Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 3:1 - 3:4

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Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 3:1 - 3:4

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1And I, [I also] brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, [fleshy] even as unto babes in Christ. 2I have fed you with milk, and [om. and] not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither [nay, not even] yet now are ye able. 3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, [om. divisions] are ye not carnal, and walk as men? 4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal [men]?


1Co_3:1. As in 1Co_2:1, so here Paul turns from his more general exposition to the consideration of his own ministry at Corinth. The points of connection are furnished in 1Co_2:6; 1 Corinthians 14. The communication of wisdom on the part of the Apostles belonged only to the sphere of the perfect, of the spiritual; it could not be extended to those who were natural psychical (Seelische) and unreceptive of that which was of the Spirit. As every other person must have done therefore, I also was obliged to treat you as persons of the latter class.—was not able to speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto (merely) fleshy (persons), as unto babes in Christ.—Instead of øõ÷éêüò , natural, lit. psychical, Ger. seelisch, he now uses óÜñêéíïò and óáñêéêüò , fleshy and fleshly or carnal, the ordinary antithesis to ðíåõìáôéêüò , spiritual. The sense, however, is not changed by this, for the natural or psychical man is also at the same time a “fleshy” and “carnal” man (comp. 1Co_2:14), and we can neither say, with Bengel, that these latter expressions are milder, nor with Rückert, that they denote simple weakness, while the former implies hostile opposition; nor with Theophy. that they are stronger epithets than “psychical,” nor that the latter refers to the intelligence, while the former apply to the moral side of human nature, such as the desire and passions. Meyer 2d ed., “ øõ÷éêüò denotes the category to which óáñêéíüò and óáñêéêüò belong.” 3d ed., “ øõ÷éêüò : one who stands outside of the influence of the Spirit, who either has not received Him at all, or has been again deserted by Him.” Such a person is also óáñêéêüò . But not every óáñêéêüò as such is still a øõ÷éêüò , because a óáñêéêüò may be also one who experienced the influences of the Spirit, but is not sufficiently actuated by his enlightening and sanctifying power to overcome the hostile power of the flesh; he still thinks, feels, judges, acts , êáôὰ óÜñêá (according to the flesh). “He is here not speaking of Christians as distinguished from the world, but of one class of Christians as distinguished from another.” Hodge.—Again it is a question how óÜñêéõïò , fleshy, and óáñêéêüò , fleshly, stand related to each other. The former elsewhere is used to denote made of the flesh, carneous. [Barytones in éíïò denote the material of which a, ëéèéíïò of stone, îýëéíïò of wood, etc.]. The LXX. employs it to signify partly the earthliness and weakness of man in contrast with God (2Ch_32:8), and partly what is tender and easily impressed in contrast with what is hard and stony (Eze_11:19; Eze_36:26. In like manner it occurs in 2Co_3:3). But óáñêéêüò is used in the New Testament, and afterwards by the church fathers, to designate the disposition and character as contrasted with ðíåõìáôéêüò . [Denominatives in êüò express that which pertains to the noun from which they are derived, and are like our adjectives ending in ly]. Bleek in Heb_7:16 is of the opinion that in the first introduction of these terms they were used alike, and that it was hot until later that the ordinary ethical signification was limited to the form óáñêéêüò which occurs but rarely in the classics. Meyer on the contrary sharply distinguishes. According to him óÜñêéíïò designates the unspiritual state of nature which the Corinthians still had in their early Christian minority, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit had as yet changed their character so slightly that they appeared as if consisting of men flesh still. But óáñêéêüò expresses a later ascendancy of the hostile material nature over the divine principle of which they had been made partakers by progressive instruction. And it is the latter which, as he thinks, the Apostle makes the ground of his rebuke. In so far, however, as both epithets are of kindred signification, he could, notwithstanding the distinction between them, affirm, “for ye are yet carnal.” So Meyer. The distinction between an intellectual weakness and narrow-mindedness in the first beginnings of Christianity (to which also the parallel expression íçðßïéò , babes, refers), and a moral impurity and perverseness manifesting itself in the progress of Christian development, and involving also an intellectual incapacity for a true heavenly wisdom, is a distinction fully justifiable and consonant with the use of the terms óáñêéêüò and óÜñêéíïò by the Apostle elsewhere. But that the term óáñêßíïéæ is to be here understood relatively, and as not denoting an entire lack of the ðíåῦìá is clearly indicated by the phrase “as unto babes in Christ.” The time here referred to is that when they had just begun to receive Christian instruction, and were but recently admitted into fellowship with Christ by faith and baptism, and so become the children of God. They were of course then wholly immature and spiritually dependent, so that their conduct did not indicate the full impress of the Spirit. Their conscious will, the I, was still fettered by carnal and selfish habits, and their ability to comprehend the deeper grounds and relations of Christian truth was yet undeveloped. In short the allusion is to that crudeness which is seen in children. [And does not the word “fleshy,” seeing that the Apostle had in mind the image of babyhood, also clearly refer to the appearance of the babe also—a little lump seemingly of mere flesh, as yet evincing but little signs of mind or conscience, although containing these elements in the germ? One can hardly avoid discovering here one reason of the use of the word “fleshy” instead of fleshly, which is an opprobious epithet, applicable only to later years. That mere animalness, which is one of the beauties of the babe, becomes deformity and a disgrace in an adult. Hence the change of terms when the Apostle comes to speak of their after condition. They were óÜñêéíïé at first, but not developing their spirituality they become óáñêéêüé ]. That fondness for showy eloquence which was natural at the first passed over into the vanity and corruption of an egotistical partisanship, and so instead of attaining progressively a confirmed Christian character, they become carnal. In like manner the Rabbins also speak of little ones and sucklings. Schoettgen in loco. Wetstein 1Pe_2:2; Mat_10:42. On íçðßïéò . comp. 1Co_14:20; Heb_5:13; otherwise Mat_11:25.

1Co_3:2. The figure introduced in the previous verse is still further carried out.—I gave you milk to drink.—That is, he gave them nourishment suited to their age. To the beginners in the Divine life, He imparted such instruction as was easy to be understood, the rudiments of Christian knowledge (Heb_6:1), not strong meat such as adults only could digest, not the deeper truths of wisdom, which only those who had advanced in religious experience could properly receive, 1Co_2:6 ff.—not meat.—This is connected to the foregoing in the way of a zeugma. [Winer, § 66.100.]. Instead of ἐðüôéóá , have given to drink, which can only be asserted of the “milk,” and not of the “meat,” some other verb, such as ἔäùêá , have given, is to be supplied. “The distinction between ‘milk’ and ‘meat’ can lie only in the formal treatment of the same fundamental truth.” Neander. “To refer the distinction here to the subject-matter of the preaching, is required neither by the figure used, nor by the connection.” Burger. [“The same truth in one form is milk, in another form, strong meat.” Hodge. “Christ is milk for babes, and strong meat for men.” Calvin]. The reason of the above precedence was,—for ye were not as yet able to bear it.—The time here referred to was the commencement of his ministry, and that of their first conversion, and the verb ἐäýíáóèå , able is to be taken in an absolute sense, as it is used also in the classics, “ye were not strong or capable enough.” Meyer.—nay, nor yet now are ye able.—The ἀëëÜ . [which we render “nay”], is climacteric: not only were ye unable, but indeed ye are so still.” It might appear inconsistent with this declaration that Paul proceeded in the 15 to expound to them the doctrine of the resurrection which certainly is strong meat rather than milk; but there was a special demand for such an exposition, which saved him from the charge of contradicting himself.

1Co_3:3. [Assigns the reason of the inability.—For ye are yet carnal—here we have óáñêéêüé —not óÜñêéíïé , as the word of censure applicable only to their advanced stage, and showing that though they had been Christians for a long time, they had yet the fleshiness of children upon them, now become fleshliness. The proof of this]—for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions [?], are ye not carnal, and walk according to man?—Here he refers back to what was said in 1Co_1:10, ff. In Gal_5:20 he also counts these same things as among the works of the flesh, comp. likewise Rom_13:13. Æῆëïò , envying; in classic as well as in Hellenic usage, this word occurs in a good sense, zeal, emulation, and in a bad one, jealousy, envy. Here it signifies partisan rivalry. Out of this arose ἔñéò strife, i.e. verbal disputation. If äé÷ïóôáóßáé , divisions (see Crit. notes) were genuine, we should have in this a climax, indicating the schisms before referred to. ̔́ Ïðïõ , whereas, occurs in the classics, also in a causal sense, because, in so far as, since. Passow. According to de Wette, it is like åἰ , a conditional designation of the reason, “if there be,” etc. According to Meyer it implies a local conception of the conditional relation: “where there is” (comp. Heb_9:16; Heb_10:18).— Êáôὰ ἄíèñùðïí (also Rom_3:5)= óáñêéêῶò . It is the opposite to “walking in the Spirit,” Gal_5:25. What he means to say is, ‘your conduct conforms to the ways of men as they ordinarily are in their apostate and irreligious condition.’

1Co_3:4. A further confirmation.—“For when one says, ‘I am of Paul;” and another, ‘I am of Apollos.’—The allusion to the parties is not as full as in 1Co_1:12, inasmuch as he has in this paragraph only to do with that of Apollos, or rather with the opposition existing between this and that called after himself.” Meyer. “These were at the same time the most important parties at Corinth.” Osiander. Here likewise the distinction is not stated according to grammatical rules. The ἐãὼ ìÝí , however, brings out the contrast with emphasis: “I, on my part;” or, “I, at all events.” (Comp. Passow ìÝí , A. I., II. 7; vol. II. 1. p. 175 and 177),—are ye not men.—The same usage as in 1Co_3:3 : êáô ̓ ἄíèñùðïí “after man’s fashion.” It was natural for the Jews to see in man ( àָãָí ), the earthly, an implication of what was defective, imperfect, indeed the exact antithesis to God, and whatever was godlike. Hence the expression in the Old Testament: “the children of men,” and especially “the daughters of men” (Genesis 5), in opposition to “the sons of God.” (This is, according to the only interpretation suited to the connection and the spirit of the Old Testament, which sets the sanctified portion of the race over against those who represent men, human nature severed from God). The expression as here used, is certainly unique, but entirely in accordance with the analogy of Scripture. “It means people who have not been lifted above human infirmity, and in whom the Divine element is utterly wanting.” Meyer.


Comp. on 1Co_1:12 ff.; 1Co_2:6 ff.; 1Co_2:1 ff.

1. [Christian truth is of different grades, and suited to different capacities. It has rudiments for the simplest child, and profundities which the angels desire to look into, and can never fully penetrate. It begins with the plainest facts of history, furnishing in these the foundation of a saving faith, but every one of these facts conduct us down into the deep things of God. Thus the Gospel is adapted to all classes of mankind. Its storehouse is furnished with all kinds of provisions, from the milk for babes to the strong meat for adults. In this we have one token of its Divine wisdom, and of its celestial origin and eternal destiny. Infinitude lies back of all its lowliest approaches to man in his fallen state, and in all it presents to faith, it furnishes that on which mind and heart shall feed for evermore].

2. The vanity of man apart from God. Human nature, originally so exalted in its likeness to God, so glorious in knowledge and voluntary power, has sunk so low by reason of sin, that God’s word, uttering ever the language of truth, associates with man (when regarded apart from the person of Jesus, and from what may be realized through Him) the conception of something small, weak, incapable, transient, vain, false; in short, of such imperfection and depravity as results from a rupture of our communion with God. Hence the inquiry, “who art thou, O man?” (Rom_9:20; comp. 1Co_2:1; 1Co_2:3); and, “what is man?” Psa_8:4; Psa_144:3, ff.; and the saying, “all men are liars.” Rom_3:4. Indeed, as used in common parlance, the term is often one of contempt. Luk_22:60 : “Man, I know not what thou sayest.” Mat_26:72 : “I do not know the man.” On the contrary, in Christ everything wins a different aspect. While in the Old Testament the term, “children of men,” is a disparaging epithet, Christ on the other hand, as “the son of man,” wears the honors of One, who, though He entered into all the weakness of human nature, and incurred its worst ills, yet rose again, and on this very account became the Mediator of a perfect communion with God, and the vehicle of all its consequent blessedness to the human race. By His righteousness He counterbalanced the sin of the old Adamic nature, and averts all its bitter results. He becomes also the sole Mediator between God and man, and appears as the One who from the lowest depths of humiliation, has been raised to utmost height of majesty. Comp. Mat_20:18; Mat_24:27, Mat_25:31; Mat_26:64, etc. All this was foreshadowed in the vision of Daniel, where the Son of man is seen to come in the clouds of heaven, and to whom is given eternal power and a kingdom without end (1Co_7:13), and where human nature thus honored by God, is contrasted with the brute nature, the beast, which develops itself in the kingdoms of this world. The oft-repeated title conferred on Ezekiel, áֶּï àָãָí : thou Son of man, may also be regarded as typical of this One who is preëminently the Son of man. It was bestowed on the prophet as the receiver of the Divine communications, and was as honorable as it was humiliating (comp. Gerlach on Eze_2:1). Of the same sort was the epithet, “Man of God,” which was conferred on the prophets and other messengers of God, and passed out from the Old Testament into the New Testament. In fine, it may be affirmed generally that wherever, and to the degree in which communion with God is in any way predicable, the designation “man” at once obtains a higher signification, and becomes one of honor, and is prophetic of exaltation. Elsewhere it carries the opposite import.


Heubner:—1. The wisdom of the Christian teacher is shown in knowing how to adapt himself to different ages, and to regard the necessities of his congregation; and to build up beginners unto perfection (1Co_3:1). 2. To the carnal nature belong self-love, vanity, ambition; these traits are exhibited in strife and partizanship. There is a zeal which is nothing more than an eagerness to maintain our own opinion, cause, or party, simply because it is ours, and we expect to stand or fall with it, and not because conscience bids. From this comes strife, contention about points of difference. The issue is division. Since neither will yield, they separate. This accords with man’s fashion. Just as if Christianity were an affair of schools and sects, or as if one could act in the Church just as he does in the political world where factions and jealousies abound (1Co_3:2).

Rieger:—1. God’s method of instruction requires that we do not overload. Novices are to be treated as children. We are to be considerate of their weaknesses, and not to crowd upon them those deeper doctrines which can be properly judged of only by such as are spiritual and strong. 2. In regard to “milk” and “strong meat” let us not err. “Milk “is a designation not of cheapness and meanness, but of what is most truthful and most nourishing to the spiritual life.—“Strong meat” signifies not every thing which our intellectual curiosity may lust after, but the deeper disclosures of the fundamental verities of God’s kingdom, the knowledge of which promotes growth in grace. 3. The carnal mind, suspicious, opinionated, and thus divisive, not only begets oppositions in doctrine, but also diversities in practice, which end in schism.

Starke:—1. Cr: to become a believer is not the result of a fit of enthusiasm, as if the wind were to blow upon a person and he straightway became perfect; but we must hear, learn, pray, read, inquire until we are transformed from one degree of conviction unto another. 2. Hed: God’s children often have gross and unacknowledged faults which linger in them until they have waxed in faith and grown strong to overcome. 3. To discourse to young converts of the deeper mysteries of Christian doctrine were as irrational as to give strong meat to babes. And since with the majority growth is slow and difficult, we must often continue longer to deal out to them “the sincere milk of the Word.”

Gossner:—Every one thinks his party has the kernel and others only the shell. Whereas they all are apt to let the kernel alone and dispute about the shell, as if that were the kernel (1Co_3:4). So is it with those who, having begun in spirit, go back to the flesh. Mistaking incidentals for essentials, they grow weak in the inward man and are soon puffed up (1Co_3:1; 1Co_3:21).

W. F. Besser:—The mind of Christ tolerates no party-spirit, and no love of divisions. The conscience of many in this day is not sufficiently tender on this point. Indeed there are numbers who consider their Christianity so much the purer in proportion as they disregard the visible exhibition of Church unity, and are reckless in breaking the bond of peace which outwardly unites companions in one faith.

[R. W. Robertson:—“Strong meat” does not mean high doctrine such as Election, Regeneration, Justification by faith, but “Perfection,” strong demands on Self, a severe and noble Life. The danger of extreme demands made on hearts unprepared for such is seen in the case of Ananias.]

[N. Emmons. 1Co_3:2. Doctrines of the Gospel food for Christians. I. What doctrines the Apostle did preach to the Corinthians: a. Depravity; b. Regeneration; c. Love; d. Faith; e. Sanctification; f. Final Perseverance; g. Divine Sovereignty; h. Election. II. Why these are called milk: a. Because they are easy to be understood; b. Because they are highly pleasing to the pious heart; c. Because they are nourishing. III. Why the Apostle preached these rather than others to the Corinthians: a. Their internal state required such preaching; b. Their external state required it. Improvement. 1. If these doctrines are milk, what is meat? a. The rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic Law; b. The types and predictions of the Old Testament; c. The predictions of the New Testament. 2. The doctrines which Paul preached to the Corinthians, as shown above, have been misrepresented. 3. We have a criterion to determine who are the plainest preachers. 4. No people are incapable of hearing the doctrines Paul preached to the Corinthians].


1Co_3:1.—The Rec. has êáὶ ἐãþ , but with the far better and preponderant authorities A. B. C. D. E. F. G. Cod. Sin. Lach. and Tisch. read êᾀãþ [which, as Words says, “gives less prominence to the I, and accords more with the Apostle’s humility”].

1Co_3:1.—The Rec. has óáñêéêïῖò according to 1Co_3:3, where a preponderance of authorities declares for óáñêéêïß , and only a few, governed by the original reading in 1Co_3:1, have óÜñêéíïé , Here as in Rom_7:14; Heb_7:16 we must read according to best authorities óáñêßíïéò . [So A. B. C. D. Cod. Sin.—followed by Gries., Lach., Tisch., Words.. Alf., etc.].

1Co_3:2.—The êáὶ , according to the best manuscripts [A. B. C. Cod. Sin.], is rejected by the great majority of translators and by the old church fathers.

1Co_3:2.—The Rec. ïí ̓ ôå instead of ïí ̓ äÝ is feebly supported and verbally incorrect.

1Co_3:3.— Êáὶ äé÷ïóôáóἰáé is wanting in good authorities, A. B. [C. Cod. Sin.] and in the majority of versions and church fathers. Its omission is not to be explained. Probably inserted as a gloss from Gal_5:20. [Wordsworth retains it].

1Co_3:4.—Rec. ïí ̓ ÷ὶ óáñêéêïὶ ἐóôå . [Instead read ïí ̓ ê ἄíèñùðïß ἐóôå . So A. B. C. Cod. Sin. Alf.. Stanley, Lach., Tisch., etc.] ïíê is better attested than ïí ̓ ÷ὶ and ἄíèñùðïé still better. The Rec. reading is probably taken from 1Co_3:3.

One would suppose the aforementioned doctrines to be the strongest kind of meat. The sermon is interesting as a specimen.]