1 Corinthians 3:10-23

This picks up right where the last section (1-9) left off. Paul continues with the metaphor of how he and Apollos were both co-workers in the creation of the assembly of Corinth, but the glory rightly goes to God. In this way, Paul can lessen the advantage that Apollos apparently has over Paul by being present. Apparently, this has led to divisions, in which some members of the assembly think of themselves as followers of Apollos.

10 Κατὰ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον ἔθηκα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ. ἕκαστος δὲ βλεπέτω πῶς ἐποικοδομεῖ:

For according to the gift of God which was given to me, as a wise builder I put down the foundation, but another built upon it. Let each see how he builds it.

 I spent some time going back and forth on what to do with << χάριν >>. By now, I hope everyone recognizes this as what is often translated as ‘grace’, and that is how I first took it. But then I was thinking that ‘favor’ might capture it better here, but I ended up going with ‘gift’. In this instance, ‘grace’ is charged with too many implications. And, after all, Paul is claiming to be a wise architect/master builder, and he was put in this role as a gift from God. God’s ‘favor’ wouldn’t be a bad choice, either, but it would be my second choice. Of course, none of the other translations agree with me, but I think that may be due, partly, to the Latin which renders this as ‘gratiam‘, grace, instead of ‘donum‘, gift.  I reserve the right to disagree, and I do.

 Now, as if the horse weren’t dead enough, Paul continues to beat it. Except he changes the metaphor from farming to building. He is the wise architect who laid the foundation (= planting the seed), while some unnamed other (Apollos, of course, but why mention him?) has built upon the foundation. However, that unnamed person had best take care how and what he erects on the foundation. This is a clear indication, I think, that Paul is not only upset at the divisions, but feels that Apollos may be actively leading the assembly down the wrong path. Why else would he issue the warning about ‘watching what he builds’? So, yes, divisions are bad. But divisions, to a certain extent, necessarily led to schism, different beliefs. And this, I think, is what has Paul particularly alarmed. 

And note, once again, we get the notion of different beliefs. 

I came across a review of a book about the oral tradition behind the gospels. But they apply here as well. I recommend popping over to that site and reading about this. It talks about how the oral traditions changed and evolved of their own accord, whereas too many scholars are locked into a mindset of a unitary document that is edited and amended. I think the former notion more closely captures what has happened. And, if you think about it, this is, I think, what we find Paul running into, and is what Paul finds particularly horrifying. This also is, I think, the best way to explain the dichotomy between the Wonder-worker tradition and the Christ tradition. 

10 Secundum gratiam Dei, quae data est mihi, ut sapiens architectus fundamentum posui; alius autem superaedificat. Unusquisque autem videat quomodo superaedificet;

11 θεμέλιον γὰρ ἄλλον οὐδεὶς δύναται θεῖναι παρὰ τὸν κείμενον, ὅς ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός.

For no one other is able to build (lit = ‘place’) upon the thing lying (= the foundation, which has been laid), the one is Jesus Christ. 

About the Greek: this doesn’t quite work in English, but I think you get the point that it’s no one other than Jesus Christ….

Paul continues to drive this home. The underlying message is “Don’t listen to Apollos! Listen to the Christ! And I’m the one who can explain the Christ!”

11 fundamentum enim aliud nemo potest ponere praeter id, quod positum est, qui est Iesus Christus.

12 εἰ δέ τις ἐποικοδομεῖ ἐπὶ τὸν θεμέλιον χρυσόν, ἄργυρον, λίθους τιμίους, ξύλα, χόρτον, καλάμην,

For if someone builds upon the foundation (using) gold, silver, precious stone, wood, hay or straw,

Comment after V-13.

12 Si quis autem superaedificat supra fundamentum aurum, argentum, lapides pretiosos, ligna, fenum, stipulam,

13 ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον φανερὸν γενήσεται, ἡ γὰρ ἡμέρα δηλώσει: ὅτι ἐν πυρὶ ἀποκαλύπτεται, καὶ ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον ὁποῖόν ἐστιν τὸ πῦρ [αὐτὸ] δοκιμάσει.

The work of each becomes apparent, for the day shows it: that in fire it will be revealed, and the work of each (is seen for) what (lit= ‘how’) it is, (as) the fire will prove.

You know, here we have sort of, or something of a microcosm of apocalyptic literature. Paul is “predicting” the day of trial that will come to demonstrate, by fire, whose work will truly stand the test. Of course, the idea is that his will stand, while the message of Apollos will not. 

And so we get a great example of the mindset that produces apocalyptic literature. Yes, things may be good (built of gold and silver and precious stones)–or they may be bad–but the test is coming! You just wait! I promise you! I mean it!

And this, I think, should really and truly make us wary about taking apocalyptic thinking too literally. So when we say that there was an epidemic of apocalyptic literature in First Century Judea, I think we should be careful about accepting–or assuming–that people really and truly and actually took this prediction seriously, as a true prediction about things to come.  I am not sure that they really meant this.

And perhaps this is the difference between prediction and prophecy? A distinction that Western “scientific” thinking has muddled, the way we have muddled the idea of what a myth is. Just as ‘myth’ does not mean ‘fairy tale’, nor an inaccurate description of what was, so ‘prophecy’ was not meant as a prediction of what is to come. At least, it’s not a prediction in the sense of a scientific experiment, in which we say that, when we combine elements x and y, we will get result z. And then we combine x and y, and result z either occurs or it doesn’t. But if we make a prophecy, and it doesn’t transpire, at least not in the allotted time, does that mean the prophecy failed? Or was wrong? I’m not so sure. At least, I’m not so sure given what I have just read here. 

But now I’m going to contradict myself, and say that I do believe Paul means this literally. I think Paul is the sort who fully expected the trial by fire to prove him right. But the point is that I think Paul was the exception, and not the rule. Later thinkers, who could perhaps be called “Christian”, may not have shared Paul’s literal-mindedness. They maybe understood the difference between prophecy and prediction, and were not embarrassed by the fact that Jesus hadn’t yet returned. Why not? Because they understood the difference between history (which the NT is most decidedly not) and myth. Or the difference between Truth (which the NT most decidedly was) and factual accuracy. If Jesus spoke in terms of end-times, he may not have meant it literally. And many of those hearing his words may not have taken it literally. But Paul, I think, truly did. He didn’t get the joke. 

OK, ‘joke’ is too facetious. He didn’t get the metaphor. He didn’t get that it was a metaphor.

Those who later expressed Christianity in terms of Platonic philosophy, I think, did understand the idea of the metaphor. This is the basis for syncretism, that two apparently different religions were actually saying the same thing. That Wotan/ Woden/Odin was the same guy as Hermes/Mercury, and that Thor was actually Zeus. Many Christians, however, were (and still are) horrified by this idea of Jesus as metaphor. They fought the influence of Classical thinking, they burned the Library of Alexandria, they shoved Classical authors onto the back shelves. In the case of Aristotle, the West forgot about him completely. Thomas Aquinas, however, understood the idea of metaphor.

All of this is very brash. At this point, let’s acknowledge this as interesting speculation, and see what the rest of the epistle brings.

13 uniuscuiusque opus manifestum erit; dies enim declarabit: quia in igne revelatur, et uniuscuiusque opus quale sit ignis probabit.

14 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον μενεῖ ὃἐ ποικοδόμησεν, μισθὸν λήμψεται:

If the work of someone remains, which s/he built, s/he will receive a reward.

In Greek, the indeterminate third person would always have been ‘he’. 

The question here is, who will receive the reward? Paul? Or Apollos? My apologies, but I find this all very bitter. Paul feels personally slighted, or attacked; he’s defensive, which was something we noted about his tone in the other two letters we read. This is, I believe, consistent with a man who perhaps lacks a sense of humor, and who is apt to take things a bit too seriously. These would be traits consistent with someone who takes apocalyptic literature at face value.

14 Si cuius opus manserit, quod superaedificavit, mercedem accipiet;

15 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον κατακαήσεται, ζημιωθήσεται, αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται, οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός.

If the work of someone is burned, it will be lost, while the builder himself will be saved, in the manner as through fire.

The last bit about through the fire is a bit sketchy. I’ve given you what the Greek says; what the Greek means is a bit more open to interpretation. I took the builder’s escape to be largely metaphorical, a reference to the trial by fire back in V-13. The NIV apparently takes this a bit more literally, with the builder escaping through the flames. But then, that doesn’t necessarily have to be meant literally, either, I suppose.

15 si cuius opus arserit, detrimentum patietur, ipse autem salvus erit, sic tamen quasi per ignem.

 16 οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ναὸς θεοῦ ἐστε καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν;

For do you not know that you are the temple of God, and the spirit of God lives in you?

Is this is a bit of a non sequitur? Or is the metaphor just really strained? There is a transition between Verses 15 & 16 that loses me a bit.

Regarding the actual content of this. Here is another instance in which being an OT scholar, or at least reasonably versed in the Bible would have a better idea about this than I do. As far as I know, or can tell, this may be the first use of the ‘body is a temple’ metaphor. Of course, it reappears later in the NT, even if it’s not stated explicitly until John. Is this a case where the language of Jesus actually came from Paul? All the evangelists tell us about Jesus predicting that he would/could destroy the Temple and rebuild it within three days, the (not-so)veiled allusion being that he meant the temple of his body. Was the temple/body metaphor a common literary device? I don’t know. But if the answer is ‘no’, we have to ask if this is something that sprang here from Paul. Or am I missing something?

16 Nescitis quia templum Dei estis, et Spiritus Dei habitat in vobis?

17 εἴ τις τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φθείρει, φθερεῖ τοῦτον ὁ θεός: ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς.

For if someone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for the Temple of God is holy, which you are, too.

Now, this could easily just be a hypothetical, actually referring to the temple of the body, which is holy to God, and woe unto him who destroys that temple in the way Paul had before his conversion. It could be that, it probably is that. Here’s how difficult it is not to read back into this, to see this as Paul predicting the destruction of the actual Temple.

Second, is this a bit of apocalyptic thinking? Assuming that Paul means the temple of the body, which persecutors may seek to destroy, are we seeing some of that apocalyptic imagery in which evil–or Evil–is finally destroyed and the Good eventually triumph?

17 Si quis autem templum Dei everterit, evertet illum Deus; templum enim Dei sanctum est, quod estis vos.

18 Μηδεὶς ἑαυτὸν ἐξαπατάτω: εἴ τις δοκεῖ σοφὸς εἶναι ἐν ὑμῖν ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, μωρὸς γενέσθω, ἵνα γένηται σοφός.

No one deceives himself.  If someone appears to be wise among you in this age, let him become foolish, so that he may become wise.

We’ve circled back to the wisdom/foolishness dichotomy. However, having come after the diatribe of allusion against Apollos, is Paul taking another shot at Apollos? Who, presumably, was more versed in the wisdom of this age than was Paul?

18 Nemo se seducat; si quis videtur sapiens esse inter vos in hoc saeculo, stultus fiat, ut sit sapiens.

19 ἡ γὰρ σοφία τοῦ κόσμου τούτου μωρία παρὰ τῷ θεῷ ἐστιν: γέγραπται γάρ, Ὁ δρασσόμενος τοὺς σοφοὺς ἐν τῇ πανουργίᾳ αὐτῶν:

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness for God. For, it is written, “The one grasping the wise in their cunning.”

About the Greek: << πανουργίᾳ >> is not a simple word to translate here. The basic meaning in Greek is knavery (wonderfully archaic term), which carries decidedly negative connotations. The Latin is << astutia >>, which is obviously the root of our word ‘astute’; which word has much more positive connotations. In the NT, it gets translated as ‘cunning’ or ‘subtlety’; the latter has decided positive connotations, while ‘cunning’ tends to be a bit more negative. So, to retain the negative, I’ve chosen ‘cunning’.

All that having been said (ablative absolute!), the point here is that cunning, or shrewd people will be caught up in their own machinations; hoist on their own petard, as it were. (Is there any wonder why–or that–I studied Classics? The pomposity of those Victorian terms!) And, btw, the quote here is from Job. In this case, it’s in context.

19 Sapientia enim huius mundi stultitia est apud Deum. Scriptum est enim: “ Qui apprehendit sapientes in astutia eorum ”;

20 καὶ πάλιν, Κύριος γινώσκει τοὺς διαλογισμοὺς τῶν σοφῶν ὅτι εἰσὶν μάταιοι.

And again, “Lord, you know that the machinations of the wise are empty”.

This quote is from Psalms, 94:11. Now, I know from first-hand experience the great variety of translation that is possible with the Psalms, so I checked a few different translations. The Septuagint renders this “the schemes of men, where here Paul is quoting it as the schemes of the wise. Basically, I’m saying that, once again, Paul has his thumb on the scale to make sure he gets the reading he wants. Now, the question is, did he think his audience wouldn’t notice? Or that they wouldn’t know? 

OK, buckle up for another flight of fancy–or fantasy. If Paul feels that scriptures are this…plastic, that they can be formed to fit the needs, or the message of the moment, if Scripture, the words of God, could be seen as plastic, what about mere facts? Let me start by saying I have no clear notion of the extent to which Paul…massaged scripture to come up with the ‘proper’ reading, or wording. I have only begun to take note of this within the last little bit. I will try to keep a closer eye on this. But, at this juncture, I just want to point this out. Just remember: in the same way that the evangelists were not writing history, or even biography, so Paul was not conducting a graduate seminar in OT writings. Both he and the evangelists were concerned with disseminating Truth. 

You can unbuckle now. This flight has been postponed. But it has not been canceled.

20 et iterum:  “Dominus novit cogitationes sapientium, / quoniam vanae sunt”.

21 ὥστε μηδεὶς καυχάσθω ἐν ἀνθρώποις: πάντα γὰρ ὑμῶν ἐστιν,

In this way no one boasts about men. For all things are of you (yours)

comment deferred

21 Itaque nemo glorietur in hominibus. Omnia enim vestra sunt,

22 εἴτε Παῦλος εἴτε Ἀπολλῶς εἴτε Κηφᾶς εἴτε κόσμος εἴτε ζωὴ εἴτε θάνατος εἴτε ἐνεστῶτα εἴτε μέλλοντα, πάντα ὑμῶν,

whether (it is) Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things that are, or things to come (lit = ‘things wished for’, or something similar), all are yours,

comment deferred

22 sive Paulus sive Apollo sive Cephas sive mundus sive vita sive mors sive praesentia sive futura, omnia enim vestra sunt,

23 ὑμεῖς δὲ Χριστοῦ, Χριστὸς δὲ θεοῦ.

But you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

23 vos autem Christi, Christus autem Dei.

OK, what does this all mean? The part about wisdom and foolishness is obvious enough, a repetition of an earlier theme.This finishes with the line about not boasting about humans. This, I suspect, is another jab at Apollos. I get the sense that Apollos was bragging, or others were bragging about him, and Paul is trying to put a stop to this.

But what about the very last part? The idea that all things belong to the Corinthians? Since, eventually, it all rolls up to God, that is pretty clear, I suppose. But the connection between this and the wisdom/foolishness metaphor is a bit wanting as I see it. As far as literary construction, this seems to be the conclusion of the part before, but how one leads to the other, I cannot say.

Or maybe I’m just looking too…deep? Too far off to one side? The conclusion is that all things are God’s, and since we are God’s, then we share in this. Now, we have to ask. Is this participation the sharing in God’s Kingdom? That wouldn’t be an illogical jump to make, but is it warranted? Probably not. More likely, I’m seeing this for the same reason I saw the prediction of the Temple: because I know what comes later. OTOH, Paul did mention the kingdom of God in Gal 5:21, and he will talk about it more shortly. So that is probably a reasonable interpretation of this. However, let’s save a discussion of the kingdom, and what it meant for Paul, and how it related to Jesus’ talk of the kingdom, for our next encounter with the term.


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 20, 2013, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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