Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Introduction

This begins a new Study Series which will run throughout the Fall season. It deals with the subject of “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”. This area of study is a rather precarious one for commentators, and I approach it with some reluctance. Not only is the eschatological interpretation of “Bible Prophecy” quite problematic and controversial, with many Christians holding sharp and distinctive views, but it also represents one of the more lurid and speculative areas of Scriptural study. There have been an extremely wide range of opinions and interpretations of certain passages—some more or less plausible, and others quite preposterous—throughout the centuries. Often the interest and emphasis on Eschatology, to the neglect of more essential aspects of Christian faith and life, has proven to be altogether unhealthy, resulting in any number of travesties (and tragedies) among Christians all the way down to the present day.

Even more serious is the fundamental question of how to deal with the eschatological worldview we find among the earliest believers (in the 1st century A.D.), in the period of the New Testament, since it differs so markedly, in many respects, from our frame of reference today. Both the chronological and cultural divide creates enormous challenges for us in understanding and interpreting the New Testament writings, and nowhere more so than in the area of eschatology. This will be discussed in detail throughout the series, beginning in this introduction (cf. further below).

The words “Prophecy” and “Eschatology”

Let us start with a definition of the terms:

Prophecy

The English terms “prophecy” and “prophet” derive from the Greek profhteu/w (proph¢teúœ), and the related nouns profhtei/a (proph¢teía) and profh/th$ (proph¢¡t¢s). The Greek has the fundamental meaning of bringing something to light (i.e. saying, telling, revealing it) before (pro/) others. Prophecy is typically understood in terms of telling the future; however, this is only one aspect of prophecy, and not even the most important one at that. There are two ways that the preposition pro/ (“before, fore[ward]”) here may be understood: (1) spatial or relational, i.e. “in front of”; and (2) chronological, i.e. “beforehand”. The latter sense relates to the foretelling of future events (i.e., declaring things before they happen); yet, the former sense better fits the basic meaning of the corresponding Hebrew ayb!n` (n¹»î°) and ab*n` (n¹»â°) in the Old Testament. In the ancient Near Eastern religious and cultural context, shared by Israelite religion, the aybn is a spokesperson (for God), a chosen representative who receives a message, and communicates this “word” (and will) of God to the people at large. This is also the role of “prophets” in early Christianity, individuals gifted by the Spirit (or, at least, receptive to it), who then speak this message to the congregation(s) with whom they are associated.

Eschatology

This word, as derived from the Greek, literally means “an account of the last [e&sxato$, éschatos] (things)”, i.e. as a subject or area of study. From the standpoint of Biblical theology, it refers to passages in the Scriptures which are thought to discuss or to reveal the end of the current Age, usually connected with the idea of the final Judgment to be brought by God upon the world, and the eternal Life which follows for believers.

Apocalypse/Apocalyptic

Both the verb a)pokalu/ptw (apokaly¡ptœ) and the related noun a)poka/luyi$ (apokálypsis) occur relatively frequently in the New Testament (26/18 times). The fundamental meaning is “take the cover away from”, i.e. “uncover”; it refers to the idea of revelation, more than to specific revelation about the future. The tendency to associate it with prophecy about the future is largely due to the influence of the Book of Revelation, which is called an a)poka/luyi$ (‘Apocalypse’, 1:1). There were a number of Jewish (and Christian) writings in the first centuries B.C./A.D. which have many characteristics in common, enough to warrant categorization as a genre of “Apocalyptic” literature. In these texts, a prophetic figure (usually a famous personage from the past) is given information, and/or allowed to see visions, which are purported to describe future events. The tendency among critical scholars is to regard all (or nearly all) of such works as ex eventu revelations—i.e., descriptions of things which, for the most part, have already occurred. Often the “future” events described would seem to refer to the author’s own life-setting and concerns.

Particular Difficulties Related to Early Christian (New Testament) Eschatology

There are a number of fundamental difficulties which face us today when studying the eschatological worldview and beliefs of the earliest Christians in the New Testament. I outline four here, which I will discuss briefly:

    1. The symbolic (multivalent) character of eschatological language and images.
    2. The unique way in which early Christians adapted traditional eschatological (and Messianic) elements, applying them to Jesus.
    3. The nature and extent of “dispensational” language and concepts.
    4. The expectation of an sudden/immanent end to this Age among early Christians.

1. Eschatological expression tends to be apocalyptic in nature (cf. above). This means that the mode of expression, within the framework of “uncovering” hidden/secret things, is often intentionally obscure, utilizing a symbolic language. Such symbolism is the result of two dynamics at work: (1) the idea that the heavenly/divine message, especially regarding future events, is difficult to express, requiring the use of symbols and figurative language; and (2) that this language is meant to protect the message, keeping it hidden and obscure for outsiders. This last point relates especially to eschatological and apocalyptic tendencies in the New Testament, going back to the teachings (esp. the parables) of Jesus himself (cf. Mark 4:11-12 par, etc).

Moreover, the very nature of symbolic language systems is multivalent—that is, individual symbols (and networks of symbols) can often have more than one underlying value or meaning. This requires most careful study and analysis when looking, for example, at the many symbols and figures used in the Book of Revelation. The multivalent character of the apocalyptic mode of expression is mirrored precisely in the vast number of ways that such language has been interpreted by Christians over the centuries.

2. Early Christians, for the most part, inherited their eschatological thought and apocalyptic mode of expression from Israelite/Jewish tradition, beginning with the Old Testament Prophets (especially the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah). This can be seen by the many similarities between the New Testament and certain Jewish writings c. 250 B.C. to the end of the 1st century A.D. (including the Qumran [Dead Sea] texts). Most of these writings reflect Messianic thought, in various ways. All of the primary Messianic figure-types which developed (Prophet, Davidic Ruler, Heavenly Judge/Deliverer) had a strong eschatological context, being closely associated with the end of the current Age (and the beginning of the Age to Come). Their appearance was generally thought to coincide with God’s (final) Judgment upon humankind, in which God would judge the wicked/nations and rescue His faithful ones. For more on this topic, cf. the earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The early Christian application of Messianic thought (and interpretation of Scripture) to the person of Jesus created a uniquely Christian mode of eschatological/apocalyptic expression. A central difficulty was the fact that Jesus had been put to death, raised, and then departed back to God the Father (in heaven), apparently without fulfilling the traditional eschatological role of the Messiah. The final Judgment, defeat of the wicked/nations, and deliverance of God’s people, etc, all had to wait until Jesus’ return to earth (i.e. “second coming”) sometime in the (near) future. This becomes the fundamental point of early Christian eschatology, but the tension it creates with the traditional manner of eschatological expression, which continued to be used, is manifest all throughout the New Testament, and causes many challenges for interpretation.

3. One specific area where this is manifested is in what I would call the “dispensational” mode of early Christian thought. I am by no means referring to the Dispensationalist systems, and manner of interpretation, popular among many Christians in recent centuries, but, rather, to the basic understanding early Christians had regarding the (eschatological) distinction between “the current Age” and “the Age to Come”. Unique (and essential) to the Christian worldview was the dual character of this “Age to Come”:

    • Aspect 1: The New Age was introduced and inaugurated by Jesus, through his sacrificial death and resurrection, and, especially, by the coming of the Spirit upon believers.
    • Aspect 2: At the same time, this “New Age” is experienced only by believers (i.e. at the spiritual level); the rest of the world remains dominated by sin and darkness. The true end of this current Age will only occur at Jesus’ return, with the final Judgment by God, and the Resurrection of the dead.

The first aspect is sometimes referred to as “realized eschatology”, as opposed to the traditional (future) eschatology of aspect #2. Christians can use eschatological modes of expression to speak of either (or both) of these aspects, which can make study of early Christian eschatology quite difficult at times. “Realized” eschatology is particularly prominent in the Gospel and Letters of John, but it can also be found clearly (and repeatedly) in Paul’s letters, and elsewhere in the New Testament as well.

4. Perhaps the single most difficult area of early Christian eschatology, for believers today, is the expectation of a sudden (imminent) occurrence of the end of the current Age, marked by the return of Jesus and God’s final Judgment. This view that the end is near is to be found in dozens of places, in most of the New Testament writings. I will be discussing these references during this series. For traditional-conservative readers and commentators, in particular, this aspect of early Christian eschatological can be highly problematic, and, indeed, many would deny (or at least mitigate) its implications. After all, by any normal standard of divine inspiration, how could the New Testament authors have been so mistaken as to believe the end was near, when at least 2,000 years would come and go before this occurs? There are no quick or easy solutions to this problem, which requires much careful study, done honestly and openly, without the burden of dogmatic presuppositions. Here I would only summarize several possible views, each of which will be discussed during the course of the articles and notes in this series:

    • The New Testament authors, like many today, truly believed that the end of the Age was close at hand, presumably to occur during their lifetime. God made use of that belief (common among many Jews and others at the time) for a greater purpose. While the inspired authors could, technically, be seen as having been mistaken on this point, it does not affect the truth of the message which they are communicating to us.
    • In interpreting these passages, our emphasis should not be on individual statements (regarding the end being near, etc), but, rather, upon the overall worldview of which they are a part. This relates, in particular, to the unique way in which early Christians adapted traditional eschatological language—i.e., Jesus was still the Davidic Ruler even though he did not restore the Kingdom to Israel, in a literal sense, during his life. Conceivably, early Christians could also speak of the end being “near”, even though they realized it might not become manifest on earth in the way that traditional eschatology imagined.
    • In speaking of the end as being “near”, this language is really expressing the idea that it could take place at any moment, since no one (not even Jesus [the Son], cf. Mark 13:32 par) knows exactly when the end will occur.
    • The use of this language of imminence is primary rhetorical, rather than literal. It is meant to exhort believers to live and act a certain way, as well as offering hope in difficult times. This view, in part, draws upon a distinction between descriptive and prescriptive language—i.e., how things are (or will be) vs. how things ought to be.

The Format of this Series

The articles in this series will cover two aspects of New Testament Eschatology:

    1. Scripture (Old Testament) passages which were understood, by the New Testament authors and/or their readers, to be prophecies or descriptions of the end-time and the Age to Come. I will be limiting this discussion to only those Scriptures which are quoted, or for which there clear allusions, in the New Testament writings. Even though many other passages (in the Prophets, etc) have been given an eschatological interpretation by subsequent Christians, and may have been viewed that way already by believers in the 1st century, these will not be addressed, except in passing.
    2. Statements and prophecies by the New Testament authors, or otherwise contained in the writings themselves, which are not necessarily tied to Old Testament passages.

Here is an initial outline which will be followed:

    • Part 1: Eschatology of Jesus (in the Synoptic Gospels)
    • Part 2: The Early Christian Preaching (in the Book of Acts)
    • Part 3: Eschatology in the Pauline Letters
      • Overview of the Evidence
      • 1 and 2 Thessalonians (with a special study on 2 Thess chap. 2)
      • Eschatological aspects of Romans
    • Part 4: The Gospel and Letters of John
    • Part 5: The remainder of the New Testament (Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, Jude)
    • Part 6: Christology and the Development of Eschatology
      Appendix on the Early Christian Writings c. 90-150 A.D.

This is preceded by a general survey of the Scriptures which were interpreted in a Messianic sense (and applied to Jesus).

Because of the special place held by the Book of Revelation for New Testament eschatology, I am devoting a separate series of daily notes, commenting on the book, which will run concurrent with the articles in the main series.

Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (part 3)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, continued

Literary Criticism

This is the third of five planned Saturday Series studies on 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, a passage thought by many commentators to be a (non-Pauline) interpolation. The evidence and arguments for this are significant, and worth pursuing as a way of demonstrating the importance (and value) of a thorough critical treatment of Scripture. The first study introduced the passage and looked at it from the standpoint of textual criticism; the second study examined it in terms of source criticism and form/genre criticism. Today, we will approach the passage through the eyes of literary criticism—that is, examining how it was authored and/or included in the letter of 2 Corinthians as a whole. This approach touches upon the style, circumstances, and purpose of the passage, as a section in the larger literary work. However, because of the serious questions regarding authorship and integrity of the passage—especially the thought that it may be a secondary addition (interpolation)—questions justified, at least in part, by the evidence we have considered so far, it is necessary to focus our study here in two ways. These reflect two other aspects of Biblical criticism:

    • Redaction Criticism—Here we will specifically consider the hypothesis that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is an interpolation, added to, or included in, the letter by an editor or compiler (i.e. redactor).
    • Composition Criticism—The focus shifts to explanations of the passage as the work of the author (i.e. Paul) of the letter.

Redaction Criticism

As mentioned previously, there are three different theories regarding 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 as an interpolation (i.e., a passage added secondarily to the letter): (a) Pauline, (b) non-Pauline, and (c) anti-Pauline. I will deal with these in reverse order:

Anti-Pauline theory

Some commentators feel that the unusual vocabulary, style and points of religious/theological emphasis, some of which we have already examined, are not only unusual to Paul, but actually run contrary to his way of thinking as expressed elsewhere in his letters. One prominent scholar who takes this position is Hans Dieter Betz, who discussed the matter in an article (“2 Cor 6:14-7:1: An Anti-Pauline Fragment?” Journal of Biblical Literature 92:88-108 [1973]), and again (as an appendix) in his outstanding critical commentary on Galatians (Hermeneia series [Fortress Press: 1979], pp. 329-30). He holds that the emphasis on the Torah, ritual purity, separation (from the ungodly/non-believer) in the passage, along with the strong dualistic manner of expression, better reflects the viewpoint of Paul’s Jewish Christian opponents (in Galatians, etc) than that of Paul himself. This seems rather to overstate the case, and on the whole I do not agree with such analysis; however, there is at least one supposition that needs to be examined seriously: whether the strong emphasis on separation from non-believers, so central to the passage, is foreign to Paul, or is in accord with his thought. In particular, this separationist teaching appears to run contrary to Paul’s specific instruction elsewhere to the Corinthian believers at three points: (1) the statement in 1 Cor 5:10, (2) the teaching regarding mixed marriage (1 Cor 7:12-16), and (3) relating to the issue of eating food that had been offered in a pagan religious setting (1 Cor 8-10, esp. 8:4-10; 10:23-30). It is worth considering each of these briefly.

In 1 Cor 5:1-12, Paul addresses the issue of a believer known to be engaged in improper sexual relations, and stresses that others in the congregation(s) should not associate with those involved in such behavior. The main difference with 2 Cor 6:14ff is that here the injunction to separate from immoral/ungodly people relates to believers, not the non-believer. Indeed, Paul seems to suggest the opposite of 2 Cor 6:14ff when he remarks, regarding this separation, that he is referring

“not (at) all (to) the ‘prostitutes’ [i.e. sexually immoral] of this world, or th(ose) looking to hold more [i.e. the greedy] and (who are) seizing (from others), or (to) the (one)s serving images [i.e. idols], (for) then you ought to go out of the world (completely)” (v. 10)

In other words, Paul is not telling them to separate (physically) from all the non-believers in the society at large, but, rather, to keep their distance from (lit. not to “mix together with”, vb sunanamígnymi) anyone claiming to be a believer (lit. “being named [a] brother”) who behaves in an openly immoral way (v. 11). In my view, the assumption that this instruction contradicts 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, while perhaps understandable, is misplaced. The same can be said of the other two instances mentioned above, even though, in many ways, those passages relate more directly to the teaching in 2 Cor 6:14ff.

In 1 Cor 7:12-16, as a part of wider teaching regarding marriage among believers in chap. 7, Paul specifically advises a man or woman, married to an unbeliever (lit. one “without trust”, ápistos), to remain together and not to separate, in the hopes that the unbelieving spouse might be converted. Following this, in chapters 8-10, Paul gives a most thorough and complex treatment on the question of whether believers should eat food that had been offered beforehand in a pagan religious setting (lit. food [meat] “slaughtered to [an] image”, eidwlóqyton, 8:1). This lengthy, nuanced instruction appears at odds with the stark contrast (and prohibition) given in 2 Cor 6:14ff. Paul, it seems, would permit believers to eat any such food as long as the act (and example) of doing so was not detrimental to others (those ‘weaker’ in faith). These two instances are notable, in relation to 2 Cor 6:14ff, in that they appear to be directly on point in several respects:

    • The same contrast between believer and non-believer (lit one “without trust”, ápistos) is made in both 1 Cor 7:12ff and 2 Cor 6:14ff. If, in the latter, the author (assuming it to be Paul) instructs a believer not to be “joined together” with a non-believer, how can he, in the former instance, tell them to remain ‘joined together’ in the marriage bond? Indeed, the very Scripture (Lev 19:19) upon which the homiletic in 2 Cor 6:14ff is based implies the sexual joining (i.e. breeding) of two different kinds of animals.
    • In 2 Cor 6:16 it is certainly implied that believers (as the “shrine of God”) should have nothing at all to do with the “images” (shorthand for the idolatrous deities) associated with Greco-Roman (polytheistic) religion. How, then, could Paul, if he is the author of the former passage, permit believers, under any circumstances, to eat food that had been offered beforehand to such ‘idols’ (cf. 8:4-10; 10:23-30)?

Does Paul’s teaching in these passages truly run counter to the exhortation in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (and vice versa)? In answer to this question, I would make several points related to each passage:

1 Corinthians 7:12-16—In 1 Cor 7:12-16, Paul is dealing with a very specific situation: instances where one spouse came to faith in Christ while the other did not, or has not yet, remaining a ‘pagan’ non-believer. In other words, the two were already married when the one spouse became a believer. This must have been a relatively common occurrence in the early years when the Gospel took root in a particular region of the Greco-Roman world (i.e., in a city like Corinth). Paul’s hope (and expectation) in his instruction to the believing spouse within a ‘mixed’ marriage clearly is evangelistic—that the non-believing spouse will be converted. This situational advice should not be mistaken for a general teaching regarding marriages between believers and non-believers. If a believer, upon coming to faith, were then to consider marrying a (pagan) non-believer, I am quite certain that Paul’s exhortation (and warning) would be very much akin to that of 2 Cor 6:14: “You must not come to be joined with (one who is) different, (one) without trust!”

1 Corinthians 8-10—The teaching in 1 Cor 8-10, regarding the issue of food (meat) that had been offered to “images”, also deals with a very specific situation, and ought not to be taken as a general principle, as some in Corinth may have done—e.g., if an idol is “not anything (real)” (8:4), then why should we be concerned about food that has been offered to it? I suspect that Paul, if left to his own opinion on the matter, would have been inclined to give a blunt prohibition along the lines of 2 Cor 6:16 (cf. also Acts 15:20, 29, and the context of Rev 2:14, 20). However, he seeks to balance two equally important concerns—(1) the freedom believers have in Christ, and (2) the need to avoid immorality and evil (associated with idolatry), etc. As such, 1 Cor 8-10 is a masterpiece of Christian homiletic, though admittedly different in scope and style from 2 Cor 6:14ff. Ultimately, Paul’s exhortation (10:14-22) comes very close to 2 Cor 6:16ff, though with the caveat of the sort of special instruction in 10:23-30 that is absent from the latter passage. This instruction is important to keep in mind, because it marks the distinction, and particular situation, Paul is addressing. Meat purchased in the marketplace, and thus presented at meals, often would have come from a sacrificial setting, as the byproduct of offerings made to deities. If such an association is clearly evident, then believers ought not to partake of such food (in accordance with 2 Cor 6:16); only when there is no public or known association with pagan religion, are believers free to eat, without worrying about the food’s origins.

1 Corinthians 5:10—The notice in 1 Cor 5:10 should also be viewed in terms of the specific circumstances of Paul’s instruction, and not as a principle to follow on its own. Paul is telling believers not to associate with another believer (or one calling himself/herself such) who is known to be involved in immoral behavior. This involved a real distancing, or separation, since living and meeting in close proximity was a sign of religious identity and (spiritual) union. This does not apply to other non-believers in society at large (“the world”), since there is no such union involved, and physical proximity per se had no intrinsic meaning. As such, there was no need for believers to avoid passing contact with non-believers; indeed, as Paul makes clear, to do so would require that they virtually “go out of the world”. Some might say that this is just the idea suggested by the citation of Isa 52:11 in 2 Cor 6:17—of a strict separation from the world. However, the language in 2 Cor 6:14-16 indicates a close joining rather than casual contact. If a believer were tempted to join together closely or intimately with pagan non-believers, Paul might well use similar language as in 2 Cor 6:14ff.

It is hard to see how the theory that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is anti-Pauline can be maintained. Even more decisive is that it is virtually impossible to explain how such an anti-Pauline fragment was ever included as part of a Pauline letter (on this, see below).

Non-Pauline theory

Even if it is not anti-Pauline, that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 may not have been authored by Paul himself (i.e. non-Pauline) still remains a possibility, given the evidence that we considered in the previous studies. The passage is to be characterized as a Jewish-Christian homiletic treatment of Leviticus 19:19, comprised of a poetic exposition (in Semitic style, parallelistic couplets) with a chain (catena) of Scripture citations. The poetic style, and reliance upon Scriptural passages, may explain the apparent non-Pauline features, at least in part. A fairer judge concerning authorship, I think, would be any unusual or atypical details in the concluding exhortation (7:1). I discuss these in a separate, supplemental note.

If the passage was, indeed, not composed at all by Paul himself, what are its origins and how did it come to be included as part of 2 Corinthians? One critical theory is that it represents early Jewish Christian (homiletic) material that was, presumably, mistakenly identified (by an editor/compiler of the letter) as coming from Paul. There are three notable details or points of emphasis that, in large measure, appear to be foreign to Paul, and, at the same time, may have more in common with other Jewish (and Jewish Christian) writings of the period. I highlight these as:

    1. The emphasis on ritual purity, and, with it, the idea of believers separating from the non-believers.
    2. A strong dualism in thought and expression, as a way of contrasting believer vs. non-believer.
    3. Use of the name Belíal.

In particular, on these three points, many commentators point out the parallels in certain of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls); I address these in some detail in a supplemental article which you may want to consult as part of this study. I will be discussing these ‘non-Pauline’ features, and whether, or to what extent, they may be compatible with Paul’s actual style, thought, and mode of expression, in the section on “Composition Criticism” (see below).

One problem faced by proponents of the theory that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is a non-Pauline interpolation, is the question of just how it ever came to be included as part of 2 Corinthians. It would seem to require two basic suppositions: (1) it was mistakenly attributed to Paul by an editor or compiler, and (2) 2 Corinthians is a composite work, made up of more than one letter by Paul. On the second point, I mentioned this possibility in a prior study, pointing out the variety of theories advanced by scholars, perhaps the most common being: 2-document (chaps. 1-9 + 10-13), 3 document (chaps. 1-8 + 9 + 10-13); and 5-document (1:1-2:13 + 2:14-6:13, 7:2-16 + chap. 8 + 9 + 10-13). In general, these theories would apply just as well if 6:14-7:1 was authored by Paul, or was itself part of a genuine letter; this will be discussed briefly below. However, both of these suppositions (1 & 2 above) remain highly questionable, and to require both makes the theory, my view, rather implausible.

A Pauline interpolation?

Finally, we must consider the theory that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is Pauline, at least in the sense that it comes from an authentic letter by Paul, perhaps as part of his Corinthian correspondence. From the New Testament evidence itself, we know that Paul wrote at least four letters to Corinth—1 & 2 Corinthians, and the two letters referenced in 1 Cor 5:9 and 2 Cor 2:3-4. Indeed, it is quite natural that Paul would have written to believers there any number of times. Internal considerations regarding shifts of style, tone, and subject matter, have prompted many commentators to consider 2 Corinthians, as we have it, as representing several different letters (or parts of letters) that Paul wrote. In terms of 6:14-7:1 itself, the tone and theme of separation (between believer and non-believer) has led a fair number of scholars to identify it with the letter mentioned in 1 Cor 5:9, since it seems to relate to the sort of thing Paul is addressing there in 5:1-12 (see above). Indeed, 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 appears to have much more in common with the language and subject matter of 1 Corinthians (see esp. 5:6-8; 6:19; and 10:6-13, and my discussion in the supplemental article [on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls]) than anything we find throughout 2 Corinthians.

However, any interpolation theory, based on the idea of 2 Corinthians as a compilation, founders for lack of any explanation as to why 6:14-7:1 was included where it is now, since virtually all commentators agree that 2:14-6:13 + 7:2-4, at the very least, belong to the same letter. It would have made considerably more sense to place the passage (as a fragment from another letter) after 7:4 rather than 6:13, or even at a different location altogether. It would have been an extremely clumsy and/or inattentive editor (or copyist), indeed, who left 6:14-7:1 in its current location. No one has yet provided anything like a satisfactory explanation for the passage being included where it is located today.

If we were to summarize the evidence and analysis provided thus far (and above), I believe it would be fair to make two basic points:

    • There is strong evidence characterizing 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 as Jewish Christian homiletic material with features that are, in part at least, unusual or atypical of Paul.
    • At the same time, any theory treating the passage as an interpolation, even one based on a theory of 2 Corinthians as a composite compilation, rests on rather slim and questionable evidence, and is difficult to maintain.

Do you agree with either or both of these conclusions? Why or why not? Think over and examine carefully what I have presented in the studies thus far. How would you explain some of the curious or apparently ‘non-Pauline’ details in the passage, and way it seems to interrupt the flow between 6:13 and 7:2? In the next study, we will turn our attention to the supposition that Paul is the author of 6:14-7:1, in the sense that it is a genuine part of 2 Corinthians (or at least 2:14-7:16) as it has come down to us. This discussion will take place under the heading of Composition Criticism (see above), looking at 6:14-7:1, within the context of the letter as a whole, in terms of Paul’s style, mode of expression, rhetorical thrust, and ultimate purpose. I hope to see you here for this exciting study…next Saturday.

Note on 2 Corinthians 7:1

2 Corinthians 7:1

This note is supplement to the current Saturday Series studies on 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, a passage many commentators consider to be a non-Pauline interpolation. In the prior studies, I presented some of the key evidence of vocabulary, stylistic details, and points of emphasis that appear to be unusual or atypical of Paul in his other (undisputed) letters (see esp. Study 1 and the article on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls). However, in so doing, it also was made clear, I think, that the unusual vocabulary could be at least partly explained by the reliance upon certain Old Testament passages, as well as the poetic format, used in vv. 14-18 (see Study 2). Therefore, it would seem that a fairer judge of authorship would be the concluding exhortation in 7:1, which is more likely to be a direct product of the author’s own thought and manner of expression. I felt it worth devoting a detailed note to the analysis of the words, phrases, and stylistic devices in 7:1, to see whether, or to what extent, they conform to Pauline usage. I will touch upon these in order of occurrence in the verse.

oún échontes (ou@n e&xonte$)… . The exhortation begins, “(So) then, holding these (thing)s…”, followed by a hortatory subjunctive “we should cleanse [katharísœmen] ourselves”, i.e., “let us cleanse ourselves”. This syntax here is homiletical in nature, and accords with the overall character of 6:14-7:1 as a Jewish Christian homily. This particular format is found in Hebrews (4:14; 10:19, cf. also 12:1), a work which reads more like an extended sermon than a standard letter or epistle. It does not occur precisely so elsewhere in the Pauline letters, though Galatians 6:10 is reasonably close:

“(So) then [oún], as we hold [échomen] (the) time [i.e. have opportunity], we should work [i.e. let us work] (for) the good…”

Paul opens similarly with échontes oún in 2 Cor 3:12 (cf. also 4:1), but not followed by a (hortatory) subjunctive.

tás epangelías (ta\$ e)paggeli/a$). The noun epangelía literally means a message about something, or on a certain point, sometimes with the more forceful connotation of a declaration or announcement. The related verb (epangéllœ) always occurs in the middle voice in the New Testament, often with the sense of a message about oneself, i.e. about what a person will do. The noun is frequently used in the New Testament in reference to what God will do, that is, what he has promised to do, and thus is typically translated as “promise”. The word is used, both in the singular and plural (as here), by Paul 19 times in the undisputed letters, almost all in Romans and Galatians (Romans 4:13-14, 16, 20; 9:4, 8-9; Galatians 3:14, 6-18, 21-22, 29; 4:23, 28), in connection with his arguments regarding the Law (Torah) and the covenant promises of God, as applied to believers in Christ. It also occurs 6 times in Ephesians and the Pastorals (1:13; 2:12; 3:6; 6:2; 1 Tim 4:8; 2 Tim 1:1). The only other occurrence in the Corinthian letters is 2 Cor 1:20:

“For as (many) promises [epangelíai] of God as (there are), in him [i.e. in Jesus Christ] (is) the ‘yes’ (to them)…”

This reflects the Pauline teaching that all the promises made by God (in the Law and Prophets) to His people (Israel) have been fulfilled for believers in the person and work of Christ. There is no reason to think that this is not the same meaning in 7:1; however, it is worth noting that the closest parallel to the specific expression “holding [échonta] the promises” is found in Hebrews (7:6; but see also 1 Tim 4:8).

agap¢toí (a)gaphtoi/), “(be)loved (one)s”. This manner of address, to fellow believers as “beloved”, appears to have been common among early Christians. It occurs frequently in Paul’s letters, the closest parallels to the plural form, as it is used here, would be Rom 12:19; 1 Cor 10:4; 15:58; 2 Cor 12:19; Phil 2:12; 4:1. However, it is even more common in the non-Pauline letters of the New Testament (19 times in Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 John, and Jude).

katharísœmen heautoús (kaqari/swmen e(autou\$), “we should cleanse ourselves”, “let us cleanse ourselves”. The verb katharízœ (“make clean, cleanse”) occurs 31 times in the New Testament, but would appear to be extremely rare for Paul, occurring nowhere else in the undisputed letters, and only twice at all in the corpus (Eph 5:26; Titus 2:14). As many commentators have noted, the idea of believers cleansing themselves seems foreign, not only to Paul’s thought, but to the thought-world of the New Testament as a whole. We need only point to Eph 5:26 and Tit 2:14, the only other Pauline occurrences of the verb—in these passages it is Christ who cleanses believers, through his sacrificial and redeeming work. Even in the context of the baptism ritual, it is still God and Christ (and the Spirit) that does the cleansing, not believers themselves. In many ways the idea of believers making themselves clean, through obedience to God, etc, is closer to the manner of thinking of the Qumran Community (see, for example, 1QS 3:8-9), than that of the New Testament.

apo pantós molysmoú (a)po\ panto\$ molusmou=), “from all stain”. The noun molysmós, “stain, soil(ing)”, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and is extremely rare in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) as well (Jer 23:15; also 1 Esdras 8:80; 2 Macc 5:27). The related verb molýnœ, is more frequent, though still rare in the New Testament (3 times), but is used by Paul in 1 Cor 8:7, in a context (the eating of food previous offered to ‘idols’) not too dissimilar from that of 2 Cor 6:14ff. His argument is that if believers are seen eating food (i.e. meat) that is known (or thought) to have been slaughtered in a pagan religious setting it could harm a fellow believer who is ‘weaker’ in understanding; if this ‘weaker’ believer, influenced the example of the ‘stronger’, is encouraged to eat such food, against his/her own conscience, he/she is then “stained” (molýnetai) by it. In Rev 3:4, the verb generally refers to immorality and/or improper religious behavior, but may relate to the same context of eating food offered to ‘idols’ (cf. 2:14, 20); in Rev 14:4, it refers to sexual intercourse, and marriage/relations between believer and (pagan) non-believer may also be in view in 2 Cor 6:14ff.

It should be noted that a much more common word for Paul to express the idea of impurity is akatharsía, “uncleanness” (2 Cor 12:21; Rom 1:24; 6:19; Gal 5:19; 1 Thess 2:3; 4:7). Conceivably, a different word (molysmós) was chosen here, for variety, since the cognate verb katharízœ was already used in the verse.

sarkós kai pneúmatos (sarko\$ kai\ pneu/mato$), “of flesh and spirit”. Paul frequently uses both words sárx (“flesh”) and pneúma (“spirit”), but the latter almost always refers to the Holy Spirit (or Spirit of God/Christ), and rarely in the general sense of the human “spirit” or “soul”. When he does use pneúma this way, i.e. in the anthropological sense, it is combined with the word sœ¡ma (“body”), not sárx (1 Cor 7:34; 1 Thess 5:23). Normally Paul juxtaposes sárx and pneúma quite differently, as a dualistic contrast between human beings (“flesh”) governed/driven by sin and the “Spirit” of God and Christ (Gal 5:16ff et al). The idea of the human “spirit” being defiled is unusual, but perhaps something along the lines of what Paul expresses in 1 Cor 6:15-20 is intended. Certainly the emphasis here is on the entire person becoming stained by impurity.

epiteloúntes hagiœsýn¢ (e)pitelou=nte$ a(giwsu/nh), “making holiness complete”. The verb epiteléœ, an (intensive) compound form of teléœ (“[make] complete”), is used by Paul 6 other times in his letters, including three times more in 2 Corinthians (8:6, 11 [twice]). Generally the emphasis is on completing something which has already begun, though without necessarily any special theological significance (Rom 15:28). In Phil 1:6, the context is eschatological, expressing confidence that God will complete His good work (that He is currently doing) in and among believers, when Christ appears again on earth. In Galatians 3:3, the focus is rather different—believers are completing things themselves (middle voice of the verb), and in the wrong direction, moving from the Gospel of trust in Christ to a view of Christianity that would include (and/or require) observance of the Torah regulations (such as circumcision). Here, too, in 2 Cor 7:1, it is believers who are to do the completing, but in the positive direction, by avoiding the impurity that comes from involvement with the surrounding (pagan) religious-cultural environment.

The noun hagiœsýn¢ (“holiness”) is actually quite rare in the Pauline letters; indeed, it occurs only two other times in the New Testament, but these are both in Paul’s letters. Romans 1:4 is generally thought to represent part of a credal formula or (Christological) hymn which Paul is adapting. The use in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 is closer in tone and meaning to 2 Cor 7:1, part of a prayer-wish for the Lord Jesus

“to make your hearts firm, without blame [ámemptos], in holiness [en hagiœsýn¢], in front of our God and Father…”

The eschatological setting of this statement is close to that of Phil 1:6 (see above).

en phóbœ theoú (e)n fo/bw| qeou=), “in (the) fear of God”. The expression “fear of God” is traditional, referring to the proper reverence (i.e. fear/awe) due to God, with strong roots in the Old Testament. It would have been relatively common among Jews and Christians of the period, even though the specific expression “(the) fear of God” ([ho] phóbos [tou] theoú) itself is rare in the New Testament. Paul uses the word phóbos (“fear”) at least a dozen times, but “fear of God” only occurs in Rom 3:18 (citing Psalm 36:1), while the synonymous “fear of the Lord” is used in 2 Cor 5:11 (see also Col 3:22). In Eph 5:21, we also have “fear of Christ”, which some MSS read as (or correct to) “fear of God”; in its variant form, the expression is exactly that of 2 Cor 7:1—”in the fear of God” (en phóbœ qeoú).

The title “(one) fearing God” ([ho] phoboúmenos ton theón) was specifically used of Gentiles who worshiped the God of Israel, or who otherwise lived upright lives, were devout, and/or sympathetic to Israelite religion. There are several important occurrences in the book of Acts, especially regarding Cornelius (10:2, cf. also 10:35), and in Paul’s speech at Antioch (13:16, 26).

Conclusion

The evidence for 2 Cor 7:1, like that of 6:14-7:1 as a whole, is mixed. There are peculiar features, but also others well in accord with Paul’s style and manner of expression. The unusual or atypical details permit genuine questions regarding Pauline authorship of the passage, and yet can by no means exclude it as the work of Paul. The central clause of the exhortation (“let us cleanse ourselves of all stain of flesh and spirit”) remains problematic, for two reasons: (1) the strong idiom of ritual purity, with the idea of believers cleansing themselves, and (2) the atypical joining of “flesh” and “spirit”.

Even so, strong arguments can be made for Pauline authorship, or, at least, that he himself made use of traditional material in authoring his letter (specifically 2:14-7:16). This will be discussed, in some detail, in next week’s Saturday Series study.