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1 Corinthians 1

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Verse 1

Apostolic Style and Greeting, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 .

1. Paul, called to be an apostle See note on Romans 1:1. Neander says, “ Καλειν , to call, is used to denote the way in which God specially appoints men to any particular end.” Not quite correct. It strictly designates only God’s own act of summoning or inviting to an end. It expresses the divine side of calling; but the human side of obedience to the call being implied, the word does, in cases of obedience, presuppose the consequent assignment of the man to the mission. Notes, Romans 1:1; Romans 8:30; 2 Corinthians 8:20.

Will of God And so not an uncalled apostle, through man’s will only, as we shall find in the two epistles that Paul’s opponents at Corinth maintained.

Sosthenes our brother Literally, the brother; so that the great apostle and the humble brother unite in this epistle. And this subordinate cooperation of the brother in this epistolizing is beyond question best explained by supposing that Sosthenes (like Tertius in Romans 16:22, and Sylvanus and Timothy in 1 Thessalonians 1:1) was his amanuensis. And as we find a Corinthian Sosthenes in Acts 18:17, (see note on Acts 18:8,) so what is called in logic the “law of parsimony,” namely, the law that we should not suppose more things than necessary, requires that we should not make more than one Sosthenes where one will suffice. If Sosthenes, the synagogue-ruler of Corinth, became a Christian, he was, doubtless, the proper man to be Paul’s aid, and his fellow-epistolizer to the Corinthians.

Verses 1-17



I. AS A FOUNDER OR ORIGINATOR IN PHILOSOPHY HE IS NOTHING, 1 Corinthians 1:10 to 1 Corinthians 2:5.

1. He starts from their partisan preferences preparatory to this disclaimer of philosophic leadership, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.

As Corinth was now the proudest, wealthiest, and most dissolute city of Greece, so part of her pride was exercised in philosophy, philosophical lecturing and debate, and the parting into sects or schools under different leaders, as Aristotle, Plato, Zeno, Epicurus, and later philosophs. In olden time, it was proudly remembered, one of the seven sophoi or sages of Greece was Periander of Corinth. Influenced, or, as the apostle expresses it, inflated, ( puffed up, 1 Corinthians 4:6) with much of this Corinthian spirit, the Church had divided itself as partisans of Christian leaders, among whom Paul finds himself nominated as one.

Verse 2

2. Sanctified in Christ Jesus For every justified man is also, in some degree, a sanctified man. Every true Christian is a saint. And the word saints is a usual New Testament appellation for the body of true believers.

Romans 15:23; 1 Corinthians 6:1-2; Ephesians 1:1; Ephesians 1:18; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2.

Called to be saints Literally, called saints. As Paul was a called apostle, so they were called saints.

Saints That is, holy ones; a term, as just said, with different degrees of verity, applicable, as it is here applied, to all Christians.

With all That is, they are called saints not alone; but in blessed unity with the living, universal Church.

Call upon So that there is a mutual call; Jesus Christ calls them, and they call upon Jesus Christ. By call upon, is meant, praying to. So Stephen, in Acts 7:59; and so Acts 9:14, and Romans 10:13. This last text, in particular, shows that the phrase means prayer in its highest sense as to God, and is a very conclusive proof that the very mark of a Christian, in Paul’s view, was truly praying to Christ, as that of a Jew was blaspheming him, and that of a Gentile was worshipping idols.

In every place The Greek order of words is thus:

with all that call upon the name of the Lord in every place, both theirs and ours.

Theirs and ours Some make this mean their place or locality of residence and ours. Ours would then include Paul and his Corinthian brethren; theirs would refer to all others praying to Christ. But our English version makes a richer sense. Jesus is declared to be Lord alike of the Corinthian and the universal Church. Paul exults to address his Corinthians as not solitary Christians, but as part of the great body of saints.

Verse 3

3. Grace Note on Romans 1:7. In both passages both God and Christ are made sources of peace and grace.

Verse 4

4. My God The possessive my is intensive, expressive of the earnest faith of the apostle that God was truly his, and of the intimate approach to God which he made in his thanksgiving for his Corinthians.

By Christ Rather, in Christ. That is, the grace which, treasured in Christ, is thence imparted to you. This grace in Christ is the basis and substance of the charisms which he next specifies.

Verses 4-9

Gratulatory Exordium, 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 .

Before unfolding to the Corinthians their errors of practice and doctrine, Paul, in the exordium, touches briefly upon their brighter points. And this favourable description must not be viewed as a flattery, or an unreality, or a contradiction to the reproofs that follow, but a truthful view which the apostle rejoiced to give. They were, in spite of defects, a true Christian, apostolic Church. The apostle’s commendations, however, are merely general, allowing ample exceptions; and he dwells more fully on their charismatic endowments, and less on their sanctified graces, than in some other of his epistles.

Verse 5

5. Every thing Every respect.

Utterance Preaching, prophesying, and tongues.

Knowledge The perception of sacred doctrines, the discerning of spirits, and the interpretation of charismatic tongues.

Verse 6

6. Testimony of Christ The apostolic testimony to Christ’s history and doctrine.

Was confirmed Was firmly grounded in your faith.

Verse 7

7. Come behind Such was the vivid Greek temperament of the Corinthian Church, and such the operations of the Spirit within it, that they equalled any Church in charismatic manifestations. This was the bright side of their case. The shadier side was, the fact that this was no demonstration of their preeminent piety; and even in the use of their gifts there was such a mixture of human with divine, that they needed the guidance of apostolic wisdom.

Gifts Grace, χαρις , is sanctifying; gifts, charisms, are edifying as manifestations of divine power.

Coming Note on 2 Thessalonians 2:2.

Verse 8

8. Who Referring to Jesus Christ.

Shall confirm Will confirm; being the simple future. Fatalistic doctrine interprets this will confirm to mean that there can be no failure of their firmly enduring to the end; that the passage “furnishes a guarantee against that greatest of dangers, the fickleness of the human will.” LANGE’S Bibel-werke, on the passage. Such an interpretation violates the true doctrine of probation, and ignores the true nature of the freedom of a responsible will, which must be allowed the power and the area for choosing either way. See our note on Romans 2:9. Hence Grotius well says, “God does his own part,” in confirming. We say as above, 1 Corinthians 1:1, the apostle expresses only the divine side of the work, implying the required performance of the human conditions which are elsewhere expressed in countless cases. That is, assuming that the Corinthian Church are earnestly anxious to be confirmed blameless to the end, he promises that God on his part will be faithful to confirm them.

Blameless Being forgiven of every sin and sanctified unto all holiness; so that at the end we are perfectly blameless. Note Romans 8:33.

The end the coming of Christ to judgment. See note on 1 Corinthians 15:24.

Verse 9

9. God is faithful If you fail, it will be from no want of faithfulness in God. Note above on 1 Corinthians 1:1. Fellowship of his Son. Not a fellowship with Christ, but a common sharing, with all Christians, of Christ. So 1 Corinthians 10:16, fellowship, or common participation or communion of his blood and of his body. And with this earnest symbol of Christian union, Paul prepares for the contrast of disunion which follows.

Verse 10

10. Beseech The apostle begins with supplication, but he will end with self-assertion and even menace, 1 Corinthians 4:18-21. It is not as such a leader that he will serve; yet on the proper basis, the basis of the cross, (1 Corinthians 1:18,) as himself a complete imitator of Christ, and as their special founder and father, (1 Corinthians 4:15,) he will claim their following of himself.

Brethren As in spite of their shortcomings they still were. By Rather, through.

The name This powerful name has thus far been nine times mentioned; so that, as Chrysostom well says, “He nails them to this name.” And, we add, the very purpose of nailing to this name is to substitute it as the basis of his apostolic authority, instead of any sectarian leadership.

Speak the same thing Not that there should be a forced unity of talk where there was no unity of thought. That can be only by insincerity; or, as among Papists, by despotism. But, as he will further say, their unity of speaking must be based on their unity of mind. For at bottom there was a unity, Christ and his cross; and all their partisan talk was simply the superfluous result of diverging in puerile pride and loquacity from that deep and holy centre. Deep, central, praying piety is the true healer of Church strifes.

No divisions No σχισματα , schismata, schisms. Schism is, here, a division in a Church rather than a departure from it; as heresy, at the present day, is a departure from true Christian doctrine.

Mind Interior mental state.

Judgment Exterior purpose, as exhibited in action and practice.

It is curious that Ignatius, years afterward, quotes in substance this verse, yet reversing the order of thought and words: “That in one common obedience ye be united in the same mind and the same judgment, and all speak the same thing.” Paul proceeds from external speech to internal mind; Ignatius proceeds from mind to the resulting speech. The cause of Paul’s beginning with speech was, that it was the talk of the parties that had been reported to him. If people will cease their quarrelsome talk, that may stop their quarrelsome feeling.

Verse 11

11. Declared unto me I left you in Corinth a short time ago a unit; I am told here in Ephesus that you are split into fractions and factions.

Of Chloe The words which are of the house, are in italics, as being not in the Greek but added by our English translators. Chloe seems to have been an eminent Corinthian lady, known to the Church, who, like Lydia at Philippi, kept an establishment, and her people, perhaps her children, were ample vouchers for their report to Paul. It is not probable, as Wordsworth suggests, that Fortunatus and Achaicus were they; for these two were evidently delegates selected by the Church.

Verse 12

12. Now this I say Now what I mean to say is this. The preceding general report is to be expanded into its particulars.

Every Rather, each one of you. Paul’s each is not to be pressed as absolutely including the whole, as the same word every does not, 1 Corinthians 4:5. It signifies individuals generally.

I am of The present paragraph furnishes a glimpse of the divisions in the apostolic Church, on which see our note on Acts 15:6, and the notes to which reference is there made. As in most cases, the partisanships were based partly upon personal preferences, especially so in the instances of Paul and Apollos, who had both been at Corinth, and who essentially agreed in their views; and partly upon the principles the persons were held to represent, as specially in the case of Peter and Christ, who had neither been at Corinth. The leaders who were named participated not in the partisanships of these their professed followers.

Of Paul Paul mentions himself first; partly as their known founder, and partly to lead the way in rebuking the partisans who used and abused his name. The followers of Paul, of course, maintained the non-necessity of circumcision and the ritual for salvation, and the complete oneness of Jew and Gentile in the new Church. There may have been a tendency to Marcionism; that is, in addition to the rejection of the Jewish ritual, there may have been a predisposition to reject the Old Testament to hold the Jehovah of the Old Testament to be a malignant being inferior to the true God, and to base Christianity, as a separate religion, on it own sole foundation.

Of Apollos Though Apollos’ style of oratory was much more rhetorical than that of Paul, yet his theology was doubtless the same. He was taught Christianity by Paul’s dear friends and pupils, Aquila and Priscilla, and his intimate friendship for the apostle remained unbroken. Yet some tinge to his views there may have been derived from Alexandrian influences. Such tinge we recognize in the book of Hebrews; and something resembling it in the writings of John, both gospel and epistles.

Cephas The name of Peter in the colloquial Hebrew of the day, (the Syriac or Aramaic,) signifying rock, of which Petros ( Peter) was the Greek equivalent. See note on Matthew 16:18. According to the best readings the form Cephas is used in the following places: Joh 1:42 ; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1Co 9:5 ; 1 Corinthians 15:5; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:10; Galatians 2:14. It is uniformly used in the Syriac (Peshito) version, and uniformly, as a Jew, by St. Paul. The Petrine party at Corinth were, probably, mostly Jews. They were inclined to question Paul’s apostleship, to exalt themselves above their uncircumcised brethren, to maintain the value of the ritual, and the extremists among them tended to Ebionism.

Of Christ It seems, at first, strange that the special advocates of Christ should lie under the apostle’s condemnation. But in our own age and country we have a special sect of Christians, who profess the name, but deny the deity, of Christ. Many rationalists at the present day, who reject evangelical doctrines, profess special reverence for Christ. That is, they admire the moral sayings of Jesus, especially the sermon on the mount, while the doctrines of his Godhead, his substitutional atonement, etc., they reject. So this sect of Christ probably rejected the apostles, and professed to be admirers and followers of the traditional sayings of Christ. They approved his ethics, but rejected the doctrines outlined in the Gospels, and more fully expanded in the epistles. They were probably Christianized rationalists from the Greek side of the Church.

Verse 13

13. Christ divided The Christ here is the Christ of 1 Corinthians 1:30, the embodiment of an entire redemption and all connected blessings. Is, then, this Christ whole and one, and the one on whom the Corinthians can be of one mind, (1 Corinthians 1:10,) or is he torn in pieces; each party having a part, or slice, of their own?

Paul crucified Your true Lord and Master was crucified for you; can Paul show his cross as a claim on your allegiance?

For you This clearly implies that Christ suffered for us as no saint or martyr ever suffers for us. He suffered, then, not merely as an example, or simply for our benefit, but in a far higher sense.

Baptized in the name Rather, into the name or authority of Paul, so as to be rightly called by his name. Baptized here expresses the import of the rite, consecrated. Note, Romans 6:3.

Verse 14

14. I thank God For the unexpected good result of our actions, we may thank not our own wisdom, but God’s. Some might have thought his omission to baptize a guilty neglect; others may have felt the not being baptized by him a slight; he sees in it a complete condemnation of their making him their master.

Baptized none of you A remarkable fact that of so many converts of Paul, so few were baptized by him. A remarkable object of thanks. Baptism, solemn as is its import, being, nevertheless, more a performance of the hand than of brain or soul, is subordinate to preaching and government. At Corinth the rite was at first, doubtless, performed by Timothy and Silas, Paul’s attendants, and afterwards by elders and deacons ordained. Note, Acts 10:48.

But Crispus Note Acts 18:8. The notability of Crispus, the chief ruler, being converted by Paul, induced his being baptized by him.

Gaius At whose house probably he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. See our introduction to Romans, vol. iii, p. 286.

Verse 15

15. Lest Lest any should claim from the fact that they were baptized by me to be my special disciples and bearers of my name.

Verse 16

16. Also… Stephanas Paul had hastened to give his reason before he had finished his catalogue; and he now adds the household of Stephanas, Stephanas himself, of course, included. He may, in this writing, have been reminded by Stephanas, who, being one of the delegates sent from Corinth was with Paul at the present writing in Ephesus. 1 Corinthians 16:17.

I know not Of the limitations to inspiration see our notes vol. i, p. 345, 1; also on Acts 27:22; Acts 27:24.

Verse 17

17. Sent ’ Απεστειλε , the word whence apostle is derived. Note on Matthew 10:2. Christ apostled me not to baptize. Baptizing was not named in his apostolic commission. Acts 9:15; Acts 22:15; Acts 26:16-18; Galatians 1:16. Yet baptism was included in the commission of the twelve, (Matthew 28:19,) to be done, doubtless, either by themselves or by subordinates appointed.

Wisdom of words Not hereby meaning skill in speech; nor, as Olshausen, “word-wisdom;” nor philosophical discourse; but wisdom or philosophy which is the subject of words or discourse by philosophers. This will appear in our progress. The Greek word here rendered wisdom, σοφια , sophia, is the last half of the word φιλοσοφια , philosophia, philosophy; and means throughout this chapter precisely the same thing, except that the former signified wisdom, and the latter, signifying love of wisdom, was the more modest profession for a sage to make. Both terms mean that system of thought, originated by the intellect of deep thinkers, which assumes to decide on the origin of all things, the existence of God, and the nature and destiny of man. The systems were admired for their profundity, and men divided into sects and schools following different leaders of thought, just as the Corinthian Christians were following different leaders. That such is the meaning of the word here is plain from 1 Corinthians 1:22, where the sophia is expressly affirmed to be that which was the object of the search of the Greeks. In its best form this sophia was the nearest approach to true religion that the unaided reason of man could attain. Yet, source of pride and partisanship as it was to the intellectual Gentile world, the apostle triumphs in declining a similar homage from the Church, and in abasing sophia to the bottom, and placing the cross at the summit. Not but that there was a value and a grandeur positively in the Greek sophia. It was only as it came in competition with the cross, as a substitute for the Gospel, as a means of enlightenment and salvation to men, that it was to be abased; just as all things belonging to mere man must be abased before that which is truly of God. Hence the sophia, with all of its human nobility, power, and pretension, must all be trampled in the dust when the triumphs of the cross were approaching. Socrates and Plato were illustrious men; their philosophies were a noble product; but when they come into collision with Christ and his cross into what nothingness must they not sink!

Verse 18

2. He abases all beneath the supremacy of the cross, 18-31.

18. That perish That are perishing.

Foolishness The precise opposite of sophia.

Are saved Are being saved. Note Acts 2:47.

Verse 19

19. Written Quotation of Isaiah 24:14, essentially after the Septuagint.

Wisdom of the wise The sophia of the sophoi; the philosophy of the philosophs; the sagas of the sages.

Verse 20

20. Where An exclamation of assumed triumph, as if all these competitors of the cross were nowhere.

The wise The sophos, the philosoph.

The scribe As the apostle advances, his mind recognises that the Jewish parallels to the sophoi and philosophs of the heathen world, namely, the scribes, must be included in the same humiliation. He deals, mainly, with Greek philosophs because Corinth is a Greek city.

Disputer of this world A generic term including both the preceding, sage and scribe.

Made foolish Stultified, reduced to idiocy. The maxim of Socrates, said to have been inherited from Pythagoras, was, that “sophia, in truth, belongs to God alone.”

Verse 21

21. For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God Rather, For after that in (the light of) God’s wisdom the world by (human) wisdom knew not God. Man’s wisdom ought, in accordance with God’s wisdom, as a lesser in a greater light, to have known God. Had the finite sophia accorded with the infinite sophia, man would have truly known God: but since in the divine wisdom human wisdom did not learn God, it pleased God to provide a new method. The foolishness of preaching became a method of presenting God to man’s faith, and bringing about salvation by that faith. In this word foolishness, as well as in the words (1 Corinthians 1:25) foolishness of God, weakness of God, and (1 Corinthians 1:27) foolish things, the apostle ironically styles things as the world styles them. By a similar irony the apostle asserts that since wisdom failed to know God, God accomplished the result by a foolishness. The foolishness of preaching, is the antithesis to the wisdom of (philosophic) words, or lecturing, 1 Corinthians 1:17.

Believe By unbelief man lost God; by faith he recovers God. Of the nature of this faith, as a condition of salvation, see notes on Romans 12:23. By what un-wisdoms both Jews and Greeks missed God Paul now declares.

Verse 22

22. A sign Accustomed, under their dispensation, to miracles, the Jews prescribed signs. Christ, indeed, worked miracles was himself a miracle; but they demanded that he should come in Messianic glory, renew the earth, and give to them its supremacy. That is, they required at his first coming the manifestations of his second coming. See note, Matthew 12:38. But as instead of the throne he received the cross, this became to them a stumbling-block.

Wisdom As to the Jew miracle was the route to truth and God, so to the Greek philosophy, demonstration, starting from intuition and winding through logic, was the sole guide and test. But though Christ is thus a stumbling-block instead of a sign, and a foolishness instead of a philosophy, yet Paul will soon prove that Christ is, after all, truly and transcendently a sign and a philosophy.

Verse 24

24. Called With a calling obeyed by faith, (1 Corinthians 1:21,) and so an effectual and permanent calling. Note on 1 Corinthians 1:1.

Power Which is required in a sign.

Wisdom Which is required in a philosophy.

Verse 25

25. Foolishness of God A remarkable ironical phrase, and refers to the preaching of 1 Corinthians 1:21. Foolishness is it? But it is God’s foolishness, and God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. God’s foolishn ess is the preaching of the cross; man’s wisdom is the philosophy of the Grecian schools, the noblest efforts of the human mind in that direction, yet yielding no reposeful certainty for the human soul on the great question of the origin of things or the destiny of man.

Verse 26

26. Ye see Rather, in the imperative, Behold, contemplate your calling.

Your calling Not, says Wordsworth, “ την κλησιν υμετεραν your calling; but την κλησιν υμων , the calling of you.” That is, God’s calling of you into the kingdom of Christ, implying your acceptance and all its blessed results.

Not many wise Why were not many sophoi called? Because the pride of their sophia was in the way. They were called, indeed; but they never, by faith, became the called. They were called to repentance and faith; but never were the called, upon repentance and faith, to be saints.

How their sophia was in the way we see in the case of Gallio, the philosopher, at this very Corinth. Acts 18:12-17, where see notes. Christianity, brought before him by our illustrious apostle, was repudiated even from examination by antecedent contempt, as a mere matter “of words and names.” He heard of it with nervous impatience, and dismissed it with unmannerly abruptness. What was true in Corinth was true on a larger scale in the whole Roman world. The sages of the age of Tacitus, Seneca, Pliny, and hundreds of lesser literati and philosophers, deemed Christianity unentitled to investigation. And yet, according to the skeptical historian Lecky, and others, of the same school, the true cause of the triumph of Christianity in the Roman empire was not miracles, but the obvious superiority of Christianity over all rival systems of religion.

Not many mighty Few statesmen, warriors, princes. The government of the Roman empire, civil and military, was a stupendous system, at the head of which was Nero, a butcher and a fiddler. Ecclesiastically it was paganism, with Capitoline Jupiter at its head. Politically and ecclesiastically it was a sham, destined in due time to go down to ruin.

Not many noble Ancient Corinth was celebrated for its brilliant, high-born, old nobility. Its great, ancient families, now extinct, were instances how transient are all earthly grandeurs. But of the new and rather vulgar aristocracy of modern Corinth, restored from the conflagration inflicted by Mummius, probably few deigned to enter the house of Justus, near the synagogue, where Paul held forth the foolishness of preaching to busy Corinth. Slaves, artisans, and a few of the higher class, in whom religious interest overcame the pride of rank, received the holy truth.

Verse 27

27. God hath chosen It is a divine revolution; and we have the divine honour of being its instruments chosen of God. In this revolution the foolish things and the weak overthrow the wise and the mighty.

Verse 28

28. Things which are not Nothings and nobodies. So are they viewed by the world; so in themselves they are. Yet, through the divine gift which they have received, they are intrinsically and truly the realities, and their opponents are the shams. Nero, the Roman empire, Jove, paganism, pagan philosophy, are all the transient; God, Christ, Christianity, the Church, are alone the permanent and the eternal.

The overthrow of paganism and the establishment of Christianity as the religion of the Roman empire were, however, but the outward verification of the apostle’s words. His was a more profound meaning. What he recognised was, the infinitely surpassing spiritual power of Christ and his religion in the work of the soul’s regeneration; in the saving it from death and hell and the raising it to immortality and heaven.

Verse 29

29. Flesh should glory Or, as it is in the more forcible Greek, that all flesh should glory not in his presence. For truly it is God on one side and all flesh on the other, arrayed in each other’s presence. It is the infinite Reality in comparison with the finite unreality. What, indeed, are the great men, great things, and great events of this world, but a phantasmagoria, gorgeous for a moment to the eye of sense, fleeting and false to the eye of the spirit?

Verse 30

30. Of him Paul now shows how the Corinthian Christians are identified with the real and the permanent. The true reading, rightly translated, is, From him ye are in Christ Jesus. Being incorporated into Christ, they are sharers in his being and triumph. Who has become unto us wisdom Christ is our sophia; our substitute for the Greek philosophy. On 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 our apostle will fully explain the nature of this Christian sophia. Righteousness, and sanctification These two words are, in the Greek, closely conjoined as two parts of the same work; justification as the negative, and sanctification as the positive, side. Redemption embraces Christ’s whole work of rescue from sin, even to glorification. The whole verse shows how in Christ the believer is triumphant over this world’s wisdom and greatness.

Verse 31

31. Written According to the Septuagint, Jeremiah 9:24.

In the Lord That is, in Jehovah, and not in any human unreality, in the face of all the power, aristocracy, wealth, philosophy, and vice of Corinth, the believer is taught by Paul calmly to rest in the consciousness that he possesses a gift and a glory before which these were pompous nothings.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-corinthians-1.html. 1874-1909.
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