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1 Corinthians 3 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,
13 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.
14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.
15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Is a believer supposed to go through fire as part of the judgment? Or the fire only applies to his work?

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  • 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 Jan 19 at 18:34
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1 Corinthians 3:15 Berean Study Bible

If it is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as if through the flames.

as if
ὡς (hōs)
Adverb
Strong's Greek 5613: Probably adverb of comparative from hos; which how, i.e. In that manner.

[the] flames.
πυρός (pyros)
Noun - Genitive Neuter Singular
Strong's Greek 4442: Fire; the heat of the sun, lightning; fig: strife, trials; the eternal fire. A primary word; 'fire'.

The Greek adverb ὡς (as if) signifies a simile. The fire or flames is figurative. It signifies strife or trials. The believer is not literally going through a fire. Similar image is in Jude 1

22Be merciful to those who doubt; 23save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

The image conveys being barely escaping eternal punishment. Paul urges believers to build on the foundation of Jesus and not on anyone else.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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