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1 Corinthians 3

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Fellow Workmen for God Sectarianism is Carnal Dissension Over Leaders Servants of God The True Wisdom and the False
        (1:17-3:4)
3:1-9 3:1-4 3:1-4 3:1-4 3:1-4
  Watering, Working, and Warning     The Place of the Christian Preacher
  3:5-17 3:5-9 3:5-9a 3:5-9
      3:9b-15  
    Teachers and Church Under God    
3:10-17   3:10-15   3:10-15
    3:16-17 3:16-17 3:16-17
  Avoid Worldly Wisdom     Conclusions (3:18-4:13)
3:18-23 3:18-23 3:18-23 3:18-23 3:18-23

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO I CORINTHIANS 3:1-23

A. In this chapter, Paul continues to develop the characterization of the Corinthian Christians as immature as in chapter 2.

 

B. The personality-focused factions that are mentioned in chapter 1 are mentioned again specifically in chapter 3. This shows that chapters 1-3 are a sustained argument about human wisdom and Christian leadership.

 

C. Note the three groups.

1. natural man, 2:1

2. spiritual man, 3:1

3. babes in Christ, 3:1

 

D. Verses 10-17 have long been viewed as describing individual, carnal Christians. This is possible by comparing the larger context of 1:12 through 3:4-5. Another evidence for this view would be that Paul is addressing the church (plural "you") in vv. 1 and 16. The recurrent use of "each man," "no man," "any man" in vv. 10,11,12,13, 14,15, 17,18 also gives credence to this interpretation.

However, it is also possible to relate this text to church leaders (cf. v. 10). The factious groups do not refer to all Corinthian Christians (i.e., mature of 2:6), just some of them (i.e., "men of flesh," "infants in Christ," 3:1). It is the leaders of these factious groups that Paul is comparing to himself and Apollos in 3:6-9. The immediate context relates vv. 10-15 to leaders, to how they use their spiritual gifts in serving the church. This is the thrust of the warning of v. 17.

It is difficult to decide between the two views: (1) the NT does not discuss the spiritual status and consequences of carnal Christians and (2) the "destruction" of v. 17 is not clarified. Verses 15 and 17 must be held in tension. All the "ifs" in this context are first class conditional sentences, which are assumed true for the purposes of the author. Verse 14 assumes they are true believers, while v. 15 assumes some will suffer the loss of all reward. The term for "test" in v. 13 implies a test resulting in approval. However, the context implies that Paul is accusing them of not understanding the gospel, of being unspiritual, jealous, and factious.

It seems best to me not to relate this text to all Christians, but also, neither to restrict it to leaders. This text specifically relates to those who promote factions and divisions within the church. All believers will give an account to God of their service to or damage to His body, the church (cf. II Cor. 5:10; Gal. 5:10).

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:1-4
  1
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 4For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men?

3:1 "brethren" See fuller note at 2:6.

▣ "could not speak to you" This is an aorist indicative and an aorist infinitive, which refers to Paul's initial preaching at Corinth (cf. Acts 18:1-18).

NASB"as to spiritual men"
NKJV, NRSV"as to spiritual people"
TEV"to people who have the Spirit"
NJB"as spiritual people"

To whom is Paul addressing these verses: (1) all the believers or (2) the spiritually immature (i.e., the factions cf. v. 4)? The answer to this question involves how one interprets 2:6. Were there some Spirit-led, mature believers in the Corinthian church or were all of them immature?

"but" This is the strong adversative alla. There is a contrast between the "mature" of 2:6 (i.e., spiritual men) and the "men of flesh" in 3:1-4. Both groups have the Spirit (i.e., are Christians), but the first is characterized by the Spirit, while the second group is characterized by worldliness.

NASB"men of flesh"
NKJV"as to carnal"
NRSV"as people of the flesh"
TEV"as though you belonged to this world"
NJB"as people still living by your natural inclinations"

This is "sarkinos" in Greek. The inos ending means "made of" or "derived from" (e.g., "hearts of flesh," cf. II Cor. 3:3) so this would mean "made of flesh." Paul uses the word "flesh" in several different ways (see Special Topic at 1:26). This context (i.e., "as to infants in Christ") seems to use it of believers who have the Spirit, but walk after the ways of the world. This is not Paul's flesh vs. Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:1-11), but a category of believers. If this is true this context is one of the few places in the NT that this distinction is made. Here is the tragedy of salvation without sanctification. Claiming Christ as Savior, but not living as if Christ is Lord. If this appalling spiritual condition is characterized by jealousy, strife, and a factious spirit, what of the modern church? Oh, the tragedy of "baby Christians" to the Kingdom of God and the heart of the King!

▣ "as to infants in Christ" Every believer starts as a baby Christian. There is no shame in this. This is the origin of the familial metaphor derived from the concept of being "born again" (cf. John 3:3; II Cor. 5:17; I Pet. 1:3,23), but we must not stay infants!

3:2 "I gave you milk to drink" This is a continuing metaphor of the new Christian as being a brand new creature characterized as a child (cf. Heb. 5:12-14; I Pet. 2:2). Tertullian and Hippolytus tell us that the early church gave a glass of milk to the new converts at their first communion as a symbol of this very truth.

▣ "for you were not yet able to receive it" By the time Paul wrote this letter, many months had passed. Although it is appropriate to be a baby Christian at the beginning of the Christian life, it is a tragedy to still be a baby Christian after many years.

These opening verses of chapter 3 must have hurt the intellectual pride of the leaders of the factions. There is a startling play on the imperfect tense (i.e., "for you were not yet able") and the present tense (i.e., "even now you are not able"). The word "able" is the Greek term dunamai, which means the power to act, to accomplish, to function toward a desired result. Believers are saved to serve; they are called to Christlikeness now, not only to heaven later. These "believers" had no Kingdom power, just flesh power, which is, in reality, powerlessness!

3:3

NASB"you are still fleshly"
NKJV"you are still carnal"
NRSV"you are still of the flesh"
TEV"you still live as people of this world live"
NJB"you are still living by your natural inclinations"

This is sarkikos in Greek. The ending ikos means "characterized by" (cf. 2:14-15). Paul is making a play on the word sarks (flesh) in vv. 1 and 3 to describe many of the Christians at Corinth as being saved, but very immature. They were selfish, not selfless! For "fleshly" see Special Topic at 1:26.

▣ "jealousy and strife" These are two of the works of the flesh listed in Gal. 5:19-21. They were evidence that some Corinthian Christians were still carnal.

In some early Greek manuscripts (i.e., P46, D, and the Syriac translations) there is an additional descriptive term, "divisions," which is also found in Gal. 5:20. It surely does describe the problem at Corinth. However, the term is missing in MSS P11, א, A, B, C, and P and the Vulgate, Coptic, and Armenian translations. It appears to be a scribal addition (i.e., UBS4 rates its omission as B (almost certain).

▣ "are you not walking like mere men" The grammatical form of this question expects a "yes" answer. This is the essence of carnality. Maturity is seen by its fruits, both in attitude and actions (cf. Rom. 8:1-11; Matt. 7:1ff).

3:4 This reflects the divisions of 1:10-17.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:5-9
 5
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

3:5

NASB, NRSV,
NJB"what"
NKJV, TEV"who"

The King James version has "who" (i.e., tis), following the Greek manuscripts P46, C, D, and G. Most modern English translations have "what" (i.e., ti), which seems to be purposeful to take the focus off the personalities (i.e., Apollos, Paul, Peter). This is confirmed by ti in verse 7. See Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary On the Greek NT, p. 548.

▣ "Servants" This is the term (i.e., diakonos) from which we get our English word "deacon" (cf. Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 3:8,12). It became one of three Greek words (i.e., therapeuō, hupēreteō and diakoneō) used to denote service, help, or ministry (another common term latreuō denotes priestly service). See SPECIAL TOPIC: SERVANT LEADERSHIP at 4:1.

▣ "through whom you believed" Christianity begins with a volitional decision to receive (i.e., aorist active indicative) God's gospel, which is Jesus Christ, His teachings, His redemptive actions, His resurrection, and His return. One cannot osmose into salvation. It is not a matter of one's parents, one's nation, one's intelligence. It is a matter of God's covenant gift and our covenantal response (i.e., repentance, faith, obedience, service, and perseverance). People become Christians by receiving Christ, believing the gospel, and walking in Christ. These had done the first two, but lacked the third. The good news is a Person, a truth, and a lifestyle. All three are crucial for maturity.

The Greek term believe (i.e., pisteuō)is translated in English as believe, trust, or faith. Its OT counterpart meant "to be firm" and, thereby came to be used metaphorically of someone who was trustworthy, loyal, dependable, or faithful (see Special Topic at 1:9). As the implications of this context reveal, humans can only respond to God's trustworthiness, God's faithfulness, God's covenant loyalty. Human faith is a response to God's faithfulness! The object of faith, the promise of faith is God! His grace, His mercy, His call, His Son, His Spirit, these are the only hope of rebellious mankind.

▣ "even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one" The emphasis here is on the divine element, not human response or performance. But the goal of predestination is holiness (cf. Eph. 1:4; 2:10), not a privileged position, not the exercise of personal privilege or personal preference. Every believer is equipped by God for service in and for the church (cf. I Cor. 12:7,11; Eph. 4:11-13).

The exact identification of "the Lord" is difficult. Usually it is God the Father who calls to salvation. But Paul has used "Lord" several times already in I Corinthians to refer to Jesus (cf. 1:2,3,7,8,9,10; 2:8). However, several times Paul quotes an OT passage where Lord refers to YHWH (cf. 1:31; 2:16; 3:20). The ambiguity is clearly seen in 2:16 where Lord in an OT quoteis used in parallel to "the mind of Christ."

The phrase "to each one" also clearly shows the difficulty in determining who is being addressed. Is it the leaders like Paul and Apollos, the believers in Corinth, or all believers?

1. All believers are called and gifted, but some are also called and gifted to lead (cf. Num. 16:3).

2. Is the context exclusively corporate or is there an individual emphasis (i.e., certain leaders)?

 

3:6 "planted. . .watered" Paul is using agricultural metaphors. The gospel is the seed (i.e., Matthew 13), but humans sow it and nurture it.

The Great Commission (i.e., Matt. 28:19-20) has two co-equal tasks.

1. evangelism

2. discipleship

Paul started the church by preaching the gospel and Apollos taught the church. Both are crucial and inseparable!

▣ "but God was causing the growth" This is an imperfect tense, which means continual action in past time. Apollos' and Paul's actions were one-time events, but God's actions are continuing (cf. v. 7).

3:8

NASB, NKJV"are one"
NRSV"have a common purpose"
TEV"there is no difference between"
NJB"it is all one"

The question of this brief and ambiguous Greek phrase (i.e., NASB, NKJV) is (1) are all leaders equal or (2) do all leaders share in the same church-growing ministry? The true contrast is not between spiritual gifts (i.e., initial evangelist or discipler, pastor/teacher, etc., cf Eph. 4:11), but between God's work and human instrumentality. The key is God!

▣ "but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor" The concept of rewards is developed in vv. 10-15. In discussing rewards see fuller note at 3:14.

This idea of rewards for service is related to the spiritual principle delineated in v. 13 and Gal. 6:7. We reap what we sow (cf. II Cor. 9:6).

A related theological issue is degrees of rewards. Knowledge of the gospel energized by the Spirit and the call to leadership within God's church brings a greater responsibility (cf. Luke 12:48). The NT seems to teach degrees of rewards and punishments (cf. Matt. 10:15; 11:22,24; 18:6; 25:21,23; Mark 12:40; Luke 12:47-48; 20:47; James 3:1). See Special Topic at 9:24.

3:9

NASB, NKJV "we are God's fellow workers"
NRSV"we are God's servants, working together"
TEV"we are partners working together for God"
NJB"we do share in God's work"
REB"we are fellow-workers in God's service"

The different translations are trying to show that Apollos and Paul work "for" God, not that they are all three co-workers. The priority must remain with God, not His temporary human leaders!

This refers to Paul and Apollos. This is the Near Eastern metaphor of a family working together in the field (cf. II Cor. 6:1). This verse has three possessive genitives: Paul and Apollos belong to God the Father, as does the church in Corinth.

▣ "you are God's field, God's building" This refers to the Corinthian church. Paul is using the metaphors of agricultural growth (cf. Isa. 61:3; Matt. 15:13) and building construction (cf. Eph. 2:20-22; Col. 2:7; I Pet. 2:5) to describe the church. Theologically it must be remembered that the church is a people, not a building.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:10-15
 10
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. 14If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

3:10 "According to the grace of God which was given to me" Paul is asserting his salvation, call, and giftedness as the Apostle to the Gentiles (cf. 15:10).

▣ "a wise master builder" This could also mean "building supervisor." We get the English word "architect" from this Greek word. In a sense Paul is asserting his authority as the Christ-called Apostle to the Gentiles and the first to share the gospel with these Corinthians.

▣ "I laid a foundation" This refers to Paul's initial preaching of the gospel at Corinth. It may be an allusion to Isa. 28:16. Jesus is the foundation!

▣ "and another is building on it" Paul started the church, but others contributed to its growth. Apollos is one example (cf. vv. 5-9). However, in context this must also relate to those leaders in the church who were promoting a factious spirit. They may have been leaders of different house churches.

▣ "each man must be careful" This is literally a Present active imperative of blepō, "I see." This is the warning that church leaders will give an account to God of their church work, as will all believers (cf. II Cor. 5:10).

3:11 There are two criteria mentioned in this passage for the church.

1. the leader's/believer's message must be Christocentric (cf. vv. 11-12 and Eph. 2:20-21)

2. the leader's/believer's life must be Christlike (cf. vv. 12-15)

 

3:12 "if" This is the first in a series of first class conditional sentences which are assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purpose (cf. vv. 12,14,15,17,18). There were (and are) fruitful and precious leaders and hurtful and destructive leaders!

▣ "any man builds on the foundation" The major interpretive question here is which foundation is Paul speaking about: (1) the gospel, v. 11 or (2) the church at Corinth, v. 10? Is he addressing leaders or believers in general? One's interpretation of vv. 10-15 must relate to vv. 16-17, which describes the church as a whole as the temple of God.

▣ "gold, silver, precious stones" The emphasis here is on what is durable, beautiful, and costly and cannot be destroyed by fire. Precious stones may be jewels, semi-precious stones, or polished marble stones.

3:13

NASB"will become evident"
NKJV"will become manifest"
NRSV"will become visible"
TEV"will be seen"
NJB"will be shown"

This clear manifestation of believers' or leaders' ministry (i.e., motives, actions, purposes) is emphasized by a three-fold repetition of verbs in v. 13.

1. become evident (i.e., phainō)

2. show (i.e., dēloō)

3. reveal (i.e., apokaluptō)

This open display and judgment of believers must relate to the judgment seat of Christ in II Cor. 5:10.

▣ "the day will show it" This refers to the OT "Day of the Lord," which will involve both glorification and rewards for believers and judgment for unbelievers. However, even believers will also give an account before the judgment seat of Christ (cf. II Cor. 5:10; Matt. 12:36-37; 25:31ff; Rom. 2:16; 14:12; Gal. 5:10; Heb. 13:17).

▣ "fire" See Special Topic following.

SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE

▣ "will test " This refers to the refiner's fire (cf. 4:5), which tests with a view toward approval (i.e., dokimazō).

SPECIAL TOPIC: GREEK TERMS FOR TESTING AND THEIR CONNOTATIONS

▣ "the quality of each man's work" In context this must refer to one's church involvement. All the spiritual gifts are for the building up of the church (cf. 12:7). There is no spiritual distinction between clergy and laity, leader and follower, but there is a task distinction (cf. Num. 16:3). Leaders are more accountable (cf. James 3:1).

3:14 "If" This is the second in a series of first class conditional sentences, assumed to be true from the perspective of the writer or for his literary purpose (cf. vv. 12,14,15,17,18).

▣ "he will receive a reward" This passage refers to rewards, not salvation. All of the people addressed are assumed to be believers!

The NT concept of rewards must be distinguished from salvation by merit (cf. Rom. 6:23). In the OT rewards or blessings were connected to obedience (cf. Deut. 11:13-32,27-29; Psalm 1). In a sense, that is still true. However, salvation is a gift, not a reward. The life of faith and obedience is a result of salvation, not a means to salvation. Rewards can be lost, yet salvation retained. Rewards are a recognition of the developing ministry of believers. Paul has now universalized his eschatological evaluation (cf. I Thess. 2:19-20; Phil. 2:14-16) to include all believers. Rewards are a way of recognizing those who have ministered effectively and faithfully in the furtherance of the gospel. Rewards are God's gifts through His empowering for His Kingdom. Yet, like all covenant relationships, believers must appropriately and continually respond (cf. I Cor. 9:24-27). See SPECIAL TOPIC: DEGREES OF REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTs at 9:24-27.

3:15 "If any man's work is burned up" Oh, the tragedy of a fruitless, selfish, factious Christian life-a tragedy for the person, a tragedy for the church, and a tragedy for the unsaved!

"but he himself will be saved" This shows the priority of grace even with the possibility of the loss of reward.

This concept may answer the theological dilemma of a free salvation in the grace of God, the finished work of Christ, and the wooing of the Spirit contrasted to the cost-everything mandate of the Christian life. My only fear in using this text as a key concept is how rare in Scripture the theological category of a "back-slidden," carnal, baby Christian is used! The modern church uses this concept to explain an ineffective, apathetic, worldly church, but seldom delineates the NT mandate of spiritual growth (cf. Heb. 5:11-14).

"will be saved" This is has an eschatological orientation. See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: SALVATION (GREEK VERB TENSES)

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:16-17
  16
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

3:16 "Do you not know that you are a temple of God" There is no article with "temple" (i.e., naos, the central shrine itself). The pronoun "you" is plural, while "temple" is singular, therefore, in this context "temple" must refer to the whole church at Corinth (cf. II Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21-22), which may have involved several house churches.

The focus of Jewish faith developed into the Temple ritual and liturgy (cf. Jeremiah 7) instead of personal faith in YHWH. It is not where or when or how one worships, but Who one is in relationship with, God. Jesus saw His body as the temple of God (cf. John 2:21). Jesus is greater than the OT Temple (cf. Matt. 12:6). God's activity has moved from a sacred building into a sacred (i.e., redeemed, holy) body of believers. The focus of God's activity in the world is people! Jesus' body is now a place, both corporately and individually.

▣ "that the Spirit of God dwells in you" "Dwells" is a Present active indicative. "You" is plural. The concept of the temple as the unique dwelling place of YHWH in the OT is paralleled here with the concept of the church as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

The concept of indwelling deity is recurrent in the NT. All three persons of the Trinity are said to indwell believers.

1. the Spirit (cf. John 14:16-17; Rom. 8:9,11; I Cor. 3:16; 6:19; II Tim. 1:14)

2. the Son (cf. Matt. 28:20; John 14:20,23; 15:4-5; Rom. 8:10; II Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:27)

3. both the Son and the Father (cf. John 14:23 and II Cor. 6:16)

 

3:17 "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him" This is a first class conditional sentence, which assumes the reality of unspiritual believers damaging the work of the church (i.e., leaders or the factions). Here the emphasis is on the actions of the individual believer. This does not affect their salvation, v. 15, but their longevity and reward.

The supreme tragedy of believers living selfish, fruitless lives is the potential of the resources at their disposal. They know the gospel; they have the Spirit, yet they and the church are damaged by their actions. This is where Luke 12:48 speaks loudest! Is it speaking to you?

The term phtheirō (destroy) has several uses in the NT.

1. spoil or corrupt physically (i.e., rotting fruit or decaying meat, even metaphorically of spoiling financially)

2. spoil or corrupt morally (i.e., breaking the rules of an athletic contest or seducing someone sexually)

3. destroy

a. physically

b. spiritually

c. eternally

Only the immediate context can determine its meaning. Here it is used in parallel clauses, but it is uncertain if it has the same meaning in each clause because the first refers to the church and the second to a person. This term in context is referring to saved, but immature, believers who are causing a factious spirit to develop in the church at Corinth. See Special Topic at 15:42.

It is hard to define what "destroy" means in this context (cf. Matt. 18:6; Luke 17:1-2; Rom. 14:15; I Cor. 5:5; 8:11; I Tim. 1:20).

While I am on this subject, I personally do not believe this term (and related terms) can legitimately be used to prove the physical annihilation of lost persons (Fudge, The Fire That Consumes), but rather their conscious, eternal separation from God (i.e., hell, cf. Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25:46; Acts 24:15).

It is even possible that what Paul is referring to here relates to I Cor. 5:5 and I Tim. 1:20, where the church disciplines one out of their fellowship (but always with the hope and prayer of restoration following repentance).

▣ "the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are" This is a corporate concept. The related and logical implication is that the individual believer is also a temple of God (cf. I Cor. 6:19). Christians are called to holiness (cf. Matt. 5:48; Eph. 1:4).

SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:18-23
  18
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, "He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness"; 20and again, "The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless." 21So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.

3:18 "Let no man deceive himself" This is a present imperative with the negative particle, which usually means to stop an act already in process. Some of the believers at Corinth were priding themselves on their membership in or allegiance to certain leaders and/or special knowledge.

The term "deceive" is the intensified form of apataō (cf. Eph. 5:6; I Tim. 2:14; James 1:26) with the prefix ek (cf. Rom. 7:11; 16:8; II Thess. 2:3). This term is synonymous with planaō (i.e., to wander, to deviate, to go astray), which is used in the Synoptic Gospels, John's writings, and Paul (cf. I Cor. 6:9; 15:33 and the adjective in II Cor. 6:8). Self deception is a spiritual tragedy (cf. Rom. 12:16; Gal. 6:3; II Tim. 3:13; I John 1:8). Paul may be alluding to Pro. 3:7 or Isa. 5:21 or even Jer. 9:23-24. Many of the leaders of the factions at Corinth thought they were mature and wise, but they were self-deceived.

"If" This is a first class conditional sentence. Many in the Corinthian church prided themselves on their supposed spirituality or spiritual giftedness or knowledge. These tendencies are similar to what was later called Gnosticism. It is historically uncertain if Corinth was being influenced by this developing Greek intellectual exclusivism. This system of thought (a radical dualism between spirit and matter) is not fully documented until the second century, but it was a major heresy of the early church.

▣ "any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age" This refers to the person who thinks that he/she has special knowledge or standing. There were those in the church who claimed superiority based on their spirituality, knowledge, social standing, or intelligence. It is possible that this refers to the group leaders of the factions mentioned in 1:12; 3:5,21.

"he must become foolish" This is an aorist middle (deponent) imperative. The gospel of God, Christ Himself, is the only true wisdom. This term is used often to describe the "wisdom of this age" (cf. 1:18,27; and here). Paul even uses it in 4:10 in a sarcastic sense in relation to the Corinthian Christians who claimed and magnified human wisdom. See Special Topic: Terms for Foolish People at 15:36.

3:19 "the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God" This is because it is based on limited, worldly, finite, fallen knowledge (cf. 1:18,21,23,25). For "foolishness" see note at 1:25.

3:19-20 The following slightly modified quotes are from Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11. For the term "craftiness" see fuller note at II Cor. 4:2.

3:21

NASB"So then let no one boast in men"
NKJV"therefore let no one glory in men"
NRSV"so let no one boast about human leaders"
TEV"no one, then, should boast about what human beings can do"
NJB"so there is to be no boasting about human beings"

This may even be an allusion to Jer. 9:23-24. Human boasting is mentioned several times in I Cor. (cf. 1:29,31; 3:21; 4:7; and II Cor. 5:12; 10:17; 11:12,18,30; 12:1,5,6,9). See Special Topic at 5:6. It was a major problem in Corinth (and with humans in general). This problem involved more of the church than just a few leaders; followers are also responsible. This sounds so much like modern denominational arrogance and pride (i.e., I am of Calvin; I am of Wesley; I am of. . ., cf. 4:6).

3:21b-22 Paul is asserting that all things (i.e., a listing very much like Rom. 8:38-39) belong to believers through Christ including all the preachers listed. The term kosmos (i.e., world) is used here in a positive sense of the created order (cf. LXX of Gen. 1:31). Believers are fellow-heirs of all things and all times through Christ (cf. Rom. 8:12-17). Don't limit yourself.

SPECIAL TOPIC: PAUL'S USE OF KOSMOS (WORLD)

3:23 "you belong to Christ" The "you" is emphatic and plural. This shows Christ's exalted position in the church (cf. 1:29-31). This also points toward their responsibility as believers.

▣ "Christ belongs to God" This refers to Christ's temporal submission to the Father (cf. 11:3; 15:28). This is not a matter of essence (cf. John 1:1-3), but a matter of function. The Trinity (see Special Topic at 2:10) is task-oriented.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What is the difference between milk and solid food as it relates to Christian preaching?

2. Will Christians stand before God in judgment? If so, why?

3. Who is being addressed in vv. 10-15?

4. Does v. 16 refer to individual believers or the church corporate?

5. What does the term "destroy" mean in v. 17? How does it relate to v. 15?

6. Does Christ's subordination to the Father, which is clearly seen in vv. 23 and 15:28, mean He is not deity?

 

Related Topics: Bible Study Methods