Man’s Grace-Enabled Cooperation w God (1 Cor 3:9)

Man’s Grace-Enabled Cooperation w God (1 Cor 3:9) October 9, 2018

Dialogue from a public Internet Discussion Board with a Protestant, whose words are in blue.

* * * * *
If the Holy Spirit “inspires,” “enables,” “prompts,” “causes,” “initiates” (or whatever synonymous term you like) our good works, how then, can it be said (of Catholic theology) that they originate with us? All we’re saying is that the human being in good graces can cooperate with God. This is — it seems to me — an explicit, undeniable, Pauline doctrine. God begins the process, and then we merely cooperate with it (e.g., Paul uses the term “God’s fellow workers”: RSV).

Is that what he says? [1 Corinthians 3:5-11]: 

5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom
you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.
6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.
7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is
anything, but God who causes the growth.
8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will
receive his own reward according to his own labor. 
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise
master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But
each man must be careful how he builds on it.
11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid,
which is Jesus Christ. 

The italic text is what you quote — which is literally “we are fellow workers of God”, not “fellow workers with God”, which the Catholic NAS confirms — does not say we work in partnership with God but in service to God. 

Man cooperates with God, who always enables, and this is nothing more than what St. Paul explicitly says (e.g., 1 Cor 3:9). The Protestant reference, Eerdmans Bible Commentary (edited by D. Guthrie & J. A. Motyer, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 3rd edition, 1970), states, for this verse:

. . . the Greek is probably as AV, ‘together with God’ (cf. RSV mg.; Mk 16:20).

Mark 16:20 (RSV) reads:

And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them . . .

The KJV reads at 1 Cor 3:9:

For we are labourers together with God . . .
Phillips: In this work, we work with God . . .
Amplified: For we are fellow workmen — joint promoters, laborers together — with and for God . . .

The Greek for “labourer” is sunergos (Strong’s word #4904). It appears (usually as “fellow labourer” or “helper,” etc.) also in Rom 16:3,9,21, 2 Cor 1:24, 8:23, Phil 2:25, 4:3, Col 4:11, 1 Thess 3:2, Philem 1,24, and 3 Jn 8. The related sunergeo (#4903) is at Mk 16:20, Rom 8:28, 1 Cor 16:16, James 2:22, and 2 Cor 6:1:

Working together with him [i.e., Jesus; see 5:21], then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. (RSV)

Baptist Greek scholar A. T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, writes at 1 Corinthians 3:9:

. . . (co-workers of God) . . . God is the major partner in the enterprise of each life, but he lets us work with him.

Likewise, Marvin Vincent, in Word Studies of the New Testament, states:

It is of God that ye are the fellow workers.’

W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words:

‘Sunergos’ denotes a worker with . . . See the R.V., ‘God’s fellow-workers.’ (under “Work”)

I rest my case. 1 Corinthians 3:9 clearly teaches direct cooperation of the believer with God.

My opponent also brought up the Latin Vulgate and its translations in an attempt to demonstrate internal contradiction in the Catholic position on this, so I decided to check out a few of the Catholic translations of the Vulgate. First up is the good ole Douay-Rheims version (Bishop Challoner revision); 1 Corinthians 3:9:

For we are God’s coadjutors . . .

Now, this is sort of a strange word, so I looked it up in the dictionary. It comes from Latin (co = together / adjutor = assistant). So the definition is:

1. an assistant; helper 2. a person, often another bishop, appointed to assist a bishop, usually becoming his successor.

So far so good. Now we turn to the recent translation of the Vulgate by famous Catholic apologist, Ronald Knox:

You are a field of God’s tilling, a structure of God’s design; and we are only his assistants.

The late great Protestant Bible scholar F. F. Bruce (no slouch) was rather fond of the Knox translation:

Knox’s version has the overwhelming advantage of being the work of a man who had an uncanny instinct for getting the right word or the right phrase in any given context. As readers of his other works know, Knox was a master of English style . . .

Suffice it to say that, for all the inevitable limitations of a secondary version, Knox has given us a most readable edition of the English Bible. (History of the Bible in English, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 3rd edition, 1978, 208, 212)


(originally 5-8-02)

Photo credit: WaSZI  (4-20-18) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]


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