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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Introduction to 1Corinthians
Section 1. The Situation of Corinth, and the Character of its Inhabitants
Corinth was properly a small dynasty, or territory in Greece, bounded on the east by the gulf of Saron; on the south by the kingdom of Argos; on the west by Sicyon; and on the north by the kingdom of Megaris, and upper part of the isthmus and bay of Corinth, the latter of which is now called the Golfo de Lepanto, or the gulf of Lepanto. This tract, or region, not large in size, possessed a few rich plains, but was in general uneven, and the soil of an indifferent quality. The city of Corinth was the capital of this region. It stood near the middle of the isthmus, which in the narrowest part was about six miles wide, though somewhat wider where Corinth stood. Here was the natural carrying place, or portage from the Ionian sea on the west, to the Aegean on the east. Many efforts were made by the Greeks, and afterwards by the Romans, to effect a communication between the Aegean and Adriatic seas by cutting across this isthmus; and traces still remain of these attempts. Means were even contrived for transporting vessels across. This isthmus was also particularly important as it was the key of the Peloponnesus, and attempts were often made to fortify it. The city had two harbors, - Lechaeum on the gulf of Corinth, or sea of Crissa on the west, to which it was joined by a double wall, twelve stadia, or about a mile and a half in length; and Cenchrea, or the sea of Saron on the east, distant about 70 stadia, or nearly 9 miles. It was a situation therefore peculiarly favorable for commerce, and highly important in the defense of Greece.
The city is said to have been founded by Sisyphus, long before the siege of Troy, apd was then called Ephyra. The time when it was founded is, however, unknown. The name Corinth, was supposed to have been given to it from Corinthus, who, by different authors, is said to have been the son of Jupiter, of of Marathon, or of Pelops, who is said to have rebuilt and adorned the city.
The city of Corinth was built at the foot of a high hill, on the top of which stood a citadel. This hill, which stood on the south of the city, was its defense in that quarter, as its sides were extremely steep. On the three other sides it was protected by strong and lofty ramparts. The circumference of the city proper was about 40 stadia, or 5 miles. Its situation gave it great commercial advantages. As the whole of that region was mountainous and rather barren, and as the situation gave the city extraordinary commercial advantages, the inhabitants early turned their attention to commerce, and amassed great wealth. This fact was, to no inconsiderable extent, the foundation of the luxury, effeminacy, and vices for which the city afterwards became so much distinguished.
The merchandise of Italy, Sicily, and the western nations, was landed at Lechaeum on the west; and that of the islands of the Aegean sea, of Asia Minor, and of the Phoenicians, and other oriental nations, at Cenchrea on the east. The city of Corinth thus became the mart of Asia and Europe; covered the sea with its ships, and formed a navy to protect its commerce. It was distinguished by building galleys and ships of a new and improved form; and its naval force procured it respect from other nations. Its population and its wealth was thus increased by the influx of foreigners. It became a city rather distinguished by its wealth, and naval force, and commerce, than by its military achievements, though it produced a few of the most valiant and distinguished leaders in the armies of Greece.
Its population was increased and its character somewhat formed from another circumstance. In the neighborhood of the city the Isthmian games were celebrated, which attracted so much attention, and which drew so many strangers from distant parts of the world. To those games, the apostle Paul not infrequently refers, when recommending Christian energy and activity. See the note, 1 Corinthians 9:24, 1 Corinthians 9:26-27; compare Hebrews 12:1.
From these causes, the city of Corinth became eminent among all ancient cities for wealth, and luxury, and dissipation. It was the mart of the world. Wealth flowed into it from all quarters. Luxury, amusement, and dissipation, were the natural consequents, until it became the most gay and dissolute city of its times, - the Paris of antiquity.
There was another cause which contributed to its character of dissoluteness and corruption. I refer to its religion. The principal deity worshipped in the city was Venus; as Diana was the principal deity worshipped at Ephesus; Minerva at Athens, etc. Ancient cities were devoted usually to some particular god or goddess, and were supposed to be under their peculiar protection. See the note at Acts 14:13. Corinth was devoted, or dedicated thus to the goddess of love, or licentious passion; and the effect may be easily conceived. The temple of Venus was erected on the north side or slope of the Acrocorinthus, a mountain about half a mile in height on the south of the city, and from the summit of which a magnificent prospect opened on the north to Parnassus and Helicon, to the eastward the island of Aegina and the citadel of Athens, and to the west the rich and beautiful plains of Sicyon. This mountain was covered with temples and splendid houses; but was especially devoted to Venus, and was the plaque of her worship.
Her shrine appeared above those of the other gods; and it was enjoined by law, that 1,000 beautiful females should officiate as courtesans, or public prostitutes, before the altar of the goddess of love. In a time of public calamity and imminent danger, these women attended at the sacrifices, and walked with the other citizens singing sacred hymns. When Xerxes invaded Greece, recourse was had to their intercession to avert the impending calamity. They were supported chiefly by foreigners; and from the avails of their vice a copious revenue was derived to the city. Individuals, in order to ensure success in their undertakings, vowed to present to Venus a certain number of courtesans, which they obtained by sending to distant countries. Foreign merchants were attracted in this way to Corinth; and, in a few days, would be stripped of all their property. It thus became a proverb, "It is not for everyone to go to Corinth," - (οὐ παντὸς ἀνδρὸς εἰς Κόρινθον ἐστίν; πλους ou pantas andros eis Korinthon estin plous).
The effect of this on the morals of the city can be easily understood. It became the most frivolous, dissipated, corrupt, and ultimately the most effeminate and feeble portion of Greece. It is necessary to make these statements, because they go to show the exceeding grace of God in collecting a church in such a city, the power of the gospel in overcoming the strongest and most polluted passions of our nature; and because no small part of the irregularities which arose in the church at Corinth, and which gave the apostle occasion to write this Epistle, were produced by this prevailing licentiousness of the people; and by the fact, that gross and licentious passions had received the countenance of law and the patronage of public opinion. See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 1 Corinthians 7. See article Luis in the Biographical Dictionaries.
Though Corinth was thus dissipated and licentious in its character, yet it was also distinguished for its refinement and learning. Every part of literature was cultivated there, so that before its destruction by the Romans, Cicero (prolege Man. cap. v.) scrupled not to call it totius Graeciae lumen - the light of all Greece.
Corinth was, of course, exposed to all the changes and disasters which occurred to the other cities of Greece. After a variety of revolutions in its government, which it is not necessary here to repeat, it was taken by the Roman consul L. Mummius, 147 years before Christ. The riches which were found in the city were immense. During the conflagration, it is said that all the metals which were there were melted and run together, and formed that valuable compound which was so much celebrated as Corinthian brass. Others, however, with more probability, say that the Corinthian artists were accustomed to form a metal, by a mixture of brass with small quantities of gold and silver, which was so brilliant as to cause the extraordinary estimate in which this metal was held. Corinth, however, was again rebuilt. In the time of Julius Caesar, it was colonized by his order, and soon again resumed something of its former magnificence.
By the Romans the whole of Greece was divided into two provinces, Macedonia and Achaia. Of the latter Corinth was the capital: and this was its condition when it was visited by Paul. With its ancient splendor, it also soon relapsed into its former dissipation and licentiousness; and when Paul visited it, it was perhaps as dissolute as at any former period of its history. The subsequent history of Corinth it is not necessary to trace. On the division of the Roman empire it fell, of course, to the eastern empire and when this was overthrown by the Turks, it came into their bands, and it remained under their dominion until the recent revolution in Greece. It still retains its ancient name; but with nothing of its ancient grandeur. A single temple, itself dismantled, it is said, is all that remains, except the ruins, to mark the site of one of the most splendid cities of antiquity. For the authorities of these statements, see Travels of Anacharsis, vol. iii. pp. 369-388; Edin. Ency. art. Corinth; Lempriere's Classical Dictionary, and Bayle's Dictionary, article: Corinth.
Section 2. The Establishment of the Church at Corinth
The apostle Paul first visited Corinth about 52 a.d. (Lardner.) See Acts 18:1. He was then on his way from Macedonia to Jerusalem. He had passed some time at Athens, where he had preached the gospel, but not with such success as to warrant him to remain, or to organize a church; see the notes at Acts 17. He was alone at Athens, having expected to have been joined there by Silas and Timothy, but in that he was disappointed: Acts 17:15; compare Acts 18:5. He came to Corinth alone, but found Aquila and Priscilla there, who had lately come from Rome, and with them he waited the arrival of Silas and Timothy. When they arrived, Paul entered on the great work of preaching the gospel in that splendid and dissipated city, first to the Jews, and when it was rejected by them, then to the Greeks; Acts 18:5-6. His feelings when he engaged in this work, he has himself stated in 1 Corinthians 16:2-5. (See the note at that place.) His embarrassments and discouragements were met by a gracious promise of the Lord that he would be with him, and would not leave him; and that it was his purpose to collect a church there; see the note on Acts 18:9-10. In the city, Paul remained for 18 months Acts 18:11, preaching without no hesitation, until he was opposed by the Jews trader Sosthenes their leader, and brought before Gallio. When Gallio refused to hear the cause, and Paul was discharged, it is said, that he remained there yet "a good while" Acts 18:18, and then sailed into Syria.
Of the size of the church that was first organized there, and of the general character of the converts, we have no other knowledge than that which is contained in the Epistle. There is reason to think that Sosthenes, who was the principal agent of the Jews in arraigning Paul before Gallio, was converted (see 1 Corinthians 1:1), and perhaps some other persons of distinction; but it is evident that the church was chiefly composed of those who were in the more humble walks of life; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. It was a signal illustration of the grace of God, and the power of the gospel, that a church was organized in that city of gayety, fashion, luxury, and licentiousness; and it shows that the gospel is adapted to meet and overcome all forms of wickedness, and to subdue all classes of people to itself. If a church was established in the frivolous and dissolute capital of Achaia then there is not now a city on earth so gay and so profligate that the same gospel may not meet its corruptions, and subdue it to the cross of Christ. Paul subsequently visited Corinth about 58 a.d., or six years after the establishment of the church there. He passed the winter in Greece - doubtless in Corinth and its neighborhood, on his journey from Macedonia to Jerusalem, the fifth time in which he visited the latter city. During this stay at Corinth he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. See the introduction to the Epistle to the Romans.
Section 3. The Time and Place of Writing the First Epistle to the Corinthians
It has been uniformly supposed that this Epistle was written at Ephesus. The circumstances which are mentioned incidently in the Epistle itself, place this beyond a doubt. The Epistle purports to have been written, not like that to the Romans, without having been at the place to which it was written, but after Paul had been at Corinth. "I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech," etc. 1 Corinthians 2:1. It also purports to have been written when he was about to make another visit to that church; 1 Corinthians 4:19, "But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will." 1 Corinthians 16:5," now I will come to you when I pass through Macedonia, for I do pass through Macedonia." Now the history in the Acts of the Apostles informs us, that Paul did in fact visit Achaia and doubtless Corinth twice; see Acts 18:1, etc.; Acts 20:1-3. The same history also informs us that it was from Ephesus that Paul went into Greece; and as the Epistle purports to have been written a short time before that journey, it follows, to be consistent with the history, that the Epistle must have been written while he was at Ephesus. The narrative in the Acts also informs us, that Paul had passed two years in Ephesus before he set out on his second journey into Greece.
With this supposition, all the circumstances relating to the place where the apostle then was which are mentioned in this Epistle agree. "If after the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?" 1 Corinthians 15:32. It is true, as Dr. Paley remarks (Horae Paulinae) that the apostle might say this wherever he was; but it was much more natural, and much more to the purpose to say it, if he was at Ephesus at the time, and in the midst of those conflicts to which the expression relates. "The churches of Asia salute you," 1 Corinthians 16:19. It is evident from this, that Paul was near those churches, and that he had contact with them. But Asia, throughout the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Epistles of Paul, does not mean commonly the whole of Asia, nor the whole of Asia Minor, but a district in the interior of Asia Minor, of which Ephesus was the capital; see the note at Acts 2:9; note at Acts 6:9; note at Acts 16:6; note at Acts 20:16.
"Aquila and Priscilla salute you," 1 Corinthians 16:19. Aquila and Priscilla were at Ephesus during the time in which I shall endeavor to show this Epistle was written, Acts 18:26. It is evident, if this were so, that the Epistle was written at Ephesus. "But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost," 1 Corinthians 16:8. This is almost an express declaration that he was at Ephesus when the Epistle was written. "A great and effectual door is opened to me, and there are many adversaries," 1 Corinthians 16:9. How well this agrees with the history, may be seen by comparing it with the account in Acts , when Paul was at Ephesus. Acts 19:20. "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed." That there were "many adversaries," may be seen from the account of the same period in Acts 19:9, "But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them and separated the disciples," Compare Acts 19:23-41.
From these circumstances, it is put beyond controversy, that the Epistle was written from Ephesus. These circumstantial, and undesigned coincidences, between a letter written by Paul and an independent history by Luke, is one of those strong evidences so common in genuine writings, which go to show that neither is a forgery. An impostor in forging a history like that of the Acts , and then writing an epistle, would not have thought of these coincidences, or introduced them in the manner in which they occur here. It is perfectly manifest that the notes of the time, and place, and circumstances in the history, and in the Epistle, were not introduced to correspond with each other, but have every appearance of genuineness and truth. See Paley's Horae Paulinae, on this Epistle.
The circumstances which have been referred to in regard to the place where this Epistle was written, serve also to fix the date of its composition. It is evident, from 1 Corinthians 16:8, that Paul purposed to tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. But this must have been written and sent away before the riot which was raised by Demetrius Acts 19:23-41, for immediately after that Paul left Ephesus and went to Macedonia, Acts 20:1-2. The reason why Paul purposed to remain in Ephesus until Pentecost, was, the success which he had met with in preaching the gospel, 1 Corinthians 16:9. But after the riot excited by Demetrius, this hope was in a measure defeated, and he soon left the city. These circumstances serve to fix the time when this Epistle was written to the interval which elapsed between what is recorded in Acts 19:22-23. This occurred about 56 or 57 a.d. Pearson and Mill place the date in the year 57 a.d.; Lardner, in the spring of the year 56 ad.
It has never been doubted that Paul was the author of this Epistle. It bears his name; has internal evidence of having been written by him, and is ascribed to him by the unanimous voice of antiquity. It has been made a question, however, whether this was the first letter which Paul wrote to them: or whether he had previously written an epistle to them which is now lost. This inquiry has been caused by what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:9, "I wrote unto you in an epistle," etc. Whether he there refers to another epistle, which he wrote to them before this, and which they had disregarded; or whether to the previous chapters of this Epistle; or whether to a letter to some other church which they had been expected to read, has been made a question. This question will be considered in the note on that verse.
Section 4. The Occasion on which this Epistle Was Written
It is evident that this Epistle was written in reply to one which had been addressed by the church at Corinth to Paul; 1 Corinthians 7:1, "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me," etc. That letter had been sent to Paul while at Ephesus, by the hands of Stephanas, and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, who had come to consult with him respecting the state of the church at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 16:17-18. In addition to this, Paul had heard various reports of certain disorders which had been introduced into the church at Corinth, and which required his attention and correction. Those disorders, it seems, as was natural, had not been mentioned in the letter which they sent to him, but he had heard of them incidentally by some members of the family of Chloe, 1 Corinthians 1:11. They pertained to the following subjects:
(1) The divisions which had arisen in the church by the popularity of a teacher who had excited great disturbance, 1 Corinthians 1:12-13. Probably this teacher was a Jew by birth, and not improbably of the sect of the Sadducees 2 Corinthians 11:22, and his teaching might have been the occasion why in the Epistle Paul entered so largely into the proof of the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, 1 Corinthians 15.
(2) the Corinthians, like all other Greeks, were greatly in danger of being deluded, and carried away by a subtile philosophy, and by a dazzling eloquence, and it is not improbable that the false teacher there had taken advantage of this, and made it the occasion of exciting parties, and of creating a prejudice against Paul, and of undervaluing his authority because he had made no pretensions to these endowments. It was of importance, therefore, for Paul to show the true nature and value of their philosophy, and the spirit which should prevail in receiving the gospel, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 1 Corinthians 2; 1 Corinthians 3.
(3) Paul's authority had been called in question as an apostle and not improbably by the false teacher, or teachers, that had caused the parties which had been originated there. It became necessary, therefore, for him to vindicate his authority, and show by what right he had acted in organizing the church, and in the directions which he had given for its discipline and purity. 1 Corinthians 4; 9.
(4) a case of incest had occurred in the church which had not been made the subject of discipline, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. This case was a flagrant violation of the gospel; and yet it is not improbable that it had been palliated, or vindicated by the false teachers; and it is certain that it excited no shame in the church itself. Such cases were not regarded by the dissolute Corinthians as criminal. In a city dedicated to Venus the crimes of licentiousness had been openly indulged, and this was one of the sins to which they were particularly exposed. It became necessary, therefore, for Paul to exert his apostolic authority, and to remove the offender in this case from the communion of the church, and to make him an example of the severity of Christian discipline.
(5) the Corinthians had evinced a litigious spirit, a fondness for going to law, and for bringing their causes before heathen tribunals, to the great scandal of religion, instead of endeavoring to settle their difficulties among themselves. Of this the apostle had been informed, and this called also for his authoritative interposition, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.
(6) Erroneous views and practices had arisen, perhaps, under the influence of the false teachers, on the subject of temperance, chastity, etc. To the vices of intemperance, licentiousness, and gluttony, the Corinthian Christians from their former habits, and from the customs of their countrymen, were particularly exposed. Those vices had been judged harmless, and had been freely indulged in, and it is not improbable that the views of the apostle had been ridiculed as unnecessarily stern, and severe, and rigid. It became necessary, therefore, to correct their views, and to state the true nature of the Christian requirements, 1 Corinthians 6:8-20.
(7) the apostle having thus discussed those things of which he had incidentally heard, proceeds to notice particularly the things respecting which they had consulted him by letter. Those were.
(a) Marriage, and the duties in regard to it in their circumstances, 1 Corinthians 7.
(b) The eating of things offered to idols, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. In order to enforce his views of what he had said on the duty of abstaining from the use of certain food, if it was the occasion of giving offence, he shows them 1 Corinthians 9 that it was the great principle on which he had acted in his ministry; that he was not imposing on them any thing which he did not observe himself; that though he had full authority as an apostle to insist on a support in preaching, yet for the sake of peace, and the prosperity of the church, he had voluntarily relinquished his right, and endeavored by all means to save some 1 Corinthians 9. By this example, he seeks to persuade them to a course of life as far as possible from a life of gluttony, and fornication, and self-indulgence, and to assure them that although they had been highly favored, as the Jews had been also, yet like them, they might also fall, 1 Corinthians 10:1-12.
These principles he illustrates by a reference to their joining in feasts, and celebrations with idols, and the dangers to which they would subject themselves by so doing; and concludes that it would be proper in those circumstances wholly to abstain from partaking of the meat offered in sacrifice to idols if it were known to be such. This was to be done on the principle that no offence was to be given. And thus the second question referred to him was disposed of, 1Co. 10:13-33. In connection with this, and as an illustration of the principle on which he acted, and on which he wishes them to act, that of promoting mutual edification, and avoiding offence he refers 1 Corinthians 11 to two other subjects, the one, the proper relation of the woman to the man, and the general duty of her being in subjection to him, 1Co. 11:1-16; and the other, a far more important matter, the proper mode of celebrating the Lord's Supper, 1Co. 11:17-34.
He had been led to speak of this, probably, by the discussion to which he had been invited on the subject of their feasts, and the discussion of that subject naturally led to the consideration of the much more important subject of their mode of celebrating the Lord's supper. That had been greatly abused to purposes of riot, and disorder, and abuse, which had grown directly out of their former views and habits in public festivals. Those views and habits they had transferred to the celebration of the eucharist. It became necessary, therefore, for the apostle to correct those views, to state the true design of the ordinance, to show the consequences of an improper mode of celebration, and to endeavor to reform them in their mode of observing it, 1Co. 11:17-34.
(c) Another subject which had probably been submitted to him in the letter was, the nature of spiritual gifts; the design of the power of speaking with tongues, and the proper order to be observed in the church on this subject. These powers seem to have been imparted to the Corinthians in a remarkable degree; and like most other things had been abused to the promotion of strife and ambition; to pride in their possession, and to irregularity and disorder in their public assemblies. This whole subject the apostle discusses 1 Corinthians 12-14. He states the design of imparting this gift; the use which should be made of it in the church, the necessity of due subordination in all the members and officers; and in a chapter unequalled in beauty in any language, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 shows the inferiority of the highest of these endowments to a kind, catholic spirit - to the prevalence of charity, and thus endeavors to allay all contentions and strifes for ascendancy, by the prevalence of the spirit of love. In connection with this 1 Corinthians 14 he reproves the abuses which had arisen on this subject, as he had done on others, and seeks to repress all disorders.
(8) a very important subject, the apostle reserved to the close of the Epistle - the resurrection of the dead 1 Corinthians 15. Why he chose to discuss it in this place, is not known. It is quite probable that be had not been consulted on this subject in the letter which had been sent to him. It is evident, however, that erroneous opinions had been entertained on the subject, and probably inculcated by the religious teachers at Corinth. The philosophic minds of the Greeks we know were much disposed to deride this doctrine Acts 17:32, and in the Corinthian church it had been either called in question, or greatly perverted, 1 Corinthians 15:12. That the same body would be raised up had been denied, and the doctrine that came to be believed was, probably, simply that there would be a future state, and that the only resurrection was the resurrection of the soul from sin, and that this was past; compare 2 Timothy 2:18. This subject the apostle had not before taken up, probably because he had not been consulted on it, and because it would find a more appropriate place after be had reproved their disorders, and answered their questions. After all those discussions, after examining all the opinions and practices that prevailed among them, it was proper to pierce the great argument for the truth of the religion which they all professed on a permanent foundation, and to close the Epistle by reminding them, and proving to them that the religion which they professed, and which they had so much abused, was from heaven. The proof of this was the resurrection of the Saviour from the dead. It was indispensable to hold that in its obvious sense, and holding that, the truth of their own resurrection was demonstrated, and the error of those who denied it was apparent.
(9) having finished this demonstration, the apostle closes the Epistle 1 Corinthians 16 with some miscellaneous directions and salutations.
Section 5. Divisions of the Epistle
The divisions of this Epistle, as of the other books of the Bible, into chapters and verses, is arbitrary, and often not happily made. See the introduction to the notes on the Gospels. Various divisions of the Epistle have been proposed in order to present a proper analysis to the mind. The division which is submitted here is one that arises from the previous statement of the scope and design of the Epistle, and will furnish the basis of my analysis. According to this view, the body of this Epistle may be divided into three parts, namely:
I. The discussion of irregularities and abuses prevailing in the church at Corinth, of which the apostle had incidentally learned by report, 1 Corinthians 1-6.
II. The discussion of various subjects which bad been submitted to him in a letter from the church, and of points which grew out of those inquiries, 1 Corinthians 7-14.
III. The discussion of the great doctrine of the resurrection of Christ - the foundation of the hope of man - and the demonstration arising from that, that the Christian religion is true, and the hopes of Christians well founded, 1 Corinthians 15. (See the "Analysis" prefixed to the notes.)
Section 6. The Messengers by whom this Epistle Was Sent to the Church at Corinth, and its Success
It is evident that Paul felt the deepest solicitude in regard to the state of things in the church at Corinth. Apparently, as soon as he had heard of their irregularities and disorders through the members of the family of Chloe 1 Corinthians 1; 2 he had sent Timothy to them, if possible to repress the growing dissensions and irregularities; 1 Corinthians 4:17. In the mean time the church at Corinth wrote to him to ascertain his views on certain matters submitted to him 1 Corinthians 7:1, and the reception of this letter gave him occasion to enter at length into the subject of their disorders and difficulties. Yet he wrote the letter under the deepest solicitude about the manner of its reception, and its effect on the church, 2 Corinthians 2:4, "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears," etc. Paul had another object in view which was dear to his heart, and which he was laboring with all diligence to promote, which was the collection which he proposed to take up for the poor and afflicted saints at Jerusalem; see the notes, Romans 15:25-26.
This object he wished to press at this time on the church at Corinth; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. In order, therefore, to ensure the success of his letter, and to facilitate the collection, he sent Titus with the letter to the church at Corinth, with instructions to have the collection ready, 2 Corinthians 7:7-8, 2 Corinthians 7:13, 2 Corinthians 7:15. This collection, Titus was requested to finish; 2 Corinthians 8:6. With Titus, Paul sent another brother, perhaps a member of the church at Ephesus 2 Corinthians 12:8, a man whose praise, Paul says, was in all the churches, and who had been already designated by the churches to bear the contribution to Jerusalem, 2 Corinthians 8:18-19. By turning to Acts 21:29, we find it incidentally mentioned that "Trophimus an Ephesian" was with Paul in Jerusalem, and undoubtedly this was the person here designated. This is one of the undesigned coincidences between Paul's Epistle and the Acts of the Apostles, of which Dr. Paley has made so much use in his Horae Paulinae in proving the genuineness of these writings. Paul did not deem it necessary or prudent for him to go himself to Corinth, but chose to remain in Ephesus. The letter to Paul 1 Corinthians 7:1 had been brought to him by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus 1 Corinthians 16:17, and it is probable that they accompanied Titus and the other brother with him who bare Paul's reply to their inquiries.
The success of this letter was all that Paul could desire. It had the effect to repress their growing strifes, to restrain their disorders, to produce true repentance, and to remove the person who had been guilty of incest in the church. The whole church was deeply affected with his reproofs, and engaged in hearty zeal in the work of reform, 2 Corinthians 7:9-11. The authority of the apostle was recognized, and his Epistle read with fear and trembling, 2 Corinthians 7:15. The act of discipline which he had required on the incestuous person was inflicted by the whole church, 2 Corinthians 2:6. The collection which he had desired 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, and in regard to which he had boasted of their liberality to others, and expressed the utmost confidence that it would be liberal 2 Corinthians 9:2-3, was taken up agreeably to his wishes, and their disposition on the subject was such as to furnish the highest satisfaction to his mind, 2 Corinthians 7:13-14. Of the success of his letter, however, and of their disposition to take up the collection, Paul was not apprised until he had gone into Macedonia, where Titus came to him, and gave him information of the happy state of things in the church at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 7:4-7, 2 Corinthians 7:13. Never was a letter more effectual than this was, and never was authority in discipline exercised in a more happy and successful way.
General Character and Structure of the Epistle.
The general style and character of this Epistle is the same as in the other writings of Paul. See the introduction to the Epistle to the Romans. It evinces the same strong and manly style of argument and language, the same structure of sentences, the same rapidity of conception, the same overpowering force of language and thought, and the same characteristics of temper and spirit in the author. The main difference between the style and manner of this Epistle, and the other epistles of Paul, arises from the scope and design of the argument. In the Epistle to the Romans, his object led him to pursue a close and connected train of argumentation. In this, a large portion of the Epistle is occupied with reproof, and it gives occasion for calling into view at once the authority of an apostle, and the spirit and manner in which reproof is to be administered. The reader of this Epistle cannot but be struck with the fact, that it was no part of Paul's character to show indulgence to sin; that he had no design to flatter; that he neither "cloaked nor concealed transgression;" that in the most open, firm, and manly manner possible, it was his purpose to rebuke them for their disorders, and to repress their growing irregularities. At the same time, however, there is full opportunity for the display of tenderness, kindness, love, charity and for Christian instruction - an opportunity for pouring forth the deepest feelings of the human heart - an opportunity which Paul never allowed to escape unimproved. Amidst all the severity of reproof, there is the love of friendship: amidst the rebukes of an apostle, the entreaties and tears of a father. And we here contemplate Paul, not merely as the profound reasoner, not simply as a man of high intellectual endowments, but as evincing the feelings of the man, and the sympathies of the Christian.
Perhaps there is less difficulty in understanding this Epistle than the Epistle to the Romans. A few passages indeed have perplexed all commentators, and are to this day not understood. See 1 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 11:10; 1 Corinthians 15:29. But the general meaning of the Epistle has been much less the subject of difference of interpretation. The reasons have probably been the following.
(1) the subjects here are more numerous, and the discussions more brief. There is, therefore, less difficulty in following the author than where the discussion is protracted, and the manner of his reasoning more complicated.
(2) the subjects themselves are far less abstruse and profound than those introduced into the Epistle to the Romans. There is, therefore, less liability to misconception.
(3) the Epistle has never been made the subject of theological warfare. No system of theology has been built on it, and no attempt made to press it into the service of abstract dogmas. It is mostly of a practical character, and there has been, therefore, less room for contention in regard to its meaning.
(4) no false and unfounded theories of philosophy have been attached to this Epistle, as have been to the Epistle to the Romans. Its simple sense, therefore, has been more obvious, and no small part of the difficulties in the interpretation of that Epistle are wanting in this.
(5) the apostle's design has somewhat varied his style. There are fewer complicated sentences, and fewer parentheses, less that is abrupt and broken, and elliptical, less that is rapid, mighty, and overpowering in argument. We see the point of a reproof at once, but we are often greatly embarrassed in a complicated argument. 1 Corinthians 15, however, for closeness and strength of argumentation, for beauty of diction, for tenderness of pathos, and for commanding and overpowering eloquence, is probably unsurpassed by any other part of the writings of Paul, and unequalled by any other composition.
(6) it may be added, that there is less in this Epistle that opposes the native feelings of the human heart, and that humbles the pride of the human intellect, than in the Epistle to the Romans. One great difficulty in interpreting that Epistle has been that the doctrines relate to those high subjects that rebuke the pride of man, demand prostration before his Sovereign, require the submission of the understanding and the heart to God's high claims, and throw down every form of self-righteousness. While substantially the same features will be found in all the writings of Paul, yet his purpose in this Epistle led him less to dwell on those topics than in the Epistle to the Romans. The result is, that the heart more readily acquiesces in these doctrines and reproofs, and the general strain of this Epistle; and as the heart of man has usually more agency in the interpretation of the Bible than the understanding, the obstacles in the way of a correct exposition of this Epistle are proportionably fewer than in the Epistle to the Romans.
The same spirit, however, which is requisite in understanding the Epistle to the Romans, is demanded here. In all Paul's epistles, as in all the Bible, a spirit of candor, humility, prayer, and industry is required. The knowledge of God's truth is to be acquired only by toil, and candid investigation. The mind that is filled with prejudice is rarely enlightened. The proud, unhumbled spirit seldom receives benefit from reading the Bible, or any other book. He acquires the most complete, and the most profound knowledge of the doctrines of Paul, and of the Book of God in general, who comes to the work of interpretation with the most humble heart; and the deepest sense of his dependence on the aid of that Spirit by whom originally the Bible was inspired. For "the meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way," Psalm 25:9.
1Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
Paul, called to be an apostle - See the notes at Romans 1:1.
Through the will of God - Not by human appointment, or authority, but in accordance with the will of God, and His command. That will was made known to him by the special revelation granted to him at his conversion, and call to the apostleship; Acts 9. Paul often refers to the fact that he had received a direct commission from God, and that he did not act on his own authority; compare Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Corinthians 9:1-6; 2 Corinthians 11:22-33; 2 Corinthians 12:1-12. There was a special reason why he commenced this Epistle by referring to the fact that he was divinely called to the apostleship. It arose from the fact that his apostolic authority had been called in question by the false teachers at Corinth. That this was the case is apparent from the general strain of the Epistle, from some particular expressions 2 Corinthians 10:8-10; and from the fact that he is at so much pains throughout the two epistles to establish his divine commission.
And Sosthenes - Sosthenes is mentioned in Acts 18:17, as "the chief ruler of the synagogue" at Corinth. He is there said to have been beaten by the Greeks before the judgment-seat of Gallio because he was a Jew, and because he had joined with the other Jews in arraigning Paul, and had thus produced disturbance in the city; see the note on this place. It is evident that at that time he was not a Christian. When he was converted, or why he left Corinth and was now with Paul at Ephesus, is unknown. Why Paul associated him with himself in writing this Epistle is not known. It is evident that Sosthenes was not an apostle, nor is there any reason to think that he was inspired. Some circumstances are known to have existed respecting Paul's manner of writing to the churches, which may explain it:
(1) He was accustomed to employ an amanuensis (scribe) in writing his epistles, and the copyist frequently expressed his concurrence or approbation in what the apostle had indicted; see the note at Romans 16:22; compare Colossians 4:18. "The salutation by the hand of Paul," 2 Thessalonians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 16:21. It is possible that Sosthenes might have been employed by Paul for this purpose.
(2) Paul not unfrequently associated others with himself in writing his letters to the churches, himself claiming authority as an apostle; and the others expressing their concurrence; 2 Corinthians 1:1. Thus, in Galatians 1:1, "all the brethren" which were with him, are mentioned as united with him in addressing the churches of Galatia; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1.
(3) Sosthenes was well known at Corinth. He had been the chief ruler of the synagogue there. His conversion would, therefore, excite a deep interest, and it is not improbable that he had been conspicuous as a preacher. All these circumstances would render it proper that Paul should associate him with himself in writing this letter. It would be bringing in the testimony of one well known as concurring with the views of the apostle, and tend much to conciliate those who were disaffected toward him.
2Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth - For an account of the time and manner in which the church was established in Corinth, see the introduction, and the notes at Acts 18:1-17. The church is called "the church of God," because it has been founded by His agency, and was devoted to his service. It is worthy of remark, that although great disorders had been introduced into that church; though there were separations and erroneous doctrines; though there were some who gave evidence that they were not sincere Christians, yet the apostle had no hesitation in applying to them the name of a "church of God."
To them that are sanctified - To those who are made holy. This does not refer to the profession of holiness, but implies that they were in fact holy. The word means that they were separateD from the mass of pagans around them, and devoted to God and his cause. Though the word used here (ἡγιασμένοις hēgiasmenois) has this idea of separation from the mass around them, yet it is separation on account of their being in fact, and not in profession merely, different from others, and truly devoted to God; see the note at Romans 1:7.
In Christ Jesus - That is, "by" ἐν en the agency of Christ. It was by his authority, his power, and his Spirit, that they had been separated from the mass of pagans around them, and devoted to God; compare John 17:19.
Called to be saints - The word "saints" does not differ materially from the word "sanctified" in the former part of the verse. It means those who are separateD from the world, and set apart to God as holy. The idea which Paul introduces here is, that they became such because they were called to be such. The idea in the former part of the verse is, that this was done "by Christ Jesus;" here he says that it was because they were called to this privilege. He doubtless means to say that it was not by any native tendency in themselves to holiness, but because God had called them to it. And this calling does not refer merely to an external invitation, but it was that which was made effectual in their case, or that on which the fact of their being saints could be predicated; compare 1 Corinthians 1:9; see 2 Timothy 1:9; "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace," etc.; 1 Peter 1:15; the Romans 1:6-7; Romans 8:28 notes; Ephesians 4:1 note; 1 Timothy 6:12 note; 1 Peter 2:9 note.
With all ... - This expression shows:
(1) That Paul had the same feelings of attachment to all Christians in every place; and,
(2) That he expected that this Epistle would be read, not only by the church at Corinth, but also by other churches. That this was the uniform intention of the apostle in regard to his epistles, is apparent from other places; compare 1 Thessalonians 5:27; "I charge you by the Lord that this Epistle be read unto all the holy brethren;" Colossians 4:16; "And when this Epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans." It is evident that Paul expected that his epistles would obtain circulation among the churches; and it was morally certain that they would be soon transcribed, and be extensively read - the ardent feelings of Paul embraced all Christians in every nation. He knew nothing of the narrowness of exclusive attachment to a sect. His heart was full of love, and he loved, as we should, all who bore the Christian name, and who evinced the Christian spirit.
Call upon the name of Jesus Christ - To call upon the name of any person, in Scripture language, is to call on the person himself; compare John 3:18; the note at Acts 4:12. The expression "to call upon the name" ἐπικαλουμένοις epikaloumenois, to invoke the name, implies worship, and prayer; and proves:
(1) That the Lord Jesus is an object of worship; and,
(2) That one characteristic of the early Christians, by which they were known and distinguished, was their calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus, or their offering worship to him. That it implies worship, see the note at Acts 7:59; and that the early Christians called on Christ by prayer, and were distinguished by that, see the note at Acts 7:59, and compare the note at Acts 1:24, also Acts 2:21; Acts 9:13; Acts 22:16; 2 Timothy 2:22.
Both theirs and ours - The Lord of all - both Jews and Gentiles - of all who profess themselves Christians, of whatever country or name they might have originally been. Difference of nation or birth gives no pre-eminence in the kingdom of Christ but all are on a level, having a common Lord and Saviour; compare Ephesians 4:5.
3Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace be unto you ... - See the note at Romans 1:7.
4I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
I thank my God ... - No small part of this Epistle is occupied with reproofs for the disorders which had arisen in the church at Corinth. Before proceeding, however, to the specific statement of those disorders (1 Corinthians 1:10 ff), the apostle commends them for the attainments which they had really made in divine knowledge, and thus shows that he was disposed to concede to them all that he could. It was no part of the disposition of Paul to withhold commendation where it was due. On the contrary, as he was disposed to be faithful in reproving the errors of Christians, he was no less disposed to commend them when it could be done; compare the note at Romans 1:8. A willingness to commend those who do well is as much in accordance with the gospel, as a disposition to reprove where it is deserved; and a minister, or a parent, may frequently do as decided good by judicious commendation as by reproof, and much more than by fault-finding and harsh crimination.
On your behalf - In respect to you; that God has conferred these favors on you.
For the grace of God - On account of the favors which God has bestowed on you through the Lord Jesus. Those favors are specified in the following verses. For the meaning of the word "grace," see the note at Romans 1:7.
5That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
That in every thing - In every respect, or in regard to all the favors conferred on any of his people. You have been distinguished by him in all those respects in which he blesses his own children.
Ye are enriched by him; - compare the note at Romans 2:4. The meaning of this expression is, "you abound in these things; they are conferred abundantly upon you." By the use of this word, the apostle intends doubtless to denote "the fact" that these blessings had been conferred on them abundantly; and also that this was a "valuable endowment," so as to be properly called "a treasure." The mercies of God are not only conferred abundantly on his people, but they are a bestowment of inestimable value; compare 2 Corinthians 6:10.
In all utterance - With the power of speaking various languages ἐν παντὶ λόγῳ en panti logō. That this power was conferred on the church at Corinth, and that it was highly valued by them, is evident from 1 Corinthians 14; compare 2 Corinthians 8:7. The power of speaking those languages the apostle regarded as a subject of thanksgiving, as it was a proof of the divine favor to them; see 1 Corinthians 14:5, 1 Corinthians 14:22, 1 Corinthians 14:39.
And in all knowledge - In the knowledge of divine truth. They had understood the doctrines which they had heard, and had intelligently embraced them. This was not true of all of them, but it was of the body of the church; and the hearty commendation and thanksgiving of the apostle for these favors, laid the foundation for the remarks which he had subsequently to make, and would tend to conciliate their minds, and dispose them to listen attentively, even to the language of reproof.
6Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
Even as - Καθώς Kathōs. The force of this expression seems to be this, "The gospel of Christ was at first established among you by means of the miraculous endowments of the Holy Spirit. Those same endowments are still continued among you, and now furnish evidence of the divine favor, and of the truth of the gospel to you, 'even as' - that is, in the same measure as they did when the gospel was first preached." The power to speak with tongues, etc. 1 Corinthians 14 would be a "continued miracle," and would be a demonstration to them then of the truth of Christianity as it was at first.
The testimony of Christ - The gospel. It is here called "the testimony of Christ," because it bore witness to Christ - to his divine nature, his miracles, his Messiahship, his character, his death, etc. The message of the gospel consists in bearing witness to Christ and his work; see 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:8.
Was confirmed - Was established, or proved. It was proved to be divine, by the miraculous attestations of the Holy Spirit. It was confirmed, or made certain to their souls by the agency of the Holy Spirit, sealing it on their hearts. The word translated "confirmed" ἐβεβαιώθη ebebaiōthē, is used in the sense of establishing, confirming, or demonstrating by miracles, etc.; in Mark 16:20; compare Hebrews 13:9; Philippians 1:7.
In you - ἐν ὑμῖν en humin. Among you as a people, or in your hearts. Perhaps the apostle intends to include both. The gospel had been established among them by the demonstrations of the agency of the Spirit in the gift of tongues, and had at the same time taken deep root in their hearts, and was exerting a practical influence on their lives.
7So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
So that - God has so abundantly endowed you with his favors.
Ye come behind - ὑστερεῖσθαι hustereisthai. You are not missing, or deficient. The word is usually applied to destitution, want, or poverty; and the declaration here is synonymous with what he had said, 1 Corinthians 1:5, that they abounded in everything.
In no gift - In no favor, or gracious endowment. The word used here χάρισμα charisma, does not refer necessarily to extraordinary and miraculous endowments, but includes also all the kindnesses of God toward them in producing peace of mind, constancy, humility, etc. And the apostle meant evidently to say that they possessed, in rich abundance, all those endowments which were bestowed on Christians.
Waiting for - Expecting, or looking for this coming with glad and anxious desire. This was, certainly, one of the endowments to which he referred, to wit, that they had grace given them earnestly to desire, and to wait for the second appearing of the Lord Jesus. An earnest wish to see him, and a confident expectation and firm belief that he will return, is an evidence of a high state of piety. It demands strong faith, and it will do much to elevate the feelings above the world, and to keep the mind in a state of peace.
The coming ... - Greek The revelation - τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν tēn apokalupsin - the manifestation of the Son of God. That is, waiting for his return to judge the world, and for his approbation of his people on that Day. The earnest expectation of the Lord Jesus became one of the marks of early Christian piety. This return was promised by the Saviour to his anxious disciples, when he was about to leave them; John 14:3. The promise was renewed when he ascended to heaven; Acts 1:11. It became the settled hope and expectation of Christians that he would return; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 3:12; Hebrews 9:28. And with the earnest prayer that be would quickly come, John closes the volume of inspiration; Revelation 22:20-21.
8Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who shall also confirm you - Who shall establish you in the hopes of the gospel. He shall make you "firm" (βεβαιώσει bebaiōsei) amidst all your trials, and all the efforts which may be made to shake your faith, and to remove you from that firm foundation on which you now rest.
Unto the end - That is, to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He would keep them to the end of life in the path of holiness, so that at the coming of the Lord Jesus they might be found blameless; compare John 13:1. The sense is, that they should be kept, and should not be suffered to fall away and perish - and this is one of the many places which express the strong confidence of Paul that those who are true Christians shall be preserved unto everlasting life; compare Philippians 1:6.
That ye may be blameless - The word rendered "blameless" ἀνεγκλήτου anegklētou does not mean perfect, but properly denotes those against whom there is no charge of crime; who are unaccused, and against whom there is no ground of accusation. Here it does not mean that they were personally perfect, but that God would so keep them, and enable them to evince a Christian character, as to give evidence that they were his friends, and completely escape condemnation in the last Day; see the notes at Romans 8:33-34. There is no man who has not his faults; no Christian who is not conscious of imperfection; but it is the design of God so to keep his people, and so to justify and sanctify them through the Lord Jesus, that the church may be presented "a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle" Ephesians 5:27 on the Day of Judgment.
In the day ... - On the Day when the Lord Jesus shall come to judge the world; and which will be called his Day, because it will be the Day in which he will be the great and conspicuous object, and which is especially appointed to glorify him; see 2 Thessalonians 1:10, "Who shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe."
9God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
God is faithful - That is, God is true, and constant, and will adhere to his promises. He will not deceive. He will not promise, and then fail to perform; he will not commence anything which he will not perfect and finish. The object of Paul in introducing the idea of the faithfulness of God here, is to show the reason for believing that the Christians at Corinth would be kept unto everlasting life. The evidence that they will persevere depends on the fidelity of God; and the argument of the apostle is, that as they had been called by Him into the fellowship of his Son, his faithfulness of character would render it certain that they would be kept to eternal life. The same idea he has presented in Philippians 1:6, "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will also perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."
Ye were called - The word "called" here does not refer merely to "an invitation" or an "offer of life," but to the effectual influence which had been put forth; which had inclined them to embrace the gospel note at Romans 8:30; note at Romans 9:12; see Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32; Galatians 1:6; Galatians 5:8, Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 3:15. In this sense the word often occurs in the Scriptures, and is designed to denote a power, or influence that goes forth "with" the external invitation, and that makes it effectual. That power is the agency of the Holy Spirit.
Unto the fellowship of his Son - To participate with his Son Jesus Christ; to be partakers with him; see the notes at John 15:1-8. Christians participate with Christ:
(1) in his feelings and views; Romans 8:9.
(2) in his trials and sufferings, being subjected to temptations and trials similar to his; 1 Peter 4:13, "But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings;" Colossians 1:24; Philippians 3:10.
(3) in his heirship to the inheritance and glory which awaits him; Romans 8:17, "And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ;" 1 Peter 1:4.
(4) in his triumph in the resurrection and future glory; Matthew 19:28, "Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel;" John 14:19, "Because I live, ye shall live also;" Revelation 3:21, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."
(Immediately on our union to Christ, we have fellowship with him, in all the blessings of his purchase. This communion or fellowship with him is the necessary result of our union to him. On the saint's union to Christ, see the supplementary note at Romans 8:10.)
From all this, the argument of the apostle is, that as they partake with Christ in these high privileges, and hopes, and promises, they will be kept by a faithful God unto eternal life. God is faithful to his Son; and will be faithful to all who are united to him. The argument for the perseverance of the saints is, therefore, sure.
10Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Now I beseech you, brethren - In this verse the apostle enters on the discussion respecting the irregularities and disorders in the church at Corinth, of which he had incidentally heard; see 1 Corinthians 1:11. The first of which he had incidentally learned, was that which pertained to the divisions and strifes which had arisen in the church. The consideration of this subject occupies him to 1 Corinthians 1:17; and as those divisions had been caused by the influence of phi osophy, and the ambition for distinction, and the exhibition of popular eloquence among the Corinthian teachers, this fact gives occasion to him to discuss that subject at length 1 Corinthians 1:17-31; in which he shows that the gospel did not depend for its success on the reasonings of philosophy, or the persuasions of eloquence. This part of the subject he commences with the language of entreaty. "I beseech you, brethren" - the language of affectionate exhortation rather than of stern command. Addressing them as his brethren, as members of the same family with himself, he conjures them to take all proper measures to avoid the evils of schism and of strife.
By the name - By the authority of his name; or from reverence for him as the common Lord of all.
Of our Lord Jesus Christ - The reasons why Paul thus appeals to his name and authority here, may be the following:
(1) Christ should be regarded as the Supreme Head and Leader of all his church. It was improper, therefore, that the church should be divided into portions, and its different parts enlisted under different banners.
(2) "the whole family in heaven and earth should be named" after him Ephesians 3:15, and should not be named after inferior and subordinate teachers. The reference to "the venerable and endearing name of Christ here, stands beautifully and properly opposed to the various human names under which they were so ready to enlist themselves" - Doddridge. "There is scarcely a word or expression that he (Paul) makes use of, but with relation and tendency to his present main purpose; as here, intending to abolish the names of leaders they had distinguished themselves by, he beseeches them by the name of Christ, a form that I do not remember he elsewhere uses" - Locke.
(3) the prime and leading thing which Christ had enjoined upon his church was union and mutual love John 13:34; John 15:17, and for this he had most earnestly prayed in his memorable prayer; John 17:21-23. It was well for Paul thus to appeal to the name of Christ - the sole Head and Lord of his church, and the friend of union, and thus to rebuke the divisions and strifes which had arisen at Corinth.
That ye all speak the same thing - "That ye hold the same doctrine" - Locke. This exhortation evidently refers to their holding and expressing the same religious sentiments, and is designed to rebuke that kind of contention and strife which is evinced where different opinions are held and expressed. To "speak the same thing" stands opposed to speaking different and conflicting things; or to controversy, and although perfect uniformity of opinion cannot be expected among people on the subject of religion any more than on other subjects, yet on the great and fundamental doctrines of Christianity, Christians may be agreed; on all points in which they differ they may evince a good spirit; and on all subjects they may express their sentiments in the language of the Bible, and thus "speak the same thing."
And that there be no divisions among you - Greek, σχίσματα schismata, "schisms." No divisions into contending parties and sects. The church was to be regarded as one and indivisible, and not to be rent into different factions, and ranged under the banners of different leaders; compare John 9:16; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 12:25.
But that ye be perfectly joined together - ἦτε δὲ κατηρτισμένοι ēte de katērtismenoi. The word used here and rendered "perfectly joined together," denotes properly to restore, mend, or repair that; which is rent or disordered Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19, to amend or correct that which is morally evil and erroneous Galatians 6:1, to render perfect or complete Luke 6:40, to fit or adapt anything to its proper place so that it shall be complete in all its parts, and harmonious, Hebrews 11:5; and thence to compose and settle controversies, to produce harmony and order. The apostle here evidently desires that they should be united in feeling; that every member of the church should occupy his appropriate place, as every member of a well proportioned body, or part of a machine has its appropriate place and use; see his wishes more fully expressed in 1Co. 12:12-31.
In the same mind - νοΐ̀ noi; see Romans 15:5. This cannot mean that they were to be united in precisely the same shades of opinion, which is impossible - but that their minds were to be disposed toward each other with mutual good will, and that they should live in harmony. The word here rendered "mind," denotes not merely the intellect itself, but that which is in the mind - the thoughts, counsels, plans; Romans 11:34; Romans 14:5; 1 Corinthians 2:16; Colossians 2:18. Bretschneider.
And in the same judgment - γνώμη gnōmē. This word properly denotes science, or knowledge; opinion, or sentiment; and sometimes, as here, the purpose of the mind, or will. The sentiment of the whole is, that in their understandings and their volitions, they should be united and kindly disposed toward each other. Union of feeling is possible even where people differ much in their views of things. They may love each other much, even where they do not see alike. They may give each other credit for honesty and sincerity, and may be willing to suppose that others "may be right," and "are honest" even where their own views differ. The foundation of Christian union is not so much laid in uniformity of intellectual perception as in right feelings of the heart. And the proper way to produce union in the church of God, is not to begin by attempting to equalize all intellects on the bed of Procrustes, but to produce supreme love to God, and elevated and pure Christian love to all who bear the image and the name of the Redeemer.
11For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
For it hath been declared unto me - Of the contentions existing in the church at Corinth, it is evident that they had not informed him in the letter which they had sent; see 1 Corinthians 7:1, compare the introduction. He had incidentally heard of their contentions.
My brethren - A token of affectionate regard, evincing his love for them, and his deep interest in their welfare, even when he administered a needed rebuke.
Of the house of Chloe - Of the family of Chloe. It is most probable that Chloe was a member of the church at Corinth, some of whose family had been at Ephesus when Paul was, and had given him information of the state of things there. Who those members of her family were, is unknown. Grotius conjectures that they were Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16:17, who brought the letter of the church at Corinth to Paul. But of this there is no certain evidence; perhaps not much probability. If the information had been obtained from them, it is probable that it would have been put in the letter which they bore. The probability is that Paul had received this information before they arrived.
12Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
Now this I say - This is what I mean; or, I give this as an instance of the contentions to which Irefer.
That every one of you saith - That you are divided into different factions, and ranged under different leaders. The word translated "that" ὅτι hoti might be translated here, "because," or "since," as giving a reason for his affirming 1 Corinthians 1:11 that there were contentions there. "Now I say that there are contentions, because you are ranged under different leaders," etc. - Calvin.
I am of Paul - It has been doubted whether Paul meant to affirm that the parties had actually taken the names which he here specifies, or whether he uses these names as illustrations, or suppositions, to show the absurdity of their ranging themselves under different leaders. Many of the ancient interpreters supposed that Paul was unwilling to specify the real names of the false teachers and leaders of the parties, and that he used these names simply by way of illustration. This opinion was grounded chiefly on what he says in 1 Corinthians 4:6, "And these things, brethren, I have 'in a figure' transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes," etc. But in this place Paul is not referring so particularly to the factions or parties existing in the church, as he is to the necessity of modesty and humility; and in order to enforce this, he refers to himself and Apollos to show that even those most highly favored should have a low estimate of their importance, since all their success depends on God; see 1 Corinthians 3:4-6.
It can scarcely be doubted that Paul here meant to say that there were parties existing in the church at Corinth, who were called by the names of himself, of Apollos, of Cephas, and of Christ. This is the natural construction; and this was evidently the information which he had received by those who were of the family of Chloe. Why the parties were ranged under these leaders, however, can be only a matter of conjecture. Lightfoot suggests that the church at Corinth was composed partly of Jews and partly of Gentiles; see Acts 18. The Gentile converts, he supposes, would range themselves under Paul and Apollos as their leaders; and the Jewish under Peter and Christ. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, and Peter particularly the apostle to the Jews Galatians 2:7; and this circumstance might give rise to the division. Apollos succeeded Paul in Achaia, and labored successfully there; see Acts 18:27-28. These two original parties might be again sub-divided. A part of those who adhered to Paul and Apollos might regard Saul with chief veneration, as being the founder of the church as the instrument of their conversion, as the chief apostle, as signally pure in his doctrine and manner; and a part might regard Apollos as the instrument of their conversion, and as being distinguished for eloquence. It is evident that the main reason why Apollos was regarded as the head of a faction was on account of his extraordinary eloquence, and it is probable that his followers might seek particularly to imitate him in the graces of popular elocution.
And I of Cephas, Peter; - compare John 1:42. He was regarded particularly as the apostle to the Jews; Galatians 2:7. He had his own speciality of views in teaching, and it is probable that his teaching was not regarded as entirely harmonious with that of Paul; see Galatians 2:11-17. Paul had everywhere among the Gentiles taught that it was not necessary to observe the ceremonial laws of Moses; and, it is probable, that Peter was regarded by the Jews as the advocate of the contrary doctrine. Whether Peter had been at Corinth is unknown. If not, they had heard of his name, and character; and those who had come from Judea had probably reported him as teaching a doctrine on the subject of the observance of Jewish ceremonies unlike that of Paul.
And I of Christ - Why this sect professed to be the followers of Christ, is not certainly known. It probably arose from one of the two following causes:
(1) Either that they had been in Judea and had seen the Lord Jesus, and thus regarded themselves as particularly favored and distinguished: or,
(2) More probably because they refused to call themselves by any inferior leader, and wished to regard Christ alone as their head, and possibly prided themselves on the belief that they were more conformed to him than the other sects.
13Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
Is Christ divided? - Paul, in this verse, proceeds to show the impropriety of their divisions and strifes. His general argument is, that Christ alone ought to be regarded as their head and leader, and that his claims, arising from his crucifixion, and acknowledged by their baptism, were so pre-eminent that they could not be divided, and the honors due to him should not be rendered to any other. The apostle, therefore, asks, with strong emphasis, whether Christ was to be regarded as divided? Whether this single Supreme Head and Leader of the church, had become the head of different contending factions? The strong absurdity of supposing that, showed the impropriety of their ranging themselves under different banners and leaders.
Was Paul crucified for you? - This question implies that the crucifixion of Christ had an influence in saving them which the sufferings of no other one could have, and that those sufferings were in fact the speciality which distinguished the work of Christ, and rendered it of so much value. The atonement was the grand, crowning work of the Lord Jesus. It was through this that all the Corinthian Christians had been renewed and pardoned. That work was so pre-eminent that it could not have been performed by another. And as they had all been saved by that alone; as they were alike dependent on his merits for salvation, it was improper that they should be torn into contending factions, and ranged under different leaders. If there is anything that will recall Christians of different names and of contending sects from the heat of strife, it is the recollection of the fact that they have been purchased by the same blood, and that the same Saviour died to redeem them all. If this fact could be kept before their minds, it would put an end to angry strife everywhere in the church, and produce universal Christian love.
Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul - Or, "into," or "unto" the name of Paul; see the note at Matthew 28:19. To be baptized "into," or "unto" anyone is to be devoted to him, to receive and acknowledge him as a teacher, professing to receive his rules, and to be governed by his authority - Locke. Paul here solemnly reminds them that their baptism was an argument why they should not range themselves under different leaders. By that, they had been solemnly and entirely devoted to the service of the only Saviour. "Did I ever," was the implied language of Paul, "baptize in my own name? Did I ever pretend to organize a sect, announcing myself as a leader? Have not I always directed you to that Saviour into whose name and service you have been baptized?" It is remarkable here, that Paul refers to himself, and not to Apollos or Peter. He does not insinuate that the claims of Apollos or Peter were to be disparaged, or their talents and influence to be undervalued, as a jealous rival would have done; but he numbers himself first, and alone, as having no claims to be regarded as a religious leader among them, or the founder of a sect. Even he, the founder of the church, and their spiritual father, had never desired or intended that they should call themselves by his name; and he thus showed the impropriety of their adopting the name of any man as the leader of a sect.
14I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
I thank God ... - Why Paul did not himself baptize, see in 1 Corinthians 1:17. To him it was now a subject of grateful reflection that he had not done it. He had not given any occasion for the suspicion that he had intended to set himself up as a leader of a sect or party.
But Crispus - Crispus had been the chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth; Acts 18:8.
And Gaius - Gaius resided at Corinth, and at his house Paul resided when he wrote the Epistle to the Romans; Romans 16:23. It is also possible that the Third Epistle of John was directed to this man; see 3 John 1:1. And if so, then probably Diotrephes 3 John 1:9, who is mentioned as one who loved "to have the pre-eminence," had been one cause of the difficulties at Corinth. The other persons at Corinth had been probably baptized by Silas and Timothy.
15Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
Lest any should say - Lest any of those who had been baptized should pervert his design, and say that Paul had baptized them unto himself; or, lest any others should, with any appearance of truth, say that he had sought to make disciples to himself. The Ethiopic version renders this, "that ye should not say we were baptized in his name." Many of the ancient mss. read this, "test any should say that 'ye were baptized' into my name." Mill.
16And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
And I baptized also the household - The family. Whether there were any infants in the family, does not appear. It is certain that the family was among the first converts to Christianity in Achaia, and that it had evinced great zeal in aiding those who were Christians; see 1 Corinthians 16:15 - From the manner in which Paul mentions this, it is probable that Stephanas did not reside at Corinth when he was baptized, though he might have subsequently removed there. "I baptized none 'of you' 1 Corinthians 1:14. - that is, none of those who permanently dwelt at Corinth, or who were members of the original church there, but Crispus and Gaius - but I baptized also the family of Stephanas, 'now' of your number" - Or it may mean, "I baptized none of you 'who are adult members of the church,' but Crispus and Gains, though I also baptized the 'family' of Stephanas. If this be the true interpretation, then it forms an argument to prove that Paul practiced household baptism, or the baptism of the families of those who were themselves believers. Or the expression may simply indicate a recollection of the true circumstances of the case - a species of correction of the statement in 1 Corinthians 1:14, "I recollect now also that I baptized the family of Stephanas."
Household - οἶκον oikon. The house; the family. The word comprises the whole family, including adults, domestics, slaves, and children. It includes:
(1) The men in a house, Acts 7:10; 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 1 Timothy 3:12;
(2) "Domestics," Acts 10:2; Acts 11:14; Acts 16:15, Acts 16:31; 1 Timothy 3:4;
(3) "The family" in general; Luke 10:5; Luke 16:27.
Bretschneider. It was the custom, doubtless, for the apostles to baptize the entire "household," whatever might be the age, including domestics, slaves, and children. The head of a family gave up the entire "household" to God.
(That adult domestics and slaves were baptized without personal profession or other evidence of faith, is incredible. The word οἶκον oikon indeed includes domestics as well as children, out while the latter must have been admitted on the profession of their parents, it is reasonable to suppose that the former would be received solely on their own.)
Of Stephanas - Who Stephanas was, is not known. The Greek commentators say that he was the jailor of Philippi, who, after he had been baptized Acts 16:33, removed with his family to Corinth. But of this there is no certain evidence.
Besides - Besides these.
I know not ... - I do not know whether I baptized any others who are now members of that church. Paul would, doubtless, recollect that he had baptized others in other places, but he is speaking here particularly of Corinth. This is not to be urged as an argument against the inspiration of Paul, for:
(1) It was not the design of inspiration to free the memory from defect in ordinary transactions, or in those things which were not to be received for the instruction of the church;
(2) The meaning of Paul may simply be, "I know not who of the original members of the church at Corinth may have removed, or who may have died; I know not who may have removed to Corinth from other places where I have preached and baptized, and consequently I cannot know whether I may not have baptized some others of your present number." It is evident, however, that if he had baptized any others, the number was small.
17For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
For Christ sent me not to baptize - That is, not to baptize as my main business. Baptism was not his principal employment, though be had a commission in common with others to administer the ordinance, and occasionally did it. The same thing was true of the Saviour, that he did not personally baptize, John 4:2. It is probable that the business of baptism was entrusted to the ministers of the church of inferior talents, or to those who were connected with the churches permanently, and not to those who were engaged chiefly in traveling from place to place. The reasons of this may have been:
(1) That which Paul here suggests, that if the apostles had themselves baptized, it might have given occasion to strifes, and the formation of parties, as those who had been baptized by the apostles might claim some superiority over those who were not.
(2) it is probable that the rite of baptism was preceded or followed by a course of instruction adapted to it, and as the apostles were traveling from place to place, this could be better entrusted to those who were to be with them as their ordinary religious teachers. It was an advantage that those who imparted this instruction should also administer this ordinance.
(3) it is not improbable, as Doddridge supposes, that the administration of this ordinance was entrusted to inferiors, because it was commonly practiced by immersion, and was attended with some trouble and inconvenience, while the time of the apostles might be more directly occupied in their main work.
But to preach the gospel - As his main business; as the leading, grand purpose of his ministry. This is the grand object of all ministers. It is not to build up a sect or party; it is not to secure simply the baptism of people in this or that communion; it is to make known the glad tidings of salvation, and call people to repentance and to God.
Not with wisdom of words - (οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳ λόγου ouk en sophia logou). Not in wisdom of speech, margin. The expression here is a Hebraism, or a form of speech common in the Hebrew writings, where a noun is used to express the meaning of an adjective, and means "not in wise words or discourse." The wisdom mentioned here, refers, doubtless, to that which was common among the Greeks, and which was so highly valued. It included the following things:
(1) Their subtle and learned mode of disputation, or that which was practiced in their schools of philosophy.
(2) a graceful and winning eloquence; the arts by which they sought to commend their sentiments, and to win others to their opinions. On this also the Greek rhetoricians greatly valued themselves, and this, probably, the false teachers endeavored to imitate.
(3) that which is elegant and finished in literature, in style and composition. On this the Greeks greatly valued themselves, as the Jews did on miracles and wonders; compare 1 Corinthians 1:22. The apostle means to say, that the success of the gospel did not depend on these things; that he had not sought them; nor had he exhibited them in his preaching. His doctrine and his manner had not been such as to appear wise to the Greeks; and he had not depended on eloquence or philosophy for his success. Longinus (on the Sublime) enumerates Paul among people distinguished for eloquence; but it is probable that he was not distinguished for the graces of manner (compare 2 Corinthians 10:1, 2 Corinthians 10:10), so much as the strength and power of his reasoning.
Paul here introduces a new subject of discourse, which he pursues through this and the two following chapters - the effect of philosophy on the gospel, or the estimate which ought to be formed in regard to it. The reasons why he introduces this topic, and dwells upon it at such a length, are not perfectly apparent. They are supposed to have been the following:
(1) He had incidentally mentioned his own preaching, and his having been set apart particularly to that; 1 Corinthians 1:17.
(2) his authority, it is probable, had been called in question by the false teachers at Corinth.
(3) the ground of this, or the reason why they undervalued him, had been probably, that he had not, evinced the eloquence of manner and the graces of oratory on which they so much valued themselves.
(4) they had depended for their success on captivating the Greeks by the charms of graceful rhetoric and the refinements of subtle argumentation.
(5) In every way, therefore, the deference paid to rhetoric and philosophy in the church, had tended to bring the pure gospel into disrepute; to produce faction; and to destroy the authority of the apostle. It was necessary, therefore, thoroughly to examine the subject, and to expose the real influence of the philosophy on which they placed so high a value.
Lest the cross of Christ - The simple doctrine that Christ was crucified to make atonement for the sins of people. This was the speciality of the gospel; and on this doctrine the gospel depended for success in the world.
Should be made of none effect - Should be rendered vain and ineffectual. That is, lest the success which might attend the preaching of the gospel should be attributed to the graces of eloquence, the charms of language, or the force of human argumentation, rather than to its true cause, the preaching of Christ crucified; or lest the attempt to recommend it by the charms of eloquence should divert the attention from the simple doctrines of the cross, and the preaching be really vain. The preaching of the gospel depends for its success on the simple power of its truths, borne by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of people; and not on the power of argumentation, and the charms of eloquence. To have adorned the gospel with the charms of Grecian rhetoric, would have obscured its wisdom and efficacy, just as the gilding of a diamond would destroy its brilliancy. True eloquence, and real learning and sound sense, are not to be regarded as valueless; but their use in preaching is to convey the truth with plainness; to fix the mind on the pure gospel; and to leave the conviction on the heart that this system is the power of God. The design of Paul here cannot be to condemn true eloquence and just reasoning, but to rebuke the vain parade, and the glittering ornaments, and dazzling rhetoric which were objects of so much esteem in Greece. A real belief of the gospel, a simple and natural statement of its sublime truths, will admit of, and prompt to, the most manly and noble kind of eloquence. The highest powers of mind, and the most varied learning, may find ample scope for the illustration and the defense of the simple doctrines of the gospel of Christ. But it does not depend for its success on these, but on its pure and heavenly truths, borne to the mind by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
18For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
For the preaching of the cross - Greek, "the word (ὁ λόγος ho logos) of the cross;" that is, the doctrine of the cross; or the doctrine which proclaims salvation only through the atonement which the Lord Jesus Christ made on the cross, This cannot mean that the statement that Christ died "as a martyr" on a cross, appears to be foolishness to people; because, if that was all, there would be nothing that would appear contemptible, or that would excite their opposition more than in the death of any other martyr. The statement that Polycarp, and Ignatius, and Paul, and Cranmer died as martyrs, does not appear to people to be foolishness, for it is a statement of an historical truth, and their death excites the high admiration of all people. And if, in the death of Jesus on the cross, there had been nothing more than a mere martyr's death, it would have been equally the object of admiration to all people. But; the "preaching of the cross" must denote more than that; and must mean:
(1) That Christ died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of people, and that; it was this which gave its speciality to his sufferings on the cross.
(2) That people can be reconciled to God, pardoned, and saved only by the merits and influence of this atoning sacrifice.
To them that perish - τοις μεν απολλυμενοις tois men apollumenois. To those who are about to perish, or to those who have a character fitting them for destruction; that is, to the wicked. The expression stands in contrast with those who are "saved," that is, those who have seen the beauty of the cross of Christ, and who have fled to it for salvation.
Foolishness - Folly. That is, it appears to them to be contemptible and foolish, or unworthy of belief. To the great mass of the Jews, and to the pagan philosophers, and indeed, to the majority of the people of this world, it has ever appeared foolishness, for the following reasons:
(1) The humble origin of the Lord Jesus. They despise him that lived in Nazareth; that was poor; that had no home, and few friends, and no wealth, and little honor among his own countrymen.
(2) they despise him who was put to death, as an impostor, at the instigation of his own countrymen, in an ignominious manner on the cross - the usual punishment of slaves.
(3) they see not why there should be any particular efficacy in his death. They deem it incredible that he who could not save himself should be able to save them; and that glory should come from the ignominy of the cross.
(4) they are blind to the true beauty of his personal character; to the true dignity of his nature; to his power over the sick, the lame, the dying, and the dead; they see not the bearing of the work of atonement on the law and government of God; they believe not in his resurrection, and his present state of exalted glory. The world looks only at the fact, that the despised man of Nazareth was put to death on a cross, and smiles at the idea that such a death could have any important influence on the salvation of man - It is worthy of remark, also, that to the ancient philosophers this doctrine would appear still more contemptible than it does to the people of these times. Everything that came from Judea, they looked upon with contempt and scorn; and they would spurn above all things else the doctrine that they were to expect salvation only by the crucifixion of a Jew. Besides, the account of the crucifixion has now lost to us no small part of its reputation of ignominy. Even around the cross there is conceived to be no small amount of honor and glory. There is now a sacredness about it from religious associations; and a reverence which people in Christian lands can scarcely help feeling when they think of it. But to the ancients it was connected with every idea of ignominy. It was the punishment of slaves, impostors, and vagabonds; and had even a greater degree of disgrace attached to it than the gallows has with us. With them, therefore, the death on the cross was associated with the idea of all that is shameful and dishonorable; and to speak of salvation only by the sufferings and death of a crucified man, was suited to excite in their bosoms only unmingled scorn.
But unto us which are saved - This stands opposed to "them that perish." It refers, doubtless, to Christians, as being saved from the power and condemnation of sin; and as having a prospect of eternal salvation in the world to come.
It is the power of God - See the note at Romans 1:16. This may either mean that the gospel is called "the power of God," because it is the medium through which God exerts his power in the salvation of sinners; or, the gospel is adapted to the condition of man, and is efficacious in renewing him and sanctifying him. It is not an inert, inactive letter, but is so suited to the understanding, the heart, the hopes, the fears of people, and all their great constitutional principles of action, that it actually overcomes their sin, and diffuses peace through the soul. This efficacy is not unfrequently attributed to the gospel. John 17:17; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22-23. When the gospel, however, or the preaching of the cross, is spoken of as effectual or powerful, it must be understood of all the agencies which are connected with it; and does not refer to simple, abstract propositions, but to the truth as it comes attended with the influences which God sends down to accompany it.
It includes, therefore, the promised agency of the Holy Spirit, without which it would not be effectual. But the agency of the Spirit is designed to give efficacy to that which is "really adapted" to produce the effects, and not to act in an arbitrary manner. All the effects of the gospel on the soul - in regeneration, repentance, faith, sanctification - in hope, love, joy, peace, patience, temperance, purity, and devotedness to God, are only such "as the gospel is suited to produce." It has a set of truths and promises just adapted to each of these effects; just suited to the soul by him who knows it; and adapted to produce just these results. The Holy Spirit secures their influence on the mind: and is the grand living agent of accomplishing just what the truth of God is "suited originally" to produce. Thus, the preaching of the cross is "the power of God;" and every minister may present it with the assurance that he is presenting, not "a cunningly devised fable," but a system "really suited" to save people; and yet, that its reception by the human mind depends on the promised presence of the Holy Spirit.
19For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
For it is written - This passage is quoted from Isaiah 29:14. The Hebrew of the passage, as rendered in the English version is, "the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid." The version of the Septuagint is, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the understanding of the prudent I will hide" κρύψω krupsō, corresponding substantially with the quotation by Paul. The sense in the Hebrew is not materially different. The meaning of the passage as used by Isaiah is, that such was the iniquity and stupidity of "Ariel" Isaiah 29:1, that is, Jerusalem, that God would so execute his judgments as to confound their wise men, and overwhelm those who boasted of their understanding. Those in whom they had confided, and on whom they relied, should appear to be bereft of their wisdom; and they should be made conscious of their own lack of counsel to meet and remove the impending calamities. The apostle does not affirm that this passage in Isaiah refers to the times of the gospel. The contrary is manifestly true. But it expresses a general principle of the divine administration - "that the coming forth of God is often such as to confound human prudence; in a manner which human wisdom would not have devised; and in such a way as to show that he is not dependent on the wisdom of man." As such, the sentiment is applicable to the gospel; and expresses just the idea which the apostle wished to convey - that the wisdom of the wise should be confounded by the plan of God; and the schemes of human devising be set at naught.
I will destroy - That is, I will abolish; or will not be dependent on it; or will show that my plans are not derived from the counsels of people.
The wisdom of the wise - The professed wisdom of philosophers.
And will bring to nothing - Will show it to be of no value in this matter.
The prudent - The people professing understanding; the sages of the world. We may remark:
(1) That the plan of salvation was not the contrivance of human wisdom.
(2) it is "unlike" what people have themselves devised as systems of religion. It did not occur to the ancient philosophers; nor has it occurred to the modern.
(3) it may be expected to excite the opposition, the contempt, and the scorn of the wise people of this world; and the gospel makes its way usually, not with their friendship, but in the face of their opposition.
(4) its success is such as to confound and perplex them. They despise it, and they see not its secret power; they witness its effects, but are unable to account for them. It has always been a question with philosophers why the gospel met with such success; and the various accounts which have been given of it by its enemies, show how much they have been embarrassed. The most elaborate part of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," is contained in his attempt to state the causes of the early propagation of Christianity, in 1 Corinthians 15:16; and the obvious failure of the account shows how much the mind of the philosophic sceptic was embarrassed by the fact of the spread of Christianity.
(5) the reception of the gospel demands an humble mind; Mark 10:15. People of good sense, of humble hearts, of childlike temper, embrace it; and they see its beauty, and are won by its loveliness, and controlled by its power. They give themselves to it; and find that it is suited to save their souls.
(6) in this, Christianity is like all science. The discoveries in science are such as to confound the wise in their own conceits, and overthrow the opinions of the prudent, just as much as the gospel does, and thus show that both are from the same God - the God who delights to pour such a flood of truth on the mind as to overwhelm it in admiration of himself, and with the conviction of its own littleness. The profoundest theories in science, and the most subtle speculations of people of genius, in regard to the causes of things, are often overthrown by a few simple discoveries - and discoveries which are at first despised as much as the gospel is. The invention of the telescope by Galileo was to the theories of philosophers and astronomers, what the revelation of the gospel was to the systems of ancient learning, and the deductions of human wisdom. The one confounded the world as much as the other; and both were at first equally the object of opposition or contempt.
20Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
Where is the wise? - Language similar to this occurs in Isaiah 33:18, "Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?" Without designing to quote these words as having an original reference to the subject now under consideration, Paul uses them as any man does language where he finds words with which he or his readers are familiar, that will convey his meaning. A man familiar with the Bible, will naturally often make use of Scripture expressions in conveying his ideas. In Isaiah, the passage refers to the deliverance of the people from the threatened invasion of Sennacherib. The 18th verse represents the people as meditating on the threatened terror of the invasion; and then in the language of exultation and thanksgiving at their deliverance, saying, "where is the wise man that laid the plan of destroying the nation? Where the Inspector General (see my note on the passage in Isaiah), employed in arranging the forces? Where the receiver (margin the "weigher"), the paymaster of the forces? Where the man that counted the towers of Jerusalem, and calculated on their speedy overthrow? All baffled and defeated; and their schemes have all come to nothing." So the apostle uses the same language in regard to the boasted wisdom, of the world in reference to salvation. It is all baffled, and is all shown to be of no value.
The wise - σοφός sophos. The sage. At first the Greek men of learning were called "wise men" σοφοί sophoi, like the magicians of the East. They afterward assumed a more modest appellation, and called themselves the "lovers of wisdom" φιλοσοφοι philosophoi, or "philosophers." This was the name by which they were commonly known in Greece in the time of Paul.
Where is the scribe? - γραμματεὺς grammateus. The scribe among the Jews was a learned man originally employed in transcribing the law, but subsequently the term came to denote a learned man in general. Among the Greeks the word was used to denote a public notary or a transcriber of the laws; or a secretary. It was a term, therefore nearly synonymous with a man of learning; and the apostle evidently uses it in this sense in this place. Some have supposed that he referred to the Jewish men of learning here; but he probably had reference to the Greeks.
Where is the disputer of this world? - The acute and subtle sophist of this age. The word "disputer" συζητητὴς suzētētēs, properly denotes one who "inquires" carefully into the causes and relations of things; one who is a subtle and abstruse investigator. It was applied to the ancient sophists and disputants in the Greek academics; and the apostle refers, doubtless, to them. The meaning is, that in all their professed investigations, in all their subtle and abstruse inquiries, they had failed of ascertaining the way in which man could be saved; and that God had devised a plan which had baffled all their wisdom, and in which their philosophy was disregarded. The term "world," here αἰῶνος aiōnos, refers, probably, not to the world as a physical structure - though Grotius supposes that it does - but to that "age" - the disputer of that age, or generation - an age eminently wise and learned.
Hath not God made foolish ... - That is, has he not by the originality and superior efficacy of his plan of salvation, poured contempt on all the schemes of philosophers, and evinced their folly? Not only without the aid of those schemes of human beings, but in opposition to them, he has devised a plan for human salvation that evinces its efficacy and its wisdom in the conversion of sinners, and in destroying the power of wickedness. Paul here, possibly, had reference to the language in Isaiah 44:25. God "turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish."
21For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
For after that - ἐπειδὴ epeidē. Since, or seeing that it is true that the world by wisdom knew not God. After all the experience of the world it was ascertained that human beings would never by their own wisdom come to the true knowledge of God, and it pleased him to devise another plan for salvation.
In the wisdom of God - This phrase is susceptible of two interpretations:
(1) The first makes it refer to "the wisdom of God" evinced in the works of creation - the demonstration of his existence and attributes found there, and, according to that, the apostle means to say, that the world by a survey of the works of God did not know him; or were, notwithstanding those works, in deep darkness. This interpretation is adopted by most commentators - by Lightfoot, Rosenmuller, Grotius, Calvin, etc. According to this interpretation, the word ἐν en (in) is to be translated "by" or "through."
(2) a second interpretation makes it refer to the wise arrangement or government of God, by which this was permitted. "For when, by the wise arrangement or government of God; after a full and fair trial of the native, unaided powers of man, it was ascertained that the true knowledge of God would not be arrived at by man, it pleased him," etc. This appears to be the correct interpretation, because it is the most obvious one, and because it suits the connection best. It is, according to this, a reason why God introduced a new method of saving people. This may be said to have been accomplished by a plan of God, which was wise, because:
(1) It was desirable that the powers of man should be fully tried before the new plan was introduced, in order to show that it was not dependent on human wisdom, that it was not originated by man, and that there was really need of such an interposition.
(2) because sufficient time had been furnished to make the experiment. An opportunity had been given for four thousand years, and still it had failed.
(3) because the experiment had been made in the most favorable circumstances. The human faculties had had time to ripen and expand; one generation had had an opportunity of profiting by the observation of its predecessor; and the most mighty minds had been brought to boar on the subject. If the sages of the east, and the profound philosophers of the west, had not been able to come to the true knowledge of God, it was in vain to hope that more profound minds could be brought to bear on it, or that more careful investigation would be bestowed on it. The experiment had been fairly made, and the result was before the world; see the notes at Romans 1.
The world - The people of the world; particularly the philosophers of the world.
By wisdom - By their own wisdom, or by the united investigations of the works of nature.
Knew not God - Obtained not a true knowledge of him. Some denied his existence; some represented him under the false and abominable forms of idol worship; some ascribed to him horrid attributes; all showed that they had no true acquaintance with a God of purity, with a God who could pardon sin, or whose worship conduced to holiness of life; see the notes at Romans 1.
It pleased God - God was disposed, or well pleased. The plan of salvation originated in his good pleasure, and was such as his wisdom approved. God chose this plan, so unlike all the plans of human beings.
By the foolishness of preaching - Not "by foolish preaching," but by the preaching of the cross, which was regarded as foolish and absurd by the people of the world. The plan is wise, but it has been esteemed by the mass of people, and was particularly so esteemed by the Greek philosophers, to be egregiously foolish and ridiculous; see the note at 1 Corinthians 1:18.
To save them that believe - That believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; see the note at Mark 16:16. This was the speciality and essence of the plan of God, and this has appeared to the mass of people to be a plan devoid of wisdom and unworthy of God. The preaching of the cross which is thus esteemed foolishness, is made the means of saving them, because it sets forth God's only plan of mercy, and states the way in which lost sinners may become reconciled to God.
22For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
For the Jews require a sign - A miracle, a prodigy, an evidence of divine interposition. This was the characteristic of the Jewish people. God had manifested himself to them by miracles and wonders in a remarkable manner in past times, and they greatly prided themselves on that fact, and always demanded it when any new messenger came to them, professing to be sent from God. This propensity they often evinced in their contact with the Lord Jesus; Matthew 12:38; Matthew 16:1; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; Luke 12:54-56. Many mss., instead of "sign" here in the singular, read "signs" in the plural; and Griesbach has introduced that reading into the text. The sense is nearly the same, and it means that it was a characteristic of the Jews to demand the constant exhibition of miracles and wonders; and it is also implied here, I think, by the reasoning of the apostle, that they believed that the communication of such signs to them as a people, would secure their salvation, and they therefore despised the simple preaching of a crucified Messiah. They expected a Messiah that should come with the exhibition of some stupendous signs and wonders from heaven (Matthew 12:38, etc., as above); they looked for the displays of amazing power in his coming, and they anticipated that he would deliver them from their enemies by mere power; and they, therefore, were greatly offended 1 Corinthians 1:23, by the simple doctrine of a crucified Messiah.
And the Greeks ... - Perhaps this means the pagan in general, in opposition to the Jews; see the note at Romans 1:16. It was, however, especially the characteristic of the Greek philosophers. They seek for schemes of philosophy and religion that shall depend on human wisdom, and they therefore despise the gospel.
23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But we - We who are Christian preachers make Christ crucified the grand subject of our instructions and our aims in contradistinction from the Jew and the Greek. They seek, the one miracles, the other wisdom, we glory only in the cross.
Christ crucified - The word Christ, the anointed, is the same as the Hebrew name Messiah. The emphasis in this expression is on the word "crucified." The Jews would make the Messiah whom they expected no less an object of glorifying than the apostles, but they spurned the doctrine that he was to be crucified. Yet in that the apostles boasted; proclaiming him crucified, or "having been crucified" as the only hope of man. This must mean more than that Christ was distinguished for moral worth, more than that he died as a martyr; because if that were all, no reason could be given why the cross should be made so prominent an object. It must mean that Christ was crucified for the sins of people, as an atoning sacrifice in the place of sinners. "We proclaim a crucified. Messiah as the only redeemer of lost people."
To the Jews a stumbling-block - The word "stumbling-block" (σκάνδαλον skandalon) means properly anything in the way over which one may fall; then anything that gives offence, or that causes one to fall into sin. Here it means that to the Jews, the doctrine that the Messiah was to be crucified gave great offence; excited, irritated, and exasperated them; that they could not endure the doctrine, and treated it with scorn. Compare the Romans 9:33 note; 1 Peter 2:8 note. It is well known that to the Jews no doctrine was more offensive than this, that the Messiah was to be put to death, and that there was to be salvation in no other way. It was so in the times of the apostles, and it has been so since. They have, therefore, usually called the Lord Jesus, by way of derision, "תלוי Tolwiy, the man that was hanged," that is, on a cross; and Christians they have usually denominated, for the same reason, צבדי תלוי 'Abday Tolwiy, servants of the man that was hanged." The reasons of this feeling are obvious:
(1) They had looked for a magnificent temporal prince; but the doctrine that their Messiah was crucified, dashed all their expectations. And they regarded it with contempt and scorn, just in proportion as their hopes had been elevated, and these high expectations cherished.
(2) they had the common feelings of all people, the native feelings of pride, and self-righteousness, by which they rejected the doctrine that we are dependent for salvation on one who was crucified.
(3) they regarded Jesus as one given over by God for an enormous attempt at imposition, as having been justly put to death; and the object of the curse of the Almighty. Isaiah 53:4, "we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God." They endeavored to convince themselves that he was the object of the divine dereliction and abhorrence; and they, therefore, rejected the doctrine of the cross with the deepest feelings of detestation.
To the Greeks - To the Gentiles in general. So the Syriac, the Vulgate, the Arabic, and the Aethiopic versions all read it. The term "Greek" denotes all who were not Jews; thus the phrase, "the Jews and the Greeks" comprehended the whole human family, 1 Corinthians 1:22.
Foolishness - See the note at 1 Corinthians 1:18. They regarded it as folly:
(1) Because they esteemed the whole account a fable, and an imposition;
(2) It did not accord with their own views of the way of elevating the condition of man;
(3) They saw no efficacy in the doctrine, no tendency in the statement that a man of humble birth was put to death in an ignominious manner in Judea, to make people better, or to receive pardon.
(4) they had the common feelings of unrenewed human nature; blind to the beauty of the character of Christ, and blind to the design of his death; and they therefore regarded the whole statement as folly.
We may remark here, that the feelings of the Jews and of the Greeks on this subject, are the common feelings of people. Everywhere sinners have the same views of the cross; and everywhere the human heart, if left to itself, rejects it, as either a stumbling-block or as folly. But the doctrine should be preached, though it is an offence, and though it appears to be folly. It is the only hope of man; and by the preaching of the cross alone can sinners be saved.
24But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
But unto them which are called - To all true Christians. See the note at 1 Corinthians 1:9.
Both Jews and Greeks - Whether originally of Jewish or Gentile extraction, they have here a common, similar view of the crucified Saviour.
Christ the power of God - Christ appears to them as the power of God; or it is through him that the power of salvation is communicated to them. See the note at 1 Corinthians 1:18.
And the wisdom of God - The way in which God evinces his wisdom in the salvation of people. They see the plan to be wise. They see that it is adapted to the end. They see it to be suited to procure pardon, and sanctification, and eternal life. It is God's wise plan for the salvation of people; and it is seen by those who are Christians, to be adapted to this end. They see that there is a beauty in his character; an excellency in his doctrines; and an efficacy in his atonement, to secure their salvation. - We may remark on this verse:
(1) That when people become Christians, their hearts are changed. The views of Christians are here represented as diametrically opposite to those of other people. To one class, Christ is a stumbling-block; to others, folly; to Christians he is full of beauty. But those views of the Christian, can be obtained only by a change of heart. And the change from regarding an object or being as foolishness to regarding it as full of beauty, must be a radical and a mighty change.
(2) all Christians have similar views of the Saviour. It matters not whether they were Jew or Greek; it matters not whether they were born in a northern or southern clime - "whether an Indian or an African sun has burned upon them;" whether they speak the same or different languages; whether they were born amidst the same or different denominations of Christians; whether in the same or different countries; or whether they are people in the same or different Christian communities, they have the same views of the Saviour. They see him to be the power and the wisdom of God. They are united in him, and therefore united to each other; and should regard themselves as belonging to the same family, and as bound to the same eternal home.
(3) there is real efficacy in the plan of salvation. It is a scheme of power. It is adapted to the end, and is admirably suited to accomplish the great effects which God designs to accomplish. It is not a scheme intended to show its own imbecility, and the need of another and an independent agent to accomplish the work. All the effects which the Holy Spirit produces on the soul, are such, and only such, as the truth of the gospel is adapted to produce in the mind. The gospel is God's plan of putting forth power to save people. It seizes upon great elements in human nature; and is adapted to enlist them in the service of God. It is just suited to man as a being capable of reasoning and susceptible of emotion; as a being who maybe influenced by hope and fear; who may be excited and impelled to duty by conscience, and who may be roused from a state of lethargy and sin by the prospect of eternal life, and the apprehension of eternal death. "As such" it should always be preached - as a system "wise," and "adapted" to the great end in view, as a system most powerful and "mighty to the pulling down of strong holds."
25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Because the foolishness of God - That which God appoints, requires, commands, does, etc., which appears to people to be foolish. The passage is not to be understood as affirming that it is really foolish or unwise; but that it appears so to people - Perhaps the apostle here refers to those parts of the divine administration where the wisdom of the plan is not seen; or where the reason of what God does is concealed.
Is wiser than men - Is better adapted to accomplish important ends, and more certainly effectual than the schemes of human wisdom. This is especially true of the plan of salvation - a plan apparently foolish to the mass of people - yet indubitably accomplishing more for the renewing of people, and for their purity and happiness, than all the schemes of human contrivance. They have accomplished nothing toward people's salvation; this accomplishes everything. They have always failed; this never fails.
The weakness of God - There is really no weakness in God, any more than there is folly. This must mean, therefore, the things of his appointment which appear weak and insufficient to accomplish the end. Such are these facts - that God should seek to save the world by Jesus of Nazareth, Who was supposed unable to save himself Matthew 27:40-43; and that he should expect to save people by the gospel, by its being preached by people who were without learning, eloquence, wealth, fame, or power. The instruments were feeble; and people judged that this was owing to the weakness or lack of power in the God who appointed them.
Is stronger than men - Is able to accomplish more than the utmost might of man. The feeblest agency that God puts forth - so feeble as to be esteemed weakness - is able to effect more than the utmost might of man. The apostle here refers particularly to the work of redemption; but it is true everywhere. We may remark:
(1) That God often effects his mightiest plans by that which seems to men to be weak and even foolish. The most mighty revolutions arise often from the slightest causes; his most vast operations are often connected with very feeble means. The revolution of empires; the mighty effects of the pestilence; the advancement in the sciences, and arts, and the operations of nature, are often brought about by means apparently as little suited to accomplish the work as those which are employed in the plan of redemption.
(2) God is great. If his feeblest powers put forth, surpass the mightiest powers of man, how great must be his might. If the powers of man who rears works of art; who levels mountains and elevates vales; if the power which reared the pyramids, be as nothing when compared with the feeblest putting forth of divine power, how mighty must be his arm! How vast that strength which made, and which upholds the rolling worlds! How safe are his people in his hand! And how easy for him to crush all his foes in death!
26For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
For ye see your calling - You know the general character and condition of those who are Christians among you, that they have not been generally taken from the wise, the rich, and the learned, but from humble life. The design of the apostle here is, to show that the gospel did not depend for its success on human wisdom. His argument is, that "in fact" those who were blessed by it had not been of the elevated ranks of life mainly, but that God had shown his power by choosing those who were ignorant, and vicious, and abandoned, and by reforming and purifying their lives. The verb "ye see" βλέπετε blepete, is ambiguous, and may be either in the indicative mood, as our translators have rendered it, "ye do see; you are well apprised of it, and know it," or it may be in the imperative, "see; contemplate your condition;" but the sense is substantially the same. "Your calling" (τὴν κλῆσιν tēn klēsin) means "those who are called" 1 Corinthians 1:9; as "the circumcision" means those who are circumcised. Romans 3:30. The sense is, "took upon the condition of those who are Christians."
Not many wise men - Not many who are regarded as wise; or who are ranked with philosophers. This supposes that there were some of that description, though the mass of Christians were then, as now, from more humble ranks of life. That there were some of high rank and wealth at Corinth who became Christians, is well known. Crispus and Sosthenes, rulers of the synagogue there (Acts 28:8, Acts 28:17; Compare 1 Corinthians 1:1); Gaius, a rich, hospitable man Romans 16:23; and Erastus the chancellor of the city of Corinth Rom 16:23, had been converted and were members of the church. Some have supposed ("Macknight") that this should be rendered "not many mighty, wise, etc. 'call you;' that is, God has not employed the wise and the learned 'to call' you into his kingdom." But the sense in our translation is evidently the correct interpretation. It is the obvious sense; and it agrees with the design of the apostle, which was to show that God had not consulted the wisdom, and power, and wealth of men in the establishment of his church. So the Syriac and the Vulgate render it.
According to the flesh - According to the maxims and principles of a sensual and worldly policy; according to the views of people when under the influence of those principles; that is, who are unrenewed. The flesh here stands opposed to the spirit; the views of the people of this world in contradistinction from the wisdom that is from above.
Not many mighty - Not many people of power; or men sustaining important "offices" in the state. Comp, Revelation 6:15. The word may refer to those who wield power of any kind, whether derived from office, from rank, from wealth, etc.
Not many noble - Not many of illustrious birth, or descended from illustrious families - εὐγενεῖς eugeneis, "well-born." In respect to each of these classes, the apostle does not say that there were no men of wealth, and power, and birth, but that the mass or body of Christians was not composed of such. They were made up of those who were in humble life. There were a few, indeed, of rank and property, as there are now; but then, as now, the great mass was composed of those who were from the lower conditions of society. The reason why God had chosen his people from that rank is stated in 1 Corinthians 1:29. The character of many of those who composed the church at Corinth before the conversion, is stated in 1 Corinthians 6:10-11, which see.
27But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
But God hath chosen - The fact of their being in the church at all was the result of his choice. It was owing entirely to his grace.
The foolish things - The things esteemed foolish among people. The expression here refers to those who were destitute of learning, rank, wealth, and power, and who were esteemed as fools, and were despised by the rich and the great.
To confound - To bring to shame; or that he might make them ashamed; that is, humble them by showing them how little he regarded their wisdom; and how little their wisdom contributed to the success of his cause. By thus overlooking them, and bestowing his favors on the humble and the poor; by choosing his people from the ranks which they despised, and bestowing on them the exalted privilege of being called the sons of God, he had poured dishonor on the rich and the great, and overwhelmed them, and their schemes of wisdom, with shame. It is also true, that those who are regarded as fools by the wise men of the world are able often to confound those who boast of their wisdom; and that the arguments of plain people, though unlearned except in the school of Christ; of people of sound common sense under the influence of Christian principles, have a force which the learning and talent of the people of this world cannot gainsay or resist. They have truth on their side; and truth, though dressed in a humble garb, is more mighty than error, though clothed with the brilliancy of imagination, the pomp of declamation, and the cunning of sophistry.
And the weak things - Those esteemed weak by the people of the world.
The mighty - The great; the noble; the learned.
28And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
And base things of the world - Those things which by the world are esteemed ignoble. Literally, those which are not of noble, or illustrious birth τὰ ἀγειῆ ta ageiē.
Things which are despised - Those which the world regards as objects of contempt; compare Mark 9:12; Luke 18:19; Acts 4:11.
Yea - The introduction of this word by the translators does nothing to illustrate the sense, but rather enfeebles it. The language here is a striking instance of Paul's manner of expressing himself with great strength. He desires to convey in the strongest terms, the fact, that God had illustrated his plan by choosing the objects of least esteem among people. He is willing to admit all that could be said on this point. He says, therefore, that he had chosen the things of ignoble birth and rank - the base things of the world; but this did not fully express his meaning. He had chosen objects of contempt among people; but this was not strong enough to express his idea. He adds, therefore, that he had chosen those things which were absolutely nothing, which had no existence; which could not be supposed to influence him in his choice.
And things which are not - τὰ μὴ ὄντα ta mē onta. That which is nothing; which is worthless; which has no existence; those flyings which were below contempt itself; and which, in the estimation of the world, were passed by as having no existence; as not having sufficient importance to be esteemed worthy even of the slight notice which is implied in contempt. For a man who despises a thing must at least notice it, and esteem it worth some attention. But the apostle here speaks of things beneath even that slight notice; as completely and totally disregarded, as having no existence. The language here is evidently that of hyperbole (compare the note at John 21:25). It was a figure of speech common in the East, and not unusual in the sacred writings; compare Isaiah 40:17.
All nations before him are as nothing.
And they are counted to him less than nothing and vanity.
See also Romans 4:17, "God, who - calleth those things which be not, as though they were." This language was strongly expressive of the estimate which the Jews fixed on the Gentiles, as being a despised people, as being in fact no people; a people without laws, and organization, and religion, and privileges; see Hosea 1:10; Hosea 2:23; Romans 9:25; 1 Peter 2:10. "When a man of rank among the Hindus speaks of low-caste persons, of notorious profligates, or of those whom he despises, he calls them "alla-tha-varkal," that is, "those who are not." The term does not refer to life or existence, but to a quality or disposition, and is applied to those who are vile and abominable in all things. "My son, my son, go not among them 'who are not.'" "Alas! alas! those people are all alla-tha-varkal." When wicked men prosper, it is said, "this is the time for those 'who are not.'" "Have you heard that those 'who are not' are now acting righteously?" Vulgar and indecent expressions are also called, "words that are not." "To address men in the phrase 'are not,' is provoking beyond measure" - Roberts, as quoted in Bush's Illustrations of Scripture.
To bring to naught - To humble and subdue. To show them how vain and impotent they were.
Things that are - Those who on account of their noble birth, high attainments, wealth, and rank placed a high estimate on themselves and despised others.
29That no flesh should glory in his presence.
That no flesh - That no person; no class of people. The word "flesh" is often thus used to denote human beings. Matthew 24:22; Luke 3:6; John 17:2; Acts 2:17; 1 Peter 1:24; etc.
Should glory - Should boast; Romans 3:27.
In his presence - Before him. That man should really have nothing of which to boast; but that the whole scheme should be adapted to humble and subdue him. On these verses we may observe:
(1) That it is to be expected that the great mass of Christian converts will be found among those who are of humble life - and it may be observed also, that true virtue and excellence; sincerity and amiableness; honesty and sincerity, are usually found there also.
(2) that while the mass of Christians are found there, there are also those of noble birth, and rank, and wealth, who become Christians. The aggregate of those who from elevated ranks and distinguished talents have become Christians, has not been small. It is sufficient to refer to such names as Pascal, and Bacon, and Boyle, and Newton, and Locke, and Hale, and Wilberforce, to show that religion can command the homage of the most illustrious genius and rank.
(3) the reasons why those of rank and wealth do not become Christians, are many and obvious:
(a) They are beset with special temptations.
(b) They are usually satisfied with rank, and wealth, and do not feel their need of a hope of heaven.
(c) They are surrounded with objects which flatter their vanity, which minister to their pride, and which throw them into the circle of alluring and tempting pleasures.
(d) They are drawn away from the means of grace and the places of prayer, by fashion, by business, by temptation.
(e) There is something about the pride of learning and philosophy, which usually makes those who possess it unwilling to sit at the feet of Christ; to acknowledge their dependence on any power; and to confess that they are poor, and needy, and blind, and naked before God.
(4) the gospel is designed to produce humility, and to place all people on a level in regard to salvation. There is no royal way to the favor of God. No monarch is saved because he is a monarch; no philosopher because he is a philosopher; no rich man because he is rich; no poor man because he is poor. All are placed on a level. All are to be saved in the same way. All are to become willing to give the entire glory to God. All are to acknowledge him as providing the plan, and as furnishing the grace that is needful for salvation. God's design is to bring down the pride of man, and to produce everywhere a willingness to acknowledge him as the fountain of blessings and the God of all.
30But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
But of him - That is, by his agency and power. It is not by philosophy; not from ourselves; but by his mercy. The apostle keeps it prominently in view, that it was not of their philosophy, wealth, or rank that they had been raised to these privileges, but of God as the author.
Are ye - Ye are what you are by the mercy of God. 1 Corinthians 15:10. You owe your hopes to him. The emphasis in this verse is to he placed on this expression, "are ye." You are Christians, not by the agency of man, but by the agency of God.
(See the supplementary note at Romans 8:10.)
In Christ Jesus - See the note at 1 Corinthians 1:4. By the medium, or through the work of Christ, this mercy has been conferred on you.
Who of God - From God ἀπὸ θεοῦ apo theou. Christ is given to us by God, or appointed by him to be our wisdom, etc. God originated the scheme, and God gave him for this end.
Wisdom - That is, he is to us the source of wisdom; it is by him that we are made wise. This cannot mean that his wisdom becomes strictly and properly ours; that it is set over to us, and reckoned as our own, for that is not true. But it must mean simply, that Christians have become "truly wise" by the agency, the teaching, and the work of Christ. Philosophers had attempted to become wise by their own investigations and inquiries. But Christians had become wise by the work of Christ; that is, it had been by his instructions that they had been made acquainted with the true character of God; with his law; with their own condition; and with the great truth that there was a glorious immortality beyond the grave. None of these truths had been obtained by the investigations of philosophers, but by the instructions of Christ. In like manner it was that through him they had been made practically wise unto salvation. Compare Colossians 2:3, "In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." He is the great agent by whom we become truly wise. Christ is often represented as eminently wise, and as the source of all true wisdom to his people. Isaiah 11:1; Matthew 13:54; Luke 2:40, Luke 2:52; 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 3:10. "Ye are wise in Christ." Many commentators have supposed that the beautiful description of wisdom, in Proverbs 8 is applicable to the Messiah. Christ may be said to be made wisdom to us, or to communicate wisdom:
(1) Because he has in his own ministry instructed us in the true knowledge of God, and of those great truths which pertain to our salvation.
(2) because he has by his word and spirit led us to see our true situation, and made us "wise unto salvation." He has turned us from the ways of folly, and inclined us to walk in the path of true wisdom.
(3) because he is to his people now the source of wisdom. He enlightens their mind in the time of perplexity; guides them in the way of truth; and leads them in the path of real knowledge. It often happens that obscure and ignorant people, who have been taught in the school of Christ, have more true and real knowledge of that which concerns their welfare, and evince more real practical wisdom, than can be learned in all the schools of philosophy and learning on the earth. It is wise for a sinful and dying creature to prepare for eternity. But none but those who are instructed by the Son of God, become thus wise.
And righteousness - By whom we become righteous in the sight of God. This declaration simply affirms that we become righteous through him, as it is affirmed that we become wise, sanctified, and redeemed through him. But neither of the expressions determine anything as to the mode by which it is done. The leading idea of the apostle, which should never be lost sight of, is that the Greeks by their philosophy did not become truly wise, righteous, sanctified, and redeemed; but that this was accomplished through Jesus Christ. But "in what way" this was done, or by what process or mode, is not here stated; and it should be no more assumed from this text that we became righteous by the imputation of Christ's righteousness, than it should be that we became wise by the imputation of his wisdom, and sanctified by the imputation of his holiness. If this passage would prove one of these points, it would prove all. But as it is absurd to say that we became wise by the imputation of the personal wisdom of Christ, so this passage should not be brought to prove that we became righteous by the imputation of his righteousness. Whatever may be the truth of that doctrine, this passage does not prove it.
By turning to other parts of the New Testament to learn in what way we are made righteous through Christ, or in what way he is made unto us righteousness; we learn that it is in two modes:
(1) Because it is by his merits alone that our sins are pardoned, and we are justified, and treated as righteous (see the note at Romans 3:26-27); and,
(2) Because by his influence, and work, and Spirit, and truth, we are made personally holy in the sight of God.
The former is doubtless the thing intended here, as sanctification is specified after. The apostle here refers simply to the fact, without specifying the mode in which it is done. That is to be learned from other parts of the New Testament. Compare the note at Romans 4:25. The doctrine of justification is, that God regards and treats those as righteous who believe on his Son, and who are pardoned on account of what he has done and suffered. The several steps in the process may be thus stated:
(1) The sinner is by nature exposed to the wrath of God. He is lost and ruined. He has no merit of his own. He has violated a holy law, and that law condemns him, and he has no power to make an atonement or reparation. He can never be pronounced a "just" man on his own merits. He can never vindicate his conduct, as a man can do in a court of justice where he is unjustly accused, and so be pronounced just.
(2) Jesus Christ has taken the sinner's place, and died in his stead. He has honored a broken law; he has rendered it consistent for God to pardon. By his dreadful sufferings, endured in the sinner's place, God has shown his hatred of sin, and his willingness to forgive. His truth will be vindicated, and his law honored, and his government secured, if now he shall pardon the offender when penitent. As he endured these sorrows for others, and not for himself, they can be so reckoned, and are so judged by God. All the "benefits" or "results" of that atonement, therefore, as it was made for others, can be applied to them, and all the advantage of such substitution in their place, can be made over to them, as really as when a man pays a note of hand for a friend; or when he pays for another a ransom. The price is reckoned as paid for them, and the "benefits" flow to the debtor and the captive. It is not reckoned that they paid it, for that is not true; but that it was done for them, and the benefit may be theirs, which is true.
(3) God has been pleased to promise that these benefits may be conferred on him who believes in the Saviour. The sinner is "united" by faith to the Lord Jesus, and is so adjudged, or reckoned. God "esteems" or judges him to be a believer according to the promise. And so believing, and so repenting, he deems it consistent to pardon and justify him who is so united to his Son by faith. He is justified, not by the ACT of faith; not by any merits of his own, but by the merits of Christ. He has no other ground, and no other hope. Thus, he is in fact a pardoned and justified man; and God so reckons and judges. God's law is honored, and the sinner is pardoned and saved; and it is now as consistent for God to treat him as a righteous man, as it would be if he had never sinned - since there is as high honor shown to the law of God, as there would have been had he been personally obedient, or had he personally suffered its penalty. And as, through the death of Christ, the same "results" are secured in upholding God's moral government as would be by his condemnation, it is consistent and proper for God to forgive him and treat him as a righteous man; and to do so accords with the infinite benevolence of his heart.
And sanctification - By him we are sanctified or made holy. This does not mean, evidently, that his personal holiness is reckoned to us, but that by his work applied to our hearts, we become personally sanctified or holy. Compare Ephesians 4:24. This is done by the agency of his Spirit applying truth to the mind John 17:19, by the aid which he furnishes in trials, temptations, and conflicts, and by the influence of hope in sustaining, elevating and purifying the soul. All the truth that is employed to sanctify, was taught primarily by him; and all the means that may be used are the purchase of his death, and are under his direction; and the Spirit by whose agency Christians are sanctified, was sent into the world by him, and in answer to his prayers. John 14:16; John 15:26.
And redemption - ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrōsis. For the meaning of this word, see the note at Romans 3:24. Here it is evidently used in a larger sense than it is commonly in the New Testament. The things which are specified above, "justification and sanctification," are a part of the work of redemption. Probably the word is used here in a wide sense, as denoting the whole "group," or class of influences by which we are brought at last to heaven; so that the apostle refers not only to his atonement, but to the work by which we are in fact redeemed from death, and made happy in heaven. Thus, in Romans 8:23, the word is applied to the resurrection, "the 'redemption' of the body." The sense is, "it is by Christ that we are redeemed; by him that an atonement is made; by him that we are pardoned; by him that we are delivered from the dominion of sin, and the power of our enemies; and by him that we shall be rescued from the grave, and raised up to everlasting life." Thus, the whole work depends on him; and no part of it is to be ascribed to the philosophy, the talent, or the wisdom of human beings. He does not merely aid us; he does not complete that which is imperfect; he does not come in to do a part of the work, or to supply our defects; but it is all to be traced to him. Colossians 2:10, "and ye are complete in him."
31That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
As it is written - This is evidently a quotation made from Jeremiah 9:23-24. It is not made literally; but the apostle has "condensed" the sense of the prophet into a few words, and has retained essentially his idea.
He that glorieth - He that boasts or exults.
In the Lord - Not ascribing his salvation to human abilities, or learning, or rank, but entirely to God. And from this we see:
(1) That the design of the plan of salvation is to exalt God in view of the mind.
(2) that the design is to make us humble; and this is the design also of all his works no less than of the plan of salvation. All just views of the creation tend to produce true humility.
(3) it is an evidence of piety when we are thus disposed to exalt God, and to be humble. It shows that the heart is changed; and that we are truly disposed to honor him.
(4) we may rejoice in God. We have no strength, and no righteousness of which to boast; but we may rejoice in him. He is full of goodness and mercy. He is able to save us. He can redeem us out of the hand of all our enemies. And when we are conscious that we are poor, and feeble, and helpless; when oppressed with a sense of sin, we may rejoice in him as our God; and exult in him as our Saviour and Redeemer. True piety will delight to come and lay everything at his feet; and whatever may be our rank, or talent, or learning, we shall rejoice to come with the temper of the humblest child of poverty, and sorrow, and lack, and to say, "not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake," Psalm 115:1.
"Not to our names, thou only just and true,
Not to our worthless names is glory due;
Thy power and grace, thy truth and justice claim.
Immortal honours to thy sovereign name."