A Forgotten Verse, I Corinthians 11: 19


     The view of pristine Christianity entertained by some will not allow them to understand much less appreciate certain statements of truth resident in God's word. Paul's statement to the Corinthians concerning the necessity of division is a case in point. Paul wrote: "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (I Cor. 11: 19, King James Translation).

     The average concept of Christianity today is truth does not matter and peace at all costs. Division is seldom experienced because of the view of the elasticity of truth and unity in diversity. Please consider some additional translations of I Corinthians 11: 19, before we proceed to a more detailed exegesis of the statement.

     "For doubtless there have to be factions or parties among you in order that they who are genuine and of approved fitness may become evident and plainly recognized among you" (Amplified Translation). "For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you" (American Standard Translation). "For it behooves indeed sects to be among you in order that the approved ones may become manifest among you" (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, translation by Marshall).

     The local church at Corinth had many doctrinal and moral problems. Secular wisdom was too important; they were harboring fornication; lawsuits among members were rampant; there were many marriage and divorce issues; there was disregard for others; the occasion of the Lord's Supper was being replaced with physical gluttony; some of the spiritual gifts were being abused and others neglected; and there was false teaching about the resurrection (I Cor. 1-4; 5; 6; 7; 8-10; 11; 12-14; 15). The Corinthians had failed to grow and were in a state of spiritual retardation (I Cor. 3: 1-3). In other words, a spiritually negative condition characterized the church. Nonetheless, Paul was able to draw a spiritually positive truth from the matter, "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you."

     To understand exactly the teaching of Paul, let us now engage in a careful exposition of I Corinthians 11: 19.

     "For there must be also heresies among you…."  The first question of importance is, what does "heresies" mean? The Greek word hairesis is found nine times in the Greek New Testament. Hairesis is translated "sect" five times and "heresy" four times in the King James. Hairesis is always used in the bad sense.

     Hairesis is defined thus: "Hairesis, a choosing, choice; then, that which is chosen, and hence, an opinion, especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects…" (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). There is a different Greek word used in verse 18 translated "divisions." The word in verse eighteen is Schisma. This Greek word means to rent or tear, to split, rend open, according to W. E. Vine (cp. Matt. 9: 16). When the two descriptions found in verse eighteen and nineteen are combined, the picture is indeed ugly and reprehensible. The church at Corinth had division, separations and spiritual tears, and sects or factions that existed as a result of choices made and loyalties formed to matters other than truth.

     "…for there must be…." "Must be" is of the utmost syntactical importance to an understanding of the statement. The words "must be" are derived from the Greek word dei. Dei is defined as, "It is necessary, there is need of, it behooves…" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 126). Some who understand the meaning of "divisions" of verse eighteen and "heresies" of verse nineteen, can not understand that Paul is saying these conditions are necessary for an end result. However, necessity is altogether the meaning of dei. Jesus said to Necodemus, "Ye must (dei, dm) be born again" (Jn. 3: 7). We must (dei) worship God in truth and in spirit and man must (dei) do certain things to be saved (Jn. 4: 24; Acts 16: 30). The point is, dei means must!

     Paul's teaching should not be viewed as new or different. Jesus essentially taught the same about the reality and necessity in general of division (Matt. 10: 34 ff.). You see, there is only one faith and Christians must contend for the "once delivered faith" (Eph. 5; Jude 3). "Peace at any price" and unity in diversity have no part of pristine Christianity.

     "…that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." "Approved" is from the Greek dokimos. Dokimos is used in the Septuagint translation (one often quoted by Jesus and the apostles) in Zechariah 11: 1: "Cast them into a furnace and I will see if it is good (approved, dokimos, dm) metal." Hence, the approved ones at Corinth would be those who were tested and found genuine.

     "…made manifest."   "Manifest" is from phanerros. Phanerros is translated "openly" and "known" in Matthew 6: 4 and Acts 7: 13, respectively. How would those thus approved be made known among others in the church at Corinth? In a passive application, the tested and approved would not rebel at God's word (Paul's teaching), did not misconduct themselves, did not rally around men (parties and factions), and did not simply drop out because of their fear to address the prevailing problems. In an active sense, others knew the approved in that they would submit to God's word, manifest their allegiance to Christ, properly conduct themselves in controversy, remain loyal, and contend for the faith.

     In all honesty, not a few local churches have divisions and factions. There are doctrinal and moral issues that have prompted the spiritual tears, separations, and groups have formed that rally around their leaders. In such an atmosphere the faithful and genuine are conspicuous, however. Such a sad prevailing circumstance can actually result in good: the manifesting of the approved. Yes, they are physically a part of the situation, but they are not passive and condoning (see Rev. 2:12-29). If repentance is not forthcoming, there may also come a time when they must withdraw themselves from the sinful conditions (cp. Lk. 10: 11, Eph. 5: 10, 11, I Tim. 6: 5, 2 Jn. 9-11). The good news is, many at Corinth repented at Paul's plain and cogent preaching (2 Cor. 2, 9-13). If Paul had been of the belief and persuasion of too many preachers today (accepting unity in diversity and doctrinal and moral laxity), he would not have courageously preached on their sins; hence, there would have been no repentance on their part. Also appreciate the fact that Paul did not violate their autonomy by not only preaching on their sins, but also revealing to others the sins of the church at Corinth!

     Allow me to close with the appropriate and succinct words of Commentator David Lipscomb regarding I Corinthians 11: 19:

     "The church of God, like the Jewish nation, will continually fall away from steadfastness in the faith. Those who cannot be faithful to God under temptations to disobey him are not worthy of his kingdom. So God allows evil men to come among his people who would lead away from God and his order, to try and test who among them are faithful and true to him….This was permitted to prove and to show who could stand firm and steadfast under temptations to turn away from God. God tests them on the point of fidelity to him in faith and doctrine as well as love of the world, lusts of the flesh, and pleasures of life….These are God's tests to purify the churches. He desires only true and tried and faithful subjects in his kingdom. Those who cannot stand the test must be purged out. So divisions come to every church to make manifest those who are approved. It is God bringing the churches to judgment in this world, that those who are approved and true may be manifest. All we have to do is to stand true and firm to God and his word, and leave the results with him" (A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, pg. 170, 171).

     Addendum:  Related articles for you to read are:  Jesus and Division; Jesus and Unity; Fellowship; and Romans 14, an Overview