August 27: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:13]

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

Before proceeding with the translation of these verses, it is necessary first to examine two important words which are central to a correct interpretation of the passage.

yuxiko/$ (psychikós)—An adjective here parallel to pneumatiko/$ (pneumatikós), the two being related to the words yuxh/ (psych¢¡, usually translated “soul”) and pneu=ma (pneu¡ma, usually translated “spirit”), respectively. The fundamental meaning of both words is of something blowing (cf. the primary verbs yu/xw and pne/w)—especially of wind (as a natural phenomena) or breath (of a living being), the two concepts or images being related in the ancient mind (wind as the ‘breath’ of the deity). The main difference between the word-groups can be described this way:

    • yu/xw refers to blowing in the sense of cooling—i.e. a cool(ing), cold breeze
    • pne/w refers primarily to movement—a stream of air (i.e. wind) with its visible effect (causing motion)

Each aspect, however, could be (and was) related to the life-breath of a (human) being. The ancient conception is preserved in Genesis 2:7, in which God breathes (blows) a wind/breath into the first human being; according to the Greek version (LXX), God breathes/blows in (e)nefu/shsen) a “living breath [pnoh/]” and the man becomes a “living breath [yuxh/]”. Here we see the two words used in tandem—pnoh/ (pno¢¡, closely related to pneu=ma pneu¡ma) and yuxh/ (psych¢¡). John 20:22 records a similar process (a “new creation”), when Jesus blows/breathes in(to) the first believers and they receive the Holy Spirit [pneu=ma]. The distinction between the two nouns can be defined generally as follows:

    • yuxh/ is the “life-breath”—that is, the invisible, inward aspect of a person, marking him/her as a living, breathing being (i.e., “soul”)
    • pneu=ma is the life-giving “breath” which animates and sustains a (human) being (i.e. “spirit”)

The two terms overlap in meaning, and the relationship between them in Greek thought is rather complex. Paul uses them each to refer to the inner dimension of a human being, but they are not to be understood as separate “things”, as though a person has “a spirit” in addition to “a soul”. Earlier in 1 Cor 2:11, Paul refers to the “spirit/breath [pneu=ma] of man th(at is) in him“, and distinguishes it from the Spirit/Breath of God—that is to say, every human being has a “spirit” in him/her, but only believers (in Christ) have the “Spirit (of God)”. Now here in verse 14, a similar contrast is made—i.e., between the believer and the “ordinary” human being. This time, Paul establishes it, not by playing with the two senses of pneu=ma (“spirit”), but by playing on the difference between the two words pneu=ma and yuxh/ and their corresponding adjectives; which brings us to the problem of translation:

    • pneumatiko/$ (pneumatikós)—something belonging to, or characterized by, pneu=ma “spirit” (i.e. “spiritual”), only here it refers specifically to the “Spirit (of God)”
    • yuxiko/$ (psychikós)—something belonging to, or characterized by, yuxh/ “soul”, that is, the human soul

Unfortunately, there is no appropriate English word corresponding to this last adjective. A formal equivalence would be something like “soulish”, but that is exceedingly awkward. Most translators tend to use “natural”, for lack of any better option; however, while this manages to get the meaning across, and preserves a meaningful comparison here in verse 14, it distorts the original Greek and the fine word-distinction being used. Based on Paul’s vocabulary elsewhere, we might expect him to use the adjective sarkiko/$ (sarkikós, “fleshly”) here (see esp. 1 Cor 3:3, also Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12; 10:4). Only that word carries a definite negative connotation in Paul’s thought (associated with sin); here he wishes to preserve the more neutral, quasi-scientific sense of a normal, living human being. The adjective yuxiko/$ appears in only three other passages in the New Testament; in Paul’s letters, the only other occurrences are in 1 Cor 15:44-46, which I will touch on below. The other two instances are in James 3:15 and Jude 19 and may help us to understand its usage by Paul here:

    • James 3:15—As in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, a contrast is made between the wisdom (sofi/a) of God (“from above”, a&nwqen) and earthly (e)pi/geio$) wisdom. The adjective “earthly” (lit. “[from] upon earth”) is followed by yuxiko/$, and then daimoniw/dh$ (“of the daimons“). Here yuxiko/$ means essentially human, as part of a triad of terms characterizing this inferior “wisdom”—earthly–human–demonic. In verse 16, the author (“James”) mentions jealousy and strife/quarrels associated with this worldly “wisdom”, which is also an important aspect of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians.
    • Jude 19—Again the adjective yuxiko/$ is the second of three descriptive terms, characterizing the ‘false’ Christians of vv. 5ff:
      (a) oi( a)podiori/zonte$ “the (one)s marking (themselves/others) off from”, i.e. separating (them) from the rest of the (true) believers
      (b) yuxikoi/—i.e. “ordinary” human beings, the term being glossed by
      (c) pneu=ma mh\ e&xonte$ “not holding/having the Spirit (of God)”

Paul uses the adjective yuxiko/$ in much the same sense as Jude—referring to human beings who possess a soul/spirit but who have not (yet) received the (Holy) Spirit. Without the guidance of the Spirit, they are led by their own human (or animal) desires and impulses.

a)nakri/nw (anakrínœ)—Paul uses this verb several times in vv. 14-15, but it does not allow for easy translation. The primary verb kri/nw I have consistently rendered with the semantic range “(to) judge”, sometimes with the nuance of “decide, examine,” etc, though its original meaning was something like “(to) separate, divide, distinguish”. The prepositional component a)na/ is best understood here as “again”, in the sense of doing something again (i.e. repeatedly); however, in the verbal context it essentially functions as an intensive element. Perhaps the best translation of the verb is “examine closely“; in a judicial setting, it can refer to an interrogation or investigation. More than half of the NT occurrences (10 of 16) are in 1 Corinthians, the only letter of Paul where the verb is used; 6 are in 1 Cor 1:18-4:21 (2:14-15; 4:3-4), being neatly divided:

    • 3: 2:14-15—the reference is to the “complete” believer, “the spiritual (one)” (see v. 6)
    • 3: 4:3-4—the reference is to Paul himself as a minister of Christ

On 1 Cor 15:44-46—Returning to the word yuxiko/$ (cf. above), it may be helpful to consider briefly Paul’s use of it in 1 Cor 15:44-46, where the context is the (end-time) resurrection. Here, too, it is contrasted with pneumatiko/$; the human being is:

    • scattered [i.e. sown, in death] (as) a yuxiko/$ body—i.e., as body in which there is a life-breath (yuxh/, “soul”)
    • raised [i.e. from the dead] (as) a pneumatiko/$ body—i.e., as a spiritual body, transformed by the Spirit of God/Christ

In verse 45, Paul explicitly cites Gen 2:7 (cf. above), making the contrast more definite—between the human soul [yuxh/] (Adam) and the Spirit [pneu=ma] (Christ). It is not simply the Spirit of God (YHWH), according to traditional Jewish thought; following his resurrection, Christ himself becomes a life-giving Spirit. The two passages, using the yuxiko/$/pneumatiko/$ contrast, reflect the two ends of early Christian (and Pauline) soteriology:

    • Regeneration—The believer experiences a “new creation” in Christ, whereby the human soul/spirit is united with the Spirit of God/Christ
    • Resurrection—The human soul (and body) of the believer is completely transformed by the Spirit of God/Christ

In 1 Cor 2:14-15, Paul has the first of these in view. The analysis above should go far in helping us gain a solid understanding of what Paul is saying in these two verses. A translation and (brief) interpretation will be offered in the next daily note.

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