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The Something of Nothing


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Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? —1 Corinthians 9:1

There is an apparent contradiction between this verse and 1 Corinthians 3:7. Here, Paul claims credit for what he had formerly dismissed as nothing. As usual, context is key, as Calvin explains:

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Are not ye my work? . . . Now this is a great thing that Paul claims for himself, when he calls their conversion his work, for it is in a manner a new creation of the soul. But how will this correspond with what we had above—that he that planteth is nothing, and he that watereth is nothing? (1 Cor. iii. 7). I answer, that as God is the efficient cause, while man, with his preaching, is an instrument that can do nothing of itself, we must always speak of the efficacy of the ministry in such a manner that the entire praise of the work may be reserved for God alone. But in some cases, when the ministry is spoken of, man is compared with God, and then that statement holds good—He that planteth is nothing, and he that watereth is nothing; for what can be left to a man if he is brought into competition with God? Hence Scripture represents ministers as nothing in comparison with God; but when the ministry is simply treated of without any comparison with God, then, as in this passage, its efficacy is honorably made mention of, with signal encomiums. For, in that case, the question is not, what man can do of himself without God, but, on the contrary, God himself, who is the author, is conjoined with the instrument, and the Spirit’s influence with man’s labor. In other words, the question is not, what man himself accomplishes by his own power, but what God effects through his hands.

Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:289.



Posted 2019·09·11 by David Kjos
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Posted in: 1 Corinthians · Calvin’s Commentaries: 1 Corinthians · John Calvin · Soli Deo Gloria

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