Commentary on Corinthians - Volume 1
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1 Corinthians 9:13-22

13. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple; and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?

13. Nescitis, quod qui sacris operantur, ex sacrario 487487     “Des choses qui sont sacrifiees;” — “Of the things that are sacrificed.” edunt? et qui altari ministrant (ad verbum: adstant) altaris sunt participes?

14. Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.

14. Sic et Dominns ordinavit, ut qui Evangelium annuntiant, vivant ex Evangelio.

15. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.

15. Ego autem nullo horum usus sum: neque vero haec scripsi, ut ita mihi fiat: mihi enim satius est mori, quam ut gloriam meam quis exinaniat.

16. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, iflpreach not the gospel!

16. Nam si evangelizavero, non est quod glorier: quandoquidem necessitas mihi incumbit, ut vae sit mihi, si non evangelizem.

17. For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.

17. Si enim volens hoc facio, mercedem habeo: si autem invitus, dispensatio mihi eat credita.

18. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.

18. Quae igitur mihi merces? ut quum evangelizo, gratuitum impendam Evangelium Christi, ut non abutar potestate mea in Evangelio.

19. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.

19. Liber enim quum essem ab omnibus, servum me omnibus feci, ut plures lucrifaciam.

20. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

20. Itaque factus sum Iudaeis tanquam Iudaeus, ut Iudaeos lucrifaciam: iis qui sub Lege erant, tanquam Legi subiectus, ut eos qui erant sub Lege lucrifaciam;

21. To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.

21. his qui sine Lege erant, tanquam exlex, (tametsi non absque Lege, Deo, sed subiectus Legi Christi,) ut eos qui sine Lege erant lucrifaciam.

22. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

22. Factus sum infirmis tanquam infirmus, ut infirmos lucrifaciam: omnibus omnis factus sum, ut omnino aliquos servem.


13. Know ye not, Apart from the question that he discusses, he appears to have dwelt the longer in taking notice of this point, with the view of reproaching the Corinthians indirectly for their malignity in allowing the ministers of Christ to be reviled in a matter that was so justifiable. For if Paul had not of his own accord refrained from using his liberty, there was a risk of the progress of the gospel being obstructed. Never would the false Apostles have gained that point, had not ingratitude, to which the Corinthians were already prone, opened up the way for their calumnies. For they ought to have repelled them sharply; but instead of this they showed themselves excessively credulous, so that they would have been prepared to reject the gospel, if Paul had used his right. Such contempt of the gospel, and such cruelty towards their Apostle, deserved to be more severely reproved; but Paul, having found another occasion, touches upon it indirectly and mildly, with his usual modesty, that he may admonish them without affronting them.

Again he makes use of a new comparison, to prove that he had not used the power that he had from the Lord. Nor does he any longer borrow examples from any other source, but shows that this has been appointed by the Lord — that the Churches should provide for the support of their ministers. There are some that think that there are two comparisons in this passage, and they refer the former to the Lord’s priests, and the latter to those that acted as priests to the heathen gods. I am, however, rather of opinion that Paul expresses, as he is accustomed, the same thing by different terms. And, truly, it would have been a weak argument that was derived from the practice of the heathens, among whom the revenues of the priesthood were not devoted to food and clothing, but to magnificent dresses, royal splendor, and profuse luxury. These would, therefore, have been things too remote. I do not call it in question, however, that he has pointed out different kinds of ministerial offices; for there were priests of a higher order, and there were afterwards Levites, who were inferior to them, as is well known; but that is not much to the point.

The sum is this — “The Levitical priests were ministers of the Israelitish Church; the Lord appointed them sustenance from their ministry; hence in ministers of the Christian Church the same equity must be observed at the present day. Now the ministers of the Christian Church are those that preach the gospel.” This passage is quoted by Canonists, when they wish to prove that idle bellies must be fattened up, in order that they may perform their masses; 488488     “Et autres brimborioas;” — “And other baubles.” but how absurdly, I leave it to children themselves to judge. Whatever is stated in the Scriptures as to the support to be given to ministers, or the honor that is to be put upon them, they immediately seize hold of it, and twist it to their own advantage. For my part, however, I simply admonish my readers to consider attentively Paul’s words. He argues that pastors, who labor in the preaching of the gospel, ought to be supported, because the Lord in ancient times appointed sustenance for the priests, on the ground of their serving the Church. Hence a distinction must be made between the ancient priesthood and that of the present day. Priests under the law were set apart to preside over the sacrifices, to serve the altar, and to take care of the tabernacle and temple. Those at the present day are set apart to preach the word and to dispense the sacraments. The Lord has appointed no sacrifices for his sacred ministers to be engaged in; 489489     “Auiourd’huy;” — “At the present day.” there are no altars for them to stand at to offer sacrifices.

Hence appears the absurdity of those who apply this comparison, taken from sacrifices, to anything else than to the preaching of the gospel. Nay farther, it may be readily inferred from this passage, that all Popish priests, from the head himself to the lowest member, are guilty of sacrilege, who devour the revenues appointed for true ministers, while they do not in any way discharge their duty. For what ministers does the Apostle order to be maintained? Those that apply themselves to the preaching of the gospel. What right then have they to claim for themselves the revenues of the priesthood? 490490     “De quel droict s’usurpent ces ventres paresseux le reuenu des benefices, qu’ils appelent?” — “By what right do these lazy bellies claim to themselves the revenue of the benefices, as they call it?” “Because they hum a tune and perform mass.” 491491     “Pource qu’ils gringotent des messes et anniuersaires;” — “Because they hum a tune at masses and anniversaries.” But God has enjoined upon them nothing of that sort. Hence it is evident that they seize upon the reward due to others. When, however, he says that the Levitical priests were partakers with the altar, and that they ate of the things of the Temple, he marks out (μετωνυμικῶς) by metonymy, the offerings that were presented to God. For they claimed to themselves the sacred victims entire, and of smaller animals they took the right shoulder, and kidneys and tail, and, besides this, tithes, oblations, and first-fruits. The word ἱερόν, therefore, in the second instance, 492492     In the original, the words τα ἱερὰ and τοῦ ἱεροῦ, occur in the same clause, and our Author’s meaning is, that in the second instance the noun ἱερον, denotes the temple. — Ed is taken to mean the Temple.

15. Nor have I written these things As he might seem to be making it his aim, that in future a remuneration should be given him by the Corinthians, he removes that suspicion, and declares that, so far from this being his desire, he would rather die than give occasion for his being deprived of this ground of glorying — that he bestowed labor upon the Corinthians without any reward. Nor is it to be wondered that he set so high a value upon this glorying, inasmuch as he saw that the authority of the gospel in some degree depended upon it. For he would in this way have given a handle to the false apostles to triumph over him. Hence there was a danger, lest the Corinthians, despising him, should receive them with great applause. So much did he prefer, even before his own life, the power of advancing the gospel.

16. For if I preach the gospel. To show how very important it was not to deprive himself of that ground of glorying, he intimates what would have happened, if he had simply discharged his ministry — that he would in this way have done nothing else than what the Lord had enjoined upon him by a strict necessity By doing that, he says, he would have had no occasion for glorying, as it was not in his power to avoid doing it. 493493     “Veu qu’il y estoit contraint, et ne pouuoit euiter telle necessite;” — “Inasmuch as he was constrained to it, and could not avoid such a necessity.” It is asked, however, what glorying he here refers to, for he glories elsewhere in his exercising himself in the office of teaching with a pure conscience (2 Timothy 1:3.) I answer, that he speaks of a glorying that he could bring forward in opposition to the false apostles, when they endeavored to find a pretext for reviling, as will appear more fully from what follows.

This is a remarkable statement, from which we learn, in the first place, what, as to ministers, is the nature, and what the closeness of the tie that is involved in their calling, and farther, what the pastoral office imports and includes. Let not the man, then, who has been once called to it, imagine that he is any longer at liberty to withdraw when he chooses, if, perhaps, he is harassed with vexatious occurrences, or weighed down with misfortunes, for he is devoted to the Lord and to the Church, and bound by a sacred tie, which it were criminal to break asunder. As to the second point, 494494     That is, the duty which the pastoral office involves. — Ed. he says that a curse was ready to fall upon him, if he did not preach the gospel Why? Because he has been called to it, and therefore is constrained by necessity How, therefore, will any one who succeeds to his office avoid this necessity? What sort of successors, then, have the Apostles in the Pope and the other mitred bishops, who think that there is nothing that is more unbecoming their station, than the duty of teaching!

17. For if I do this thing willingly By reward here is meant what the Latins term operae pretium, recompense for labor, 495495     “Ce que nous appelons chef-d’oeuvre;” — “What we call a masterpiece.” The idiomatic phrase, operae pretium, is ordinarily employed by the classical writers to mean — something of importance, or worthwhile. Thus Livy, in his Preface, says: “facturusne operae pretium sim;” — “whether I am about to do a work of importance,” and Cicero (Cat. 4. 8) says: “Operae pretium est;” — “It is worth while.” Calvin, however, seems to make use of the phrase here in a sense more nearly akin to its original and literal signification — recompense for laborwhat amply rewarded the self-denial that he had exercised — consisting in the peculiar satisfaction afforded to his mind in reflecting on the part that he had acted. The term made use of by him in his French Translation — chef-doeuure (masterpiece) corresponds with the Latin phrase operae pretium in this respect, that a masterpiece is a work, which the successful artist, or workman, sets a value upon, and in which he feels satisfaction, as amply recompensing the pains bestowed. — Ed. and what he had previously termed glorying Others, however, interpret it otherwise — as meaning that a reward is set before all who discharge their duty faithfully and heartily. But, for my part, I understand the man who does this thing willingly, to be the man who acts with such cheerfulness, that, being intent upon edifying, as his one object of desire, he declines nothing that he knows will be profitable to the Church; as, on the other hand, he terms those unwilling, who in their actings submit, indeed, to necessity, but act grudgingly, because it is not from inclination. For it always happens that the man who undertakes any business with zeal, is also prepared of his own accord to submit to everything, which, if left undone, would hinder the accomplishment of the work. Thus Paul, being one that acted willingly, did not teach in a mere perfunctory manner, but left nothing undone that he knew to be fitted to promote and further his doctrine. This then was his recompense for labor, 496496     “Son chef-d’oeuure;” — “His masterpiece.” and this his ground of glorying — that he did with readiness of mind forego his right in respect of his applying himself to the discharge of his office willingly and with fervent zeal.

But if unwillingly, a dispensation is committed to me. In whatever way others explain these words, the natural meaning, in my opinion, is this — that God does not by any means approve of the service done by the man who performs it grudgingly, and, as it were, with a reluctant mind. Whenever, therefore, God has enjoined anything upon us, we are mistaken, if we think that we have discharged it aright, when we perform it grudgingly; for the Lord requires that his servants be cheerful, (2 Corinthians 9:7,) so as to delight in obeying him, and manifest their cheerfulness by the promptitude with which they act. In short, Paul means, that he would act in accordance with his calling, only in the event of his performing his duty willingly and cheerfully.

18. What then is my reward? He infers from what goes before, that he has a ground of glorying; in this, that he labored gratuitously in behalf of the Corinthians, because it appears from this, that he applied himself willingly to the office of teaching, inasmuch as he vigorously set himself to obviate all the hindrances in the way of the gospel; and not satisfied with merely teaching, endeavored to further the doctrine of it by every method. This then is the sum. “I am under the necessity of preaching the gospel: if I do it not, wo is unto me, for I resist God’s calling. But it is not enough to preach, unless I do it willingly; for he who fulfils the commandment of God unwillingly, does not act, as becomes him, suitably to his office. But if I obey God willingly, it will in that case be allowable for me to glory. Hence it was necessary for me to make the gospel without charge, that I might glory on good ground.”

Papists endeavor from this passage to establish their contrivance as to works of supererogation. 497497     “C’est a dire, d’abondant;” — “That is to say, over and above.” “Paul,” they say, “would have fulfilled the duties of his office by preaching the gospel, but he adds something farther over and above. Hence he does something beyond what he is bound to do, for he distinguishes between what is done willingly and what is done from necessity.” I answer, that Paul, it is true, went a greater length than the ordinary calling of pastors required, because he refrained from taking pay, which the Lord allows pastors to take. But as it was a part of his duty to provide against every occasion of offense that he foresaw, and as he saw, that the course of the gospel would be impeded, if he made use of his liberty, though that was out of the ordinary course, yet I maintain that even in that case he rendered to God nothing more than was due. For I ask: “Is it not the part of a good pastor to remove occasions of offense, so far as it is in his power to do so?” I ask again, “Did Paul do anything else than this?” There is no ground, therefore, for imagining that he rendered to God anything that he did not owe to him, inasmuch as he did nothing but what the necessity of his office (though it was an extraordinary necessity) demanded. Away, then, with that wicked imagination, 498498     “Ceste perverse et mal-heureuse imagination;” — “That perverse and miserable fancy.” that we compensate for our faults in the sight of God by works of supererogation. 499499     “C’est a dire, lesquelles nous faisons de superabondant;” — “That is to say, what we do over and above.” Nay more, away with the very term, which is replete with diabolical pride. 500500     Our Author expresses himself in similar terms elsewhere as to the word merit. See Harmony, vol. 2, p. 197. — Ed. This passage, assuredly, is mistakenly perverted to bear that meaning.

The error of Papists is refuted in a general way in this manner: Whatever works are comprehended under the law, are falsely termed works of supererogation, as is manifest from the words of Christ. (Luke 17:10.)

When ye have done all things that are commanded you, say,
We are unprofitable servants: we have done what we were bound to do.

Now we acknowledge that no work is good and acceptable to God, that is not included in God’s law. This second statement I prove in this way: There are two classes of good works; for they are all reducible either to the service of God or to love. Now nothing belongs to the service of God that is not included in this summary: Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength There is also no duty of love that is not required in that precept — Love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:30, 31.) But as to the objection that is brought forward by Papists, that it is possible for one to be acceptable, if he devotes the tenth part of his income, and infer from this, that if he goes so far as to devote the fifth part, he does a work of supererogation, it is easy to remove away this subtilty. For that the deeds of the pious are approved, is not by any means owing to their perfection, but it is because the imperfection and deficiency are not reckoned to their account. Hence even if they were doing an hundred-fold more than they do, they would not, even in that case, exceed the limits of the duty that they owe.

That I may not abuse my power. From this it appears, that such a use of our liberty as gives occasion of offense, is an uncontrolled liberty and abuse. We must keep, therefore, within bounds, that we may not give occasion of offense. This passage also confirms more fully what I just now touched upon, that Paul did nothing beyond what the duty of his office required, because it was not proper that the liberty, that was allowed him by God, should be in any way abused.

19. Though I was free from all. Εκ πάντων, that is, from all, may be taken either in the neuter gender or in the masculine. If in the neuter, it will refer to things; if in the masculine, to persons I prefer the second He has as yet shown only by one particular instance how carefully he had accommodated himself to the weak. Now he subjoins a general statement, and afterwards enumerates several instances. The general observation is this — that while he was not under the power of any one, he lived as if he had been subject to the inclination of all, and of his own accord subjected himself to the weak, to whom he was under no subjection. The particular instances are these — that among the Gentiles he lived as if he were a Gentile, and among the Jews he acted as a Jew: that is, while among Jews he carefully observed the ceremonies of the law, he was no less careful not to give occasion of offense to the Gentiles by the observance of them.

He adds the particle as, to intimate that his liberty was not at all impaired on that account, for, however he might accommodate himself to men, he nevertheless remained always like himself inwardly in the sight of God. To become all things is to assume all appearances, as the case may require, or to put on different characters, according to the diversity among individuals. As to what he says respecting his being without law and under the law, you must understand it simply in reference to the ceremonial department; for the department connected with morals was common to Jews and Gentiles alike, and it would not have been allowable for Paul to gratify men to that extent. For this doctrine holds good only as to things indifferent, as has been previously remarked.

21. Though not without law to God. He wished by this parenthesis to soften the harshness of the expression, for it might. have seemed harsh at first view to have it said, that he had come to be without law. Hence in order that this might not be taken in a wrong sense, he had added, by way of correction, that he had always kept in view one law — that of subjection to Christ. By this too he hints that odium was excited against him groundlessly and unreasonably, as if he called men to an unbridled licentiousness, while he taught exemption from the bondage of the Mosaic law. Now he calls it expressly the law of Christ, in order to wipe away the groundless reproach, with which the false apostles branded the gospel, for he means, that in the doctrine of Christ nothing is omitted, that might serve to give us a perfect rule of upright. living.

22. To the weak I became as weak Now again he employs a general statement, in which he shows to what sort of persons he accomodated himself, and with what design. He judaized in the presence of the Jews, but not before them all, for there were many headstrong persons, who, under the influence of Pharisaical pride or malice, would have wished that Christian liberty were altogether taken away. To those persons he would never have been so accommodating, for Christ would not have us care for persons of that sort.

Let them alone, (says he,) they are blind, and leaders of the blind. (Matthew 15:14.)

Hence we must accommodate ourselves to the weak, not to the obstinate. 501501     The reader will find this sentiment more fully brought out in the Harmony, volume 2, p. 258. — Ed.

Now his design was, that he might bring them to Christ — not that he might promote his own advantage, or retain their good will. To these things a third must be added — that it was only in things indifferent, that are otherwise in our choice, that he accommodated himself to the weak. Now, if we consider how great a man Paul was, who stooped thus far, ought we not to feel ashamed — we who are next to nothing in comparison with him — if, bound up in self, we look with disdain upon the weak, and do not deign to yield up a single point to them? But while it is proper that we should accommodate ourselves to the weak, according to the Apostle’s injunction, and that, in things indifferent, and with a view to their edification, those act an improper part, who, with the view of consulting their own ease, avoid those things that would offend men, and the wicked, too, rather than the weak. Those, however, commit a two-fold error, who do not distinguish between things indifferent and things unlawful, and accordingly do not hesitate, for the sake of pleasing men, to engage in things that the Lord has prohibited. The crowning point, however, of the evil is this — that they abuse this statement of Paul to excuse their wicked dissimulation. But if any one will keep in view these three things that I have briefly pointed out, he will have it easily in his power to refute those persons.

We must observe, also, the word that he makes use of in the concluding clause; 502502     “Afin que totalement ien sauue quelques uns;” — “That I may by all means save some.” for he shows for what purpose he endeavors to gain all — with a view to their salvation. At the same time, he here at length modifies the general statement, unless perhaps you prefer the rendering of the old translation, which is found even at this day in some Greek manuscripts. 503503     The rendering of the Vulgate, referred to by Calvin, isUt omnes servarem, (That I might save all.) Four ancient Greek MSS. have παντας σώσω, that I might save all The same rendering is given in the Syriac version, and is embraced by Mill, Benzelius, and Bp. Pearce. In Wiclif’s version, (1380,) the rendering is — “To alle men I am made alle things to make alle saaf.” In the Rheims version, (1582,) it is rendered — “That I might saue al.” — Ed For in this place, too, he repeats it — that I may by all means save some 504504     “Afin queie sauue tous;” — “That I may save all.” But as the indulgent temper, that Paul speaks of, has sometimes no good effect, this limitation is very suitable — that, although he might not do good to all, he, nevertheless, had never left off consulting the advantage of at least a few. 505505     “Le profit et salut pour le moths de quelques uns;” — “The profit and welfare of at least some individuals.”

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