Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
Verse 1. - Paul. After the beginning of the first missionary journey (A.D. 45) he seems to have finally abandoned his Hebrew name of Saul. Called. The word "called" is absent from A, D, E, and other manuscripts, but may have been omitted as superfluous. It occurs in the greeting of Romans 1:1, but not in any other Epistle. The words might also be rendered "a called or chosen apostle." To be an apostle. He uses this title in every letter except the private one to Philemon, the peculiarly friendly and informal one to the Philippians, and the two to the Thessalonians, which were written before the Judaizers had challenged his claim to this title in its more special sense. The Epistle to the Romans is the first in which he calls himself "a slave of Jesus Christ" (comp. Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1). It was necessary for him to assert his right to the apostolate in the highest sense of the word, as one who had received from Christ himself an authority equal to that of the twelve (see 1 Corinthians 9:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:9; 2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 12:11, 12; Galatians 1:1-19, etc.). Of Jesus Christ. In the Gospels the word "Christ" is all but invariably "the Christ," i.e. the Anointed, the Messiah. It is the designation of the office of Jesus as the promised Deliverer. We trace in the New Testament the gradual transition of the word from a title into a proper name. In the two names together our Lord is represented as "the Saviour," and the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King, first of the chosen people and then of all mankind. Through the will of God (comp. 2 Corinthians 1 Ephesians Colossians 2 Timothy 1:1). This special call to the apostleship is emphatically expanded in Galatians 1:1. The vindication of the Divine and independent claim was essential to St. Paul's work. It was not due to any personal considerations, but to the necessity of proving that no human authority could be quoted to overthrow the gospel which was peculiarly "his gospel" (see Galatians 1:11; Ephesians 3:8), of which one main feature was the freedom of the Gentiles from the yoke of Judaic bondage. And Soathenes. The association of one or more brethren with himself in the greeting of his letters is peculiar to St. Paul. Silas and Timothy are associated with him in 1 and 2 Thessalonians; and Timothy, though so much his junior, in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon; doubtless he would have been associated with St. Paul in this Epistle had he not been absent (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10). The practice arose partly from St. Paul's exquisite courtesy and consideration towards his companions, partly from his shrinking from mere personal prominence. It is owing to the same reasons that in the earlier Epistles he constantly uses "we" for "I," and sometimes when he can only be speaking of himself (1 Thessalonians 2:18). But even in the Epistles to the Thessalonians he sometimes relapses from "we" into "I" (2 Thessalonians 2:5). Our brother; literally, the brother; i.e. one of "the brethren" (comp. 2 Corinthians 1:1). Of Sosthenes nothing whatever is known. He may possibly be the amanuensis whom St. Paul employed for this letter. Later tradition, which in such matters is perfectly valueless, spoke of him as" one of the seventy disciples, and Bishop of Colophon" (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' 1:12). There is a Jewish Sosthenes, a ruler of the synagogue, in Acts 18:17; but it is only a vague conjecture that he may have been subsequently converted, and may have joined St. Paul at Ephesus. It is obvious that the persons named in the greetings of the Epistles were not in any way supposed to be responsible for their contents, lot St. Paul begins with "I" in ver. 4. Brother. At this time there was no recognized title for Christians. In the Acts they are vaguely spoken of as "those of this way." Among themselves they were known as "the saints," "the faithful," "the elect." The name "Christians" was originally a nickname devised by the Antiochenes. In the New Testament it only occurs as a designation used by enemies (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16).
Unto 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:
Verse 2. - Unto the Church. This form of address is used in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians. In St. Paul's later Epistles, for some unknown reason, he prefers the address "to the saints." These forms of address show the absence of any fixed ecclesiastical government. He does not in this Epistle address any "bishops" or "presbyters" whom he might regard as responsible for the growing disorders which prevailed at Corinth, but he appeals to the whole Church. The word ecclesia - signifying those who were "called out of the world," and so primarily applied to "the congregation of Israel" - came ultimately to mean "a congregation." The only apostle who uses the word "synagogue" of the Christian assemblies is St. James (James 2:2). Of God. Not the Church of this or that party leader. Some commentators give to these words an emphasis and importance which does not seem to belong to them. Which is at Corinth. So in 2 Corinthians 1:2. In 1 and 2 Thessalonians he prefers the form, "the Church of the Thessalonians." "The Church at Corinth" was an expression which involved the sharpest of contrasts. It brought into juxtaposition the holiest ideal of the new faith and the vilest degradations of the old paganism. It was "a glad and great paradox" (Bengel). The condition of society at Corinth, at once depraved and sophistical, throws light on many parts of the Epistle. Cicero describes the city as "illustrious a like for wantonness, opulence, and the study of philosophy." Even them that are sanctified. The apostles could only write to Churches as being really Churches, and to Christians as being true Christians. In all general addresses they could only assume that the actual resembled the ideal. They never conceal the immense chasm which separated the real condition of many members of their Churches from the vocation which they professed. They knew also that it is (as Calvin says) "a perilous temptation to refuse the name of Church to every Church in which there is not perfect purity." Ideally even the Corinthian Christians were redeemed by Christ's expiation, consecrated and sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit. They could only be addressed in accordance with their ostensible position (see Hooker, 'Eccl. Pol.,' 3:1; 5:68). Our Prayer book is constructed on the same principle. The harvest is still a harvest, though amongst the corn there may be many tares. In Christ Jesus. The words, "in Christ," constitute what has been happily called "the monogram of St. Paul." The life of the true Christian is no longer his own. The Christ for him has become the Christ in him. His natural life is merged into a higher spiritual life. Baptized into Christ, he has become one with Christ. Called to be saints. (On this Christian calling, see Ephesians 4:1, 4; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 3:1; 2 Peter 1:10.) They are called to be united saints, not schismatic partisans or members of antagonistic cliques. The description of what they were ideally is the more emphatic because he feels how much they had fallen away. With all that... in every place. Perhaps this may mean the same as 2 Corinthians 1:1, "With all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia;" or the words may imply that St. Paul's exhortations are applicable to all Christians, wherever they may be and (as is expressed in the next clause) whatever may be their varying shades of individual opinion. It was well in any case to remind the Corinthians that they formed but a fraction of the Christian communities. Catholicity, not provincialism, makes the true Church of God. Call upon the Name. The Greek verb is here in the middle voice, not "who are called by the Name"(comp. James 2:7; Amos 9:12, LXX.). It means, therefore, all who reverence the Name of Christ, all who adore their one "Lord" in the fulness of his nature (see Joel 3:5; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:24; 2 Timothy 2:22, etc.); in other words, "all who profess and call themselves Christians" (comp. Acts 25:11). Their Lord and ours. I connect these words, not with "place," as in the Vulgate, In omni loco ipsorum et nostro - which, however it may be twisted, can give no good sense - but with "Jesus Christ." It has been in all ages a fatal temptation of party Christians to claim a monopoly of Christ for themselves and their own sects, as though they only taught the gospel, and were the only Christians or the only "Evangelicals." But Christ cannot thus be "parcelled into fragments" (see vers. 12, 13), nor has any party a right to boast exclusively, "I am of Christ." The addition, "and ours," could not be regarded as super fluous in writing to a Church of which one section wanted to assert an exclusive right in Christ.
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 3. - Grace to you and peace. This is St. Paul's greeting in all the Epistles except the pastoral Epistles, in which he beautifully adds the word "mercy." It is a remarkable blending of the Greek and Jewish salutations. The Greeks said Ξαίρειν, and to them the word "grace" involved the notions of joy and brightness and prosperity. The calmer and more solemn greeting of the East was, "Peace be to thee." The Church unites both forms of greeting - "grace," the beginning of every blessing; "peace," the end of all blessings; and into both she infuses a deeper meaning, that of a "joy" which defied all tribulations, and a" peace which passeth all understanding." From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. God is the Source of "every good gift and every perfect gift." God is our Father as our Creator, and as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we become, in a higher sense, his children. Christ, in his mediatorial kingdom, is specially and immediately "our Lord," though that phrase, now so universal, only occurs (in its isolated form) in Hebrews 7:14. Jesus Christ. One of St. Paul's peculiarities of style is the constant reiteration of one dominant word. In the first nine verses of this Epistle, the Name "Jesus Christ" is repeated no less than nine times. "Observe," says St. Chrysostom, "how he nails them down to the Name of Christ, not mentioning any man, either apostle or teacher, but continually mentioning him for whom they yearn, as men preparing to awaken those who are drowsy after a debauch. For nowhere in any other Epistle is the Name of Christ so continually introduced By means of it he weaves together almost his whole exordium."
I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
Verses 4-9. - The thanksgiving. The thanksgiving is a feature in almost every Epistle of St. Paul, except the Epistle to the Galatians, in which he plunges at once into severe reprobation. Verse 4. - I thank my God. It is probable, from papyrus rolls in the British Museum, that the general form and outline of letters was more or less conventional. In St. Paul, however, this thanksgiving is the natural overflow of a full heart. It was no mere compliment or rhetorical artifice like the captatio benevolentiae, or endeavouring to win the hearers by flattery, which we find in most ancient speeches. My God (Romans 1:8). Always; that is, constantly; on all occasions of special prayer. He could still thank God for them, though his letter was written "with many tears" (2 Corinthians 2:4). For the grace of God. The grace (χάρις) of spiritual life showing itself in many special spiritual gifts (χαρίσματα), such as "the gift of tongues." Which was given you. This is one of St. Paul's "baptismal aorists." He always regards and speaks of the life of the soul as summed up potentially in one supreme moment and crisis - namely, the moment of conversion and baptism. The grace given once was given for ever, and was continually manifested. In Christ Jesus. St. Paul regarded the life of the Christian as "hid with Christ in God," and of Christ as being the Christian's life (see Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 4:10, 11; Colossians 3:3, 4; 2 Timothy 1:1; 1 John 5:11, etc.).
That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
Verse 5. - In everything; i.e. of course, every gift which belongs specially to the Christian life. In all utterance; i.e. in all "eloquence" (λόγῳ), or perhaps "in all doctrine" (so Luther, Calvin, Meyer, etc.). The word for" utterance" is rhema; logos means "discourse" and "reason" (comp. 2 Corinthians 8:7). Knowledge. From the word guests is derived the name Gnostic, which was applied to so many forms of ancient heresy. There was danger to the Corinthian Christians in the exaggerated estimate of what they took for gnosis, and many of them were tempted to pride themselves on purely intellectual attainments, which were valueless for the spiritual life. St. Clement of Rome also, in writing to them ('Ep. ad Corinthians 1.') speaks of their "mature and established knowledge."
Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
Verse 6. - Even as; i.e. "inasmuch as." The testimony of Christ. The testimony borne to Christ by the apostle. The genitive is thus objective (about Christ), not subjective (" the testimony borne by Christ"). In reality, however, the meaning' would be the same in either case, for if the apostles testified concerning Christ, so, too, Christ spoke in the apostles. Was confirmed in you. This does not merely mean "that the truth of Christianity was established among them," but that they were living confirmations of the apostolic testimony.
So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Verse 7. - So that ye come behind in no gift. The "gifts" are here the charismata, graces, such as powers of healing, etc., which were the result of the outpouring of the Spirit. The sequel shows that they were rather outward than inward; they were splendid endowments rather than spiritual fruits. Yet even these were not wholly wanting, as we see from 2 Corinthians 8:7. The Greek may also mean "causing you not to be conscious of inferiority." Waiting; expecting, not fearing it, This was the constant attitude of the early Christians (Romans 8:19-25; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 9:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Colossians 3:4; Titus 2:13). Love for Christ's manifestation was a Christian characteristic (2 Timothy 4:8). The revelation. Three words are used to express the second advent: apokalypsis (as here and in 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7, 13); parousia (as in Matthew 24:3, 27, etc.; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; James 5:7, 8, etc.); and epiphaneia, in the pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; Titus 2:13). St. Paul, however, only uses parousia six times in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and once in 1 Corinthians 15:23. All Christians alike expected the return of Christ very soon, and possibly in their own lifetime (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10, etc.; 1 Corinthians 15:51; James 5:8, 9; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 22:20, etc.). Their expectation was founded on the great eschatological discourse of our Lord (Matthew 24:29, 30, 34), and on his express promise that that generation should not pass away before his predictions were fulfilled. They were fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem and the close of the old dispensation, though they await a stilt more universal fulfilment.
Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 8. - Who; clearly Christ, though his Name is again repeated in the next clause. Shall also confirm you. This natural expression of the apostle's yearning hope for them must not be overpressed into any such doctrine as "the indefectibility of grace." All honest and earnest students must resist the tendency to strain the meaning of Scripture texts into endless logical inferences which were never intended to be deduced from them. Unto the end; namely, to the end of "this age," and to the coming of Christ (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 3:6, 13; Hebrews 6:11). That ye be unreprovable; rather, unimpeached (anenkletous), as in Colossians 1:22; 1 Timothy 3:18; Titus 1:6. It is not the word rendered "blameless" (amemptos) in Philippianws 2:15 or in 2 Peter 3:14. A Christian can only be "blameless," not as being sinless, but as having been forgiven, renewed, sanctified (1 Corinthians 6:11; Romans 8:30). In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the same as the apokalypsis or parousia. It is sometimes called simply "the day" (comp. 1 Corinthians 3:13; Acts 1:20; Joel 3:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Revelation 6:17).
God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Verse 9. - God is faithful. He will not leave his promises unfulfilled or his work unfinished (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 10:23; Romans 8:28-30). Through whom. By whom, as the moving cause and agent in your salvation. Ye were called. The calling was a pledge of the final blessing (Romans 8:30). Into the fellowship of his Son. Union (koinonia, communion) with Christ is the sole means of spiritual life (John 15:4; Galatians 2:20). Through the Son we also have fellowship with the Father (1 John 1:3). The perfect sincerity of the apostle is observable in this thanksgiving. He speaks of the Church in general in terms of gratitude and hopefulness, and dwells on its rich spiritual endowments; but he has not a word of praise for any moral advance such as that which he so lovingly recognized in the Thessalonians and Philippians.
Now 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.
Verses 10-17. - Party spirit at Corinth. This subject is pursued in various forms to 1 Corinthians 4:21. Verse 10. - Now. The particle implies the transition from thanksgiving to reproof. Brethren. This very title involves an appeal to them to aim at unity among themselves; and St. Paul, like St. James (James 5:10), uses it to soften any austerity which might seem to exist in his language (1 Corinthians 7:29; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 14:20, etc.). Through the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; that is, by the whole idea of Christ's being and office - the strongest bond of union between true Christians (see the powerful appeal in Ephesians 4:1-6). That ye all speak the same thing; that is, "that ye may all with one mind and one mouth glorify God" (Romans 15:6). They were doing the very reverse - each glorifying himself and his party (ver. 12). Divisions (σχίσματα); "schisms" used of bodies within the Church, not of separatists from it (1 Corinthians 11:18). The word is only used in this special sense in this Epistle. In Matthew 9:16 and Mark 2:21 schisma means "a rent;" in John (John 7:43; John 9:16; John 10:19), "a division of opinion." There would be little or no harm in the schismata so far as they affected unessential points, if it was not their fatal tendency to end in "contentions" (erides) and "factions" (haireseis, 1 Corinthians 11:19). Corinth was a place where such divisions would be likely to spring up, partly from the disputatious vivacity and intellectual conceits of the inhabitants, partly from the multitudes of strangers who constantly visited the port, partly from the numerous diversities of previous training through which the various sections of converts had passed. Perfected together; literally, repaired, reunited. In the same mind and in the same judgment; that is, in what they think and believe (νοὶ), and in what they assert and do (γνώμῃ). The exhortation, "be of one mind," in every sense of the word, was as necessary in the ancient as in the modern Church (Romans 15:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:8).
For 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.
Verse 11. - It hath been signified unto me. He had heard these saddening rumours towards the close of his stay in Ephesus. By them which are of the household of Chloe. The Greek only has "by them of Chloe. St. Paul wisely and kindly mentions his authority for these reports. Nothing is known of Chloe or her household. It has been conjectured that Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, Corinthians who were now with St. Paul at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:16), may have been Chloe's slaves or freedmen. Contentions. These are the works of the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; 1 Timothy 6:4). The condition of the Church was the same when St. Clement of Rome wrote to them. He had still to complain of the "strange and alien and, for the elect of God, detest able and unholy spirit of faction which a few rash and self willed persons kindled to such a pitch of dementation" ('Ep. ad Corinthians 1.').
Now 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.
Verse 12. - Now this I mean; in other words, "what I mean is this." Their "contentions" are defined to be equivalent to "religious partisanships; "antagonistic adoption of the names and views of special teachers. Each one of you saith. That party spirit ran so high that they were all listed on one side or another. None of them were wise enough and spiritual minded enough to hold aloof from parties altogether. They prided themselves on being "uncompromising" and "party men." Saith; in a self-assertive way (1 Corinthians 3:21). I am of Paul. He shows his indignation at their partisanship by first rebuking those who had used his own name as a party watchward. He disliked Paulinism as much as Petrinism (Bengel). All the Corinthians would probably have been in this sense Paulinists but for the visits of subsequent teachers. At present the Paul party consisted of those who adhered to his views about Gentile freedom, and who liked the simple spirituality of his teaching. St. Paul rose above the temptation of considering that party spirit is excusable in our own partisans. He reproves factiousness even in the party of freedom. And I of Apollos. Apollos personally was absolutely loyal and honourable, but his visit to Corinth had done mischief. His impassioned oratory, his Alexandrian refinements, his allegorizing exegesis, the culture and polish of his style, had charmed the fickle Corinthians. The Apollonians were the party of culture. They had, as we see from later parts of the Epistle, exaggerated St. Paul's views, as expounded by Apollos, into extravagance. Puffed up with the conceit of knowledge, they had fallen into moral inconsistency. The egotism of oratorical rivals, the contemptuous tone to wards weaker brethren, the sophistical condonations of vice, were probably due to them. Apollos, as we see by his noble refusal to visit Corinth under present circumstances (1 Corinthians 16:12), was as indignant as St. Paul himself at the perversion of his name into an engine of party warfare. (On Apollos, see Acts 18:24-28; Acts 19:1 Titus 3:13.) Nothing further is known respecting him, but he is the almost undoubted author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which proves that he was of the school of St. Paul, while at the same time he showed a splendid originality in his way of arriving at the same conclusion as his teacher. I of Cephas. The use of the Aramaic name (1 Corinthians 3:22; 1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Corinthians 15:6; Galatians 2:9), perhaps, shows that these Petrinists were Judaizers (though it should be added that St. Paul only uses the name "Peter" in Galatians 2:7, 8). They personally disliked St. Paul, and questioned his apostolical authority. Perhaps the extravagances of the "speaking with tongues" arose in this party, who recalled the effects of the outpouring of the Spirit after Peter's great sermon on the day of Pentecost. And I of Christ. We trace the origin of this party to one man in particular (2 Corinthians 2:7), who was, or professed to be, an adherent of James, and therefore one of the more rigid Judaizers. He may have been one from the circle of Christ's earthly relatives - one of the Desposyni (see 1 Corinthians 9:5), and, like St. James, may have had views resembling those of the Essenes and Ebionites. If so, he was probably the author of the questions about celibacy and marriage; and perhaps he prided himself on having seen "Christ in the flesh." This party at any rate, like some modern sects, was not ashamed to degrade into a party watchword even the sacred name of Christ, and to claim for a miserable clique an exclusive interest in the Lord of the whole Church. It is the privilege of every Christian to say, "Christianus sum;" but if he says it in a haughty, loveless, and exclusive spirit, he forfeits his own claim to the title. This exclusive Christ party is, perhaps, specially alluded to in 2 Corinthians 10:7-11. The view of Chrysostom, which takes these words to be St. Paul's remark - "But I belong to Christ," is untenable, and would make trim guilty of the very self-assertiveness which he is reprobating.
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
Verse 13. - Is Christ divided? Has Christ been parcelled into fragments? "Is there a Pauline, a Petrine, an Apollonian, a Christian Christ?" Whether you call yourselves Liberals, or Intellectualists, or Catholics, or Bible Christians, your party spirit is a sin, and all the worse a sin because it pranks itself out in the guise of pure religious zeal. This is more forcible than to take the clause affirmatively:" Christ has been parcelled into fragments." In either ease we see" the tragic result of party spirit." Was Paul crucified for you? Again he rebukes the partisanship which attached itself to his own name. This showed a splendid courage and honesty. The introduction of the question by the negative μὴ expresses astonished indignation: "Can you possibly make a watchword of the name of a mere man, as though he had been crucified for you?" This outburst of feeling is very important, as proving the immeasurable distance which, in Paul's own view, separated him from his Lord. It is also instructive to see how St. Paul at once denounces the spirit of party without deigning to enter into the question as to which party of these wrangling "theologians" was most or least in the right. He did not choose to pander to their sectarian spirit by deciding between their various forms of aggressive orthodoxy. Into the name (comp. Matthew 28:19).
I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
Verse 14. - I thank God that I baptized none of you. St. Paul, in his characteristic manner, "goes off at the word" baptize. He thanked God, not by way of any disparagement to baptism, but because he had thus given no excuse to the undue exaltation of his own name. Compare the practice of our Lord himself, in leaving his disciples to baptize (John 4:2). The apostles would not have approved the system of wholesale baptisms of the heathen which has prevailed in some Romanist missions. Save Crispus. The ruler of the synagogue (Acts 18:8). Doubtless there were some strong special reasons why, in these instances, St. Paul departed from his general rule of not personally baptizing his converts. And Gaius. Gaius of Corinth (Romans 16:23). It was one of the commonest of names. There was another Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4), and another known to St. John (3 John 1:1).
Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
Verse 15. - I had baptized. The better reading, followed by the Revised Version, is, Ye were baptized unto my name; א, A, B, C.
And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
Verse 16. - And I baptized also. This he recalls by an afterthought being, perhaps, reminded of it by Stephanas himself. The household of Stephanas. Stephanas and his house were the first converts in Achaia (1 Corinthians 16:5). When converts became more numerous, St. Paul ceased to baptize them personally (comp. Acts 10:48). I know not. The inspiration of the apostles involved none of the mechanical infallibility ascribed to them by popular dogma, He forgot whether he had baptized any one else or not, but this made no difference as regards his main argument.
For 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.
Verse 17. - Sent me not to baptize, but; that is, according to Semitic idiom, "not so much to baptize, as" (Matthew 28:19). The word "sent" (apesteilen) involves the meaning "made me an apostle" (apostolos). The primary function of the apostles was "to bear witness" (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8, etc.). To preach the gospel. St. Paul again "goes off" at this word, and dwells for eight verses on the character of his preaching. Not in wisdom of words; not, that is, in a philosophic and oratorical style. The simplicity of the style and teaching of the apostles awoke the sneers of philosophers like Celsus and Porphyry. The cross of Christ. The central doctrine of Christianity, the preaching of a crucified Redeemer. Should be made void. The rendering of the Authorized Version is too strong; the cross cannot "be made of none effect." The word means "should be emptied" (comp. 1 Corinthians 9:15; 2 Corinthians 9:3; Philippians 2:7; Romans 4:14); made void of its special and independent power. The words, "the cross of Christ," form the emphatic end of the sentence in the Greek.
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
Verses 18-25. - The nature of true Christian preaching. Verse 18. - For the preaching of the cross; rather, the word of the cross. To them that are perishing; rather, to the perishing; to all those who are now walking in the paths that lead to destruction (2 Corinthians 2:15). To them it was foolishness, because it requires spiritual discernment (1 Corinthians 2:14); and, on the other hand, human wisdom is foolishness with God (1 Corinthians 3:19). Foolishness. It shows the heroic character of the faith of St. Paul that he deliberately preached the doctrine of the cross because he felt that therein lay the conversion and salvation of the world, although he was well aware that he could preach no truth so certain at first to revolt the unregenerate hearts of his hearers. To the Jews "the cross" was the tree of shame and horror; and a crucified person was "accursed of God" (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). To the Greeks the cross was the gibbet of a slave's infamy and a murderer's punishment. There was not a single association connected with it except those of shame and agony. The thought of "a crucified Messiah" seemed to the Jews a revolting folly; the worship of a crucified malefactor seemed to the Greeks "an execrable superstition" (Tacitus, 'Ann.,' 15:44; Pliny, 'Epp.' 10:97); yet so little did St. Paul seek for popularity or immediate success, that this was the very doctrine which he put in the forefront, even at a city so refined and so voluptuous as Corinth. And the result proved his inspired wisdom. That very cross became the recognized badge of Christianity, and when three centuries had elapsed it was woven in gold upon the banners and set in jewels on the diadems of the Roman empire. For had not Christ prophesied, And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me"? Unto us which are being saved; who are on the way of salvation. The same present participle is used in Luke 13:23; Acts 2:47; 2 Corinthians 2:15; Revelation 21:24. It is the power of God. Because the cross is at the heart of that gospel which is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Romans 1:16; Romans 8:3), though many were tempted to be ashamed of it. It could never be a carnal weapon of warfare, and yet was mighty for every purpose (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5).
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Verse 19. - It is written. This formula (1 Corinthians 1:31; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Corinthians 10:7; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 8:15) is chiefly used in letters to Churches in which there were many Jews. This is a free citation from the LXX. of Isaiah 29:14 (the same thought is found in Job 5:12, 13; see too Matthew 11:25). The original passage refers to penal judgments from the Assyrians, which would test the false prophets of Israel.
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
Verse 20. - Where is the wise? etc. (Isaiah 33:18); rather, Where is a wise man? i.e. a scribe, etc., which is even more incisive. These questions are triumphant, like the "Where is the King of Hamath and of Arpad?" The same impassioned form of speech recurs in 1 Corinthians 15:55 and in Romans 3:27. The questions would come home to the Jews, who regarded their rabbis and the "pupils of the wise as exalted beings who could look down on all poor ignorant persons (amharatsim, or "people of the land"); and to the Greeks, who regarded none but the philosophers as "wise." The scribe. With the Jews of that day" the scribe" was" the theologian," the ideal of dignified learning and orthodoxy, though for the most part he mistook elaborate ignorance for profound knowledge. The disputer. The word would specially suit the disputatious Greeks, clever dialecticians. The verb from which this word is derived occurs in Mark 8:11, and the abstract substantive ("an eager discussion") in Acts 28:29. If St. Paul has Isaiah 33:18 in his mind, the word "disputer" corresponds to "the counter of the towers" (comp. Psalm 48:12). Even the rabbis say that when Messiah comes human wisdom is to become needless. Of the world; rather, of this age, or aeon. The old dispensation, then so rapidly waning to its close, was called "this age" (olam hazzeh); the next or Messianic age was called "the age to come" (olam habba). The Messianic age had dawned at the birth of Christ, but the old covenant was not finally annulled till his second coming at the fall of Jerusalem. Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? rather, Did not God (by the cross) stultify the wisdom, etc.? The oxymoron, or sharp contrast of terms - a figure of which St. Paul is fond (see 1 Timothy 5:6; Romans 1:20, etc.; and my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:628) - is here clearly marked in the Greek. The thought was as familiar to the old prophets (Isaiah 44:25) as to St. Paul (Romans 1:22); and even Horace saw that heathen philosophy was sometimes no better than insaniens sapientia (Horace, 'Od.,' 1:34, 2).
For 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.
Verse 21. - In the wisdom of God; that is, as a part of his Divine economy. The world through its wisdom knew not God. These words might be written as an epitaph on the tomb of ancient philosophy, and of modern philosophy and science so far as it assumes an anti-Christian form (Luke 10:21). Human wisdom, when it relies solely on itself, may "feel after God," but hardly find him (Acts 17:26, 27). Through the foolishness of the preaching. This is a mis-translation. It would require keruxeos, not kerugmatos. It should be by the foolishness (as men esteemed it) of the thing preached.
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
Verse 22. - Jews ask for signs; rather, Jews demand signs. This had been their incessant demand during our Lord's ministry; nor would they be content with any sign short of a sign from heaven (Matthew 12:38: 16:1; John 2:18; John 4:48, etc.). This had been steadily refused them by Christ, who wished them rather to see spiritual signs (Luke 17:20, 21). Greeks seek after wisdom. St. Paul at Athens had found himself surrounded with Stoics and Epicureans, and the same new thing which every one was looking for mainly took the shape of philosophic novelties (Acts 17:21).
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
Verse 23. - Christ crucified; rather perhaps, a crucified Messiah. It was only by slow degrees that the title "the Christ," i.e. the Anointed, the Messiah, passed into the name Christ. A stumbling block. They had for centuries been looking for a regal and victorious Messiah, who should exalt their special privileges. The notion of a suffering and humiliated Messiah, who reduced them to the level of all God's other children, was to them "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence" (Romans 9:33; comp. Isaiah 8:14). These two verses, translated into Syriac, furnish a marked play on words (miscol, stumbling block; mashcal, folly; seed, cross); and some have seen in this a sign that St. Paul thought in Syriac. Unto the Greeks; rather, unto Gentiles; א, A, B, C, I). Unto the Jews... unto the Greeks. Both alike had failed. The Jew had not attained ease of conscience or moral perfectness; the Greek had. not unriddled the secret of philosophy; yet both alike rejected the peace and the enlightenment which they had professed to seek. Foolishness. The accent of profound contempt is discernible in all the early allusions of Greeks and Romans to Christianity. The only epithets which they could find for it were "execrable," "malefic," "depraved," "damnable" (Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, etc.). The milder term is "excessive superstition." The heroic constancy of martyrs appeared even to M. Aurelius only under the aspect of a "bare obstinacy." The word used to express the scorn of the Athenian philosophers for St. Paul's "strange doctrine" is one of the coarsest disdain (ἐχλεύαζον), and they called him "a seed pecker" (Acts 17:18, 32), i.e. a mere picker up of "learning's crumbs."
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Verse 24. - Unto them that are called (see Romans 8:28); literally, to the called themselves. Both Jews and Greeks. Henceforth the middle wall of partition between them is thrown down, and there is no difference (Romans 9:24). Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. These words are a summary of the gospel. St. Paul is the best commentator on himself. He speaks elsewhere of "the exceeding greatness of God's power to usward who believe which he wrought in Christ" (Ephesians 1:17-20), and of "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" as being "hid in Christ" (Colossians 2:3). And the world, once so scornful, has learnt that Christ is indeed the Power of God. When Rudolph of Hapsburgh was being crowned, and in the hurry no sceptre could be found, he seized a crucifix, and swore that that should be his only sceptre. When St. Thomas of Aquinum asked St. Bonaventura what was the source of his immense learning, he pointed in silence to his crucifix.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Verse 25. - The foolishness of God... the weakness of God; the method, that is, whereby God works, and which men take to be foolish and weak, because with arrogant presumption they look upon themselves as the measure of all things. But God achieves the mightiest ends by the humblest means, and the gospel of Christ allied itself from the first, not with the world's strength and splendour, but with all which the world despised as mean and feeble - with fishermen and tax gatherers, with slaves, and women, and artizans. The lesson was specially needful to the Corinthians, whom Cicero describes ('De Leg. Age,' 2:32) as "famous, not only for their luxuriousness, but also for their wealth and philosophic culture."
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
Verses 26-31. - The method of God in the spread of the gospel. Verse 26. - For behold; or, consider (imperative, as in 1 Corinthians 10:15; Philippians 3:2). Your calling; the nature and method of your heavenly calling; the "principle God has followed in calling you" (Beza); see Ephesians 4:1; Hebrews 3:1. Not many wise after the flesh. Those who hear the calling arc alone the truly wise; but they are net wise with a carnal wisdom, not wise as men count wisdom; they have but little of the wisdom of the serpent and the wisdom of "this age." The Sanhedrin looked down on the apostles as "unlearned and ignorant men" (Acts 4:13). "God," says St. Augustine, "caught orators by fishermen, not fishermen by orators." Not many mighty; i.e. not many persons of power and influence. Almost the first avowed Gentile Christian of the highest rank was the consul Flavius Clemens, uncle of the Emperor Domitian. This was the more marked because the Jews won many rich and noble proselytes, such as the Queen Helena and the royal family of Adiabene, Poppaea the wife of Nero, and others. The only illustrious converts mentioned in the New Testament are Joseph of Arimathaea, Nicodemus, Sergius Paulus, and Dionysius the Areopagitc. Not many noble. All this was a frequent taunt against Christians, but they made it their boast. Christianity came to redeem and elevate, not the few, but the many, and the many must ever be the weak and the humble. Hence Christ called fishermen as his apostles, and was known as "the Friend of publicans and sinners." None of the rulers believed on him (John 7:48). It must, however, be borne in mind that these words apply mainly and primarily to the first age of Christianity. It was essential that its victory should be due to Divine weapons only, and that it should shake the world "by the irresistible might of weakness." After a time, the wisest and the noblest and the most powerful were called. Kings became the nursing fathers of the gospel, and queens its nursing mothers. Yet the ideal truth remains, and human power shows utter weakness, and human wisdom is capable of sinking into the depths of folly.
But 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;
Verse 27. - God chose; not, hath chosen out. We may remark, once for all, that there was no reason why the translators of 1611 should thus have turned the Greek aorists of the New Testament into perfects. In this and in many instances the change of tense is unimportant, but sometimes it materially and injuriously affects the sense. The foolish things... the weak things. So, too, the psalmist, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength" (Psalm 8:2); and St. James, "Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith?" (James 2:5).
And 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:
Verse 28. - And the base things; literally, low-born, unborn; "those who are sprung kern no one in particular" - nullo patre, nullis majoribus. Nothing could be more ignoble in the eyes of the world than a cross of wood upheld by feeble hands, and yet before it "kings and their armies did flee and were discomfited, and they of the household divided the spoil." And the things that are not. The not is the Greek subjective negative (μὴ); things of which men conceived as not existing - "nonentities." It is like the expression of Clement of Rome, "Things accounted as nothing." Christianity was "the little stone, cut without hands," which God called into existence. We find the same thought in St. John the Baptist's sermon (Matthew 3:9).
That no flesh should glory in his presence.
Verse 29. - That no flesh should glory. For the weak instruments of God's triumphs are so weak that it was impossible for them to ascribe any power or merit to themselves. In contemplating the victory of the cross, the world could only exclaim, "This hath God wrought." "It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
Verse 30. - But of him are ye in Christ Jesus. Ye do not belong to the wise and noble. Your strength will consist in acknowledged weakness; for it is solely derived from your fellowship with God by your unity with Christ. Who was made unto us, etc. These words rather mean, "Who was made unto us wisdom from God - both righteousness and sanctification and redemption." The text is a singularly full statement of the whole result of the work of Christ. as the source of "all spiritual blessings in things heavenly" (Ephesians 1:3), in whom we are complete (Colossians 2:10). Righteousness (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). "Jehovah-tsidkenu - the Lord our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:5). This is the theme of Romans 3:7. Sanctification (see especially 1 Corinthians 6:11 and Ephesians 5:25, 26). Redemption. One of the four main metaphors by which the atonement is described is this of ransom (λύτρον ἀπολύτρωσις). The meaning and nature of the act, as regards God, lie in regions above our comprehension; so that all speculations as to the person to whom the ransom was paid, and the reason why it was indispensable, have only led to centuries of mistaken theology. But the meaning and nature of it, as regards man, is our deliverance from bondage, and the payment of the debt which we had incurred (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18; Matthew 20:28; Romans 8:21-23). In all these cases, as Stanley well observes, the words have a double meaning - both of an inward act and of an outward result.
That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
Verse 31. - As it is written. A compressed quotation from the Septuagint Version of Jeremiah 9:23, 24; 1 Samuel 2:10. Let him glory in the Lord. The word rendered "glory" is more literally, boast. The reference is to Jeremiah 9:23, 24; 1 Samuel 2:10 (LXX.). The prevalence of "boasting" among the Corinthians and their teachers drove St. Paul to dwell much on this word - from which he so greatly shrinks - in 2 Corinthians 10:12. (where the word occurs twenty times), and to insist that the only true object in which a Christian can glory is the cross (Galatians 6:14), not in himself, or in the world, or in men.