1 Corinthians 3:16-23

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 3:16-23

16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.


Here Paul begins to conclude his teaching point regarding earthly and Spiritual wisdom. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 3:16

Know ye not. The phrase is used by St. Paul in this Epistle to emphasize important truths, as in 1 Corinthians 5:61 Corinthians 6:2,.1 Corinthians 6:91 Corinthians 6:151 Corinthians 9:131 Corinthians 9:24. Out of this Epistle it only occurs in Romans 6:16Romans 11:2That ye are the temple of God. “Ye,” both collectively (Ephesians 2:21) and individually; “God’s shrine;” not built for men’s glory. The word “temple” in the Old Testament always means the material temple; in the Gospels our Lord “spake of the temple of his body;” in the rest of the New Testament the body of every baptized Christian is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:16), because “God dwelleth in him” (1 John 4:16; comp. John 14:23). In another aspect Christians can be regarded as “living stones in one spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). The temple; rather, the shrine (uses) wherein God dwells (naiei)and which is the holiest part of the temple (hieron).

1 Corinthians 3:17

If any man defile the temple of God. The verb is the same as in the next clause, and should be rendered, If any man destroy the temple of God; but the word is perhaps too strong, and the word “mar” or “injure” might better convey the meaning (Olshausen). The two verbs are brought into vivid juxtaposition in the original: “God shall ruin the ruiner of his temple.” St. Paul was, perhaps, thinking of the penalty of death attached to any one who desecrated the temple of Jerusalem. Inscriptions on the chel, or “middle wall of partition,” threatened death to any Gentile who set foot within the sacred enclosure.” Which temple ye are; literally, the which are ye; i.e. ye are holy. St. Paul is here referring to the Church of Corinth, and to the false teachers who desecrated it by bringing in “factions of destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). Ideally the Church was glorious, “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:27).

Here Paul teaches on the idea of the body as a temple. This builds on the teaching of Jesus, which we see from the Gospel of John chapter 2:

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,[c] and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Christians believe that God’s Holy Spirit dwells within them. Thus, the body itself – like the Temple in the time before Christ – is the place where God dwells. Paul’s admonition in these verses returns that truth to the mind of his readers. Paul then returns to his message on God’s wisdom verses earthly wisdom in the next verse. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(18) Passing from the difference between the work of one teacher and that of another, which has occupied him since 1 Corinthians 3:5, the Apostle now returns to the subject from which he branched off there (the magnifying of one teacher above another), and proceeds to show (1 Corinthians 3:18-21) that merely human wisdom is in itself worthless for spiritual purposes, and, therefore, that the possession of it alone is no reason for the exaltation of the teacher who is endowed with it. For the full meaning of the “wisdom” which the Apostle speaks of here, see 1 Corinthians 1:20.

Let him become a fooli.e., in the sight of the world, in order that he may become “wise” in the sight of God.

Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries in the next verses:

1 Corinthians 3:19

The wisdom of this world. Here the word for “world” is kosmos, in the last verse it was alert. Kosmos is the world regarded objectively; aion the world regarded in its moral and intellectual aspect. He that taketh the wise in their craftiness. This is one of the few references to the Book of Job in the New Testament. It comes from the speech of Eliphaz in Job 5:13, but St. Paul substitutes the words “clutching” (drassomenos) and “craftiness” (panourgia) for the milder katalabon and phronesei of the LXX.

1 Corinthians 3:20

The Lord knoweth, etc. A quotation from Psalms 94:11. St. Paul substitutes “the wise” for the “men” of the original, because the psalmist is referring to perverse despisers of God. Dialogismoi is rather “reasonings” than “thoughts.” It is used in a disparaging sense, as in Romans 1:21Ephesians 4:17.

The note above for verse 19 reminds us to *really* understand the text, in its original meaning, one must be aware of the original Greek. If you were to read this section only in English, you could not notice the two different words – and their different meanings – both translated in English as “world.” We see similar translation issues from Greek to English when the word “love” is used. The Greek sometimes has different words to reflect differing meanings and that can be lost in translation into the occasionally less nuanced English. Continuing on:

1 Corinthians 3:21

Wherefore. St. Paul, with this word, concludes the argument of warning of the previous section, as in 1 Corinthians 3:71 Corinthians 4:5; 1Co 8:1-13 :38; 1 Corinthians 11:331 Corinthians 14:391 Corinthians 15:58 (Wordsworth). All things are yours. It is always a tendency of Christians to underrate the grandeur of their privileges by exaggerating their supposed monopoly of some of them, while many equally rich advantages are at their disposal. Instead of becoming partisans of special teachers, and champions of separate doctrines, they might enjoy all that was good in the doctrine of all teachers, whether they were prophets, or pastors, or evangelists (Ephesians 4:11Ephesians 4:12). The true God gives us all things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).

Ellicott adds his own comment for verse 21:

(21) Therefore.—Not because of what has been mentioned, but introducing what he is about to mention. Let party-spirit cease. Do not degrade yourselves by calling yourselves after the names of any man, for everything is yours—then teachers only exist for you. The enthusiasm of the Apostle, as he speaks of the privileges of Christians, leads him on beyond the bare assertion necessary to the logical conclusion of the argument, and enlarging the idea he dwells, in a few brief and impressive utterances, on the limitless possessions—in life and in death, in the present life and that which is future—which belong to those who are united with Christ. But they must remember that all this is theirs because they “are Christ’s.” They are possessors because possessed by Him. “His service is their perfect freedom” as the Collect in the English Prayer Book puts it, or, more strikingly, as it occurs in the Latin version, “Whom to serve, is to reign.”

Paul is appealing to all that life in Christ has to offer, to instruct his readers to put aside division. He again addresses the specific factions in the next verse. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 3:22

Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas. All were their servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:5). Instead of becoming partisans of either, they could enjoy the greatness of all. Or the world. The sudden leap from Cephas to the world shows, as Bengel says, the impetuous leap of thought. There is a passage of similar eloquence in Romans 8:38Romans 8:39. The “hundredfold” is promised even in this world. Or life. Because life in Christ is the only real life, and Christ came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (see Romans 8:38). Or death. To the Christian, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). So that death is no more than

“The lifting of a latch;
Nought but a step into the open air
Out of a tent already luminous
With light which shines through its transparent folds.”

Or things present, or things to come. “He that overcometh shall inherit all things” (Revelation 21:7), because Christ has received all things from the Father.

He mentions a faction for Paul, one for Apollos, and one for Cephas (Simon Peter), though the sense from the book seems to be that the primary factions are a split between those who support him and those who support Apollos. He instructs them again that all belong to Christ. Continuing in the next verse:

1 Corinthians 3:23

And ye are Christ’s (see 1 Corinthians 6:191 Corinthians 15:23Romans 14:8Galatians 3:29). Christians possess because they are possessed by Christ (Meyer). Christ is our Master, and God our Father (Matthew 23:10). And Christ is God’s; because “Christ is equal to the Father as touching his Godhead, but inferior to the Father as touching his manhood.” Hence in 1 Corinthians 11:3 he says, “The head of Christ is God;” and in 1 Corinthians 15:28, we read of Christ resigning his mediatorial kingdom, that God may be all in all. Perhaps St. Paul implies the thought that Christ belongs, not to a party, but to God, the Father of us all. But the ultimate climax from Christ to God is found also in 1 Corinthians 4:1 : Romans 15:5, etc.

Paul is not done teaching on unity, as chapter 3 ends. He continues in Chapter 4, instructing his readers as to the way they should view the ministry of the Apostles more generally. Given the apostolic emphasis on unity, and the practice in the recent Church age of starting churches with no governmental relationship to other churches, perhaps there is something in that that begs reflection.