Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/1 Corinthians/Chapter 3



Brothers I do not speak to you as fellow believers in Christ, but as people of the world. I speak to you in this way because you are still babies in your walk with Christ. I can not give you all of what I want to give you because you are still of the world. You are acting as children and mere worldly men. For when one of you says, “I believe in Paul,” and another, “I believe in Apollos” you are behaving like men of this world, fighting about things that do not matter. Do not separate yourselves as the world does.

Paul and Apollos are just men, which God has sent to you to minister to you. I was merely the hands and Apollo watered the plant, But God made it grow. God is the only one that can make anything develop and change; men can do nothing but be the hands of God. Everyone will reap what they sow because we all are working hand-in-hand with God.

We all must have a foundation of Jesus Christ because there is no other solid foundation but Jesus Christ. If a man builds with weak and unsturdy materials his work will one day be shown for what it really is. His work will not stand the judgment of God and he will perish. You are the temple of God and he lives in you and you must not clutter it. You must not dirty it up with trash because God will destroy those who do.

Do not believe what the world calls wisdom. These people that claim to be wise in the worlds eyes are not. God knows all of their thoughts and he knows that their thoughts are foolish. Therefore, don’t let men control your way of thinking. Everything is yours and you are of Christ and Christ is the one true Lord.

Overview of 1 Corinthians 3


This passage contains many different things. It has many warnings and tell us how to live. Paul is telling them that they need to stop believing in the men that are bringing them the message of Christ because they are just the messengers that Christ has called. Paul is telling us that Christ is the only one that can do anything with our lives and we need to put our trust in him. Paul then goes on to talk about the foundation of our lives and how we need to make Christ our foundation because he is the only one that will last. Finally, Paul talks about not believing the “wise” people of the world because Christ knows that they only talk foolishness.

Words Of Potential Importance (NIV)

V1: spiritual, worldly, infants, Christ
V2: milk, solid food.
V3: worldly, jealousy, quarreling
V4: Paul, Apollos
V5: Apollos, Paul, servants, believe, Lord
V6: planted, seed, Apollos, God, grow,
V7: plants, waters, God, grow
V8: man, plants, waters, rewarded, labor
V9: God’s, workers, field, building
V10: grace, God, given, foundation, builder
V11: foundation, Jesus Christ
V12: builds, foundation, gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, straw
V13: Day, light, revealed with fire
V14: survives, reward
V15:burned, suffer loss, saved, flames
V16: God’s temple, Gods Spirit
V17: God’s temple, destiny, sacred
V18: wise, standards, age, “fool”,
V19: wisdom, word, foolishness, God’s sight, craftiness
V20: Lord, wise, futile
V21: boasting
V22: Paul, Apollos, Cephas, world, life, death, present, future
V23: Christ, God.

Differences in Translation (New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), King James Version (KJV))

NIV v 3: Worldly
NLT v3: Sinful nature
KJVv3: Carnal
NIV v12: Costly Stones
NLT v 12: Jewels
KJV v 12: precious stones
NIV v13: "His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work."
NLV v13: "But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value."
KJV v13: "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."

NIV v 16: "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?"
NLT v 16: "Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?"
KJV v 16: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?"
NIV v 20: futile
NLT v 20: worthless
KJV v 20: vain
NIV v 21: boasting
KJV v21: glory
NLT v 21: human leader
KJV v 21: man

Literary Typing

1 Corinthians 3:1-4 Letter, Community Letter, Body: Expositional Argument, Disputation
1 Corinthians 3:5 Letter, Community Letter, Body: Expositional Argument, Rhetorical Question
1 Corinthians 3:16-18 Letter, Community Letter, Body: Expositional Argument, Community Instruction
1 Corinthians 3:19 Letter, Community Letter, Body: Expositional Argument, OT Quote + Exposition
1 Corinthians 3:20 Letter, Community Letter, Body: Expositional Argument, OT Quote + Exposition
1 Corinthians 3:21-23 Letter, Community Letter, Body: Expositional Argument, Community Instruction

All information taken from Logos Bible Software*

Paul's Authorship

All of Paul’s letters deal with a certain community of believers that are having problems and he is writing to them to aid them with advice concerning these potential problems. 1 Corinthians is no exception to this common theme. Paul has written thirteen letters, but some scholars have debated weather of not Paul is the real author of some of these letters. However Paul is undoubtedly the author of 1 Corinthians.
In regards to 1 Corinthians, it often appears that we as the readers do not know how much the author (Paul) and the recipients (Church of Corinth) know about each other. Taking this into consideration when one is to read this book, one might have to understand that what is written in the letter might only be a snap shot or a glimpse of the big picture that Paul is trying to paint in his letter.
Adaptation from Samply 789.*

Verse by Verse Commentary




In Chapter three Paul’s focus is no longer on the cross, but is focus now has turned to God and how the church belongs to him. Paul tries to emphasize that the people in Corinth do not own the church and that they are just hands of God doing his work and how they are only part of the big picture (Hays 51). In the first section of the chapter, Paul often refers to the church as “Worldly” or more literally “Fleshly” (Soards 65). This is important because the Corinthians take a high value in being mature and wise believers (Soards 65). Paul is essentially abolishing those ideas with his claims of them being “Worldly”(Soards 65).

After dying them of their positive self-image, Paul continues on to use several metaphors about the relationship between God and the church. Paul’s use of these metaphors is an attempt to lead the Corinthians back to a sense of unity and maturity (Soards 65). Paul talks about that the people of Corinth being foolish because they are not fully understanding the purpose of the church and they are not fully understanding that they are just servants and “builders” as Paul describes them as, in God’s overall plan (Hays 51). In there misunderstanding, they are choosing which leader they want to follow and turning those leaders against each other (Hays 51).

The last part of the chapter Paul talks about the “Day” which he is meaning the day of the Lord and how each man will be judged for what he has done. In this part, Paul refers to the Corinthians as “God’s field” or “God’s builders.” He alludes to Jesus Christ as the foundation and how the foundation cannot be changed (Soards 65).

Verse 1


1Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ.

In this verse, Paul is addressing the people much like he did in chapter two (Soards 66). Paul here says that he could not address them as spiritual. Here he is not saying that they do not have the Spirit or the Spirit is not with them, but because The Corinthians are not taking the Spirit for what the experience of the Spirit should be (Soards 66). Paul refers to them as worldly or carnal which in Greek is sarkinos which means that these people were still “carnal” in their ways of thinking and acting (Metz 329). These people were still “infants” in Christ as Paul has said. What he is meaning here is that they are still young in their faith and they are still taking baby steps in their walks with Christ.

Verse 2


2I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

In this verse Paul continues to attack their immaturity by telling them that they should have been ready for some real food, but they are not they can only handle milk (Samply 825). He makes this claim from earlier in the book in chapter one when he talks about their “jealousy and quarreling” (Samply 825). Also in this verse he is using the metaphor of “solid food” and “milk” to parallel the metaphor in verse 1 in “spiritual” and “worldly” (Soards 67). Paul explains that they were not yet ready for solid food which could possibly mean that they were not ready for the message of the Christ because they could not digest it. They were only able to drink “the milk of the gospel” (Soards 67). The only reason for this is because of their immaturity and their inability to look for wisdom in God (Soards 67).

Verse 3


3You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?

The first part of this verse starts off with the statement that these people are still worldly. Paul is making a distinction from verse one where from the beginning these people were worldly, but now in verse three Paul is making this physical trait a personal attribute (Orr, Walter 169. Paul uses again worldly terms such as jealousy and quarreling which still to this day the Christian community struggles with (Mare 205). At this time the Church of Corinth were acting like people who had not experienced the Grace of God and they were conducting their selves as worldly men (Metz 331). Also in this verse Paul could be alluding to verse four and the obvious divisions that they are in because of his question about them being mere men (Mare 205).

Verse 4


4For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?

The ministry of Paul and Apollos in Acts 18:1-28 was intended to show the Corinthians that they had blurred the view of the work of God (Mare 205). Mare puts it this way, “Whenever they thought of God’s work in terms of belonging to or following a particular Christian worker, they were simply acting on the human level and taking sides just as the world does (205). Therefore, Paul is saying that the people of Corinth are still worldly and acting as mere men because of their divisions which is an act of a fallen humanity (Metz 331).

Verse 5


5What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.

It may seem that Paul and Apollos did not like each other just because of how the verse is written, but this is not true (Soards 76). In Greek it was not uncommon to see “what” and not “who” and for that reason Paul was not discrediting Apollos, but more or less was questioning the pedestal that the Corinthians had put him on(Soards, 77). Paul and Apollos were nothing special they were not any different than any other Christians, they were not any higher than any other Christians, and they were just the hands and feet of God’s work (Metz 331). The point of this verse is to say that no Christian, no matter their leadership position, should be put on a pedestal or idolized (Mare 205).

Verse 6


6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.

Paul uses the analogy of agriculture for a couple of reasons, the first is because Paul was the first pastor of this church and then Apollos succeeded him as the pastor of the church in Corinth (Metz 331). Paul also uses the words planted and watered because this are assumed to have been done in the past, but God is making it grow in the present because he is continuing to work with these people (Soards 77).

Verse 7-9


7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

Logically verses 7-9 go together because of the sequence of idea and analogy of the plant and the worker of the field. Paul is again reiterating the fact that the people of Corinth are only part of the plan of God. As he says, we are with God in his plan and we are the field which God does his growing of his seeds. We have to remind ourselves that we are God servants and that God is the only one that can do anything (Mare 205). Paul in verse eight says that no matter what job you have weather it is, as Paul says, planting the seed or watering, you are one together with one common job (Mare 205). In verse nine Paul is trying to make the point that he is more concerned with the power of God and the precedence God rather than making himself and Apollos look as though they are on the same level as God (Soards 77). Paul ends this section of verses saying that God is in total control and that the church is “God’s building” and it is doing his work (Mare 205-206).

Verse 10-11


10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Verse 10 has two parts to it. The first part of this verse is an extension of his earlier metaphor in verses 7-9. The second part is carefully deterring any person from falsely developing the church (Soards 71). Paul here is not just talking to the leaders of the congregation, but to the whole (Soards 71). Paul here is essentially saying that he did a god job at laying the “foundation” of the church in Corinth because he laid the foundation in Jesus Christ and his wisdom and not the wisdom of a human (Soards 71). Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians that they need to build their church with integrity and keep their foundation in Jesus Christ just as he did (Hays 53). Lastly in verse eleven Paul talks about how the foundation of the church has already been laid and no man can relay a better foundation than that found in Jesus Christ (Metz 334). He is essentially telling them to not mess with it. Do not mess with something that is already strong and sturdy. He is telling them that they need to build off of the foundation not start a new one.

Verse 12-15


12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

This section of verses all talk about the test of building (Metz 334). Paul first talks about that there are many alternate material that one could use to build which are opposite of each other (Metz 334). First you have the “rich and durable” which is strong and stand the test and then you have the “paltry and perishing” which is weak and will topple over if bothered (Metz 334). After talking about the materials that one could build a foundation with Paul talks about how the “Day” which is the Day of the Lord will come and their foundation will be tested with fire (Soards 72). Paul could have used gold, silver, and costly stone as his imagery because these were the types of materials that ancient temples were made of and could convey the picture of perfect doctrine (Mare 207). On the other hand Paul uses wood, hay and straw as examples because these were materials that ordinary houses were made of paralleling this too the flase and confused wisdom of human nature (Mare 207). Paul is trying to make the point that if they are carless in what they believe and study than they will not be rewarded with eternal life (Metz 335). At the end of verse 15 Paul talks about someone escaping through the flames. Here, Paul is meaning that it would be possible for someone to be carless in their “building” and still be saved because of a personal choice, but this is dangerous because it is like a man escaping from a fire ( Metz 335). Paul is warning the Corinthians of the dangers of doing “spiritual work with carnal, selfish, or inferior motives” (Metz 335). In these verses Paul is telling them that righteousness will be rewarded (Soards 74).

Verse 16-17


16Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? 17If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

The metaphor in these verses could be said to be an extention of his previous one in verse 12-15 (Hays 56). Paul is telling the Corinthians here that the church is not just a building, but it is the Temple of God (Soards 74). When the Corinthians heard this they could have been thinking of the pagan temples in their own city, but when Paul starts talking about the God’s Spirit dwelling in the Temple he for sure is not talking about a pagan temple with miscellaneous gods in it (Hays 57). In the final verse of this section Paul talks about how if a man destroys God’s temple then God will destroy that man (Metz 336). Paul here is saying that if the Church teaches false doctrines or is not following the path of Christ then they will in fact be destroyed by the judgment of God (Metz 336). Paul telling the Corinthians that they are God’s temple and that the should conduct themselves in a way that is pleasing to God.


Hay, Richard B. First Corinthians. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997. Interpretation. Print.
Logos Bible Software. 3.0. Bellingham, WA: Libronix, 2000-2006. Northwest Nazarene University network. 17 April. 2009.
Mare, W. Harold. 1 Corinthians. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976. Vol. 10 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Print
Metz, Donald S.I and II Corinthians. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1968. Vol. 8 of Beacon Bible Commentary. Print.
Orr, William F., James Arthur Walter. I Corinthians. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1976. The Anchor Bible. Print.
Samply, Paul J. The New Interpreter’s Bible.Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002. Vol.10 of Acts Introduction To Epistolary Literature Romans 1 Corinthians. Print
Soards, Marion L. 1 Corinthians. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999. New International Biblical Commentary. Print.