"Co-workers with God"? - 1 Cor. 3:9
Steven Craig Miller
scmiller at www.plantnet.com
Fri Dec 10 12:01:46 EST 1999
To: Pastor Bret A. Hicks,
<< In 1 Corinthians 3:9 Paul says that he and Apollos were: THEOU ...
SUNERGOI. This is translated by the KJV as "co-workers with God" and more
ambiguously by the NIV as "God's co-workers". My question regards the best
way to understand the genitive THEOU. Is it "possessive" in nature, so that
Paul and Apollos are co-laborers who both work together UNDER (are owned
by) God? Or is it to be understood in the sense of the KJV that they are
co-workers WITH God. >>
It is interesting to note KJV's translation ("For we are labourers together
with God ...") in light of Tyndale's translation ("We are God's Labourers
..."), since the KJV plagiarized so much of Tyndale's translation, it is
obviously that here they decided to go an independent route, which puts a
whole new spin on the passage.
In their ICC commentary on 1 Corinthians, Robertson and Plummer refer to
the translation "fellow-workers with God" as being "the more simple and
natural translation." They also go on to suggest that if Paul had meant
"fellow-workers together in God's service" that he would have formulated it
somewhat after the fashion of TOUS SUNERGOUS MOU EN CRISTWi IHSOU at Rom
16:3. But personally, I find all this less than convincing. It is true that
Paul uses the genitive of a personal pronoun with the substantive SUNERGOS
to refer to others and himself as "co-workers," but that does not justify
IMO assuming that the first QEOU (at 1 Cor 3:9) implies that God is viewed
here by Paul as a "co-worker" too. If Paul had wanted to suggest that
Apollos and Paul, along with God, are all "co-workers," one might expect
something like SUN QEWi GAR ESMEN SUNERGOI, that would have made it clear
that what Paul meant was "we are co-workers with God."
Furthermore, in this chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul is addressing the
problem of the emerging factions which were aligning themselves with
specific Christian leaders, such as Apollos and Paul. And so Paul here
wants to stress that both Apollos and himself are "co-workers." That seems
to me that whole point of the preposition SUN- attached to ERGOS. And not
any ordinary co-workers, but rather God's co-workers (i.e., co-workers in
the service of God). That seems to me to be the most natural interpretation
of this passage.
On the other hand, as you noted in your message, at 1 Thessalonians 3:2 we
find: KAI EPEMYAMEN TIMOQEON, TON ADELFON hHMWN KAI SUNERGON TOU QEOU ...
and it appears very possible that some early scribe was scandalized by the
notion that Timothy might be thought to be a "God's co-worker" and decided
to alter this passage of scripture. So that we now have only two Greek MSS
which support this reading, namely the fifth century Codex Bezae and the
ninth century minuscule 33 (once called "the queen of the cursives").
I find it unlikely that Paul meant for his readers to understand these
passages as implying that God was our "co-worker." But who knows? It is
-Steven Craig Miller
Alton, Illinois (USA)
scmiller at www.plantnet.com
Disclaimer: "I'm just a simple house-husband (with no post-grad degree),
what do I know?"
More information about the B-Greek