What does 1 Corinthians 3:1 mean?
ESV: But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
NIV: Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.
NASB: And I, brothers and sisters, could not speak to you as spiritual people, but only as fleshly, as to infants in Christ.
CSB: For my part, brothers and sisters, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ.
NLT: Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ.
KJV: And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
NKJV: And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.
Verse Commentary:
This builds on two things Paul said in the previous chapter. First, he wrote that he and others taught God's wisdom among the mature, apparently referring to those who have come to God by faith in Christ and are ready for the deeper truths of God (1 Corinthians 2:6). He also described spiritual people as Christians who understand and believe in spiritual things with the help of God's Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Now, though, Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth that he cannot call them "spiritual" people. Is the problem that they have not truly believed in Jesus or that they have not received the Holy Spirit? No. Paul very clearly wrote in the first chapter how thankful he was that that their faith had been confirmed by the gifts of the Spirit given to them (1 Corinthians 1:4–9). He said they would absolutely stand blameless before God on the day of the Lord. These are Christians.

The problem, as Paul will go on to describe it in this chapter, is that they are still living as if they were unspiritual people: "merely human," (1 Corinthians 3:3), suggesting someone lacking understanding as if they lacked the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). They are like "infants in Christ"—spiritually speaking, they are still newborn, weak, undeveloped Christians. They continue to live in the flesh, meaning that they are living for self and their bodily appetites instead of living in the power God has given to them in the Holy Spirit.

Verse Context:
First Corinthians 3:1–9 describes Paul's rebuke of the Corinthian Christians as infants in Christ. As a contrast to a spiritually-indwelt believer, Paul uses the concept of being ''merely human.'' Such persons are not ready for solid food, still behaving as immature, undeveloped believers. Instead of following Paul or Apollos, or some other human being, they should follow God, the master of all. Different leaders might be called to different tasks in God's will, but none are ultimately more important than others.
Chapter Summary:
Paul cannot call the Corinthian Christians ''spiritual'' people. Though they are in Christ, they continue to live to the flesh. They are spiritual infants, not ready for solid food. Divisions among them prove they are still serving themselves, picking sides in a senseless debate between Christian teachers. Paul insists that both he and Apollos are mere servants of the Lord and co-workers. They are not in competition. Those who lead the Corinthians must build carefully because their work will be tested on the day of the Lord. Christian leaders who build the church will have their work judged by Christ to see if they have built on the foundation of Christ. All human wisdom will be shown to be futile and worthless.
Chapter Context:
First Corinthians 3 follows Paul's teaching that only spiritual people can understand the wisdom of God. Paul cannot fully call the Corinthian Christians spiritual people, though, because they continue to live of the flesh, as if they were still infants trapped in an immature condition. Evidence includes the divisions among them. Paul insist that he and Apollos are both servants of the same master. The Corinthians should follow God, not them. Those whose work is worthless will suffer loss, but they will be saved. After this, Paul will expound on the idea that believers ought to set Christ as their example, rather than being defined in terms of their earthly leaders.
Book Summary:
First Corinthians is one of the more practical books of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church immersed in a city associated with trade, but also with corruption and immorality. These believers are struggling to properly apply spiritual gifts and to resist the ungodly practices of the surrounding culture. Paul's letter gives instructions for real-life concerns such as marriage and spirituality. He also deals with the importance of unity and gives one of the Bible's more well-known descriptions of love in chapter 13.
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