Brother Beebe: - I have been requested by a distant brother to give an exposition of I Cor.3:9, through the Signs. I have once had occasion to give my views on this text through your paper within the past three or four years, but that exposition may not be in the possession of many of the present readers of the Signs, and hence my giving them again may not be unacceptable to some others beside the brother requesting them.
My opinion is that the translators entirely mistook the import of this text and also of II Cor.6:1, which occasioned their giving them the turn they have in the translation; and it is something surprising they should have thus mistaken, as the context, as I propose shortly to show, so clearly fixes the import. They evidently understand the compound word, sunergoi, which they have rendered laborers together as designed to represent Paul and Apollos as being associated with God in their labors; whereas the Apostle clearly used it to denote the equality of him and Apollos, being associated together as fellow-laborers in God's service. Hence Theos, God in the translation, stands in the same relation to sunergoi, as it does respectively to the words rendered husbandry and building; it being Theou, in the genitive or possessive case, in each instance; and therefore required to be rendered God's laborers together, instead of Laborers together with God, just as the next clause was correctly rendered, ye are God's husbandry, instead of ye are the husbandry with God. There is a difficulty in conveying the precise idea intended to be conveyed in this connection by the word sunergoi, in our language without a circumlocution of words. It might be rendered helpers, servants, or fellow-laborers. But helpers or servants, would express in this relation, the one a wrong idea and the other not the full idea. That which comes nearest to the true translation of this passage is this: We are God's associate-laborers, (that is laborers associated together in God's service) ye are God's husbandry, God's building. In II Cor.6:1, there is no excuse for the translators making it read as it does, excepting the making it correspond with their translation of this other text. It stands in the translation thus: "We then as workers together with Him beseech you," &c. The words with Him being printed in italics showing that there is nothing in the original answering to them. Why not then read it and understand it as the Apostle wrote it, "We then as workers together, (or fellow-laborers) beseech you," &c.
On noticing the context in I Cor., chapter 3, we shall find it fully supporting the import of the 9th verse as conveyed in the translation I have given above. In reproving the Corinthian brethren for their division, as in the first four verses, Paul represents them as accounting too highly of him and Apollos &c., hence his language in the 5th verse. But what is it? Does he say: Would you know who Paul and Apollos are, they are God's helpers, laborers together with Him in working out your salvation? No, very different! It is this: "Who then is Paul and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man." In verse 6, he brings himself and Apollos to view as fellow-laborers, "I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase;" and in verse 7, "So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God, that giveth the increase." Thus he shows that God was all in all, in their salvation, whilst he and Apollos were nothing but God's servants by whom they believed. In verses 8 & 9 he reproves the Corinthians still further, as holding him and Apollos as different leaders, by one saying, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, and therefore he shows himself and Apollos, to be but one, but fellow-laborers not in their own, but God's husbandry. Whilst therefore this 9th verse as it stands in the common translation clashes in import with the preceding verses, in the construction I have given to it, there is a harmony in the import of the whole.
A few remarks in reference to the system of the missionaries. They bring these texts to sustain them in their notion of being co-workers with God, yea, they go so far as to say that God cannot save sinners without the aid of preachers. Admitting this to be the fact, and the conclusion is irresistible, that God has never in earnest purposed the salvation of sinners, notwithstanding His having given His Son, to save them, but that He looks on it with an entire indifference, whether they get to heaven or sink to hell. Let us just take one heathen, in a land where the gospel is not now preached, and count some of the leading contingencies that stand in the way of his salvation, according to the missionaries notions. A missionary must be sent to him, to obtain this, to go, back no further: 1st, a young man must consent to become religious: 2nd, he must devote himself to the ministry: 3rd, schools must be established where he can obtain the necessary qualifications: 4th, he being a poor pious young man; beggars must go forth and succeed in obtaining money to defray the expenses of his education, and the ladies must become sufficiently interested in his education to furnish him with clothing: 5th, when all this is done, he must decide on going to the heathen, instead of seeking a call in some other field: 6th, he must find a wife willing to go with him: 7th, on application to the Board he must be judged to be of the right stamp: 8th, the public must be induced to contribute money enough to sustain the other establishments, &c., and to enable the Board to furnish him his outfit, &c.: 9th, the winds and waves and skill of the mariners must contribute to waft him in safety to his intended port: 10th, he must not get sick of his undertaking, and therefore invent an excuse to return, as some have: 11, after this, if the natives neither conclude to eat him, being cannibals, nor drive him from them, he may become settled as a missionary among them: 12, if he lives long enough he may acquire a knowledge of the language so as to write and circulate tracts among them, and preach, &c. Now to the individual heathen whose salvation we started for, and 13, he must not have died during this long space whilst the missionary was being prepared: 14, he must fall in with the missionaries' tracts or preaching: 15th, he must be convinced by the missionaries' arguments of the truth of the christian religion: 16th, he must have resolution sufficient to profess that religion and then, 17th, if he hold out in his profession, he will, according to the mission notion of conversion, get to heaven. Here then are 17 contingencies, besides chains of others connected with each, standing between this man and heaven, should any one of them fail to take place, all would fail, and neither the zeal of the missionary, nor the labors of the theological professors, nor the money collected and expended, nor the shed-blood of Christ would save this individual from the quenchless fire of hell. Can any man whose judgment is not perverted by religious frenzy, believe that a God infinite in knowledge, wisdom and power, could will the salvation of sinners and yet leave their salvation to depend on the uncertain issue of such a mass of contingencies? Can anything more absurd be found ascribed by the heathen to their gods, than the missionaries thus ascribe to their god, in representing Him as willing, and attempting the salvation of sinners through the sacrifice of His own Son, and yet leaving their salvation to depend altogether on such a combination of human contingencies? Well do the missionaries term their god, the God of missions, and not ascribe to Him the title claimed for our God, namely: THE GOD OF OUR SALVATION.
Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia,
Jan. 7, 1841
From: SIGNS of the TIMES: Vol.9 (1841)
Select Works of Elder Samuel Trott
pgs. 236 - 239