1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Here we start Chapter 3.

1 Κἀγώ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἠδυνήθην λαλῆσαι ὑμῖν ὡς πνευματικοῖς ἀλλ’ ὡς σαρκίνοις, ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ.

And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as a spiritual (person), but as (one who is) fleshly, as a novice in Christ.

The spirit/flesh contrast again. This seems to run all through Paul. It is a very Greek idea, very prevalent in Plato. One ascends to the Pure and the True by becoming less ‘fleshly’, one more attuned to, or part of the spirit. Paul here is ‘dumbing down’ his message, speaking as a neophyte so that he can connect to the Corinthians. 

Which, of course, brings us back to prevenient grace. Recall that the idea of prevenient grace is that humans, on their own, are not capable even to begin to please God. For this to happen, God must, of his own free will and for no other reason than his infinite love for wretched humanity, bestow a free gift of grace so that humans can begin to love God and serve his will. Paul does not say this here. Back in Chapter 2, he said that humans in their natural state were not capable of being spiritual. This is close to the idea of prevenient grace. Here, however, Paul implies that he can reach the Corinthians in their natural state if he speaks as a neophyte in the spirit.  That is, he can provide the bridge that the Corinthians need. He does not state, nor even imply, that God has to act in this matter.  Here, Paul says–or at least implies–that he can do it on his own.  We shall keep an eye on this, but it is my impression that Paul will never actually say anything about God acting before humans can begin their spiritual journey.

1 Et ego, fratres, non potui vobis loqui quasi spiritalibus sed qua si carnalibus, tamquam parvulis in Christo.

2 γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα, οὐ βρῶμα, οὔπω γὰρ ἐδύνασθε. ἀλλ’οὐδὲ ἔτι νῦν δύνασθε,

I watered you with milk (fed you with milk), not meat, since you were not able (to eat it). But neither are you now able.

Paul is comparing his nurturing of the Corinthians, his initiating them into the spirit to nursing a child. A reasonable analogy, but it is still he–not God–who is the actor, the one nurturing.

2 Lac vobis potum dedi, non escam, nondum enim poteratis. Sed ne nunc quidem potestis,

3 ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. ὅπου γὰρ ἐν ὑμῖν ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις, οὐχὶ σαρκικοί ἐστε καὶ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖτε;

For you are yet fleshly (of the flesh). For when jealousy and strife are among you, are you not fleshly and walking about in a human manner?

Not really much to say here. It’s pretty clear and straightforward: jealousy and strife are not spiritual states or conditions. Rather, they indicate too great an attachment to the material (fleshly) world.

BTW: I use ‘fleshly’ because that’s what the Greek actually says. ‘Sarx’ is flesh. Once again, I prefer to sacrifice good English for faithfulness to the Greek. Remember, this is partially designed to help neophytes understand the Greek. 

3 adhuc enim estis carnales. Cum enim sit inter vos zelus et contentio, nonne carnales estis et secundum hominem ambulatis?

4 ὅταν γὰρ λέγῃ τις, Ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, ἕτερος δέ, Ἐγὼ Ἀπολλῶ, οὐκ ἄνθρωποί ἐστε;

For when you say to someone, “I on the one hand, am of Paul (his group), while on the other one says, I am of Apollos, are you not being human (i.e., acting in a human manner)?

We’re back to the factions from Chapter 1:10-12. This was obviously a problem. He’s sort of gone off, but it’s come back to the front of his mind. Think about Paul’s thought process: he mentions the divisions, then goes off on a bit of a tangent, and then the divisions come back to him because this is a real problem. Or something. There is clearly a very human chain of thinking going on here.

4 Cum enim quis dicit: “ Ego quidem sum Pauli ”, alius autem: “ Ego Apollo ”, nonne homines estis?

5 τί οὖν ἐστιν Ἀπολλῶς; τί δέ ἐστιν Παῦλος; διάκονοι δι’ ὧν ἐπιστεύσατε, καὶ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ὁ κύριος ἔδωκεν.

For who is Apollos? Or even, who is Paul? They are ministers (deacons) through whom you came to believe, and to each thus the Lord gave.

About the Greek: “Came to believe” feels right to me in this instance. It’s a simple aorist active indicative, but the aorist is not always a simple past. It can often be used for present or even future events, in the sense of a process being involved. The KJV renders this as a standard ‘believed’, and I don’t object to this, but for once I’m opting with something a little less literal.

Here is another place where I need to ask how much I should read in to this particular passage. On first glance, Paul stating that he and Apollos are both ministers of the faith, given by God seems completely unobjectionable. But think about it. Would Paul be giving Apollos equal billing if Paul felt that he was in a position superior to Apollos? Somehow, given Paul’s apparent inferiority complex, I doubt it. I think that Paul is trying to level the ground between him and Apollos precisely because Apollos has more influence than Paul does. And this is easily understandable if Apollos is there in Corinth while Paul is off…wherever he is. In Athens, or elsewhere. Remember how close to vicious Paul was about the James Gang: those who appeared to be the pillars of the community. Paul felt he had the upper hand in that argument; I’m not sure he feels that way here, so he strengthens his position with something of a passive-aggressive stance: how could anyone deny that Paul and Apollos are ministers of the Lord? Who could object? This, I think, is a bit of a rhetorical trick to neutralize Apollos’ superior influence.

Maybe not, but I wouldn’t dismiss the idea out-of-hand.

5 Quid igitur est Apollo? Quid vero Paulus? Ministri, per quos credidistis, et unicuique sicut Dominus dedit.

6 ἐγὼ ἐφύτευσα, Ἀπολλῶς ἐπότισεν, ἀλλὰ ὁ θεὸς ηὔξανεν:

For I have planted, Apollos has watered, but God has augmented (made it grow).

So maybe I’m not far off: Paul started the community (he ‘planted’ it), but Apollos has been there to tend it. As such, Apollos has an inherent advantage by being there. So Paul emphasizes the equally important roles he and Apollos played, but then gives the final glory to God. Again, how could anyone object? How could Apollos be publicly offended by this without seeming to be petty?

6 Ego plantavi, Apollo rigavit, sed Deus incrementum dedit;

7 ὥστε οὔτε ὁ φυτεύων ἐστίν, τι οὔτε ὁ ποτίζων, ἀλλ’ ὁ αὐξάνων θεός.

Thus, it is not the one planting, nor the one watering, but God, the one who is making it grow (lit = ‘augmenting’, as in previous verse).

Paul is not letting up on the metaphor. I do think I’m on to something, even as I make no claim to being the first ever to see this. Here is where my lack of knowledge of the scholarly opinions on this really hurts. I may be repeating a commonplace interpretation, so treat this as such.

7 itaque neque qui plantat, est aliquid, neque qui rigat, sed qui incrementum dat, Deus.

8 ὁ φυτεύων δὲ καὶ ὁ ποτίζων ἕν εἰσιν, ἕκαστος δὲ τὸν ἴδιον μισθὸν λήμψεται κατὰ τὸν ἴδιον κόπον.

But the planter and the waterer are one, each receives his own reward according to his toil.

And it continues…Paul is nothing if not persistent.

8 Qui plantat autem et qui rigat unum sunt; unusquisque autem propriam mercedem accipiet secundum suum laborem.

9 θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί: θεοῦ γεώργιον, θεοῦ οἰκοδομή ἐστε.

For we are co-workers of God; you are the field of God, you are the building of God.

And this will be continued in the next section….

9 Dei enim sumus adiutores: Dei agri cultura estis, Dei aedificatio estis.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on December 9, 2013, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Historical Jesus, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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