The First to the Corinthians 3:1-23

3  So, brothers, I was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men,+ but as to fleshly men, as to infants+ in Christ.  I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet strong enough. In fact, neither are you strong enough now,+  for you are still fleshly.+ Since there are jealousy and strife among you,+ are you not fleshly+ and are you not walking as men do?  For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” but another says, “I to A·polʹlos,”+ are you not acting like mere men?  What, then, is A·polʹlos? Yes, what is Paul? Ministers+ through whom you became believers, just as the Lord granted each one.  I planted,+ A·polʹlos watered,+ but God kept making it grow,  so that neither is the one who plants anything nor is the one who waters, but God who makes it grow.+  Now the one who plants and the one who waters are one, but each person will receive his own reward according to his own work.+  For we are God’s fellow workers.+ You are God’s field under cultivation, God’s building.+ 10  According to the undeserved kindness of God that was given to me, I laid a foundation+ as a skilled master builder, but someone else is building on it. But let each one keep watching how he is building on it. 11  For no one can lay any other foundation than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ.+ 12  Now if anyone builds on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13  each one’s work will be shown for what it is,* for the day will show it up, because it will be revealed by means of fire,+ and the fire itself will prove what sort of work each one has built. 14  If anyone’s work that he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward; 15  if anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved; yet, if so, it will be as through fire. 16  Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple+ and that the spirit of God dwells in you?+ 17  If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.+ 18  Let no one deceive himself: If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this system of things, let him become a fool, so that he may become wise.+ 19  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, for it is written: “He catches the wise in their own cunning.”+ 20  And again: “Jehovah knows that the reasonings of the wise men are futile.”+ 21  So let no one boast in men; for all things belong to you, 22  whether Paul or A·polʹlos or Ceʹphas+ or the world or life or death or things now here or things to come, all things belong to you; 23  in turn you belong to Christ;+ Christ, in turn, belongs to God.

Footnotes

Or “will be clearly seen.” Lit., “will be made (become) manifest.”

Study Notes

milk, not solid food: Milk helps the young to grow and develop. Similarly, new Christians grow and develop spiritually as they draw strength from basic Bible doctrine. (Heb 5:12–6:2) These basic truths are essential to salvation. (1Pe 2:2) But Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to “press on to maturity,” as he later urges the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem to do. (Heb 6:1) He thus stresses the importance of taking in solid food, or deeper spiritual truths.

Apollos: A Jewish Christian of Alexandria who traveled from Ephesus to Corinth and assisted those who had become believers. (Ac 18:24-28; 19:1; see study note on Ac 18:24.) Apollos “watered” the seeds that Paul had sowed in Corinth.​—1Co 3:5, 6; see study note on 1Co 16:12.

Apollos: See study note on 1Co 1:12.

minister: Or “servant.” The Bible often uses the Greek word di·aʹko·nos to refer to one who does not let up in humbly rendering service in behalf of others. The term is used to describe Christ (Ro 15:8), ministers or servants of Christ (1Co 3:5-7; Col 1:23), ministerial servants (Php 1:1; 1Ti 3:8), as well as household servants (Joh 2:5, 9) and government officials (Ro 13:4).

a minister: Or “a servant.” In the Bible, the Greek word di·aʹko·nos is often used to refer to those who humbly render service in behalf of others. (See study note on Mt 20:26.) Here the term is used to describe Christ. In his prehuman existence, Jesus served Jehovah for untold ages. However, at his baptism, he entered a new ministry, which involved filling the spiritual needs of sinful humans. It even included giving his life as a ransom. (Mt 20:28; Lu 4:16-21) Jesus is here described as a minister to the circumcised Jews in behalf of God’s truthfulness because his ministry involved fulfilling the promises God had made to the Jewish forefathers. This included the promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed by means of his offspring. (Ge 22:17, 18) Therefore, Jesus’ ministry would also benefit people of the nations who would “rest their hope” on him.​—Ro 15:9-12.

Ministers: Or “Servants.” The Bible often uses the Greek word di·aʹko·nos to refer to one who does not let up in humbly rendering service in behalf of others. (See study note on Mt 20:26.) At Ro 15:8, the term is used to describe Jesus. (See study note.) In this verse (1Co 3:5), Paul describes himself and Apollos as ministers, or servants, who helped the Corinthians to become believers. Their ministry, like the ministry of all baptized Christians, involved filling the spiritual needs of other humans.​—Lu 4:16-21.

I planted, Apollos watered: Paul uses the work of a farmer to illustrate the Christian ministry. Paul planted the seed of the Kingdom message in the “field” in Corinth when he brought the good news to the people there. Apollos watered and nourished that seed by coming afterward to teach the Corinthians further. (Ac 18:24; 19:1) However, God by his spirit brought about the spiritual growth of new disciples. The point of Paul’s illustration was that spiritual growth is not dependent on any individual human. All are ministers, cooperating together as “God’s fellow workers.” (1Co 3:9) God blesses the unselfish, unified efforts of his servants, and he is the one responsible for the growth.

one: Or “at unity.” Jesus’ comment here shows that he and his Father are unified in protecting sheeplike ones and leading them to everlasting life. Such shepherding is a joint task of the Father and the Son. They are equally concerned about the sheep, not allowing anyone to snatch them out of their hand. (Joh 10:27-29; compare Eze 34:23, 24.) In John’s Gospel, the unity in fellowship, will, and purpose between the Father and the Son is often mentioned. The Greek word here rendered “one” is, not in the masculine gender (denoting “one person”), but in the neuter gender (denoting “one thing”), supporting the thought that Jesus and his Father are “one” in action and cooperation, not in person. (Joh 5:19; 14:9, 23) That Jesus referred, not to an equality of godship, but to a oneness of purpose and action is confirmed by comparing the words recorded here with his prayer recorded in John chapter 17. (Joh 10:25-29; 17:2, 9-11) This is especially evident when he prays that his followers “may be one just as we are one.” (Joh 17:11) So the kind of oneness referred to in chapter 10 as well as in chapter 17 would be the same.​—See study notes on Joh 17:11, 21; 1Co 3:8.

one: Or “at unity.” Jesus prayed that just as he and his Father are “one,” demonstrating cooperation and unity of thought, so his true followers would be “one” in working together for the same purpose. The thoughts expressed in this prayer echo Jesus’ words recorded at Joh 10:30. There he states that he and the Father “are one” in connection with their dealings with his disciples, his “sheep,” who are given to him by the Father. (Joh 10:25-30; 17:2, 9) The Greek word here rendered “one” is in the neuter gender (denoting “one thing”), not in the masculine gender (denoting “one person”).​—See study note on Joh 10:30.

one: Or “at unity.” Jesus prayed that his true followers would be “one,” unitedly working together for the same purpose, just as he and his Father are “one,” demonstrating cooperation and unity of thought. (Joh 17:22) At 1Co 3:6-9, Paul describes this type of unity among Christian ministers as they work with one another and with God.​—See 1Co 3:8 and study notes on Joh 10:30; 17:11.

are one: Or “have one purpose.” Paul here describes the unity among Christian ministers as they work with one another and with God. (1Co 3:9) The Greek word here rendered “one” is in the neuter gender (denoting “one thing”), not in the masculine gender (denoting “one person”). So Paul is referring to being “one” in the sense of being united in action and cooperation.​—See study notes on Joh 10:30; 17:11, 21, where the Greek word for “one” is used in a similar way.

I planted, Apollos watered: Paul uses the work of a farmer to illustrate the Christian ministry. Paul planted the seed of the Kingdom message in the “field” in Corinth when he brought the good news to the people there. Apollos watered and nourished that seed by coming afterward to teach the Corinthians further. (Ac 18:24; 19:1) However, God by his spirit brought about the spiritual growth of new disciples. The point of Paul’s illustration was that spiritual growth is not dependent on any individual human. All are ministers, cooperating together as “God’s fellow workers.” (1Co 3:9) God blesses the unselfish, unified efforts of his servants, and he is the one responsible for the growth.

Prisca and Aquila: This faithful couple had been banished from Rome by Emperor Claudius’ decree against the Jews sometime in the year 49 or early 50 C.E. Claudius died in 54 C.E., and by the time Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Rome, about 56 C.E., Prisca and Aquila had returned there. (See study note on Ac 18:2.) Paul describes them as his fellow workers. The Greek word for “fellow worker,” sy·ner·gosʹ, appears 12 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, most often in the letters of Paul. (Ro 16:9, 21; Php 2:25; 4:3; Col 4:11; Phm 1, 24) Notably, at 1Co 3:9, Paul says: “We are God’s fellow workers.”

I planted, Apollos watered: Paul uses the work of a farmer to illustrate the Christian ministry. Paul planted the seed of the Kingdom message in the “field” in Corinth when he brought the good news to the people there. Apollos watered and nourished that seed by coming afterward to teach the Corinthians further. (Ac 18:24; 19:1) However, God by his spirit brought about the spiritual growth of new disciples. The point of Paul’s illustration was that spiritual growth is not dependent on any individual human. All are ministers, cooperating together as “God’s fellow workers.” (1Co 3:9) God blesses the unselfish, unified efforts of his servants, and he is the one responsible for the growth.

you yourselves are God’s temple: This is one of several instances where the Bible likens people to a temple. Jesus used such a comparison about himself at Joh 2:19, and the Scriptures foretold that he would be “the chief cornerstone” of such a spiritual structure. (Ps 118:22; Isa 28:16, 17; Ac 4:10, 11) The Greek pronoun rendered “you yourselves” in this verse is plural, indicating that the entire congregation makes up “God’s temple” in which God’s spirit dwells. These anointed Christians serving as underpriests are “God’s building” (1Co 3:9; see study note), so verse 17 emphasizes the holiness of this spiritual temple and warns anyone who would attempt to defile it. At Eph 2:20-22 and 1Pe 2:6, 7, Paul and Peter use similar comparisons regarding Jesus and his followers.

God’s fellow workers: The Greek word for “fellow worker,” sy·ner·gosʹ, appears more than ten times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, most often in Paul’s letters. The expression is used regarding those who shared together in spreading the good news. (Ro 16:9, 21; 2Co 1:24; 8:23; Php 2:25; 4:3; Col 4:11; Phm 1, 24) Here Paul calls attention to the great privilege that Christian ministers have of being “God’s fellow workers.” (See study note on 1Co 3:6.) Paul expresses a similar thought at 2Co 6:1, where he speaks about “working together with him,” that is, with God.​—2Co 5:20; see study note on Ro 16:3.

You are God’s field under cultivation: God, not Paul, was the true and rightful Owner of the field of growing Christians. Unless God imparted his blessing and spirit, all the work that Paul or Apollos did would be without results. (See study note on 1Co 3:6.) The term rendered “field under cultivation” (Greek, ge·orʹgi·on) appears only here in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Although Corinth’s economy was mainly based on trade, the area was renowned for its fertility. In addition to this illustration based on agriculture, Paul introduces another illustration in this verse, that of construction. (See study note on God’s building in this verse.) Paul appeals to different members of the congregation, since construction and agriculture were two common activities in the ancient world.

God’s building: Here Paul likens the Christian congregation to a building. In the next verse, he compares himself to a builder, working together with God in a spiritual construction work to produce Christian disciples who have durable qualities. (1Co 3:10-15) At 1Co 3:16 (see study note), Paul calls the congregation “God’s temple.” At Eph 2:21, 22, the congregation is called “a holy temple” that God inhabits “by spirit.” This means that God uses his holy spirit, or invisible active force, to motivate those in the congregation, to sustain them, and to help them cultivate its fruitage. (Ga 5:22, 23) The apostle Peter uses a similar comparison, calling the disciples “living stones.” (1Pe 2:5) The apostles and prophets are likened to the foundation, and Jesus is “the foundation cornerstone.”​—Eph 2:20.

carpenter’s son: The Greek word teʹkton, rendered “carpenter,” is a general term that can refer to any artisan or builder. When it refers to a woodworker, it can mean one who works in the building trade, in the construction of furniture, or in the making of other types of wooden objects. Justin Martyr, of the second century C.E., wrote that Jesus worked “as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes.” Early Bible translations in ancient languages also support the idea of a woodworker. Jesus was known both as “the carpenter’s son” and as “the carpenter.” (Mr 6:3) Evidently, Jesus learned carpentry from his adoptive father, Joseph. Such an apprenticeship would typically have begun when a boy was about 12 to 15 years of age and would stretch over many years.

the carpenter: Jesus was known as both “the carpenter” and “the carpenter’s son,” giving us some insight into Jesus’ life between his visit to the temple as a 12-year-old and the start of his ministry. (See study note on Mt 13:55.) The accounts in Matthew and Mark are complementary.

a skilled master builder: Or “a wise director of works.” Generally speaking, “a . . . master builder” (Greek, ar·khi·teʹkton, which could literally be rendered “a chief craftsman”) was in charge of the construction and worked at the building site. He recruited the craftsmen and had oversight of their work. In this verse, Paul likens himself to a builder, working together with God in a spiritual construction work to produce Christian disciples who have durable qualities. (1Co 3:9-16) In the Christian Greek Scriptures, this term is used only here; the related Greek term teʹkton is rendered “carpenter” and is used of Jesus and his adoptive father, Joseph.​—See study notes on Mt 13:55; Mr 6:3.

gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw: Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians who followed up on his work to teach the new disciples well, helping them build Christian qualities in themselves. (1Co 3:6) To illustrate this point, Paul contrasted fine, durable, and fire-resistant building materials with disposable, temporary, and flammable materials. A wealthy but diverse city like Corinth no doubt abounded in buildings of both types. There were imposing temples made of massive, expensive blocks of stone and perhaps decorated with gold and silver. These durable buildings were probably located not far from huts and market stalls made of rough wooden frames and thatched with straw. In the figurative building work, the gold, silver, and precious stones represent such qualities as strong faith, godly wisdom, spiritual discernment, loyalty, and loving appreciation for Jehovah and his laws. These kinds of qualities are essential if a Christian is to have a strong relationship with Jehovah God, a bond that will endure tests of faith.

it will be as through fire: A Christian minister must use fire-resistant materials to build, or to help his student develop, Christian qualities that will survive tests of faith. (1Co 3:10-14) If a Christian teacher fails to do his work as instructed, he may find that his figurative building work is “burned up” if it is put to a fiery test. (Mt 28:19, 20; Ro 2:21, 22; 1Ti 4:16; 2Ti 2:15; 4:2) Also, the teacher himself may suffer like a man who lost everything in a fire and was himself just barely rescued. Paul employs the term “fire” in a figurative sense, as did other ancient Greek authors who used the expression “through fire” as a metaphor to say that someone barely escaped a trial or a difficult situation.

God’s building: Here Paul likens the Christian congregation to a building. In the next verse, he compares himself to a builder, working together with God in a spiritual construction work to produce Christian disciples who have durable qualities. (1Co 3:10-15) At 1Co 3:16 (see study note), Paul calls the congregation “God’s temple.” At Eph 2:21, 22, the congregation is called “a holy temple” that God inhabits “by spirit.” This means that God uses his holy spirit, or invisible active force, to motivate those in the congregation, to sustain them, and to help them cultivate its fruitage. (Ga 5:22, 23) The apostle Peter uses a similar comparison, calling the disciples “living stones.” (1Pe 2:5) The apostles and prophets are likened to the foundation, and Jesus is “the foundation cornerstone.”​—Eph 2:20.

you yourselves are God’s temple: This is one of several instances where the Bible likens people to a temple. Jesus used such a comparison about himself at Joh 2:19, and the Scriptures foretold that he would be “the chief cornerstone” of such a spiritual structure. (Ps 118:22; Isa 28:16, 17; Ac 4:10, 11) The Greek pronoun rendered “you yourselves” in this verse is plural, indicating that the entire congregation makes up “God’s temple” in which God’s spirit dwells. These anointed Christians serving as underpriests are “God’s building” (1Co 3:9; see study note), so verse 17 emphasizes the holiness of this spiritual temple and warns anyone who would attempt to defile it. At Eph 2:20-22 and 1Pe 2:6, 7, Paul and Peter use similar comparisons regarding Jesus and his followers.

this system of things: The basic meaning of the Greek word ai·onʹ is “age.” It can refer to a state of affairs or to features that distinguish a certain period of time, epoch, or age. (See Glossary, “System(s) of things.”) Here the term refers to what 2Ti 4:10 calls “the present system of things,” that is, the prevailing state of affairs in the world in general.

this system of things: See study note on 1Co 1:20.

for it is written: Paul here quotes Eliphaz the Temanite. When speaking to Job, Eliphaz misapplied the statement “he [that is, God] catches the wise in their own cunning.” (Job 4:1; 5:13) Paul was not endorsing everything that Eliphaz said, much of which was either untrue or misapplied. (Job 42:7) However, Eliphaz’ statement at Job 5:13 reflects a general observation, similar to thoughts expressed elsewhere in the Scriptures. (Ps 10:2; compare Job 5:17 with Ps 94:12.) Paul under inspiration quotes these words to show that man’s wisdom can in no way compare to God’s wisdom.

Jehovah: In this quote from Ps 94:11, the divine name, represented by four Hebrew consonants (transliterated YHWH), occurs in the original Hebrew text.​—See App. C1 and C2.

Cephas: One of the names of the apostle Simon Peter. Upon meeting Simon for the first time, Jesus gave him the Semitic name Cephas (in Greek, Ke·phasʹ). The name may be related to the Hebrew noun ke·phimʹ (rocks) used at Job 30:6 and Jer 4:29. At Joh 1:42, John explains that the name “is translated ‘Peter’” (Peʹtros, a Greek name that similarly means “A Piece of Rock”). The name Cephas is used only at Joh 1:42 and in two of Paul’s letters, namely, 1 Corinthians and Galatians.​—1Co 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Ga 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14; see study notes on Mt 10:2; Joh 1:42.

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