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Commentary On Corinthians Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

1 Corinthians 1:1-3

1. Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,

1. Paulus, vocatus apostolus Jesu Christi per voluntatem Dei, et Sosthenes frater,

2. Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

2. Ecclesiae Dei quae est Corinthi, sanctificatis in Christo Jesu, vocatis sanctis, una cum omnibus qui invocant nomen Domini nostri Jesu Christi in quovis loco tam sui quam nostri:

3. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

3. Gratia vobis et pax a Deo Patre nostro, et Domino Jesu Christi.

1. Paul, called to be an Apostle In this manner does Paul proceed, in almost all the introductions to his Epistles, with the view of procuring for his doctrine authority and favor. The former he secures to himself from the station that had been assigned to him by God, as being an Apostle of Christ sent by God; the latter by testifying his affection towards those to whom he writes. We believe much more readily the man whom we look upon as regarding us with affection, and as faithfully endeavoring to promote our welfare. In this salutation, therefore, he claims for himself authority, when he speaks of himself as an Apostle of Christ, and that, too, as called by God, that is, set apart by the will of God Now, two things are requisite in any one that would be listened to in the Church, and would occupy the place of a teacher; for he must be called by God to that office, and he must faithfully employ himself in the discharge of its duties. Paul here lays claim to both. For the name, Apostle, implies that the individual conscientiously acts the part of an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19), and proclaims the pure doctrine of the gospel. But as no one ought to assume this honor to himself, unless he be called to it, he adds, that he had not rashly intruded into it, but had been appointed to it by God.

Let us learn, therefore, to take these two things together when we wish to ascertain what kind of persons we ought to esteem as ministers of Christ, -- a call to the office, and faithfulness in the discharge of its duties. For as no man can lawfully assume the designation and rank of a minister, unless he be called, so it were not enough for any one to be called, if he does not also fulfill the duties of his office. For the Lord does not choose ministers that they may be dumb idols, or exercise tyranny under pretext of their calling, or make their own caprice their law; but at the same time marks out what kind of persons they ought to be, and binds them by his laws, and in fine chooses them for the ministry, or, in other words, that in the first place they may not be idle, and, secondly, that they may confine themselves within the limits of their office. Hence, as the apostleship depends on the calling, so the man who would be reckoned an apostle, must show himself to be really such: nay more, so must every one who demands that credit be given him, or that his doctrine be listened to. For since Paul rests on these arguments for establishing his authority, worse than impudent were the conduct of that man who would think to have any standing without such proofs.

It ought, however, to be observed, that it is not enough for any one to hold out to view the title to a call to the office, along with faithfulness in discharging its duties, if he does not in reality give proof of both. For it often happens that none boast more haughtily of their titles than those that are destitute of the reality; as of old the false prophets, with lofty disdain, boasted that they had been sent by the Lord. Nay, at the present day, what else do the Romanists make a noise about, but |ordination from God, and an inviolably sacred succession even from the Apostles themselves,| while, after all, it appears that they are destitute of those things of which they vaunt? Here, therefore, it is not boasting that is required, but reality. Now, as the name is assumed by good and bad alike, we must come to the test, that we may ascertain who has a right to the name of Apostle, and who has not. As to Paul, God attested his calling by many revelations, and afterwards confirmed it by miracles. The faithfulness must be estimated by this, -- whether or not he proclaimed the pure doctrine of Christ. As to the twofold call -- that of God and that of the Church -- see my Institutes.

An Apostle Though this name, agreeably to its etymology, has a general signification, and is sometimes employed in a general sense, to denote any kind of ministers, yet, as a peculiar designation, it is applicable to those that were set apart by the Lord's appointment to publish the Gospel throughout the whole world. Now, it was of importance that Paul should be reckoned in that number, for two reasons, -- first, because much more deference was paid to them than to other ministers of the gospel; and, secondly, because they alone, properly speaking, had authority to instruct all the Churches.

By the will of God While the Apostle is accustomed cheerfully to acknowledge himself indebted to God for whatever he has of good, he does so more especially in reference to his apostleship, that he may free himself from all appearance of presumption. And assuredly as a call to salvation is of grace, so also a call to the office of apostle is of grace, as Christ teaches in these words:

|Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,| (John 15:16.)

Paul, however, at the same time indirectly intimates, that all who attempt to undermine his apostleship, or in any way oppose it, contend against an appointment of God. For Paul here makes no useless boast of honorary titles, but designedly vindicates his apostleship from malicious aspersions. For as his authority must have been sufficiently established in the view of the Corinthians, it would have been superfluous to make particular mention of |the will of God,| had not wicked men attempted by indirect means to undermine that honorable rank which had been divinely assigned him.

And Sosthenes our brother This is that Sosthenes who was ruler of the Jewish synagogue that was at Corinth, of whom Luke makes mention in Acts 18:17. His name is added for this reason, that the Corinthians, knowing his ardor and steadfastness in the gospel, could not but hold him in deserved esteem, and hence it is still more to his honor to be made mention of now as Paul's brother, than formerly as ruler of the synagogue

2. To the Church of God which is at Corinth. It may perhaps appear strange that he should give the name of a Church of God to a multitude of persons that were infested with so many distempers, that Satan might be said to reign among them rather than God. Certain it is, that he did not mean to flatter the Corinthians, for he speaks under the direction of the Spirit of God, who is not accustomed to flatter. But among so many pollutions, what appearance of a Church is any longer presented? I answer, the Lord having said to him, |Fear not: I have much people in this place| (Acts 18:9, 10;) keeping this promise in mind, he conferred upon a godly few so much honor as to recognize them as a Church amidst a vast multitude of ungodly persons. Farther, notwithstanding that many vices had crept in, and various corruptions both of doctrine and manners, there were, nevertheless, certain tokens still remaining of a true Church. This is a passage that ought to be carefully observed, that we may not require that the Church, while in this world, should be free from every wrinkle and stain, or forthwith pronounce unworthy of such a title every society in which everything is not as we would wish it. For it is a dangerous temptation to think that there is no Church at all where perfect purity is not to be seen. For the man that is prepossessed with this notion, must necessarily in the end withdraw from all others, and look upon himself as the only saint in the world, or set up a peculiar sect in company with a few hypocrites.

What ground, then, had Paul for recognizing a Church at Corinth? It was this: that he saw among them the doctrine of the gospel, baptism, the Lord's Supper -- tokens by which a Church ought to be judged of. For although some had begun to have doubts as to the resurrection, the error not having spread over the entire body, the name of the Church and its reality are not thereby affected. Some faults had crept in among them in the administration of the Supper, discipline and propriety of conduct had very much declined: despising the simplicity of the gospel, they had given themselves up to show and pomp; and in consequence of the ambition of their ministers, they were split into various parties. Notwithstanding of this, however, inasmuch as they retained fundamental doctrine: as the one God was adored among them, and was invoked in the name of Christ: as they placed their dependence for salvation upon Christ, and, had a ministry not altogether corrupted: there was, on these accounts, a Church still existing among them. Accordingly, wherever the worship of God is preserved uninfringed, and that fundamental doctrine, of which I have spoken, remains, we must without hesitation conclude that in that case a Church exists.

Sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints He makes mention of the blessings with which God had adorned them, as if by way of upbraiding them, at least in the event of their showing no gratitude in return. For what could be more base than to reject an Apostle through whose instrumentality they had been set apart as God's peculiar portion. Meanwhile, by these two epithets, he points out what sort of persons ought to be reckoned among the true members of the Church, and who they are that belong of right to her communion. For if you do not by holiness of life show yourself to be a Christian, you may indeed be in the Church, and pass undetected, but of it you cannot be. Hence all must be sanctified in Christ who would be reckoned among the people of God. Now the term sanctification denotes separation This takes place in us when we are regenerated by the Spirit to newness of life, that we may serve God and not the world. For while by nature we are unholy, the Spirit consecrates us to God. As, however, this is effected when we are engrafted into the body of Christ, apart from whom there is nothing but pollution, and as it is also by Christ, and not from any other source that the Spirit is conferred, it is with good reason that he says that we are sanctified in Christ, inasmuch as it is by Him that we cleave to God, and in Him become new creatures.

What immediately follows -- called to be saints -- I understand to mean: As ye have been called unto holiness. It may, however, be taken in two senses. Either we may understand Paul to say, that the ground of sanctification is the call of God, inasmuch as God has chosen them; meaning, that this depends on his grace, not on the excellence of men; or we may understand him to mean, that, it accords with our profession that we be holy, this being the design of the doctrine of the gospel. The former interpretation appears to suit better with the context, but it is of no great consequence in which way you understand it, as there is an entire agreement between the two following positions -- that our holiness flows from the fountain of divine election, and that it, is the end of our calling.

We must, therefore, carefully maintain, that it is not through our own efforts that we are holy, but by the call of God, because He alone sanctifies those who were by nature unclean. And certainly it appears to me probable, that, when Paul has pointed out as it were with his finger the fountain of holiness thrown wide open, he mounts up a step higher, to the good pleasure of God, in which also Christ's mission to us originated. As, however, we are called by the gospel to harmlessness of life (Philippians 2:15,) it is necessary that this be accomplished in us in reality, in order that our calling may be effectual. It will, however, be objected, that, there were not many such among the Corinthians. I answer, that the weak are not excluded from this number; for here God only begins his work in us, and by little and little carries it forward gradually and by successive steps. I answer farther, that Paul designedly looks rather to the grace of God in them than to their own defects, that he may put them to shame for their negligence, if they do not act a suitable part.

With all that call. This, too, is an epithet common to all the pious; for as it is one chief exercise of faith to call upon the name of God, so it is also by this duty chiefly that believers are to be estimated. Observe, also, that he says that Christ is called upon by believers, and this affords a proof of his divinity -- invocation being one of the first expressions of Divine homage. Hence invocation here by synecdoche (kata sunekdochen) denotes the entire profession of faith in Christ, as in many passages of Scripture it is taken generally for the whole of Divine worship. Some explain it as denoting mere profession, but this appears to be meager, and at variance with its usual acceptation in Scripture. The little words nostri (ours) and sui (theirs) I have put in the genitive, understanding them as referring to Christ, while others, understanding them as referring to place, render them in the ablative. In doing so I have followed Chrysostom. This will, perhaps, appear harsh, as the expression in every place is introduced in the middle, but in Paul's Greek style there is nothing of harshness in this construction. My reason for preferring this rendering to that of the Vulgate is, that if you understand it as referring to place, the additional clause will be not merely superfluous, but inappropriate. For what place would Paul call his own? Judea they understand him to mean; but on what ground? And then, what place could he refer to as inhabited by others? |All other places of the world| (say they;) but this, too, does not suit well. On the other hand, the meaning that I have given it suits most admirably; for, after making mention of all that in every place call upon the name of Christ our Lord, he adds, both theirs and ours, manifestly for the purpose of showing that Christ is the one common Lord, without distinction, of all that call upon him, whether they be Jews or Gentiles.

In every place This Paul has added, contrary to his usual manner; for in his other Epistles he makes mention in the salutation of those only for whom they are designed. He seems, however, to have had it in view to anticipate the slanders of wicked men, that they might not have it to allege that, in addressing the Corinthians, he assumed a confident air, and claimed for himself an authority that he would not venture to assert in writing to other Churches. For we shall see by and by, that he was unjustly loaded with this reproach, too, as though he were preparing little nests for himself, with the view of shunning the light, or were withdrawing himself in a clandestine way from the rest of the Apostles. It appears, then, that expressly for the purpose of refuting this falsehood, he places himself in a commanding position, from which he may be heard afar off.

3. Grace be to you and peace For an exposition of this prayer, let my readers consult the beginning of my Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:7;) for I do not willingly burden my readers with repetitions.

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