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1 Corinthians 3:21, 22 - who is the Author (Paul) saying everything belongs to?

Therefore, stop boasting in men. All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future. All of them belong to you

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    – Dottard
    Aug 30, 2023 at 6:07
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    Good question. Up-voted +1. How shall the character (and the deeds) of the persons called 'you', by the apostle of old, be defined and recognised today ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 30, 2023 at 10:43

6 Answers 6

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I suggest that this verse, and indeed the whole chapter, is a deliberate rebuttal of the statements reported in ch1 v12 and repeated in ch3 v4; "I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollos, I belong to Cephas". That is what Paul means by "boasting in men".

"NO!" says Paul. It's exactly the other way round. You do not belong to those who have taught you. If anything, Apollos and Cephas and I belong to you. That is, God has appointed us to serve you by bringing you the gospel. As he has already told them in v5; "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed ,as God assigned to each."

Once again, the explanation is in the context.

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  • I like this answer, but I still wonder why "the world or life or death or the present or the future" are added and in what sense Paul is claiming these things "belong" to the believers.
    – Cole
    Aug 31, 2023 at 3:15
  • Perhaps they are "ours" in the sense that we know everything about them through the gospel teaching. Aug 31, 2023 at 6:26
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Paul is trying to get the believers eyes off of men and back on to Christ and God where all things come from. All things belong to us because we belong to Christ. Christ has overcome the world and everything in it. Nothing rules over Him, instead, everything belongs to Him. Being in Christ gives us the same ownership in a way. Even death, since He has been delivered out of death, it no longer rules over him. That applies to a believer as well. The future is in His hands as well as the present, the world we are living in today belongs to Him, even though we don't see it.

"all is yours, yet you are Christ’s, yet Christ is God’s The fact that everything (world, life, death, present and future things) belongs to us who believe, is explained here. Everything belongs to us for the simple reason that we belong to Christ. And since Christ has been entrusted with all things and we as believers share in his position, all belongs to us as well. That is also the basis of our future expectation: Christ’s future is our future. But the hierarchical ladder goes one step higher. GOD is the top of the pyramid. As we read later (11:3), “the head of Christ is GOD”. Everything starts with GOD and also ends with Him." Andre Piet

Paul said something similar in Romans 8:32

He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things?

The son is the heir — the firstborn, the allotment owner! But remember: this fate he shares with his “brothers” – “the sons of God” (8:19). They are destined to receive “along with him”, “all things” (“ta panta” – the universe). Andre Piet

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In chapter 3, Paul makes clear who, amongst the Corinthian Christians, he is speaking to, as "having all things". Verses 9 and 23 are particularly relevant, as they give the context as well as expanding on the 'who' and the 'what'.

In that chapter he is chiding that congregation for saying they are followers of either Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas. He points out that those three are but workers together, with God granting spiritual growth to new Christians. They are remaining spiritual babies by having that wrong attitude, as in verse 9:

"For we are labourers together with God; ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building." 1 Corinthians 3:9 A.V.

This spiritual 'building' is the church of Christ, made up of 'living stones' that include Paul, Apollos, Cephas and all those in Corinth who have been 'built' upon the only foundation possible - that of Jesus Christ (verse 11). All those who know that

"...ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you" (Ibid. verse 16)

That is why Paul can conclude by saying no man should glory in men, "For all things are yours... And ye are Christ's and Christ is God's." (Ibid. vss. 21 - 23). He specifically says that the things which are theirs include fellow believers in Christ, Christ, the world, life and death, things present, and things to come. They are united to each other, Christ has conquered the world, and so they are more than conquerors in Christ (Romans 8:32-39), faith in Christ has already caused them to pass from death to life, and life eternal in glory.

It's a massive remit. God's pardon of all of their sins is so vast as to open up to those who belong to Christ by faith all the treasures of heaven, in Christ. This Paul explains in more detail in Romans 8:32-39 which should now be read. Then, and only then can what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:12 make sense: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God: that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”

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The answer is - a believer in Christ, a Christian, who knows that He is the only Way, Truth ad Life (John 14:6); that in and through Him we have fulness nay a good excessiveness of life, the eternal life (cf. John 10:10); that through Him and only Him we have access to Father (John 14:6), just as through Father we have access to Him (John 6:44), and through Him we receive Holy Spirit whose presence makes us free (2 Cor. 3:17).

Moreover, if He, the Creator of all, is with us to the end of the times (Matthew 28:20) and loved us so as to not grudge from us His life, having died for us on cross, then how will or can He grudge any of the things He created? - for, in fact, those things are incomparably and infinitely less dignified and important than He Himself! Therefore, if He is ours fully and self-deniedly, then the entire world He created along with the Father and the H. Spirit is also ours “in package”, so to say, thus if “He is our Shepherd, nothing will lack from us”, as the king David says (Psalm 22 (23):1).

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  • But you have not defined the 'you' to whom Paul refers. You abrogate all to 'us' . . . But who are the persons who deserve to be called 'you' and 'us' and to whom all these things genuinely pertain ? What marks them out ? How shall we know them ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 30, 2023 at 10:42
  • @NigelJ Paul refers to the Christians in Corinth, but by a logical extension, since Christ did not fie only for Corinthian Christians, it is about all Christians who lived and will live. This Anglosaxon analytic approach poisoned by the idolatry of context is useless and harmful in theology. Aug 30, 2023 at 15:12
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It is essential to include verse 23 in the reading

21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours,

22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23 NIV)

According to Paul written in Ephesus 1:22-23

22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,

23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesus 1:22-23 NIV)

Therefore, "all things" are of the Church. Paul, Apollos, Cephas and the audiences of 1 Corinthians ("yours" or "you") constitute the Church, and the Church is of Christ, Christ is of God.

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Stephen Disraeli covered how Paul, Apollos, and Cephas "belong" to the first-century Christians in Corinth. But there is still the question about "the world or life or death or the present or the future".

Barne's Notes on the Bible unpacks a lot in both of these verses well. Let's focus on the phrase in question:

  • "the world"—Paul is talking about creation itself which Jehovah God gave us to enjoy. (Ecclesiastes 5:19)

  • "life"—We are not machines but living creatures that make individual decisions that impact how we spend our time on this earth. (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

  • "death"—When we die, we have peace and rest in the knowledge that we have lived our lives in service to Jehovah God and his son Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 4:7, 8)

  • "the present or the future"—Individually, we deal with triumphs and tragedies, hope and despair, freedom and persecution; both in our past and in our future. (Philipians 4:12, 13)

So in everything we do, say, and experience, it is all ours individually and no one can take that from us.

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