1 Corinthians


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

i] Divisions in the church


Having stated his thesis, Paul now sets out to deal with the divisions evident in the church at Corinth, 1:11-4:21. In the passage before us Paul encourages unity and exposes the absurdity of party-spirit. Paul concludes by defending his own place in the life of the Corinthian church; he did not come to form a party, but rather proclaim life in Christ Jesus.


i] Context: See 1:1-3. Having established his thesis concerning the maintenance of fellowship founded on a common belief, Paul goes on to tackle the issue of divided loyalties:

1:11-17. First, he expresses his disappointment at the divisions now evident in the Corinthian congregation, particularly as they relate to a negative view of his ministry, 1:11-17. As Paul states in v17, his ministry is that of preaching the cross of Christ, the power of which resides in the message, not in human eloquence.

1:18-25. The gospel / the foolishness of the cross is compared with human wisdom.

1:26-31. The theme of the foolishness of the cross compared with human wisdom is further developed.

2:1-5. Paul expands on the idea that a minister of the gospel can only boast in the Lord, 1:31. Paul is no powerful preacher, but the message is powerful and has powerful consequences.

2:6-16. The contrast between human wisdom and the power of God, v5, is further developed with respect to unspiritual and spiritual people / believers.

3:1-17. A critique of the Corinthians' party spirit - "I belong to ...." Paul goes on to explain the true nature of the church in three illustrations: God's field, God's building, and God's temple.

3:18-23. Paul sums up his argument so far, exposing again the foolishness of human wisdom. All "wisdom" does is promote party spirit and boasting about human leaders.

4:1-5. In a personal appeal, Paul asks his readers to reassess their opinion of Christ's apostles.

4:6-13. A summary of Paul's argument.

4:14-21. Paul pleads lovingly, as a father would with his dear children, that the Corinthian believers imitate him rather than oppose him.


ii] Background - Party spirit in Corinth, see 1:10.


iii] Structure: Divisions in the church:

The issue is identified - factions within the church, v11-12;

Factions are not natural to the Christian faith, v13-16;

Paul, was sent to proclaim the truth of the gospel, v17.


iv] Interpretation:

"The first problem which faces Paul is that the congregation at Corinth has split into groups. Each group claimed to be led by a different apostle. Paul tactfully takes his own supporters as the target of his criticism, and points out the obvious fact that it was not he who died on their behalf. Their fervent allegiance to an individual apostle contradicts their common loyalty to Christ who was crucified for them", Thrall.

The body of Christ, the church, is a united whole, a fellowship of believers, not a gang of competing factions. Paul has received the report from Chloe's household of the competing factions presently disturbing the church. They are not so much opposing Paul, as opposing each other, squabbling amongst each other. Each faction would have it's leader, but probably not the actual individuals that Paul refers to. Apollos, Peter and the like, are somehow representative of the factions. In addressing the issue, Paul writes assuming that the church still sees him as their founding father and therefore possessing the authority to address the issues presently facing the church. In addressing the problems, Paul exposes the absurdity of their behavior; it's as if they have taken the body of Christ and cut it up into useless dead pieces, emptying it of power. Paul's ministry to the Corinthians was gospel-centric, not Paul-centric; he didn't come making disciples of Paul - he came preaching not baptizing.


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

Text - 1:11

A divided church, v11-17: i] The report of factions within the church. Paul now identifies the source of his information about the state of the Corinthian church. He aligns the factions with particular individuals known to the Corinthians, people who are probably not the actual leaders of the factions, underling the stupidity of claiming certain teachers as the source of one's own particular theological ideas. Does not Peter follow Christ, in the same way as Apollos and Paul follow Christ? Clearly the Corinthians are out of control and are running their own agenda rather than submitting to Christ through the teachings of their apostle, namely, Paul.

gar "-" - for. More reason than cause, even just transitional and not translated.

adelfoi (oV) "[my] brothers / [my] brothers and sisters" - [it was made clear to me about you] brothers [of me]. Redundant vocative; "My dear Christian family", Thiselton.

uJpo + gen. "[some] from [Chloe's household]" - by [the one's of chloe]. Expressing agency; "it was reported to me ... by Chloe's household." The NIV reads the genitive ClohV as partitive, so "some of Chloe's household / family / people." "Household" covers all the possibilities: children, servants, employees ....

edhlwqh (dhlow) aor. pas. "have informed" - declared, reported. Not just "informed", but rather "it was made clear", Thiselton.

moi dat. pro. "me" - to me. Dative of indirect object.

peri + gen. "-" - concerning [you]. Expressing reference / respect; "with reference to you."

oJti "that" - Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what was made clear to Paul.

erideV "quarrels" - [there are] discords, contentions, quarrels, disputes, revelrys. Nominative subject of the verb to-be.

en + dat. "among [you]" - Local, expressing space; "among".


de "-" - but/and [i say this]. Transitional, indicating a step to a clarification. "I refer to the fact that each of you has his slogan", Barclay.

oJti "-" - that. Here unlikely to introduce a causal clause, but rather an object clause, epexegetic, explaining the content of touto, "this".

uJmwn gen. pro. "[one] of you" - [each] of you = [each one] of you. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

legei (legw) pres. "says" - says. The present tense is probably iterative, expressing repeated action.

men ..... de ...... "..... another ..." - Forming an adversative comparative construction; "on the one hand [I am of Paul], but on the other ....."

Paulou (oV) gen. "[I] follow Paul" - [i am] of paul [but/and i am of apollos, but/and i am of cephas, but/and i am of christ]. The genitive is adjectival, probably possessive, "I am Paul's man", NEB, but possibly partitive, "I am a member of Paul's party." The same distinction applies to the genitive "Apollos", "Peter" and "Christ." As already indicated, it is unlikely that these individuals lead the factions in Corinth. It is also unclear what theological aberration they represent. Most commentators think Paul is referring to actual loyalty groups. For Apollos see Acts 18:24-8 - he probably represents the Charismatic faction. Peter is usually identified with the legalists / nomists - law-focused believers. The "Christ" party seems to be lumped with the others and is therefore viewed negatively. They possibly represent believers who head for the high moral ground, so maybe they are the nomist party. Either way, it is likely that the Corinthians know which faction Paul is referring to, even if we don't.


ii] Factions are unnatural for a Christian fellowship, v13-16. Division within the church prompts Paul to ask three rhetorical questions. First, "is Christ divided?" This phrase concerns the unity of the people of God in Christ. As far as Paul is concerned, it is a sin to divide the fellowship of believers into contending factions. Second, using himself as the focal point of one of the factions (but also read "Apollos"), he asks whether he was crucified for them. In the third rhetorical question he asks whether they were baptized into his name. The absurdity of such a view underlines the worth of the divisions in the church.

memeristai (memrizw) perf. pas. "is [Christ] divided?" - has [christ] been separated, divided? The perfect is gnomic, usually translated in the present tense. "Does Christ belong to some particular church association?"

mh "-" - surely not. This negation in a question expects a negative answer. "Is Paul your savior?", Robertson, the expected answer being "No!".

uJper + gen. "for [you]" - [paul was crucified] for [you]? Probably expressing advantage / benefit; "on your behalf."

ebaptisqhte (baptizw) aor. pas. "were you baptized" - [or] were you immersed. It is unclear whether the word is being used here literally or figuratively. "Baptized into the name" usually carries the figurative sense of an identification with a person's being. An identification with Christ is ours when we hear and believe the gospel. Such entails being "baptized into the name", being immersed into an understanding and thus association with Christ. The Christian symbol of water baptism can serve to illustrate this identification, although primarily it is a symbol of repentance and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Paul is concerned with a person being "in" Christ, incorporated in Christ, united with him, one with him, a reality which means much the same as being "baptized / immersed" into "the name / person" of Christ. None-the-less, water baptism is not far from Paul's mind (see v14), but either way, Paul regards a spiritual association with him as absurd.

eiV + acc. "into" - Here probably used instead of en, "in", to express sphere, particularly incorporation; "in union with / in connection with."

to onoma "the name" - As noted above, the "name" represents the whole person, their being, sometimes with the sense of being under their authority.

Paulou (oV) gen. "of Paul" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive.


It is possible that factional groupings formed under the authority of a baptizing apostle in the early church, but it is unclear whether this has occurred in Corinth. At any rate, Paul indicates that he is not in the business of immersing people in water, but immersing people in the gospel ("the name", ??).

tw/ qew/ (oV) dat. "-" - [i thank] god. Variant reading. Dative of direct object after the verb "to give thanks." Metzger sees good reasons for including this variant reading although the textual weight is against it. Even without the variant, the phrase is rhetorical, so "thank God, I never baptized any of you", REB.

oJti "that" - Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing the content of Paul's thanksgiving.

uJmwn gen. pro. "of you" - [i immersed / baptized not one] of you. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

ei mh "except" - if not = except [crispus and gaius]. Introducing an exceptive clause which establishes a contrast by designating an exception; "Other than Crispus and Gaius." Crispus was a former Jew, cf., Acts 18:8, and Gaius accommodated Paul while in Corinth, Rom.16:23.,


No one can accuse Paul of working up his own group around a baptismal rite.

iJna mh + subj. "so no [one can say]" - that no = lest [certain person may say]. Usually treated as introducing a negated purpose clause, but here consecutive, expressing result, seems more appropriate, "with the result that no one can say ..."

oJti "that" - that [into my name you were immersed / baptized]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what no one is able to say.


Stephanas gets a second mention in this letter, 16:15, but other than that, we know little of him. This afterthought may be a genuine oops, but then it may serve to put emphasis on Gaius and Crispus and so include them in a rite which, of itself, is not important. Paul is not into notching his evangelistic gun.

de "yes ...." - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a qualification; "on second thoughts ...." Paul is not going to get caught out on a minor detail.

kai "also" - [i baptized] and = also. Adjunctive; "also".

Stefana (as) gen. "[the house] of Stephanas" - [household] of stephanas. The proper genitive is possessive / relational.

loipon adj. "beyond that" - other than that, apart from that, for the rest. The adjective is used adverbially.

ei + ind. "if" - [i do not know] if [any other i baptized]. Here this indefinite conditional conjunction virtually introduces a dependent statement of perception / indirect question, expressing what Paul is not sure about, namely, "whether I baptized anyone else", ESV.


iii] Paul did not come to Corinth to form a "Paul" party, but to preach the gospel. Paul is not some wandering philosopher whose system of logic and powerful oratory can be judged against that of others (possibly another reference to Apollos). Paul is an apostle, a sent one. Jesus sent him to communicate the gospel - the message of salvation. The message of the cross has its own power, its own dynamic, and must not be covered by clever rhetoric. "This statement contains the two issues that Paul intends to argue in the rest of chapters 1-4: He is a preacher of the gospel, not a baptizer; and human wisdom and the wisdom of the cross are irreconcilable", Garland.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why Paul did not run a baptismal program.

aposteilen (apostellw) aor. "send" - [christ] sent [me]. "Send" in the sense of "commission / authorize." The apostles are "the sent ones."

baptizein (baptizw) pres. inf. "to baptize" - [not] to immerse [in water]. The infinitive serves to express purpose, "in order to baptize." Most commentators suggest that Paul implies that anyone can baptize, but only "the sent ones" can preach.

alla "but" - Adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ....., but .....".

euaggelizesqai (euaggelizw) pres. inf. "to preach the gospel" - to proclaim, preach the gospel. Again the infinitive here expresses purpose. In the wider context the verb means "to communicate an important message", but in the NT it usually refers to the communication of the covenant renewal message of peace between God and his people expedited by Jesus; "the divine message of salvation", Bauer.

ouk en + dat. "not with" - not in = by. Probably local, sphere, "not in the sphere of", but possibly instrumental, "by means of", but more likely expressing manner, "with", as NIV.

logou (oV) gen. "words [of human wisdom] / [wisdom] and eloquence" - [wisdom] of words. The genitive is adjectival, probably attributed, "wise speech", as NIV. The "wisdom" here is possibly something like "clever", so "not with clever speech", but at the same time Paul could be alluding to the Corinthians' "spiritual / wordy wisdom", that "knowledge" which made them superior, but which is nothing more than "human wisdom." Some commentators suggest that it refers to form, not content, so "sophisticated speech / skilled rhetoric"; "Cleverness in speaking", Bauer.

iJna mh + subj. "lest" - that not = lest. Introducing a negated purpose clause; "in order that not" = "lest ....."

tou Cristou (oV) gen. "of Christ" - [the cross] of christ. The genitive could be taken as verbal, objective, "the crucifixion of Christ", but more likely adjectival, possessive, "Christ's cross = sacrifice", or idiomatic / reference, "the cross events associated with Christ", Brookins / Longenecker.

kenwqh/ (kenow) aor. sub. "be emptied of its power" - be made of no effect, useless, empty. How does the "wisdom of words" undermine the message of the cross? "Clever rhetoric", Thiselton, sways the emotions and in the end "is hollow or void", Austin; it leaves the listener focused on the performer and their performance.


1 Corinthians Introduction



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