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1 Corinthians 3:1-4

1. And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

1. Et ego, fratres, non potui vobis loqui tanquam spiritualibus, sed tanquam carnalibus, tanquam pueris in Christo. 144144     “C’est a dire comme a enfans en Christ;” — “That is to say, as to babes in Christ.”

2. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

2. Lactis potu vos alui, non solido cibo. Nondum enim eratis capaces, ac ne nunc quidem estis:

3. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

3. Siquidem estis adhuc carnales. Postquam enim sunt inter vos aemulatio et contentio, et factioncs; nonne carnales estis, et secundum hominem ambulatis?

4. For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

4. Quum enim dicat unus, Ego sum Pauli: alter vero, Ego Apollo: nonne carnales estis?


1. And I, brethren He begins to apply to the Corinthians themselves, that he had said respecting carnal persons, that they may understand that the fault was their own — that the doctrine of the Cross had not more charms for them. It is probable, that in mercantile minds like theirs there was too much confidence and arrogance still lingering, so that it was not without much ado and great difficulty that they could bring themselves to embrace the simplicity of the gospel. Hence it was, that undervaluing the Apostle, and the divine efficacy of his preaching, they were more prepared to listen to those teachers that were subtle and showy, while destitute of the Spirit. 145145     “Combien qu’il n’y eust en eux ancunc efficace de l’Esprit;” — “Though there was in them no efficacy of the Spirit.” Hence, with the view of beating down so much the better their insolence, he declares, that they belong to the company of those who, stupefied by carnal sense, are not prepared to receive the spiritual wisdom of God. He softens down, it is true, the harshness of his reproach by calling them brethren, but at the same time he brings it forward expressly as a matter of reproach against them, that their minds were suffocated with the darkness of the flesh to such a degree that it formed a hindrance to his preaching among them. What sort of sound judgment then must they have, when they are not fit and prepared as yet even for hearing! He does not mean, however, that they were altogether carnal, so as to have not one spark of the Spirit of God — but that they had still greatly too much of carnal sense, so that the flesh prevailed over the Spirit, and did as it were drown out his light. Hence, although they were not altogether destitute of grace, yet, as they had more of the flesh than of the Spirit, they are on that account termed carnal This sufficiently appears from what he immediately adds — that they were babes in Christ; for they would not have been babes had they not been begotten, and that begetting is from the Spirit of God.

Babes in Christ This term is sometimes taken in a good sense, as it is by Peter, who exhorts us to be like new-born babes, (1 Peter 2:2,) and in that saying of Christ,

Unless ye become as these little children,
ye shall not enter into the kingdom of God, (Luke 18:17.)

Here, however, it is taken in a bad sense, as referring to the understanding. For we must be children in malice, but not in understanding, as he says afterwards in 1 Corinthians 14:20, — a distinction which removes all occasion of doubt as to the meaning. To this also there is a corresponding passage in Ephesians 4:14.

That we be no longer children tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, and made the sport 146146     Our author gives in this, as in many other instances, the substance of the passage quoted rather than the express words In the expression “made the sport of human fallacies,” he seems to have had in his eye the term κυβεια — rendered by our translators sleight (of men,) which, as Calvin himself remarks when commenting upon the passage, is “translatum ab aleatoribus, quod inter eos multae sint fallendi artes:” borrowed from players at dice, there being many arts of deception practiced among them. — Ed of human fallacies, but may day by day grow up, etc

2. I have fed you with milk Here it is asked, whether Paul transformed Christ to suit the diversity of his hearers. I answer, that this refers to the manner and form of his instructions, rather than to the substance of the doctrine. For Christ is at once milk to babes, and strong meat to those that are of full age, (Hebrews 5:13, 14,) the same truth of the gospel is administered to both, but so as to suit their capacity. Hence it is the part of a wise teacher to accommodate himself to the capacity of those whom he has undertaken to instruct, so that in dealing with the weak and ignorant, he begins with first principles, and does not go higher than they are able to follow, (Mark 4:33,) and so that, in short, he drops in his instructions by little and little, 147147     “Il leur propose la doctrine petit a petit, et par maniere de dire, la face distiller en eux;” — “He presents instruction to them by little and little, and, so to speak, makes it drop upon them.” lest it should run over, if poured in more abundantly. At the same time, those first principles will contain everything necessary to be known, no less than the farther advanced lessons that are communicated to those that are stronger. On this point read Augustine’s 98th homily on John. This tends to refute the specious pretext of some, who, while they do but mutter out, from fear of danger, something of the gospel in an indistinct manner, 148148     “Ne parlans de l’Euangile que quelques mots bleu obscurement, et comme entre les deurs, pour la crainte qu’ils ont de tomber en quelque danger de leurs ersonnes;” — “Speaking merely some words of the gospel very indistinctly, and, as it were, through their teeth, from the fear that they have of incurring some personal danger.” pretend to have Paul’s example here. Meanwhile, they present Christ at such a distance, and covered over, besides, with so many disguises, that they constantly keep their followers in destructive ignorance. I shall say nothing of their mixing up many corruptions, their presenting Christ not simply in half, but torn to fragments, 149149     “Par pieces et morceaux;” — “Into pieces and morsels.” their not merely concealing such gross idolatry, but confirming it also by their own example, and, if they have said anything that is good, straightway polluting it with numerous falsehoods. How unlike they are to Paul is sufficiently manifest; for milk is nourishment and not poison, and nourishment that is suitable and useful for bringing up children until they are farther advanced.

For ye were not yet able to bear it That they may not flatter themselves too much on their own discernment, he first of all tells them what he had found among them at the beginning, and then adds, what is still more severe, that the same faults remain among them to this day. For they ought at least, in putting on Christ, to have put off the flesh; and thus we see that Paul complains that the success which his doctrine ought to have had was impeded. For if the hearer does not occasion delay by his slowness, it is the part of a good teacher to be always going up higher, 150150     “D’avaneer tousiours ses escholiers, et monter plus haut;” — “To be always carrying forward his pupils, and going up higher.” till perfection has been attained.

3. For ye are as yet carnal So long as the flesh, that is to say, natural corruption, prevails in a man, it has so completely possession of the man’s mind, that the wisdom of God finds no admittance. Hence, if we would make proficiency in the Lord’s school, we must first of all renounce our own judgment and our own will. Now, although among the Corinthians some sparks of piety were emitted, they were kept under by being choked. 151151     “L’estouffement touteffois venant de leurs affections perverses, surmontoit;” — “The suffocation, nevertheless, proceeding from their perverse affections, prevailed.”

For since there are among you. The proof is derived from the effects; for as envying, and strifes, and divisions, are the fruits of the flesh, wherever they are seen, it is certain that the root is there in its rigor. Those evils prevailed among the Corinthians; and accordingly he proves from this that they are carnal He makes use of the same argument, too, in Galatians 5:25 If ye live in the Spirit, walk also in the Spirit For while they were desirous to be regarded as spiritual, he calls them to look at their works, by which they denied what with their mouth they professed (Titus 1:16.) Observe, however, the elegant arrangement that Paul here pursues: for from envying spring up contentions, and these, when they have once been enkindled, break out into deadly sects: but the mother of all these evils is ambition.

Walk as men From this it is manifest that the term flesh is not restricted to the lower appetites merely, as the Sophists pretend, the seat of which they call sensuality, but is employed to describe man’s whole nature. For those that follow the guidance of nature, are not governed by the Spirit of God. These, according to the Apostle’s definition, are carnal, so that the flesh and man’s natural disposition are quite synonymous, and hence it is not without good reason that he elsewhere requires that we be new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17.)

4. For while one saith He now specifies the particular kind of contentions, 152152     “Qui estoyent entr’eux;” — “Which were among them.” and he does this by personating the Corinthians, that his description may have more force — that each one gloried in his particular master, as though Christ were not the one Master of all (Matthew 23:8.) Now, where such ambition still prevails, the gospel has little or no success. You are not, however, to understand that they declared this openly in express words, but the Apostle reproves those depraved dispositions to which they were given up. At the same time it is likely, that, as a predilection arising from ambition is usually accompanied with an empty talkativeness, 153153     “Cette ration de jetter son coeur sur un homme par ambition, est accompagnee d’un sot babil;” — “This way of setting one’s heart upon an individual through ambition, is accompanied with a foolish talkativeness.” they openly discovered by their words the absurd bias of their mind, by extolling their teachers to the skies in magnificent terms, accompanying this at the same time with contempt of Paul and those like him.

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