1 Corinthians 3:12
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
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(12) Now if any man . . .—Better, But if any man.

Precious stones.—Not gems, but grand and costly stones, such as marble. “Hay,” dried grass used to fill up chinks in the walls. “Stubble,” stalks with the ears of corn cut off, and used for making a roof of thatch.

Many ingenious attempts have been made to apply the imagery of this passage in detail to various doctrines or Christian virtues, but it seems best to regard it as broadly and in outline bringing before the reader the two great ideas of permanent and ephemeral work, and the striking contrast between them. The truth brought forward is primarily, if not exclusively, for teachers. The image is taken from what would have met the eye of a traveller in Ephesus where St. Paul now was, or in Corinth where his letter was to be first read. It is such a contrast as may be seen (though not in precisely the same striking form of difference) in London in our own day. The stately palaces of marble and of granite, with roof and column glittering with gold and silver decorations, and close by these the wretched hovels of the poor and outcast, the walls made of laths of wood, with the interstices stuffed with straw, and a thatched roof above. Then arose before the Apostle’s vision the thought of a city being visited by a mighty conflagration, such as desolated Corinth itself in the time of Mummius. The mean structures of perishable wood and straw would be utterly consumed, while, as was actually the case in Corinth, the mighty palaces and temples would stand after the fire had exhausted itself. Thus, says St. Paul, it will be with the work of Christian teachers when the “day of the Lord is revealed in fire.” The fire of that day will prove and test the quality of each work.

1 Corinthians


1 Corinthians 3:12 - 1 Corinthians 3:13

Before I enter upon the ideas which the words suggest, my exegetical conscience binds me to point out that the original application of the text is not exactly that which I purpose to make of it now. The context shows that the Apostle is thinking about the special subject of Christian teachers and their work, and that the builders of whom he speaks are the men in the Corinthian Church, some of them his allies and some of them his rivals, who were superimposing upon the foundation of the preaching of Jesus Christ other doctrines and principles. The ‘wood, hay, stubble’ are the vapid and trivial doctrines which the false teachers were introducing into the Church. The ‘gold, silver, and precious stones’ are the solid and substantial verities which Paul and his friends were proclaiming. And it is about these, and not about the Christian life in the general, that the tremendous metaphors of my text are uttered.

But whilst that is true, the principles involved have a much wider range than the one case to which the Apostle applies them. And, though I may be slightly deflecting the text from its original direction, I am not doing violence to it, if I take it as declaring some very plain and solemn truths applicable to all Christian people, in their task of building up a life and character on the foundation of Jesus Christ; truths which are a great deal too much forgotten in our modern popular Christianity, and which it concerns us all very clearly to keep in view. There are three things here that I wish to say a word about-the patchwork building, the testing fire, the fate of the builders.

I. First, the patchwork structure.

‘If any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble.’ In the original application of the metaphor, Paul is thinking of all these teachers in that church at Corinth as being engaged in building the one structure-I venture to deflect here, and to regard each of us as rearing our own structure of life and character on the foundation of the preached and accepted Christ.

Now, what the Apostle says is that these builders were, some of them, laying valuable things like gold and silver and costly stones-by which he does not mean jewels, but marbles, alabasters, polished porphyry or granite, and the like; sumptuous building materials, which were employed in great palaces or temples-and that some of them were bringing timber, hay, stubble, reeds gathered from the marshes or the like, and filling in with such trash as that. That is a picture of what a great many Christian people are doing in their own lives-the same man building one course of squared and solid and precious stones, and topping them with rubbish. You will see in the walls of Jerusalem, at the base, five or six courses of those massive blocks which are the wonders of the world yet; well jointed, well laid, well cemented, and then on the top of them a mass of poor stuff, heaped together anyhow; scamped work-may I use a modern vulgarism?-’jerry-building.’ You may go to some modern village, on an ancient historic site, and you will find built into the mud walls of the hovels in which the people are living, a marble slab with fair carving on it, or the drum of a great column of veined marble, and on the top of that, timber and clay mixed together.

That is the type of the sort of life that hosts of Christian people are living. For, mark, all the builders are on the foundation. Paul is not speaking about mere professed Christians who had no faith at all in them, and no real union with Jesus Christ. These builders were ‘on the foundation’; they were building on the foundation, there was a principle deep down in their lives-which really lay at the bottom of their lives-and yet had not come to such dominating power as to mould and purify and make harmonious with itself the life that was reared upon it. We all know that that is the condition of many men, that they have what really are the fundamental bases of their lives, in belief and aim and direction; and which yet are not strong enough to master the whole of the life, and to manifest themselves through it. Especially it is the condition of some Christian people. They have a real faith, but it is of the feeblest and most rudimentary kind. They are on the foundation, but their lives are interlaced with the most heterogeneous mixty-maxty of good and evil, of lofty, high, self-sacrificing thoughts and heavenward aspirations, of resolutions never carried out into practice; and side by side with these there shall be meannesses, selfishnesses, tempers, dispositions all contradictory of the former impulses. One moment they are all fire and love, the next moment ice and selfishness. One day they are all for God, the next day all for the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jacob sees the open heavens and the face of God and vows; to-morrow he meets Laban and drops to shifty ways. Peter leaves all and follows his Master, and in a little while the fervour has gone, and the fire has died down into grey ashes, and a flippant servant-girl’s tongue leads him to say ‘I know not the man.’ ‘Gold, silver, precious stones,’ and topping them, ‘wood, hay, stubble!’

The inconsistencies of the Christian life are what my text, in the application that I am venturing to make of it, suggests to us. Ah, dear friends! we do not need to go to Jacob and Peter; let us look at our own hearts, and if we will honestly examine one day of our lives, I think we shall understand how it is possible for a man, on the foundation, yet to build upon it these worthless and combustible things, ‘wood, hay, stubble.’

We are not to suppose that one man builds only ‘gold, silver, precious stones.’ There is none of us that does that. And we are not to suppose that any man who is on the foundations has so little grasp of it, as that he builds only ‘wood, hay, stubble.’

There is none of us who has not intermingled his building, and there is none of us, if we are Christians at all, who has not sometimes laid a course of ‘precious stones.’ If your faith is doing nothing for you except bringing to you a belief that you are not going to hell when you die, then it is no faith at all. ‘Faith without works is dead.’ So there is a mingling in the best, and-thank God!-there is a mingling of good with evil, in the worst of real Christian people.

II. Note here, the testing fire.

Paul points to two things, the day and the fire.

‘The day shall declare it,’ that is the day on which Jesus Christ comes to be the Judge; and it, that is ‘the day,’ ‘shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall test every man’s work.’ Now, it is to be noticed that here we are moving altogether in the region of lofty symbolism, and that the metaphor of the testing fire is suggested by the previous enumeration of building materials, gold and silver being capable of being assayed by flame; and ‘wood, hay, stubble’ being combustible, and sure to be destroyed thereby. The fire here is not an emblem of punishment; it is not an emblem of cleansing. There is no reference to anything in the nature of what Roman Catholics call purgatorial fires. The allusion is simply to some stringent and searching means of testing the quality of a man’s work, and of revealing that quality.

So then, we come just to this, that for people ‘on the foundation,’ there is a Day of revelation and testing of their life’s work. It is a great misfortune that so-called Evangelical Christianity does not say as much as the New Testament says about the judgment that is to be passed on ‘the house of God.’ People seem to think that the great doctrine of salvation, ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy,’ is, somehow or other, interfered with when we proclaim, as Paul proclaims, speaking to Christian people, ‘We must be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ,’ and declares that ‘Every man will receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad.’ Paul saw no contradiction, and there is no contradiction. But a great many professing Christians seem to think that the great blessing of their salvation by faith is, that they are exempt from that future revelation and testing and judgment of their acts. That is not the New Testament teaching. But, on the contrary, ‘Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap,’ was originally said to a church of Christian people. And here we come full front against that solemn truth, that the Lord will ‘gather together His saints, those that have made a covenant with Him by sacrifice, that He may judge His people.’ Never mind about the drapery, the symbolism, the expression in material forms with which that future judgment is arranged, in order that we may the more easily grasp it. Remember that these pictures in the New Testament of a future judgment are highly symbolical, and not to be interpreted as if they were plain prose; but also remember that the heart of them is this, that there comes for Christian people as for all others, a time when the light will shine down upon their past, and will flash its rays into the dark chambers of memory, and when men will-to themselves if not to others-be revealed ‘in the day when the Lord shall judge the secrets of men according to my Gospel.’

We have all experience enough of how but a few years, a change of circumstances, or a growth into another stage of development, give us fresh eyes with which to estimate the moral quality of our past. Many a thing, which we thought to be all right at the time when we did it, looks to us now very questionable and a plain mistake. And when we shift our stations to up yonder, and get rid of all this blinding medium of flesh and sense, and have the issues of our acts in our possession, and before our sight-ah! we shall think very differently of a great many things from what we think of them now. Judgment will begin at the house of God.

And there is the other thought, that the fire which reveals and tests has also in it a power of destruction. Gold and silver will lose no atom of their weight, and will be brightened into greater lustre as they flash back the beams. The timber and the stubble will go up in a flare, and die down into black ashes. That is highly metaphorical, of course. What does it mean? It means that some men’s work will be crumpled up and perish, and be as of none effect, leaving a great, black sorrowful gap in the continuity of the structure, and that other men’s work will stand. Everything that we do is, in one sense, immortal, because it is represented in our final character and condition, just as a thin stratum of rock will represent forests of ferns that grew for one summer millenniums ago, or clouds of insects that danced for an hour in the sun. But whilst that is so, and nothing human ever dies, on the other hand, deeds which have been in accordance, as it were, with the great stream that sweeps the universe on its bosom will float on that surface and never sink. Acts which have gone against the rush of God’s will through creation will be like a child’s go-cart that comes against the engine of an express train-be reduced, first, to stillness, all the motion knocked out of them, and then will be crushed to atoms. Deeds which stand the test will abide in blessed issue for the doer, and deeds which do not will pass away in smoke, and leave only ashes. Some of us, building on the foundation, have built more rubbish than solid work, and that will be

‘Cast as rubbish to the void

When God has made the pile complete.’

III. So, lastly, we have here the fate of the two builders.

The one man gets wages. That is not the bare notion of salvation, for both builders are conceived of as on the foundation, and both are saved. He gets wages. Yes, of course! The architect has to give his certificate before the builder gets his cheque. The weaver, who has been working his hand-loom at his own house, has to take his web to the counting-house and have it overlooked before he gets his pay. And the man who has built ‘gold, silver, precious stones,’ will have-over and above the initial salvation-in himself the blessed consequences, and unfold the large results, of his faithful service; while the other man, inasmuch as he has not such work, cannot have the consequences of it, and gets no wages; or at least his pay is subject to heavy deductions for the spoiled bits in the cloth, and for the gaps in the wall.

The Apostle employs a tremendous metaphor here, which is masked in our Authorised Version, but is restored in the Revised. ‘He shall be saved, yet so as’ {not ‘by’ but} ‘through fire’; the picture being that of a man surrounded by a conflagration, and making a rush through the flames to get to a place of safety. Paul says that he will get through, because down below all inconsistency and worldliness, there was a little of that which ought to have been above all the inconsistency and the worldliness-a true faith in Jesus Christ. But because it was so imperfect, so feeble, so little operative in his life as that it could not keep him from piling up inconsistencies into his wall, therefore his salvation is so as through the fire.

Brethren, I dare not enlarge upon that great metaphor. It is meant for us professing Christians, real and imperfect Christians-it is meant for us; and it just tells us that there are degrees in that future blessedness proportioned to present faithfulness. We begin there where we left off here. That future is not a dead level; and they who have earnestly striven to work out their faith into their lives shall ‘summer high upon the hills of God.’ One man, like Paul in his shipwreck, shall lose ship and lading, though ‘on broken pieces of the ship’ he may ‘escape safe to land’; and another shall make the harbour with full cargo of works of faith, to be turned into gold when he lands. If we build, as we all may, ‘on that foundation, gold and silver and precious stones,’ an entrance ‘shall be ministered unto us abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’; whilst if we bring a preponderance of ‘wood, hay, stubble,’ we shall be ‘saved, yet so as through the fire.’

1 Corinthians 3:12. If any man build upon this foundation — Thus firmly laid; gold, silver, precious stones — The most valuable materials in nature, the most solid, durable, and precious, and which can bear the fire. And here they stand for true, firm, and important doctrines; doctrines necessary to be known, believed, and laid to heart, and which, when so received, fail not to build up the people of God in faith, love, and obedience; rendering them wise unto salvation, holy and useful here, and preparing them for eternal life hereafter. The apostle mentions next, as materials wherewith some might possibly build, and with which indeed many have built in all ages, wood, hay, and stubble; materials flimsy, unsubstantial, worthless, if compared with the former, and which cannot bear the fire. And these are here put, not merely for false doctrines, condemned or unsupported by the word of God, or doctrines of human invention, but all ceremonies, forms, and institutions, which have not God for their author, and are neither connected with, nor calculated to promote, the edification and salvation of mankind: all doctrines that are unimportant, and not suited to the state and character of the hearers; all but the vital, substantial truths of Christianity. To build with such materials as these, if it do not absolutely destroy the foundation, yet disgraces it; as a mean edifice, suppose a hovel, consisting of nothing better than planks of wood, roughly put together, and thatched with hay and stubble, would disgrace a grand and expensive foundation, laid with great pomp and solemnity.

3:10-15 The apostle was a wise master-builder; but the grace of God made him such. Spiritual pride is abominable; it is using the greatest favours of God, to feed our own vanity, and make idols of ourselves. But let every man take heed; there may be bad building on a good foundation. Nothing must be laid upon it, but what the foundation will bear, and what is of a piece with it. Let us not dare to join a merely human or a carnal life with a Divine faith, the corruption of sin with the profession of Christianity. Christ is a firm, abiding, and immovable Rock of ages, every way able to bear all the weight that God himself or the sinner can lay upon him; neither is there salvation in any other. Leave out the doctrine of his atonement, and there is no foundation for our hopes. But of those who rest on this foundation, there are two sorts. Some hold nothing but the truth as it is in Jesus, and preach nothing else. Others build on the good foundation what will not abide the test, when the day of trail comes. We may be mistaken in ourselves and others; but there is a day coming that will show our actions in the true light, without covering or disguise. Those who spread true and pure religion in all its branches, and whose work will abide in the great day, shall receive a reward. And how great! how much exceeding their deserts! There are others, whose corrupt opinions and doctrines, or vain inventions and usages in the worship of God, shall be made known, disowned, and rejected, in that day. This is plainly meant of a figurative fire, not of a real one; for what real fire can consume religious rites or doctrines? And it is to try every man's works, those of Paul and Apollos, as well as others. Let us consider the tendency of our undertakings, compare them with God's word, and judge ourselves, that we be not judged of the Lord.Now if any man - If any teacher in the doctrines which he inculcates; or any private Christian in the hopes which he cherishes. The main discussion doubtless, has respect to the teachers of religion. Paul carries forward the metaphor in this and the following verses with respect to the building. He supposes that the foundation is laid; that it is a true foundation; that the essential doctrines in regard to the Messiah are the real basis on which the edifice is reared. But, he says, that even admitting that, it is a subject of vast importance to attend to the kind of structure which shall be reared on that; whether it shall be truly beautiful, and valuable in itself, and such as shall abide the trial of the last great Day; or whether it be mean, worthless, erroneous, and such as shall at last be destroyed. There has been some difference of opinion in regard to the interpretation of this passage, arising from the question whether the apostle designed to represent one or two buildings.

The former has been the more common interpretation, and the sense according to that is, "the true foundation is laid; but on that it is improper to place vile and worthless materials. It would be absurd to work them in with those which are valuable; it would be absurd to work in, in rearing a building, wood, and hay, and stubble, with gold, and silver, and precious stones; there would be a lack of concinnity and beauty in this. So in the spiritual temple. There is an impropriety, an unfitness, in rearing the spiritual temple, to interweave truth with error; sound doctrine with false." See Calvin and Macknight. Grotius renders it, "Paul feigns to himself an edifice, partly regal, and partly rustic. He presents the image of a house whose walls are of marble, whose columns are made partly of gold and partly of silver, whose beams are of wood, and whose roof thatched with straw." Others, among whom are Wetstein, Doddridge, Rosenmuller, suppose that he refers to two buildings that might be reared on this foundation - either one that should be magnificent and splendid; or one that should be a rustic cottage, or mean hovel, thatched with straw, and made of planks of wood.

Doddridge paraphrases the passage, "'If any man builds,' I say, 'upon this foundation,' let him look to the materials and the nature of his work; whether he raise a stately and magnificent temple upon it, adorned as it were like the house of God at Jerusalem, with gold and silver, and large, beautiful, and costly stones; or a mean hovel, consisting of nothing better than planks of wood roughly put together, and thatched with hay and stubble. That is, let him look to it, whether he teach the substantial, vital truths of Christianity, and which it was intended to support and illustrate; or set himself to propagate vain subtilties and conceits on the one hand, or legal rites and Jewish traditions on the other; which although they do not entirely destroy the foundation, disgrace it, as a mean edifice would do a grand and extensive foundation laid with great pomp and solemnity." This probably expresses the correct sense of the passage. The foundation may be well laid; yet on this foundation an edifice may be reared that shall be truly magnificent, or one that shall be mean and worthless. So the true foundation of a church may be laid, or of individual conversion to God, in the true doctrine respecting Christ. That church or that individual may be built up and adorned with all the graces which truth is suited to produce; or there may be false principles and teachings superadded; doctrines that shall delude and lead astray; or views and feelings cultivated as piety, and believed to be piety, which may be no part of true religion, but which are mere delusion and fanaticism.

Gold, silver - On the meaning of these words it is not necessary to dwell; or to lay too much stress. Gold is the emblem of that which is valuable and precious, and may be the emblem of that truth and holiness which shall bear the trial of the great Day. In relation to the figure which the apostle here uses, it may refer to the fact that columns or beams in an edifice might be gilded; or perhaps, as in the temple, that they might be solid gold, so as to bear the action of intense heat; or so that fire would not destroy them - So the precious doctrines of truth, and all the feelings, views, opinions, habits, practices, which truth produces in an individual or a church, will bear the trial of the last great Day.

Precious stones - By the stones here referred to, are not meant "gems" which are esteemed of so much value for ornaments, but beautiful and valuable marbles. The word "precious" here τιμίους timious means those which are obtained at a "price," which are costly and valuable; and is particularly applicable, therefore, to the costly marbles which were used in building. The figurative sense here does not differ materially from that conveyed by the silver and gold. By this edifice thus reared on the true foundation, we are to understand:

(1) The true doctrines which should be employed to build up a congregation - doctrines which would bear the test of the trial of the last Day; and,

(2) Such views in regard to piety, and to duty; such feelings and principles of action, as should be approved, and seen to be genuine piety in the Day of Judgment.

Wood - That might be easily burned. An edifice reared of wood instead of marble, or slight buildings, such as were often put for up for temporary purposes in the East - as cottages, places for watching their vineyards, etc.; see my note at Isaiah 1:8.

Hay, stubble - Used for thatching the building, or for a roof. Perhaps, also, grass was sometimes employed in some way to make the walls of the building. Such an edifice would burn readily; would be constantly exposed to take fire. By this is meant:

(1) Errors and false doctrines, such as will not be found to be true on the Day of Judgment, and as will then be swept away;

(2) Such practices and mistaken views of piety, as shall grow out of false doctrines and errors - The foundation may be firm.

Those who are referred to may be building on the Lord Jesus, and may be true Christians. Yet there is much error among those who are not Christians. There are many things mistaken for piety which will yet be seen robe false. There is much enthusiasm, wildfire, fanaticism, bigotry; much affected humility; much that is supposed to be orthodoxy; much regard to forms and ceremonies; to "days, and months, and times, and years" Galatians 4:10; much over-heated zeal, and much precision, and solemn sanctimoniousness; much regard for external ordinances where the heart is missing, that shall be found to be false, and that shall be swept away on the Day of Judgment.

12. Now—rather, "But." The image is that of a building on a solid foundation, and partly composed of durable and precious, partly of perishable, materials. The "gold, silver, precious stones," which all can withstand fire (Re 21:18, 19), are teachings that will stand the fiery test of judgment; "wood, hay, stubble," are those which cannot stand it; not positive heresy, for that would destroy the foundation, but teaching mixed up with human philosophy and Judaism, curious rather than useful. Besides the teachings, the superstructure represents also the persons cemented to the Church by them, the reality of whose conversion, through the teachers' instrumentality, will be tested at the last day. Where there is the least grain of real gold of faith, it shall never be lost (1Pe 1:7; compare 1Co 4:12). On the other hand, the lightest straw feeds the fire [Bengel] (Mt 5:19). The apostle is discoursing metaphorically, he had compared the church of Corinth to a building, 1 Corinthians 3:9, and called them there God’s building; they were built upon the doctrine of the gospel, the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, who had preached Christ to them, this was the foundation; and had told us, that none, by any pretence of right, could lay any other foundation. But there was to be a superstructure upon this foundation, which might be of various materials: he names six; three very good and excellent,

gold, silver, and precious stones; three others vile and invaluable,

wood, hay, stubble. By these he either means good or bad works, or rather, good or bad doctrines. Good doctrine is signified by the gold, silver, and precious stones mentioned; bad doctrine by the wood, hay, and stubble mentioned; by which may be understood various degrees of bad doctrine, as some doctrines are more pernicious and damnable than others, though the others also be false, unprofitable, trivial, and of no significancy to the good of souls, but bad, as they are unprofitable.

Now if any man build upon this foundation,.... The different materials laid by one and the same man, on this foundation, or the different doctrines advanced upon it, are some of them comparable to

gold, silver, precious stones; for their intrinsic worth and value; for the purity and sincerity of them; for their weight, importance, solidity, and substantiality; for their durableness; for the great esteem they are had in by those, who know the worth of them; and for the great usefulness they are of unto them, being rich in themselves, and enriching to them; and these are the great, momentous, and valuable truths of the Gospel, which agree with and are suitable to the foundation they are built upon: so the Jews (m) compare their oral and written law, the former to gold, and the latter to precious stones, but the metaphors much better suit the doctrines of the Gospel: others are like to

wood, hay, stubble; by which are meant, not heretical doctrines, damnable heresies, such as are diametrically opposite to, and overturn the foundation; for one and the same man builds the former, as these, and is himself saved at last; neither of which is true, of such that deliver doctrines of devils: but empty, trifling, useless things are meant; such as fables, endless genealogies, human traditions, Jewish rites and ceremonies; which through the prejudice of education, and through ignorance and inadvertency, without any bad design, might by some be introduced into their ministry, who had been brought up in the Jewish religion; as also the wisdom of the world, the philosophy of the Gentiles, oppositions of science falsely so called, curious speculations, vain and idle notions, which such who had their education among the Greeks might still retain, and be fond of; and through an itch of vain glory, mix with their evangelic ministrations; and in a word, everything that may now be advanced in the Gospel ministry, not so honourable to the grace of God, or so becoming the person, blood, and righteousness of Christ, nor so consistent with the Spirit's work of grace, may be meant hereby; the same minister at different times, and sometimes at one and the same time in his ministry, lays the foundation, Christ, and builds on it for a while excellent valuable truths, raises a superstructure of gold, silver, and precious stones, and then covers the edifice with trifling, impertinent, and inconsistent things, with wood, hay, and stubble; and so at last, of this promising fine stately building, makes a thatched house,

(m) Koheleth Jaacob in Caphtor, fol. 109. 2.

{6} Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

(6) Thirdly he shows that they must take heed that the upper part of the building is answerable to the foundation. That is that admonitions, exhortations, and whatever pertains to the edifying of the flock, is answerable to the doctrine of Christ, in the matter as well as in form. This doctrine is compared to gold, silver, and precious stones: of which material Isaiah also and John in the Revelation build the heavenly city. And to these are the opposites, wood, hay, stubble, that is to say, curious and vain questions or decrees: and to be short, all the type of teaching which serves to vain show. For false doctrines, of which he does not speak here, are not correctly said to be built upon this foundation, unless perhaps in show only.

1 Corinthians 3:12. Δέ] continues the subject by contrasting the position of him who builds up with that of him who lays the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11). It is a mistake, therefore, to put 1 Corinthians 3:11 in parenthesis (Pott, Heydenreich, comp Billroth).

In connection with this carrying on of the figure, it is to be noted—(1) that Paul is not speaking of several buildings,[510] as though the θεμέλιος were that not of a house, but of a city (Billroth); against which 1 Corinthians 3:16 (see in loc[511]) is decisive, as is, further, the consideration that the idea of Christ’s being the foundation of a city of God is foreign to the N. T. (2) The figure must not be drawn out beyond what the words convey (as Grotius, e.g., does: “Proponit ergo nobis domum, cujus parietes sint ex marmore, columnae partim ex auro partim ex argento, trabes ex ligno, fastigium vero ex stramine et culmo”). It sets before us, on the contrary, a building rearing itself upon the foundation laid by the master-builder, for the erection of which the different workmen bring their several contributions of building materials, from the most precious and lasting down to the most mean and worthless. The various specimens of building materials, set side by side in vivid asyndeton (Krüger and Kühner, a[512] Xen. Anab. ii. 4. 28; Winer, p. 484 [E. T. 653]), denote the various matters of doctrine propounded by teachers and brought into connection with faith in Christ, in order to develope and complete the Christian training of the church.[513] These are either, like gold, silver, and costly stones (marble and the like), of high value and imperishable duration, or else, like timber, hay, stubble (καλάμη, not equivalent to κάλαμος, a reed; see Wetstein and Schleusner, Thes.), of little worth and perishable,[514] so that they—instead of, like the former, abiding at the Parousia in their eternal truth—come to nought, i.e. are shown not to belong to the ever-enduring ἀλήθεια, and form no part of the perfect knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:12) which shall then emerge. So, in substance (explaining it of the different doctrines), Clemens Alexandrinus, Ambrosiaster, Sedulius, Lyra, Thomas, Cajetanus, Erasmus, Luther, Beza, Calvin, Piscator, Justiniani, Grotius, Estius, Calovius, Lightfoot, Stolz, Rosenmüller, Flatt, Heydenreich, Neander, de Wette, Osiander, Ewald, Maier. Comp Theodoret: τινὲς περὶ δογμάτων ταῦτα εἰρῆσθαι τῷ ἀποστόλῳ φασίν. Two things, however, are to be observed in connection with this interpretation—(1) that the several materials are not meant to point to specific dogmas that could be named, although we cannot fail to perceive, generally speaking, the graduated diversity of the constituent elements of the two classes; (2) that the second class embraces in it no absolutely anti-Christian doctrines.[516] To deny the first of these positions would but give rise to arbitrary definitions without warrant in the text; to deny the second would run counter to the fact that the building was upon the foundation, and to the apostle’s affirmation, αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται, 1 Corinthians 3:15. Billroth makes the strange objection to this interpretation as a whole, that χρυσόν κ.τ.λ[517] cannot apply to the contents of the teaching, because Paul calls the latter the foundation. But that is in fact Christ, and not the further doctrinal teaching. In reply to the invalid objections urged by Hollmann (Animadverss. ad cap. iii. et xiii. Ep. Pauli prim. ad Cor., Lips. 1819) see Heydenreich and Rückert. Our exposition is, in fact, a necessity, because it alone keeps the whole figure in harmony with itself throughout. For if the foundation, which is laid, be the contents of the first preaching of the gospel, namely, Christ, then the material wherewith the building is carried on must be the contents of the further instruction given. It is out of keeping, therefore, to explain it, with Origen, Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Theophylact, Photius, and more recently, Billroth, “of the fruits called forth in the church by the exercise among them of the office of teaching” (Billroth), of the morality or immorality of the hearers (Theodoret: gold, etc., denotes τὰ εἴδη τῆς ἀρετῆς; wood, etc., ΤᾺ ἘΝΑΝΤΊΑ Τῆς ἈΡΕΤῆς, ΟἿς ΗὐΤΡΈΠΙΣΤΑΙ Τῆς ΓΕΈΝΝΗς ΤῸ ΠῦΡ); or, again, of the worthy or unworthy members of the church themselves, who would be moulded by the teachers (Schott in Röhr’s Magaz. für christl. Pred. VIII. 1, p. 8 f., with Pelagius, Bengel, Hollmann, Pott). So, too, Hofmann in loc[518], and previously in his Schriftbeweis, II. 2, p. 124. Both of these interpretations have, besides, this further consideration against them, that they do not harmonize in meaning with the figure of the watering formerly employed, whereas our exposition does. Moreover, if the ἔργον, which shall be burned up (1 Corinthians 3:15), be the relative portion of the church, it would not accord therewith that the teacher concerned, who has been the cause of this destruction, is, notwithstanding, to obtain salvation; this would be at variance with the N. T. severity against all causing of offence, and with the responsibility of the teachers. Rückert gives up the attempt at a definite interpretation, contenting himself with the general truth: Upon the manner and way, in which the office of teaching is discharged, does it depend whether the teacher shall have reward or loss; he who builds on in right fashion upon a good foundation (? rather: upon the foundation) has reward therefrom; he who would add what is unsuitable and unenduring, only harm and loss. But by this there is simply nothing explained; Paul assuredly did not mean anything so vague as this by his sharply outlined figure; he must have had before his mind, wherein consisted the right carrying on of the building, and what were additions unsuitable and doomed to perish. Olshausen (comp also Schrader) understands the passage not of the efficiency of the teachers, but of the (right or misdirected) individual activity of sanctification on the part of each believer in general. Wrongly so; because, just as in 1 Corinthians 3:6 ff. the planter and waterer, so here the founder and upbuilder must be teachers, and because the building is the church (1 Corinthians 3:9), which is being built (1 Corinthians 3:9-10). And this conception of the church as a building with a personal foundation (Christ), and consisting of persons (comp 2 Timothy 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4 f.), remains quite unimpaired with our exegesis also (against Hofmann’s objection). For the further building upon the personal foundation laid, partly with gold, etc., partly with wood, etc., is just the labour of teaching, through which the development and enlargement of the church, which is made up of persons, receive a character varying in value. The ἘΠΟΙΚΟΔΟΜΕῖΝ takes place on the persons through doctrines, which are the building materials.

[510] So also Wetstein: “Duo sunt aedificia, domus regia et casa rustici quae distinguuntur.”

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

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

[513] Luther’s gloss is appropriate: “This is said of preaching and teaching, by which faith is either strengthened or weakened.”

[514] Compare Midr. Tillin, 119. 51, of false teachers: “Sicut foenum non durat, ita nec verba eorum stabunt in saeculum.”

[516] Estius characterizes the second class well as “doctrina minus sincera minusque solida, veluti si sit humanis ac philosophicis aut etiam Judaicis opinionibus admixta plus satis, si curiosa magis quam utilis,” etc. Comp. the Paraphr. of Erasmus, who refers specially to the “humanas constitutiunculas de cultu, de victu, de frigidis ceremoniis.” They are, generally, all doctrinal developments, speculations, etc., which, although built into the fabric of doctrine in time, will not approve themselves at the final consummation on the day of the Lord, nor be taken in as elements in the perfect knowledge, but will then—instead of standing out under the test of that great catastrophe which shall end the history of all things, like the doctrines compared to gold, etc.—be shown to be no part of divine and saving truth, and so will fall away. Such materials, in greater or less degree, every Church will find in the system of doctrine built up for it by human hands. To learn more and more to recognise these, and to separate them from the rest in accordance with Scripture, is the task of that onward development, against which no church ought to close itself up till the day of the final crisis,—least of all the evangelical Lutheran church with its central principle regarding Scripture, a principle which determines and regulates its stedfastly Protestant character.

[517] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

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

1 Corinthians 3:12. After the interjected caution to let the foundation alone, P. turns to the superstructure, to which the work of his coadjutors belongs; δὲ indicates this transition.—εἰ δέ τις ἐποικοδομεῖ, εἰ with ind[543] (as in 1 Corinthians 3:14 f. etc.),—a supposition in matter of fact, while ἐὰν with sbj[544] (as in 1 Corinthians 4:15) denotes a likely contingency. The doubled prp[545] ἐπί (with acc[546])—an idiom characterising later Gr[547], which loves emphasis—implies growth by way of accession: “if any one is building-on,—onto the foundation”; contrast ἐπὶ with dat[548] in Ephesians 2:20. The material superimposed by the present Cor[549] builders is of two opposite kinds, rich and durable or paltry and perishing: “gold, silver, costly stones—wood, hay, straw,”—thrown together “in lively ἀσύνδετον” (Mr[550]). The latter might serve for poor frail huts, but not for the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:17).—λίθοι τίμιοι, the marbles, etc., used in rearing noble houses; but possibly Isaiah 54:11 f. (cf. Revelation 21:18-21) is in the writer’s mind. The figure has been interpreted as relating (a) to the diff[551] sorts of persons brought into the Church (Pelagius, Bg[552], Hf[553]), since the Cor[554] believers constitute the Θεοῦ οἰκοδομή (1 Corinthians 3:9), the ναὸς Θεοῦ (1 Corinthians 3:16)—“my work are you in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 9:1; cf. Ephesians 2:20 ff., 2 Timothy 2:19 ff., 1 Peter 2:4 f.; also the striking parl[555] in Malachi 3:1 ff; Malachi 4:1); (b) to the moral fruits resulting from the labours of various teachers, the character of Church members, this being the specific object of the final judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 2:5-11; cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13) and that which measures the work of their ministers (1 Thessalonians 2:19 ff., etc.)—so Or[556], Cm[557], Aug[558], lately Osiander and Gd[559]; (c) to the doctrines of the diff[560] teachers, since for this they are primarily answerable and here lay the point of present divergence (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:10 f., Romans 14:15; 2 Corinthians 11:1 ff., 2 Corinthians 11:13 ff., Galatians 1:7, etc.)—so Clem. Al[561], and most moderns. The three views are not really discrepant: teaching shapes character, works express faith; unsound preaching attracts the bad hearer and makes him worse, sound preaching wins and improves the good (see 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:3; John 3:18 ff; John 10:26 f.). “The materials of this house may denote doctrines moulding persons,” or “even persons moulded by doctrines” (Ev[562]),—“the doctrine exhibited in a concrete form” (Lt[563]).

[543] indicative mood.

[544] subjunctive mood.

[545] preposition.

[546] accusative case.

[547] Greek, or Grotius’ Annotationes in N.T.

dative case.

[549] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

[550] Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary (Eng. Trans.).

[551] difference, different, differently.

[552] Bengel’s Gnomon Novi Testamenti.

J. C. K. von Hofmann’s Die heilige Schrift N.T. untersucht, ii. 2 (2te Auflage, 1874).

[554] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

[555] parallel.

[556] Origen.

[557] John Chrysostom’s Homiliœ († 407).

[558] Augustine.

[559] F. Godet’s Commentaire sur la prem. Ép. aux Corinthiens (Eng. Trans.).

[560] difference, different, differently.

[561] Alford’s Greek Testament.

[562] T. S. Evans in Speaker’s Commentary.

[563] J. B. Lightfoot’s (posthumous) Notes on Epp. of St. Paul (1895).

12. Now if any man build upon this foundation] It must be remembered that it is not the conduct of Christians, however applicable the principles here enunciated may be to it, but the doctrine of teachers which is spoken of here. The materials mentioned are of two classes, those that will endure fire, and those that will not. We may dismiss from our consideration such preaching as is dictated by vain-glory or self-interest, for the simple reason that it is not building upon Christ at all. The two kinds of preaching thus become, on the one hand that which leads to permanent results, the glory of God and the real well-being of man; and on the other, that which, though the offspring of a genuine zeal, is not according to knowledge.

1 Corinthians 3:12. Εἰ) whether [But Engl. Ver. if]. Comp. of what sort, 1 Corinthians 3:13. There is an indirect question, which does not require the mark of interrogation. In 1 Corinthians 3:13, there is the apodosis, whether εἰ be taken as an interrogative, or means if.—χρυσόν, gold) He enumerates three kinds of things, which bear fire; as many, which are consumed by it; the former denote men that are true believers; the latter, hypocrites: Moreover, the abstract is included in the concrete, so that on the one hand true and solid doctrines, or, on the other hand, false and worthless doctrines are denoted together; in both cases, doctrines either of greater or less importance. Even a grain of gold is gold: even the lightest straw feeds the fire.—λίθους τιμίους, precious stones) This does not apply to small gems, but to noble stones, as marble, etc.—ξύλα, wood) In the world, many buildings are fitly constructed of wood; but not so in the building of God, comp. Revelation 21:18-19.—καλάμην) stubble.

Verse 12. - Gold, silver. Perhaps St. Paul thought for a moment of the gorgeous metals . rod rich marbles used in the Corinthian temples, as well as in the temple at Jerusalem. But it is surely fantastic to suggest that his reference is an historical reminiscence of the melting of gold and silver in the burning of Corinth by Mummius, nearly two hundred years before. Costly stones; i.e. costly marble from Paros, Phrygia, etc. Wood, hay, stubble. These words seem to symbolize erroneous or imperfect doctrines, which would not stand the test, and which led to evil practices. Such were the" philosophy and vain deceit," "the weak and beggarly dements," "the rudiments of the world," of which he speaks in Galatians 4:9; Colossians 2:8. So in the Midrash Tehillin, the words of false teachers are compared to hay. The doctrines to which he alludes are not and christian, but imperfect and human - such, for instance, as, "Humanas constitutiunculas de cultu, de victo, de frigidis ceremoniis" (Erasmus). 1 Corinthians 3:12If any man build, etc.

It is important to have a clear conception of Paul's figure, which must be taken in a large and free sense, and not pressed into detail. He speaks of the body of truth and doctrine which different teachers may erect on the one true foundation - Jesus Christ. This body is the building. The reference is to a single building, as is shown by 1 Corinthians 3:16; not to a city with different buildings of different materials. The figure of Christ as the foundation of a city does not occur in the New Testament. To this structure different teachers (builders) bring contributions of more or less value, represented by gold, wood, hay, etc. These are not intended to represent specific forms of truth or of error, but none of them are to be regarded as anti-Christian, which would be inconsistent with building on the true foundation. It is plainly implied that teachers may build upon the true foundation with perishable or worthless materials. This appears in the history of the Church in the false interpretations of scripture, and the crude or fanatical preaching of sincere but ignorant men. The whole structure will be brought to a final and decisive test at the day of judgment, when the true value of each teacher's work shall be manifested, and that which is worthless shall be destroyed. The distinction is clearly made between the teacher and the matter of his teaching. The sincere but mistaken teacher's work will be shown to be worthless in itself, but the teacher himself will be saved and will receive the reward of personal character, and not of good building. Luther alluded to this verse in his unfortunate description of the Epistle of James as "an epistle of straw."

Stubble (καλάμην)

Not the same as κάλαμος a reed. See Revelation 11:1; Revelation 21:15; and on 3 John 1:13. This word means a stalk of grain after the ears have been cut off. It was used for thatch in building. Virgil, "Aeneid," 654, alludes to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus with its roof bristling with stubble.

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