself open to misconstruction, and thus hinder the Gospel of Christ. And on this principle I act in everything, striving only how best to win souls. Nor is this done only with a view to others’ good; for only by such a life of systematic and continued self-denial can I regard even myself to be safe for eternity.’

Verse 1

1 Corinthians 9:1. Am I not free? am I not an apostle? In this order these two questions should undoubtedly stand, not only on the ground of textual evidence, but from the nature of the case. The subject to be handled being his own Christian freedom, he naturally starts with this, while the second and third questions are so closely connected that the third one comes in as the indispensable sequel to the second.

have I not seen Jesus our Lord? The word ‘Christ’ added here in the received text is out of place, not only because insufficiently attested, but because the clear allusion to the thrilling words heard by him on his way to Damascus “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” would be lost by the insertion. are ye not my work in the Lord?

Verses 1-27

It was impossible for Christians in almost any Greek or Roman colony, and least of all at Corinth, to avoid coming frequently in contact with idolatrous practices in various and ensnaring forms. In writing, therefore, for instruction and direction on various practical points, we can hardly suppose that this would be omitted. Here, accordingly, it is dealt with in great detail.

Verse 2

1 Corinthians 9:2. If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. ‘Let who will dispute my apostleship, ye at least should be the last to do it.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 9:3. My defence to them that examine me is this not this which I am now to give; for what follows is not an answer to such questioners, but this which I have already stated’ (in the preceding verses). Accordingly, 1 Corinthians 9:3 is to be viewed as closing the subject of his apostleship, so far as any question could be raised about it, although in his Second Epistle he takes it up again.

Verse 4

1 Corinthians 9:4. Have we no right to eat and to drink? at the cost of the churches which we serve.

Verse 5

1 Corinthians 9:5. Have we no right to lead about to take along with us in our missionary journeys

a wife who is a believer Gr. ‘a sister.’ An absurd interpretation of these words, which found support even among the best of the fathers, when once the ascetic principle had taken possession of the Church, led Christians to regard celibacy as a holier state than marriage, and by degrees threw discredit on the marriage of the clergy. The interpretation we refer to is, that the apostle is here claiming the right of preachers to follow our Lord’s example (Luke 8:1-3), who allowed rich women to follow Him and His apostles, ministering to them of their substance. But on that view, what is this about “a wife”? For to translate it ‘a woman’ here is absurd. But absurd as it is, modern Romanists even Cornelius à Lapide and Estius are obliged to take refuge in it. In fact, the great fluctuation in the Greek readings of this verse especially that strange reading ‘sisters, women’ is a proof (as has been well observed) of the desperate shifts to which people have been driven to obliterate the testimony against compulsory celibacy in the ministers of Christ which the true text of this verse contains.

even as the rest of the apostles not necessarily each of them, but the class; for Paul himself was certainly not married (1 Corinthians 7:7).

and the brethren of the Lord. Though named hereafter “the apostles,” it would not necessarily follow that none of these were themselves apostles, for “Cephas,” one of the apostles, is named immediately after them. At the same time, the mode of expression more naturally suits with their not being apostles, as on other grounds we believe can be established.

and Cephas whose marriage none can doubt of (see Mark 1:30).

Verse 6

1 Corinthians 9:6. Or I only and Barnabas, have we not a right to forbear working? for our maintenance, leaving our support to the churches we serve. The reasonableness of this as a principle is now illustrated from the case of (1) soldiers, (2) husbandmen, (3) shepherds, (4) the Levitical priests.

Verse 7

1 Corinthians 9:7. What soldier ever serveth at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, etc.

Verse 8

1 Corinthians 9:8. Do I speak these things after the manner of men? drawing my conclusions from human usage only? or saith not the law also the same!

Verse 9

1 Corinthians 9:9. For it is written in the law of Hoses (Deuteronomy 25:4), Thou shalt not muzzle the ox, etc. a favourite illustration of our apostle, for he recurs to it in 1 Timothy 5:18; and no wonder; for it is one of the most beautiful proofs of the humane character of the Mosaic law, that in a matter seemingly so insignificant that even a considerate legislator might easily overlook it, provision was made against the injustice of gagging those animals on whose labour they were so dependent, when the very sight and scent of the corn they were threshing out with their feet would excite a constant craving after what was thus denied them.

Is it for the oxen that God careth? Yes, in the first instance (see Job 38:4; Psalms 147:9; Matthew 6:26).

Verse 10

1 Corinthians 9:10. or ... for our sake? to teach this general lesson, that he that ploweth ought to plow in hope ... of partaking. [1] If we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter that we should reap your carnal things? What they owed to him as their spiritual father admitted of no comparison with anything they could do for him in things temporal, though they might express it in the supply of his temporal wants.

[1] Such appears to be the true reading here.

Verse 12

1 Corinthians 9:12. . . . Nevertheless we did not use this right. . . that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ to cut off the pretext of mercenary motives, slanderously insinuated against him by opponents.

Verse 13

1 Corinthians 9:13. Know ye not that they which minister about sacred things eat of the things of the temple? of the sacrificial offerings, expressly allocated to the priests. The Gentile converts are supposed to be aware of this, mixing constantly with their Jewish fellow-converts, not to speak of their presumed acquaintance to that extent with the Old Testament; and the practice in their own pagan worship was analogous.

and they which wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar? certain parts of the victim expressly reserved for their use.

Verse 14

1 Corinthians 9:14. Even so did the Lord ordain in His instructions to the Twelve (Matthew 10:10) and to the Seventy (Luke 10:7), “The workman is worthy of his meat” that they which proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel (see 1 Timothy 5:18, where this is quoted as a recognised maxim).

Verse 15

1 Corinthians 9:15. But I have used none of these things availed myself of none of these rights (the “ I ” here is emphatic)

and I write [2] not these things that it may be so done in my case; for it were good for me rather to die than, etc. So thankful was he that he has been led to act at Corinth on this independent principle, that he feels a satisfaction in holding it up as an unanswerable refutation of those base insinuations against his motives.

[2] The epistolary aorist, expressing present action.

Verse 16

1 Corinthians 9:16. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of. ‘To glory in preaching without charge is reasonable enough, but to boast of preaching the Gospel itself were shameful.’

for necessity is upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel. ‘Shut up to it by the call of Heaven, it is at my peril if I shrink from it.’

Verse 17

1 Corinthians 9:17. For if I do this of mine own will, I have a reward the reward of serving gratuitously (as the next verse shews to be the meaning), and being able thus triumphantly to vindicate the purity of my motives.

but if not of mine own will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me the yoke of Heaven is upon me, even should I dislike it.

Verse 18

1 Corinthians 9:18. What then is my reward? that when I preach the Gospel, [1] I may make the Gospel of Christ with, out charge that for the good of others I forego an undoubted right. On this principle he would have them know that he acted in everything. In particular, 1 Corinthians 9:20. ... to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews as when he circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3), and when he went through certain Jewish rites during his last visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:26). to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, [2] that I might, etc.

[1] The received text adds “of Christ,” but with scarce any authority.

[2] The whole of this very important clause is wanting in the received text; but it is found in the five oldest MSS., in most of the Cursives; and in all the oldest and best versions (the Peshito and Memphitic excepted). Beyond doubt, the apostle added it to prevent any misapprehension of his previous statement.

Verse 21

1 Corinthians 9:21. to them that are without (the) law without the written law, as without (the) law reasoning with such on their own principles; as he did with the rude idolaters of Lycaonia (Acts 14:15-17), and with the cultivated Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31).

not being without (the) law to God, but under (the) law to Christ. This parenthetic clause, most warily expressed, conveys a weighty truth. To have said nakedly, ‘I am under the law to God,’ might seem in the teeth of his whole teaching, to the effect that he had through Christ become “delivered from” and “dead to the law.” He says, therefore, “I am under the law to Christ.” ‘O then (might it be said), you are under the law after all?’ ‘Granted: I am indeed “ not without law to God;” I am no antinomian, lawless man God forbid: but my subjection to law in the Person of Christ, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, transmutes its character out of law that killeth into love which is life.’

Verse 22

1 Corinthians 9:22. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak the weak Christians. [1] I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means gain some. Noble sentiment, and as nobly expressed. Those who are fond of quoting the first part of it are seldom heard quoting the second, which if only kept steadily in view, will never fail to guide straightforward Christians to the proper limits of the principle.

[1] Meyer, De Wette, and Alford understand this, unnaturally, of the unconverted: Osiander and Stanley view it as above.

Verse 23

1 Corinthians 9:23. And I do all things for the gospel’s sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof joint partaker of the Gospel’s blessed fruits and final joys with all who are saved by it.

Hitherto the apostle has dwelt on the duty of self-denial for the good of others. Now, however, he rises higher to the absolute necessity of it to final salvation even in himself, as an indispensable feature of the Christian character. To set this forth, he refers the Corinthians to their own athletic contests To whom does the prize go?

Verse 24

1 Corinthians 9:24. Know ye not that they which run in a race Gr. stadion or ‘race-course’ a space of little more than a hundred yards; and so called because the most noted race-course of the Greeks was of that length.

run all, but one one only receiveth the prize? So run that is, ‘run as if ye could win the prize only by outstripping all your competitors in the race.’

that ye may obtain. The aptitude and point of this and the following illustrations will be seen in the fact, that not only were the Grecian games of universal interest and familiar to all his readers, but that the most popular of them all the Isthmian games were celebrated in the immediate neighbourhood of Corinth.

Verse 25

1 Corinthians 9:25. And every man that striveth in the games is temperate in all things ‘systematically practises every sort of self-restraint’ A strict course of discipline had to be practised, failing which the candidate was said not to “strive lawfully,” or according to the rules. In that, even though successful, he was not “crowned” (2 Timothy 2:5). [1]

[1] Epictefus thus describes the rules: “Would you conquer in the Olympic games . . . you must be orderly, live on spare diet, avoid confections, practise gymnastics at the appointed time, in heat and cold, and drink neither cold water nor wine; in a word, you must give yourself up to the training-master, as to a physician, and then enter the lists.” ( Ench. c. 55.)

Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown made of the pine, of which there were groves surrounding the Isthmian race-course. Even still, it seems, the same tree grows on the Isthmus of Corinth. [2]

[2] Conybeare and Howson.

but we an incorruptible “a crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8), “a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:4).

Verse 26

1 Corinthians 9:26. I therefore (for my part) so run, not as uncertainly without definite aim, regardless of what is at stake, and what is required in order to win.

so fight I. Here the figure changes from running to wrestling, from the speed of the racer to the aggressions of the pugilist as not beating the air who, taking an uncertain or inaccurate aim, misses his antagonist, and strikes only the air: not so do I fight; I put skill as well as energy into this “good fight of faith.”

Verse 27

1 Corinthians 9:27. but (on the contrary) I buffet (or ‘beat down’) [1] my body, and bring it into bondage as a slave into submission to his master. When he says, ‘I buffet my body,’ he plainly means ‘his whole embodied self, as acting and acted on through the body. So viewed, he expresses his determination to beat down relentlessly all those unholy inclinations of which the body is the external organ.

[1] The verb means to ‘strike under the eye,’ the part aimed at by the pugilist.

lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself s hould be rejected judged unworthy of the prize.

Note. Here is a man who elsewhere expresses a confident and joyous assurance of his final salvation, while in this verse he holds forth his final perdition as equally certain, should certain indispensable preventives be neglected. Yes, his Christianity did not teach him that he was to be mechanically kept right, and passively landed on the eternal shore. God had given him, not only “the spirit of power and of love,” but the spirit of “a sound mind,” which led him, in the exercise of a sanctified common sense, to do as he taught his Philippian converts to do, to “work out his own salvation with fear and trembling,” and to do this not the less but only the more “because it is God who worketh in us both to will and to work” (Philippians 2:12-13). This is apostolic Christianity. But in luxurious times like ours the question may well be asked Is the estimate of living Christianity here given as inseparable from universal and continuous self-sacrifice, in supreme consecration to the one end for which we were “bought with a price” realized and acted on by those who have experienced its saving power?

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/1-corinthians-9.html. 1879-90.
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