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1 Corinthians 9

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1

1. Assertion of his apostolical right and prerogative, 1 Corinthians 9:1-6.

1. Am I not free? By the best readings this question stands first, and forms the hinge from the previous topic to what follows. Do I thus subject myself to privation for others, even of food, because I am not truly a free man like yourselves? Nay, more, am I not an apostle? And so entitled to the apostle’s maintenance, which I decline to receive? And as his apostleship is questioned, he adds a running interrogative assertion of it.

Seen Jesus The requisite qualification for being an apostle. See our notes on Luke 1:2; Acts 9:3.

Ye my work This practical proof convinced the council of Jerusalem of Paul’s apostleship, (notes on Acts 15:4; Acts 15:6; Acts 15:12,) as Paul more fully asserts to the Galatians, Galatians 2:7-9.

Verses 1-27


The intense purpose of sacrificing his own rights in regard to eating meat, expressed so vividly in the last chapter, (see note on the closing verse,) suggests to St. Paul a parallel sacrifice of his own apostolic rights which he had thus far practiced through his whole mission. Fully maintaining the right of an apostle to be maintained by the Church, he had abdicated that right in his own case, and had earned his living by the skill of his own hand and the sweat of his own brow. His Christian calumniators, so far from appreciating this magnanimity, made it the ground of a charge against him, that he did not claim his maintenance because he was conscious of not being a true apostle. He was not one of the twelve. He had never seen the living Christ. He was no brother or kinsman of Jesus. He was, therefore, a spurious apostle, and not worthy the pay he dare not claim. Paul now replies, and replies here, because this self-sacrifice of his lies in direct line with the self-sacrifice expressed at the close of the last chapter. The following is his train of self-explanation.

1 . He asserts his apostolic freedom and prerogative, 1 Corinthians 9:1-6.

2 . Maintains the minister’s right to pecuniary support from the Church by the law of compensation, 1 Corinthians 9:7-14.

3 . Declares why he renounced that right, namely, because his glory and his reward were a gratis gospel, 1 Corinthians 9:15-19. In accordance with this self-sacrifice, 4. He made himself, within the limits of right, all things to all men, in order to win them to Christ, 1 Corinthians 9:20-22.

5 . Thus to attain the final prize, like an athlete, he earnestly disciplines and subdues himself that he may not become at last a castaway, 1 Corinthians 9:23-27.

6 . Precisely in continuance with this train of thought, in the next chapter he charges the Corinthians, not in the image of an athlete, but by the example of Israel in the wilderness, to escape a like cast-away finality, 1 Corinthians 10:1-14. Then the digression being closed, (as noted in our last note on chap. 8,) he resumes the topic of idol sacrifice.

Verse 2

2. I am to you A direct argumentum ad homines. Whoever else could gracefully question his apostleship the Corinthians could not. If they were true Christians, he was a true apostle.

Seal A seal on a document is a voucher for its genuineness and validity. The Corinthians converted by Paul, and their Church by him founded, were as a confirmatory seal upon his apostolic diploma.

In the Lord Note on Romans 9:1. Christ is the very embodiment of spiritual Christianity, and whoever is deeply centred in that is centred in Christ.

Verse 3

3. Them that do examine me A judicial term, and may be rendered, my triers. It alludes to a class of Corinthian detractors who are brought into the foreground, and more fully answered in the second epistle.

This Followed by a period, and properly referring to the answer just given, not to what follows. His answer as to the validity of his apostleship is now complete. What follows is to assert that he is free.

Verse 4

4. Power Rightful authority. The change from the I of the previous verses to the we of this doubtless anticipates the mention of Barnabas, 1 Corinthians 9:6, as included in the question.

Eat… drink Of the contributions of the Church.

Verse 5

5. Lead about Implying an itinerancy, not a settled pastorate.

A sister, a wife A sister of the Church, who is a wife of the apostle. The English version gives the exact verbal Greek, except that the latter word may signify either wife or woman. That here, however, the word does not mean woman is plain, for a sister is of course a woman, and the latter word would be superfluous. If sister express a relation, so must the latter term. Dr. Wordsworth, however, renders it, as do some of the Greek and Roman fathers, a Christian woman. But the word sister alone would express that meaning. Wordsworth’s rendering assumes that the apostles took upon their circuits female attendants of suitable character, who should perform those Christian offices, such as baptism for females, who were in that age inaccessible to the male minister. But of this practice there is no trace in the New Testament or earliest Church history. Nor is the case of those women who upon occasions ministered to our Lord at all parallel. This erroneous view of the text was probably the occasion of the later introduction into the Church of an order of women called after this passage συνεισακται , which led to such immoralities that it was abolished by the Council of Nicea. The Rhemish (Romanistic) version unscrupulously transposes the terms, and reads a woman, a sister, which would give the same sense as Wordsworth, liable to the same objection. Tradition (which Romanism usually presses upon us as a binding authority) asserts, as this passage also implies, that several of the apostles were married, and Matthew 8:14 asserts that Peter (claimed as the first pope) was. Paul declares that “a bishop must be the husband of one wife.” When Orientalism became more fully developed in the Church, about the middle of the second century, virginity began to become an exaggerated virtue. As the popedom developed itself, the celibacy of the clergy, contrary to the above quoted express Scripture, was found to be a powerful aid to the central despotism. Separated from all other ties, the clergy became, as now, the devotees of absolute ecclesiastic power. Hence the pope has been the most violent advocate of celibacy, and the late enactment of the infallibility of the pope renders the dogma of clerical celibacy absolutely immutable.

The brethren of the Lord Who were not of the twelve apostles, but who, after the Lord’s resurrection, became apostolic men. See note on Matthew 13:55.

Cephas Mentioned here specially as the high authority with the Judaizers whom Paul is answering.

Verse 6

6. Barnabas Note on Acts 15:39. It would appear that though Barnabas never visited Corinth, yet his name was familiar there. This is, indeed, probably true of most of the personages mentioned in the preceding verse. Indeed, the Corinthians seem to have been lively and critical canvassers of the eminent Christian leaders. Probably the fact that Barnabas was commissioned by the Gentile Church of Antioch (Acts 13:2) at the same time with Paul, would bring his name into the discussion. The Judaizers would maintain that the apostolic authority of both was equally illegitimate, having neither come from Christ nor started from Jerusalem. The inference drawn by some commentators, that Barnabas, like Paul, maintained himself by his own manual labour, is not valid. During the first apostolic tour, in which Barnabas and Paul were associated, their career appears to have been too rapid for such labour, and nothing of the kind is intimated in the narrative. Paul here asserts only Barnabas’s right; not that he declined to use the right.

Forbear working Working at manual labour for our support while we preach a gratuitous Gospel. Is it I and Barnabas alone that must preach for nothing, and support ourselves?

Verse 7

7. Who feedeth Literally, who shepherdeth the flock.

Eateth Not the milk, but of or from the milk; that is, food made from the milk.

Verses 7-14

2. Ministers are entitled to support by the law of compensation, 1 Corinthians 9:7-14.

By this law the soldier, the vintner, the shepherd, nay, the very oxen, are entitled to their recompense.

Verse 8

8. As a man Literally, after or according to man, that is, to man’s authority; in distinction from, according to God’s law.

Verse 9

9. Doth God take care for oxen This passage we have lately seen quoted in a beautiful sermon on tenderness to brutes (by a “liberal” Christian preacher) as inhuman language. He understands the apostle as affirming, contrary to many beautiful texts of sympathy for the lower creatures, that God has no care for brutes! Darwinism, while it confessedly degrades man, claims to elevate the lower animals and to prompt to mercy toward them a happy result of error, if real. Sad, if Paul’s Christianity were in this below its level!

Alford thus interprets it: “We must not, as ordinarily, supply μονον , only, for oxen, and thus rationalize the sentence. The question imports: ‘In giving this command, are the oxen, or those for whom the law was given, its objects?’ And to such a question there can be but one answer. Every duty of humanity has its ultimate ground, not the mere welfare of the animal concerned, but its welfare in that system of which man is the head, and, therefore man’s welfare. The good done to man’s immortal spirit by acts of humanity and justice infinitely outweighs the mere physical comfort of a brute which perishes.” Our own view is, however, that the question is an argument a fortiori: Cares God for oxen in this law? Much more cares he for men, and for ministers who work like oxen. If the law of compensation includes even the honest labouring cattle, it surely includes us apostles.

Verse 10

10. Altogether Παυτως , wholly; not meaning that the law speaks exclusively for men, but completely, and without defect of application.

Plougheth In God’s spiritual husbandry, as appears from the following verse. In hope Sustained by the Church, the minister is cheered in hope of a blessed result of his labours.

Thresheth Both the earlier and the later labourer in the spiritual field.

In hope Cheered by the same anticipation as the plougher, the thresher should be partaker of his, the plougher’s, hope namely, the crop.

Verse 11

11. Carnal things That is, secular goods.

Verse 12

12. Others The parties, for instance, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:5.

We As in 1 Corinthians 9:6: I only and Barnabas.

This power The right of maintenance by the Church.

Hinder By burdening the poor and subjecting ourselves to the charge of being mercenaries. St. Paul, now rising above the analogical argument for compensation drawn from labourers and oxen, quotes the analogy of the Jewish Levites and priesthood.

Verse 13

13. They which minister Alluding to the Levites.

Wait at the altar The priests.

Verse 14

14. Even so The third and conclusive argument the command of Christ. Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7. Another instance indicating, probably, Paul’s acquaintance with the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Verse 15

3. Reason why Paul renounced his right of Church maintenance because his glory and pay was a gratis gospel, 1 Corinthians 9:15-22.

15. But I Omitting all others, Paul drops his we and comes down to his own personal I.

So done That I might be maintained by the Church.

Better… die… than… glorying void Since that glorying is the salvation of souls and the honour of Christ.

Verse 16

16. For necessity… woe A divine requisition, enforced by a penalty of woe, obligated him to preach the gospel. But this was upon the level plane of absolute duty, while his holy ambition aspired to a Christian glory from higher self-denial and emprise. Barely to escape the woe did not suffice.

Verses 16-18

16-18. St. Paul here declares that a simple preaching of the gospel, as being a duty, on the lower plane of moral compulsion yields no glory; it has not the special higher reward he courts. His reward, the result of renouncing his rights, consists in this very conferring of a gratis gospel, embracing all the good which that is sure to include.

Verse 17

17. For Literally translated For if willing I do this, I have a reward; if unwilling, with a stewardship am I intrusted.

By willing, here, is meant a willingness not enforced by the necessity and the woe, but free and enterprising, ready to sacrifice rights and perquisites. By unwilling, is meant a reluctant and obligated consent from fear of penalty.

A reward For the heartiness and the sacrifices resulting.

A dispensation A stewardship; an obligation sustained by penalty to discharge the sacred office remains, with a correspondent low blessing upon him.

Verse 18

18. What… reward Of this eager and self-sacrificing willingness, at the expense of a livelihood, what is my reward? The answer to this question is not, as Stanley and others give it, “My reward is, that I have no reward!”

By no means. His reward is a gratis gospel to the people, with all the blessedness embraced in that glorious fact. His service is willingness for any sacrifice; his reward, his glory, dearer than life itself, is that unpaid yet priceless gospel. If Paul’s commentators cannot see that this is a reward, he could see it to be so; a reward pregnant with salvation to unnumbered souls, and with the richest blessings of his divine Master on his own soul. This view is confirmed by the entire following context, 19-22; where he declares that for various self-abnegations, the reward is that he might gain more, save some. An earnest will is the antecedent; the gospel’s rich success is the consequent reward. Not that he fails to include in this reward all the resultant blessedness to others and himself. Such inclusion is proved 23-27, where he claims, as in the result, the being partaker with you, the final prize an incorruptible crown. It is in the vigorous faith of the apostle to lump all the glory of this eternal future in the present and the future immediate.

Make the gospel… without charge Literally, I may present an expenseless gospel. Such an attainment Paul holds to be a glory and a reward.

That To the end, or result, that. He makes the gospel expenseless, terminating in the fact that he has underused his power in the gospel.

In full accordance with the magnanimity with which St. Paul renounced pecuniary support did he also renounce his own preferences, tastes, and conveniences, in order that by conceding to others he might win them to Christ. That in this accommodation he never surrrendered the right and the true, he does not consider it necessary to say. That might be assumed as of course. The history of his own conduct on that point, as given by Luke, is a better statement of his most delicate discrimination on this point than any profession of his own. Note on Acts 15:6; Acts 21:24.

Verse 19

19. Free… made myself servant Greek, εμαυτον εδουλωσα . Free from all, I have enslaved myself to all, is his terse, antithetic language. It presents his independence of soul and body by nature; the enslavement of both to all by grace. Yet in that very enslavement he finds a dignity, a reward, a glory.

Gain the more A prize above all other earthly gain. To submit to the whim and caprice of others is a hard trial to the flesh and spirit. It reduces a high-spirited man from a freeman to a slave. If done for self-interest, it is a sordid debasement. If so done as to sacrifice truth and righteousness it is a crime. If by such conformity we confirm a caprice, a falsity, a superstition, it is an error and a danger. But if done for a high moral purpose, with careful limitations for rectitude, with the aim of delivering from falsity and superstition, then it is a high attainment, worthy the chief of the apostles. This is a renunciation of self, not of a mere mystic kind, or that shows itself in self-mortifications or self-flagellations, but in renouncing self-gratification for human good. It is thus that Paul, Luther, and Wesley have become the objects of reverence to mankind.

Verse 20

20. Became as a Jew Not became a Jew. In circumcising Timothy Paul became as a Jew; in refusing to circumcise Titus he refused to become a Jew.

Them that are under the law But not born Jews; namely, the proselytes to Judaism. His adjustment to these “he proved by non-observance of the law, by the rejection of circumcision, by intercourse with the Gentiles, or by accommodation to their language and arguments, as in Acts 14:16-17; Act 17:28 ; 1 Corinthians 8:1-7; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.” Stanley.

Verse 21

21. Them… without law Gentiles. Note on Romans 2:14.

Not without law For the being as a thing is not being the thing itself. Paul defines his position as showing that the gospel emancipation from law is still submission to the law of Christ. Paul, as Bengel says, is neither lawless nor anti-law.

Verse 22

22. To the weak The weak in faith, of which the weaklings of Romans 14:0, where see notes, and 1 Corinthians 8:10, are classes. Paul studied and sympathized with their weakness in order to save and bring them from weakness to strength.

All things Transforming himself, as it were, to all the shapes of character he met, yet without hypocrisy or partaking in sin, in order to save those to whom he accommodated himself.

Verse 23

4. These various self-denials are undergone for an eternal future prize, 1 Corinthians 9:23-27.

23. Partaker thereof Partaker, that is, of the gospel, embracing therein all the blessings, temporal or eternal, in the included gospel. Note on 1 Corinthians 9:18. This gospel includes the prize of 1 Corinthians 9:24, the incorruptible crown of 1 Corinthians 9:25.

You In italics; it is not in the Greek. Literal rendering, be a fellow-partaker of it; that is, a sharer with, not only you, but all the glorified, of the blessed results wrapped up in the gospel. So a blissful eternity is ever present to the faith of Paul, being included in the very gospel he preaches.

Verse 24

24. Know ye not They had abundant chance to know, from the exhibitions at the Isthmian stadium, near their city.

A race Here, for the first time in the New Testament, occurs an allusion to the ancient games. They are mentioned neither in the gospels nor in the Old Testament. The solemn Hebrews never practised them; and when introduced, with theatres and other spectacles by the Herodian family, they were the abhorrence of all earnest Jews. In the days of his bigoted Judaism Paul would, probably, never have used them as a religious illustration.

But with the Greeks these games, traceable to an heroic age of gods and demigods, were a part of their religion. They were practised to bring the human form to that same idealized perfection as Grecian genius endeavoured to produce in its statues of heroes and gods. They formed a part of the worship of beauty in the human person, as in all other noble forms. Hence the victor in those games, at which all Greece was ambitious to be present, was a noblest of the race, a masterpiece of humanity. He was gazed at, as he proudly passed, as a model of manhood. He was the pride of his family, and honoured by his state and city among her great generals and statesmen. From the victory he departed crowned with a garland, was escorted home in a triumphal chariot, and, in some instances, instead of being received through the ordinary gate, a breach was made in the city wall, that he might be received with a unique triumph.

When, a short time before the birth of Christ, Rome conquered the known world, she adopted the games, varying their form, and in every respect debasing them. By the Greeks they were idealized, by the Romans brutalized. They were no longer heroic exercises in which the noblest men engaged for self-perfection, but exhibitions of ferocious and bloody contests by professional or compulsory combatants, for the gratification of spectators gazing from their safe and cowardly seats upon scenes of savage bloodshed of which others were the inflictors or victims. There were beast fights; of men with beasts or beasts with beasts. There were gladiatorial fights of men with men. These sanguinary exhibitions were not, like the pugilistic fights of our day, followed solely by the baser classes in violation of law, but by the highest aristocracy, and provided for by either eminent individuals or the state itself. The civilization of the age exerted itself in the invention of new ferocities, or in the increased amount of the exhibition. Sylla, the despot of Rome, sent a hundred lions into the arena to be butchered by as many men. But Pompey had six hundred lions and twenty elephants thus slaughtered. Under the Emperor Titus (surnamed “The Delight of the human race”) five thousand wild and four thousand tame animals, and under Trajan eleven thousand animals, were slain for Roman amusement. Still more ferocious were the gladiatorial fights, in which professional combatants, or captives taken in war, or criminals, were made to slaughter each other. This practice began B.C. 264, and made such progress that Trajan exhibited a bloody fight of ten thousand gladiators on the arena for Roman amusement. These scenes created not bravery in the public heart, but a base and cowardly appetite for blood. They aided in spreading that utter depravity through all classes of society that prepared the empire to sink before the northern barbarians.

With these games in their Grecian form the Corinthians, and St. Paul at Corinth, would be familiar. As he travelled from Athens to Corinth he passed the stadium, or race-course, of the celebrated Isthmian games, so called from the Corinthian Isthmus. In the nature of those games he saw the elements of a vivid physical imagery (especially in the race) for the illustration of the Christian life. Almost every point of the gymnastic contest he has in some part of his writings brought into use. Galatians 2:2; Galatians 5:7; Philippians 2:16; Philippians 3:14; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:1; Hebrews 12:4; Hebrews 12:12. In the present passage we have the race, the racer, the prize, the temperance, the garland, the herald, the rejected combatant. At 1 Corinthians 9:26, by a momentary change, the boxing match is the source of allusion.

Run all All the competitors.

One Paul here illustrates by contrast. In the Isthmian race there could be but one victor among all the runners; in the Christian race every candidate that rightly runs may win the garland.

So run With such applied vigour, with such self-control and concentration, with such increasing persistence, to the end.

Obtain Win.

Verse 25

25. Every man that striveth Every agonistes, or champion.

Is temperate Is self-controlling. Then, as now, the candidate for the race put himself under a long and severe training, in diet, in potations, in exercise, in order to tone himself up to the highest vigour. Even the professional pugilist of our modern execrable prize-fights will, in order to obtain victory, put himself upon a regimen of strict temperance, making himself an example of physical virtue for better men. He is a practical proof that strict abstinence from intoxicating drinks is ordinarily, a requisite condition to the highest health and vigour. He shows too, that the most profligate of men are amply able to discover and recognise the severest truths, when they have even a sordid interest in knowing them. Would the pugilist be as wise, as keenly searching after the truth, as energetic and as self-denying in pursuing the eternal prize as he is the temporal, he could not fail to win. But Paul uses a Greek word that covers more than bodily temperance. It includes self-denial of every kind, and is used by him in reference to his own self-denials in eating idol sacrifices, (1 Corinthians 8:13,) in refusing Churchly maintenance, (1 Corinthians 9:15,) and in all the self-mortifying compliances of 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. And this reference runs through to the end of the chapter; nay, even to the end of the next chapter. It is a thread of which the reader should not for a moment lose hold who would completely understand St. Paul.

Crown From the pine groves contiguous to the stadium the Corinthians would gather the branches, and wreath a garland for the brow of the victor, amid the applauding crowds of spectators. It was an evergreen; a not unfitting emblem of that earthly immortality of renown which it indicated that the wearer had attained. But, alas! this emblem of imperishability was itself perishable. The lyrics of the poet Pindar are almost the sole mementos of the victors, but they, too, in time will perish.

The most eminent emblematic garland of victory was the laurel. It was said that Apollo, after having slain the dragon Python at Delphos, wreathed his brows with the laurel, and established his oracle at the Castalian spring issuing from the cave at Delphos. At the Olympic games they used the wild olive; at the Nemean, the parsley.

An incorruptible Our Christian life is the race, crowned with everlasting triumph at its close. St. Paul, as he drew near his martyrdom, beautifully styles it the crown of righteousness. 2 Timothy 4:8.

Verse 26

26. Uncertainly Making sure work; leaving nothing to chance.

So fight As a boxer.

Beateth the air Alluding, not to the mock-fight ( σκιομαχια , shadow-fight) used by combatants beforehand for practice, but to the missing his antagonist and striking into vacancy. It stands parallel to uncertainly. Both in his race and his battle Paul did a sure business. In the battle for eternity there is an infinite difference between winning the crown and becoming a castaway.

Verse 27

27. I keep under Viewing his body as ready, with its fleshly appetites, (the reverse of the temperate of 1 Corinthians 9:25,) to break the certainty and surety of his running, he beat it to discoloration. Note on Luke 18:5, where the same Greek word is used in a slightly different sense. The term is a pugilistic one; literally, to black-eye one. Paul refers not, as the Romanists pervert the word, to any bodily flagellation, any more than beateth the air refers to a muscular blow. Nor, as Mr. Alford well says, does it refer even to “fasting and prayer,” but to the self-subduing and self-denial, as we have specified in note to 1 Corinthians 9:25.

Bring it into subjection Literally, enslave it.

Have preached Have heralded. The Greek word for preacher in the New Testament is κηρυξ , herald, and to preach is to herald, (the word used here,) that is, to proclaim, to announce, to call. In the games the herald was one who made the proclamations; so that Paul happily uses the word in its double sense. So Chrysostom, quoted by Wetstein, says: “Tell me, I pray you, at the Olympic contests does not the herald stand proclaiming strong and high, ‘Does any one charge that this candidate is a slave? a thief? a man of bad morals?’”

A castaway A rejectee, or reprobate, who could not stand the double scrutiny. The first scrutiny was to decide whether he was worthy to enter the games: the second was to decide whether he had so run, honourably and according to rule, as to be entitled to the evergreen chaplet. If not, he was rejected as a reprobate and a castaway. It is by only an apparent confusion that Paul here makes himself play the part both of herald and athlete. In fact, the Emperor Nero did once play both these parts. He was combatant, victor, and chosen herald to proclaim his own triumph.

This elaborate illustration of the Christian life from the Isthmian games, for the first time drawn by Paul, must have formed a striking picture to the Corinthians, who were so familiar with the animating spectacle. Henceforward the sight of the stadium would awaken higher thoughts. It had a lesson to inspire them to new earnestness in the Christian race to make sure work of winning the incorruptible crown.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-corinthians-9.html. 1874-1909.
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