August 21 (2): 1 Corinthians 1:30

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous note dealt with 1:27-28]

1 Corinthians 1:30

“And you are out of him [i.e. God] in (the) Anointed Yeshua, who was caused to be wisdom for us from God, (as well as) justice and holiness and loosing from (sin)…”

The argument by example running through vv. 26-28 (cf. the prior note) culminates in vv. 29-30; actually it is verse 29 which completes vv. 27-28:

“….how that [i.e. so that] all flesh should not boast in the sight of God.”

In some ways verse 30 is parallel to vv. 26-28, where the reference is to God calling and gathering out of the mass of humankind those who will come to believe in Christ. There the emphasis was on the relatively insignificant and ignoble status of believers (according to the values and ideals of the world); here, it is specifically on believers’ identity in Christ [e)n Xristw=|]:

“And you are out of [e)c, i.e. from] him in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Christ Jesus}…”

Let us consider the general parallel found in vv. 26-31:

    • Believers called out of the world—contrast with worldly position and values (vv. 27-28)
      • Human beings (“all flesh”), i.e. the world, may not boast before God (v. 29)
    • Believers come to be born from (lit. out of) God—in Christ (v. 30)
      • Only the one “in the Lord” may boast (before God) (v. 31)

Verses 29 and 31 use the verb kauxa/omai, which, like the related au)xe/w, fundamentally refers to giving a loud or bold utterance (declaration); it corresponds generally with “(to) boast” in English. This verb, along with the related nouns kau/xhma (“[a] boast”) and kauxh/si$ (“boasting”), was a favorite of Paul’s—35 of the 37 occurrences are found in the (undisputed) Pauline letters (+ Eph 2:9). It is hard, based on a superficial reading of the letters in translation, to appreciate precisely what Paul means by his use of this word-group and why it was so significant for him. Part of the problem lies in the translation “boast(ing)”. While this is perhaps the best English approximation for the kaux- word-group, it is rather misleading. In modern English, boasting almost always has a negative meaning, often referring to a pompous or arrogant and self-serving demeanor. While kauxa/omai sometimes carries this sense as well, it also has a much wider (and more general) range of meaning, as indicated above. Moreover, Paul typically has a very specific context in mind—that of human beings standing before God (at the final Judgment).

This eschatological emphasis is only one part of the Old Testament (LXX) and Jewish background of the term; two other themes had more immediate religious application: (a) the ritual/cultic aspect of humbling oneself before God (in approaching the sanctuary, etc), and (b) the ethical/moral aspect, expressed especially in Wisdom traditions, as a warning against self-glorification. The Scripture Paul cites in v. 31 (also in 2 Cor 10:17) is Jeremiah 9:24, the conclusion of a lament by the prophet in chapters 8-9 anticipating the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Jer 9:23-26 is also transitional to the warning in chapter 10 (“do not learn the way of the nations”, v. 2); verses 23-24 [Heb 22-23] may be rendered as follows:

“Thus says YHWH:
‘The wise (man) should not shout (for) himself [lL@h^t=y]] in his wisdom,
and the strong (man) not shout (for) himself in his strength,
and the wealthy (man) not shout (for) himself in his wealth;
for (only) in this should the (one) shouting (for) himself (so) shout—
(that) he gives attention (to me) and knows me:
that I am YHWH,
doing kindness, judgment [i.e. justice], and righteousness in the earth—
for in these (thing)s I feel delight’
—utterance of YHWH”

The portion in bold represents substantially what Paul cites; we may compare the Greek (LXX) version:

“but (only) in this [e)n tou/tw|] must the (one) shouting/boasting [o( kauxw/meno$] (so) shout/boast [kauxa/sqw]:
to put together [i.e. comprehend] and know that I am (the) Lord [ku/rio$]…”

Paul’s quotation is actually an abridgment, indicated by the words in italics above:

“the (one) shouting/boasting must (only) shout/boast in (the) Lord”
o( kauxw/meno$ e)n kuri/w| kauxa/sqw

The Greek imperative (and Hebrew jussive) form is somewhat difficult to render in English, usually being translated “let…(not) boast” (“the one boasting, let him boast in the Lord”). The Greek verb kauxa/omai (in the middle voice) covers much the same range of meaning as the Hebrew ll^h* (in the Hithpael/reflexive stem)—”shout/declare for oneself”, i.e. “praise oneself, boast”. The context of Jeremiah 9:23-24 is altogether fitting for Paul’s purpose in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, in several respects:

    • The contrast between worldly values and those of God himself
    • The emphasis on wisdom and understanding (note also the reference to “strength”)
    • The basic setting/background of Judgment

Interestingly, both here and in 2 Cor 10:17, Paul has omitted the portion (in the LXX) “to comprehend and understand that I am (the)…”. The first verb in the original Hebrew (lk^c*) emphasizes not so much a person’s understanding as it does giving attention and consideration to something (i.e. paying attention). In Greek, the corresponding verb (suni/hmi) literally means “set/put (things) together”, i.e. so as to comprehend and understand. Paul easily could have retained this emphasis within a Christian context; however, his condensing (and adaptation) of the verse has a significant effect:

    • It shifts the focus from religious devotion and knowledge of God to God himself (i.e. “the Lord”)
    • It allows a bit of wordplay since, from a Christian standpoint, “in the Lord [e)n kuri/w|]” can be understood as “in Christ [e)n xristw=|]”, a favorite expression of Paul’s

Returning to the eschatological orientation of Paul’s discussion, if we (temporarily) disrupt the syntax and take together verses 29-31, it results in a significant chiasm:

    • Judgment: The world (“all flesh”) unable to boast before God (v. 29)
      —Believers (born) of God (i.e. sons/children of God) in Christ (v. 30)
    • Judgment: Only those “in the Lord” may boast before God (v. 31)

This serves as an excellent, concise summary of Pauline theology and soteriology.

A final point to consider is the structure of verse 30:

    • V. 30a—Relationship of believers to God in Christ (“and you are…in Christ Jesus”)
    • V. 30b—Relationship of Christ to believers (“who was caused to be…for us”)

The passive form (e)genh/qh) of gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) is another example of the “divine passive”—i.e. “God caused him to be”. Four nouns are used to describe what Jesus has become for us; the first of these (sofi/a, “wisdom”) is given emphasis: “who was caused to be wisdom for us from God”. This is another way of saying what Paul already stated in verse 24: that Jesus Christ himself is “the power of God and the wisdom of God“. Just as the wisdom of God was personified in Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition (cf. throughout Proverbs and the book of Wisdom, esp. Prov 8; Wisd 6:12-25; 7:22-8:21; 10:1ff), so now God’s wisdom is manifest and embodied in the person of Christ. It is possible that the three nouns which follow in v. 30 are parallel with the “power of God” in v. 24, perhaps in the sense of the power to effect salvation (Rom 1:16). In any case, they may be included with “wisdom” in the conceptual structure of v. 30b: “who came to be wisdom and…for us from God”. These three nouns may be noted briefly:

  • dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosy¡n¢), “justice/righteousness”—the dikaio- word-group is especially important in Paul’s thought, central to his understanding of how believers relate to God through the person and work of Christ. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, believers are “made right” (or “made/declared just”) before God, apart from any moral/religious act (i.e. observance of the Old Testament Law [Torah]), only through trust in Christ. The noun dikaiosu/nh is virtually a theme word of Romans, occurring more than 30 times in that letter alone (more than a third of all occurrences in the New Testament). Often, as here, the noun connotes (or represents) the action of God (marked by the related verb dikaio/w) as well—God has made us right/just before him in Christ.
  • a(giasmo/$ (hagiasmós), “holiness”—related to the adjective a%gio$ (“holy, sacred”), but more properly to the derived verb a(gia/zw (“make holy, treat as holy”), which sometimes denotes the idea of purification (“make pure, clease”). The noun a(giasmo/$ refers to the resultant state or condition of someone/something which has been “made holy”, but also to the process and action (i.e. by God). Most of the occurrences (8 of 10) are in the Pauline letters (cf. Rom 6:19, 21; 1 Thess 4:3-4, 7; 2 Thess 2:13). It is often translated “sanctification”, but this term has come to have such a specialized technical meaning in many systems of theology that is probably better to avoid using it in translating the NT.
  • a)polu/trwsi$ (apoly¡trœsis), “loosing from (bondage)”—this noun, from the compound verb a)polutro/w, refers to the act of “loosing” (i.e. freeing) someone from bondage, captivity, slavery, etc. The related noun lu/tron usually indicates the payment made to free such a person (i.e. “ransom, redemption [price]”). Again, 8 of the 10 occurrences of a)polu/trwsi$ in the New Testament are from the Pauline letters (Rom 3:24; 8:23; Col 1:14, etc). In Paul’s thought, the specific context is bondage to sin, from which God has freed us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Secondarily, believers are also freed from the (Old Testament) Law, being no longer bound (required) to observe it; however, this point is not emphasized much in 1 Corinthians (compared with Galatians and Romans [cf. also 2 Cor 3]).