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In Defense (sort of) of the Corinthians


Compromise is not always born of antipathy or apathy toward truth. Often, it is the fruit of misguided or carnal motives. This (or so Calvin deduced) was the Corinthians’ failing.

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As to those worthless persons, however, who had disturbed the Corinthian Church, it is not without good ground that I conclude that they were not open enemies of the truth. We see that Paul nowhere else spares false doctrines. The Epistles to the Galatians, to the Colossians, to the Philippians, and to Timothy, are short; yet in all of them he does not merely censure the false apostles, but also points out at the same time in what respects they injured the Church. Nor is it without good reason; for believers must not merely be admonished as to the persons whom they ought to shun, they must also be shown the evil against which they should be on their guard. I cannot therefore believe that, in this comparatively long Epistle, he was prepared to pass over in silence what he carefully insists upon in others that are much shorter. In addition to this, he makes mention of many faults of the Corinthians, and even some that are apparently trivial, so that he appears to have had no intention of passing over any thing in them that was deserving of reproof. Besides, he must, in any other view, be regarded as wasting many words in disputing against those absurd teachers and prating orators. He censures their ambition; he reproves them for transforming the gospel into human philosophy; he shows that they are destitute of the efficacy of the Spirit, inasmuch as they are taken up with mere ornaments of speech, and seek after a mere dead letter; but not a word is there as to a single false doctrine. Hence I conclude that they were persons who did not openly take away any thing from the substance of the gospel, but, as they burned with a misdirected eagerness for distinction, I am of opinion that, with the view of making themselves admired, they contrived a new method of teaching, at variance with the simplicity of Christ. This must necessarily be the case with all that have not as yet thrown off self, that they may engage unreservedly in the Lord’s work. The first step towards serving Christ is to lose sight of ourselves, and think only of the Lord’s glory and the salvation of men. Farther, no one will ever be qualified for teaching that has not first himself tasted the influence of the gospel, so as to speak not so much with the mouth, as with the dispositions of the heart. Hence, those that are not regenerated by the Spirit of God—not having felt inwardly the influence of the gospel, and know not what is meant when it is said that we must become new creatures, (John iii. 7) have a dead preaching, whereas it ought to be lively and efficacious; and, with the view of playing off their part, they disfigure the gospel by painting it over, so as to make it a sort of worldly philosophy.

Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:38–39 (emphasis added).



Posted 2019·06·05 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Calvin’s Commentaries: 1 Corinthians · John Calvin

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