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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

- 1 Corinthians

by Daniel Whedon


Intended for Popular Use








ONE volume after the present will complete our Commentary on the New Testament. The favour with which it has been received, both in England and America, has cheered the author in his labours. The whole work thus far has been done by himself, with the exception that in this Fourth Volume the Notes and Introductions to Philippians and Colossians have been contributed by his nephew, the Rev. D.A. WHEDON, D.D. Meanwhile a Commentary on the Old Testament, in similar style, is in preparation by several eminent biblical scholars. Two volumes on the Old Testament have already been published, prepared by Rev. D. STEELE, D.D., and Rev. M.S. TERRY, A.M., and have been received by the public with great approval. Six more volumes on the Old Testament are in advanced progress; and an entire set on the whole Bible, consisting of thirteen Manual Volumes, well illustrated with Cuts and Maps, will be before the public in due time.

D. D. W. NEW YORK, November 1, 1875.


IN our Note to Acts 9:1 we have given the history of St. Paul up to the time of his conversion and apostolic commission. As our commentary of the present volume consists entirely of notes upon his epistles, this is a proper place for tracing the facts of his apostolic ministry. These we classify into FOUR EPOCHS.


At the memorable point of Saul’s conversion, at about thirty-one years of age, (A.D. 37,) the glorified Jesus, being personally present, conferred upon him an apostleship to the Gentiles. It was a glorious yet fearful commission. He was to be the leading figure in the bringing the Gentile world into the Church, a fact implying the downfall of old Judaism; and his life was to be a life of daily death until its fatal terminus. After the first shock of this vital revolution was over, he retired to the Arabian solitudes for over eighteen months, to learn the mysteries of his new future. Of the modes and methods of that desert theological school we know nothing.

But he re-appears at Damascus, to the amazement of all who recalled to memory his late mission thither of persecution. The Damascan Jews at length sought his destruction, and he retired to Jerusalem, there to encounter the cold suspicion of the Church, whose memories associated scenes of cruelty and bloodthirstiness with his person and visage. Here the noble heart and stately figure of apostolic BARNABAS interpose to recommend him to the confidence of the apostles and the Church. The hostility of Judaism soon confirms the certificate of Barnabas. Other apostles can stay in peace at Jerusalem; but wherever this apostate from high Rabbinism, and advocate for the Gentiles, appears, there is an outburst of wrath. For him the city is no longer safe, and the Church secures him a secret retreat to his native TARSUS.

Meanwhile the new Gentile center of Christianity at ANTIOCH had risen into importance. BARNABAS is deputed by the Jerusalem apostles to go and superintend the rising Church in that great metropolis. It occurs to him that the very man to aid him in the work was young Saul now at Tarsus. He was specially fitted for this work, for it was by the very persecution lighted up by Saul at Jerusalem that the believers were driven from that city to found a new communion in ANTIOCH. For a whole year the two apostles assembled their congregations and completed the structure of the Antiochian Church.


First Missionary Journey. The divine Head of the Church now decided that the time for holy aggression had come. By a special mandate of the Spirit, and a special ordination from the leaders of the Church, BARNABAS and SAUL, with John Mark for servitor, are sent from their metropolitan position into the missionary field. From SELEUCIA, the sea-port city of ANTIOCH, the native island of Barnabas, CYPRUS was dimly visible, and thither they sailed. Passing, with brief stoppage, the nearer capital. Salamis, they journeyed to Paphos, at the farther end of the island, where Saul encountered Elymas, the sorcerer, with divine power, and converts the Proconsul SERGIUS PAULUS. Henceforth his name is PAUL, and that name takes precedence of the name of Barnabas. As if his genius were now in the ascendant, they direct their way from Cyprus, the home of Barnabas, northward toward the native province of Paul. They enter the rugged province of PAMPHYLIA, and their servitor, Mark, the nephew of Barnabas, the future evangelist, retreats and deserts them. Boldly penetrating the semi-barbarous region northward, they pass PERGA, ANTIOCH in Pisidia, ICONIUM, and LYSTRA, to DERBE; and thence by the same line back to Perga, having left permanent Churches as monuments of their mission. Hence they returned by ship to ANTIOCH, their starting place.

A remarkable appendix to this first mission was Paul’s attendance as delegate from ANTIOCH to the JERUSALEM COUNCIL to settle the Judaistic question: Should Gentiles be accepted as Christians without the Mosaic circumcision and ritual? As a successful young missionary, Paul was a powerful demonstration that Gentiles would accept Christ and his cross without the ritual. Under JAMES, as presiding presbyter, and in accepted association as apostle with PETER, JAMES, and JOHN, our PAUL and the progressive party obtained a decision requiring, indeed, a tenderness toward Jewish customs, but an emancipation from the Jewish burdens. Paul and the Antiochean delegates were escorted home by SILAS (who here first appears) and others from Jerusalem.

Second Missionary Journey. From ANTIOCH again starting, our apostle, substituting SILAS for Barnabas, commenced that most memorable missionary tour which brought Christianity into Europe. His own immediate purpose was simply a revisitation of his Churches of Syria and Cilicia. He came to Derbe, and there adopted Timothy into the place of John Mark as servitor. As he veers more deeply into Asia Minor, towards Bithynia, the Spirit warns him westward. Groping toward the coast of Troas, a man at Macedonia, in a vision by night, invites him over the Hellespont into Europe. He crosses and establishes the first European Church at PHILIPPI; the second at THESSALONICA; the third at BEREA. Driven by persecution seaward, he leaves SILAS and TIMOTHY, and sails for southern Greece, and lands at ATHENS alone. From Athens he goes to CORINTH. There, after a lonely and spiritless ministry for months, he takes new courage on the arrival of SILAS and TIMOTHY from Thessalonica. Arraigned before Gallio, he is triumphant. For three years these three ministers are engaged in rearing the fourth and greatest Church of Europe at CORINTH. The reports brought by Silas and Timothy drew from Paul his first TWO EPISTLES, those TO THESSALONICA. Paul then crossed the AEGEAN, and landing at Ephesus briefly, leaving promise of future visit, sailed thence to CESAREA, and having paid his respects to Jerusalem, returned to his starting-place, ANTIOCH.

Third Missionary Journey. Leaving ANTIOCH for the last time (so far as history knows) Paul ranges over his Asian Churches, and coming down to the seacoast, pays his promised visit to EPHESUS, A.D. 54. Here it takes him two or three eventful years to rear one of the greatest of his Churches. The twelve Johnite disciples, the debates in the school of Tyrannus, the encounter with exorcist Jews, and the mob of Diana, are among its exciting scenes. Before this last commotion Paul was planning to make excursion again over his route through northern and southern Greece, revisiting his Churches; thence returning to Jerusalem, and then to finish with seeing ROME. For this purpose he sent two harbingers, TIMOTHY and ERASTUS, into Macedonia, and wrote his third letter, the FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.

Sad, and fearing as to the effect of this epistle on the Corinthians, and longing for the return of TITUS, whom he sent thither to bring back reports, Paul started from Ephesus for Macedonia. Expecting Titus in vain at Troas, he crossed the Hellespont to his beloved Church at PHILIPPI. There, in Macedonia, Titus came with joyful report from Corinth, and thence he wrote his fourth letter, the SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.

He completed his visit to CORINTH, where, for three months making his headquarters, he preached the Gospel in ACHAIA. Here learning of their apostatizing tendencies, he wrote his fifth letter, his EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS. And in view of his expected visit to the great capital, he wrote his sixth and greatest letter, the EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS.

From Corinth he purposed to cross the AEgean direct to Syria for Jerusalem; but a plot of the Jews to assassinate him compelled him to go round by Macedonia, and again cross the Hellespont. A gathering retinue of friends from Macedonia attended him, intending to bear to Jerusalem the money contributions made from Paul’s Churches to the impoverished Christians of Palestine. Passing through Troas, and stopping at Miletus, Paul sent for the elders of Ephesus, and gave them his parting charge. He skirted the Asian coast to Cesarea, and amid sadness and presentiments of evil, went up to Jerusalem. There he in full retinue met James, the apostle resident of Jerusalem, with his full eldership. He was greeted with Christian courtesy. Fatally, he was advised to enter the temple to complete the ceremonies of a Nazarite vow. There assaulted with murderous intent by the Jews, he is rescued by the Roman chiliarch, LYSIAS, and put in chains. So are terminated Paul’s three missionary tours, A.D. 58, at about the fifty-second year of his age.


Henceforth through Paul’s known history we must think of him as a prisoner, with his wrist in a ring fastened by a chain usually attached to the wrist of a Roman soldier. He is at length sent by LYSIAS, in order to save him from the Jews, to FELIX, at CESAREA, where he is in bonds for two years.

Under FESTUS, successor of FELIX, he pleads his case before king AGRIPPA, and appeals to CESAR at ROME. To ROME, and to the bar of the Emperor NERO, he must go. He embarks at CESAREA, (A.D. 60,) and, through shipwreck and varied hazards, lands in ITALY, and journeys to ROME. For two full years he preaches the Gospel in the CAPITAL.


From the moment that the faithful Luke closes his narrative Paul is lost to history. It is mainly from the scattered hints found in his epistles that we dubiously trace the remainder of his life. We know with some clearness that the EPISTLES TO THE COLOSSIANS, to PHILEMON, to THE EPHESIANS, and to THE PHILIPPIANS, are voices from his prison. We know, too, with fair certainty, that he was beheaded with the axe under Nero. But whether this martyrdom took place in A.D. 63, at his first imprisonment, or whether, being acquitted and allowed to spend years in further labours for the Gospel, he met his fate A.D. 68, is an unsettled question. Of this discussion we give a brief notice in our Introduction to First Timothy.




OF the ancient and opulent city of Corinth, and of St. Paul’s first introduction of Christianity there, we have a full account in the pages of Luke, Acts 18:1-18, and our notes on the passage. The ancient and purely Greek Corinth of the classic ages had, when St. Paul visited it, ceased to exist. Burned by the Roman Consul Mummius, it had lain a desolation for a century. Less than half a century before Christ it had been rebuilt by Julius Cesar, and colonized largely with Roman freedmen. It was restored to more than its ancient opulence; its schools of eloquence and philosophy were flourishing, and it was the acknowledged capital of ACHAIA, a name then embracing that southern and central Greece to which the glory of ancient Hellenic civilization properly belonged. But unrestrained profligacy was in the ascendant. Near her suburbs lay the palestra of the ancient Isthmian games; and there, even through the century of her desolation, these contests had been uninterruptedly celebrated. A sensual paganism was the sole religion of the Gentile population. And, what sounds strange to Christian ears, the sacred temple of Venus was munificently endowed with a thousand priestesses, whose ritual was prostitution. This making a religion of debauchery was an inheritance from the old Phenician abominations, by which Israel was so often sensualized. It was first based in a celebration of the generative powers of nature, and, through long centuries of heathenism, had found ready acceptance and perpetuity from the passions of men. It was the deification by man of his own lowest appetites, and furnished occasion and consecration to their unbridled indulgence.

It was into this hotbed of wealth, intellectual excitement, and vice, consecrated by false religion, that Paul, alone and silently, entered to plant a pure Christianity. He had left his associates, Silas and Timothy, in Macedonia, and his sympathetic heart pining for them, his vigour was paralyzed. After three months’ sojourn with the faithful Aquila and Priscilla, and preaching in the synagogue, he was enabled to welcome his faithful aids from Macedonia. Then followed the secession from the angry synagogue and the preaching in the house of Justus; the arraignment and triumph before Gallio; and the consequent peaceful closing of his first mission of a year and a half in Corinth, in which he established his fourth and greatest Church in Europe.


Our apostle, then taking his affectionate leave of a Church then in a high state of unity and prosperity, crossed the AEgean to Palestine, and thence returned to EPHESUS. It was during his three years’ sojourn at Ephesus, perhaps in the last seven weeks after the commotion of Diana, that this epistle was written. He had kept up communication with, and received intelligence from, Corinth. The eloquent Apollos, after his theological training under Aquila and Priscilla, had gone there, had won great popularity, gained large accessions of converts, and given the Church a new prosperity. Even St. Peter, if the statement made by a learned bishop of Corinth a century or two later be true, was there for a time. After the return of the noble Apollos to Ephesus, (whence Paul sends, 1 Corinthians 16:12, his greetings to Corinth,) things grew dark in the Corinthian Church. Partisanships arose between different sections of the Church, who placed, without authority, the great names of Paul, Peter, Apollos, and even Christ, upon their schismatic banners. Various questions upon Christian morality and doctrine arose. And, what was worse than all this, the licentiousness of the city had entered, in a most flagrant form, into the Church itself. Nay, the very eucharist had been desecrated into a secular banquet, and made a scene of envy and strife. Paul first sent Timothy and Erastus before writing his epistle to Corinth. It was then that three delegates arrived from Corinth, namely, Fortunatus, Achaicus, and Stephanas, bringing an epistle from the Church asking for an apostolic solution of various questions which they presented. Paul thereupon wrote this epistle, bearing on its face the twofold purpose of reasserting his apostolic authority, and of furnishing an authoritative series of responses to the queries, stated or unstated, which had arisen in the Church.


About twenty years after St. Paul had met the martyr’s fate, (A.D. 68,) the Church of Corinth received from the Church of Rome a fraternal epistle, written, as is commonly supposed, by St. Clement, third bishop of Rome. This invaluable epistle, written by an apostolic man, and addressed from one great Church to another, was deposited by the Church of Corinth in her archives, and was ordained to be read in its turn in her Sunday service. The only copy of it coming down to modern times was found in the Alexandrine Codex of the New Testament, being apparently held by the copyist as belonging to the canon. In this epistle we find that the Church of Corinth had, after a period of holy Church harmony, been divided into factions by her ambitious leaders, and it was by these dissensions that Clement’s letter was called into existence. This our epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians was retained, as St. Clement indicates, in the archives of the Churches both of Corinth and Rome. “Take into your hands,” says he, “the epistle of the blessed Paul, the apostle. What did he, at the first, write to you in the beginning of the Gospel. Verily he did, by the Spirit, admonish you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because that even then you did form parties.” The authenticity of Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians has, indeed, never been called in question by any respectable criticism.

About seventy-five years after this memorable correspondence flourished Dionysius, the most celebrated of the bishops of Corinth. His epistles were many, addressed to various sections and individuals of note. His epistle to Soter, bishop of Rome, in reply to an admonitory letter from Soter, has these words: “You, by this your so suitable admonition, have blended together the gardens of the Romans and the Corinthians planted by Peter and Paul; for they both having planted us, taught alike, and, having alike gone into Italy, suffered martyrdom at the same time.” Probably Dionysius inadvertently assumed here that Peter had been at Corinth from the fact that his name was placed by one of the factions at its head. In another passage Dionysius says to Soter, “To-day we kept the Lord’s holy day, in which we read your epistle, which we shall always have for occasional reading for our admonition, as also the former epistle of Clement.” This shows that apostolic writings were kept for regular public reading in the Church. It was a little before this time that Hegesippus, the earliest Church historian, made a journey from Syria to Rome, and having visited many bishops, declared that “he found every-where the same doctrine.” “And the Church of Corinth,” he says, “had continued in the true faith when Primus was bishop there, with whom I had familiar conversation on my voyage to Rome, having stopped several days at Corinth, during which we refreshed ourselves with the same doctrine.”

From all these pleasing testimonies, it is clear that the Church of Corinth retained her reverence for her great founder, preserved his epistles in her archives, read them in the Sunday service, maintained the purity of his doctrine, and usually enjoyed a high state of prosperity.


In the year 268 the city was captured by the Goths, and in 523 was destroyed by an earthquake. In 1462 it was captured by the Turks, and remained under their power until the late revolution, which made Greece independent. During Turkish times the cathedral of the Church was in the Acrocorinthus. But a small village is now existing bearing the ancient name. There are the remnants of an old temple, which are the sole survivors of two or three successive Corinths, and, indeed, are the most ancient relics in Greece. There are also faint traces that mark the grounds of the Isthmian games. The lines of Byron which commence his Siege of Corinth are blended history and poetry:

Many a vanished year and age,

And tempest’s breath, and battle’s rage,

Have swept o’er Corinth; yet she stands

A fortress formed to Freedom’s hands.

The whirlwind’s wrath, the earthquake’s shock,

Have left untouched her hoary rock,

The key-stone of a land which still,

Though fallen, looks proudly on that hill,

The landmark to the double tide

That purpling rolls on either side,

As if their waters chafed to meet,

Yet pause and crouch beneath her feet.

But could the blood before her shed

Since first Timoleon’s brother bled,

Or baffled Persia’s despot fled,

Arise from out the earth which drank

The stream of slaughter as it sank,

That sanguine ocean would o’erflow

Her isthmus idly spread below;

Or could the bones of all the slain

Who perished there, be piled again,

That rival pyramid would rise

More mountain-like, through those clear skies,

Than yon tower-capt Acropolis,

That seems the very clouds to kiss.


AS this Epistle must necessarily be an exercise of apostolical authority in response to the needs of the Church, it required two things: First, a distinct and full settlement of his apostolic authority, (1 Corinthians 1:10 to 1 Corinthians 4:21;) and, Second, the utterance of apostolic orders through the remainder of the epistle.

Taking his starting-point from those parties which the Corinthians, after the Greek fashion, were forming around their leaders, just as in philosophy the schools were formed around their founders, such as Democritus, Zeno, Plato, and Aristotle, our Paul proceeds to disown the whole body of philosophies. Neither he nor his fellow-apostles are philosophic founders. As leader in original wisdom he is nothing. But it must not for one moment be imagined that in this profound self-abnegation he abates one jot of his apostolic authority. As the originator of a philosophy he is, indeed, nothing; but as the organ of a revelation which is from God, and so is absolute, his decisions are ultimate. And he closes this firm self-assertion (1 Corinthians 4:8-20) with the most unequivocal apostolic warning and menace.

That settled, he goes over the list of their requirements, and thereto furnishes his ten successive responses, as detailed in the following scheme:


Paul’s Settlement of his Authority over the Corinthian Church 1 Corinthians 1:10 to 1 Corinthians 4:21

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

1. Starting from their partisan preferences of leaders 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

2. He abases all philosophy beneath the cross supreme 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

3. As he had renounced it at first coming to Corinth 1 Corinthians 2:1-5


1. A philosophy, nevertheless, the Gospel is, which is not human but God-given, and understood solely by the spiritual 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

2. And which was not understood by their partisan carnality 1 Corinthians 3:1-4

3. Herein appear the preacher’s God-imposed responsibilities 1 Corinthians 3:5-15

a. His success (based on Christ) is solely from God 1 Corinthians 3:5-11

b. His work, even if based on Christ, must undergo God’s test of fire 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

4. And also hence appears the people’s position as the God-founded temple, above all party and all philosophy1 Corinthians 3:16-23; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23

5. The true dignity of the apostles 1 Corinthians 4:1-13

a. Dispensers of God’s mysteries to God alone responsible 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

b. Not to be treated with partisan arrogance 1 Corinthians 4:6-8

c. The effects of such arrogance on the suffering apostles depicted. 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13

6. Paul’s final assertion of his apostolic authority 1 Corinthians 4:14-21


Paul’s Exercise of his Apostolic Authority over the Corinthian Church in Ten Responses 1 Corinthians 5:1 to 1 Corinthians 16:3




1. Advisory counsel as to marriage and celibacy 1 Corinthians 7:1-9

2. Law and counsel as to separation of married persons 1 Corinthians 7:10-17

3. Counsel, generally, as to abiding in present calling 1 Corinthians 7:18-24

4. Response on marriage under present pressure, especially of maiden daughters1 Corinthians 7:25-40; 1 Corinthians 7:25-40

IV. RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS OF EATING OFFERINGS TO IDOLS 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, 1 Corinthians 10:14 to 1 Corinthians 11:1

V. RESPONSE TO QUESTIONINGS OF HIS APOSTOLICITY 1 Corinthians 9:1 to 1 Corinthians 10:13

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

2. Ministers entitled to support by law of compensation 1 Corinthians 9:7-15

3. Reason why St. Paul renounced his right 1 Corinthians 9:15-22

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

5. Israel’s wilderness-sojourn a type of the Christian race 1 Corinthians 10:1-13



1. The Corinthians abuse of the Lord’s Supper 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

2. History and nature of the Lord’s Supper 1 Corinthians 11:23-27

3. Reform, and treatment at the Lord’s Supper 1 Corinthians 11:28-34

VIII. RESPONSE AS TO EXERCISES OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS 1 Corinthians 12:1 -1 Corinthians 14:40

1. Of gifts their true place and value 1 Corinthians 12:1-30

2. Infinite superiority of love over gifts 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

3. Management in use of gifts 1 Corinthians 14:1-40


1. The Christ-history, especially of resurrection, stated 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

2. Denial of resurrection is a repudiation of Christianity 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

3. Reaffirmation; position of resurrection in Christianity 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

4. Devastating results of the no-resurrection doctrine 1 Corinthians 15:29-34

5. Contrast of mortal and immortal bodies illustrated by contrast between other material bodies 1 Corinthians 15:35-41

6. Correspondence of the differences 1 Corinthians 15:42-50

7. Picture of resurrection, paean, and admonitory inference 1 Corinthians 15:51-58



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