August 25: 1 Corinthians 2:12

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous note dealt with 2:10]

1 Corinthians 2:12

“And (so) we did not receive the spirit of the world, but the Spirit th(at is) out of [i.e. from] God, (so) that we should see [i.e. know] the (thing)s under God given as a favor to us.”

This declaration follows upon what has been stated in vv. 10-11 (cf. the prior note). The first half of the verse continues the running contrast between God and the world—only Paul now shifts from wisdom (sofi/a) to spirit (pneu=ma):

    • “the spirit of the world” (to\ pneu=ma tou= ko/smou)
    • “the Spirit th(at is) out of [i.e. from] God” (to\ pneu=ma to\ e)k tou= qeou=)

Note the slight difference in terminology:

(1) the first phrase uses an expression with the genitive (of the world), which can either be subjective (belonging to the world) or objective (consisting of [the things of] the world)—both are possible, but the former perhaps fits the context (and the comparison) better
(2) the second phrase uses the preposition e)k (“out of, from”), indicating primarily the source of the spirit (God himself)

The “spirit of the world” builds upon “the spirit of man” in v. 11:

    • “the spirit of man” (to\ pneu=ma tou= a)nqrw/pou)—the invisible, inner aspect (“th[at is] in him”) of a human being, corresponding roughly with our concept of “soul”; the relation between the terms pneu=ma (“spirit”), yuxh/ (“soul”), and nou=$ (“mind”) in Greek thought and anthropology is complex, and Paul uses all three terms in the verses which follow.
    • “the spirit of the world” (to\ pneu=ma tou= ko/smou)—this expression is parallel to “the wisdom of the world” in 1:20 (and 3:19), with the term “world” (and “of the world”) appearing repeatedly throughout the passage (cf. 1:20-21, 27-28). The Greek ko/smo$ fundamentally refers to an (orderly) arrangement, sometimes emphasizing decorative beauty; commonly it applies to the order of creation or the world. Paul, and other New Testament writers draw upon a basic three-fold meaning for the term:
      (a) the created order, along with the powers which govern it
      (b) the human institutions, authorities, etc, which govern and dominate the operation of society, and
      (c) humankind, or human society, treated collectively
      Often in early Christian thought ko/smo$ has a decidedly negative connotation—signifying the corrupt/sinful condition of humankind (and creation at large), and especially human thought and endeavor which is opposed to God or seeks to function apart from him. The expression “spirit of man” is essentially neutral, while “spirit of the world” draws upon this negative meaning.

There are several points to consider in the second half of the verse. First, we should note the connecting particle i%na (“[so] that”), indicating purpose—we received the Spirit from God so that we might see, etc. The verb form ei)dw=men (from ei&dw, “see”) is a rare occurrence of a perfect subjunctive; there are only 10 occurrences in the New Testament (apart from several participial forms), and always with the verb ei&dw (Mark 2:10 par; 1 Cor 13:2; 14:11, etc). Rendered literally, the phrase would be “so that we might have seen…”, but this is misleading in English; the (intensive or consummative) force of the phrase is perhaps better translated, “so that we might surely/truly see…”. In Greek idiom, to “see” (esp. with the verb ei&dw) essentially means to know (i.e. perceive, recognize). And what is it that we might come to see/know?—this is expressed in the final phrase of the verse: “the (thing)s given as a favor to us under God”. The verb xari/zomai is derived from the noun xa/ri$ (“favor”) and means “give/grant/do (something) as a favor”. It is relatively frequent in the Pauline letters (16 of the 23 occurrences in the NT), though the noun xa/ri$ (typically translated “grace”, or, more accurately, “gift”) is much more common. The preposition u(po/ (“under”) means that the things given as a favor to believers are under God’s control and come through his guidance and generosity. Note the important parallel with verse 10:

    • “the deep (thing)s of God” (ta\ ba/qh tou= qeou=)
    • “the (thing)s under God” (ta\ u(po\ tou= qeou=)

In a locative sense, u(po/ indicates “beneath”, making the connection with the “deeps/depths” of God more obvious. There is no way in English to translate the plural literally without adding in a word like “thing”—”the (thing)s…”—and yet it is perhaps not entirely appropriate to the Greek idiom. We should perhaps understand the formal expression in a collective, comprehensive sense—i.e., “(all) the depths of God”, “(every)thing under God” (cf. ta\ pa/nta, “all [thing]s” in v. 10a). In terms of Paul’s thought here, it also would not be inappropriate to combine the expressions—”all the deep (thing)s under God”—to summarize what it is that God, through the Spirit, gives to us as a favor (or gift). We might outline this as follows:

This analysis also allows us to draw several additional conclusions regarding the interpretation of verse 6a (cf. the previous daily notes):

    • The “wisdom” is not limited to the Gospel message, but ought to be understood more comprehensively as “all the (deep) things under God”.
    • It is dependent upon our having received the (Holy) Spirit
    • Through the Spirit we are able to know and experience this wisdom

It will be possible to expand upon these points as we proceed through vv. 13-16 in the upcoming notes.

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