“Gnosis” in the NT: Phil 3:8-10

Philippians 3:8-10

Another important occurrence of the words gnw=si$ (“knowledge”) and ginw/skw (“know”) is Philippians 3:8-10. Verses 7-11 are central to the discussion in chapter 3, where Paul establishes an autobiographical illustration to exhort the believers in the Philippian churches to endure in the face of persecution. The harsh language he uses to describe (at least some of) his Jewish opponents in verse 2, is, we may say, regrettable. While altogether typical of the polemical style of the time, it is ultimately unnecessary for the point he is making. Nevertheless, it is in referring to Jewish (and Jewish Christian) opponents, that Paul unleashes some of his most severe rhetorical outbursts (cf. 1 Thess 2:14-16; Gal 5:7-12; 6:12-14; 2 Cor 11:1-12:13). Beginning with the issue of circumcision (v. 3), so important to the early disputes among Jewish Christians (Acts 15:1ff; 21:21; Gal 2; 5:1-12; 6:12-16; Rom 2:25-29; 4:9-12; 1 Cor 7:18-19; Col 2:11), he extends the symbolism by use of the word flesh (sa/rc), which is set in contrast with the Spirit (pneu=ma), as often in Paul’s letters (Rom 7:14; 8:3-4ff, 12-13; 1 Cor 3:1ff; 6:16-17; 15:39, 44-46; Gal 3:3; 4:29-31; 5:16-25; 6:8). In verse 4, he describes his (Jewish) religious experience, prior to his conversion, and the religious status which he achieved, as being of the flesh—”and (indeed) I am (one) holding persuasion [i.e. confidence/assurance] in the flesh [e)n sarki/]”—using the same kind of rhetorical “boasting” as he does in 1 Cor 11-12. Here, too, Paul engages in exaggeration or hyperbole:

“If any other (person) considers (himself) to have persuasion [i.e. confidence] in the flesh, I rather (have even) more: cut around [i.e. circumcised] (on the) eighth (day), coming to be (born) out of Israel, of the offspring of Benjamin, a Hebrew out of Hebrews, a Pharisee according to the Law, pursuing [i.e. persecuting] the congregation [e)kklhsi/a] (of Christ) according to (my) burning (zeal), coming to be without fault according to the justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] th(at is) in the Law” (vv. 4b-6)

He boasts of achieving a nearly perfect fulfillment of the religious “righteousness” as it was understood in the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). That this was of the flesh (and not the Spirit) is clear from that the fact that he vigorously persecuted the early Christians (cf. Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-22), fulfilling the same conflict expressed in Gal 4:29: “but just as (it was) then (that) the (one) coming to be (born) according to the flesh pursued [i.e. persecuted] the (one born) according to the Spirit, so also (it is this way) now”. This fleshly religious achievement Paul ultimately rejects or devalues in verses 7-10, utilizing the language of commerce—profit/gain (ke/rdo$) and damage/loss (zhmi/a):

“[But] the (thing)s which were profit for me, those (same thing)s through (the) Anointed {Christ} I have (since) brought out as damage(d) [i.e. regarded as loss]” (v. 7)

The word zhmi/a fundamentally means something like “disadvantage”—i.e., the religious experience and status which Paul thought was to his advantage actually is to one’s harm or disadvantage in Christ (cf. Gal 5:2-4). Again, he widens the scope of his statement, from the things related to religion to all things (pa/nta); note the parallelism:

    • “these things [tau=ta] I have brought out [h%ghmai] as damage/loss [zhmi/an] through Christ [dia\ to\n Xristo/n]” (v. 7)
    • “all things [pa/nta] I (now) bring out [h(gou=mai] to be damaged/lost [zhmi/an] through…of Christ [dia\ to\Xristou=]” (v. 8)

The last two expressions are parallel, but, perhaps, not exactly equivalent:

dia\ to\n Xristo/n (“through the Anointed”)—the perfect verbal form h%gmai (“I have brought [out]”, i.e. in my mind, “I have considered/regarded”) suggests Paul’s conversion experience, similar to the believer’s response to the Gospel message, something which took place in the past but continues on into the present. Thus I would take the expression “through Christ” as encapsulating and summarizing the Gospel message (of Christ) and its effect on the believer.

dia\ to\ u(pere/xon th=$ gnw/sew$ Xristou=  )Ihsou= tou= kuri/ou mou (“through the overriding [greatness] of the knowledge of [the] Anointed Yeshua my Lord”)—the very length of this expression suggests knowledge, i.e. the believer (Paul) comes to understand the greatness of Jesus and who he is (the Anointed One and [my] Lord). For a similar genitive chain (also using the word gnw=si$, “knowledge”, cf. 2 Cor 4:6 and my study on this verse). The verb u(pere/xw literally means “holding (oneself) over”, often in the more abstract sense of something being above, i.e. excellent, superior, etc. I have tried to preserve the literal meaning of the participle here with the translation “overriding (greatness)”, but the basic idea is that the knowledge of Christ far surpasses all other things we may come to know or experience. Just what does Paul mean by the “knowledge of Christ”? He clarifies this in the remainder of verse 8 and 9, which functions virtually as an exposition of the Gospel:

    1. That he is “my Lord” (ku/rio$ mou)—for Paul, as for most Christians, this has a two-fold meaning: (a) he is Lord in the basic sense of “master, guide, teacher, etc”, and (b) he is identified with God (YHWH), the Lord (see esp. Phil 2:9-10).
    2. I have experienced the loss/damage/disadvantage of all (other) things through him—cf. verse 7; not only have all things (outside of Christ) become lost/damaged for Paul, he actually considers them to be sku/balon, a somewhat obscure word which can refer to scraps to be thrown out, food for animals, rotten food, even excrement—perhaps “garbage” is a good modern equivalent. This is a bit of rhetorical exaggeration, to be sure, but the point of it is clear.
    3. That I might gain Christ, and/or profit from him—continuing the language of profit/loss; the verb here could be understood in two different aspects: (a) gaining the blessing and benefit from knowing Christ (as a believer), and (b) gaining the experience of knowing Christ in full, at the end-time. Presumably, Paul has the latter primarily in mind.
    4. That I might be found in him—parallel to the previous phrase, drawing upon the familiar (Pauline) idiom of being “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|); according to this expression, believers are united with Christ in three aspects: (1) through the presence of the Spirit, (2) the symbolism of baptism, and (3) the communal experience of believers together (the “body of Christ”). However, it is the eschatological sense which Paul again has in mind here, perhaps drawing upon the idea expressed in Col 3:1-4.
    5. Holding the justice/righteousness of God—here we have the familiar Pauline contrast between the righteousness of God and the righteousness that comes through observing the Law. In his earlier religious experience, Paul had something of the latter, but not the former (cf. Rom 10:1-4 which well expands upon the statement here). The expression e)k qeou= specifies that true righteousness is that which comes from God (lit. out of him). It comes only by way of faith/trust (pi/sti$) in Christ, another fundamental Pauline teaching, which he expresses here two ways: “through [dia/] (the) trust” and “upon [e)pi/] the trust”.

The syntactical relation of verse 10 with the previous verses is not entirely clear. It begins with the articular infinitive tou= gnw=nai (“the knowing [of], to know”), which I prefer to view as epexegetical with verse 8a, forming an inclusive parallel:

    • “through the overriding (greatness) of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (8a)
      —”through whom…” (8b)
      —”and I…in him…through faith…” (9)
    • “the knowing (of) him…” (10a)

What follows in vv. 10-11 reflects a somewhat different sense of “knowing” Christ; if the knowledge in vv. 8-9 relates fundamentally to the message of the Gospel, that in vv. 10-11 is symbolic of the believer’s union with Christ—i.e., participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is clearly expressed at the start of v. 10: “knowing him and the power of his standing up [i.e. resurrection] (from the dead)”. The logic here is as straightforward as it is profound:

    • to know the power of his resurrection, which is experienced by:
      —sharing in his sufferings (“the common [shar]ing [koinwni/a] of his sufferings”)
      —being (con)formed to his death (“being shaped together with his death”)
    • to come into the resurrection from the dead

By sharing in the suffering and death of Christ—symbolized in baptism, and experienced throughout the Christian life with its share of trials and persecution—one has the promise of sharing in his resurrection at the end-time. This eschatological sense is parallel with the expressions in vv. 8b-9a, marked by use of the subjunctive:

    • “that I might gain Christ” (8b)
      “and might be found in him” (9a)
    • “if (some)how I might come down into the resurrection…” (11)

I have here translated the verb katanta/w (“come down [against]”) quite literally, in order to preserve the idea of participating in the death (and burial) of Jesus. It also carries the sense of coming to meet someone, or to meet/arrive at a goal, etc. The eschatological context is clear enough—the believer rises to meet Christ at the end-time (1 Thess 4:16-17; Col 3:1-4).

One final aspect of knowledge, not stated in vv. 7-11, but implied throughout the passage, is that one comes to know Christ (and God the Father) through the Spirit. The contrast between the flesh and the Spirit is central to Paul’s discussion (cf. above), though the Spirit (pneu=ma) is only mentioned directly at the start, in verse 3. That the presence of the Spirit is central, and parallel with the believer’s knowledge of Christ, I demonstrate with a chiastic outline:

    • “For we are the circumcision
      —”the (one)s doing service for God in the Spirit
      —”and speaking (out) loud [i.e. rejoicing/’boasting’] in Christ Jesus
    • “and not having been persuaded [i.e. having confidence] in (the) flesh

“…Spirit and Life”: John 17:3-4

John 17:2-3

Today’s note comes from the great prayer-discourse (chap. 17) which concludes the “Last Discourse” (for more on this passage, cf. the current “Prayer Notes” series). At the beginning of this section (vv. 2-3), we find the most precise definition of the expression “Life of the Age [zwh/ ai)w/nio$]” (i.e. eternal life) in the Gospel. It also happens to be one of the most “gnostic”-sounding statements in the New Testament; indeed, I discus this aspect of the passage at length in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament” (soon to be posted here. Here are verses 1b-2 in translation:

“Father, the hour has come—give honor to your Son (so) that your Son might give honor to you, even as you gave him authority [e)cousi/a] o(ver) all flesh, (so) that, (for) all (person)s, whom(ever) you have given to him, he should give to them (the) Life of the Age.”

This repeats the idea, expressed at numerous points in the earlier discourses, that the Father gives Life to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives Life to believers. For the background of the specific expression “Life of the Age”, cf. the earlier notes in this series, as well as the notes on Jn 11:20-27. Verse 2 also expresses the idea that believers (elect/chosen ones) have been given to the Son by the Father (vv. 6ff). The definition of “Life of the Age” comes in verse 3:

“And this is the Life of the Age: that they should know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

This formulation, specifically referring to “Yeshua the Anointed [i.e. Jesus Christ]”, sounds very much like an early Christian credal statement; and, in fact, many critical commentators view it as a product of the Gospel writer, rather than a self-referential statement by Jesus himself. It is certainly possible to view verse 3 as a parenthetical comment by the writer—indeed, one can read verse 4 directly after v. 2 without any real disruption or loss of meaning. However one views the composition of verse 3, the value and significance of it as a definition of “the Life of the Age” is clear—and it is defined in terms of knowledge:

    1. of the only true God (i.e., God the Father, YHWH):
      “they should know you, the only true God”
    2. of the one sent forth by God (Jesus–Yeshua the Anointed):
      “(they should know) the (one) whom you sent forth…”

In terms of obtaining this knowledge, and thus possessing (“holding”) eternal Life, the order has to be reversed (cf. 1:18; 14:6-11, etc):

    1. One sees/knows Jesus (the Son)—i.e. recognizes and trusts in him
    2. One sees/knows God the Father through the Son

The theological framework of the Gospel of John can be outlined in more detail:

Thus the emphasis on knowledge in 17:3 can be misleading, if we think of it in terms of ordinary human knowledge and perception. Rather, in the Gospel of John, and much of the New Testament elsewhere, a deeper kind of theological and spiritual understanding is meant—centered on trust in Jesus and the presence of both the Son (Jesus) and the Father through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not mentioned directly in the prayer-discourse of chapter 17, but it can be inferred from the theme of unity (esp. verses 20-24) and the triadic relationship of Father-Son-Believer(s):

Mention should be made of the specific title xristo/$ (“Anointed [One]”). Though the Johannine portrait of Jesus goes far beyond the traditional Jewish conception(s) of the Anointed One (Messiah), it retains the title and the fundamental identification of Jesus with the Messianic figure-types—Prophet, Davidic Ruler, and also “Son of Man” (on these, cf. the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The association of the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” goes back to the early Gospel traditions (in the Baptism and Passion/crucifixion scenes, etc), and, while the latter title (i.e. Jesus as God’s Son) dominates the Gospel of John, the former is certainly not forgotten. True knowledge of Jesus—the knowledge which is the same as Life—includes recognition that he is the Anointed One of God. The closing words of the Gospel proper give unmistakable expression to this fact:

“These (thing)s have been written (so) that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed One, the Son of God, and that, trusting, you would hold Life in his name.” (20:31)

Saturday Series: John 14:7, 17

John 14:7, 17

We have been looking at a variety of passages from the Gospel of John, using them as the basis for exploring important issues of New Testament criticism and exegesis. Today I wish to turn to the last of the Johannine discourses of Jesus—the great “Last Discourse”, set in the narrative at the time of the Last Supper, prior to Jesus’ arrest (chapter 18). It is comprised of the material in 13:31-16:33—the Discourse proper—and is followed by the famous prayer-discourse of Jesus in chapter 17. I divide the Discourse into three main parts, each of which functions as a distinct discourse itself, containing as a central theme the impending departure of Jesus from his disciples.

The character and orientation differs somewhat from the prior discourses, since here Jesus is addressing only his close followers, at the beginning of his Passion. The departure of Judas from the scene (13:30) is significant for two reasons: (1) it means that only Jesus’ true disciples remain with him, and (2) it marks the onset of his Passion, a time of darkness (“and it was night“, v. 30b). The latter motif is expressed elsewhere in the Gospel tradition (Luke 22:53; 23:44 par), and foreshadowed earlier in John as well (11:9-10; 12:35). Thus Jesus has occasion to speak with his followers in a way that he could not (or chose not to) before.

The discourses of Jesus in John are carefully constructed—almost certainly reflecting both Jesus (as the speaker) and the understanding/artistry of the Gospel writer. While the vocabulary of the Gospel is relatively simple (by comparison with Luke, for example), the thought and logic of the discourses is often complex and allusive. Each word and form used, every nuance, can carry tremendous importance as well as theological (and Christological) significance. Textual variants, however slight, can affect the meaning and thrust of the passage in a number of ways.

The two verses I wish to look at today are found in the first division of the Discourse (14:1-31), which I would outline as follows:

  • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
    • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 1-4)
      • Question by the disciples [Thomas] (v. 5)
      • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 6-7)
      • Question by the disciples [Philip] (v. 8)
      • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 9-11)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-14)
    • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
      • Instruction to the Disciples: Love and the Commandments (vv. 15-24)
        —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17)
        —Instruction: Relation of the Disciples to Jesus and the Father (vv. 18-21)
        —Question by the disciples [Judas] (v. 22)
        —Jesus’ response: The disciples and the world in relation to Jesus and the Father (vv. 23-24)
      • Exhortation for the Disciples: Farewell Promise of Peace (vv. 25-27)
        —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 25-26)
        —Exortation: Jesus’ gift of his Peace (v. 27)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 28-31)

The two verses relate to the two thematic sections—the first (v. 7), to the relationship between Jesus and the Father (with the central “I Am” sayings in v. 6 and 10-11), and the second (v. 17), to Jesus’ closing words for his disciples, with the two-fold promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17) and Peace (vv. 25-27) which will be given to them.

John 14:7

This statement by Jesus follows the great “I Am” saying in v. 6. It is a conditional statement, marked by the particle ei (“if”). However, the exact force and meaning remains uncertain, largely due to variant readings involving the four verbs (indicated by placeholders with braces):

“If you {1} me, (then) you {2} my Father also; and from now (on), you {3} Him and {4} Him”

There is little or no variation in terms of the verbs used; rather it is the specific form which differs. Let us briefly consider each of these in turn:

Verb #1ginœ¡skœ (“know”). The manuscripts show a surprising variety, indicating a lack of certainty among scribes; however, the options can be reduced to two—the difference being one of verb tense: (a) perfect (egnœ¡kate), “you have known”, or (b) pluperfect (egnœ¡keite), “you had known”. Just one or two letters are involved, but it creates a distinct difference in the force of the condition:

    • “if you have known [i.e. come to know] me…”, assuming a positive condition: as indeed you have.
    • “if you had known [i.e. come to know] me…”, assuming a negative condition: as indeed you have not (yet).

The former is the reading of several key manuscripts (Sinaiticus [a], the original copyist of Bezae [D], and the minuscule 579; see also the Bodmer papyrus Ë66). The latter is read by the majority of manuscripts, including Codex Vaticanus [B].

Verb #2ginœ¡skœ/eídœ (“know”). There is even more diversity with the form of this verb, though again it comes down to two options regarding the tense: (a) future (gnœ¡sesthe), “you will know”, or (b) pluperfect (¢¡deite or egnœ¡keite), along with the subjunctive particle án, “you would have known”. Again, the latter is the majority reading, including Codex Vaticanus [B], while the former is essentially the reading of the Bodmer papyrus Ë66, Sinaiticus [a] and Bezae [D]. Thus the text-critical choice comes down to two pairs of verb forms:

    • (1) “If you have known me [i.e. as indeed you do], (then) you will also know my Father…”
    • (2) “If you had known me [i.e. as yet you do not], (then) you would have also known my Father…”

Verbs #3 and 4ginœ¡skœ (“know”) and horᜠ(“look/gaze [at]”). Despite some minor variation, in this case we can be fairly certain of the text—a present indicative form (ginœ¡skete) “you know”, followed by a perfect form (heœrákate) “you have seen”. The form of these two verbs, in my view confirms option (2) for the first pair, specifically the use of the verb eidœ (instead of ginœskœ) in #2. Now both eidœ and ginœskœ can mean “know”, but the former verb literally means see, often taken in the sense of “perceive, recognize” (i.e. “know”). Thus internal considerations confirm the majority reading of v. 7a, and yield a text for the verse which would be translated:

“If you had known me, (then) you would have seen [i.e. known] my Father also; (but) from now (on) you (do) know Him and have seen Him”

Keep in mind that verses 9ff deal specifically with the idea of seeing God the Father (in the person of Jesus), while the earlier vv. 5ff emphasize knowing. Verse 7 combines both motifs—seeing/knowing—as is often the case in the Gospel of John.

If this reading is correct, how is it to be understood? The key, I believe, is the setting of the Last Discourse, in the light I have discussed above. It is only now that Jesus can begin to reveal the truth fully to his disciples. Before this point, even his close disciples have not really known him—that is, his true identity in relation to the Father. Now, with this revelation (in the Last Discourse), and through his coming death and resurrection, they do truly know him. And, since, knowing him means seeing him, they also have seen the Father, as it is only through Jesus that we come to see/know the Father.

John 14:17

In this verse, there is again a pair of verbs, for which there is an important variant. The saying of Jesus here follows upon the basic idea (and language) in verse 7. The first part of the saying, which I present along with v. 16 (as a single sentence), may be translated:

“And I will ask (of) the Father, and he will give to you another (one) called alongside [parákl¢tos], (so) that he might be with you into the Age—the Spirit of Truth, which the world is not able to receive, (in) that [i.e. because] it does not see/observe him and does not know him; but you know him…”

The contrast between believers and “the world” is introduced, a theme which will take on greater prominence in chapters 15 and 16 of the Discourse. While the world is unable to recognize the Spirit of Truth (the one “called alongside” [parákl¢tos], i.e. ‘Paraclete’), Jesus’ true disciples (believers) are able to see and know him, since they (and we) now know and see Jesus. The concluding portion of verse 17 contains the variant. Again it will be helpful to examine each of the two verbs:

Verb #1ménœ (“remain, abide”). Here there is no variation, the manuscripts being in agreement on its form: present tense (ménei, “he remains”). This is perhaps a bit surprising; we might have rather expected the future tense (i.e. “he will remain”), since, from the standpoint (and chronology) of the narrative, the Spirit has not yet been given to believers (see 7:39, 16:17 and, of course, 20:22). This apparent discrepancy may help to explain the variant readings for the second verb.

Verb #2eimi (verb of being). The manuscript evidence is rather evenly divided between present and future forms: estín (“he is”) vs. éstai (“he will be”). The present tense matches that of the previous verb; but this could reflect either the consistency of the author or a harmonization by the copyists. On the other hand, the future tense better fits a future coming of the Spirit (in 20:22); but copyists might have modified the present form for just this reason. In my view, the present of the first verb (“he remains”) + the future of the second verb (“he will be”) is the more difficult reading, and best reflects both the most likely original of the text and the context of the discourse. Here is how this portion would be translated:

“…you know him, (in) that [i.e. because] he remains alongside you and he will be in you.”

Why the present tense if the Spirit has not yet been given to the disciples? This is sometimes described as a proleptic use of the present (i.e. anticipating something in the future). However, in my view, a better explanation is at hand here in the discourse. The expression is “remains alongside [pará]”. This reflects the very title given to the Spirit—as “one called alongside [parákl¢tos]”. Note that here Jesus refers to the Spirit as “another parákl¢tos“, which suggests that Jesus himself was a parákl¢tos (“one called alongside” believers, by the Father). An important idea, introduced in the Last Discourse, is that the Spirit/Paraclete takes the place of Jesus with believers. This sense of continuity is expressed both by the present tense of the verb, and by the verb itself (“remain”). Through the Spirit, Jesus remains with believers.

Why then the shift to the future tense? Why would Jesus not say “he remains alongside you and he is in you”, as some manuscripts indicate? While Jesus remains with believers through the Spirit, the coming of the Spirit also indicates something new, a new condition. This condition—the indwelling of the Spirit—does not begin until after Jesus’ resurrection, during his appearance to the disciples in 20:19-23. This is stated in verse 22: “And, having said this, he blew in(to them) and (then) says to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit…'” While the preposition en (prefixed to the verb, “blow in/on”) could be read “he breathed on (them)”, it is better to translate literally here: “he breathed/blew in(to) (them)”. This may reflect the original creation narrative, in which God breathed life into the first human being (Gen 2:7). The coming of the Spirit would then indicate a new birth (“from above”) for believers, by the Spirit, as expressed in 3:5-8.

I hope this study demonstrates how carefully one must read and study the Greek, especially in the context of passages such as the Last Discourse, where even small differences in the form of a word can significantly affect the interpretation. For next week, I would ask that you continue reading through to the end of the Last Discourse, including the prayer-discourse of chapter 17. I will be looking at a couple of verses in that chapter which also involve text-critical questions, and which have proven challenging for commentators over the years.

If you wish to study the Last Discourse, and the Passion Narrative, in more detail, I would recommend that you explore the series Jesus and the Gospel Tradition, being (re-)posted here on this site. I will begin posting the notes and articles dealing with the Passion Narrative this week.