1 Corinthians


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

iii] The unifying power of a Christian ministry, 3:1-23

a) A wisdom unsuitable for babies


Paul has established that the wisdom of this world, and the wisdom from above, are mutually exclusive, and that the wisdom from above can only be understood by spiritual people, people who are possessed by the Spirit, having responded to the preaching of the gospel. Now comes the hammer blow. The Corinthian schismatics are very aware of their spiritual standing, blessed as they are with an abundance of spiritual gifts, but guess what? They think they are spiritual, but their "jealousy and quarreling" shows that they are behaving in a sub-Christian way; they are worldly. 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 established that the gospel and human cleverness are mutually exclusive, 1:18-2:16, Paul announces to the Corinthian schismatics that their "jealousy and quarreling", their party-spirit, indicates that they have one foot in the worldly-wisdom-cleverness team; they are mere babes in Christ, not spiritually wise, v1-4. To this issue Paul reveals a key principle; The Lord assigns 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. Paul 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;

• General definition, 3:5-9;

• The builders, 3:10-15;

• The temple, 3:16-17;

• 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: A wisdom unsuitable for babies:

The Corinthian believers are infants in Christ.


Congregational divisions evidence spiritual immaturity, v1-4;

Church leaders serve Christ with diverse ministry gifts, v5-9


iv] Interpretation:

Paul 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 in Christ, and therefore unable to receive true wisdom. These clever members of the congregation at Corinth are evidenced in two ways: First, dissensions - there is jealousy, quarreling and the like; Second, party-spirit - "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 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 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.


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 it 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 a congregation to accept this ministry. Paul has his ministry gifts, Apollos has 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] Congregational divisions and party-spirit evidences spiritual immaturity, v1-4. Paul returns to the issue of disunity in the church at Corinth. As the Children of God used to say "You have to become a baby", a baby in Jesus. Indeed, this is true, but the Corinthian babies are worldly / fleshly babies who have remained too long in nappies.

kagw "-" - and i [brothers]. Crasis; 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.

lalhsai (lalew) aor. inf. "[I could not] address" - [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" - Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ....., but .....".

sarkinoiV dat. adj. "people who are still worldly" - [as if speaking] to unspiritual, fleshly minded, carnal. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object / interest / direction. 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" - [as if] to infantile children. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object / interest / direction. 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" - in [christ]. Local, expressing sphere; "in relation with / in union with Christ." As already indicated, depending on context the phrase has come to serve as an identity marker of "a believer / Christian"; "as if speaking to infantile believers", "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. Serving as the accusative complement of the direct object uJmaV, "you", standing in double accusative construction" "Rudimentary teaching", Garland.

brwma (a atoV) "solid food" - [not] sold 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.

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

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

eti "still" - [neither] yet [now are you able]. "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 many in the congregation revealed their spiritual immaturity.

gar "for" - for [you are still fleshly, carnal]. 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" - [for] since [among you]. 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" - there is jealousy. With "conflict", this noun serves as the subject of an assumed verb to-be. With a good sense, "fervor", but with a negative sense, "jealousy / envy / resentment".

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

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

kai "-" - and. 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." As already noted, 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" - [i am] of paul, [i am of apollos]. 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 [acting like]" - not. This negation used in a question expecting an affirmative answer, "yes".

anqrwpoi "mere humans" - men [are you]? 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] Church leaders are but servants of Christ with diverse ministry gifts, v5-9: a) The principle - the Lord assigns to each their task, v5.

tiv neut. pro. "what" - 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 [is apollos and what is paul]? Best taken there as inferential; drawing a logical conclusion from the premise the Lord assigns to each their task.

diakonoi (oV) "servants" - servants, ministers. 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" - through [whom you believed]. 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 conjunction kai is ascensive / epexegetic, and the comparative wJV expresses a characteristic quality; "exactly as the Lord granted to each." 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" - [the lord] 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]" - to each. 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]" - i [planted, apollos watered]. Not an emphatic use, but simply used for balanced syntax; "I" Paul, so "Apollos" and "God."

alla "but" - Contrastive.

huxanen (auxanw) imperf. "has been making it grow" - [god] was giving growth. The NIV11 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" - so that. Usually consecutive, expressing result, "with the result that ...", although here leaning more toward an inferential conclusion, "and so therefore."

oute .... oute "neither ..... nor" - neither [the one planting is anything] nor [the one watering]. 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. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction. 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" - [god is] 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, marking the next step in the argument; "moreover ....."

e{n neut. "[have] one purpose" - [the one planting and the one watering 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 fulfill 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 = his own wages, reward]. 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" - according to [the = his own labor]. 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" - because. 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, but also possibly again explanatory and so left untranslated, so Fee.

qeou (oV) gen. "God's [fellow workers] / [co-workers] in God's service" - [we are] helpers, co-workers [of god]. There are two possible meanings to this clause, both true to the genitive. a) Association: "We are co-workers together with God", "collaborators with God", Fitzmyer, so Edwards, Godet, Lightfoot, R&P, cf. NAB; b) Possessive: "We are co-workers belonging to God", so Furnish, Barrett, Fee, Thiselton, Garland. c) Verbal, objective,"fellow workers serving God". d) 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, [you are a building] of god. 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]