Paul Could Not Speak to Them of Deep Spiritual
Truths, as They Were Carnal, Contending
for Their Several Teachers; These Are
Nothing but Workers for God, to Whom They Must Give Account in the Day
of Fiery Judgment. The Hearers Are God's
Temple, Which They Must Not Defile by
Contentions for Teachers, Who, as Well
as All Things, Are Theirs, Being Christ's.
1. And I—that is, as the natural
(animal) man cannot receive, so I also could not speak unto you
the deep things of God, as I would to the spiritual; but
I was compelled to speak to you as I would to MEN OF FLESH. The oldest manuscripts read this
for "carnal." The former (literally, "fleshy") implies men wholly of
flesh, or natural. Carnal, or fleshly, implies not
they were wholly natural or unregenerate (1Co 2:14), but that they had much of a carnal
tendency; for example their divisions. Paul had to speak to them as
he would to men wholly natural, inasmuch as they are still
carnal (1Co 3:3) in
many respects, notwithstanding their conversion (1Co 1:4-9).
babes—contrasted with the
perfect (fully matured) in Christ (Col 1:28; compare Heb 5:13, 14). This implies they were not men wholly
of flesh, though carnal in tendencies. They had life in Christ,
but it was weak. He blames them for being still in a degree (not
altogether, compare 1Co 1:5, 7;
therefore he says as) babes in Christ, when by this time
they ought to have "come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the
stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph 4:13). In Ro 7:14, also the oldest manuscripts read, "I am
a man of flesh."
2. (Heb 5:12).
milk—the elementary "principles of the
doctrine of Christ."
3. envying—jealousy, rivalry. As
this refers to their feelings, "strife" refers to their
words, and "divisions" to their actions [Bengel]. There is a gradation, or ascending climax:
envying had produced strife, and strife divisions
(factious parties) [Grotius]. His
language becomes severer now as He proceeds; in 1Co 1:11 he had only said "contentions," he now
multiplies the words (compare the stronger term, 1Co 4:6, than in 1Co 3:21).
carnal—For "strife" is a "work of the
5:20). The "flesh" includes
all feelings that aim not at the glory of God, and the good of our
neighbor, but at gratifying self.
walk as men—as unregenerate men
16:23). "After the flesh, not
after the Spirit" of God, as becomes you as regenerate by the Spirit
(Ro 8:4; Ga 5:25, 26).
4. (1Co 1:12).
are ye not carnal—The oldest
manuscripts read, "Are ye not men?" that is, "walking as men"
unregenerate (1Co 3:3).
5. Who then—Seeing then that ye
severally strive so for your favorite teachers, "Who is (of what
intrinsic power and dignity) Paul?" If so great an apostle reasons so
of himself, how much more does humility, rather than self-seeking,
become ordinary ministers!
Paul … Apollos—The oldest
manuscripts read in the reverse order, "Apollos," &c. Paul." He
puts Apollos before himself in humility.
but ministers, &c.—The oldest
manuscripts have no "but." "Who is Apollos … Paul? (mere)
ministers (a lowly word appropriate here, servants), by whom
(not "in whom"; by whose ministrations) ye believed."
as … Lord gave to every man—that
is, to the several hearers, for it was God that "gave the increase" (1Co 3:6).
6. I … planted, Apollos
watered—(Ac 18:1; 19:1). Apollos at his own desire (Ac 18:27) was sent by the brethren to
Corinth, and there followed up the work which Paul had begun.
God gave the increase—that is, the
growth (1Co 3:10; Ac 18:27). "Believed through grace."
Though ministers are nothing, and God all in all, yet God works by
instruments, and promises the Holy Spirit in the faithful use of means.
This is the dispensation of the Spirit, and ours is the ministry of the
7. neither is he that … anything … but
God—namely, is all in all. "God" is emphatically last in the
Greek, "He that giveth the increase (namely), God." Here follows a parenthesis, 1Co 3:8-21, where "Let no man glory in men"
stands in antithetic contrast to "God" here.
8. one—essentially in their aim they are
one, engaged in one and the same ministry; therefore they ought
not to be made by you the occasion of forming separate parties.
and every man—rather "but every
man." Though in their service or ministry, they are essentially "one,"
yet every minister is separately responsible in "his own" work,
and "shall receive his own (emphatically repeated) reward,
according to his own labor." The reward is something over
and above personal salvation (1Co 3:14, 15; 2Jo 8). He shall be rewarded according to, not
his success or the amount of work done, but "according to his own
labor." It shall be said to him, "Well done, thou good and (not
successful, but) faithful servant, enter thou into the
joy of thy Lord" (Mt 25:23).
9. Translate, as the Greek collocation
of words, and the emphasis on "God" thrice repeated, requires, "For (in
proof that "each shall receive reward according to his own labor,"
namely, from God) it is of God that we are the fellow workers (laboring
with, but under, and belonging to Him as His
servants, 2Co 5:20; 6:1; compare Ac 15:4; see on 1Th 3:2)
of God that ye are the field (or tillage), of God that ye are the
building" [Alford]. "Building" is a new
image introduced here, as suited better than that of husbandry, to set
forth the different kinds of teaching and their results, which he is
now about to discuss. "To edify" or "build up" the Church of Christ is
similarly used (Eph 2:21, 22; 4:29).
10. grace … given unto me—Paul
puts this first, to guard against seeming to want humility, in
pronouncing himself "a WISE master
builder," in the clause following [Chrysostom]. The "grace" is that "given" to him in
common with all Christians (1Co 3:5), only
proportioned to the work which God had for him to do [Alford].
wise—that is, skilful. His
skill is shown in his laying a foundation. The unskilful
builder lays none (Lu 6:49).
Christ is the foundation (1Co 3:11).
another—who ever comes after me. He
does not name Apollos; for he speaks generally of all
successors, whoever they be. His warning, "Let every man (every
teacher) take heed how," &c., refers to other successors
rather than Apollos, who doubtless did not, as they, build wood, hay,
&c., on the foundation (compare 1Co 4:15). "I have done my part, let them who
follow me see (so the Greek for 'take heed') to theirs" [Bengel].
how—with what material [Alford]. How far wisely, and in builder-like
buildeth thereupon—Here the
building or superstructure raised on Christ the
"foundation," laid by Paul (1Co 2:2) is
not, as in Eph 2:20, 21, the Christian Church made up of
believers, the "lively stones" (1Pe 2:5), but the doctrinal and practical
teaching which the teachers who succeeded Paul, superadded to his
first teaching; not that they taught what was false, but their teaching
was subtle and speculative reasoning, rather than solid and simple
11. (Isa 28:16; Ac 4:12; Eph
For—my warning ("take heed," &c.
3:10) is as to the
superstructure ("buildeth thereupon"), not as to the
foundation: "For other foundation can no man lay, than that
which has (already) been laid (by God) Jesus Christ," the person, not
the mere abstract doctrine about Him, though the latter also is
included; Jesus, God-Saviour; Christ, Messiah or Anointed.
can—A man can not lay any
other, since the only one recognized by God has been already laid.
12. Now—rather, "But." The image is that
of a building on a solid foundation, and partly composed of durable and
precious, partly of perishable, materials. The "gold, silver, precious
stones," which all can withstand fire (Re 21:18, 19), are teachings that will stand
the fiery test of judgment; "wood, hay, stubble," are those which
cannot stand it; not positive heresy, for that would destroy the
foundation, but teaching mixed up with human philosophy and Judaism,
curious rather than useful. Besides the teachings, the
superstructure represents also the persons cemented to the
Church by them, the reality of whose conversion, through the teachers'
instrumentality, will be tested at the last day. Where there is the
least grain of real gold of faith, it shall never be lost (1Pe 1:7; compare 1Co 4:12). On the other hand, the lightest straw
feeds the fire [Bengel] (Mt 5:19).
13. Every man's work—each teacher's
superstructure on the foundation.
the day—of the Lord (1Co
1:8; Heb 10:25; 1Th 5:4). The
article is emphatic, "The day," that is, the great day of days,
the long expected day.
declare it—old English for
"make it clear" (1Co 4:4).
it shall be revealed by fire—it, that
is, "every man's work." Rather, "He," the Lord, whose day it is
8). Translate literally,
"is being revealed (the present in the Greek implies the
certainty and nearness of the event, Re 22:10, 20) in fire" (Mal 3:3; 4:1). The fire (probably
figurative here, as the gold, hay, &c.) is not
purgatory (as Rome teaches, that is, purificatory and
punitive), but probatory, not restricted to those dying
in "venial sin"; the supposed intermediate class between those
entering heaven at once, and those dying in mortal sin who go to hell,
but universal, testing the godly and ungodly alike (2Co 5:10; compare Mr 9:49). This fire is not till the last
day, the supposed fire of purgatory begins at death. The fire of
Paul is to try the works, the fire of purgatory the
persons, of men. Paul's fire causes "loss" to the sufferers;
Rome's purgatory, great gain, namely, heaven at last to those purged by
it, if only it were true. Thus this passage, quoted by Rome for, is
altogether against, purgatory. "It was not this doctrine that gave rise
to prayers for the dead; but the practice of praying for the dead
[which crept in from the affectionate but mistaken solicitude of
survivors] gave rise to the doctrine" [Whately].
14. abide—abide the testing fire (Mt 3:11,
which he hath built thereupon—which he
built on the foundation.
reward—wages, as a builder,
that is, teacher. His converts built on Christ the foundation, through
his faithful teaching, shall be his "crown of rejoicing" (2Co
1:14; Php 2:16; 1Th 2:19).
15. If … be burnt—if any
teacher's work consist of such materials as the fire will
suffer loss—that is, forfeit the
special "reward"; not that he shall lose salvation (which is altogether
a free gift, not a "reward" or wages), for he remains still on
the foundation (1Co 3:12; 2Jo 6).
saved; yet so as by fire—rather, "so
as through fire" (Zec 3:2; Am 4:11; Jude 23). "Saved, yet not without fire"
2:27) [Bengel]. As a builder whose building, not the
foundation, is consumed by fire, escapes, but with the loss of his work
[Alford]; as the shipwrecked merchant,
though he has lost his merchandise, is saved, though having to pass
through the waves [Bengel]; Mal 3:1, 2;
4:1, give the key to explain
the imagery. The "Lord suddenly coming to His temple" in flaming
"fire," all the parts of the building which will not stand that fire
will be consumed; the builders will escape with personal salvation, but
with the loss of their work, through the midst of the conflagration
[Alford]. Again, a distinction is
recognized between minor and fundamental doctrines (if we regard the
superstructure as representing the doctrines superadded to the
elementary essentials); a man may err as to the former, and yet be
saved, but not so as to the latter (compare Php 3:15).
16. Know ye not—It is no new thing I
tell you, in calling you "God's building"; ye know and ought to
remember, ye are the noblest kind of building, "the temple of God."
ye—all Christians form together one
vast temple. The expression is not, "ye are temples," but "ye
are the temple" collectively, and "lively stones" (1Pe 2:5) individually.
God … Spirit—God's indwelling,
and that of the Holy Spirit, are one; therefore the Holy Spirit is God.
No literal "temple" is recognized by the New Testament in the Christian
Church. The only one is the spiritual temple, the whole body of
believing worshippers in which the Holy Spirit dwells (1Co 6:19;
Joh 4:23, 24). The
synagogue, not the temple, was the model of the Christian house
of worship. The temple was the house of sacrifice, rather than
of prayer. Prayers in the temple were silent and individual (Lu 1:10;
18:10-13), not joint and
public, nor with reading of Scripture, as in the synagogue. The temple,
as the name means (from a Greek root "to dwell"), was the
earthly dwelling-place of God, where alone He put His name. The
synagogue (as the name means an assembly) was the place for
assembling men. God now too has His earthly temple, not one of wood and
stone, but the congregation of believers, the "living stones" on the
"spiritual house." Believers are all spiritual priests in it. Jesus
Christ, our High Priest, has the only literal priesthood (Mal
1:11; Mt 18:20; 1Pe 2:5)
17. If any … defile …
destroy—rather as the Greek verb is the same in both
cases, "destroy … destroy." God repays in kind by a
righteous retaliation. The destroyer shall himself be destroyed. As
temporal death was the penalty of marring the material temple (Le
16:2; Da 5:2, 3, 30), so
eternal death is the penalty of marring the spiritual temple—the
Church. The destroyers here (1Co 3:16, 17), are distinct from the unwise or
unskilful builders (1Co 3:12, 15); the latter held fast the "foundation"
3:11), and, therefore, though
they lose their work of superstructure and the special reward, yet they
are themselves saved; the destroyers, on the contrary, assailed with
false teaching the foundation, and so subvert the temple itself, and
shall therefore be destroyed. (See on 1Co 3:10),
[Estius and Neander]. I think Paul passes here from the teachers
to all the members of the Church, who, by profession, are "priests unto
God" (Ex 19:6; 1Pe 2:9; Re 1:6). As the Aaronic priests were doomed to
die if they violated the old temple (Ex 28:43), so any Christian who violates the
sanctity of the spiritual temple, shall perish eternally (Heb 12:14;
holy—inviolable (Hab 2:20).
which temple ye are—rather,
"the which (that is, holy) are ye" [Alford], and, therefore, want of holiness on the
part of any of you (or, as Estius, "to
tamper with the foundation in teaching you") is a
violation of the temple, which cannot be let to pass with impunity.
Grotius supports English
18. seemeth—that is, is, and is
regarded by himself and others.
wise in this world—wise in mere
worldly wisdom (1Co 1:20).
let him become a fool—by receiving the
Gospel in its unworldly simplicity, and so becoming a fool in the
world's sight [Alford]. Let him
no longer think himself wise, but seek the true wisdom from God,
bringing his understanding into captivity to the obedience of faith
19. with God—in the judgment of
it is written—in Job 5:13. The formula of quoting Scripture used here, establishes the canonicity of
He taketh … wise in … own
craftiness—proving the "foolishness" of the world's wisdom,
since it is made by God the very snare to catch those who think
themselves so wise. Literally, "He who taketh … the whole of the
sentence not being quoted, but only the part which suited Paul's
20. Quotation from Ps 94:11. There it is of men; here it is
"of the wise." Paul by inspiration states the class of men whose
"thoughts" (or rather, "reasonings," as suits the Greek and the
sense of the context) the Spirit designated in the Psalm, "vanity,"
namely, the "proud" (Ps 94:2) and
worldly-wise, whom God in Ps 94:8 calls
"fools," though they "boast themselves" of their wisdom in
pushing their interests (Ps 94:4).
21. let no man glory in men—resuming the
subject from 1Co 3:4;
compare 1Co 1:12, 31, where the true object of glorying is
stated: "He that glorieth, let him glory in THE
Lord." Also 1Co 4:6, "That
no one of you be puffed up for one against another."
For all things—not only all
men. For you to glory thus in men, is lowering yourselves from your
high position as heirs of all things. All men (including your
teachers) belong to Christ, and therefore to you, by your union with
Him; He makes them and all things work together for your good (Ro 8:28). Ye are not for the sake of them,
but they for the sake of you (2Co 4:5, 15). They belong to you, not you to
22. Enumeration of some of the "all things."
The teachers, in whom they gloried, he puts first (1Co 1:12). He omits after "Cephas" or
Christ (to whom exclusively some at Corinth, 1Co 1:12, professed to belong); but, instead,
substitutes "ye are Christ's" (1Co 3:23).
world … life … death … things
present … things to come—Not only shall they not
"separate you from the love of God in Christ" (Ro 8:38, 39), but they "all are yours," that
is, are for you (Ro 8:28), and
belong to you, as they belong to Christ your Head (Heb 1:2).
things present—"things actually
23. ye are Christ's—not Paul's, or
Apollos,' or Cephas' (1Co 11:3; Mt 23:8-10). "Neither be ye called masters; for one
is your Master, even Christ" (Ro 14:8). Not merely a particular section of
you, but ye all are Christ's (1Co 1:12).
Christ is God's—(1Co 11:3). God is the ultimate end of all, even
of Christ, His co-equal Son (1Co 15:28; Php 2:6-11).