|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-4 The most simple truths of the gospel, as to man's sinfulness and God's mercy, repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, stated in the plainest language, suit the people better than deeper mysteries. Men may have much doctrinal knowledge, yet be mere beginners in the life of faith and experience. Contentions and quarrels about religion are sad evidences of carnality. True religion makes men peaceable, not contentious. But it is to be lamented, that many who should walk as Christians, live and act too much like other men. Many professors, and preachers also, show themselves to be yet carnal, by vain-glorious strife, eagerness for dispute, and readiness to despise and speak evil of others.
Verses 1-4. - The carnal conceit of the spiritually immature. Verse 1. - I... could not speak unto you as unto spiritual. Though softened by the word brethren, there was a crushing irony of reproof in these words: "You thought yourselves quite above the need of my simple teaching. You were looking down on me from the whole height of your inferiority. The elementary character of my doctrine was after all the necessary consequence of your own incapacity for anything more profound." As unto carnal. The true reading here is sarkinois, fleshen, not sarkikois, fleshly, or carnal; the later and severer word is perhaps first used in ver. 3. The word sarkinos (earneus), fleshen, implies earthliness and weakness and the absence of spirituality; but sarki-kos (carnalis) involves the dominance of the lower nature and antagonism to the spiritual. As mite babes in Christ. The word "babes" has a good and a bad sense. In its good sense it implies humility and teachableness, as in 1 Corinthians 14:20, "In malice be ye babes;" and in 1 Peter 2:2, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word;" and in Matthew 11:25. Here it is used in its bad sense of spiritual childishness.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you,.... Though the apostle was a spiritual man himself, had spiritual gifts, even the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, could judge all things, had the mind of Christ, and was able to speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, yet could not speak it to them,
as unto spiritual; not but that they had the Spirit of God in them, and a work of grace upon them; for they were, as the apostle afterwards says, the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelt in them; they were washed, sanctified, and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God; but had not that spiritual discerning, or judgment in spiritual things, which some believers had, at least when the apostle was first with them; and now they were under great spiritual declensions, and had not those spiritual frames, nor that spiritual experience and conversation, which some other Christians had:
but as unto carnal: not that they were in a carnal state, as unregenerate men are; but had carnal conceptions of things, were in carnal frames of soul, and walked in a carnal conversation with each other; though they were not in the flesh, in a state of nature, yet the flesh was in them, and not only lusted against the Spirit, but was very predominant in them, and carried them captive, so that they are denominated from it:
even as unto babes in Christ; they were in Christ, and so were new creatures; they were, as the Arabic version reads it, "in the faith of Christ"; though babes and weaklings in it, they were believers in Christ, converted persons, yet children in understanding, knowledge, and experience; had but little judgment in spiritual things, and were unskilful in the word of righteousness; at least this was the case of many of them, though others were enriched in all utterance and knowledge, and in no gift came behind members of other churches.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
1Co 3:1-23. Paul Could Not Speak to Them of Deep Spiritual Truths, as They Were Carnal, Contending for Their Several Teachers; These Are Nothing but Workers for God, to Whom They Must Give Account in the Day of Fiery Judgment. The Hearers Are God's Temple, Which They Must Not Defile by Contentions for Teachers, Who, as Well as All Things, Are Theirs, Being Christ's.
1. And I—that is, as the natural (animal) man cannot receive, so I also could not speak unto you the deep things of God, as I would to the spiritual; but I was compelled to speak to you as I would to MEN OF FLESH. The oldest manuscripts read this for "carnal." The former (literally, "fleshy") implies men wholly of flesh, or natural. Carnal, or fleshly, implies not they were wholly natural or unregenerate (1Co 2:14), but that they had much of a carnal tendency; for example their divisions. Paul had to speak to them as he would to men wholly natural, inasmuch as they are still carnal (1Co 3:3) in many respects, notwithstanding their conversion (1Co 1:4-9).
babes—contrasted with the perfect (fully matured) in Christ (Col 1:28; compare Heb 5:13, 14). This implies they were not men wholly of flesh, though carnal in tendencies. They had life in Christ, but it was weak. He blames them for being still in a degree (not altogether, compare 1Co 1:5, 7; therefore he says as) babes in Christ, when by this time they ought to have "come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph 4:13). In Ro 7:14, also the oldest manuscripts read, "I am a man of flesh."
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