August 31 (1): 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

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

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

Before concluding this series of daily notes (on 1 Cor 1:18-2:16), it is necessary to study briefly the opening of the section which follows (3:1-4:21), in which Paul applies the arguments of 1:18ff more directly to the situation at Corinth. To begin with, the parallel between 2:6 and 3:1 is unmistakable, and must be noted:

“And we speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete…” (2:6)
“And I was not able to speak to you as (one)s with the Spirit…” (3:1)

This allows us to supplement the earlier conclusions regarding a proper interpretation of 2:6a more precisely: the ones who are “complete” essentially = the ones who “have the Spirit”. However, the distinction in 2:6-16 was between those who have the Spirit and those who have (only) the soul/spirit of a human being—the contrast of the adjectives pneumatiko/$ and yuxiko/$ being that of believer vs. non-believer. Here in 3:1ff, on the other hand, Paul is speaking directly to believers, which means that he now gives a somewhat different nuance to the adjective pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual”). To the basic sense of “one who has (received) the Spirit”, we must add the connotation of “one who thinks/acts according to the Spirit“. This is confirmed by Paul’s use of the more familiar contrast between “Spirit” and “flesh”, with its strong moral/ethical implication. The Corinthian believers are not living out (i.e. thinking and acting according to) their identity as believers who have the Spirit. We can capture this through a careful translation of v. 1:

“And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as (one)s of the Spirit [pneumatikoi/], but (rather) as (one)s (still) of the flesh [sarki/noi], as infants in (the) Anointed {Christ}.”

This “fleshly” manner of thinking/acting is marked by the very divisions (“rips/tears”) in the Community mentioned in 1:10ff, along with jealously, quarreling and partisan/sectarian identity (“of Paul”, “of Apollos”, etc). Paul actually makes use of two related adjectives:

    • sa/rkiko$ (sárkikos)—generally belonging to, or characterized by, the flesh (sa/rc)
    • sa/rkino$ (sárkinos)—more specifically, something made of, or constituted by, the flesh

The second of these is used initially in v. 1, followed by the first (twice) in v. 3. The adjective sa/rkino$ (sárkinos) carries the more neutral sense of a physical human being (i.e. made of flesh). It is used by Paul, somewhat metaphorically, in 2 Cor 3:3, while in Rom 7:14 it preserves the moral/ethical sense of the spirit vs. flesh distinction; the only other NT occurrence is in Heb 7:16. The adjective sa/rkiko$ (sárkikos) is a bit more common, used by Paul in 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12; 10:4 and Rom 15:27; the only non-Pauline occurrence in the NT is 1 Pet 2:11. It is likely that the specific use of sa/rkino$ in 3:1 is due to the earlier usage of the adjective yuxiko/$ (psychikós) in 2:14. There would seem to be a progression of terms involved, which narrows the focus of Paul’s discussion:

    • yuxiko/$ (2:14)—one who has the inner life-breath (“soul”) of a human being, but has not received the Spirit of God
    • sa/rkino$ (3:1)—a human being who is “made of flesh”, i.e. in his/her physical and sensual aspect
    • sa/rkiko$ (3:3)—a person who thinks/acts “according to the flesh”—that is, fundamentally in a sinful, selfish or “immature” manner

The progression involves a kind of natural and logical consequence:

    • The person without the Spirit is merely a human being, and is not able to be guided by the power and direction of the Spirit
    • He/she is left to be guided by his/her own natural impulses and inclinations, which tend to be dominated by physical and sensual concerns
    • As a result, the person tends to act, and ultimately think, in a selfish and sinful manner

This again allows us to refine a basic conclusion regarding Paul’s terminology in 2:6a: the ones who are “complete” are defined, in a negative sense by the opposite—those who think and act in a “fleshly” manner are “incomplete”.

The discussion on 1:18-2:16 will conclude (in a final note) with a summary interpretation of 2:6a in context.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *