Now if any man - If any teacher in the doctrines which he inculcates; or any private Christian in the hopes which he cherishes. The main discussion doubtless, has respect to the teachers of religion. Paul carries forward the metaphor in this and the following verses with respect to the building. He supposes that the foundation is laid; that it is a true foundation; that the essential doctrines in regard to the Messiah are the real basis on which the edifice is reared. But, he says, that even admitting that, it is a subject of vast importance to attend to the kind of structure which shall be reared on that; whether it shall be truly beautiful, and valuable in itself, and such as shall abide the trial of the last great Day; or whether it be mean, worthless, erroneous, and such as shall at last be destroyed. There has been some difference of opinion in regard to the interpretation of this passage, arising from the question whether the apostle designed to represent one or two buildings.
The former has been the more common interpretation, and the sense according to that is, "the true foundation is laid; but on that it is improper to place vile and worthless materials. It would be absurd to work them in with those which are valuable; it would be absurd to work in, in rearing a building, wood, and hay, and stubble, with gold, and silver, and precious stones; there would be a lack of concinnity and beauty in this. So in the spiritual temple. There is an impropriety, an unfitness, in rearing the spiritual temple, to interweave truth with error; sound doctrine with false." See Calvin and Macknight. Grotius renders it, "Paul feigns to himself an edifice, partly regal, and partly rustic. He presents the image of a house whose walls are of marble, whose columns are made partly of gold and partly of silver, whose beams are of wood, and whose roof thatched with straw." Others, among whom are Wetstein, Doddridge, Rosenmuller, suppose that he refers to two buildings that might be reared on this foundation - either one that should be magnificent and splendid; or one that should be a rustic cottage, or mean hovel, thatched with straw, and made of planks of wood.
Doddridge paraphrases the passage, "' If any man builds,' I say, ' upon this foundation,' let him look to the materials and the nature of his work; whether he raise a stately and magnificent temple upon it, adorned as it were like the house of God at Jerusalem, with gold and silver, and large, beautiful, and costly stones; or a mean hovel, consisting of nothing better than planks of wood roughly put together, and thatched with hay and stubble. That is, let him look to it, whether he teach the substantial, vital truths of Christianity, and which it was intended to support and illustrate; or set himself to propagate vain subtilties and conceits on the one hand, or legal rites and Jewish traditions on the other; which although they do not entirely destroy the foundation, disgrace it, as a mean edifice would do a grand and extensive foundation laid with great pomp and solemnity." This probably expresses the correct sense of the passage. The foundation may be well laid; yet on this foundation an edifice may be reared that shall be truly magnificent, or one that shall be mean and worthless. So the true foundation of a church may be laid, or of individual conversion to God, in the true doctrine respecting Christ. That church or that individual may be built up and adorned with all the graces which truth is suited to produce; or there may be false principles and teachings superadded; doctrines that shall delude and lead astray; or views and feelings cultivated as piety, and believed to be piety, which may be no part of true religion, but which are mere delusion and fanaticism.
Gold, silver - On the meaning of these words it is not necessary to dwell; or to lay too much stress. Gold is the emblem of that which is valuable and precious, and may be the emblem of that truth and holiness which shall bear the trial of the great Day. In relation to the figure which the apostle here uses, it may refer to the fact that columns or beams in an edifice might be gilded; or perhaps, as in the temple, that they might be solid gold, so as to bear the action of intense heat; or so that fire would not destroy them - So the precious doctrines of truth, and all the feelings, views, opinions, habits, practices, which truth produces in an individual or a church, will bear the trial of the last great Day.
Precious stones - By the stones here referred to, are not meant "gems" which are esteemed of so much value for ornaments, but beautiful and valuable marbles. The word "precious" here ́ timious means those which are obtained at a "price," which are costly and valuable; and is particularly applicable, therefore, to the costly marbles which were used in building. The figurative sense here does not differ materially from that conveyed by the silver and gold. By this edifice thus reared on the true foundation, we are to understand:
(1)The true doctrines which should be employed to build up a congregation - doctrines which would bear the test of the trial of the last Day; and,
(2)Such views in regard to piety, and to duty; such feelings and principles of action, as should be approved, and seen to be genuine piety in the Day of Judgment.
Wood - That might be easily burned. An edifice reared of wood instead of marble, or slight buildings, such as were often put for up for temporary purposes in the East - as cottages, places for watching their vineyards, etc.; see my note at Isaiah 1:8.
Hay, stubble - Used for thatching the building, or for a roof. Perhaps, also, grass was sometimes employed in some way to make the walls of the building. Such an edifice would burn readily; would be constantly exposed to take fire. By this is meant:
(1)Errors and false doctrines, such as will not be found to be true on the Day of Judgment, and as will then be swept away;
(2)Such practices and mistaken views of piety, as shall grow out of false doctrines and errors - The foundation may be firm.
Those who are referred to may be building on the Lord Jesus, and may be true Christians. Yet there is much error among those who are not Christians. There are many things mistaken for piety which will yet be seen robe false. There is much enthusiasm, wildfire, fanaticism, bigotry; much affected humility; much that is supposed to be orthodoxy; much regard to forms and ceremonies; to "days, and months, and times, and years" Galatians 4:10; much over-heated zeal, and much precision, and solemn sanctimoniousness; much regard for external ordinances where the heart is missing, that shall be found to be false, and that shall be swept away on the Day of Judgment.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing 1 Corinthians 3:12:
DISCLAIMER: Church of the Great God (CGG) provides these resources to aid the individual in studying the Bible. However, it is up to the individual to "prove all things, and hold fast to that which is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). The content of these resources does not necessarily reflect the views of CGG. They are provided for information purposes only.