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Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
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CHAPTER 3

1Co 3:1-23. 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 flesh" (Ga 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 (compare Mt 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 Spirit.

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 style (1Pe 4:11).

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 truth.

11. (Isa 28:16; Ac 4:12; Eph 2:20).

For—my warning ("take heed," &c. 1Co 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 itold 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 (2Th 1:7, 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, 12).

which he hath built thereupon—which he built on the foundation.

rewardwages, 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 destroy [Alford].

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" (Ro 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) [Vitringa].

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" (1Co 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; 10:26, 31).

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 Version.

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 [Estius].

19. with Godin the judgment of God.

it is written—in Job 5:13. The formula of quoting Scripture used here, establishes the canonicity of Job.

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 purpose.

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 them.

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 present" [Alford].

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).

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