1 Corinthians


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

i] Divisions in the church


Having stated his proposition, Paul now sets out to deal with divisions in the church, 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 stated the central thesis of his letter, the maintenance of fellowship, 1:10, Paul expresses 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 stated in v17, his ministry is that of preaching the cross of Christ, the power of which resides in the message, not in human eloquence. In 1:18-25 Paul compares the gospel / the foolishness of the cross with human wisdom, which theme he develops in 1:26-31. The idea that a minister of the gospel can only boast in the Lord, 1:31, is developed in 2:1-5. Paul is no powerful preacher, but the message is powerful and has powerful consequences. The contrast between human wisdom and the power of God, v5, is developed in 2:6-16 with respect to unspiritual and spiritual people / believers. In 3:1-17 Paul critiques the Corinthians' party spirit, there "I belong to ....", and goes on to explain the true nature of the church in three illustrations: God's field, God's building, and God's temple. Paul sums up his argument so far in 3:18-23, exposing again the foolishness of human wisdom. All "wisdom" does is promote party spirit and boasting about human leaders. In 4:1-5 Paul asks his readers to reassess their opinion of Christ's apostles, and in 4:6-13 he sets about summarizing his argument. Finally, in 4:14-21, Paul pleads lovingly, as a father would with his dear children, to imitate him rather than oppose him.


ii] Background - Party spirit in Corinth: As Barnett notes "reading these words is like listening to someone speaking on a phone, but we cannot work out who they are talking to, or for that matter, what exactly is being discussed." We are not at all sure of the problem that existed in the Corinthian church. On the surface it seems that parties had developed in the church and were now at each other's throat. It may be that there were multiple parties in Corinth, "status-groupings", Thiselton: a group supportive of Paul himself; a charismatic libertine group of enthusiasts aligned with Apollos, although not actually lead by Apollos; a legalist / nomist group aligned with Peter, but again, not actually lead by Peter; a Christ party made up of ascetics, possibly just a reference to other "loyalty-groupings", Thiselton. Of course, the situation may be as simple as a two-way split between those who follow a local charismatic leader and those who follow Paul. With this scenario Paul's references to Apollos, Peter and Christ simply serve as a literary device to identify the style of these enthusiasts / ascetics and so reduce the possibility of a personal affront.

Welborn suggests that Paul's first letter to the Corinthians is about "a power struggle, not a theological controversy." There may be some truth to this, yet the quarrels are about ideas. In chapters 1-4, Paul focuses on "wisdom" (most likely world views, "knowledge", which are not well grounded in the gospel); "boasting" about the "correct position" was the order of the day. As part of the quarrels, Paul found himself under attack, along with his particular understanding of the gospel. He therefore sets out to deal with the undermining of his apostolic authority. The Christian church in Corinth is Pauline, founded by him and under his authority, and he is not willing to accept the change in theological direction which has spawned sexual immorality, idolatry, court cases, individualism, and even questions concerning the resurrection of the dead. So, in chapters 1-4 Paul sets out to reestablish his apostolic authority with the Corinthian church.

In passing it is worth noting that many of the theological controversies and thus divisions evident in the Christian church today are prompted by a devaluing of Paul. Many teachers will affirm the gospels, affirm the grace of God in Christ, but devalue Paul as old school, even sexist, homophobic, ...... Yet, Paul serves as the inspired exegete of Jesus and so to devalue his exegesis is to devalue Christ.


iii] Structure: The passage presents as a three-step argument:

the issue is identified, namely, factions within the church, v10-11;

factions are not natural to the Christian faith, not even a Pauline party, v12-16;

Paul, just like all the apostles, 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.


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. Paul now identifies the source of his information about the state of the Corinthian church.

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

adelfoi (oV) "[my] brothers / [my] brothers and sisters" - brothers [of me]. "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....

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" - discord, contention, quarrels, disputes, revelry.

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


It is not easy to identify the actual "party" positions that Paul is referring to in this letter. He implies that there is a strong "Apollos" group which now opposes a weaker "Paul" group (although Paul does not favour a "Paul" party). "Peter" and "Christ" are most likely thrown into the argument to underline the stupidity of claiming certain teachers as the source of their 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.

legw de touto "what I mean is this" - now I say this. "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" - [each of you] says. The present tense is probably iterative, expressing repeated action.

men ..... de ...... "..... another ..." - Establishing 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. 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 "Peter" and "Christ." It is unclear whether Paul is referring to actual parties in Corinth, or just using these titles to designate different groupings in the church. Most commentators think Paul is referring to actual loyalty groups. For Apollos see Acts 18:24-8. 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: Bible-believing Christians (as opposed to those believers who don't believe in the Bible??) / born again believers (as opposed to those who are not born again. Is there such a believer?).


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?" - separated, divided. The perfect is gnomic, usually translated in the present tense. "Does Christ belong to some particular church association?"

mh "-" - This negation in a question expects a negative answer. "Is Paul your savior?", Robertson, the expected answer being "No!".

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

ebaptisqhte (baptizw) aor. pas. "were you baptized" - 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 political groupings have formed under the authority of a baptizing apostle, but it is unclear whether this has occurred at 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. "-" - to 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" - [not one] of you [I baptized]. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

ei mh "except" - Introducing an exceptive clause which establishes a contrast; "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 [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" - Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what no one is able to say.


Crispus is most likely the Jewish synagogue leader mentioned in Acts 18:8 and Gaius may be the person he stayed with when writing his letter to the Romans, Rom.16:23.

de "yes ...." - Serving as a transitional connective, introducing another step in the argument, here expressing a qualification, "on second thoughts ...." Paul is not going to get caught out on minor details.

kai "also" - [now, I baptized] and. Adjunctive; "also".

Stefana "[the house] of Stephanas" - The proper genitive is possessive. Stephanas gets a second mention in this letter, but other than that, we know little of him.

loipon adv. "beyond that" - other than that, apart from that, for the rest.

ei + ind. "if" - 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.


Paul did not come to Corinth to form a "Paul" party. He was not some wandering philosopher whose system of logic and powerful oratory could be judged against that of others (possibly another reference to Apollos). Paul was an apostle, a sent one. Jesus sent him to communicate the gospel - the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. 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" - "Send" in the sense of "commission / authorize." The apostles are "the sent ones."

baptizein (baptizw) pres. inf. "to baptize" - 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, as NIV.

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

ouk en + dat. "not with" - 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, although possibly attributive, "word wisdom." 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. Introducing a negated purpose clause; "in order that not" = "lest ....."

tou Cristou (oV) gen. "[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



[Pumpkin Cottage]