This is a commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. 

Source: The Banner of Truth, 1987. 5 pages.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Having finished his opening salutation and thanksgiving, Paul continues as follows:

10. Now I appeal to you, Brothers, in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and there be no divisions among you but you may be completely United, (being) of the same mind, the same conviction.🔗

Paul appeals to the Corinthians; that is, he, as it were, lovingly and earnestly calls them to his side in order to entreat them:

  1. to desist from what they are now doing, namely, creating divisions, and
  2. to do the very opposite, namely, to be of the same mind, the same conviction.

By calling them 'brothers' and by entreating them 'in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ' and therefore on his authority and in harmony with his revelation concerning himself through his example, words, and actions, the apostle adds prestige and solemnity to his exhortation and enhances its binding character.

What Paul desires with his whole heart is that all the addressed shall agree; literally, that all shall say the same thing. (Cf. Romans 12:16; Ephesians 4:4­6; Philippians 2:2; 4:2). He wants them all to be of the same mind, the same con­viction; that is, not only should they be united in theoretical insight and understanding but also in the willingness to apply their firm beliefs in a practical manner, to life's situations and problems.

11-12. For, my Brothers, it has been reported to me by some from Chloe's household that there are dissensions among you. What I mean is this: one of you says, 'I belong to Paul'; another, 'I belong to Apollos'; another, 'I belong to Cephas'; still another, 'I belong to Christ'.🔗

Paul now mentions the source of the disquieting information he has received. It had been conveyed to him by 'some from Chloe's household'. Who Chloe was we do not know. The reference here is to slaves or freed­men who belonged to her household. Whether these people were members of the Corinthian church is another question which cannot be answered with certainty, but it would seem that they were. All we really know is that, either by means of a visit from Corinth to Ephesus or in another way, the apostle by some people from Chloe's household, had been made aware of the dissensions existing in the Corinthian church. To be sure, as was pointed out earlier, actual cleavage, with one part of the congregation meeting here, and another somewhere else, had not yet occurred, but hero-worship, with its divisive slogans, was destroying in­dispensable spiritual unity and harmony.

One person would say, 'I belong to Paul'.

It is the evangelist Luke who in the book of Acts tells us the story of Paul's life and labours. See Acts 7:58b; 8:1; 9:1-31; 11:25-30; 12:25-28:31. In reality Luke describes The Work of Jesus Christ in the Extension of the Church through the labours of Peter, Paul and others. For fuller infor­mation about Paul's life one should read such autobiographical touches as are found in the apostle's own epistles (see especially Romans 7:7-25; 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10; Gal 1:11-2:21).

Who, then, were these people in the Corinthian church who said, 'We belong to Paul'?

Among them may well have been those who felt especially obligated to Paul; for example, those who had been among his early Corinthian converts (1 Corinthians 4:15). In general, the Paul party probably consisted of those who placed more value on the contents of the gospel than on the form in which it was presented. They liked the simple and direct presen­tation of the doctrine of the cross. In this connection one naturally thinks of such passages as 1 Corinthians 1:13, 23, 24; 2:2; 3:11, etc. Some of them too may have been fond of Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles.

Another person would say, 'I belong to Apollos.'

A most interesting Bible character is Apollos. Luther was among those who suggested that Apollos may have been the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. But this is very uncertain. What we do have is the report about this man which Luke presents to us in the book of Acts. It can be summarized as follows:

Paul, during his second missionary journey, homeward bound, departed from Corinth, joined by his hosts, Aquila and Priscilla (18:1-3, 18). After a brief stop at Ephesus, where he leaves his companions, the apostle journeys on until he reaches the place from which he had started out, Syrian Antioch (18:19-22). A little later, when the apostle begins his third missionary journey, a famous Jew, 'mighty in the Scriptures', arrives in Ephesus. His name is Apollos, a native of the famous Egyptian library-and-university city of Alexandria (18:24).

When Apollos begins to preach in Ephesus, his audiences are deeply impressed with his learning and eloquence. Priscilla and Aquila, however, notice that, in spite of this orator's outstanding qualities, there is some­thing lacking in his knowledge of the way of God. 'He knew only the baptism of John'. Instead of cruelly criticizing him, the two friends of Paul invite Apollos to their home and explain to him the way of God more adequately (18:25, 26).

Next, we find Apollos in Achaia, specifically in its capital Corinth. By his Ephesian friends he had been encouraged to carry on his work in that city and region. So successful is he that Luke writes, 'He was a great help to those who by grace had believed, for he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ' (Acts 18:27-19:1).

And now Paul, on his third missionary journey, outward bound, has come back to Ephesus. Apollos too has apparently re-arrived in that city. The apostle, realizing that conditions in Corinth are far from ideal, urges Apollos to return to the scene of his former labours, namely, Corinth. The latter, however, refuses to do so, probably because he fears that his presence would foster the spirit of party rivalry (1 Corinthians 16:12).

Passages such as 1 Corinthians 3:6, 9 show that Paul and Apollos are friends. Moreover, they remain friends. Several years later — perhaps about the year A.D. 63 — Paul, having been released from his first Roman imprisonment, is in Macedonia (Philippi?). From here he writes to Titus, whom he had left in Crete. One of the instructions he gives Titus is this, 'Do all you can to help along on their journey Zenas, the law-expert, and Apollos, so that they may lack nothing' (Titus 3:13).

From all this it appears that both Paul and Apollos were grieved by the party-spirit that plagued the Corinthian church.

Who, then, were those people who said, 'We belong to Apollos', meaning, 'Apollos is our man'? There are those who say that since Apollos hailed from Alexandria, where the allegorical method of preaching was in vogue, he too must have employed that method, and that the Apollos people were therefore those who favoured that kind of presentation. But by so arguing, are they not doing him an injustice? It should be stressed that, by and large, the allegorical method is wrong. It is indeed very popular even today, but without further proof it is unjustified to describe Apollos as a man who had become addicted to it. There is nothing in the text that justifies this description of Paul's friend and co-worker.

Far more reasonable is the conclusion that the Apollos Christians were those members of the Corinthian church who preferred his oratorical style to Paul's more simple method of preaching.

Another, 'I belong to Cephas.'

The apostle, instead of writing 'Peter', uses the Hellenized form of the latter's Aramaic name, similarly meaning 'rock'.

How can we explain the rise of this Cephas slogan?

There are those who draw a sharp contrast between Pauline and Petrine theology. But for this there is no support. In fact, careful study of Peter's speeches recorded in the book of Acts and of the contents of his epistles shows that there is no conflict whatever between the theology of these two men.

Did Paul view God's eternal counsel to be the source of man's salvation (Romans 8:29, 30; Ephesians 1:4)? So did Peter (1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 1:10). Did the former regard Christ's vicarious atonement to be the forensic basis of redemption from sin and entrance into everlasting life (2 Corinthians 5:21)? So did also Peter (1 Peter 2:24). The doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith, is stressed by both apostles. For Paul see Romans 1:17; 3:24; Galatians 2:20, 21; 3:6-9; Ephesians 2:4-9; for Peter Acts 3:16; 15:10, 11; 1 Peter 1:7, 10; 2:7. This faith, Peter and Paul agree, is not threadbare but living and fruitful, issuing in good works to God's glory (Ephesians 2:9, 10; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 3:16; 2 Peter 1:5). In fact Peter himself implies that he is in full accord with the contents of the letters of Paul that were known to him (2 Peter 3:15, 16).

How then shall we explain the Peter slogan? The answer may well be found in Galatians 2:11-21, which indicates that, in connection with the incident there recorded, Peter's conduct was not in harmony with his own doctrine. It is therefore not so strange that here in Corinth conservative Jewish believers, for whom it was difficult to break away from rabbinical traditions, and who, in addition, may have appealed to the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:24-29), would rally around Peter, acknowledging him as their leader. Moreover, if the tradition preserved by Dionysius of Corinth has any validity, Peter had made a visit to Corinth. If so, it must be considered possible that by his presence and preaching he had endeared himself to this group.

Still another, 'I belong to Christ.'

The identity of those who used this slogan has always been, and still is, a subject of controversy. The question cannot be answered with any degree of certainty. Perhaps — though many deny this — the key to the interpretation can be found in 2 Corinthians 10:7, where Paul says, 'If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, let him reflect for himself again upon the fact that we belong to Christ just as much as he'. In that case this fourth party would consist of those who by proclaiming, 'We belong to Christ', meant, 'Those who have not joined us may well ask whether they really belong to Christ'. Or else, those who used this slogan may have made themselves guilty, though perhaps unconsciously, of grouping Christ with Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, as if Christ too were merely a party leader.

We would be making a mistake, however, if, on the basis of the mention of all four groups in 1:12, we concluded that each of the four played an equally important role in the dissensions that disturbed the Corinthian church. Prominent were only the first two, as is clear from two facts.

  1. After 1:12, in the rest of the four chapters dealing with this subject Paul refers again and again to himself and his work (1:13 f.; 2:1 f.; 3:1-6, 10, 22; 4:3, 4, 6, 15-21). In 3:4-8, 22, and in 4:6 he refers to Apollos. On the other hand, in these four chapters there is only one additional reference to Cephas (3:22). Moreover, no further mention is made of those who shouted, 'We belong to Christ'.
  2. In 4:6 Paul states, 'Now brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit.'

By means of a rhetorical question Paul now shows how absurd were these dissensions:

13. Is Christ Divided? It was not Paul who was Crucified for you, was it? You were not Baptized into Paul's name, were you?🔗

The question is logical. If the slogan shouters were right, Christ and salvation in him would be unobtainable except through the agency of the party's hero. Christ would as it were be divided among these heroes and their respective worshippers. In this way altogether too much importance would be attached to mere man, whether Paul or Apollos or anyone else.

So considered, the next question also follows logically, namely, 'It was not Paul who was crucified for you, was it?' The slogan shouters were glorifying mere man, as if it had been a mere man — for example Paul — who had been crucified for them. Paul's exhortation is, 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord' (1:31).

He adds, 'You were not baptized into Paul's name, were you?' When properly conceived and accepted, to be baptized into the name of someone means to be brought into vital relationship with that person. Therefore to be baptized into the name of Christ means to be baptized into Christ, being brought into living relationship with him, as he has revealed him­self. See Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26, 27.

Thus interpreted, it is understandable that the apostle is able to affirm, 'You were not baptized into Paul's name, were you?'

There are people who attach great value to the person who has baptized them, as if the true significance of the sacrament depended upon its administrator. Paul condemns this superstition in the following words:

14-16. I am Thankful that I did not Baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were Baptized into my name. And I also Baptized the household of Stephanus. Beyond that I do not recall that I Baptized anyone else.🔗

The Crispus whom Paul baptized was the ruler of the Corinthian synagogue. It was here that the apostle, on his arrival in Corinth, had proclaimed the gospel of salvation in and through Christ. Luke reports, 'Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, and his entire household believed in the Lord, and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized' (Acts 18:8).

Another very early convert who was baptized by Paul was Gaius, in all probability the same person concerning whom, a little later, the apostle, when from Corinth he was writing to the Romans, was going to say, 'Gaius, who is host to me and to the entire church, greets you' (Romans 16:23).

In order to prevent anyone from saying, 'I have been baptized by no less a personage than Paul', as if the fame of the baptizer would add lustre to the person whom he baptized, the apostle adds, 'so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.'

Suddenly it dawns on Paul that he had also baptized the household of Stephanus, the very people who in 1 Corinthians 16:15 are called 'the firstfruits (=first converts) of Achaia'. Evidently the baptism of Stephanus and his household had occurred even earlier than that of Crispus and Gaius, probably even before the return (to Paul) of Silas and Timothy, so that it was necessary for Paul himself to baptize also these early converts, including Stephanus.

A moment ago I wrote, 'Suddenly it dawns on Paul'. Another pos­sibility that has been suggested is that when Stephanus had arrived in Ephesus (16:17) and the apostle showed him the epistle he had composed, including the words, 'I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius', he (Stephanus) remarked, 'But you also baptized me and my household', and that the apostle, on being reminded of this, quickly added the missing item. However that may be, the Holy Spirit has taken care that no mistake was made. It would be unfair, of course, to quote 1:14, 15, and then to say, 'Paul made a mistake'. That would amount to pulling a text out of its context. The three verses (14-16) must be taken together. For other reference to Stephanus see 1 Corin­thians 16:15-18.

Having commented on these early baptisms, Paul is now ready to add, `Beyond that I do not recall that I baptized anyone else'. He continues:

17. For Christ did not send me to Baptize but to Preach the Gospel...🔗

This does not mean that the apostle underestimated the value of baptism. See Romans 6:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27. He thoroughly understood that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) applied to himself and his work as well as it did to his fellow-apostles. For that reason he saw to it that those who were converted under his ministry were indeed baptized (Acts 16:15, 33). But both Peter (see Acts 10:48) and Paul were aware of the fact that they were allowed to assign the administration of the rite to others, according to Christ's own practice (John 4:2). They realized that their own main occupation was not baptizing but preaching the gospel (Mark 3:14).

Paul adds, (and to do this) not by means of a message of (worldly) wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

The term 'wisdom' (and its cognates) governs much of the rest of chapter 1 and even part of chapter 2. See 1:19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30; 2:1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 13. Its antonym 'foolishness' also occurs frequently (1:18, 20, 23, 25, 27; 2:14). This does not indicate a complete change of subject, however. No, as is clear from 3:3, 4, 5, 10, 21; 4:6, 7, 15, the theme 'Correction with respect to Contention' (Party Strife) covers the first four chapters. What actually happens is that the apostle now shows that inter-faction quibbling and slogan shouting are the products of a type of 'wisdom' that is actually foolish and wicked. He is, as it were, saying, 'The message of the gospel must not be embellished and abolished by mere pomp of words'. By resorting to this so-called 'wisdom' the real message of the cross would be emaciated. And that would, indeed be the ultimate tragedy, as Paul is going to prove in greater detail in verses 18-31.

For people living in this Grecian city of Corinth, with its many philo­sophers, either dwelling there or passing through, each one advocating his particular brand of 'wisdom' and 'knowledge', what Paul wrote was certainly very appropriate.

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