Rethinking a Much Abused Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-15 -- By: Brian Borgman

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 11:1 (Winter 2002)
Article: Rethinking a Much Abused Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-15
Author: Brian Borgman

Rethinking a Much Abused Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-15

Brian Borgman

1 Corinthians 3:1-15 Abused

The Carnal Christian Teaching (3:1–4)

The founder and first president of Dallas Theological Seminary (originally The Evangelical Theological College), Lewis Sperry Chafer (D.D.), published He That Is Spiritual1 in 1918. In that work, now dubbed in its reprinted subtitle, “A Classic Study of the Biblical Doctrine of Spirituality,” he gave full exposition to the “carnal Christian” teaching, which had been briefly articulated in the Scofield Reference Bible, just one year before.2

In Chafer’s work, he opens up the first chapter with “Three Classes of Men.” Chafer based his teaching on 1 Corinthians. 2:9–3:4. He states:

The Apostle Paul, by the Spirit, has divided the whole human family into three groups: (1) The “natural man,” who is unregenerate, or unchanged spiritually; (2) the “carnal man,” who is a “babe in Christ,” and walks “as a man”; and (3) the “spiritual” man.3

In that opening chapter, Chafer describes the “carnal Christian” in the following terms:

Though saved, the carnal Christians are walking “according to the course of this world.” They are “carnal” because the flesh is dominating them (see Romans 7:14).... The objectives and affections are centered in the same unspiritual sphere as that of the “natural” man.4

According to Chafer, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:1–4, is teaching that a saved person can be under the dominion of sin. Amazingly he uses Romans 7:14 to support this idea! Further, he asserts that a regenerate man may have his objectives and affections completely untouched by the regenerating grace of the Spirit! Finally, he summarizes, “There are two great spiritual changes which are possible to human experience—the change from the ‘natural’ man to the saved man, and the change from the ‘carnal’ man to the ‘spiritual’ man.”5

Lewis Sperry Chafer had claimed to be “strictly Calvinistic.”6 Yet, his teaching in He That Is Spiritual departed from a traditional Reformed u...

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