(KJV)1 Corinthians 3:15

If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Does this mean that God will overlook some erroneous teachings & doctrines if done in ignorance

  • Good question (+1). Does δια πυρος convey being saved 'on account of the fire' (that is to say, the fire is a means of escape). Or does δια πυρος convey being saved 'through the fire' that is to say, being preserved despite the fire. Up-voted. ...but so as through fire... [YLT]
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 18:34

10 Answers 10


Beautiful question. Of course the best way to analyze this would be within 11-15. Verse 11 we have Jesus Christ the foundation which cannot be replaced. Verse 12 we have different materials of different quality being laid on THAT foundation. Verse 13 we have those things being built on the foundation of Jesus Christ now tried by fire. Verse 14 we have any material built on Jesus that survive the fire will result in a reward. Verse 15 we have materials that don't survive the fire are gone, lost, but not ones salvation.

What we have here is simply, that which you do, do unto The Lord Jesus. If it is done for profit or any selfish reason it will be burned and the time you spent doing it will have been wasted.

As far as erroneous teachings and doctrines, unfortunately we all have them. We are all in error somewhere. Anything we do for any other purpose than to know and glorify God, is error. But it won't be overlooked, it will be burnt.

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    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 8:43
  • "Verse 15 we have materials that don't survive the fire are gone, lost, but not ones salvation" - that's actually not what the verse implies, although some translations (including the KJV) give that impression. The correct interpretation of the Greek is that the one in question won't just burn up like his works, which will be forgotten, but will abide in the flames forever. Cf. Matthew 25:36-41, Revelation 20:12
    – user33515
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 19:59
  • @33515 εἴ τινος ἔργον κατακαήσεται ζημιωθήσεται αὐτὸς σωθήσεται δὲ οὕτως διὰ πυρός I really don't see how you can go from the defined subject 'work' to ones salvation. The passage clearly refutes that with αὐτὸς σωθήσεται he himself will be save.
    – N.Ish
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 20:32
  • I think you are imputing a meaning to σωθήσεται to make it conform with a particular theological viewpoint, but it was not understood in the sense you suggest by the Greek Church in this instance. σωθήσεται δὲ οὕτως διὰ πυρός means he will be preserved to remain burning in the fire (unlike his forgotten works), not that he will be saved from the fire. Your interpretation actually aligns with that given by the Roman Church (e.g. Augustine, City of God; Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy), but not the Greek (e.g. Chrysosotom, Homilies on First Corinthians).
    – user33515
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 1:00
  • Something like your interpretation is applied to 1 Cor 3:15 as a proof text to support the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 1031). Mark of Ephesus argued against this interpretation, which is one of the reasons why the Eastern Orthodox Church didn't re-unite with the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Florence.
    – user33515
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 1:02

The immediate context of 1 Cor 3:15 is found from V12 onwards -

12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 his workmanship will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as if through the flames.

The thrust of Paul's discussion here is about the flames of final destruction of unquenchable fire as referenced in places like Matt 3:12, Mark 9:43, 45, Luke 3:17, etc.

Thus, one escaping "as through the flames" means that sub-standard, or low quality (V12, 13) work will be destroyed; but by God's grace the person will still be saved. Paul, thus encourages the church leaders to build up the church with good quality "materials" of "gold, silver and precious stones" - a metaphor for using a solid Christ-centered work of teaching and leadership.


1 Corinthians 3:15 What does “escaping through the flames” convey?

In verses 10 and 11, the apostle Paul was talking about the preaching and teaching work that he was undertaking. The illustration he uses is of a wise or expert builder that has to choose his materials carefully. Verse 12 gives a list of materials that, depending on their resiliency, will either quickly burn up or withstand the test of fire.

Verse 13 answers the question of what is going through the fire, is it the believer or his work.

their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.

The apostle Paul is explaining to us that those to whom he, and us by extension, preaches will either accept what he has taught them or will choose to ignore the gospel (see also Jesus' illustration of the seeds at Mark 4:2-20).

Those who have strong faith in God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ will be able to endure much of what the devil throws at them. Whereas those weak in faith will have a much more difficult time.


It means that the person will be saved like one is escaping from somewhere else "through the flames". As to how fire can be a way to be rescued, it is a well known idiom in the NT ("everyone will be salted with fire" Mark 9:49). In this case, the flames or fire refers to purification.


1 Corinthians 3:15 What does “escaping through the flames” convey?

1 Corinthians 3:15 (NASB)

15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet only so as through fire.

Paul was telling the Christians in Corinth that we, as well as those being teached will have their faith tested.

The expression “escaping through the flames” or "yet only so as through fire" means "tests of our faith."

James 1:2-3 (NET Bible)

Joy in Trials

2 My brothers and sisters,[a] consider it nothing but joy[b] when you fall into all sorts of trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

John 15:20 (NET Bible)

20 Remember what[a] I told you, ‘A slave[b] is not greater than his master.’[c] If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed[d] my word, they will obey[e] yours too.


Below is a fresh, conservative translation:

1 Corinthians 3:15-17 For we are co-labourers with God; you are God's farm, God's building.

According to the grace of God which is given me, as a wise foreman, I lay the foundation, and another builds upon it: but let each one be careful as to how he builds upon it.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now whether someone build on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one's own work shall be made manifest: for the Day shall make it known: for it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall test each one's work, what kind it is.

If anyone's work remain, which he has built, he shall receive wages; if anyone's work work shall be burned up, it shall be a loss to him, yet he shall be saved: yet only as through fire.

Do you not know that you are God's temple, and the spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys the temple of God, God shall destroy him: for the temple of God is holy, which you are.

The translation, "as one escaping through the flames" is taking extreme liberty with the text; in all likelihood it is in reaction to the doctrine of purgatory, which many see here taught or implied (being saved 'differently' than 'simply being saved' outright: saved, "yet only as through fire;" i.e. as distinct from being saved without, in some way, this fire — in some sense saved only because of it, whereas it is clearly post-death).

Much is lost in this passage because of the doctrinal contentiousness (works, reward, purgatory, etc.).

But it really is quite straightforward when read in context.

For we are co-labourers with God; you are God's farm, God's building.

This is speaking about the apostles, who spread the seed of/lay the foundation which is the gospel with spiritual authority (cf. 3:4-6).

According to the grace of God which is given me, as a wise foreman, I lay the foundation, and another builds upon it: but let each one be careful as to how he builds upon it.

Paul is able to lay this foundation only by the divine commission and spiritual authority invested in him ("the grace which is given me"), and he says this no doubt to expel the notion that he is any kind of foundation or beginning himself, i.e. other than Christ (which also explains the next line). He spreads the seed of the gospel, but each one must be careful as to how he builds a life upon that gospel message. He leads Christians to the water, so to speak, but they must be voluntarily participating and cultivating their spiritual life themselves as well, being active, and not passive.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

The foundation is the same, for those who build poorly and those who build well, so this is not where the issue lies if something goes wrong: "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him. If we deny him, he will also deny us. If we believe not, he continueth faithful, he can not deny himself" (2 Tim. 2:12-13). On to what is up to us, then:

Now whether someone build on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one's own work shall be made manifest

The gold, silver, precious stones clearly stand for good works, whereas wood, hay, straw stand for bad works, poor, sloppy, half-hearted attempts at virtue - worthless to God who cannot be fooled. Of whatever kind everyone's works are, it will be made known at the judgement:

for the Day shall make it known

This appears to be the infamous Day of judgement and/or each one's personal judgement after death. 2 Pet. 3:10; Phil. 1:6; 1:10; 2:16 etc.

for it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall test each one's work, what kind it is.

That is, in context, the work that he has done will be revealed by fire, exposing the kind and quality of the work just as a furnace 'tries' gold, and it 'comes through the other end pure.'

If anyone's work remain, which he has built, he shall receive wages;

If like gold tried by fire your work remains, it has been shown to be a worthy work: and you "receive wages" (or "receive pay") for true and honest labour (built, done, like St. Paul's foundation-laying work, by "the grace of God which is given"), so that "no one may boast" (Eph. 2:9; Rom. 11:35).

if anyone's work work shall be burned up, he shall suffer loss, yet he shall be saved: yet only as through fire.

If your work is burned up, it is worthless and cannot withstand the trying justice of God - the demands placed on the Christian when he gives him His grace - the 'talents' he gives his servants to do wisely with them (Mt. 25:14-30) were refused to one degree or another, by choice, to one degree or another.

Here one "suffers loss" (the opposite of "receive wages," not a physical suffering - "he shall have worked at his own expense" might be another way of translating it), that is, his work is not rewarded, but instead his time spent doing these 'straw' 'empty' works was wasted - time he'll never get back, and which could have been used to do real good works. (It doesn't appear these are active sins proper, but 'negligences' - in a word, venial sin). He will get to sins proper in the next line.

Do you not know that you are God's temple, and the spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys the temple of God, God shall destroy him: for the temple of God is holy, which you are.

If you trample the grace of God under foot by wilful sin, you have destroyed the temple of God which God made you, sanctifying you by His Spirit.

Hebrews 10:28-30 Anyone setting aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses: how much worse punishment do you think he deserves who tramples under foot the Son of God, and esteems as common the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who affronts the Spirit of grace? We know him who said: "Vengeance is mine: I will repay." The Lord says again also, "The Lord shall judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!

So I see here the three ultimate ends of man: direct reward and happiness, what has been called purgatory (or purification in English), and hell; the first two are really the same, except one goes directly to heaven, and is marked by relative perfection, whereas the second is marked by prevalent faults and shortcomings, despite the grace given him (making these his fault really indeed, and he can't complain for suffering, or complain that Christ's grace was not strong enough - hide his talents because he claims God's justice is impossible even with the talents or grace given him): he will be saved "yet only as through fire" - a reference to suffering of some form, in some capacity of the human soul, whether spiritual, physical, or mental. And the third is marked by irreparable damage - prevalent, unrepentant sin, which results in hell.

Indeed, it makes sense to mention these three ends of a Christian, since anything less is leaving something out.

Finally, since to disembody works is by nature metaphorical, this is only a way of speaking of someone's spiritual acts or lack thereof in a metaphorical way (being tried, which actions cannot literally be). It cannot refer to the works suffering loss or receiving wages or being saved. These all refer to the one building on Christ.


A common mis-interpretation of this verse and the passage to which it belongs is that one will not be judged according to one's works. But this would clearly contradict what Christ Himself stated in the Gospels (Matthew 25:36-41) and in what appears in John's vision of the Apocalypse (20:12):

And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books,
according to their works.

A better translation of this passage is, in my opinion:

If the work of anyone abide which he built upon, he shall receive a reward.

If the work of anyone shall be burned, he shall suffer loss,
but he himself shall be saved, but so as in the midst of fire

He is not saved by means of fire, but is preserved bodily to be forever consumed in fire. (The preceding translation is from the Orthodox New Testament).

For confirmation of this reading, one might see how Greek Christians in antiquity understood the passage. Chrysostom (4th c.), for example, writes:

Wherefore he said, “He shall suffer loss:” lo, here is one punishment: “but he himself shall be saved, but so as by fire;” lo, again, here is a second. And his meaning is, “He himself shall not perish in the same way as his works, passing into nought, but he shall abide in the fire.

“He calleth it, however, “Salvation,” you will say; why, that is the cause of his adding, “so as by fire:” since we also used to say, “It is preserved in the fire,” when we speak of those substances which do not immediately burn up and become ashes. For do not at sound of the word fire imagine that those who are burning pass into annihilation. And though he call such punishment Salvation, be not astonished. For his custom is in things which have an ill sound to use fair expressions, and in good things the contrary. For example, the word “Captivity” seems to be the name of an evil thing, but Paul has applied it in a good sense, when he says, “Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. x. 5.) And again, to an evil thing he hath applied a good word, saying, “Sin reigned,” (Rom. v. 21.) here surely the term “reigning” is rather of auspicious sound. And so here in saying, “he shall be saved,” he hath but darkly hinted at the intensity of the penalty: as if he had said, “But himself shall remain forever in punishment.”1

1 Homily IX on the First Epistle to the Corinthians


1 Cor 3 speaks about two kinds of people. One group has the foundation, which is Jesus Christ. The other group has the foundation too, but have built on that foundation. One group is called infants in Christ, still drinking spiritual milk. The other group Paul calls mature people who have moved from spiritual milk to solid food.

I don't think that it is correct to conclude that the spiritual milk people will have to stay in the eternal fire. 1 Cor 3 says that they have the foundation, but that they have not yet understood the more complex realities of the spiritual world.

I believe that Lot serves as an example for the "saved through fire" people. While Abraham serves as an example for the more mature, solid food, people. The group of people who will be given a reward.

So, the proof is with Lot. God will not condemn someone to the eternal fire if they have the foundation Jesus Christ, but have not built right on that foundation. Thus, God will overlook some minor erroneous teachings & doctrines if done in ignorance.

  • 1
    "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:" Acts 17:30. "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:" Ephesians 4:18. "For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:" 1 Peter 2:15
    – N.Ish
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 17:26

There is another way to view this passage, especially in light of 3:17, "If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's Temple is sacred and you together are that Temple."

This passage from verses 10 through 15 may not be referring to a dichotomy of a Christian's work versus another Christians poor works, but instead to a real Christians work, compared to an unbelievers work. The latter appears to be a builder building on the foundation of Christ, versus building from a point of personal pride and arrogance. This would be the kind of pride that says I am of Paul or I am of Apollos.

In this case, the day mentioned here in this passage has to do with the fire that will come on the believer through persecution or the suffering against worldliness. This is the fire that James refers to and that Peter refers to is that which tests are faith and produces in us a greater steadfastness and reveals our true faith, our enduring faith.

However, for those who are without genuine faith, that fire shows or reveals their real motives. The end result is that though they will survive upon the testing of the works, that survival will end in the ultimate judgment upon their death. They survived the fire of testing, but only to face the flames upon final judgment. It is too easy to interpret the word "saved" as referring to salvation, when in fact many times in scripture is used to mean survival, that is bodily or good survival here and now. A great example of this is in the letter to Timothy where Paul says that women will be saved through childbearing. This is definitely not a reference to salvation but to a woman's survival in the present world, and in that present culture.

So the non-Christian, the fake Christian, building upon the foundation that Paul laid in Corinth Will survive when their works are tested, but they will face eternal judgment at the final judgment. Christians will not go through a fiery judgment upon their death, but will receive the reward of eternal life. Whether there will be rewards for their faithfulness in addition to their reward of salvation is a whole different discussion.

So, in short this passage does not talk about purgatory or every Christian going through the fire of testing when they die, which none of us would look forward to, especially when we expect the grace of Christ to cover all of this for us. Jesus specifically said,"He who hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life. He will not come into judgment, but has passed from death to Life." Later we read that the only judgment that we will come into is the judgment for reward and that reward is for the glory of Christ. Again, a whole other discussion and a tough one to figure out at that as to the nature of rewards.

The strength of this particular way of looking at this verse is in the context of 3:17... That God will destroy the person who works to destroy his Temple, that is, His church and His people.

I hope this will give an alternative view worth considering for those reading on this site, especially for those who fear going through the flames upon their death. May this assuage our fears and give us all great peace as we diligently pursue the grace of God in this life and build upon God's foundation in Christ with gold silver and precious stones to reflect the genuineness of our desire to follow Christ and to help others to do the same.

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    Commented Jun 8 at 13:45
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    Commented Jun 8 at 13:45

This passage is about the category of believers who "build house" during their lives, that is to say, who put to practice their faith in Christ. However, some build by gold, some by silver, some by wood and some by hay. That is to say, not all put to practice their faith with the same diligence, passion and concentration, thus bringing forth different amount of spiritual fruits.

The idea, that those who have built their houses with hay will still be saved, implies nothing else than that although God would have been more pleased them to have yielded more spiritual fruits, will still not neglect at least some spiritual gain on their part and will still rescue them from the hellfire, which is a metaphor standing for total destitution from any spiritual progress in God.

Of course this passage says nothing about those nominal Christians who do not build at all their houses, that is to say, do not put to practice their faith and continue living sinfully and are engulfed totally by concerns of this life, without any reference to the Eternal Life. Such people will not be rescued from the fire, for they are very comfortable with this fire already, seeing no need whatsoever to be rescued from it in the first place.

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