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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Preface to the First Epistle to the Corinthians
Corinth, to which this and the following epistle were sent, was one of the most celebrated cities of Greece. It was situated on a gulf of the same name, and was the capital of the Peloponnesus or Achaia, and was united to the continent by an isthmus or neck of land that had the port of Lecheum on the west and that of Cenchrea on the east, the former in the gulf of Lepanto, the latter in the gulf of Egina, by which it commanded the navigation and commerce both of the Ionian and Aegean seas, consequently of Italy on the one hand and of all the Greek islands on the other: in a word, it embraced the commerce of the whole Mediterranean Sea, from the straits of Gibraltar on the west to the port of Alexandria on the east, with the coasts of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. It is supposed, by some, to have been founded by Sisyphus, the son of Eolus, and grandfather of Ulysses, about the year of the world 2490 or 2500, and before the Christian era 1504 years. Others report that it had both its origin and name from Corinthus, the son of Pelops. It was at first but a very inconsiderable town; but at last, through its extensive commerce, became the most opulent city of Greece, and the capital of a powerful state. It was destroyed by the Romans under Mummius, about 146 years before Christ, but was afterwards rebuilt by Julius Caesar.
Corinth exceeded all the cities of the world, for the splendor and magnificence of its public buildings, such as temples, palaces, theatres, porticos, cenotaphs, baths, and other edifices; all enriched with a beautiful kind of columns, capitals, and bases, from which the Corinthian order in architecture took its rise. Corinth is also celebrated for its statues; those, especially, of Venus, the Sun, Neptune and Amphitrite, Diana, Apollo, Jupiter, Minerva, etc. The temple of Venus was not only very splendid, but also very rich, and maintained, according to Strabo, not less than 1000 courtesans, who were the means of bringing an immense concourse of strangers to the place. Thus riches produced luxury, and luxury a total corruption of manners; though arts, sciences, and literature continued to flourish long in it, and a measure of the martial spirit of its ancient inhabitants was kept alive in it by means of those public games which, being celebrated on the isthmus which connects the Peloponnesus to the main land, were called the Isthmian games, and were exhibited once every five years. The exercises in these games were, leaping, running, throwing the quoit or dart, bowing, and wrestling. It appears that, besides these, there were contentions for poetry and music; and the conquerors in any of these exercises were ordinarily crowned either with pine leaves or with parsley. It is well known that the apostle alludes to these games in different parts of his epistles, which shall all be particularly noticed as they occur.
Corinth, like all other opulent and well-situated places, has often been a subject of contention between rival states, has frequently changed masters, and undergone all forms of government. The Venetians held it till 1715, when the Turks took it from them; under whose dominion it has till lately remained. Under this deteriorating government it was greatly reduced, its whole population amounting only to between 13 and 14,000 souls. It has now got into the hands of the Greeks, its natural owners. It lies about 46 miles to the east of Athens, and 342 south-west of Constantinople. A few vestiges of its ancient splendor still remain, which are objects of curiosity and gratification to all intelligent travelers.
As we have seen that Corinth was well situated for trade, and consequently very rich, it is no wonder that, in its heathen state, it was exceedingly corrupt and profligate. Notwithstanding this, every part of the Grecian learning was highly cultivated here; so that, before its destruction by the Romans, Cicero (Pro lege Manl. cap. v.) scrupled not to call it totius Graeciae lumen - the eye of all Greece. Yet the inhabitants of it were as lascivious as they were learned. Public prostitution formed a considerable part of their religion; and they were accustomed in their public prayers, to request the gods to multiply their prostitutes! and in order to express their gratitude to their deities for the favors they received, they bound themselves, by vows, to increase the number of such women; for commerce with them was neither esteemed sinful nor disgraceful. Lais, so famous in history, was a Corinthian prostitute, and whose price was not less than 10,000 drachmas. Demosthenes, from whom this price was required by her for one night's lodging, said, "I will not buy repentance at so dear a rate." So notorious was this city for such conduct, that the verb κορινθιαζεσθαι, to Corinthize, signified to act the prostitute; and Κορινθια κορη, a Corinthian damsel, meant a harlot or common woman. I mention these things the more particularly because they account for several things mentioned by the apostle in his letters to this city, and things which, without this knowledge of their previous Gentile state and customs, we could not comprehend. It is true, as the apostle states, that they carried these things to an extent that was not practised in any other Gentile country. And yet, even in Corinth - the Gospel of Jesus Christ prevailing over universal corruption - there was founded a Christian Church!
Analysis of the First Epistle to the Corinthians
This epistle, as to its subject matter, has been variously divided: into three parts by some; into four, seven, eleven, etc., parts, by others. Most of these divisions are merely artificial, and were never intended by the apostle. The following seven particulars comprise the whole: -
I. The Introduction, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.
II. Exhortations relative to their dissensions, 1 Corinthians 1:9-4:21.
III. What concerns the person who had married his step-mother, commonly called the incestuous person, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 6, and 7.
IV. The question concerning the lawfulness of eating things which had been offered to idols, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, 9, and 10, inclusive.
V. Various ecclesiastical regulations, 1 Corinthians 11-14, inclusive.
VI. The important question concerning the resurrection of the dead, 1 Corinthians 15.
VII. Miscellaneous matters; containing exhortations, salutations, commendations, etc., etc., 1 Corinthians 16.
The salutation of Paul and Sosthenes, 1 Corinthians 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:2. The apostolical benediction, 1 Corinthians 1:3. Thanksgiving for the prosperity of the Church at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 1:4. In what that prosperity consisted, 1 Corinthians 1:5-9. The apostle reproves their dissensions, and vindicates himself from being any cause of them, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. States the simple means which God uses to convert sinners and confound the wisdom of the wise, etc., 18-21. Why the Jews and Greeks did not believe, 1 Corinthians 1:22. The matter of the apostle's preaching, and the reasons why that preaching was effectual to the salvation of men, 1 Corinthians 1:23-29. All should glory in God, because all blessings are dispensed by Him through Christ Jesus, 1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Corinthians 1:31.
1Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
Paul, called to be an apostle - Bishop Pearce contends that a comma should be placed after κλητος, called, which should not be joined to αποστολος, apostle: the first signifies being called to, the other sent from. He reads it, therefore, Paul the called; the apostle of Jesus Christ. The word κλητος, called, may be here used, as in some other places, for constituted. For this, and the meaning of the word apostle, see the note on Romans 1:1.
As the apostle had many irregularities to reprehend in the Corinthian Church, it was necessary that he should be explicit in stating his authority. He was called - invited to the Gospel feast; had partaken of it, and, by the grace he received, was qualified to proclaim salvation to others: Jesus Christ therefore made him an apostle, that is, gave him a Divine commission to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Through the will of God - By a particular appointment from God alone; for, being an extraordinary messenger, he derived no part of his authority from man.
Sosthenes our brother - Probably the same person mentioned Acts 18:17 (note).
2Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
The Church of God which is at Corinth - This Church was planted by the apostle himself about a.d. 52, as we learn from Acts 18:1 (note), etc.
Sanctified in Christ Jesus - Ἡγιασμενοις, Separated from the corruptions of their place and age.
Called to be saints - Κλητοις ἁγιοις, Constituted saints, or invited to become such; this was the design of the Gospel, for Jesus Christ came to save men from their sins.
With all that in every place, etc. - All who profess Christianity, both in Corinth, Ephesus, and other parts of Greece or Asia Minor; and by this we see that the apostle intended that this epistle should be a general property of the universal Church of Christ; though there are several matters in it that are suited to the state of the Corinthians only.
Both theirs and ours - That is, Jesus Christ is the common Lord and Savior of all. He is the exclusive property of no one Church, or people, or nation. Calling on or invoking the name of the Lord Jesus, was the proper distinguishing mark of a Christian. In those times of apostolic light and purity no man attempted to invoke God but in the name of Jesus Christ; this is what genuine Christians still mean when they ask any thing from God for Christ's Sake.
3Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace be unto you - For a full explanation of all these terms, see the notes on Romans 1:7.
4I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
For the grace - which is given you - Not only their calling to be saints, and to be sanctified in Christ Jesus; but for the various spiritual gifts which they had received, as specified in the succeeding verses.
5That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
Ye are enriched - ye abound - in all utterance - Εν παντι λογῳ, In all doctrine; for so the word should certainly be translated and understood. All the truths of God relative to their salvation had been explicitly declared to them; and they had all knowledge; so that they perfectly comprehended the doctrines which they had heard.
6Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
As the testimony of Christ, etc. - The testimony of Christ is the Gospel which the apostle had preached, and which had been confirmed by various gifts of the Holy Spirit, and miracles wrought by the apostle.
7So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
So that ye come behind in no gift - Every gift and grace of God's Spirit was possessed by the members of that Church, some having their gifts after this manner, others after that.
Waiting for the coming of our Lord - It is difficult to say whether the apostle means the final judgment, or our Lord's coming to destroy Jerusalem, and make an end of the Jewish polity. - See 1 Thessalonians 3:13. As he does not explain himself particularly, he must refer to a subject with which they were well acquainted. As the Jews in general continued to contradict and blaspheme, it is no wonder if the apostle should be directed to point out to the believing Gentiles that the judgments of God were speedily to fall upon this rebellious people, and scatter them over the face of the earth; which shortly afterwards took place.
8Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who shall - confirm you - As the testimony of Christ was confirmed among you, so, in conscientiously believing and obeying, God will confirm you through that testimony. See 1 Corinthians 1:6.
In the day of our Lord Jesus - In the day that he comes to judge the world, according to some; but, in the day in which he comes to destroy the Jewish polity, according to others. While God destroys them who are disobedient, he can save you who believe.
9God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
God is faithful - The faithfulness of God is a favourite expression among the ancient Jews; and by it they properly understand the integrity of God in preserving whatever is entrusted to him. And they suppose that in this sense the fidelity of man may illustrate the fidelity of God, in reference to which they tell the two following stories. "Rabbi Phineas, the son of Jair, dwelt in a certain city, whither some men came who had two measures of barley, which they desired him to preserve for them. They afterwards forgot their barley and went away. Rabbi Phineas each year sowed the barley, reaped, thrashed, and laid it up in his granary. When seven years had elapsed the men returned, and desired to have the barley with which they had entrusted him. Rabbi Phineas recollected them, and said, 'Come and take your treasure,' i.e. the barley they had left, with all that it had produced for seven years. Thus, from the faithfulness of man ye may know the faithfulness of God."
"Rabbi Simeon, the son of Shetach, bought an ass from some Edomites, at whose neck his disciples saw a diamond hanging; they said unto him, Rabbi, the blessing of the Lord maketh rich, Proverbs 10:22. But he answered: The ass I have bought, but the diamond I have not bought; therefore he returned the diamond to the Edomites. Thus, from the fidelity of man ye may know the fidelity of God." This was an instance of rare honesty, not to be paralleled among the Jews of the present day, and probably among few Gentiles. Whatever is committed to the keeping of God he will most carefully preserve; for he is faithful.
Unto the fellowship, etc. - Εις κοινωνιαν, Into the communion or participation of Christ, in the graces of his Spirit and the glories of his future kingdom. God will continue to uphold and save you, if you entrust your bodies and souls to him. But can it be said that God will keep what is either not entrusted to him; or, after being entrusted, is taken away?
10Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Now I beseech you, brethren - The apostle having finished his introduction comes to his second point, exhorting them to abstain from dissensions, that they might be of the same heart and mind, striving together for the hope of the Gospel.
By the name of our Lord Jesus - By his authority, and in his place; and on account of your infinite obligations to his mercy in calling you into such a state of salvation.
That ye all speak the same thing - If they did not agree exactly in opinion on every subject, they might, notwithstanding, agree in the words which they used to express their religious faith. The members of the Church of God should labor to be of the same mind, and to speak the same thing, in order to prevent divisions, which always hinder the work of God. On every essential doctrine of the Gospel all genuine Christians agree: why then need religious communion be interrupted? This general agreement is all that the apostle can have in view; for it cannot be expected that any number of men should in every respect perfectly coincide in their views of all the minor points, on which an exact conformity in sentiment is impossible to minds so variously constituted as those of the human race. Angels may thus agree, who see nothing through an imperfect or false medium; but to man this is impossible. Therefore men should bear with each other, and not be so ready to imagine that none have the truth of God but they and their party.
11For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
By them which are of the house of Chloe - This was doubtless some very religious matron at Corinth, whose family were converted to the Lord; some of whom were probably sent to the apostle to inform him of the dissensions which then prevailed in the Church at that place. Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, mentioned 1 Corinthians 16:17, were probably the sons of this Chloe.
Contentions - Εριδες, Altercations; produced by the σχισματα, divisions, mentioned above. When once they had divided, they must necessarily have contended, in order to support their respective parties.
12Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
Every one of you saith - It seems from this expression that the whole Church at Corinth was in a state of dissension: they were all divided into the following sects
1. Paulians, or followers of St. Paul;
2. Apollonians, or followers of Apollos;
3. Kephians, or followers of Kephas;
4. Christians, or followers of Christ.
See the Introduction, Section 5.
The converts at Corinth were partly Jews and partly Greeks. The Gentile part, as Dr. Lightfoot conjectures, might boast the names of Paul and Apollos; the Jewish, those of Kephas and Christ. But these again might be subdivided; some probably considered themselves disciples of Paul, he being the immediate instrument of their conversion, while others might prefer Apollos for his extraordinary eloquence.
If by Kephas the apostle Peter be meant, some of the circumcision who believed might prefer him to all the rest; and they might consider him more immediately sent to them; and therefore have him in higher esteem than they had Paul, who was the minister or apostle of the uncircumcision: and on this very account the converted Gentiles would prize him more highly than they did Peter.
Instead of Christ, Χριστου, some have conjectured that we should read Κρισπου, of Crispus; who is mentioned 1 Corinthians 1:14. And some think that Χριστου, of Christ, is an interpolation, as it is not likely that Christ in any sense of the word could be said to be the head of a sect, or party, in his own Church; as all those parties held that Gospel, of which himself was both the author and the subject. But it is very easy to conceive that, in a Church so divided, a party might be found, who, dividing Christ from his ministers, might be led to say, "We will have nothing to do with your parties, nor with your party spirit; we are the disciples of Christ, and will have nothing to do with Paulians, Apollonians, or Kephians, as contradistinguished from Christ." The reading Κρισπου for Χριστου is not acknowledged by any MS. or version.
13Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
Is Christ divided? - Can he be split into different sects and parties? Has he different and opposing systems? Or, is the Messiah to appear under different persons?
Was Paul crucified for you? - As the Gospel proclaims salvation through the crucified only, has Paul poured out his blood as an atonement for you? This is impossible, and therefore your being called by my name is absurd; for his disciples you should be, alone, who has bought you by his blood.
Were ye baptized in the name of Paul? - To be baptized in, or into the name of one, implied that the baptized was to be the disciple of him into whose name, religion, etc., he was baptized. As if he said: Did I ever attempt to set up a new religion, one founded on my own authority, and coming from myself? On the contrary, have I not preached Christ crucified for the sin of the world; and called upon all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles, to believe on Him?
14I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
I thank God that I baptized none of you - None of those who now live in Corinth, except Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, Acts 18:8. And Gaius, the same person probably with whom Paul lodged, Romans 16:23 (note). Dr. Lightfoot observes: "If this be Gaius, or Caius, to whom the third epistle of John was written, which is very probable when the first verse of that epistle (3 John 1:1) is compared with Romans 16:23, then it will appear probable that John wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians. I wrote, says he, unto the Church - What Church? Certainly it must have been some particular Church which the apostle has in view, and the Church where Gaius himself resided. And if this be true, we may look for Diotrephes (3 John 1:9) in the Corinthian Church; and the author of the schism of which the apostle complains. See the Introduction, Section 8.
15Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
Lest any should say, etc. - He was careful not to baptize, lest it should be supposed that he wished to make a party for himself; because superficial observers might imagine that he baptized them into his own name - to be his followers, though he baptized them into the name of Christ only.
Instead of εβαπτισα, I have baptized, the Codex Alexandrinus, the Codex Ephraim, and several others, with the Coptic, Sahidic, later Syriac in the margin, Armenian, Vulgate, some copies of the Itala, and several of the fathers, read εβαπτισθητε, ye were baptized. And if we read ἱνα, so that, instead of lest, the sentence will stand thus: So that no one can say that ye were baptized into my name. This appears to be the true reading, and for it Bp. Pearce offers several strong arguments.
16And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
The household of Stephanas - From 1 Corinthians 16:15, we learn that the family of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, probably converted and baptized by the apostle himself. Epenetus is supposed to be one of this family. See the note on Romans 16:5.
I know not whether I baptized any other - I do not recollect that there is any person now residing in Corinth, or Achaia, besides the above mentioned, whom I have baptized. It is strange that the doubt here expressed by the apostle should be construed so as to affect his inspiration! What, does the inspiration of prophet or apostle necessarily imply that he must understand the geography of the universe, and have an intuitive knowledge of all the inhabitants of the earth, and how often, and where they may have changed their residence! Nor was that inspiration ever given so to work on a man's memory that he could not forget any of the acts which he had performed during life. Inspiration was given to the holy men of old that they might be able to write and proclaim the mind of God in the times which concern the salvation of men.
17For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
For Christ sent me not to baptize - Bp. Pearce translates thus: For Christ sent me, not so much to baptize as to preach the Gospel: and he supports his version thus - "The writers of the Old and New Testaments do, almost every where (agreeably to the Hebrew idiom) express a preference given to one thing beyond another by an affirmation of that which is preferred, and a negation of that which is contrary to it: and so it must be understood here, for if St. Paul was not sent at all to baptize, he baptized without a commission; but if he was sent, not only to baptize but to preach also, or to preach rather than baptize, he did in fact discharge his duty aright." It appears sufficiently evident that baptizing was considered to be an inferior office, and though every minister of Christ might administer it, yet apostles had more important work. Preparing these adult heathens for baptism by the continual preaching of the word was of much greater consequence than baptizing them when thus prepared to receive and profit by it.
Not with wisdom of words - Ουκ εν σοφιᾳ λογου. In several places in the New Testament the term λογος is taken not only to express a word, a speech, a saying, etc., but doctrine, or the matter of teaching. Here, and in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, and in several other places, it seems to signify reason, or that mode of rhetorical argumentation so highly prized among the Greeks. The apostle was sent not to pursue this mode of conduct, but simply to announce the truth; to proclaim Christ crucified for the sin of the world; and to do this in the plainest and simplest manner possible, lest the numerous conversions which followed might be attributed to the power of the apostle's eloquence, and not to the demonstration of the Spirit of God. It is worthy of remark that, in all the revivals of religion with which we are acquainted, God appears to have made very little use of human eloquence, even when possessed by pious men. His own nervous truths, announced by plain common sense, though in homely phrase, have been the general means of the conviction and conversion of sinners. Human eloquence and learning have often been successfully employed in defending the outworks of Christianity; but simplicity and truth have preserved the citadel.
It is farther worthy of remark, that when God was about to promulgate his laws he chose Moses as the instrument, who appears to have labored under some natural impediment in his speech, so that Aaron his brother was obliged to be his spokesman to Pharaoh; and that, when God had purposed to publish the Gospel to the Gentile world - to Athens, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, he was pleased to use Saul of Tarsus as the principal instrument; a man whose bodily presence was weak, and his speech contemptible, 2 Corinthians 10:1, 2 Corinthians 10:10. And thus it was proved that God sent him to preach, not with human eloquence, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect but with the demonstration and power of his own Spirit; and thus the excellence of the power appeared to be of God, and not of man.
18For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
For the preaching of the cross - Ὁ λογος γαρ ὁ του σταυρου, The doctrine of the cross; or the doctrine that is of or concerning the cross; that is, the doctrine that proclaims salvation to a lost world through the crucifixion of Christ.
Is to them that perish foolishness - There are, properly speaking, but two classes of men known where the Gospel is preached: απολλυμενοι, the unbelievers and gainsayers, who are perishing; and σοζομενοι, the obedient believers, who are in a state of salvation. To those who will continue in the first state, the preaching of salvation through the merit of a crucified Savior is folly. To those who believe this doctrine of Christ crucified is the power of God to their salvation; it is divinely efficacious to deliver them from all the power, guilt, and pollution of sin.
19For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
For it is written - The place referred to is Isaiah 29:14.
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise - Των σοφων, Of wise men - of the philosophers who in their investigations seek nothing less than God, and whose highest discoveries amount to nothing in comparison of the grand truths relative to God, the invisible world, and the true end of man, which the Gospel has brought to light. Let me add, that the very discoveries which are really useful have been made by men who feared God, and conscientiously credited Divine revelation: witness Newton, Boyle, Pascal, and many others. But all the skeptics and deists, by their schemes of natural religion and morality, have not been able to save one soul! No sinner has ever been converted from the error of his ways by their preaching or writings.
20Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
Where is the wise - the scribe - the disputer of this world? - These words most manifestly refer to the Jews; as the places (Isaiah 29:14; Isaiah 33:18; Isaiah 44:25) to which he refers cannot be understood of any but the Jews.
The wise man σοφος, of the apostle, is the חכם chakam of the prophet; whose office it was to teach others.
The scribe, γραμματευς, of the apostle, is the ספר sopher of the prophet; this signifies any man of learning, as distinguished from the common people, especially any master of the traditions.
The disputer, συζητητης, answers to the דרש derosh, or דרשן darshan, the propounder of questions; the seeker of allegorical, mystical, and cabalistical senses from the Holy Scriptures. Now as all these are characters well known among the Jews, and as the words αιωνος τουτου, of this world are a simple translation of עולם הזה olam hazzeh, which is repeatedly used to designate the Jewish republic, there is no doubt that the apostle has the Jews immediately in view. This wisdom of theirs induced them to seek out of the sacred oracles any sense but the true one; and they made the word of God of none effect by their traditions. After them, and precisely on their model, the schoolmen arose; and they rendered the doctrine of the Gospel of no effect by their hypercritical questions, and endless distinctions without differences. By the preaching of Christ crucified God made foolish the wisdom of the Jewish wise men; and, after that the pure religion of Christ had been corrupted by a Church that was of this world, God rendered the wisdom and disputing of the schoolmen foolishness, by the revival of pure Christianity at the Reformation. The Jews themselves allow that nothing is wise, nothing strong, nothing rich, without God.
"Our rabbins teach that there were two wise men in this world; one was an Israelite, Achitophel, the other was a Gentile, Balaam; but both were miserable in this world."
"There were also two strong men in the world; one an Israelite, Samson, the other a Gentile, Goliah; but they were both miserable in this world."
"There were two rich men in the world; one an Israelite, Korah, the other a Gentile, Haman; but both these were miserable in this world. And why? Because their gifts came not from God." See Schoettgen.
In truth the world has derived very little, if any, moral good, either from the Jewish rabbins or the Gentile philosophers.
21For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
For after that in the wisdom of God - Dr. Lightfoot observes, "That σοφια του Θεου, the wisdom of God, is not to be understood of that wisdom which had God for its author, but that wisdom which had God for its object. There was, among the heathen, σοφια της φυσεως, wisdom about natural things, that is, philosophy; and σοφια του Θεου, wisdom about God; that is, divinity. But the world in its divinity could not, by wisdom, know God." The plain meaning of this verse is, that the wise men of the world, especially the Greek philosophers, who possessed every advantage that human nature could have, independently of a Divine revelation, and who had cultivated their minds to the uttermost, could never, by their learning, wisdom, and industry, find out God; nor had the most refined philosophers among them just and correct views of the Divine nature, nor of that in which human happiness consists. The work of Lucretius, De Natura Rerum, and the work of Cicero, De Natura Deorum, are incontestable proofs of this. Even the writings of Plato and Aristotle have contributed little to remove the veil which clouded the understanding of men. No wisdom but that which came from God could ever penetrate and illuminate the human mind.
By the foolishness of preaching - By the preaching of Christ crucified, which the Gentiles termed μωρια, foolishness, in opposition to their own doctrines, which they termed σοφια, wisdom. It was not by the foolishness of preaching, literally, nor by the foolish preaching, that God saved the world; but by that Gospel which they called μωρια, foolishness; which was, in fact, the wisdom of God, and also the power of God to the salvation of them that believed.
22For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
For the Jews require a sign - Instead of σημειον, a sign, ABCDEFG, several others, both the Syriac, Coptic, Vulgate, and Itala, with many of the fathers, have σημεια, signs; which reading, as undoubtedly genuine, Griesbach has admitted into the text. There never was a people in the universe more difficult to be persuaded of the truth than the Jews: and had not their religion been incontestably proved by the most striking and indubitable miracles, they never would have received it. This slowness of heart to believe, added to their fear of being deceived, induced them to require miracles to attest every thing that professed to come from God. They were a wicked and adulterous generation, continually seeking signs, and never saying, It is enough. But the sign which seems particularly referred to here is the assumption of secular power, which they expected in the Messiah; and because this sign did not appear in Christ, therefore they rejected him.
And the Greeks seek after wisdom - Such wisdom, or philosophy, as they found in the writings of Cicero, Seneca, Plato, etc., which was called philosophy, and which came recommended to them in all the beauties and graces of the Latin and Greek languages.
23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But we - Apostles, differing widely from these Gentile philosophers: -
Preach Christ crucified - Call on men, both Jews and Gentiles, to believe in Christ, as having purchased their salvation by shedding his blood for them.
Unto the Jews a stumbling block - Because Jesus came meek, lowly, and impoverished; not seeking worldly glory, nor affecting worldly pomp; whereas they expected the Messiah to come as a mighty prince and conqueror; because Christ did not come so, they were offended at him. Out of their own mouths, we may condemn the gainsaying Jews. In Sohar Chadash, fol. 26, the following saying is attributed to Moses, relative to the brazen serpent: "Moses said, This serpent is a stumbling block to the world. The holy blessed God answered: Not at all, it shall be for punishment to sinners, and life to upright men." This is a proper illustration of the apostle's words.
Unto the Greeks foolishness - Because they could not believe that proclaiming supreme happiness through a man that was crucified at Judea as a malefactor could ever comport with reason and common sense; for both the matter and manner of the preaching were opposite to every notion they had formed of what was dignified and philosophic. In Justin Martyr's dialogue with Trypho the Jew we have these remarkable words, which serve to throw light on the above. "Your Jesus," says Trypho, "having fallen under the extreme curse of God, we cannot sufficiently admire how you can expect any good from God, who place your hopes επ' ανθρωπον σταυρωθεντα, upon a man that was Crucified." The same writer adds: "They count us mad, that after the eternal God, the Father of all things, we give the second place, ανθρωπῳ σταυρωθεντι, to a man that was crucified." "Where is your understanding," said the Gentiles, "who worship for a god him who was crucified?" Thus Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness. See Whitby on this verse.
24But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
But unto them which are called - Τοις κλητοις. Those, both of Jews and Greeks, who were by the preaching of the Gospel called or invited to the marriage feast, and have accordingly believed in Christ Jesus; they prove this doctrine to be divinely powerful, to enlighten and convert the soul, and to be a proof of God's infinite wisdom, which has found out such an effectual way to glorify both his justice and mercy, and save, to the uttermost, all that come to him through Christ Jesus. The called, or invited, κλητοι, is a title of genuine Christians, and is frequently used in the New Testament. Ἁγιοι, saints, is used in the same sense.
25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The foolishness of God is wiser, etc. - The meaning of these strong expressions is, that the things of God's appointment, which seem to men foolishness, are infinitely beyond the highest degree of human wisdom; and those works of God, which appear to superficial observers weak and contemptible, surpass all the efforts of human power. The means which God has appointed for the salvation of men are so wisely imagined and so energetically powerful, that all who properly use them shall be infallibly brought to the end - final blessedness, which he has promised to them who believe and obey.
26For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
Ye see your calling - Την κλησιν. The state of grace and blessedness to which ye are invited. I think, βλεπετε την κλησιν, etc., should be read in the imperative: Take heed to, or consider your calling, brethren; that (ὁτι) not many of you are wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble: men is not in the original, and Paul seems to allude to the Corinthian believers in particular. This seems to have been said in opposition to the high and worldly notions of the Jews, who assert that the Divine Spirit never rests upon any man, unless he be wise, powerful, and rich. Now this Divine Spirit did rest upon the Christians at Corinth, and yet these were, in the sense of the world, neither wise, rich, nor noble. We spoil, if not corrupt the apostle's meaning, by adding are called, as if God did not send his Gospel to the wise, the powerful, and the noble, or did not will their salvation. The truth is, the Gospel has an equal call to all classes of men; but the wise, the mighty, and the noble, are too busy, or too sensual, to pay any attention to an invitation so spiritual and so Divine; and therefore there are few of these in the Church of Christ in general.
27But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
But God hath chosen the foolish things - God has chosen by means of men who are esteemed rude and illiterate to confound the greatest of the Greek philosophers, and overturn their systems; and, by means of men weak, without secular power or authority, to confound the scribes and Pharisees, and in spite of the exertions of the Jewish sanhedrin, to spread the doctrine of Christ crucified all over the land of Judea, and by such instruments as these to convert thousands of souls to the faith of the Gospel, who are ready to lay down their lives for the truth. The Jews have proverbs that express the same sense as these words of the apostle. In Shemoth Rabba, sec. 17, fol. 117, it is said: "There are certain matters which appear little to men, yet by them God points out important precepts. Thus hyssop in the sight of man is worth nothing, but in the sight of God its power is great; sometimes he equals it to the cedar, particularly in the ordinance concerning the lepers, and in the burning of the red heifer. Thus God commanded them in Egypt, Exodus 12:22 : And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, etc. And concerning Solomon it is said, 1 Kings 4:33 : And he discoursed of trees, from the cedar on Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. Whence we may learn that great and small things are equal in the eyes of the Lord, and that even by small things He can work great miracles."
28And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
And base things - and things which are despised - It is very likely that the apostle refers here to the Gentiles and to the Gentile converts, who were considered base and despicable in the eyes of the Jews, who counted them no better than dogs, and who are repeatedly called the things that are not. By these very people, converted to Christianity, God has brought to nought all the Jewish pretensions; and by means of the Gentiles themselves, he has annihilated the whole Jewish polity; so that even Jerusalem itself was soon after this, trodden under foot of the Gentiles.
29That no flesh should glory in his presence.
That no flesh should glory - God does his mighty works in such a way as proves that though he may condescend to employ men as instruments, yet they have no part either in the contrivance or energy by which such works are performed.
30But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus - Even the good which you possess is granted by God, for it is by and through him that Christ Jesus comes, and all the blessings of the Gospel dispensation.
Who of God is made unto us wisdom - As being the author of that evangelical wisdom which far excels the wisdom of the philosopher and the scribe, and even that legal constitution which is called the wisdom of the Jews, Deuteronomy 4:6.
And righteousness - Δικαιοσυνη, Justification, as procuring for us that remission of sins which the law could not give, Galatians 2:21; Galatians 3:21.
And sanctification - As procuring for and working in us, not only an external and relative holiness, as was that of the Jews, but ὁσιοτητα της αληθειας, true and eternal holiness, Ephesians 4:24, wrought in us by the Holy Spirit.
And redemption - He is the author of redemption, not from the Egyptian bondage, or Babylonish captivity, but from the servitude of Satan, the dominion of sin and death, and from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, or the redemption of the body, Romans 8:21, Romans 8:23. See Whitby.
The object of the apostle is to show that man of himself possesses no good, that whatever he has comes from God, and from God only through Christ. For the different acceptations of the word righteousness the reader may consult the note on Romans 1:17 (note), where the subject is considered in every point of view.
31That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
According as it is written - In Jeremiah 9:23, Jeremiah 9:24 : Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this: That he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord, which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth. So then, as all good is of and from God, let him that has either wisdom, strength, riches, pardon, holiness, or any other blessing, whether temporal or spiritual, acknowledge that he has nothing but what he has received; and that, as he has cause of glorying (boasting or exultation) in being made a partaker of these benefits and mercies of his Creator and Redeemer, let him boast in God alone, by whom, through Christ Jesus, he has received the whole.
1. This is an admirable chapter, and drawn up with great skill and address. The divided state of the Corinthian Church we have already noticed, and it appears that in these factions the apostle's authority had been set at nought by some, and questioned by many. St. Paul begins his letter with showing his authority; he had it immediately through Christ Jesus himself, by the will of God. And indeed the success of his preaching was a sufficient proof of the Divinity of his call. Had not God been with him he never could have successfully opposed the whole system of the national religion of the Corinthians, supported as it was by the prejudice of the people, the authority of the laws, and the eloquence and learning of their most eminent philosophers. It was necessary, therefore, that he should call the attention of this people to the Divine origin of his mission, that they might acknowledge that the excellency of the power was of God, and not of man.
2. It was necessary also that he should conciliate their esteem, and therefore speak as favourably concerning them as truth would allow; hence he shows them that they were a Church of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints; that they abounded and even excelled in many extraordinary gifts and graces; and that they were not inferior to any Church of God in any gift. And he shows them that they received all these through God's confirmation of that testimony which he had delivered among them, 1 Corinthians 1:4-7.
3. When he had thus prepared their minds to receive and profit by his admonitions he proceeds to their schisms, which he mentions and reprehends in the most delicate manner, so that the most obstinate and prejudiced could take no offense.
4. Having gained this point, he gently leads them to consider that, as God is the fountain of all good, so their good had all come from him; and that none of them should rest in the gift, but in the giver; nor should they consider themselves as of particular consequence on account of possessing such gifts, because all earthly good is transitory, and those who trust in power, wisdom, or wealth, are confounded and brought to nought; and that they alone are safe who receive every thing as from the hand of God, and, in the strength of his gifts, glorify him who is the donor of all good. He who can read this chapter without getting much profit has very little spirituality in his soul, and must be utterly unacquainted with the work of God in the heart.