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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


The Apostle was well aware that both teachers and people at Corinth were to blame for the schism which he has been endeavouring to heal. Hence, in this chapter, in which he closes the subject, he addresses, in turn, people and teachers. He first points out to the people in what light they are to view their teachers, and what degree of respect they should show them (verse 1), and then, he points out the principal duty of the teachers (2). In the next place, he instructs the teachers, by his own example, to despise the judgments of men, and not to seek praise from them (4, 5), and he instructs the people not to judge their teachers but to leave all judgment to the Lord. He gives a reason, why it is, in treating of the Corinthian schism, he speaks of himself and Apollo only, as if they alone gave occasion to this evil, and the reason is made to apply to both teachers and people (6). Addressing himself to the teachers, he tells them that they had no grounds for glorying in their superior accomplishments, inasmuch as everything they possessed was purely the gift of God (7), and addressing them in a strain partly ironical, he shows how exaggerated were the notions which they formed of their own excellence (8). He points out the wretched condition of the true Apostles of Christ (9), and contrasting their condition with the worldly prosperity enjoyed by the Corinthians (10), he gives a glowing picture of the extreme wretchedness, want, and persecution which he himself and his fellow-Apostles were doomed to endure (11–13). He says that in referring to this matter, he only has in view the correction and amendment of his dearest children (14), in whose regard he alone holds the endearing relation of spiritual father; and hence, he calls upon them to follow faithfully the example which he has set them (15, 16); it is in order to do so, that he has sent Timothy to them (17). He threatens some persons among them, that he shall soon come, and inquire into their conduct, and see how far they contribute by their zeal and good works to establish the kingdom of God in the hearts of men (18–20), Upon their reformation shall depend the manner in which the Apostle is to treat the Church of Corinth.


1. Let each person regard us (teachers) in the proper light, viz., as ministers or servants of Christ, and stewards appointed to dispense his mysteries.

2. Now, the first quality, the distinguishing excellence of every steward is, fidelity to the interest of his master.

3. As for myself, I am not in the least concerned about the judgment which either you or any other human tribunal may pass on me; for, what concern should the judgment of others give me, when even I myself am unable to judge of my real state?

4. For although conscious to myself of no fault in the discharge of my duties, still, I am not, on that account, to regard myself as justified; the Lord alone can judge of that.

5. Cease, therefore, from all judgment on this point, until in his own good time, at his final coming, the judge of all shall bring publicly to light, not only the most private actions, but the very intentions and motives conceived in the recesses of the human heart; and, then, shall it appear what degree of praise each one deserves at the hands of God.

6. These things (which I have written regarding the authority of teachers and the relation in which they stand) I have proposed in my own person and that of Apollo (from the feeling of delicacy, and through fear of giving offence, I forbear mentioning others); and this, for your instruction, that you may learn from our example, not to indulge, while contending about the relative merits of your several teachers, in empty and foolish boasting, so much at variance with the instructions which you have received.

7. For, who is it that distinguishes thee from others? What distinguishing quality dost thou possess which is not received from another, viz., from God? And if received, why glory in it, as if it came from thyself.

8. You are already, as you imagine, filled and perfectly replenished with all spiritual knowledge; you are enriched with all spiritual graces: you consider yourselves fully competent to rule, and you actually rule the people without any dependence on us. I wish, however, you had governed and ruled them in God, and for their spiritual profit and advantage, in order that we might come in for a share of the blessings of the peace and security of your rule, to which, as your father in Christ, we have an indisputable claim.

9. Nor is it without cause that I entertain such a wish, considering how different our lot is from yours, for, I am firmly persuaded that God himself has exhibited us (Apostles) as the most despicable of men, like the victims of public exhibition condemned to the wild beasts; for, we are made a public show to the world, that is to say, to men and angels.

10. We are regarded as fools on account of our plain preaching of Christ, and him crucified; you, on the other hand, have earned for yourselves the character of wisdom, while embellishing the cross of Christ, with human art and eloquence. We are weak, unable to resist injury; you are strong, able to ward it off, by worldly influence and the force of your oratory. We are obscure and unknown, whereas you are distinguished and treated with honour.

11. Up to this very hour, we are continually exposed to, and actually endure, hunger, thirst, and nakedness; we suffer personal outrage and violence, and are wanderers on earth, tossed about without any fixed place of abode.

12. We are forced to procure sustenance by manual labour; misfortunes of every kind are invoked upon our heads, and we make a return of benedictions; we are persecuted, and we patiently submit.

13. Doctrines of a blasphemous character are attributed to us, and we defend ourselves in the most suppliant manner—in language of the mildest expostulation. We are become as the very dross of the human race, like the offscourings of impure objects, only fit for the common sewer, up to the present moment.

14. It is not for the purpose of causing you shame, or of creating in you feelings of self-reproach, that I thus contrast your treatment of me with that which you have shown your other teachers, but it is for the purpose of admonishing my dearest children, and of effecting their amendment.

15. I say, my children; for, although you had teachers, be they ever so numerous, to instruct you in the Christian religion, they still hold in your regard no other relation than that of pedagogues or tutors. I alone can lay claim to the endearing epithet of father, having begotten you in Christ Jesus, through the gospel, which I was the first to preach to you.

16. (Since, therefore, I am your spiritual father), I entreat of you to become imitators of me, and follow my example, as I faithfully follow the example set me by Christ.

17. It is in order to enable you the more easily to become imitators of me, that I send you Timothy, who is my dearest son, and my most faithful co-operator in the ministry of the Lord; he will remind you both of my manner of living, according to the precepts of the Christian religion, and of the doctrines which I propound everywhere, the same in all the churches.

18. Some persons, supposing that I would never come among you, to call them to an account for their misconduct, have grown insolent and rebellious against authority; or, rather, have themselves usurped in church affairs all authority.

19. In this, they are mistaken; for, I will come to you shortly, should it so please the Lord, and take cognizance, not of their charming eloquence, but of the efficacy of their preaching in forming the people to virtue.

20. For, it is not in fine words that the establishment of God’s kingdom in men’s hearts consists, but in the efficacy of good works.

21. Which of the two do you prefer, viz., that I should come amongst you to exercise ecclesiastical authority, of which the rod is the emblem, or, to exhibit the spirit of love and meekness.


1. This verse is to be connected with chapter 3 verse 21. The Corinthians should not “glory in men,” or pay them undue honour. “They should view them in the light of ministers (in Greek, ὑπηρέτας, servants) of Christ.” As servants, they are not to be unduly valued, and as servants of Christ, they are not be disrespected. “Dispensers.” The corresponding Greek word, οἰκονομους, means stewards, as in Luke, 16:1–8. “Mysteries” embrace all the doctrines of Christ, and under them the great channels of divine grace, viz., the sacraments; in a word, every spiritual gift dispensed in the Church through the hands of her ministers. The minister of religion should be respected as the visible representative of Christ, and any insult offered to Christ’s anointed, is offered to his divine master, Christ himself.

2. In the preceding verse is pointed out the duty of well ordered respect, which the people owe their pastors; in this, the duty the pastors owe Christ, viz., fidelity, to seek his interests, and hence, to promote his glory, and not their own.

3. “Or by man’s day.” “Day” is put for the trial or judgment; probably, because a day was appointed for those who were cited to be tried in judgment. Hence, by a Hebrew idiom, the “day” is put for the judgment which is to take place on it. Besides, the phrase, “man’s day,” contains an allusion to the “Lord’s day,” which is put frequently in Scripture for the judgment of the Lord, with which human judgment is here contrasted. Similar is the expression of Jeremiah, chapter 17: “and I have not desired the day of man.” From this we are not to infer that the Apostle was reckless about his good name, regarding which the Holy Ghost tells all to be solicitous: “Take care of a good name; for this shall continue with thee more than a thousand treasures, precious and great.”—(Eccles. 41:15). It is only in matters that fell not under human cognizance, viz., how each one stands before his God, that he disregards the opinions of men.

4. From this verse, it clearly follows that no one can be absolutely certain in this life whether he be in the state of grace or not. For St. Paul says, it is only the Lord can judge of this, and that his judgment shall be unknown to others until the end of the world (verse 5). Hence, whether there be question of justification from faith or from good works, the general assertion of the Apostle holds true, from whatever source justification comes; the Apostle says, it is only the Lord that can “judge,” or (as the Greek word, ανακρινων, means) discern our justification.

5. They should not, therefore, anticipate the time when this judgment is to be made known; viz., the day of judgment, when “the Lord shall come.” “And then shall every man have praise from God,” i.e., then it shall be seen what degree of praise is due to each one deserving of praise, not only before men, whose opinions are oftentimes erroneous, but before God, the just judge of all. The Corinthians should, therefore, wait for this manifestation of the just judgment of God at the proper time, regarding a point which he alone can judge.

6. “But these things,” viz., which he has written regarding their different teachers, and the relation wherein they stand with God in the salvation of souls. “I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollo,” i.e., I have proposed in my own person, and in that of Apollo, as if we were the only persons to whom they apply. This is what he means by “transferring in figure” (μετεσχηματισα), which literally means, to change form or habit; and figuratively, as here, to transfer by accommodation to one’s self what may apply to another. The Apostle put forward in his own name what was intended to apply to others, whom, from motives of delicacy and charity, he forbears mentioning. The words may also contain an allusion to the different metaphors of architecture, agriculture, &c., by which he illustrated the relations in which the different teachers stood (chap. 3). These words are addressed to the people, but chiefly intended for their teachers, as appears from the following (verse 7). It does not, however, appear that he alludes to the false teachers, whom, in his second Epistle, he denounces as “ministers of Satan.” We have no grounds for thinking that these had appeared at Corinth at this time. Moreover, far from employing conciliatory language towards them, the Apostle would, at once, denounce, as wolves in sheep’s clothing, the disseminators of false doctrine among the children whom he himself had begotten in Christ. He, then, addresses the class of teachers of whom he has been treating from the very commencement of the Epistle, viz., the teachers who propounded sound doctrine, not without an admixture of wood, hay, stubble, &c. “That in us you may learn, that one be not puffed up against the other for another,” &c. In the Greek, the reading runs thus: ἵνα ἐν ἡμιν μαθητε το μη ὑπερ ἅ γεγραπται φρονειν, ἵνα μη εἷς ῦπερ τοῦ ἑνος φυσιουοθε κατα τον ἑτερου: that you may learn in us, not to think beyond what things are written, that ye be not puffed up, one against another, &c. According to this reading, the former member of the sentence, viz., that you may learn not to think beyond what things are written, or, to think more of yourselves than you should, according to what has been written, is addressed to the teachers; and the latter, viz., that ye be not puffed up, &c., is addressed to the people. The words “for another,” are interpreted by some thus: for another gift, such as the gift of prophecy, or the like, with which one teacher may have been favoured preferably to another. According to this interpretation, the meaning would be: Let no teacher, be puffed up on account of a gift which another has not been favoured with. The reason is assigned in the following verse.

7. In this verse, the Apostle addresses the teachers, who either themselves gloried in the superior gifts with which they had been favoured; or, were the occasion of this contentious glorying, and of these unmeaning divisions on the part of the people.

How calculated is not the serious consideration of this passage, to inspire even the most gifted with sentiments of profound humility. All that we possess in the order, whether of nature or of grace, are the pure gratuitous gifts of God. Why, then, glory in the gifts we possess, as if they could ever come from ourselves? It is, however, to be borne in mind, that the boasting here condemned by the Apostle is the boasting on the part of creatures in themselves as the source of all their gifts. To acknowledge God as the great source of all good gifts, and refer all the glory of them to him, is both good and laudable.

This was a favourite passage with St. Augustine against the Pelagians, who maintained that man, of his own natural powers, unaided by divine grace, could attain salvation; as also against the semi-Pelagians, who asserted, that of himself man could have the beginning of faith. Against both, this passage is quite conclusive; for, if of himself man could either attain salvation, or have the beginning of faith, and thus be separated from the mass of the reprobate and unbelieving, his being distinguished would then come from himself, which is contrary to the express words of the Apostle.

8. These words are probably addressed to the teachers; not, however, to the false teachers referred to in his second Epistle, and denounced by him “as false Apostles, deceitful workmen, ministers of Satan.”—(2 Cor. chap. 11). For, he would never have wished that this class of men should in any way reign over the people. He is addressing the teachers of sound doctrine, (see verse 6). Hence, the words, although conveying a certain measure of irony, are not altogether ironical; for, although both teachers and people were favoured with spiritual gifts, they still did not receive them to the extent which they themselves imagined. “You reign without us,” i.e., you assume the spiritual government of the people, as perfectly competent to govern them without any advice or instruction from us; and, of course, you enjoy the blessings of peace and security from danger, resulting from this ascendancy which you have gained over them. “And I would to God, you did reign, that we also might reign with you.” In the preceding part of the verse, the Apostle expresses what the teachers in question thought of themselves. They imagined that they were fully competent to assume the spiritual government of the people, and they actually did assume it, without any dependence on him. He now expresses a wish that they would really govern them in Christ, and for their spiritual advantage, in order that he himself might be a sharer in the merit of their true reign, and in the blessings of peace and security resulting therefrom, to which he had an evident claim, as their spiritual father, who had begotten them in Christ. It would appear from the contrast which the Apostle institutes between his own condition and that of the Corinthian teachers, and the evident connexion of this verse with the following, that he refers in the words, “that we might reign with you,” to exemption from the temporal hardships and miseries, to which both he and his colleagues in the apostleship had been subjected.

9. “For I think that God hath set forth us Apostles,” &c. As if he said, it is not without cause that I wish for the blessings of peace and security, resulting from your pious and holy government of the people (he never would wish for the peace resulting from sin and misconduct), considering the wretched condition to which we are reduced. “The last,” i.e., the most contemptible of men. “As if it were men appointed to death,” επιθανατιους. He probably alludes to the bestiarii, i.e., criminals condemned to fight with beasts, or, gladiators, who, after escaping one struggle, were obliged to enter on another, till they were overcome at last. For, “we are made a spectacle,” i.e., we are become like the victims of public exhibition on the Roman theatres, whether condemned to the beasts, or to gladiatorial combats; “to the world, and to men, and to angels;” “to the world and (that is to say) to men, and to angels.” The particle, “and,” has the force of the words, that is; it expresses who it is that are meant by “the world;” they are “men and angels.” By “angels,” some understand good angels, who admire the heroism of the Apostles; others, the bad angels, to whom, as well as to wicked men, the Apostles were subjects of cruel pastime and public derision.

10. He contrasts his own condition, and that of his fellow-Apostles, with the condition of the Corinthian teachers. He describes the condition of both according to the notions which the world entertains on the subject. “We are fools for Christ’s sake,” i.e., on account of preaching Christ crucified in plain, unadorned language; it may also extend to the hardships they were undergoing for the gospel of Christ. “But you are wise in Christ,” i.e., your style of preaching Christ has earned for you the character of wisdom, wherein you foolishly glory. “We are weak,” &c.—(See Paraphrase).

11. In this verse St. Paul minutely details the several privations of the Apostles. From the very beginning of their preaching the gospel to the moment when he wrote, they suffered hunger, thirst, and contumelious treatment of all kinds, even to bufferings; and they are wanderers on earth, without any fixed place of abode, like the great model of all apostolic men, “who had not whereon to lay his head.”—(Matt. 8:20).

12. “And we labour,” &c. This St. Luke testifies (Acts, 18), and St. Paul himself (Acts, 20, and 1 Thess. 2). He worked at the trade of a tent-maker, in order to procure the necessary means of support.

13. “We are blasphemed,” i.e., blasphemous doctrines are attributed to us, of which we have an example (Rom. 3:8). The words may also mean, that their actions and words were blasphemously misconstrued. “And we entreat,” i.e., mildly expostulate. “We are made as the refuse of this world.” The Greek word for “refuse,” περικαθαρματα, means, the dross and filth which adhere to unclean objects; “the offscourings of all.” The word “offscourings” has the same signification with “refuse;” they both mean the filth which is removed in the cleansing and scouring of unclean vessels or places. Hence, they are metaphorically employed by the Apostle to designate the vilest and most contemptible of men—the scum, the very outcasts of human society.

14. This wretched treatment and condition of the Apostle was a source of confusion and shame not only to the teachers, whose condition was far different from that of the Aposles; but also to the people, who permitted their true fathers in Christ to pine away in want, while they treated their subordinate teachers quite differently. Hence, the Apostle, in this passage, addresses the people, and says, that he makes mention of these things solely for the purpose of admonishing them of their duty.

15. He shows why it is that he terms them his “dearest children,” because he alone had spiritually begotten them in the gospel, and communicated to them the life of faith, the others, be they ever so numerous—(the words “ten thousand” are put to designate a great number)—hold in their regard the relation of “instructors” or pedagogues only, and hence, his affection exceeds the affection of the others for them, as the regard of a father exceeds that of “instructors” or pedagogues. These feelings of affection should be also reciprocated on their part. By the pedagogue was meant, as the etymology of the word conveys, the slave who attended his young master going to and coming from school, and also imparted elementary instruction.—See Adams’ “Roman Antiquities.”

16. It is natural for children to follow the example set them by their parents. “As I also am of Christ.” These words are wanting in the Greek, and in many Latin copies; they were probably inserted here in the Vulgate from chapter 11:1, of this Epistle.

17. Timothy was the constant companion of the Apostle. “As I teach everywhere in every church.” Timothy will exhibit to you my mode of living in the Christian faith and my Christian instructions, which are perfectly in accordance with what I teach in every church. Hence, the unity and Catholicity of doctrine in the true Church.

18. He forbears mentioning the names of those to whom he alludes, from a fear of exciting feelings of irritation against them. He alludes to some of their teachers.

19. “The power.” By these words some Expositors understand the power of working miracles. Others understand them of the life and moral conduct of these different teachers. The interpretation adopted in the Paraphrase is, however, the more probable, as allusion is made to their duty as preceptors, or pedagogues, in forming the morals of the people.

20. Their eloquence contributes but little towards the extension of God’s kingdom in men’s hearts; “for the kingdom of God,” by which he reigns in the souls of men, “is not in speech,” i.e., is not promoted by fine words, “but in power;” but by good works, which may refer either to the works of the people themselves, by the performance of which they would promote God’s kingdom in their own hearts, or to the works of the teachers, whose example has greater effect in forming the morals of the people than word scould have. “Power” may also mean, zeal; for, the kingdom of God is better promoted by zeal than by high sounding language.

21. In this verse, the Apostle may refer to the undue control permitted to their teachers, and the false system of preaching, from which he wishes them to desist; or, he may be referring to the case of the incestuous man, of whom he treats next chapter (5), upon whose reformation shall depend the treatment which the Apostle will exercise towards the entire Church of Corinth. The pastors of the Church have, then, ordinarily residing in them, the power of exercising ecclesiastical authority, of which the “rod” is the emblem, and of inflicting ecclesiastical censures, when necessary, after the example of the Apostle.

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