1 Corinthians


3. Maintaining unity in the church, 1:11-4:21

iii] The unifying power of a genuine Christian ministry, 3:1-4:5

a) A wisdom unsuitable for babies


Paul begins by returning to the issue of party-spirit in the Corinthian congregation. First he labels the members of the congregation who have come to oppose his ministry as "worldly." They think they are "spiritual", but their "jealousy and quarreling" shows that they are behaving in a sub-Christian way. Paul then moves on to address the over-exaggerated status given to particular leaders / apostles, exposing the false views that have developed in the congregation with regard the nature of church and ministry. He makes the point that church leaders are merely servants of Christ; together they are "God's fellow workers" and are not special in their own right.


i] Context: See 1:11-17. Having first identified the divisions in the Corinthian church, 1:10-17, and having addressed the problem in the terms of resting on human wisdom rather than the message of the cross, 1:18-2:16, Paul now, in chapter 3, returns to the problem of divisions in the church, v1-4, and then sets out applying the principle "the Lord assigned to each their task", v5. In v6-9 Paul illustrates and applies the principle, correcting the false views that have developed in the congregation with regard the nature of church and ministry. Paul makes the point that church leaders are merely servants of Christ; together they are "God's fellow workers" and are not special in their own right. The principle, v5, is further illustrated and applied in v10-17, and then in v18-23 Paul forms an interim conclusion to the subject of wisdom (he will draw a final conclusion to the subject in 4:21).

Robertson and Plummer in the old ICC commentary suggest that in 3:5-4:21 Paul deals with the true conception of the Christian pastorate; i] General definition, 3:5-9; ii] The builders, 3:10-15; iii] The temple, 3:16-17; iv] Warnings against a mere human estimate of the pastoral office, 3:18-4:5. Paul then winds up with a personal application and conclusion of the central subject of these early chapters, namely dissensions in the church, 4:6-21.


ii] Background: See 1:11-17.


iii] Structure: This passage presents in two parts:


The Corinthian believers are infants in Christ and must be addressed accordingly.


The Corinthian believers were spiritually immature when Paul first ministered to them and they are still that way, evidenced by party-spirit in the church, v1-4;

Party-spirit is groundless because church leaders are but servants of Christ with diverse ministry gifts working together toward a common end, v5-9.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul had argued in the previous chapter that true wisdom is only ever perceived by spiritual people. Sadly, many members of the Corinthian congregation have shown themselves to be unspiritual, mere men, worldly, infants, and therefore are unable to receive true wisdom. These "secular" members of the congregation at Corinth are evidenced in two ways: First, dissensions exist within the congregation - there is jealousy, quarreling and the like; Second, party spirit is the order of the day - "I am one of Paul's people, I am one of Apollos' people." Of course, it is not clear whether Apollos has developed an anti-Paul party. He obviously came to Corinth after Paul had left and became an important teacher in the church. There is no indication that he was opposed to Paul, but it does seem that he became the focus of one of the many parties in the church, v1-5.

The members of the Corinthian church have failed to understand the true nature of ministry and have fallen under the cult of personality. A minister's ministry is what is important, not their personality. As C.K. Barrett puts it, to each one was assigned a task, as the Lord gave it, and each performed his own duty." Each minister exercises their spiritual gifts and it is through these gifts that God gives the growth. The true minister in the church of God is but a servant, a workman for the Lord. It is the Lord who grows his people; ministers are but servants who tend his creation. In the end, there is no difference between ministers who exercise different gifts; they are all on the same team. Their reward is heavenly; the adulation of their followers is no reward at all. So, ministers "are God's servants, working together", NRSV, while the congregation is God's field, his vineyard; God's house, his temple, v6-9.


For divine wisdom, as opposed to human wisdom, see "Interpretation" 1:26-31.


v] Comment:

It is interesting how Paul handles the issue of Christian ministry in this passage. He does not overvalue ministry leaving us with the notion that the minister is the church, it is his/her church - rectorial dictatorship. Yet, nor does Paul devalue ministry leaving us with the notion that ministry is but an optional extra in the business of building congregational life - congregational democracy; everyman and his Bible. Ministers are appointed by God to exercise their particular divinely bestowed gifts for the building up of the congregation and it is essential for the congregation to accept this ministry. Paul had his ministry gifts, Apollos had his, each to be exercised and each to be accepted. Such ministry gifts cannot be the basis of party-spirit.


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 3:1

A wisdom unsuitable for babies: i] Paul returns to the issue of disunity in the church at Corinth, v1-4. As the Children of God used to say "You have to become a baby", a baby in Jesus. Indeed, this is true, but the baby Paul has in mind is a worldly baby who has prolonged their baby-ways now that they are a believer.

kagw "-" - and I. Emphatic position. Possibly here with a slightly consecutive sense following on from 2:16, "we have the mind of Christ and so ...... I could not speak to you as spiritual people", NRSV. At least marking a step in the argument; "for my part my Christian friends", Thiselton.

ouk .... all ... "[I could] not [......] but ..." - An adversative comparative construction, but unbalanced; "I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but I had to speak to you as to fleshly people", B&L.

lalhsai (lalew) aor. inf. "[I could not] address" - [I was not able] to speak. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of "was [not] able".

uJmin dat. pro. "you" - to you. Dative of indirect object / interest / destination.

wJV "as" - like. Introducing up a comparison.

pneumatikoiV dat. adj. "spiritual" - pertaining to the spirit. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of direct object / interest. The Corinthians are indeed "spiritual people", in the sense of possessing the Spirit, but since they have so much to learn Paul is inclined not to address them as such.

alla "but" - Adversative.

sarkinoiV dat. adj. "people who are still worldly" - unspiritual, fleshly minded, carnal. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of direct object / interest. The ending inoV indicates a material relation, while ikoV an ethical or dynamic relation, cf. R&P. This prompts Meyer's sense of "wholly of the flesh" meaning that Paul is stating that these particular Corinthians are not believers, yet this seems far too strong. "People who belong to the realm of flesh", BAGD, is far too literal to mean much. Theissen, Psychological Aspects has sarkikoV as "moved by self-interest", so probably we can take sarkinoV to mean "people moved by entirely human drives", Thiselton.

nhpioiV dat. adj. "infants" - infantile. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of direct object / interest. Often used of beginners in Christ, new believers; "babes in Christ", R&P. Yet, best treated as an opposite to teleioi, those who are mature believers, so here "naive believers / infantile", cf. Naylor.

en + dat. "in" - Local, expressing sphere; "in relation with / in union with Christ" = "new believers / converts."


Paul's ministry in Corinth reflected the spiritual standing of the congregation; he used the Billy Graham KISS formula.

gala (a) "milk" - [I gave you] milk. With the pronoun uJmaV, "you", double accusative direct object person and thing of the verb "to give to drink." "Rudimentary teaching", Garland.

brwma (a atoV) "solid food" - Accusative construction as above. An expanded syllabus of Christian doctrine.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why Paul gave them "milk". Note the play on words "I was not able because/for you were not yet able, [and] now still not able." "I could not (explain the cross of God's wisdom in mystery) because you could not (so understand it, given your advancement in the wrong direction)", Fee.

ou[pw adv. "net yet" - not yet.

edunasqe (dunamai) imperf. "you were [not yet] ready" - you were able. The complementary infinitive must be supplied; "you were not able / were not ready to eat solid food".

alla "indeed" - Here serving as an intensifier, ascensive; "nay, but not yet even now have ye the power", R&P.

eti "still" - "You are still not able to eat / ready to eat solid food. "And I don't believe you can do it now", Phillips.


The behavior of the congregation revealed their spiritual immaturity.

gar "for" - Possibly more reason / explanatory than cause here, so not translated, as NIV, although cause may be intended, "you are not yet ready to eat solid food because you are still of the flesh."

o{pou adv. "since" - This adverb of place, "where", sometimes takes a conditional sense, "whereas", as AV, even causal, "since", as NIV; "in so far as", Zerwick.

zhloV (oV) "jealousy" - With a good sense, "fervor", but with a negative sense, "jealousy / envy / resentment".

eriV (iV idoV) "strife" - conflict resulting from rivalry and discord*.

en "among [you]"- in, on. Local, expressing space, obviously "among you."

ouci "[are you] not" - Emphartic. This negation is used in a question, here rhetorical, expects an affirmative answer.

kai "-" - and, and yet, but. Probably here epexegetic with the sense "that is".

peripateite (peripatew) pres. "acting" - walking about. "Walk about" in the sense of "conduct one's life."

kata "like [mere men]" - according to [man]. Expressing a standard; "in accordance with." "Your lives and relationships are so filled with jealousy, quarreling and divisions that I must ask you to tell me; aren't you still secular?", Junkins.


Their spiritual immaturity is evidenced by their party-spirit.

gar "for" - As with v3 possibly explanatory, but causal seems better, leading to a second question; "you are not yet ready to eat solid food because ...... when one says ..... are you not ......?"

o{tan + subj. "when [one says]" - whenever [anyone may say]. This construction introduces an indefinite temporal clause.

men ...... de "..... and ...." - An adversative comparative construction; "on the one hand I follow Paul but on the other I follow Apollos." It is unclear whether Apollos is the actual leader of one of the opposition parties in Corinth, or whether Paul intends "to less invidiously use these names as a point of departure for the coming analysis", R&P. See Introduction for an overview of the parties/groups in the Corinthian church.

Paulou (oV) "Paul" - of Paul. The genitive is most likely adjectival, possessive / relational, "I am Paul's man / woman", but if referring to the Paul party then partitive, "I am one of Paul's people", Thiselton.

ouk "[are you] not / [are you] not [acting like]" - This negation used in a question expects a positive answer, "yes".

anqrwpoi "mere men / mere humans" - men. Probably in the sense of "human", or even better, "secular". "They are human beings who choose to forget their absolute dependence on God and to determine their own existence in accordance with their own desire rather than with his command", Bruce. "Don't you still live as everyone else in secular society lives", Junkins


ii] Christian ministry: a) The principle - the Lord assigns to each their task, v5.

ti neut. pro. "what" - Predicate nominative interrogative pronoun, forward referencing. The neuter "what", rather than "who is Apollos?" is stylistic and increases the force of Paul's words; "I have mentioned the names of Apollos and myself. Well then, what is Apollos? and what is Paul?", Barrett. The answer is surely nothing in themselves (ruling out personality cults), but as servants of the Lord, everything. The task is what is important, not the person.

oun "after all" - therefore. Best taken there as inferential; drawing a logical conclusion from the premise the Lord assigns to each their task.

diakonoi (oV) "servants" - servants. The usual word for Christian ministry - servants of Christ in service to his people. "Ministers", AV, is an appropriate translation developed from the later technical use of the word "deacon", but "servants" is better.

di (dia) + gen. "through [whom]" - through. Expressing agency. Both Paul and Apollos were divine instruments leading to / the means that led to the right-standing before God of the believers in Corinth.

kai ... wJV "as" - even as [the Lord gave]. The conjunction kai is ascensive / epexegetic, the particle wJV is comparative; "In the measure the Lord granted to each", Cassirer. As noted above, this statement most likely sets out a principle of ministry which Paul then illustrates and applies in the following verses. None-the-less, as it stands the clause could well apply to the converts rather than Paul and Apollos. Their conversion is the Lord's doing, not their own, nor the doing of Paul and Apollos. None-the-less, it is more likely that "each one refers to the preachers, or servants; to each one was assigned a task, as the Lord gave it, and each performed his own duty", Barrett.

edwken (didwmi) aor. "has assigned" - gave. What the Lord "gave" was both the gifts to exercise the ministry and the ministry itself. In a sense, the gift of ministry is a gift to the church. Apollos, as with Paul, "carried out the task God gave him to do", Barclay.

ekastw/ dat. pro. "to each [his task]" - Presumably "to each teacher." R&P suggest the Gk. should properly read ekastoV (nominative) wJV oJ kurioV edwken autw/, such that ekastw/ is dative by attraction to an assumed dative of indirect object. Ministry gifts are given to each individual for the exercise of their ministry, although Thiselton notes that the "each" is not promoting the individual exercise of those gifts, since Paul always maintains a collegiate view of ministry such that "the Lord has assigned to each that together they may exercise their task." Paul and Apollos are not individual operators.


b) The Lord establishes and grows his people, his ministers but serve to this end, v6-9.

egw pro. "I [planted the seed]" - Not an emphatic use, but simply used for balanced syntax; "I" Paul, so "Apollos" and "God."

alla "but" - Adversative.

huxanen (auxanw) imperf. "[God] made it grow / has been making it grow" - was giving growth. The TNIV draws out the durative nature of the imperfect. The analogy of planting out and tending a garden "functions both to affirm the ministry of Apollos and to put Paul and Apollos on an equal footing from the perspective of their mutual servanthood", Fee.


Paul makes it clear that a minister of the gospel can only plant and water. This should remind those who want to assess a person's ministry on the basis of an increase in congregational numbers to think again.

w{ste "so" - Usually consecutive, expressing result, "with the result that ...", although here leaning more toward an inferential conclusion, "and so therefore."

oute .... oute "neither ..... nor". A negated comparative construction.

oJ futeuwn (futeuw) pres. part. "he who plants" - the one planting. As with oJ potizwn, "the one watering", the participle serves as a substantive.

estin ti "is anything" - "Is something", R&P.

alla "but" - but, and. Here a strong adversative. This produces a contrast between Paul and Apollos who are not "something", as against God who is "everything".

oJ auxanwn (auxanw) pres. part. "[God] who makes things grow" - the one giving growth. The participle may be treated as adjectival, attributive, as NIV, limiting by describing "God", or as a substantive standing in apposition to "God". "God who makes it grow is everything", Cassirer.


The task of building a congregation is a corporate activity.

de "-" - but, and. Transitional connective, marking the next step in the argument; "moreover ....."

e{n neut. "[have] one purpose" - [are] one. Predicate nominative. The "one" is neuter, so not as "one person", but possibly with one "purpose", as NIV, or better as "one team" = equal = "there is no difference between the man (person) who plants the seed and the man who waters it", Barclay. Both Paul and Apollos together fulfilled their divine charge "with no desire for adulation on the part of the Corinthians", Naylor.

lhmyetai (lambanw) fut. "[each] will be rewarded" - [each one] will receive [the one's own wages]. Paul is not establishing a principle of divine reward for earthly service. No merit can gain divine recompense since God bestows the fullness of divine blessing as an act of grace. Paul's point is that "the remuneration for Apollos and Paul will come from God who has assigned them to their individual tasks, and not from the reputation or glory that they might enjoy among those who might side with them or show them allegiance in some way", Fitzmyer.

kata + acc. "according to" - Expressing a standard; "in accordance with / corresponding to. "Each will receive his reward in proportion to his labor", Cassirer.


All those who minister in God's field are "co-workers in God's service."

gar "for" - Here probably introducing a causal clause, "because", explaining why the one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, v8a, or even the argument so far, cf. Conzelmann quoting Lietzmann, but also possibly again explanatory and so left untranslated, so Fee.

qeou (oV) gen. "God's [fellow workers] / [co-workers] in God's service" - helpers, co-workers [of God]. There are two possible meanings to this clause, both true to the genitive. i] Association: "We are co-workers together with God", "collaborators with God", Fitzmyer, so Edwards, Godet, Lightfoot, R&P, cf. NAB; ii] Possessive: "We are co-workers belonging to God", so Furnish, Barrett, Fee, Thiselton, Garland. Possibly verbal, objective,"fellow workers serving God", or source / origin, "fellow workers dependent on God", B&L. "We are God's servants, working together", NRSV.

qeou (oV) "[you are] God's [field], God's [building]" - [a farm] of God, [a building] of God [you are]. The genitive "of God" is adjectival, most likely possessive, so Thiselton: The Corinthians are a cultivated field, possibly a vineyard that belongs to God, a building, temple, a holy house that belongs to God. On the other hand it is possible that the nouns "field" and "house" are not concrete metaphors but rather verbal nouns referring to the act of tillage, a field under cultivation, a building under construction = "the Corinthians are objects of God's work", Garland, ie. the genitive is verbal, subjective. So, "the Corinthians exhibit God's operations in spiritual husbandry and spiritual architecture", R&P, a "field which God, through his servants, is cultivating, a building which God, through his servants, is erecting", Barrett - "the field which God works ..... the edifice which God builds up", B&L. None-the-less, a possessive genitive seems more likely. At this point Paul mixes his metaphors, or better, he leads into his next illustration and application, "the image of the building and the testing of the builders work", 3:9c-15, Thiselton.


1 Corinthians Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]