1 Corinthians 3:1
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
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(1) And I.—Again, as in 1Corinthians 2:6, the Apostle shows how general principles which he has just explained were exemplified in his own conduct. In the closing verses of 1 Corinthians 2 St. Paul has enunciated the general method of teaching spiritual truth as being dependent upon the receptive powers of those who are being taught. He now proceeds to point out to them that their own character, as being wanting in spirituality, was the real hindrance to his teaching them the higher spiritual truth which may be called “the wisdom” of the gospel.

As unto carnal.—Better, as being carnal. Our version may seem to imply that the Apostle spoke to them as if they were carnal, though they really were not so; but the force of the passage is that they were indeed carnal, and that the Apostle taught them not as if they were such, but as being such. “Carnal” is here the opposite of “spiritual,” and does not involve any reference to what we would commonly speak of as carnal sin.

Babes in Christ.—This is the opposite of the “full grown” in 1Corinthians 2:6, to whom the “wisdom” could be taught. (See also Colossians 1:28, “full grown in Christ.”) It may be an interesting indication of the “manliness” of St. Paul’s character and his high estimate of it in others, that he constantly uses the words “babe” and “childhood” in a depreciatory sense. (See Romans 2:20, Galatians 4:3, Ephesians 4:14.)

1 Corinthians 3:1-3. And I, brethren — The apostle having, in the latter part of the preceding chapter, observed that mere natural men, still unenlightened and unrenewed, receive not the things of the Spirit, begins this chapter with informing the Corinthians, that though he was an apostle, fully instructed in the mind of Christ, he could not, during his abode with them, speak to them as to truly spiritual persons: inasmuch as they really were not such, but still in a great measure carnal, even mere babes in Christ; as little acquainted with, and experienced in, the things of God, as babes are with respect to the things of the world. He had spoken before (1 Corinthians 2:1) of his entrance, now he speaks of his progress among them. I have fed you with milk — With the first and plainest truths of the gospel, alluding to milk being the proper food of babes: not with meat — The higher truths of Christianity; such as are more difficult to be understood, received, and practised, and therefore belong to those believers who have made some considerable progress in Christian knowledge and holiness. For ye were not able to bear it — Your state of grace has been, and still is, so low, that it would not properly admit of such a way of teaching. So should every preacher suit his doctrine to the state and character of his hearers. For ye are yet carnal — That is, the greater part of you are so in some degree; for whereas there is among you envying — One another’s gifts in your hearts, or uneasiness of mind that others have greater gifts than yourselves: or the word ζηλος may be rendered, emulation, a kind of rivalry, or a desire of superiority over others; and strife — Outward contentions in words and deeds; and actual divisions — Of one party from another; are ye not carnal — Is not this a clear proof that you are so; and walk as men? — Κατα ανθρωπον, according to man; as worldly men walk, who have no higher principle from which to act than that of mere nature, and not according to God, as thorough Christians walk.

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.And I, brethren - See 1 Corinthians 2:1. This is designed to meet an implied objection. He had said 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 that Christians were able to understand all things. Yet, they would recollect that he had not addressed them as such, but had confined himself to the more elementary parts of religion when he came among them. He had not entered upon the abstruse and difficult points of theology - the points of speculation in which the subtle Greeks so much abounded and so much delighted. He now states the reason why he had not done it. The reason was one that was most humbling to their pride; but it was the true reason, and faithfulness demanded that it should be stated. It was, that they were carnal, and not qualified to understand the deep mysteries of the gospel; and the proof of this was unhappily at hand. It was too evident in their contentions and strifes, that they were under the influence of carnal feelings and views.

Could not speak unto you as unto spiritual - "I could not regard you as spiritual - as qualified to enter into the full and higher truths of the gospel; I could not regard you as divested of the feelings which influence carnal people - the people of the world, and I addressed you accordingly. I could not discourse to you as to far-advanced and well-informed Christians. I taught you the rudiments only of the Christian religion." He refers here, doubtless, to his instructions when he founded the church at Corinth. See the note at 1 Corinthians 2:13-15.

But as unto carnal - The word "carnal" here σάρκινοῖς sarkinois is not the same which in 1 Corinthians 2:14, is translated "natural" ψυχικός psuchikos. "That" refers to one who is unrenewed, and who is wholly under the influence of his sensual or animal nature, and is no where applied to Christians. "This" is applied here to Christians - but to those who have much of the remains of corruption, and who are imperfectly acquainted with the nature of religion; babes in Christ. It denotes those who still evinced the feelings and views which pertain to the flesh, in these unhappy contentions, and strifes, and divisions. "The works of the flesh are hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, envyings" Galatians 5:20-21; and these they had evinced in their divisions; and Paul knew that their danger lay in this direction, and he therefore addressed them according to their character. Paul applies the word to himself Romans 7:14, "for I am carnal;" and here it denotes that they were as yet under the influence of the corrupt passions and desires which the flesh produces.

As unto babes in Christ - As unto those recently born into his kingdom, and unable to understand the profounder doctrines of the Christian religion. It is a common figure to apply the term infants and children to those who are feeble in understanding, or unable, from any cause, to comprehend the more profound instructions of science or religion.


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."


1 Corinthians 3:1,2 Paul showeth that he could not instruct the

Corinthians in the higher doctrines of Christianity

because of their carnal mind,

1 Corinthians 3:3,4 which temper discovered itself in their factions.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9 The most eminent preachers of the gospel are but

instruments employed by God in building his church.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 Paul hath laid the only true foundation, Christ Jesus;

and others must take heed what they build thereon.

1 Corinthians 3:16,17 Christians are God’s temple, not to be defiled.

1 Corinthians 3:18-20 Worldly wisdom is foolishness with God.

1 Corinthians 3:21-23 They that are Christ’s must not glory in men.

The apostle plainly returneth in this chapter to reprove them for their divisions and factions, for which he had begun to reprove them, 1 Corinthians 1:11; and (as some think) here he anticipateth an objection, which they might have made against him, against his reproving and judging of them, whereas he that is spiritual (as he had now said) is judged of no man.

I, ( saith he), brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, that is, as to Christians who had made any great proficiency in the ways of God, and had arrived to any just degrees of spiritual perfection;

but as unto carnal, that is, persons who, though you axe not under the full conduct and government of your flesh and sensitive appetite, yet are far from being perfect, either in faith or holiness.

In Christ, but not as grown men, but as babes, as the apostle fully explaineth this term, Hebrews 5:12,13, such as had need be taught again which are the first principles of the oracles of God; and have need of milk, and not of strong meat: for every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe.

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.

And {1} I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto {a} carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

(1) Having declared the worthiness of heavenly wisdom, and of the Gospel, and having generally condemned the blindness of man's mind, now at length he applies it particularly to the Corinthians, calling them carnal, that is, those in whom the flesh still prevails against the Spirit. And he brings a twofold testimony of it: first, because he had proved them to be such, in so much that he dealt with them as he would with ignorant men, and those who are almost babes in the doctrine of godliness, and second, because they showed indeed by these dissensions, which sprang up by reason of the ignorance of the power of the Spirit, and heavenly wisdom, that they had profited very little or nothing.

(a) He calls them carnal, who are as yet ignorant, and therefore to express it better, he calls them babes.

1 Corinthians 3:1. Κἀγώ] I also. This also of comparison has its inner ground in the reproach alluded to, that he ought to have taught in a higher strain, and so ought to have delivered to the Corinthians that Θεοῦ σοφίαν spoken of in 1 Corinthians 3:6 f. Even as no other could have done this, so I also could not. There is no reason, therefore, for holding, with de Wette (comp Billroth), that καὶ ὑμῖν would have been a more stringent way of putting it.

ἀλλʼ ὡς σαρκίνοις] namely, had I to speak to you. See Kühner, II. p. 604. Krüger on Thuc. i. 142. 4, and on Xen. Anab. vii. 2. 28. This brevity of expression is zeugmatic. Σάρκινος (see the critical remarks) is: fleshy (2 Corinthians 3:3), not equivalent to σαρκικός, fleshly. See on Romans 7:14. Winer, p. 93 [E. T. 122], and Fritzsche, a[450] Rom. II. p. 46. Here, as in Rom. l.c[451] and Hebrews 7:16 (see Delitzsch in loc[452]), the expression is specially chosen in order to denote more strongly the unspiritual nature: as to fleshy persons, as to those who have as yet experienced so little of the influence of the Holy Spirit, that the σάρξi.e. the nature of the natural man, which is opposed since the fall to the Spirit of God, and which, as the seat of the sin-principle and of lust, gives rise to the incapacity to recognise the sway of the Divine Spirit (comp 1 Corinthians 2:14), and to follow the drawing of the νοῦς towards the divine will (Romans 7:18; Romans 7:25), by virtue of the Divine Spirit (see on Romans 4:1; Romans 6:19; Romans 7:14; Romans 8:5 ff.)—seemed to make up their whole being. They were still in too great a measure only “flesh born of the flesh” (John 3:6), and still lay too much, especially in an intellectual relation, under the ἀσθενεία τῆς σαρκός (Romans 6:19), although they might also be in part φυσιούμενοι ὑπὸ τοῦ νοὸς τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτῶν (Colossians 2:18),—so that Paul, in order strongly to express their condition at that time, could call them fleshy. By σάρκινος, therefore, he indicates the unspiritual nature of the Corinthians,—i.e. a nature ruled by the limitations and impulses of the σάρξ, not yet changed by the Holy Spirit,—the nature which they still had when at the stage of their first noviciate in the Christian life. At a later date (see 1 Corinthians 3:3) they appear as still at least σαρκικοί (guiding themselves according to the σάρξ, and disobedient to the πνεῦμα); for although, in connection with continued Christian instruction, they had become more effectually partakers also of the influence of the Divine Spirit, nevertheless,—as their sectarian tendencies (see 1 Corinthians 3:3) gave proof,—they had not so followed this divine principle as to prevent the sensuous nature opposed to it (the σάρξ) from getting the upper hand with them in a moral and intellectual respect, so that they were consequently still κατὰ σάρκα and ἐν σαρκί (Romans 8:5; Romans 8:8), τὰ τῆς σαρκὸς φρονοῦντες (Romans 8:5), κατὰ σάρκα καυχώμενοι (2 Corinthians 11:18), ἐν σοφίᾳ σαρκικῇ (2 Corinthians 1:12), etc. It is therefore with true and delicate acumen that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3:1 and 1 Corinthians 3:3 these two different expressions each in its proper place, upbraiding his readers, not indeed by the former, but certainly by the latter, with their unspiritual condition.[454] The ethical notions conveyed by the two terms are not the same, but of the same kind; hence ἔτι in 1 Corinthians 3:3 is logically correct (against the objection of de Wette and Reiche).

[450] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[451] .c. loco citato or laudato.

[452] n loc. refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[454] According to Hofmann,—who, for the rest, defines the two notions with substantial correctness,—the distinction between σάρκινος and σαρκικός answers to that between εἶναι ἐν σαρκί and κατὰ σάρκα, Romans 8:5; Romans 8:8. But the latter two phrases differ from each other, not in their real meaning, but only in the form of representation.—Holsten, too, z. Ev. d. Paul. u. Petr. p. 397 f., has in substance hit the true distinction between σάρκινος and σαρκικός.

The difference between σαρκικός (also σάρκινος) and ψυχικός is simply this: ψυχικός is one who has not the Holy Spirit, and stands wholly outside of the sphere of His influence; whether it be that he has never yet received Him and is therefore still in the natural state without Christ (homo naturalis, as in 1 Corinthians 2:14), or that he has been forsaken again by the Spirit (as in Judges 1:19). Σαρκικός, on the other hand, may not merely be predicated of the ψυχικός, who is indeed necessarily σαρκικός, but also (comp Hofmann) of one who has, it is true, received the Holy Spirit and experiences His influence, but is not led by His enlightening and sanctifying efficacy in such a measure as to have overcome the power of sin (Galatians 5:17) which dwells in the σάρξ and sets itself against the Spirit; but, on the contrary, instead of being πνευματικός and, in consequence, living ἐν πνεύματι and being disposed κατὰ πνεῦμα, he is still ἐν σαρκί, and still thinks, judges, is minded and acts κατὰ σάρκα.[456] The ψυχικός is accordingly as such also σαρκικός, but every σαρκικός is not as such still or once more a ψυχικός, not yet having the Spirit, or having lost Him again. The expositors commonly do not enter upon any distinction between σάρκινος and σαρκικός, either (so the majority) reading σαρκικοῖς in 1 Corinthians 3:1 also, or (Rückert, Pott) arbitrarily giving out that the two words are alike in meaning. The distinction between them and ψυχικός also is passed over in utter silence by many (such as Rosenmüller, Flatt, Billroth), while others, in an arbitrary way, make σάρκινος and σαρκικ. sometimes to be milder than ψυχικός (Bengel, Rückert, holding that in σαρκ. there is more of the weakness, in ψυχ. more of the opposition to what is higher), sometimes to be stronger (Osiander; while Theophylact holds the former to be παρὰ φύσιν, the latter κατὰ φύσιν, and the pneumatic ὑπὲρ φύσιν), or sometimes, lastly, refer the latter to the lower intelligence, and the former to the lower moral condition as given up to the desires (Locke, Wolf, and others).

ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ] statement justifying the foregoing ὡς σαρκ. by setting forth the character of their Christian condition as it had been at that time to which οὐκ ἠδυνήθην κ.τ.λ[457] looks back. The phrase denotes those who, in their relation to Christ (in Christianity), are still children under age, i.e. mere beginners. The opposite is τέλειοι ἐν Χ., Colossians 1:28. See, regarding the analogous use in Rabbinical writers of תינוקות (sugentes), Schoettgen in loc[458]; Wetstein on 1 Peter 2:2; Lightfoot, Hor. p. 162; and for that of קטנים, Wetstein on Matthew 10:42. Before baptism a man is yet without connection with Christ, but through baptism he enters into this fellowship, and is now, in the first instance, a νήπιος ἐν Χριστῷ, i.e. an infans as yet in relation to Christianity, who as such receives the elementary instruction suitable for him (the γάλα of 1 Corinthians 3:2). The εὐαγγελίζεσθαι, on the other hand, which leads on to baptism, is preparatory, giving rise to faith, and forming the medium through which their calling takes place; and accordingly it has not yet to do with νήπιοι ἐν Χριστῷ. The inference is a mistaken one, therefore (on the part of Rückert), that Paul has in mind here a second residence in Corinth not recorded in the Acts. His readers could not understand this passage, any more than 1 Corinthians 2:1, otherwise than of the apostle’s first arrival, of the time, consequently, in which he founded the Corinthian church, when he instructed those who gave ear to his ΕὐΑΓΓΕΛΊΖΕΣΘΑΙ in the elements of Christianity.

By ἘΝ ΧΡΙΣΤῷ is expressed the specific field to which the notion of ΝΗΠΙΌΤΗς is confined; viewed apart from Christ, he, who as a new convert is yet a νήπιος, may be an adult, or an old man, Comp on Colossians 1:28.

[456] Ewald says truly, that the strict distinction between spiritual and fleshly came in first with Christianity itself. But so, too, the sharply-defined notion of the ψυχικός could only be brought out by the contrast of Christianity, because it is the opposite of the πνευματικός, and cannot therefore occupy a middle place between two former notions.

[457] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[458] n loc. refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

1 Corinthians 3:1-5. § 12. CHRIST’S SERVANTS ANSWERABLE TO HIMSELF. The Ap. has shown his readers their own true position—so high and yet so lowly (§ 11); Paul, Apollos, Cephas are but part of a universe of ministry that waits upon them. But more is to be said about the Christian leaders, whose names are sc much abused at Cor[629] If the Church is to understand its proper character, it must reverence theirs. They are its servants; it is not their master. They are its property, because they are Christ’s property; and His instruments first of all. P. thus resumes the train of thought opened in § 10, where the work of Church-builders was discriminated in relation to the building; now it is viewed in its relation to God the Householder. Here lies another and the final ground of accusation against the Cor[630] parties: those who maintained them, in applauding this chief and censuring that, were putting themselves into Christ’s judgment-seat, from which the Apostle thrusts them down.

[629] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

[630] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

Ch. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. The partizanship of the Corinthians a hindrance to spiritual progress

1. And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual] The Apostle has said much of the superiority of the wisdom which is the result of spiritual illumination. He now warns the Corinthians that the majority of them do not possess it, or at best but in the scantiest measure, and thus remain on the threshold of the Christian life.

1 Corinthians 3:1. Καὶ ἐγὼ, and I) He spoke, 1 Corinthians 2:1, of his first ‘coming’ among them: he now speaks of his progress.—ὡς σαρκικοῖς, as to carnal) This is a more gentle expression, than natural, especially with the additional mitigation, as babes in Christ, in regard to the degree of attainment, which immediately followed.

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. 1 Corinthians 3:1Carnal (σαρκίνοις)

Made of flesh. See on Romans 7:14, and see on flesh, Romans 7:5.

Babes (νηπίοις)

From νη not, and ἔπος a word. Strictly, non-speakers. Compare the Latin infans. Strongly contrasted with perfect; see on 1 Corinthians 2:6.

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