From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 1-6                   Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3                                                                                                  [Page 126] 

 



 

 

            The Corinthians were besieged by an astounding variety of divisions over a wide span of issues.  However much they might wish to invoke some authoritative figure in the church as their “leader”—and justify their contentiousness on that ground—they were still guilty of wrongdoing.  Even if they tried to link their actions to the most prestigious individuals (such as Paul, Peter, Apollos), these figures wanted no part of such foolishness.  Hence the ultimate judgment to be made upon the Corinthians had to be one grounded in their individual character and actions and not in supposed loyalty to some “superior” individual.  

 

 

 

 

 

How the Themes Are Developed  

 

 

 

 

 

Their divisiveness had plunged them backward

into the kind of immature behavior

characteristic of the surrounding world

(3:1-3:4)

 

 

            ATP text:  1And I, comrades, could not speak to you as to spiritual individuals but only as to fleshly centered, as to those acting like infants in Christ.  2I fed you with milk and not with solid food for until now you were not able to consume it.  Even now you are still not able, 3for you are still carnal:  for since there is envy and divisions among you, are you not flesh-centered and behaving no better than other people in your community?  4When one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not acting like those in the world around you?”

            Development of the argument:  True, the Corinthians were Christians but they had fallen terribly short of their potential.  At a time when they could have become deeply “spiritual” they were still “carnal” and flesh-orientated (3:1).  If they needed proof, all they had to do was consider their own divisiveness (3:3-4).  Paul had previously had to treat them as mere spiritual infants, giving them only “milk” rather than “solid food:  this was a common contrast found in other ancient Jewish and Greek sources (for

 

 

[Page 127]  example, Philo and Epictetus respectively) to illustrate the difference between basic, easy, and elementary teaching compared to the complex and more difficult insights one should ultimately strive for.[1]  Sadly, their divisiveness meant he still had to treat them on that lower, “simplistic” level (3:2).  Rather than provide them with advanced insights and perhaps teaching totally new to them, he had to return to these beginning principles they should already have fully mastered.[2]

            But is Paul’s judgment sound that loyalty to clique leaders proves spiritual immaturity?  If modern experience provides any illumination, it suggests that they would have upheld their factional allegiance on grounds of greater loyalty to the truth.  Rather than indicting themselves as falling short of the ideal, it would have been deemed a proof of their superior spirituality since they would not contaminate themselves with close contact with rival groupings.

            Hence Paul must address the issue of whether divisiveness fundamentally reflects a desire for maximum spiritual purity or reflects the lack of it.  To deal with the matter by examining what “position” each group took on specific issues could easily result in one group praising themselves on one controversy and attempting to ignore or belittle Paul’s critique on another.  Instead of dealing with the question of “who has the truth?” (if any of them), Paul wishes to force them to recognize that they are approaching the whole question from the wrong perspective:  He powerfully argues that the individual who would willingly divide the church into factions has a fundamentally flawed view of the relationship that is supposed to exist within a congregation. 

            He does not raise the matter of what exceptions there might be (in which division might even be required) for raising that issue would only have offered the opportunity for self-righteous praise of one or more cliques by their members.  They needed to be seeking reasons to stay together rather than excuses to splinter further.    

 

 

 

 

 

Although Paul and Apollos played

different roles in their conversion,

both roles were equally vital (3:5-3:9)

 

 

            ATP text:  5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but servants through whom you believed?  The Lord gave that role to both of us.  6I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God caused the growth.  7So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is important, but God who causes the growth.  8Now he who plants and he who waters are both just as important and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor, 9for we are fellow workers with God.  You are God's farmland and you are God's building.”

Development of the argument:  To make his argument for unity, he utilizes the examples of himself and Apollos, both of whom had attracted factions in their city (1:12). 

 

 

[Page 128]  Paul had planted the seed of the gospel in their midst and Apollos had “watered” it with his encouragement, but in the final analysis it was “God [who] gave the increase” (3:5-6).  In that framework neither Paul nor Apollos dared let their egos get out of hand because the work of both was essential to produce the desired conversion and spiritual grounding of the Corinthians (3:7-9). 

As such they both functioned as “one” (3:8)—one in both purpose and goal.  Indeed, in teaching/doctrine as well or they would have been working at cross purposes and the effort of one individual would have been nullified by the other.  The emphasis on this solidarity is clearly intended as both a rebuke of the Corinthian divisiveness and as a blunt denial that there were any differences—beyond temperamental and non-important ones—between the two men.

            Apollos was not the only one who built on Paul’s initial work (implied in 3:10), thereby showing the principle applied to others as well. None of them, regardless of who they might be, had the right to elevate themselves into the position of “deserving” and demanding special loyalty from the Corinthians that would divide the church.  Implicit is that no one had the right to give such unjustified loyalty either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether the converts were the human

equivalent of hay or gold or some other

substance would be determined by the

              fire” of life’s trials and tribulations (3:10-13)

 

 

            ATP text:  10Due to the divine kindness of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation and another builds on it.  But let each one be careful concerning how one builds on it.  11The reason is that no one can rightly lay any foundation other than that which is already constructed, which is Jesus Christ.  12If anyone builds on this foundation with the human equivalent of gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13that individual’s work will become obvious:  the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire and the fire will test the quality of it.”

            Development of the argument:  God thinks in terms of who is reached with the Divine message, not who pledges loyalty to us as a leader.  Hence the discussion reminding them that whether one’s converts are comparable to “gold,” “silver,” or something far less valuable by human standards and observation (3:12), God is concerned that such individuals endure the “fire” that “will test” them (3:13).  Only if that is the case will we ourselves “receive a reward” for their conversion (3:14). 

Note that the apostle is discussing the testing of one’s converts to determine their true “value” and “substance” (= whether they are the human equivalent of gold, hay, etc.) and is not talking about the testing of the person who has motivated them to faith.[3]  Nor is he talking about the converting minister’s imperfections, sins, or erroneous teaching

 

 

[Page 129]  being “burned away,” so to speak.[4]  The emphasis is strictly on the converts’ salvation and whether it will have any impact on how God views the success of their teacher. 

Paul’s rebuke is an implicit blow at those who targeted prestigious individuals (those comparable to “gold” and “silver”—at least in their own eyes) rather than the less worldly valuable (“hay” and “straw” in 3:12).  Factions would want the former for their group and ignore the latter.  God wants all of these categories to be saved.  And all would face a temporal testing as to their “value” in God’s sight.  The apparently prestigious would no more be exempt than the apparently unimportant singled out.

The image of testing by “fire” was a far more powerful image to an ancient urban audience than to a modern one.  Especially to Corinth:  When Roman forces captured the city, males were killed, women sold into slavery, all valuables that could be moved (paintings, sculpture, etc.) looted, and then the city was burned to leave it as uninhabitable as possible.[5]  It was all part of the local civic memory.

            But fires could also occur accidentally and at any time.  We look at the impressive marble structures used for temples and government offices and forget that their surrounding neighborhood was normally built of wood with a stucco covering.  This burnt quite well.[6]  Few cities even attempted to have the equivalent of a construction code and this was almost two millennium before the idea of rigid fire and building regulations came into vogue. 

The chimney was an invention of the future; hence both cooking and heating were provided by braziers—hazardous to inhabitants with any accidental misuse.[7]  Windows were covered by cloth or skins, the former an excellent accelerant for any accidental fire.[8]  Shoddy construction must also be factored in—the danger of collapse and fire being maximized by shaving the building costs.[9]  Residents lived with these dangers daily and were skittish over them.[10]  Both they and their community might well be tested by fire:  if not today, then next week or next year.[11]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those like Paul and Apollos who had

converted them, would still receive their

reward regardless of which category their                                     converts fell into (3:14-15)

 

 

            ATP text:  14If the work which has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.  15If anyone's work is destroyed, loss will occur, but the builder will still be saved, like someone escaping from the flames.”

            Development of the argument:  Paul hastens to add that just because the convert is lost does not mean we ourselves will lose our reward as well.  Our own salvation is conditional upon the same conditions as those we converted:  our personally and

 

 

[Page 130]  successfully enduring the same testing fire of hardship, temptation, weakness, and anything else that might wean us away from God.  If we remain steadfast, we escape from the flames even if they do not; we suffer the “loss” of the convert and the hours of labor we invested in them, but God does not punish us for their folly.  Is it too extreme to suggest that, in light of the instability of many Corinthians, that Paul felt considerable relief over this fact?  

            Some read the text as referring not to the minister’s converts, but to “the shoddy materials” of “teaching that is inadequate, though not heretical, in building up the Christian church.”[12]  If it were “inadequate” why was it successful in the first place?  Would it not have been self-doomed to failure?  This factor makes it far more likely that the perceived “quality” of the converts is the subject matter rather than that of the eminence of the preaching or its choice of points to emphasize.  Furthermore, if the teaching were so fundamentally flawed, why would Paul assert that the teacher would still be “saved” (3:15)?  Although “it may be that this reward involves a distinct reward above and beyond eternal life” itself,[13] “saved” normally suggests making it to heaven—not getting more than that.                

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those who constituted the spiritual

temple” needed to preserve their individual

and collective purity (3:16-3:17)

 

 

            ATP text:  16Do you not understand that you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God lives in you?  17If anyone pollutes the temple of God, that person God will destroy.  The reason is that the temple of God is pure and you are that temple.”

Development of the argument:   If we “defile” the temple of God that is our body, we will face destruction from God (3:16-17).  In contrast to 6:19-20 (where the individual believer is under discussion), Paul seemingly has in mind here the “temple” constituted by the entire body of believers.[14]  In other words, our personal improprieties and impieties can result in God not only scorning us individually but also the entire congregation that has knowingly tolerated (even encouraged?) our misbehavior.[15]  By putting this fact in such a blunt manner, Paul lays the ground work for his later condemnation of incest and the call for church action against it (chapter 5). 

We Americans cherish the ideals of “freedom of choice” and “rugged individualism,” but whenever we enter into a voluntary group, most recognize that we then implicitly agree to abide by its demands and anticipations as a condition of continued membership.  The same principle Paul applies to the church:  we are not to do things that harm or disgrace it and, if we do, we answer both to God and each other for it.   

 

 

 

 

[Page 131] 

 

They could not remove this obligation

by talking about how smart and

astute they were (3:18-3:20)

 

 

            ATP text:  18Let no one be guilty of self-deception!  If any of you consider yourselves “wise” in the things of this age, you must become a “fool” in order to become truly wise.  19You must because the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.   For it is written, "He catches the wise in their own cunning"; 20and again, "The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless." ”

Development of the argument:  Being in the right faction won’t justify such extreme misbehavior as “defil[ing]” God’s temple (3:17).  Nor will seeming to be intelligent and wise as the world counts such things, do us any real good if it leads us to conclusions and behavior contrary to God’s will (3:18-20). 

One can rationalize anything.  One can find a justification for anything.  (Hitler’s anti-Semitism, for example, was called “scientific anti-Semitism,” as if the pseudo-scientific sugarcoating made the poison acceptable).  Yet God sees through the veneer and recognizes when we are doing things which, deep down, we know are wrong.  When our excuses land up biting us with consequences we never anticipated, He, so to speak, “catches” us with our own reasoning (3:19).  And when the excuses fail to accomplish even the goals we hope to reach, he observes just how “useless” they actually are (3:20).  And when we fall for own self-delusions and actually start believing them?  Perhaps He then merely laughs at our human folly and delusion.        

            Karl Barth reminds us to note that “it is not to the outside children of the world, to unbelieving Jews, proud Gentiles, idealists, materialists, and atheists, but to Christians that all these things are said and applied. . . .”[16]  The ones who should be most aware of their spiritual and moral limitations, can easily let the fact of their faith blind them to the need to live by faith.  If we expect God to hold to account the “outsider” who is full of pride and self-delusion, how can we—of all people—expect to escape censure if we fall into the same trap?      

 

 

 

 

 

Nor could they escape their answerability

by bragging about how much they had or

would accomplish since they all shared in

the most important things by allegiance

to Christ (3:21-3:23)

 

 

           

[Page 132]       ATP text:  21Therefore let no one brag about what anyone is or has done.  For all things are yours: 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or future--everything belongs to you.  23And you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.”

Development of the argument:  Because of the folly of exalting our own “wisdom” and that of others (discussed in the sections before this one), our pride should not be in ourselves but in the fact that we can be of value to each other (3:21-22) and that, in the final analysis, we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God (3:23).  As individuals we may be of no importance, but due to our loyalty to Christ we have a unique relationship both to Him and to His Father. 

This carried a two-sided thrust:  for local leaders it was a warning not to let their egos lift them up above their true status as mere “servants.”  To factional members it was a warning not to bestow such importance upon those leaders they most admired.[17]  Even if they were as astute, skillful, and eloquent as they may have thought them to be, the bottom line was that they all still walked in a servant-superior relationship with their shared Lord.  Posturing and self-importance did not change that fact one iota.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invoking of Explicit Old Testament

Quotations to Justify His Teaching

 

 

 

 

 

            3:19:  The clever person’s schemes ultimately backfire when their purposes and intents defy the Divine will.  Paul quotes how, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness” (ATP:  “cunning”).  Eliphaz the Temanite makes this statement in a context of arguing that God brings to account, even in the current life, the savvy but unjust individual and also comes to the assistance of the less fortunate,

 

                        He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to             safety.  He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot carry out           their plans.  He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the          cunning comes quickly upon them.  They meet with darkness in the daytime, and            grope at noontime as in the night.  But He saves the needy from the sword, from the mouth of the mighty, and from their hand.  So the poor have hope, and     injustice shuts her mouth (Job 5:11-16). 

 

 

 

[Page 133]       In effect God uses their own intelligence and insight against them.  David B. Capes puts it this way, “The language here presents the image of the hunt in which the hunter (God) uses the cunning of the prey (the so-called ‘wise’) to capture them.”[18]  He utilizes their very claimed strengths and skills and plots to bring about not their success but the destruction of those very endeavors.  He “catches” them to face judgment; they fail to “catch” their victims to do injustice.

Although Paul alludes to only the destruction of the success of the plans of the “wise” in the present text, he had passingly referred to their misguided judgment in the preceding chapter (2:6-7).  In chapter one he had gone on into the matter at considerable length (1:18-31).  Hence this passage forms part of the conceptual background of Paul’s thinking that is expressed several times in the epistle, in one form or another.

The text as Paul quotes it, differs from the surviving LXX (“He is the one who catches the wise in understanding”) and the Masoretic Hebrew text (“He is the one who takes the wise in their craftiness”).[19]  Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner argue that Paul’s rendition is closer to the Hebrew because the Hebrew “uses a word that implies a sly and crafty form of wisdom.”[20]  In a similar vein, it has been rightly argued that the reference to “craftiness” in Paul’s quotation brings out the negative connotation required by the context better than the Septuagint, which uses the more neutral wording, “prudence/understanding.”[21] 

Hence the best conclusion is that Paul either used a non-surviving translation or crafted a distinctive one of his own.[22]  Either way, the apostle followed the example of contemporaries in utilizing the translation and wording that seemed both faithful to the original intent and to the point he desired to make from it.[23]

            In regard to Paul’s criticism of “wisdom” as a substitute for the gospel, there has been much speculation as to exactly what he has in mind.  In the past, it has often been categorized as some form of Gnosticism.[24]  Minority views have categorized it as “wisdom” as sought for and cultivated in the traditional Greco-Roman culture of that age.[25]  Yet others have considered the criticized thought to be a development of the Jewish “wisdom” tradition as it had developed from its Biblical roots (in such works as Proverbs) into the form it held in the first century.[26] 

The Greco-Roman approach has a certain inherent appeal due to its likely popularity in a city such as Corinth while the possibility of a Jewish root can not be ignored if one assumes a significant Jewish minority in the Corinthian church, to which the development of Jewish tradition in the area would (presumably) have far greater appeal than its pagan alternatives.  The Gnosticism interpretation is the weakest option because the forms we know of it come from a far later date and its theoretical foundation (a secret covert gnosis/knowledge available only to the inner circle) is not criticized by the apostle.

In 1 Corinthians “wisdom” gives every appearance of being in a form readily available to one and all.  For that reason it is far better to interpret his criticism as one rebuking all forms of thought—regardless of ethnic, religious, or even theological origin—that provided an individual with an excuse to ignore, modify, or reject the gospel Paul had preached.      

 

 

 

[Page 134]       3:20:  The smartest person still suffers failures of his or her practical and theoretical reasoning.  Paul quotes the rebuke, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile” (ATP:  "The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.")  The quotation comes from Psalms 94:11, “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile.”  His substitution of “wise” for “man” adapts the text to the specific type of human being Paul has under consideration.

            In its original Psalms context it is a warning to the “insolent,” unjust, and violent who thinks that Yahweh is oblivious to what is going on (94:4-7).  The reasons for their attitude are not spelled out:  Did they think in terms (to use a modern analogy) of the world being wound up and God letting it go about its course without any intervention at all?  Did they think in terms of the limitations that the polytheistic gods had of having their actions frustrated by other deities or to their power being limited to the homelands of those who were their worshippers? 

            Perhaps they thought that if they kept their schemes secret from their neighbors, that God would also be unaware (as in Isaiah 29:14-16).  Or did they think they had outsmarted Yahweh, by finding some technically legal excuse or justification that “proved” by “law” itself that they were in the right?[27] 

            Whatever their form of reasoning (and, personally, I suspect it was the last), all their intellectual smarts in making wrong right, would do them no good.  God saw through their schemes--and was quite capable of frustrating them no matter how skilled, subtle, or seemingly irresistible were their plans,[28]

 

                        Understand, you senseless among the people; and you fools, when will you be wise?  He who planted the ear, shall He not hear?  He who formed the eye,            shall He not see?  He who instructs the nations, shall He not correct, He who            teaches man knowledge?  The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are    futile (Psalms 94:8-11). 

 

            The Greek term rendered “futile” in verse 11 can equally justly be rendered “empty breath”[29] (roughly equivalent in modern American English vernacular to “hot air”).[30]  The Hebrew drives the thought/interpretation in a similar direction; the translation of David B. Capes is, “Yahweh knows the thoughts of man that they are a breath.”[31] 

“God is the one whose abilities are far greater than those who are in the world (Psalms 94:8-10).  God is also the one who can avenge and judge the earth (Psalms 94:1-3, 13, 23).”[32]  Hence whatever the human species can put up to undermine His decisions are inherently futile and destined to fail. 

            The word for “thoughts” in verse 11 refers to “fabrications” or “plaitings.”  The imagery is that which women do with their hair to make themselves appear beautiful, men do with their thinking to make themselves look intellectually impressive.[33]

            A Torah example of the potential futility of human schemes can be found in the abuse and oppression inflicted upon the Hebrew inhabitants of Egypt after Joseph passed from the personal memory of the currently living generation (Exodus 1:8).  The leadership decided it was “deal[ing] shrewdly with them” by oppressing them (1:10-14).  So far as the immediate results they were:  cities were built and a potential “security

 

 

[Page 135]  danger” (large numbers of resident foreign aliens) were violently kept “in their place.”  The scheme of systematic injustice was ultimately frustrated, the Exodus story tells us, by Moses leading the people out of their captivity (cf. the retroactive statement of Jethro in Exodus 18:10-11).   

            The deuterocanonical literature continues this motif of an earthly wisdom that is blind to divine wisdom.  “The sons of Hagar who seek knowledge on earth, the merchants of Midian and Teman, the phrasemakers (= intellectual types/philosophers) seeking knowledge, these have not known the way to wisdom, nor have they her paths in mind” (Baruch 3:23, New American Bible).  Some, the text seems to imply, did not even bother to try.  Hence we read that God did not give the powerful warrior the way of “understanding” (3:26-27) and as the result they “perished through their folly” (3:28).

            Again, people simply did not recognize the importance of this superior wisdom, “Who has crossed the sea and found her, bearing her away rather than choice gold?  None knows the way to her, nor has any understood her path” (3:30-31).

            Yet God had “traced out all the way of understanding and has given her to Jacob, His servant, to Israel, His beloved son.  Since then she has appeared on earth and moved among men” (3:37-38).  And just where might that Divine wisdom be found?  The very text verse (4:1) answers the question, “She is the book of the precepts of God, the law that endures forever;  all who cling to her will live, but those will die who forsake her.” 

            Hence Paul’s teaching was nothing new in Judaism in regard to man’s wisdom and its futility and in its emphasis on the need to embrace the wisdom that God has sent to the human race.  The problem was getting Jews—and Gentiles—to carry out in real every day living this basic truism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Old Testament Concepts Are

Repeatedly Introduced and Woven

into the Heart of His Argument

 

 

 

 

 

 

            3:5-9:  The comparison of encouraging others to following God’s will with planting and growing a crop.  The picture of planting and watering and the resulting yield of a human crop is one utilized in the prophets of the preceding testament.  “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void,

 

 

[Page 136]  but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). 

            Closely related to this is the imagery of God planting the seed of character growth that yields a crop of personal integrity and respect for the Divine.  Hence in Isaiah 61:11, the readers are reminded that, “As the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”

            In Isaiah 5:1-7 the moralization of planting and crop produce is also developed.  God stresses that He had planted the vineyard of Israel with the intent that it produce quality grapes but it had yielded only “wild” ones (5:2).  In retaliation He threatens to level its protections (the walls and hedges) so it can be “trampled down” (5:5) and “laid waste” (5:6).  The field is explicitly made the people and the crop the elevated morality He demanded:  “He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry for help” (5:7).

 

 

            3:6:  Even when human labor is involved in producing a result, when it is an act in obedience to God’s will Yahweh should be given the credit for its success.  In regard to sharing the gospel with others, Paul discussed how he himself had planted the word (3:5), Apollos had “watered” it, thereby giving it further encouragement (3:6), but that more important than either was “God who gives the increase” (3:7). 

            This interaction between the human and the Divine and the need for both to be working toward the same end is alluded to under the imagery of building in Psalms 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. . . .”  The human role does not rule out the Divine participation; the Divine role does not rule out the human participation.  The fatal trap of either/or is avoided.

 

 

            3:8:  Individual rewards from God based upon individual accomplishment.  Psalms 62:12 refers to this mind-frame of Yahweh, “Also to You, O Lord, belongs mercy; for You render to each one according to his work.”  In this context, the reward is Divine mercy; Paul has in mind the specific Divine mercy of salvation.

 

 

            3:10-11:  The need for building upon the right spiritual foundation, “which is Jesus Christ.”  Paul “laid” this foundation of Christ in Corinth, thereby making possible the church that was ultimately built upon that initial ground-breaking work.  In Isaiah 28:16, we read of how Yahweh would lay a new foundation for His people—one that did not exist in those ancient prophetic days, “Behold I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone,[34] a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily.”  To Paul this foundation would have been the Messiah.  In Isaiah 28 we read of the people, in general, having gone astray; a similar situation now existed in Paul’s day, a problem that could be resolved through recognizing and utilizing the fact that God had laid a new foundation for spiritual survival--Jesus the Messiah.

 

 

           

[Page 137]       3:13:  The trying of God’s people by the testing “fire” of life’s adversities.  Paul mentions that some will not successfully pass through this testing (3:15).  In the writings of Zechariah it is Yahweh who will test as if by fire and, there also, not all will pass the test, “And it shall come to pass in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one-third shall be left in it.  I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested.  They will call on My name, and I will answer them.  I will say, ‘This is My people’; and each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God’ ” (13:8-9).

            The form of testing by “fire” in both Corinthians and Zechariah would seem to be that of enduring life’s obstacles to faithfulness and steadfastness (though this is a minority opinion in regard to Corinthians--see the difficult text section below).  In a somewhat similar vein, Amos 4:11 roots the people’s ethical obligation to revere and obey Yahweh in His having rescued them from the “fire” that endangered them, “ ‘I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; yet you have not returned to Me,’ says the Lord.”

            In Isaiah 41, the emphasis is on God protecting His people, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned.  Nor shall the flame scorch you” (41:2).  That God can do this is shown by His rescue of His people from Egypt (41:3) and how He had manifested “honor” and “love” upon them.

Jeremiah 23:29, however, uses the imagery of testing by fire in a different manner, “ ‘Is not My word like a fire?’ says the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’   In this sense it would be the word itself—not life’s tryings and difficulties--that “burns through” the pretense and appearance and reveals what is really inside the individual. 

            Malachi 3 speaks of a purifying fire that will occur even in the current life.  He speaks of the coming where the divine Messenger will act “like a refiner’s fire and like a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver” (3:2-3).  The result would be to qualify the priests to rightly preside over their offerings (3:3).  Because the religious leadership has purified itself, it is implied (for this comes immediately after the statement), that the worship of the masses will again become acceptable as well, “Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasant to the Lord, as in the days of old, as in former years” (3:4).

            George L. Klein ties together Zechariah 13 and Malachi 3 with these comments, “Although the specific nature of the burning and the remnant remains ambiguous, God’s intent in lighting the fire is not. . . [T]he Lord’s people must go through the fire in order for Judah’s offerings to be acceptable to the Lord as in former days.”[35]  In short, the suffering serves a positive ultimate purpose:  individual and collective moral-religious reform. 

 

 

            3:14:  The person who converts an individual who remains steadfast will “receive a reward.”  In the context of resurrection imagery, Daniel 12:2-3 pictures those who have changed the lifestyle of others.  These he describes as standing out like bright stars (which, presumably, carries with it the connotation of a reward of special honor and recognition), “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to

 

 

[Page 138]  everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.”

 

 

            3:16:  The individual who is part of God’s people is a “temple of God”.   Strictly speaking our current text refers to the church as God’s “temple” and the application of the image to individuals comes later in the book (6:19), yet one image is the logical evolution of the other and this would be an appropriate place to analyze it.  Although without apparent direct parallel in the Old Testament, it represents an understandable adaptation of its thought.  Psalms 15:1 asks the rhetorical question, “Lord who may abide in Your tabernacle?  Who may dwell in Your holy hill?”  Few people actually lived (“dwell[ed]”) in the temple:  it was normally an impracticality no matter how pious one might be.  Hence David is speaking of one whose desire or wish, if it were possible, would be to dwell there forever. 

            By being “in” the sanctuary permanently they would be “part” of that temple.  Hence it would seem only a modest step in thinking from praising the person who desired to remain permanently in God’s shrine to that individual being (= constructively representing) God’s temple and all it stood for in everyday life.  And from that to the next step of all God’s people, collectively, constituting a spiritual temple. 

            Consider the development of the Psalmist’s thought in the remainder of the chapter (15:2-5) where the strict ethical standards are given for the person who would permanently remain in/be “part of” that temple.  Hence the person who lived that manner of life would already be behaving as if “part” of the holy place on Mount Zion. 

            One might apply the same reasoning to Psalms 24.  In that text, the chapter shifts from the person who desired to “stand” within those precincts--presumably permanently, since any ethnic Jew could be there temporarily.  Then the temple itself is humanized (24:6-10) and instructed to lift up its gates and open its doors so Yahweh could enter.  If the temple can be represented as if a human, should it be any surprise that the logic of the transformation be worked in the opposite direction and individuals transformed into either the temple or parts of it?           

 

 

            3:16:  The Holy Spirit as “dwell[ing] in” believers.  The “temple” status is linked to the fact “that the Spirit of God dwells (ATP:  lives) in you” (3:16).  A strict warning accompanies this that, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him” (3:17).   Paul returns to this theme in 6:19, where he calls the body the “temple of the Holy Spirit.  Here he uses this as an argument against consorting with prostitutes:  “you are not your own” so how can you rightly decide to go out and do whatever you wish when it defies God’s will? 

            Normally both of these texts are read as references to an indwelling by the third member of the Godhead. Consideration should be given, however, to the possibility that in both places is the purified human spirit that is under consideration.  Since a man or woman can never purge themselves of their own sins, the fact that spirit is purified is itself a result of God’s action and the human’s self-determination to do what God wishes.  Hence the propriety of describing the purified inner person as a “holy spirit” since the

 

 

[Page 139]  creation of such was the purpose of redemption.

            For the purpose of further analysis, however, let us assume the more traditional approach is the correct one:  Paul has in mind the individual Corinthian having the Spirit within him or her—either independently of the Divine Revelation or through the Divine Revelation.  In my judgment, the latter best fits the Biblical data. 

            The New Testament refers to how God (is “in you all,” Ephesians 4:6), Jesus as well (John 14:20; 15:4; Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Colossians 1:27), and the usually mentioned Spirit (Romans 8:9).  Oddly enough, we always seem to limit the “direct divine indwelling” to the latter.  Why?  Wouldn’t it be more logical to say that we “literally” have all—or none?  

            We recognize that literalism falters and fails when we take that mode of analysis and apply it in the opposite direction.  After all, we read of believers being “in Me” (Jesus, John 14:20) and the instruction is to “abide in Me” (again, Jesus, John 15:4).  Furthermore, there is the admonition to their followers “that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21—God and Jesus), but none would argue that we somehow are literally “indwelling” the Divine would they?    

            It would seem far more realistic to conclude that the intended “indwelling” is of all three through the word they have revealed to guide us.  Hence we read of the Holy Spirit delivering the message spoken by believers (Matthew 10:20).  We read of “my words abiding in you” (John 5:38 and 15:7).  The divine word “effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).  Hence they are “in” us by their instructing media being within us.

            Perhaps the best example of this comes from two parallel passages concerning praising God.  In Ephesians 5:18 the command is to “be filled with the Spirit,” and then it explains how this is done:  by “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (5:19).  Here we become Spirit filled not by some supernatural endeavor of God but by our actions glorifying the Lord. 

The parallel instruction in Colossians 3:16 speaks of the need to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”  Assuming--as is very probable, that the same underlying assumption is in Paul’s mind in both texts--then the Spirit dwells in us through the word of Christ (which the Spirit revealed (John 16:13-15).  It has a direct and personal impact but not a miraculous presence.   

The idea of God’s people being “possessed” by the Spirit is not unique to the New Testament—though it is quite possible that at least many of the texts may well be referring to some kind of “gift of the Spirit” (parallel to Paul’s teaching in Corinthians on miraculous gifts?) rather than to any “indwelling” as commonly interpreted.  For example, when we turn to the Old Testament prophets, we find that Isaiah speaks of that Spirit having been with the Israelites, “Where is He who put His Holy Spirit within them?”  (Isaiah 63:11). 

            Rather than referring to an individual indwelling of all Israelites, it could be that the Holy Spirit is viewed as working through certain selected individuals within their ranks:  collective Israel had the “Holy Spirit within them” because those specific individuals were blessed with the Spirit. 

 

 

[Page 140]  A similar idea of the Spirit working within the community rather than the individual is certainly found in Haggai 2:5, “According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you [not in you, RW]; do not fear!”[36]

            Whether this approach works in Isaiah 63:11 or not, Ezekiel clearly has an individual application in mind.  “You” (= all Israelites) would be purged from their moral “filthiness” and their idolatry (36:25).  Each individual would receive “a new heart” and God would “put a new spirit within” them (36:26). 

            Hence it is of these individual Israelites that the text promises, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (36:27).  This relationship of first having their own “new heart” and then receiving the gift of God’s Spirit is the same time correlation of events found in the water baptismal promise in Acts 2:38 and the subsequent promised receipt of the Spirit.      

            To the extent that a time frame is present at all in the promise in Ezekiel a chapter later, only the Divine Spirit is referred to.  God would “put My Spirit in you” and as the result they would “live” and return to their homeland (Ezekiel 37:14).  This would represent a figurative resurrection from the dead (37:11-13).  Just as the combination of a rejuvenated human spirit and body is teamed with the Divine Spirit to jointly produce a continued obedience (“you will keep My judgments and do them,” 36:27), here only the Divine element is mentioned. 

            The idea, more fully developed in 36:25-27, is that the Divine impact interacts with the reorientated human spirit to produce continued obedience.  It is not a replacement of the human Spirit with the divine[37] nor is it that the Spirit does away with the freedom of the human spirit to make its own choices.[38]  Rather it is the two working in tandem to produce obedience.[39] 

            Since the Divine Spirit is now present, two new elements are introduced.  The first is the element of Divine power to assist in the determination to transform one’s life.[40]  The individual was far from helpless before.  But now there is an element of additional strength and encouragement that was not previously available.

            The second element was especially relevant to the Corinthian situation.  Paul points to the Divine Spirit as the revealer of His message (1 Corinthians 2:10), which the apostle insists throughout the epistle must be faithfully obeyed.  In Ezekiel 36 the presence of the Divine spirit similarly goes hand-in-hand with obedience to the message sent by God.[41]   

            The Corinthians had the delusion that they could do, literally, anything and everything they wanted (“All things are lawful for me,” 6:11) and it is usually assumed they took this attitude because of their definition of being “spiritual” and because they claimed a special gift of the Spirit.  Just as Paul insists that such does not justify living irresponsibly and in defiance of Divine guidance, Ezekiel makes the same point:  because of the presence of the Spirit, obedience must follow automatically.  If anything, the Spirit “empowers Israel to do it”[42] rather than defy it.  The Spirit encourages obedience rather than justifies rebellion.

 

           

             

[Page 141]       3:17:  The person who “defiles (ATP:  pollutes) the temple of God” will bear severe retribution:  “God will destroy him” since the temple is “holy” (ATP:  “pure”) and must not be treated in such a disrespectful manner.  The allusion, historically speaking, is to the holiness that the tabernacle (and later, the Jerusalem temple) was to enjoy.  This is the positive side of the coin; the negative was that the ancient people of Israel were warned not to defile/pollute it in any manner—either by their compromised character or because of what was done improperly within it--lest they face Divine wrath.  Quite likely both aspects are in mind when Ezekiel refers to how the people had “defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations” 5:11).  The punishment was to be to “diminish” their numbers by disaster (5:11-13).

            This mistreatment of the sanctity of the holy place could result from some recent event that resulted in the person being deemed unsuitable for entrance into it.  Hence the warning is given in Leviticus 15:31, “Thus you shall separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness when they defile My tabernacle that is among them.”  This was to be accomplished by the priest sacrificing certain “offering[s]” for the people (15:30).  Another antidote, for an uncleanness resulting from a different cause, was to receive a sprinkling of the water of purification (Numbers 19:14-21).

            One could insult the temple by doing something quite proper within it while feeling no guilt over doing things quite improper as worship outside of it.  One example is given in Leviticus 20:3, “I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given some of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name.”  This is explained in Ezekiel 23:38-39:  they were willing to kill their children as a sacrifice to the pagan gods and on the very same day enter the temple to worship Yahweh.  The very act of doing so insulted and demeaned Yahweh’s shrine.

            Even the priests could be guilty of defiling the place.  If they had “done violence to” the Torah, then they had “polluted the sanctuary” they claimed to serve (Zephaniah 3:4).

            In contrast to such abuses, the temple was to be a place of “holiness” and the Psalmist adds the telling word, “forever” (93:5).  Not only it but the entire area immediately surrounding it (Ezekiel 43:12).

            Paul stresses holiness to the Corinthian Christians but our text also carries the element of retribution if the temple is not maintained as holy.  The threat of destruction was one that would bring to the mind of the reader the repeated destructions inflicted on the Jerusalem temple.   As Isaiah moaned in despairing prayer, “Your holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.  Our holy and beautiful temple, where our fathers praised You, is burned up with fire; and all our pleasant things are laid waste” (64:10-11).     

               

 

3:18:  Self-deception easily arises in a person who is overly confident of how clever (“wise”) he or she is--or mistakenly thinks they are.  To avoid this Paul urges that they consciously look upon themselves as less wise than they actually are:  the willingness to look upon oneself as on the level of a mere “fool” actually opens the door to potentially “become wise” (3:18). 

The Old Testament is full of warnings against needless pride.  Proverbs 26:12 is

 

[Page 142]  particular relevant, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.”  The Proverbist rebukes that self-glorification Paul condemned and warns that is the way to become the real “fool.”  Paul bends this idea around a bit and approaches the matter from the opposite direction:  If you are willing to look upon yourself as nothing more than a “fool” then you have the potential for becoming that “wise” person you deeply want to be.  The Proverbist warns that if you insist upon thinking you have already reached that goal, you have guaranteed the reverse will come true.

 

 

            3:21:  No one should “boast” (ATP:  “brag”) of how great or important they are.  Paul does not attempt to spell out the rationalization for the bragging.  He is simply intent on convincing his readers to keep their accomplishments in perspective.  Since he is rebuking factionalism throughout these chapters, he may also have in mind “boast[ing]” about how great is one’s clique leader.   That person also has warts, imperfections, and failures.  Boasting in either direction is, therefore, misleading and potentially deceptive.

            If Paul is not interested in the excuses for the bravado, Jeremiah is.  That Israelite prophet stresses that the normal things people boast about are fundamentally useless; what they should be proud of, instead, is their relationship to Yahweh.  “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindess, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these I delight” (9:23-24).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Allusions to the

                                   Old Testament:  None

 

 

 

 

 

Problem Texts

 

 

           

 

 

[Page 143]       3:13-15:  Testing “by fire” of one’s earthly work.

            Here “one’s work” (3:13) is the product of one’s labor, what one has “built” or accomplished and Paul utilizes the analogy of building with either precious objects or common and everyday ones (3:13).  Since he is describing the result of his ministry and others (cf. 3:5-7), the “buildings” the apostle had built “as a wise master builder” (3:10) were the converts. 

            The valuable substances were equivalent to individuals who either appeared to be important (because of their position, rank, etc.) or who had proved their importance in the church through what they had accomplished.  They may or may not have been peculiarly “mature” Christians,[43] but they certainly gave every indication of being “valuable” ones.

            The less important building or ornamental materials were those that were viewed by society as less valuable (with the human equivalent being people such as slaves, most women, farmers, etc.).  Alternatively (or, additionally) they would be those who had demonstrated very limited talents in regard to the work of the church.  This was not to say they had not tried, but that even their best efforts did not make them obviously of “superior” importance to the congregation. 

            The “fire” has usually been interpreted to refer to the final judgment.[44]  This scenario is defended on that grounds that on that day an individual’s true nature will be tested, just as tangible fire tests the nature of whatever is subjected to it.  In a final day context, the metaphorical fire tests the “quality of the Christian’s work” in a similar but spiritual manner.[45]  It is “a judgment by fire.  The double work of fire, purifying (Matthew 3:11; Mark 9:49); and destroying (Matthew 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 12:29), makes it the symbolic test (1 Peter 1:7) of the final judgment.”[46]

            This might work well except that Jesus’ vivid word pictures of “hell fire” would seem to pre-empt the proper usage of “fire” in a context of final things to that of those deemed worthy of enduring wrath.  In such texts, “fire” is to punish not test.  In spite of whatever faults the Corinthians had (and they were numerous), Paul fervently hoped that they would be counted in the number of the redeemed, not lost.    

            None of the suggested proof texts, introduced as purifying uses of the “fire” image (see above), verify the identification of the testing with the parousia.  1 Peter 1:7 refers to the Christian’s faith being first “tested by fire” and only then “found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  In other words, the testing comes before the parousia rather than being at the parousia.

            Matthew 3:11 is introduced as a positive testing, John the Baptist promising his listeners that the Messiah “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Certainly the baptism with the Spirit began on Pentecost and “tongues, as of fire” accompanied it, according to Acts 2:4.  In Acts 2 the “fire” is the Holy Spirit, at least its visible manifestation.  Even here it is not in an end-event context, but an interim one. 

             The Baptist, however, was addressing a mixed audience of those receptive and those hostile to his message.  Hence, there is no need to expect a positive connotation to the “fire.”  Furthermore, the immediately following verse portrays the negative, destructive side of fire via a reference to purging the barn of its chaff and “burn[ing]” it.  Hence, there is likely a contrast intended between receiving in this life Divine blessing (the Spirit or its gifts) or Divine wrath (“fire”). 

            Finally, Mark 9:49 refers to how “everyone will be seasoned with fire” but the immediately preceding verses reference to “hell fire” (9:47-48), which chronologically would come after the judgment rather than being the judgment.  Hence the contrast seems

 

 

[Page 144]  to be that “everyone” will enduring a testing “fire” in the current life and the rebellious a punitive one in the next one as well.    

            The strongest evidence for Paul having in mind a final judgment context in 1 Corinthians 3 is his mention that the quality of one’s work “will become clear; for the day will declare it” (3:13) and it is assumed that “day” is the judgment day.  But the allusion is also fitting in a symbolic sense:  when one endures injustice, maltreatment, or severe and uncontrollable misfortune, it burns as intensely (on a psychological level) as the pain of fire.  The cessation from it comes as much a relief as daylight after a tumultuous night fighting a forest fire to save our home.  The passing of the trial confirms the quality and success of our battle. 

            Although not often used as a primary proof of purgatory any longer, the passage is still introduced as consistent with it or supportive of the concept.[47]  As one advocate presents the case, “The metaphor suggests an expiatory punishment--which is not damnation--for faults that, although not excluding salvation, merit punishment.”[48]

            The text appears far different to this commentator from either of the above approaches.  As Paul develops the parallel between human destiny and the judgment of fire, the point is you survive it or you are destroyed (3:14-15).  The individuals are “tested to be approved, not punished to be improved.”[49] 

Expiation is not involved; testing of one’s true dedication and faithfulness is Paul’s point.  It is not to be forgiven but to prove that you are worthy to be counted as forgiven.  It is something that occurs in the current life and tests our true loyalty to the Messiah we claim to serve.[50]  As a very recent Roman Catholic commentary has implicitly argued:  the wording may “metaphorically” fits the concept of Purgatory but that was not the original intent of the passage.[51]

            In light of the difficulties in the above approaches, it is far better to take the “fire” as emblematic of the testing and difficulties every Christian undergoes in this life.  Some it breaks; others it proves faithful in time of distress.  Amos 4:11 utilizes the image of being tested in this life by fire, “I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning, yet you have not returned to Me,’ says the Lord.” 

Here, though, the testing produced no one triumphant; those whom God saved from destruction were neither improved nor repentant because of their survival, though they should have been.  (An all too common reaction even among those who successfully survive the hardships of life today.)

            In Luke 9:49 Jesus is quoted as referring to how “I came to send fire on the earth,” i.e., “peace on earth” will be stripped away (9:51) due to loyalty to Him as Messiah.  Trial and conflict will occur as a test of whether one will remain faithful (consider 9:51-53).

            James 3:6 refers to the massive “fire” (conflict, trial, tribulation) that an unguarded tongue can cause for oneself and others.  Jude 23 pictures a life of chronic disobedience as one in which the individual is living in a “fire” and the one who wishes to save that person must pull him “out of the fire” in order to do so.

            All these usages refer to “fire” as periods of testing and difficulty in the current world.  Since it is an obvious truism that all Christians will be tested in this life, Paul is far more likely to be referring to this than injecting a reference to the parousia.  Overt persecution would be one form of such testing,[52] but not the only one.

 

 

[Page 145]       A this-world reading of the text receives surprisingly little attention, perhaps out of the assumption that early Christians were so wrapped up in belief in the coming Lord that it blotted out all thought of the more present situation.  In Thessalonica there appears to have been such a problem (at least among the minority who refused to work), but the Corinthians seem totally wrapped up in this world’s concerns as manifested by their divisiveness, their lawsuits, and their toleration for forms of sexual behavior that even the surrounding world found disturbing.[53] For them, especially, a vigorous warning of “fire” and testing in the here and now was extremely relevant.              

 

           

3:21:  “All things are yours”--in what sense?  Paul at least partially explains the meaning in the following verse, when he stresses that, “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come (ATP:  things present or future)--all are yours (ATP:  everything belongs to you)” (3:22).  The thought seems to be that everyone and everything “are yours” in the sense that they can all benefit you. 

Neither Paul nor Apollos or Cephas are their rivals; they are their help meets; their co-laborers in a shared cause.  They aren’t their dictatorial superiors, handling down imperial degrees to “inferiors.”  Just as the Corinthians are “their” arms and legs to get the gospel work done, so are Paul, Apollos, and Cephas theirs—in the very same cause and crusade.  Neither side has the right to arrogantly look upon themselves as “superior.”  They are all in the task together and extensions of each other.[54]  None stand independent but all stand codependent, interlocked and intermingled together.

            Stoic literature commonly asserted that the truly wise individual had “everything.”[55]  In a Christian connection (rather than that of traditional Greek philosophy), Paul asserts that this is also possible.  But it is everything of spiritual importance, everything related to one’s relationship to the supernatural and preparation for death and whatever lies beyond it.

            R. E. O. White emphasizes the implications that come from this:  “This is a faith sufficiently secure and unsuspicious to possess and appreciate all things good:  a mind and heart at home in the Father’s world.”[56]  In short, a contented person;[57] one who, when push comes to shove, knows that God is in control and can intervene decisively on the believer’s behalf.

 

 

 

 

Notes

 

 



[1] Moffatt, 36.  

 

[2] Morna D. Hooker, From Adam to Christ:  Essays on Paul (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1990), 103.

  

 

[Page 146]  [3] What he has said and done, argues, for example, Manford G. Gutzke, Plain Talk on First and Second Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), 40.  

 

[4] To apply the text to the saving of the minister in spite of such failures is not an uncommon reading of the text.  For example, Allen, 92.   For a lengthy presentation of the view that what Paul is discussing is whether the teacher will be saved in spite of the relative value or merit of his teaching, see Kent L. Yinger, Paul, Judaism, and Judgment According to Deeds (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1999), 217-220.  In our judgment this misses the point profoundly:  the question in mind is whether the success or failure of our converts to remain steadfast will we counted against us by God—not a judgment on our teaching.

If one is to take the text in this manner, however, MacEvilly (161) perhaps provides the best type of approach by arguing that the things of low value (hay and straw, for example), though not compromising the core of faith, represented odd and eccentric opinions and teachings.  These were intended to produce the maximum reaction rather than the maximum benefit to their listener’s spiritual development.  This would fit in well with Paul’s rebuke in chapter one of misplaced exaltation of “wisdom:  the human equivalent of the things of “least” value manifested that very “wisdom” they so exalted.          

  

[5] William Smith, editor.  A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.  

Volume 1 (London:  John Murray, 1872), 678.

 

[6] Rodney Stark, Cities of God:  The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (New York:  HarperOne, 2006), 27.

 

[7] Ibid.

 

[8] Ibid., 28.

 

[9] Cf. Ibid., 27.

 

[10] Ibid.

 

[11] Thiselton, 313.  

 

[12] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul:  Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ:  A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 2001), 289.

 

[13] Ibid., 288.

 

[14] George T. Montague, The Holy Spirit:  Growth of a Biblical Traditon—A Commentary on the Principal Texts of the Old and New Testaments (New York:  Paulist Press, 1976), 138.   

 

 

[Page 147]  [15] J. D. Faust, The Rod:  Will God Spare It? (Hayesville, N.C.:  Schoettle Publishing Company, Inc., 2003), 162.  Faust prefers to make these verses apply to the individual but rightly argues that if it does apply to the church it is intended to carry this impact.

 

[16] Karl Barth, The Christain Life (London:  T. & T. Clark International, 1981), 82.

 

[17] Ellis, 58.   

 

[18] David B. Capes, Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology (Tubingen, Germany:  J. C. B. Mohr, 1992), 108-109.

 

[19] Translations of Heil, n. 2, 77.

 

[20] Ciampa and Rosner, 704.

 

[21] Gleason L. Archer and Gregory Chirichigno, Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1983), 55.   

 

[22] Orr and Walther, 170.  For a detailed discussion, see Stanley. 189-194. 

 

[23] Witherington, Conflict, 135. 

 

[24] For a detailed analysis of various theories that some form of Gnosticism plagued the congregation, see Jeffrey S. Lamp, First Corinthians 1-4 in Light of Jewish Wisdom Traditions,  Volume 42 in the Studies in Bible and Early Christianity series (Lewiston, New York:  Edwin Mellen Press, 2000), 92-97.  

 

[25] Ibid., xiii.  For a survey of various theories developing this approach, see 103-115.  

 

[26] For a discussion of Jewish wisdom literature in both the Biblical and intertestamental period and the shifting evaluations of various aspects of the phenomena, see Ibid., 8-51, 97-102.  

 

[27] Cf. Elmer A. Leslie, The Psalms:  Translated and Interpreted in the Light of Hebrew Life and Worship (New York:  Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, MCMXLIX), 254-255.

 

[28] J. W. Rogerson and J. W. McKay, Psalms 51-100, in the Cambridge Bible Commentary:  New English Bible series (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1977), 215.

 

[29] H. H. Drake Williams III, “The Psalms in 1 and 2 Corinthians,” in The Psalms in the New Testament, edited by  Steve Moyise and M. J. J. Menken (London:  T. & T. Clark, 2004), 166.

 

 

[Page 148]  [30] John Phillips, Exploring Psalms:  An Expository Commentary, Volume Two (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Kregel Publications, 2002) 57.

 

[31] Capes, n. 100, p. 109.

 

[32] Williams III, 166.

 

[33] Phillips, Psalms, 57.

 

[34] For a discussion of just what kind of stone the text might be using as a physical point of reference, see Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39:  A Continental Commentary (Minneapolis, Minnesota:  Fortress Press, 2002), 30-31.

 

[35] George L. Klein, Zechariah, in the New American Commentary series (Nashville, Tennessee:  B & H Publishing Group, 2008), 232.

 

[36] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah:  An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 1993), 515, suggests that Isaiah 63:11 has specifically in mind “the indwelling of the Lord in the tabernacle (Exodus 29:44-46).”  He points to Haggai 2:5 as precedent.

 

[37] As in Keith W. Carley, The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, in the Cambridge Bible Commentary:  New English Bible (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1974), 244.  All the immediately following citations to Ezekiel refer, specifically, to 36:27.

 

[38] As favorably mentioned by Daniel L. Block, The Book of Ezekiel:  Chapters 25-48, in the series New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 356.

 

[39] Cf. Aelred Cody, Ezekiel, in the series Old Testament Message:  A Biblical-Theological Commentary (Wilmington, Delaware:  Michael Glazier, Inc., 1984), 174.

 

[40] Walter Eichrodt, Ezekiel:  A Commentary, translated from the German by Cosslett Quin, in the Old Testament Library series (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1970), 500-501.

 

[41] A. B. Davidson, The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges series (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1892; 1900 printing), 264.

 

[42] Millard C. Lind, Ezekiel, in the Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, Pennsylvania:  1996), 291.

 

[43] The interpretation of Raymond Bryan Brown, 310.       

 

 

[Page 149]  [44] Others who apply the testing by fire to the day of judgment include, Raymond Bryan Brown, 310-311; Hargreaves, 37; Gromacki, Called, 49; Hughes, 264; MacGorman, 109; Metz, 334; Murphy-O’Connor, Message, 27; Parry, 34; Ronald A. Knox, A New Testament Commentary for English Readers; Volume 2:  The Acts of the Apostles [and] St. Paul’s Letters to the Churches (London:  Burns Oates and Washbourne, Ltd., 1954), 134; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis, Minnesota:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1937, 1963), 142.             

 

[45] Mare, 208.  

 

[46] Parry, 35.        

 

[47] For example, [Navarre], 62.    

 

[48] Kugelman, 259.     

 

[49] James E. Rosscup, “1 Corinthians 3:12:  Gold, Silver, Precious Stones,” in The Master’s Perspective on Difficult Passages, general editor Robert L. Thomas (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Kregel Publications, 1998), 153.

 

[50] McGuiggan, 53, F. F. Bruce, Paul & His Converts:  How Paul Nurtured the Churches He Planted (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 1985), 72, and Eugen Walter,  The First Epistle to the Corinthians, translated from the German by Simon and Erika Young, in the New Testament for Spiritual Reading series (New York:  Crossroad, 1981), 42, all apply it to both “persecution” as well as “the final judgment.”  Persecution would certainly be included in the testing, but the expression is broad enough to encompass all  of the hurtful, painful, and potentially dangerous events of life as well.   

 

[51] Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 201.

 

[52] Lipscomb and Shepherd, 51, mention both a persecution and day of judgment options but embrace neither. 

 

[53] We pass by the scenario that Paul is really discussing the testing of doctrines.  For an analysis of the pros and cons see Rosscup, 154-156.  If so, then the idea would seem to be that all doctrines have degrees of truth or falsehood (analogous to the various “value levels” of the items introduced).  If the “fire” relates to the current world, then “truth” seems determined by how well a doctrine comes out of its current testing.  Is this not virtually:  “If it survives it must be true?”  If the “fire” is applied to the final day why in the world would the Lord let any doctrine short of total accuracy be permitted to pass the test? 

 

[54] On this general theme as developed from this text, see the remarks of Andrew D. Clarke, First-Century Christians in the Greco-Roman World:  Serve the Community of the Church—Christians as Leaders and Ministers (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 216.

 

 

[Page 150]  [55] Bruce, Corinthians, 46.  

 

[56] R. E. O. White, Christian Ethics (Macon Georgia:  Mercer University Press, 1979, 1981; new edition, 1994), 161.

 

[57] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, Michian:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959-1960), 59.

 

 

Roland H. Worth, Jr.

A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 1-6:

Interpreting the Text in Light of

Its Old Testament Roots

 

© 2011