(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


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.

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics.SE - I see you've been posting fairly energetically over the past day or so. Well done for taking the site tour; you would also get some help about this site's ethos from this "meta" post. There is a good post, too, on what we're looking for in answers. Hope that's a help!
    – Dɑvïd
    Mar 15 '17 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
    Mar 17 '17 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
    Mar 17 '17 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
    Mar 18 '17 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
    Mar 18 '17 at 1:02

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.

  • "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
    Mar 26 '17 at 17:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.