Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
In this section, Paul changes the metaphor that he is using to explain why he and Apollos are not in competition with each other – but rather are workmen together under Christ. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(10) According to the grace of God.—The Apostle being about to speak of himself as “a wise masterbuilder,” takes care by commencing his statement with these words to show that he is not indulging in self-laudation, but merely pointing out what God had given him the grace to do. (See Romans 1:5; Romans 12:3.)
Wise—i.e., skilful or judicious.
Another buildeth thereon.—The sequence of the work here is the same as in the planting and watering of the previous illustration. The use of the indefinite word “another” avoids what might be considered the invidiously frequent repetition of the name of Apollos, and also indicates that there were others also who came after Paul, as is evident from 1 Corinthians 4:15. (See Romans 15:20.)
But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.—Better, But let each one see in what manner he buildeth thereon. The argument in this and the following verse is that there can be only one foundation in the spiritual building—namely, the personal Jesus Christ. That foundation the Apostle has laid. None can alter it or add to it as a foundation; but there may be an immense variety in the materials with which those who come after the laying of the foundation may build up the superstructure. Therefore their own work and “how” they build (i.e., with what materials), and not the one foundation once for all and unalterably laid, should be the subject of their thought and care.
Just like the metaphor Paul used with planting, here he describes that he did some work, and that it was followed by the work of others, all of which combine to do a larger work. The initial work done by Paul, preaching the gospel, is described as laying of a foundation. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
Other foundation can no man lay. Any “other” gospel is not merely “another,” but “a different” gospel (Galatians 1:9). That which is laid; rather, that is lying. It has not been placed there (τεθέντα) by any human bands, but lies there by the eternal will. Which is Jesus Christ. “The doctrine of Jesus Christ is the foundation of all theology; his person of all life.” This is again and again inculcated in Scripture: Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation.” On this rock the Church is built (Matthew 16:18 : Acts 4:11, Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:20).
The note here makes a point, which is worth keeping in mind when doing any type of New Testament studies. The text in the New Testament (as the note above points out about the text here) is usually referential to text from the Old Testament. There’s almost always a ping back to the Old Testament at least once every few verses when reading the New Testament. This reality is often forgotten in the modern Christian church, but it is important that it not be forgotten. The New Testament writers believed that Jesus was constantly described throughout the Old Testament Scripture. Since most of the Apostles were students of Jesus, then we can infer that He taught them some of these things personally. We can also infer from the text that the Holy Spirit is a guide for New Testament writers. It is impossible to have a good understanding of the ministry of Christ without having a good understanding of the Old Testament also, and in particular, the Second Temple context surrounding the ministry of Jesus and his Apostles.
You should be very wary of any Christian Bible teacher who talks about unhitching Christianity from the Old Testament, or of any teacher who professes to be primarily “a New Testament Christian.” The New Testament was not written to be unhitched from the Old Testament. Attempts to unlink the two testaments from each other are likely attempts to introduce false teaching.
Returning to Ellicott for verse 12:
(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.
(13) Revealed by fire.—Better, revealed in fire. For the general scope of this passage, see 1 Corinthians 3:12 above. The day of the coming of the Lord is always thus represented as bursting suddenly with a rush of light and blaze of fire upon the earth. (See Malachi 3:1-3; Malachi 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:8.)
The construction Paul refers to above seems to refer to the types of teaching and their permanence. Some teaching will be built of permanent material, capable of enduring the fire, and other teaching will not. The fire here refers to The Day of the Lord, a concept which goes back centuries prior to Christ’s birth. From Wiki:
It is used first by Isaiah and subsequently incorporated into prophetic and apocalyptic texts of the Bible. It relies on military images to describe the Lord as a “divine warrior” who will conquer his enemies. In certain prophetic texts of the Hebrew Bible, the enemies of the Lord are Israel’s enemies, and in these visions the day of the Lord brings victory for the people of ancient Israel. Other prophets use the imagery as a warning to Israel or its leaders and for them, the day of the Lord will mean destruction for the biblical nations of Israel and/or Judah. This concept develops throughout Jewish and Christian Scripture into a day of divine, apocalyptic judgment at the end of the world.
In the biblical canon, the earliest, direct use of the phrase is in Isaiah 2: “For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low” (Isaiah 2:12). Another early use of the phrase is in Amos 5:18-20. Wright suggests that the phrase was already a standard one, and Amos’ hearers would take it to mean “the day when Yahweh would intervene to put Israel at the head of the nations, irrespective of Israel’s faithfulness to Him.” Yet Amos declares “Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light” (Amos 5:18 NIV). Because Israel had sinned, God would come in judgement on them. Thus, the day of the Lord is about God chastening his people, whether it be through the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem or a locust plague described in Joel 2:1–11. Yet Joel 2:32 holds a promise that on the Day of the Lord, “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”
In Zephaniah 1:8, the Day of the LORD is equated with “the day of the LORD’s sacrifice”. This has led Christian interpreters to equate it with Jesus’ death.
The Hebrew יֹום and Greek ἡμέρα both means a 24 hours day or an age or epoch. So there are many events prophesied for the Day Of The Lord; which need to take in account that the Jewish day begins with the sunset so it expects a dark phase (Amos 5:18) at the beginning of this Age and then the sunrise with The Morning Star followed by the plenty light (Malachi 4:2)of the eternal day.
This promise is also picked up in the New Testament, when Joel 2:28-32 is quoted in Acts 2:17-21. The phrase is also used in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 which speaks about the day of the Lord coming suddenly.
The phrase alludes to a judgment for eternal rewards in 2 Corinthians 1:14 where it says “we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus”.
The Book of Revelation describes the day of the Lord as an apocalyptic time of God’s almighty wrath, which comes upon those who are deemed wicked. The text pictures every man hiding in the rocks of the mountains during a major earthquake to attempt to hide from God’s wrath, while celestial phenomena turn the moon blood red and the sun dark.[Revelation 6:12-17] These celestial phenomena are also mentioned in Joel 2:31, which foretells the same precise order of events mentioned in Revelation: The moon turns blood red and the sun turns dark before the great day of the Lord.[Joel 2:31] Matthew 24:29-31 mentions the same event, yet it places the celestial phenomenon as occurring after the “tribulation of those days”.[Matthew 24:29-31] According to these passages, it then seems that the day of the Lord is an event closely tied with the coming of the Messiah to judge the world.
2 Peter 3:8-10 reads “8But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day [is] as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slack concerning [His] promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.”
The general idea then is that false teaching, or improper “work” among Christians more generally, will not survive fire associated with The Day of the Lord, but good teaching will endure the fire. Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries:
If any man’s work shall abide. St. Paul is speaking primarily of teachers, though, of course, his words apply by analogy to all believers. He shall receive a reward. One of the teacher’s rewards will be his converts (1 Thessalonians 2:19), who will be “his joy and crown of glorying” (Philippians 2:16); another will be “a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:2, 1 Peter 5:4; Daniel 12:3); yet another will be fresh opportunities for higher labour (Matthew 25:23).
He shall suffer loss. He shall not receive the full reward to which he might otherwise look (2 John 1:8). He himself shall be saved. It is an inexpressible source of comfort to us, amid the weakness and ignorance of our lives, to know that if we have only erred through human frailty and feebleness, while yet we desired to be sincere and faithful, the work will be burnt, yet the workman will be saved. Some of the Fathers gave to this beautiful verse the shockingly perverted meaning that “the workman would be preserved alive for endless torments,” “salted with fire” in order to endure interminable agonies. The meaning is impossible, for it reverses the sense of the word “saved;” and makes it equivalent to “damned;” but the interpretation is an awful proof of the distortions to which a merciless human rigorism and a hard, self styled orthodoxy have sometimes subjected the Word of God. Yet so as by fire; rather, through or by means of fire (διὰ πυρός). We may be, as it were, “snatched as a brand from the burning” (Zechariah 3:2; Amos 4:11; Jude 1:23), and “scarcely” saved (1 Peter 4:18). Similarly it is said in 1 Peter 3:20 that Noah was saved “through water” (δι ὗδατος). The ship is lost, the sailor saved; the workman is saved, the work is burned.
Verse 15 tells us that even if those who are saved do bad work, it will not prevent salvation – though the work will be burnt up and lost. There is a consequence for the bad work, though, namely that saved person will not receive a full reward.
reward = μισθός misthós, mis-thos’; apparently a primary word; pay for service (literally or figuratively), good or bad:—hire, reward, wages.
saved = sode’-zo; from a primary σῶς sōs (contraction for obsolete σάος sáos, “safe”); to save, i.e. deliver or protect (literally or figuratively):—heal, preserve, save (self), do well, be (make) whole.
If you’re noting the comment above carefully, you might have picked up on the fact that this verse plays a role in the establishment of the doctrine of purgatory. From Ellicott:
(15) So as.—These words remind us that the whole passage, and especially the reference to fire, is to be regarded as metaphorical, and not to be understood in a literal and physical sense. Forgetting this, Roman divines have evolved from these words the doctrine of purgatory.
The history of “purgatory” is interesting. From wiki:
Purgatory (Latin: purgatorium, borrowed into English via Anglo-Norman and Old French) is, according to the belief of some Christian denominations, an intermediate state after physical death for expiatory purification. The process of purgatory is the final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. Tradition, by reference to certain texts of scripture, sees the process as involving a cleansing fire. Some forms of Western Christianity, particularly within Protestantism, deny its existence. Other strands of Western Christianity see purgatory as a place, perhaps filled with fire. Some concepts of Gehenna in Judaism resemble those of purgatory.
The word “purgatory” has come to refer to a wide range of historical and modern conceptions of postmortem suffering short of everlasting damnation. English-speakers also use the word in a non-specific sense to mean any place or condition of suffering or torment, especially one that is temporary.
According to Jacques Le Goff, the conception of purgatory as a physical place came into existence in Western Europe toward the end of the twelfth century. Le Goff states that the concept involves the idea of a purgatorial fire, which he suggests “is expiatory and purifying not punitive like hell fire”. At the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, when the Catholic Church defined, for the first time, its teaching on purgatory, the Eastern Orthodox Church did not adopt the doctrine. The council made no mention of purgatory as a third place or as containing fire, which are absent also in the declarations by the Councils of Florence (1431-1449) and of Trent (1545-1563). Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have declared that the term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence.
The Church of England, mother church of the Anglican Communion, officially denounces what it calls “the Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory”, but the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, and elements of the Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist traditions hold that for some there is cleansing after death and pray for the dead. The Reformed Churches teach that the departed are delivered from their sins through the process of glorification. Rabbinical Judaism also believes in the possibility of after-death purification and may even use the word “purgatory” to describe the similar rabbinical concept of Gehenna, though Gehenna is also sometimes described as more similar to hell or Hades.
As you can see, the doctrine is primarily a Roman Catholic doctrine, not seen explicitly in Protestant churches, and often denounced there. The doctrine has some roots which arguably precede Christ, but was not officially / explicitly endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church until the 13th century. I will include a couple of videos below, first explaining the Roman Catholic position regarding Purgatory and that will be followed by the Protestant position on Purgatory, which opposes this doctrine. If you’re interested, please seek out other commentaries on this from other points of view:
And the Protestant POV:
If you want even more fun, you can listen to a debate between a Catholic and an Eastern Orthodox concerning the doctrine of Purgatory:
This topic provides one example for why “unity” is so difficult. In our study here, Paul is now in his third chapter trying to convince the Corinthians to be unified. Even in the midst of difficult doctrinal differences, we should always strive to be unified in Christ.