The First to the Corinthians 4:1-21
steward: Or “house manager; house administrator.” The Greek word oi·ko·noʹmos refers to a person placed over servants, though he himself is a servant. In ancient times, such a position was often filled by a faithful slave who was placed in charge of his master’s affairs. Therefore, it was a position of great trust. Abraham’s servant “who was managing all [Abraham] had” was such a steward, or household manager. (Ge 24:2) This was also true of Joseph, as described at Ge 39:4. The “steward” in Jesus’ illustration is referred to in the singular, but this does not necessarily mean that the steward represented only one particular person. The Scriptures contain examples of a singular noun referring to a collective group, such as when Jehovah addressed the collective group of the Israelite nation and told them: “You are my witnesses [plural], . . . yes, my servant [singular] whom I have chosen.” (Isa 43:10) Similarly, this illustration refers to a composite steward. In the parallel illustration at Mt 24:45, this steward is called “the faithful and discreet slave.”
attendants: Or “subordinates.” The Greek word used here, hy·pe·reʹtes, denotes one who serves as “an assistant.” (Ac 13:5, ftn.) The “attendants of Christ” willingly carry out Christ’s orders.
stewards: Or “house managers.” The Greek word for “steward” (oi·ko·noʹmos) refers to a servant who is placed in charge of a household, including his master’s business, property, and other servants. A steward had a position of great trust and was expected to be faithful. (1Co 4:2) Paul recognized that his stewardship involved safeguarding “God’s sacred secrets” and faithfully telling those secrets to others as directed by the Master, Jesus Christ.—1Co 9:16; see study note on Lu 12:42.
a human tribunal: Or “a human court.” Lit., “a human day.” The Greek term for “day” is here used in the sense of a day appointed for a special purpose. In this case, it is a day set by a human judge for a trial or for rendering judgment. As the context shows, Paul was not primarily concerned about judgment by humans, whether by the Corinthians or by some human court on a set day. Rather, he was concerned about the future Day of Judgment by God through Jesus.—1Co 4:4, 5.
the one who examines me is Jehovah: Paul was not concerned about being judged by humans. He did not even rely on his own judgment of himself. (1Co 4:1-3) Instead, Paul was deeply concerned about how Jehovah viewed him. From the Hebrew Scriptures, Paul well knew that Jehovah is the one who examines His servants.—Ps 26:2; Pr 21:2; Jer 20:12; for the use of the divine name in this verse, see App. C3 introduction; 1Co 4:4.
Do not go beyond the things that are written: This phrase is not a quote from the Hebrew Scriptures. However, it appears to have been a well-known rule or saying. This rule implies that God’s servants are not to teach anything that goes beyond the laws and principles expressed in God’s inspired Word. For example, Christians should not go beyond the limits that the Scriptures set regarding how to view themselves and others. The Corinthians had fallen into the trap of boasting in certain men, maybe Apollos and even Paul. They favored one person over the other and were creating disunity. Perhaps as an object lesson to the Corinthians, Paul had quoted the Hebrew Scriptures a number of times up to this point in his letter. He did it to support his arguments, using the phrase “it is written.”—1Co 1:19, 31; 2:9; 3:19; see also 1Co 9:9; 10:7; 14:21; 15:45.
a theatrical spectacle: Lit., “a theater.” The Greek word theʹa·tron can refer either to the place where a show is presented (Ac 19:29, 31) or, as in this verse, to the show itself. Paul may have alluded to the customary closing event of Roman gladiatorial contests in the amphitheater arena. Certain participants were brought out unclad and defenseless and then were brutally killed. To the NW of the marketplace in Corinth, there was a theater capable of holding some 15,000 people. By that time, an amphitheater in the NE corner of the city was likely also in use. Thus, Corinthian Christians could well appreciate Paul’s reference to the apostles’ being “a theatrical spectacle to the world.”
to the world, and to angels and to men: In this context, the Greek word for “world” (koʹsmos) refers to all humankind. When mentioning “angels,” Paul was not enlarging on the meaning of the term “world,” as if it included invisible spirit creatures and visible human creatures. However, he was saying that not only the world of mankind but also the angels are among those who view this spectacle. At 1Co 1:20, 21, 27, 28; 2:12; 3:19, 22, Paul used the word koʹsmos to refer to the world of humankind, and here the term may be understood in the same way.
naked: Or “not sufficiently dressed.” The Greek word gy·mnosʹ can have the meaning “lightly clad; in the undergarment only.”—Jas 2:15, ftn.
to be poorly clothed: While the Greek verb literally means “to be naked,” in this context it refers to being poorly clothed. (See study note on Mt 25:36.) Paul is apparently contrasting his life of self-sacrifice with that of some Christians in Corinth who boasted about themselves but lived a life of comparative ease.—1Co 4:8-10; compare 2Co 11:5.
refuse: Or “garbage; rubbish.” The Greek words used in this verse for “refuse” (pe·ri·kaʹthar·ma) and for offscouring (pe·riʹpse·ma) are strong terms similar in meaning. They occur only here in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Both denote waste products—what people throw away after cleansing or what is scraped off and washed away. Some of Paul’s critics apparently viewed him and his missionary work in this way.
father: Jesus here prohibits the use of the term “father” as a formalistic or religious title of honor applied to men.
guardians: Or “tutors.” In Bible times, many wealthy Greek and Roman households included a guardian, or tutor. The guardian was a trusted slave or a hired worker. It was his responsibility to accompany a child to and from school and to protect the child from physical or moral harm. The guardian might also be responsible for a measure of the child’s moral instruction and even discipline. (Ga 3:24, 25) Paul here uses the term figuratively to describe the men who were entrusted with the spiritual care of the Corinthian Christians.—1Co 3:6, 10.
I have become your father: Paul here compares himself to a father because some of the Corinthian Christians were his children in a spiritual sense. During the year and six months he spent there, he had personally brought the good news to many. (Ac 18:7-11) He was instrumental in founding the congregation in Corinth and in nourishing them spiritually. (1Co 3:5, 6, 10; compare 3Jo 4.) However, Paul was not suggesting that the word “father” be applied to him as a title, for that would violate Christ’s clear direction.—Mt 23:8, 9; see study note on Mt 23:9.
my methods: Lit., “my ways.” Some translations read “the way of life I follow”; “the way I live.” However, the context shows that Paul is referring to more than his personal Christian conduct. Paul goes on to say “just as I am teaching everywhere in every congregation,” indicating that he is referring to his methods of teaching and the principles that he followed as he carried out his Christian ministry.
if Jehovah wills: An expression that emphasizes the need to take God’s will into account when doing or planning to do anything. The apostle Paul kept this principle in mind. (Ac 18:21; 1Co 16:7; Heb 6:3) In addition, the disciple James encouraged his readers to say: “If Jehovah wills, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:15) James did not mean that Christians must always say it audibly; nor should they use the expression superstitiously or as an empty phrase. Instead, they would try to learn God’s will and to act in harmony with it.
The Greek word pai·da·go·gosʹ, translated “guardian,” or “tutor,” at Ga 3:24, 25, paints a specific word picture. In the Greco-Roman world, families with sufficient financial means would entrust their young boys to the care of a guardian. Typically, the guardian was a slave, but at times he was a contracted worker. Some families paid a considerable amount of money to purchase or hire a guardian. The guardian would care for a child from about the age of six or seven to adulthood. He accompanied the child at all times outside the household, protecting him from danger. He also monitored the child’s conduct, providing him with moral guidance, correction, and discipline. The Greek word for guardian also appears in Paul’s first inspired letter to the Corinthians.—1Co 4:15.