1 Corinthians iii.

Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 3. And walk according to man? As carnal and sensual men, as long as there are jealousies and divisions among you. (Witham)

Ver. 7-8. That planteth you by your first conversion. Apollo watered you by preaching the same truths. — He that planteth and watered, are one, aim at one and the same end. (Witham) — According to his own labour. God does not recompense his servants according to the success of their labours, because their success depends upon him alone; but he recompenses them according to their sufferings and diligence in his service; for, whilst he crowns the labour of his apostles with success, he crowns his own work. (St. Chrysostom) — This text most evidently proves that good works proceeding from grace are meritorious, and that the rewards in heaven are different, according as God sees just to appropriate them. The Greek word here employed is misthos, (merces) or wages. See 1 Timothy v. 18; Apocalypse xxii. 12; Matthew xvi. 27. It is by our union with Jesus Christ that our actions, of themselves without value or merit, become gold, silver, and precious stones. (Haydock)

Ver. 9. We are God’s coadjutors, labouring in his service, as he hath employed us. — You are God’s husbandry, the soil, where virtues are to be planted. You are God’s building, the edifice, the house, or even the temple of God; we are employed as builders under God. (Witham)

Ver. 10. I have laid the foundation well, as a wise architect, not of myself, but according to the grace of God, and the gifts he bestowed upon me: and another, or several others, build upon it, continue the building. — But let every man take heed how he buildeth, and that it be always upon the same foundation, which is Christ Jesus, his faith, and his doctrine. (Witham)

Ver. 12-15. Now if any man build, &c. This is a hard place, says St. Augustine, lib. de fid. & Oper. chap. xvi. tom. 6. p. 180. The interpreters are divided, as to the explication and application of this metaphorical comparison, contained in these four verses. St. Paul speaks of a building, where it is evident, says St. Augustine, that the foundation is Christ, or the faith of Christ, and his faith working by charity. The difficulties are 1. Who are the builders. 2. What is meant by gold, silver, precious stones, and what by wood, hay, stubble. 3. What is meant by the day of the Lord. 4. What by fire, how every one’s work shall be tried, and how some shall be saved by fire. As to the first, by the builders, as St. Paul had before called himself the first architect, who had laid the foundation of the faith of Christ among the Corinthians, interpreters commonly understand those doctors and preachers who there succeeded St. Paul: but as it is also said, that every man’s works shall be made manifest, St. Augustine and others understand not the preachers only, but all the faithful. As to the second difficulty, if by the builders we understand the preachers of the gospel, then by gold, silver, &c., is to be understood, good, sound, and profitable doctrine; and by wood, hay, stubble, a mixture of vain knowledge, empty flourishes, unprofitable discourses; but if all the faithful are builders, they whose actions are pure, lay gold upon the foundation; but if their actions are mixed with imperfections, venial failings, and lesser sins, these are represented by wood, hay, stubble, &c. 3. By the day of the Lord, is commonly understood either the day of general judgment, or the particular judgment, when every one is judged at his death, which sentence shall be confirmed again at the last day. 4. As to fire, which is mentioned thrice, if we consider what St. Paul says here of fire, he seems to use it in different significations, as he many times does other words. First, he tells us, (ver. 13.) that the day of the Lord…shall be revealed; or, as it is in the Greek, is revealed in, or by fire; where, by fire, is commonly understood the just and severe judgments of God, represented by the metaphor of fire. Secondly, he tells us in the same verse, that fire shall try every one’s work, of what sort it is. This may be again taken for the examining and trying fire of God’s judgments: and may be applied to the builders, whether preachers only or all the faithful. Thirdly, he tells us, (ver. 14. and 15.) that some men’s works abide the fire of God’s judgments, they deserve no punishment, they are like pure gold, which receives no prejudice from the fire: but some men’s works burn, the superstructure, which they built upon the faith of Christ, besides gold, silver, precious stones, had also a mixture of wood, hay, stubble, which could not stand the trial of fire, which met with combustible matter, that deserved to be burnt. Every such man shall suffer a loss, when his works are burnt, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. Here the apostle speaks of fire in a more ample signification: of a fire which shall not only try, and examine, but also burn, and punish the builders, who notwithstanding shall also, after a time, escape from the fire, and be saved by fire, and in the day of the Lord, that is, after life (for the time of this life is the day of men). Divers of the ancient fathers, as well as later interpreters, from these words, prove the Catholic doctrine of a purgatory, that is, that many Christians, who die guilty, not of heinous or mortal sins, but of lesser, and what are called venial sins, or to whom a temporal punishment for the sins they have committed, still remains due, before they can be admitted to a reward in heaven, (into which nothing defiled or unclean can enter) must suffer some punishments for a time, in some place, which is called Purgatory, and in such a manner, as is agreeable to the divine justice, before their reward in heaven. These words of the apostle, the Latin Fathers in the Council of Florence[1] brought against the Greeks to prove purgatory, to which the Greeks (who did not deny a purgatory, or a third place, where souls guilty of lesser sins were to suffer for a time) made answer, that these words of St. Paul were expounded by St. Chrysostom and some of their Greek Fathers (which is true) of the wicked in hell, who are said to be saved by fire, inasmuch as they always subsist and continue in those flames, and are not destroyed by them: but this interpretation, as the Latin bishops replied, is not agreeable to the style of the holy Scriptures, in which, to be saved, both in the Greek and Latin, is expressed the salvation and happiness of souls in heaven. It may not be amiss to take notice that the Greeks, before they met with the Latins at Ferrara, of Florence, did not deny the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. They admitted a third place, where souls guilty of lesser sins, suffered for a time, till cleansed from such sins: they allowed that the souls there detained from the vision of God, might be assisted by the prayers of the faithful: they called this purgatory a place of darkness, of sorrow, of punishments, and pains, but they did not allow there a true and material fire, which the Council did not judge necessary to decide and define against them, as appears in the definition of the Council. (Conc. Labb tom. xiii. p. 515.) (Witham) — The fire of which St. Paul here speaks, is the fire of purgatory, according to the Fathers, and all Catholic divines. (Calmet) — St. Augustine, expounding Psalm xxxvii. ver. 1., gives the proper distinction between this fire of purgatory and that of hell: both are punishments, one temporary, the other eternal; the latter to punish us in God’s justice, the former to amend us in his mercy.

Ver. 16-17. Know you not. After the apostle had described the builders who are employed in the spiritual edifice, he then proceeds to speak of the duties of those who are the living temples of Christ. As for you, may brethren, who are the temples of God, preserve yourselves in purity of faith, and innocence of morals. Fly from those false apostles who seek your ruin, and remain steadfast in that faith which you have received from us; (Calmet) that is, the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith. What a happiness for the faithful minister to assist in erecting and ornamenting the living temples of God; but what punishment must await the unfaithful minister, who by his own neglect and bad example, helps to ruin and destroy the temples God himself had entrusted to his care! (Haydock) — The Spirit of God dwelleth in you, having received the grace of God at your conversion: you are the holy temple of God: But if any one violate, or profane the temple of God, either by false doctrine, or by any grievous offence, he destroys the spiritual edifice, that was built in his soul upon the faith and grace of God. He cannot be said to be built any longer upon the same foundation: and therefore God will destroy such persons: they shall not be saved even by fire, or temporal punishments, but shall be excluded for ever from heaven, and condemned to eternal punishments. (Witham)

Ver. 18-21. Let no man deceive himself. He next precautions them against themselves, and admonishes them to be upon their guard against curiosity, presumption, and self-love, and tells them to undervalue all other sciences, when put in competition with the science of salvation, the knowledge of the gospel. It hence appears, that some of the Corinthians were renowned for that human eloquence which the world so much esteems, and accordingly the apostle discovers to them the danger to which they are exposing themselves, by pursuing their present line of conduct. (Calmet) — If any man among you seem to be wise in this world. He hints at some new teachers among them, (not at Apollo) who to gain the esteem of men, had introduced errors from profane philosophy, or the false principles of human wisdom, which, as he had told them before, was folly in the sight of God. He therefore tells such persons, that to become truly wise, they must become fools, by returning to the simplicity of the gospel-doctrine. (Witham) — Let no man. That is, let no man say, I am for Paul, I am for Apollo. This language will introduce into the Church of God those various sects that existed amongst the philosophers, who were distinguished by the title of Platonics, Stoics, Peripatetic, and so on. (Grotius)

Ver. 22-23. All things are yours. Are ordained for your good. For this end, I, Apollo, and Cephas have been sent to promote your salvation. The world and all things in it are allowed you, are yours, that by making good use of them, you may save your souls: that death may be to you a passage to a happy eternity, that the things to come may be your eternal reward. — You are Christ’s, you belong to him who hath redeemed you, and sanctified you by his grace: and Christ is God’s, Christ as man, who being the Son of God, was made also man, and sent to make known the glory of God, his divine perfections of mercy, justice, &c.


[1] Ver. 15. In the Council of Florence, which began at Ferrara an. [in the year] 1438. The Greeks at the very first declared they admitted a third place, where souls were punished for a time, which they called a place of darkness and sorrow. See Labb. tom. xiii. Con. p. 20. Græci fatentur pænam temporaneam, quod peccatis obnoxiorum animæ in locum abeunt tenebricosum, in locum mæroris, in quo, ad tempus, versantur in mœrore & pænis, eis topon skoteinon, kai topon lupes, kai lupountai merikos. — Again, Hæc est inter eos differentia: Græci pœnam, mærorem, & pœnæ locum asserunt, Itali pænam, purgationemque per ignem. See again p. 491. Sess. 25. where the Greeks say of such souls, that they are in a middle state, medias autem esse in loco tormentorum, sed sive ignis sit, sive caligo, sive turbo, sive quid aliud, non contendimus. See also the definition of the Council, p. 515., where it is only defined, eorum animas pœnis purgatoriis post mortem purgari, & ut a pœnis hujusmodi releventur, prodesse vivorum suffragia, which was the doctrine both of the Greek and Latin Church. See on this place of St. Paul, Bellarmine, lib. i. de Purgatorio, chap. 5; Salmeron disp. 6. in lib. ad Corint.; Estius; a Lapide; etc.

Bible Text & Cross-references:

They must not contend about their teachers, who are but God’s ministers, and accountable to him. Their works shall be tried by fire.

1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as unto carnal. As to little ones in Christ,

2 I gave you milk to drink, not meat: for you were not able as yet: but neither indeed are you now able: for you are yet carnal.

3 For, whereas, there is among you envying and contention; are you not carnal, and walk according to man?

4 For while one saith, I indeed am of Paul: and another, I am of Apollo: are you not men? What then is Apollo, and what is Paul?

5 The ministers of him whom you have believed: and to every one as the Lord hath given.

6 I have planted, Apollo watered: but God gave the increase.

7 Therefore neither he that planteth is any thing, nor he that watereth: but God who giveth the increase.

8 Now he who planteth, and he who watereth, are one. *And every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

9 For we are God’s coadjutors: you are God’s husbandry; you are God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God, that is given to me, as a wise architect, I have laid the foundation: and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

11 For no one can lay another foundation but that which is laid: which is Christ Jesus.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble:

13 Every man’s work shall be manifest: for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire: and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is.

14 If any man’s work abide, which he hath built thereupon: he shall receive a reward.

15 If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.

16 Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?

17 But if any man violate the temple of God: him shall God destroy. *For the temple of God is holy, which you are.

18 Let no man deceive himself: if any man among you seem to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise.

19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written: *I will catch the wise in their own craftiness.

20 And again: *The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

21 Let no man, therefore, glory in men.

22 For all things are yours, whether it be Paul, or Apollo, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come: for all are yours:

23 And you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.



8: Psalm lxi. 13.; Matthew xvi. 27.; Romans ii. 6.; Galatians vi. 5.

17: 1 Corinthians vi. 19.; 2 Corinthians vi. 16.

19: Job v. 13.

20: Psalm xciii. 11.