“…Spirit and Life (continued): Spirit in the Pauline Letters and other Writings

“Spirit” (pneu=ma) in the Pauline Letters

Here I will survey the occurrences of the word pneu=ma in the Pauline letters, beginning with the undisputed letters (including Colossians and 2 Thessalonians), then addressing the letters where Pauline authorship is most often disputed (Ephesians and the Pastorals), as well as the related adjective pneumatiko/$ and adverb pneumatikw/$. The subject is enormous, as Paul refers to the Spirit more than a hundred times in the undisputed letters, and gives to the term a rich development which reflects his unique theological approach. On the other hand, he is very much in keeping with the early Christian view of the Spirit, of which we have seen signs in the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

To begin with, occasionally Paul uses pneu=ma to refer to an individual human person—i.e. his/her soul, mind or “presence” (e.g., 1 Thess 5:23; 1 Cor 2:11-12; 5:3-5; Rom 1:9, etc). There are also instances where the word is used in an abstract sense, in expressions such as “spirit of gentleness” (1 Cor 4:21), “spirit of trust” (2 Cor 4:3), etc. However, in the vast majority of occurrences, Paul is referring specifically to the Spirit—that is, the Spirit of God (and/or Christ). From a trinitarian point of view, it must be admitted that there is little evidence to indicate that Paul thinks of the Spirit as a distinct person, separate from either God the Father or Jesus. As in the Gospel of John, Paul can refer to the Spirit as being of God or of Jesus, without any obvious distinction, though specific references to the latter are far less common.

Here I summarize the Pauline evidence according to the most prominent expressions and concepts:

Other significant ideas and expressions:

    • The witness of the Spirit in/with our human spirit—Rom 8:16
    • The Gospel as manifestation of the Spirit—1 Thess 1:5-6
    • The teaching of the Spirit—1 Cor 2:13-14
    • The aid and help given to believers by the Spirit—Rom 8:26-27; 9:1
    • The “firstfruits” of the Spirit—Rom 8:23
    • The “fruit of the Spirit”—Gal 5:22ff (cf. also 6:8)
    • The “things of the Spirit” (cf. on the adjective pneumatiko/$ below)—1 Cor 2:14
    • Believers as the temple/shrine/house of the Spirit—1 Cor 6:19
    • The Spirit as a “deposit”, i.e. of the resurrection and the future/divine Life—2 Cor 1:22; 5:5
    • “Written” by the Spirit—2 Cor 3:3
    • Association of the Spirit with the (new) Covenant—2 Cor 3:6ff
    • Idea of “quenching” the Spirit—1 Thess 5:19

Especially worth noting are passages which identify God (and/or Jesus) as Spirit:

    • 2 Cor 3:17-18 (“the Lord is Spirit / Spirit of the Lord”)
    • 1 Cor 15:45: “the last Adam [i.e. Jesus] came to be (transformed) into a life-giving Spirit

It is interesting that Paul rarely, if ever, uses pneu=ma to refer to an unclean/evil “spirit” (i.e. a daimon or “demon”)—implied in 1 Cor 12:10, and cf. also 2 Cor 11:4; 2 Thess 2:2, and the expression “spirit of the world” in 1 Cor 2:12. Only in 1 Timothy 4:1 do we read specifically of “spirits” more or less identified with daimons/demons.

The “Disputed” Pauline Letters (Ephesians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus)

There are 21 occurrences of the word pneu=ma in these letters (14 in Ephesians, and 7 in the Pastorals). For the most part, the usage and semantic range corresponds with what we see in the “undisputed” letters (cf. above). The human “spirit” (mind/soul/person) is intended in Eph 4:23 and 2 Tim 4:22; while a “spirit” of sin/wickedness is referenced in 2:2, perhaps (but not necessarily) the same point of reference as the personal “spirits” in 1 Tim 4:1. Elsewhere, the word is used of the Spirit of God (and/or Jesus), in a manner similar to the Pauline references cited above:

    • Believers are “in the Spirit”—Eph 2:22; 3:5; 4:3, 30; 6:18
    • The Spirit dwells in believers—2 Tim 1:14
    • New life comes through the Spirit (resurrection/rebirth motifs)—Titus 3:5, cf. also Eph 3:16
    • The Spirit as a promise of future Life—Eph 1:13
    • Unity/community through the Spirit (“one Spirit”)—Eph 2:18ff; 4:3-4
      with a special emphasis in Ephesians 1-2 on the unity of Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) believers in Christ
    • An association between the Spirit and Baptism (washing/cleansing motif)—Titus 3:5
    • The Spirit reveals truth to believers—Eph 3:5; 1 Tim 4:1
    • Believers are led by the Spirit—Eph 2:18
    • Believers as the Temple/shrine (“house of God”) of the Spirit—Eph 2:22

Certain ideas and expression are unique to these letters:

The more abstract usage of pneu=ma in expressions such as “spirit of wisdom” (Eph 1:17), “spirit of power”, etc (2 Tim 1:7), almost certainly still has the Spirit of God in view.

One ambiguous occurrence of the word is in 1 Tim 3:16, which appears to be part of an early Christian credal formula or hymn. There are two ways of reading the words e)dikaiw/qh e)n pneu/mati:

    • “he was made/declared just in the spirit/Spirit”
    • “he was given justice [i.e. vindicated] by the Spirit”

The second option is to be preferred, and would certainly refer to the work done (on Jesus’ behalf) by the Spirit. However, if one opts for the first reading, it is not entirely clear whether pneu=ma refers to the human “spirit” (parallel to the earlier “flesh”) or God’s Spirit. The poetic character of the verse allows for a dual-meaning, both of the word pneu=ma as well as the preposition e)n (“in”).

Pneumatiko/$

The adjective pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual, of the Spirit”) is a popular term for Paul—of the 26 occurrences in the New Testament, all but 2 (in 1 Pet 2:5) are found in the Pauline letters. Quite often it is used in the plural, as a substantive—i.e. “spiritual (thing)s” or, perhaps, “(thing)s of the Spirit”: Romans 1:11; 15:27; 1 Cor 2:13; 9:11; 12:1; 14:1. The word is especially prominent in the first Letter to the Corinthians, in which Paul gives instruction to congregations which are clearly quite “charismatic” in character—experiencing (and expecting to experience) the regular manifestation of the Spirit in the corporate meetings and life of the congregation, through various means and ‘gifts’ (1 Cor 12:1ff). The word xa/risma (“favor [granted], gift”) appears in vv. 4, 9, 28, 30-31 of chapter 12, though the specific expression “spiritual gift” is found only in Rom 1:11. These are things “of the Spirit”, meaning they come from the Spirit of God (and Christ), but they can also be communicated to others by gifted believers.

Believers themselves can be called “spiritual (one)s” or “(ones/those) of the Spirit”, using the same plural substantive (1 Cor 2:15; 3:1; 14:37; Gal 6:1). In these passages, the adjective “spiritual” is meant to reflect a level of spiritual maturity for believers in Christ. In Eph 6:12, pneumatiko/$ refers to things (and/or beings) of spiritual wickedness (i.e. the opposite of things of the Spirit).

Occasionally the adjective is used with a specific object or in a particular expression, such as:

    • “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink”—Paul’s Christological interpretation of Exod 16:15ff and Deut 8:3 in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4; the baptismal and eucharistic associations are quite clear from the context.
    • “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44 and 46)—referring to the believer after the resurrection; in verse 45, the resurrected Jesus is said to have become a “life-giving Spirit”.
    • “spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9)—Paul’s prayer is that believers will be so filled by God (through His Spirit).
    • “spiritual chants/songs” (Col 3:16, also Eph 5:19)—to be sung or recited by believers to God (through the Spirit)
    • “spiritual blessings” (Eph 1:3)—that is, “(word)s of good account” given/spoken over believers by God (through/by the Spirit)

In Romans 7:14, Paul states that “the Law is spiritual” (or “…is of the Spirit”), using the same adjective. As I have discussed elsewhere, I believe that here (and in other passages) Paul understands the Law [o( no/mo$] in a broader sense, using the specific expression “the Law of God”. It is not strictly equivalent to the written Law of the Old Testament (i.e. Torah), though certainly the latter is included under the former. Since God is Spirit, his Word (or “Law”) is also Spiritual.

The related adverb pneumatikw/$ (“spiritually, [done] by/in the Spirit”) occurs twice in the New Testament, including by Paul in 1 Cor 2:14—where he states that spiritual things can only be understood (and judged) spiritually, i.e. by the Spirit.

“Spirit” in the Remainder of the New Testament

Here I will briefly summarize the occurrences of the word pneu=ma in the rest of the New Testament (not including the Johannine Letters and the book of Revelation). There are 25 such occurrences:

Hebrews (12)
    • 1:7, 14—Heavenly Messengers (“Angels”) as ministering spirits (v. 7 cites Psalm 104:4), i.e. ministering specifically to Jesus and the spread of the Gospel (to believers); cf. also 12:9, where God is referred to as the “Father of the spirits”
    • 2:4—God manifests himself to believers through the various work of the Holy Spirit
    • 3:7—The special inspiration of Scripture (by the Holy Spirit) is indicated (citing Psalm 95:7-11); cf. also in 9:8; 10:15, where the idea of the Spirit witnessing to believers is emphasized
    • 4:12—The sharpness of the living Word of God is indicated by its ability even to divide between soul and spirit (i.e. inside a person). On the actual identification of the Word of God with the Spirit, cf. Eph 6:17
    • 6:4—Believers are said to have become (together) ones who hold the Holy Spirit
    • 9:14—Jesus is said to have offered himself (as a sacrifice) to God “through the (eternal) Spirit”
    • 10:29—The one who dishonors Christ’s sacrifice (through sin and disbelief) is said to have “cast insult upon the Spirit of (God’s) favor”
    • 12:23—Here the idea is that the righteous (i.e. believers), their “spirits”, come to be among the other spirits (i.e. Angels) in Heaven, as the “firstborn” (i.e. through Jesus)

It should be noted that the usage in Hebrews, especially in the way in which the title “Holy Spirit” is referenced, evinces a level of theological development, beyond what we find in Paul’s letters (cf. above), in the direction of a trinitarian distinction—i.e. the Holy Spirit as a distinct person.

James (2)

In James 2:26, the human/animal “spirit”—i.e., the life-animating power or “breath” is meant. By contrast, in 4:5, it would seem that the “Scripture” cited (identification remains uncertain) has been interpreted in reference to the Spirit dwelling in the believer. However, as there is no other specific reference to the Spirit of God (or Holy Spirit) in the letter, it is difficult to be certain of the author’s view of the matter.

1 Peter (8)
    • 1:2—As a central tenet, believers are “made holy” (i.e. sanctified) through the power and presence of the Spirit (“sanctification of the Spirit”)
    • 1:11-12—Three distinct points may discerned here:
      • The Spirit (of God) revealed future events to the Prophets whose oracles and visions are recorded in Scripture
      • This source of inspiration is actually called “the Spirit of Christ” (v. 11)
      • The “Holy Spirit” similarly inspired the apostles and other early Christian witnesses who declared the Gospel (v. 12b)
    • 3:18—Jesus is said to have been “made alive in/by (the) Spirit”. Compare with 1 Tim 3:16, where there is a similar ambiguity between the (human) “spirit” of Jesus (compared with “flesh”) and the Spirit of God. Perhaps something akin to Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 15:45 is intended here.
    • 3:19—apparently a reference to the tradition of “fallen Angels” (Gen 6:1-4), i.e. Angels as “spirits”, though it is at least conceivable that the spirits of the dead are also meant. For a more symbolic application, cf. 4:6
    • 4:6—A parallel statement to 3:18-19, though applied to believers, who are made alive by/through the Spirit
    • 4:14—The Spirit of God is said to rest upon believers

The author (indicated as Peter) also uses the adjective pneumatiko/$, twice in 2:5, referring to believers as a “spiritual house” (i.e. Temple or house of God), and as holy priests who offer “spiritual offerings” to God.

2 Peter (1)
Jude (2)
    • V. 19—The author refers to pseudo-believers, referring them as “souls” (yuxikoi/) who do not hold the Spirit; on a similar distinction between “soul” and “spirit” (or “Spirit”), cf. above
    • V. 20—The reference is to believers “praying in the Holy Spirit” (cf. Eph 6:18)

“…Spirit and Life” (continued): Acts and the Pauline Letters

Having examined all of the relevant passages in the Gospel of John, before proceeding to the Johannine Letters, it will be useful to look at some of the key references to the Spirit and Life in the remaining New Testament writings.

I have already discussed the passages in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts, dealing with the Holy Spirit, in an earlier series of notes on “The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition” (the articles “The Spirit in Luke-Acts” cover the Acts references).

Life (zwh/) in Luke-Acts

There are five occurrences of the noun zwh/ in the Gospel of Luke, along with nine of the related verb za/w (“live”). Most of these are derived from the wider Synoptic tradition, such as the use of the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ (“Life of the Age”) in 10:25 (+ the verb za/w in v. 28); 18:18, 30. In these episodes, a devout/religious person asks Jesus “What should I do to receive the lot of [i.e. inherit] (the) Life of the Age?”—that is, to inherit the divine/heavenly (eternal) life given to the righteous in the Age to Come (after the Judgment). In the first episode, Jesus elicits from the man the answer of the two-fold “Great Commandment” (Deut 6:5 + Lev 19:18), which came to be understood in early Christian terms as the so-called Love-command (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8; cf. also John 13:34-35; 15:9-13; 1 Cor 12:31b-14:1a, etc). In the second episode, Jesus emphasizes the need to follow him, and, in the process, give up the worldly things valued in this life. The only other occurrence of zwh/ in something like the sense of “eternal life” is the saying in 12:15, and in a similar context—i.e., the “life” of a person does not come out of an abundance of (material) possessions.

The verb za/w also refers to “eternal life” in Lk 10:28; we may also note the traditional citation of Deut 8:3 in the Temptation scene: “it is not upon bread alone that man will live” (Lk 4:4)—i.e., one “lives” through the life-giving Word of God. The discourses of Jesus in John develop this idea, as we have seen, especially in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6 (and the key-verse of this series, 6:63). A similar idea is expressed in the Lukan version of the saying in 20:38: “But he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live in/by him”. The giving of new (spiritual) life to persons lost or “dead” in sin, so familiar in the Johannine discourses, also appears at the conclusion of the Prodigal Son parable: “…this brother of yours was dead and came alive (again), and had ruined [i.e. lost] (himself) and was found!” (15:32).

Of course, the verb is also used of the actual resurrection of Jesus, as in 24:5, 23; Acts 1:3; 25:19 (on the symbolic/spiritual idea of resurrection, cf. John 5:21-24ff; 11:21-27), and similarly of physical raising of persons from the dead in the book of Acts (9:41 etc).

An interesting use of the verb is in Acts 7:38, where Stephen, in his sermon-speech, refers to the words given by God to Moses as “living sayings/declarations” (lo/gia zw=nta), the idea being that words spoken by the living God are themselves living. The concept of God as the source of life is expressed twice by Paul in sermon-speeches, delivered in a non-Jewish (Greco-Roman) setting—of the one true living God (14:15), and cf. especially the famous philosophical formula cited in 17:28: “for in Him we live and move and have being [e)sme/n]”.

“Life” in the Pauline Letters and Theology

Paul uses the verb za/w (“live, have life”) frequently in his letters (more than 50 times in the undisputed letters). Sometimes it is meant in the ordinary sense of human life (and/or daily living), but quite often it denotes divine/eternal or spiritual Life.

Paul also makes use of the verb zwopoie/w (“make [a]live”)—7 of the 11 occurrences in the New Testament are found in his letters (cf. also John 5:21 [twice]; 6:63; 1 Pet 3:18):

    • Rom 4:17; 8:11—where the reference is specifically to the life-giving (and resurrection) power of God
    • 1 Cor 15:22, 36, 45—the life-giving power of Jesus, specifically through his resurrection (on the last reference, cf. below)
    • 2 Cor 3:6—the life-giving power of the Spirit (Spirit/Law [“Letter”] contrast), cf. also Gal 3:21

The noun zwh/ (“life”) is somewhat less common, occurring 28 times in the undisputed letters (with 9 more in Ephesians and the Pastorals). The specific expression “Life of the Age” (zwh/ ai)w/nio$) occurs five times—Rom 2:7; 5:21; 6:22-23; Gal 6:8 (cf. also 1 Tim 1:16; 6:12; Tit 1:2; 3:7)—usually in a strongly ethical context (but note the emphasis on the “favor” [xa/ri$] of God in Rom 5:21; 6:23).

The remaining Pauline passage which are particularly relevant may summarized as follows:

“Life” in the other New Testament Writings

Before continuing on to look at the references to the Spirit in the Pauline letters, it is worth surveying briefly other occurrences of the noun zwh/ and verb za/w in the rest of the New Testament (excluding the Johannine letters and book of Revelation):

Hebrews
    • The basic idea of eternal life (in the sense of always living) is applied variously to the figure of Melchizedek (as a type/figure of Jesus) in 7:3, 8, 16, 25
    • The figure of God as living (cf. above), along with his Word as living—3:12; 4:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22
    • Of the sacrificial (priestly) work of Jesus, which leads to Life—10:20 (“living way”)
    • One lives through trust in Jesus—10:38 (citing Hab 2:4, cf. above)
James
    • The expression “crown of life” as a motif for eternal Life (1:12)
1 Peter
    • Life through (the death and resurrection of) Jesus—1:3 (“living hope”); 2:24
    • Participation/union of believers with Jesus, i.e. we are “living” as he is “living”—2:4-5
    • The living (and life-giving) Word of God—1:23
    • Life comes to believers through the favor [xa/ri$] of God—3:7 (“favor of life”)
    • Believers live “in the Spirit”—3:18 (vb. zwopoie/w); 4:6
2 Peter & Jude

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.

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 6: Dualism

In this final part of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, I will be discussing the aspect of Gnosticism that is perhaps best known to people generally—their dualistic worldview and mode of expression. In an earlier article defining and explaining the term (cf. also the main article on “Gnosticism”), I outlined the four main kinds or types of dualism:

    1. Cosmological—There are two opposing principles which control and govern the world.
    2. Metaphysical—There two contrasting (and opposing) principles which make up the structure of the universe.
    3. Anthropological—The human being is made up of two contrasting principles.
    4. Ethical—The human being chooses (and must choose) between two contrasting/opposing principles.

When we turn to the dualism that exists in early Christian thought, and in the writings of the New Testament, it is the first and last of these types which are most common and widespread. For the most part, such early Christian dualism was simply inherited from the language and imagery of the Old Testament Scriptures and subsequent Jewish writings—especially from the (later) Prophets and Wisdom tradition. In the Gospels, and the earliest strands of Christian tradition, we can isolate two areas of dualistic thought and expression:

    • The conflict between God and the Devil (Satan), which can be understood as a kind of partial or qualified cosmic (cosmological) dualism. There is a sense in which the current (fallen) order of creation has come under the control or dominion of the Devil—cf. Matt 4:1-11 (esp. verse 8); Mk 3:26ff; 4:15; Lk 13:16 etc, and pars, along with the overall context of the many healing (exorcism) miracles narrated in the Gospel (and Acts). This means that the world is controlled by evil and darkness, and is generally in conflict with, and opposed to, the ways and things of God (Mark 8:33 par). Jesus’ presence on earth reflects this sense of conflict against the forces of sin and evil, etc (cf. Lk 10:18; Heb 2:14), a struggle which is continued in the lives of believers (James 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8, etc).
    • More common is the ethical dualism such as we see in the sayings and teachings of Jesus, expressed in language and images largely inherited from Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Sayings such as Matt 6:24; 7:13-14, 17-20, 24-27 par, or the Lukan form of the Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26), as well as the contrasting figures and settings in a number of the parables (e.g., Matt 13:24-30, 36-43; 21:28-32 par; chap 25; Lk 16:19-31; 18:9-14), present two different (opposite) “paths” or examples a person may follow. Under the direct influence of Jesus’ teaching, this developed into the so-called “Two Ways” conceptual framework in early Christianity, preserved within several different lines of tradition (cf. Didache 1-16; Epistle of Barnabas 18-21). The earliest Christians, like the Qumran Community, understood their identity in light of Isa 40:3ff and apparently referred to themselves as “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). On the expressions “way of truth”, “way of God”, etc, see Acts 16:17; 18:26; 2 Pet 2:2, 15, 21. The ethical instruction in the letter of James is almost entirely dependent on the teaching of Jesus as found in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul draws upon this as well, though he also expresses the “two ways” in the traditional language of the “virtue and vice” lists from Greco-Roman (and Jewish) tradition.

Both of these aspects—cosmological and ethical—are found blended together in Jewish writings roughly contemporary with the time of Jesus, especially in the Qumran texts (the Dead Sea Scrolls). The Community represented in these texts had a strongly dualistic worldview, best expressed in the so-called Community Rule (1QS) 3:13-4:26, a section often referred to as the “treatise of the Two Spirits”. There are two Spirits at work in the world—one of Truth and one of Falsehood, of light and darkness, God and Belial. Human beings are characterized by one of these two “worlds”, ultimately choosing the follow the path of one or the other. The Elect or faithful ones, the true believers, are the “sons of light”, while those who refuse (or are unable) to join the Community remain among the “sons of darkness”. Needless to say, as has been amply documented, in spite of many differences, there is a good deal in common between early Christians and the Community of the Qumran texts.

The most pronounced dualism in the New Testament is found in the letters of Paul and the Johannine writings, respectively. As we shall see, the dualism expressed in the latter is closer both to that of the Qumran texts, and to gnostic modes of expression.

Pauline Dualism

In Paul’s letters, we see very distinctive forms of both cosmological and ethical dualism (on these in the New Testament generally, cf. above).

Cosmological

Paul has more or less inherited the Christian worldview outlined above—that there is a fundamental conflict between God and the Devil, with the current condition/order of the world being under the dominion of sin and evil. Paul’s direct references to Satan or the Devil are relatively rare; indeed, the term dia/bolo$ (i.e. devil) does not occur in the undisputed letters (only in Eph 4:27; 6:11; 1 Tim 3:6-7; 2 Tim 2:26). The transliterated Semitic title Satan[a$] (/f*C*h^, ha´´¹‰¹n, “the adversary, accuser”) is the term Paul regularly uses (Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Thess 2:9; also 1 Tim 1:20; 5:15). Though he does not often state it directly, there can be no doubt that Paul believed that the current age or “world” was wicked and corrupt, under the effective control of evil (2 Cor 4:4; Gal 1:4, also Eph 2:2; 3:10; 6:12), characterized by a definite (cosmological) structure and hierarchy (Gal 4:3, 9 [Col 2:8, 20]; Col 1:16; 2:15). For more on Paul’s understanding and use of the term “world” (ko/smo$), cf. 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 3:19; 6:2; 7:31; Gal 6:14; Rom 12:2, etc. The most distinctive Pauline teaching is that the world—and, in particular, humankind—is under the dominion of sin, in bondage to it. This theme is most prominent in Romans (3:9, 19-20; 5:12-21; 7:7-24; 8:18-22; 11:32) and Galatians (3:19-24; 4:1-3, 21ff, etc); for the relation between sin and the Law in Paul’s thought, cf. my earlier articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”. God, through Christ, has freed us from this bondage; occasionally this is expressed in terms of being delivered out of the world of sin and darkness (Col 1:13; 1 Thess 5:4-5, and note Eph 5:8). However, it is only at the end of this current Age that God will finally destroy the power of evil (Rom 16:20).

Ethical

As noted above, Paul occasionally draws upon the “two ways” tradition, usually expressing it in the “virtue/vice list” format known from Greco-Roman philosophy and also found frequently in other early Christian writings—cf. Rom 1:29-31; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-23, etc. Paul’s unique contribution is in his frequent contrast between “flesh” and “(the) Spirit”. Read carelessly, in a superficial manner, one might think that Paul is espousing a kind of metaphysical dualism, such as is known from certain Gnostic writings and teachings, whereby the good spiritual realm is contrasted with the evil material world. He is, perhaps, somewhat closer in thought to the anthropological dualism in some version of Greek ascetic philosophy. The key to Paul’s Spirit/Flesh contrast is found in a careful reading of Romans 5-7. The “flesh” (sa/rc) represents the aspect of the human soul (i.e. the human being or person) that is under bondage to the power of sin. Even after the believer in Christ is freed from this power, he/she is still prone to the old, habitual patterns of thought and behavior (i.e. the “flesh”, or the ‘impulse[s]’ of the flesh). Thus the believer must consciously allow him/herself to be guided by the (Holy) Spirit, rather than by the impulses of the flesh. In Galatians 5:19-23, Paul applies this Spirit/Flesh contrast to the “two ways” ethical tradition, describing the “works” (or “fruit”) of the flesh and the Spirit, respectively. His ethical instruction is summed up in verse 25: “If we live in/by the Spirit, we must also walk [lit. step in line] in/by the Spirit”. The Johannine idiom (cf. below) would be “walk in the light”, but it has much the same meaning.

Rather more difficult is Paul’s contrast between the Law and the Gospel, letter vs. Spirit, etc., which is perhaps best described as a kind of religious dualism, whereby the religious identity of believers in Christ (the new covenant) is contrasted with the old ethnic-religious identity of Israelites and Jews (the old covenant). Much of Paul’s writing and teaching on this point is rooted in the specific historical circumstances and background of the early Christian missionary work, but remains important for us to consider and study today. I have dealt with it extensively in the articles on Paul’s view of the Law in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

Perhaps the most dualistic portion of ethical teaching in the Pauline corpus is 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, which has many points of contact with the language and imagery of the Qumran texts. The precise relationship of this section with the surrounding material in 2 Corinthians remains a matter of considerable discussion and debate among commentators. It appears suddenly, and seems very much to interrupt the train of thought. Many scholars consider it to be an interpolation, or part of a composite document (i.e. portions of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence collected together). However, there has never been any convincing explanation as to how such a fragment came to be inserted between 2 Cor 6:13 and 7:2; nor, for that matter, as to just why Paul (as the author) would have ‘interrupted’ his address to include it as he does. It remains one of unexplained ‘mysteries’ of New Testament and Pauline studies. For more on this passage, see the current Saturday Series studies.

Johannine Dualism

There are three main themes or motifs by which a dualistic contrast is expressed in the Gospel and letters of John. So distinctive was the dualism of the Johannine writings that an earlier generation of scholars (prior to the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls) could theorize that these writings were influenced by a primitive form of Gnosticism, or by way of similar dualistic tendencies in Greco-Roman religion and philosophy. The Qumran texts have since made abundantly clear that commentators need not look further afield for the background of this dualism than to the Old Testament Scriptures and subsequent Jewish tradition (on this, cf. above). However, in at least two of three themes discussed here, very distinctive theological (and Christological) elements have been incorporated into the mode of expression. As in the Qumran texts, there is a blending of cosmological and ethical dualism.

Light/Darkness

The first theme is the contrast between light (fw=$) and darkness (skoti/a). It is a natural contrastive pairing, and can be found in many religious and philosophical traditions, including the Old Testament Scriptures—of the numerous passages, cf. Gen 1:4ff; Job 17:12; 29:3; 30:26; 38:19; Psalm 18:28; 112:4; 139:12; Eccl 2:13; Isa 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; 58:10; Mic 7:8; Dan 2:22; Matt 4:16; Lk 1:79. This dualistic motif is quite prominent at several points in the Gospel and Letters of John, and carries a theological (and Christological) meaning. In the Prologue of the Gospel (1:4-9), the pre-existent Christ (the Word) is the Light which shines into the darkness of the world (cf. below). Jesus applies the image to himself in the discourses—he is the light, and those who come to him are in the light, while those who do not remain in darkness (3:19-21; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46). Since he is the true, eternal light which shines in the darkness of the world, Jesus identifies himself as “the light of the world” (11:10), including in two famous “I am” declarations (8:12; 9:4-5). This is related to the Johannine motif of seeing (and not seeing, i.e. blindness, cf. chap. 9), along with the idea of revelation as bringing light, causing to shine, etc. On this, see the article “Knowledge and Revelation in the Gospel of John”.

An interesting detail in the Gospel narrative is the night-time setting of the Passion scene (the Last Supper and arrest/trial of Jesus). After Satan enters Judas and he departs from the disciples, the author states simply “…and it was night” (13:30). A similar description of Peter warming himself in the cold darkness occurs in 18:18. Again, when the women come to the tomb the morning after Jesus’ death (20:1), the setting is described as “it being still dark [skoti/a]”. These are basic narrative details of the Gospel, but in the Johannine context they almost certainly carry a deeper symbolism as well.

In the First Letter, this same light/darkness contrast occurs in two key passages—1:5-7 and 2:8-11. If we count the book of Revelation among the same Johannine writings, then we may have the motif in the vision of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21, where the very glory/splendor of God and the Lamb (Christ) gives continual light and “there will not be (any) night there” (vv. 23-25).

According to a common Gnostic way of understanding, Jesus brings knowledge and awareness to believers of their (true) identity as offspring of the Divine, eternal Light. This is similar to the teaching in John, only in the Gospel the emphasis is squarely on Christ as the light—believers come to the light, walk in the light, and come to be “sons/children of light”.

Above/Below

The second dualistic theme is spatial, drawing upon the ancient cosmological pairing of heaven and earth—heaven above, earth below. This conceptual framework had already been given a theological interpretation in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, which early Christians inherited; but in the Johannine discourses of Jesus, it has an even more distinctive Christological emphasis. The fundamental dualism is: God above, the World below. Christ comes from God, from above (a&nwqen), while the world is in darkness below (ka/tw). He has come down into the world, as light shining in the darkness (cf. above), one sent by God, come to show people (believers) the way out of darkness, back to the Father. The main passages illustrating this spatial dualism are: 3:13f, 31; 6:33, 38, 50-51, 58, 62; 8:23, (28); 10:17f; (12:32ff); 20:17. Those (believers) who come to Jesus and trust in him, are also born a&nwqen (“from above”, cf. 3:3ff), and thus are, or come to be, from above, just as he is; on the other hand, those who refuse to trust in him remain below (8:23, etc).

Closely related to the spatial motif is the specific idea of Jesus descending from the Father, and ascending back to Him. This is expressed through the use of the verbs katabai/nw (“step down”) and a)nabai/nw (“step up”). This ascent/descent theme is introduced in the description of the Baptism scene (1:32-33) and again with the vision of the Son of Man promised by Jesus in 1:51. In the discourses, these verbs are used in 3:13; 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58, 62; 10:1; 20:17. The verb a)nabai/nw is common in narration, used for a person “going up” (to Jerusalem, etc), but because of the special meaning elsewhere in John, it is possible that the references to Jesus “stepping up” to Jerusalem may carry a deeper significance (cf. especially in 7:8ff). In the great Last Discourse (chaps. 13-17), Jesus expresses the idea of his going away (back to the Father), and then coming again to his disciples—cf. throughout ch. 14, 16 and again in the prayer-discourse of chap. 17. His reason for coming to his disciples is to bring them with him back to the Father (14:1-4; 17:24, etc); at the same time, in Jesus’ absence, the Spirit comes to reside in and among believers—a ‘realized’ union with God the Father, prior to the (final) ascent with Jesus at the end-time.

The World

The term ko/smo$ (kósmos), usually translated “world”, refers to the visible universe, in the sense that it is “decorated”, but also in its apparent and structured “order”. Often, in the New Testament, it would be fair to render ko/smo$ as “world order“—i.e., how things are ordered and arranged. This can have a decidedly negative connotation, as a (dualistic) term set in contrast with God (his will, ways, Kingdom, etc). On this cosmological dualism, cf. above.

In the Gospel of John, ko/smo$ (“world”) occurs 78 times, with another 24 in the Letters—the 102 combined representing more than half of all occurrences in the NT (186). There are two main aspects to its usage in the Gospel: (a) in reference to Jesus coming into the world (i.e. the Incarnation, etc), and (b) as the domain of darkness, etc, which is hostile and opposed to the Light. Both of these aspects can be seen already in the Prologue:

    • “the light shines in the darkness
      …and the darkness did not take down (hold of) it” (1:5)
    • “he was the true light coming into [ei)$] the world…he was in [e)n] the world…
      …and the world did not know him” (1:9-10)

For the specific connection between the world (ko/smo$) and the light/darkness motif, cf. 3:19ff; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46. This aspect of opposition is found throughout the Gospel, though occasionally the word is used in the more general (neutral) sense, for humankind (and, specifically, believers), cf. 3:16-17; 6:33, etc. The “world” is associated with sin in 1:29 (cf. also 16:8, etc), but more commonly we find a direct contrast between Christ and the world. Jesus comes into the world bringing judgment and to testify against it (3:19; 7:7; 8:26; 9:39; 12:31, etc., but see also 3:17; 12:47); and, because he (the Light) shines into the darkness, the world, which loves the darkness, hates him (3:19; 7:7). Even more fundamental is the idea that the “world” can have no part of Christ, since he is not “of the world” (8:23ff).

As the death of Jesus approaches in the Gospel narrative, the motif of opposition and conflict with the world becomes more prominent, even drawing upon the more traditional dualism of God vs. Satan (the “ruler” of the world). This begins with the declaration in 12:31, and runs through the Last Discourse (chaps. 13-17), in which the word ko/smo$ occurs no less than 38 times. Jesus’ closing declaration in 16:33 provides a suitable parallel to that in 12:31:

    • “Now is the judgment of this world, now the chief (ruler) of this world will be cast out” (12:31)
    • “…have courage! I have been victorious (over) the world!” (16:33)

This harkens back to 1:5 in the Prologue and the ambiguity of the verb katalamba/nw, which means literally “take down”, but which, however, can be understood in several possible ways, in the sense of: (a) “bring down, overtake, overcome”, (b) “take down, grasp [with one’s mind]”, i.e. “understand, comprehend”, or (c) with kata/ as an intensive, “take/receive fully, eagerly”, etc. The statement in 1:5 thus can mean: (a) “the darkness did not overcome it”, (b) “the darkness did not understand/recognize it”, or (c) “the darkness did not receive it”. The immediate context of the passage suggests some combination of (b) and (c), but the theme of opposition which runs through the Gospel also makes (a) a possibility.

What is true of the conflict between Christ and the world, also applies to the Spirit, and to those who follow Christ (believers). These two points are important themes in the Last Discourse—cf. 14:17; 15:18ff; 16:8, 11, 20, 33. Especially significant is the emphasis on Christian identity—that believers, like Jesus, are not “of the world”. The preposition involved is e)k, literally “out of”, which can indicate one’s origin (being from), but also that to which one belongs (being of). The birth motif (3:3ff, and frequently in 1 John) uses the concrete sense of the preposition—i.e. born out of another. This specific theme is introduced in 15:19 and then becomes a major point of emphasis in the prayer-discourse of chapter 17. I have discussed this in earlier notes, as well as in Part 5 of this series.

Jesus’ final reference to the “world”, in the dialogue with Pilate, brings together both the dualistic contrast, as well as the theme of the believer’s identity as being “of God” (and not the world):

    • 18:36: “My kingdom is not of [e)k] this world…”
    • 18:37: “…I have come into the world that I might bear witness to the truth; everyone being [i.e. who is] of [e)k] the truth hears my voice”

In Gnostic thought, there is a similar negative sense of the “world”, but typically with a more pronounced metaphysical dualism (cf. above). In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls believers “out of” the world, in a manner similar to the role of Jesus as Savior in certain Gnostic systems. There can be no mistaking, however, the Christological emphasis in John—it is not that believers are “not of the world” because they are offspring of the divine Light, but because they belong to Christ.

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 4: Religious Identity and Tradition

Closely tied to a gnostic understanding of salvation (cf. Part 2) is the sense of religious identity being defined in terms of knowledge. This was discussed to some extent in Part 3, but it requires further elaboration and examination of some of the key New Testament passages. According to the gnostic (and Gnostic) viewpoint, the (elect) believer comes to know, that is, to become aware, of his/her true identity in relation to God (or the Divine). Among certain Gnostic groups we find the idea that a spark or seed of the Divine has been ‘trapped’ within the fallen material world or sin and darkness. Knowledge of salvation comes—proclaimed and revealed by the Savior (and/or his messengers)—to believers trapped so as to have been ignorant of their true identity as offspring (sons/children) of God. There is, indeed, something of this religious worldview reflected in the New Testament Scriptures, but not quite in the manner expressed by many Gnostics. It is in the Pauline and Johannine writings that we find the closest parallels. A number of the most relevant passages are summarized here:

The Pauline letters

1 Cor 2:6-16—I have discussed the entire section 1:18-2:16 in an earlier series of notes. The logic of Paul’s theology can be described this way:

    • The Gospel contains the secret, hidden wisdom of God
    • This is conveyed to the apostles and preachers of the Gospel through the Spirit
    • Those who receive/accept the Gospel receive the Spirit which is at work in them, allowing them to understand
    • The Spirit instructs and guides believers so they can discern the wisdom of God—we thus have “the mind of Christ”

From a theological standpoint, there is some question as to what extent God—specifically the Spirit—is present and at work in believers prior to hearing the Gospel and coming to faith. Given Paul’s statement in verse 11, how do people respond in faith the Gospel without the work of the Spirit? Paul typically employs the language and image of a favor (xa/ri$) or gift—i.e., the Spirit as a gift given, presumably at the time one receives the Gospel, though it may also be connected with the moment of baptism. However, the quotation in verse 9, apparently citing loosely and adapting Isa 64:4, adds an interesting dimension to this; consider the last portion of the quotation:

“…the (thing)s God prepared for the (one)s loving him”

In the context of 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, these “things” are the hidden things of God, the wisdom of God, which, according to Paul’s way of understanding it is: (1) manifest in the person of Christ, (2) revealed in the Gospel, and (3) made available to believers through the Spirit. Yet these things were prepared or made ready by God ahead of time (in the past), for those in the present who are already loving Him. This same idea is suggested in 1 Cor 8:3—”if any (one) loves God, this (person) has been known under [i.e. by] Him”. Here the sense of predestination is stronger: God has known the believer ahead of time, the perfect tense indicating past action which continues into the present. Cf. also 1 Cor 13:12.

Rom 7:7-25—Paul frequently uses language and imagery expressing the idea that God, through Christ, has delivered humankind from bondage to the power of sin (cf. above for this same idea from a Gnostic standpoint). It is described in almost cosmic terms in Rom 5:12-21, while here in 7:7-25, we see it presented from the vantage-point of the individual believer. Paul sets himself, rhetorically, in place of this representative human being, using the first person (“I”). This person could be identified with those who are “loving God” (prior to receiving the Gospel), desiring (in his spirit) to fulfill the Law of God, but unable to do so because of the power of sin residing in the “flesh” and controlling it. Uniquely Pauline is the idea that revelation—in the Law (Torah), prior to encountering the Gospel—brings a kind of preliminary saving knowledge, in that it brings knowledge (i.e. recognition, awareness) of sin. But Paul’s understanding in this regard is two-fold: (1) the Law brings (saving) knowledge, but at the same time (2) through the Law God has imprisoned all human beings (including believers) under sin (Gal 3:22-24; Rom 11:32). For more on Paul’s teaching on the Law, cf. the articles in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

Rom 8:19-25—Here we find the cosmic image of creation groaning and suffering in bondage. Again, we have the idea that God is the one who has set it under bondage (to sin and death). Admittedly, the reference in verse 20 is somewhat ambiguous, where it states that the thing formed (creation, collectively) was set under the order of (i.e. subjected to) sin and death “not willingly, but through the (one) putting it under (this) order”. Commentators debate just who “the (one)” is, but, in my view, based on the context in Romans, and other passages in Paul’s letters, it should be understood as referring to God the Father (the Creator). In certain Gnostic systems, the Creator—that is, the one who fashioned the fallen and sinful material condition—was a kind of inferior divine Being (a Demiurge). This is foreign to Paul’s thought, but the idea of God setting Creation (and humankind) under bondage to the power of sin has certain points in common with Gnostic theology. The eschatological theme in Rom 8:19-25 involves the eventual deliverance of creation from this condition of bondage, and is tied directly to the presence (and identity) of the elect believers (the “sons/offspring of God”). Indeed, this is specifically described in terms of revelation—the earnest expectation and hope of creation is to receive (from God, or from heaven) “the uncovering (a)poka/luyi$) [i.e. revelation] of the sons of God”. This could be understood in the sense that the sons of God (believers) are already present in creation, but that creation is unaware of their true identity. In verse 21, the future hope for creation is defined as being “set free from the slavery of decay, into the freedom of the honor/splendor of the offspring of God”. The implication is that all of creation will be renewed in the same way that believers in Christ are renewed—in particular, Paul has the end-time resurrection in mind (v. 23).

Col 1:12-13—As part of the great declaration in vv. 9-20, describing the person and work of Christ, the author (Paul) states that God the Father is the one

“who (has) made us able (to come) into the portion of the lot [i.e. the inheritance] of the holy ones in the light, (and) who rescued us out of the authority of darkness and made us stand together (away from there) into the kingdom of the Son of his love”

There is, in this description, language and imagery that is similar to gnostic modes of expression—the dualism of light and darkness, the idea of being rescued out of a realm of darkness, believers as “sons of light”, believers as heirs of God, the kingdom of the Son, etc. Of course, these can be found at various points throughout the New Testament, but their combination here, within two short verses, is what gives the passage a “gnostic” ring. The deliverance out of darkness is tied directly to the work of God through the person of Christ; elsewhere in Paul’s writings, it is connected more properly with the proclamation of the Gospel (2 Cor 4:4-6). The idea of believers being called out of darkness is found in 1 Pet 2:9, and goes back to Old Testament imagery, preserved within the early Gospel tradition—Matt 4:16; Lk 1:78-79, etc, and cf. 2 Pet 1:19.

Eph 5:13-14—Here, in connection with the same light/darkness dualism we find the additional idea of the soul “awaking” to its true nature. This is expressed in the quotation (possibly from an early hymn) in verse 14:

“Rise, (you) the (one) going down to sleep, and stand up out of the dead, and the Anointed (One) will shine (light) upon you!”

This line itself suggests the initial conversion of a believer—i.e., of responding to the Gospel and coming to faith. It may originally have been associated with the ritual of Baptism. However, here Paul (or the author) cites it as part of ethical instruction (exhortation) directed to believers. The context clearly has to do with abandoning sinful behavior and associations, and walking according our true nature, that is, as “offspring (i.e. children) of light”. The image of the soul waking to its true nature and identity is a common gnostic motif, though here the orientation is ethical rather than soteriological. The exhortation “walk according to the light, as you are in the light” is stated in a similar context in Galatians 5:16-25, but in terms of the Spirit: “If we live in/by the Spirit, we should also step in line (i.e. walk) in/by the Spirit”.

Other passages could be added to these mentioned here, but those above give a suitable number of representative examples from the Pauline writings.

Johannine writings

These will be discussed further in the supplemental article on knowledge and revelation in the Gospel and letters of John. Here I will simply list some of the more notable references:

In the Gospel1:9-13; 3:5-8, 18-21; 5:37-43; 6:44-47; 7:17, 28-29; 8:12, 31-38ff; 10:3-9, 14-16, 27ff; 11:25-26; 12:35-36; 14:21-24; 15:3ff, 15-16, 19; 17:6-26; 18:37

In the Letters1 John 1:5-7; 2:5-6, 19-20ff; 2:29-3:2; 3:10, 19; 4:2-6, 9-10; 5:1ff, 10-12, 18-19; 3 John 11

The strong dualism running through the Gospel and letters of John will be discussed in the last part (Part 6) of this series.

Other aspects of Christian Identity

There are other important aspects of Christian identity—that is, of the believer’s religious identity in Christ—which serve to counteract or counterbalance any gnostic tendencies, such as could be drawn from the language used in the passages cited above. Again, we are best informed about early Christian tradition and instruction in this regard from the Pauline letters. Here are some of the more notable aspects:

    • Paul’s use of the expression “in Christ” (e)n xristw=|), and the related idea of belonging to Christ, which can be called mystical and spiritual(istic), rather than gnostic. That is to say, we are united with Christ, both symbolically, and through the presence of the Spirit, and participate in the power of his death and resurrection. The expression is so common in Paul’s writings that it functions virtually as a title for believers, a religious identification. Of the many references, cf. 1 Cor 1:30; 15:18-23; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:4; 3:26-28; Rom 3:24; 6:11; 8:1f; 12:5; Phil 2:5; 3:8-12; Col 1:28; 3:1-4; Eph 2:6ff. It is rare in the New Testament outside of Paul (1 Pet 3:16; 5:10, 14, and note Heb 3:14).
    • The idea of believers as a “new creation”, may seem, on the surface, to have a gnostic tinge to it, but it can just as easily be understood in the opposite sense—believers in Christ come to be completely different than they were before. The main passages utilizing this expression, or varying forms of it, are: 2 Cor 5:16-21; Gal 6:15; Col 3:9-11ff; and Eph 2:14-18. The Johannine idea of the “new birth”, of believers born out of God, is perhaps closer to gnostic patterns of thought.
    • The symbolism of the rite of Baptism was important for Paul, in that it symbolized the believer’s identification and union with Christ, specifically in the sense of participating in his death and resurrection—cf. 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; Rom 6:3-4ff; Col 2:11-12; 3:9-11. Paul inherited the ritual motif of “putting off” the old, sinful way of life, and “putting on” the new life in Christ. The various Gnostic Christian groups seem to have retained Baptism, along with other rituals, though certainly giving to it a somewhat different meaning and significance, even as Paul may have done. He perhaps was the first to connect baptism specifically to the idea of believers sharing in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
    • The emphasis on the real, physical death (the crucifixion) of Jesus as central to the Gospel message, would separate Paul from many of the Gnostic groups known in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Gnostics, with their strong (metaphysical) dualism, especially when assuming the evil of the material condition, appear to have struggled greatly with the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross, and attempted to explain or interpret it in various ways (some less plausible than others). In 1 and 2 Corinthians, where he may be combating certain gnostic tendencies, Paul sets the message of the cross in direct contrast to the (supposed) wisdom and knowledge of the world. Cf. especially 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 and my earlier notes on this passage.
    • Likewise Paul’s teaching on the presence and role of the Spirit in (and among) believers also distinguishes his understanding of Christian identity from that of the later Gnostics. While most Gnostics emphasized the invisible and eternal world of the Divine (against the evil physical/material world), they, for the most part, do not seem to have been Spiritualists—that is, they do not define and understand their religious identity and experience predominantly in terms of the (Holy) Spirit. For Paul, on the other hand, the Spirit was fundamental to his thinking and teaching; even when referring to knowledge and revelation, he almost always qualifies and connects it in relation to the Spirit. Of the many relevant passages, cf. 1 Cor 6:19-20; 12:13ff; 2 Cor 1:21-22; 3:17-18; 5:5; 11:4; Gal 3:2-3; 5:16-26; Rom 5:5; 8:9-12; Eph 4:30.
    • In his emphasis on Christian love, Paul draws on early Gospel tradition going back to Jesus’ own words. The so-called “love command (or principle)” was fundamental to Paul, especially in his ethical teaching—cf. Rom 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 8:1ff; 12:31-14:1; 16:14; Gal 5:6, 13-14; 1 Thess 4:9; Col 3:14. In 1 Corinthians, Paul sets love against (spiritual) knowledge, arguing that love is far superior and necessary for governing all aspects of Christian behavior, especially for our relationships to others in the Community of believers.
    • Paul repeatedly mentions the suffering of believers—their endurance of hardship and persecution, etc—as an important mark of Christian identity. For Paul, it was closely tied to the idea of our participation in the death of Jesus (cf. above). The experience and endurance of suffering also served as a example to other believers, and as a witness to the Gospel. Cf. 1 Thess 2:14ff; 2 Cor 1:6f; 2:14-17; 4:7-12; 6:3-10; Gal 4:19; Phil 1:12-14ff; Col 1:24, etc. Gnostic groups also experienced persecution—including, sadly, at the hands of other “orthodox” Christians—but they would not have ascribed much importance to (physical) suffering in this life.

Some of these points can be found elsewhere in the New Testament, including the Johannine writings. However, there are several other aspects of Christian identity expressed in the Gospel, and especially, the letters of John, which are worth noting briefly:

    • The overwhelming primacy of the person of Christ. In Paul’s writings, the Christological emphasis is usually put forward in connection with: (a) the message of the Gospel, (b) the believer’s union with Christ, and/or (c) the ecclesiastical aspect of the Community of believers as the “body of Christ”, etc. In the First letter of John, on the other hand, following along the lines of the great discourses of Jesus in the Gospel, Christian identity tends to be aligned more directly with the person of the Son (Christ) himself. Ultimately, this extends to what may be properly called orthodoxy—i.e. correct belief about Christ; on this, cf. below.
    • Love in the Gospel and letters of John takes on a somewhat different sense; while continuing the tradition of the “love command/principle”, it is given a centrality to the identity of believers that is really not found anywhere else in the New Testament (Paul’s great chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians being the closest). In 1 John, the presence of love in the believer is virtually synonymous with the presence of Christ, and indicates that the believer is “out of (i.e. from) God” and has been born from Him. Cf. 1 Jn 2:5, 10, 15; 3:1, 10-18, 23; 4:7-12, 16-21; 5:1-3; 2 Jn 5-6.
    • Compared with Paul’s use of baptism symbolism, in the Gospel of John there is a different kind of imagery used to described the believers union with Christ and participation in his death, etc. It is found in the drinking/eating and water/bread symbolism in the great discourses of Jesus—Jn 4:7-24, 34; 6:22-59; 7:37-38f. If baptism is implied in the water imagery of 3:5ff, it has a different sense than in Paul. Jn 19:23 and 1 Jn 5:6-8 have water (and blood) connected more closely with the death of Christ.

One unique feature of the Gospel and letters of John is the way it establishes a correct belief about Jesus—who he is, where he came from, etc—as essential to the Christian identity. This is indicated in the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel (3:18; 8:23-24; 14:10-11; 17:3, 20-21; cf. also 20:28, 31), and takes on greater significance in the letters, where incorrect belief regarding Christ marks those who have separated from the Community and also the “spirit of antichrist”—cf. 1 Jn 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:1-5, 6-12ff; 2 Jn 7ff. For more on the Johannine writings, cf. the supplemental article in this series.

Revelation and Christian Tradition

One other topic which needs to be addressed here is the early Christian understanding of revelation in terms of tradition—that is, of (apostolic) teaching and instruction, going back to the words of Jesus, which has been preserved and transmitted to believers. Paul frequently refers to his own apostolic authority as a minister who proclaims the Gospel (as revelation) and gives instruction for the congregations under his charge. At several points, he ties his own commission and ministry to specific revelations he received from Jesus (Gal 1:12, 16; 2:2, etc; cf. also Eph 3:1-6ff). By the time of the Pastoral letters (whether or not one regards these as authentically Pauline), as also in the letters of Jude and 2 Peter, in particular, there had developed a strong sense of a collected body of Gospel witness and (apostolic) teaching which was being threatening by false and aberrant Christian ‘leaders’, and which had to be safeguarded by the faithful minister. Jude summarizes this as “the trust [i.e. faith] given along at one (time) [i.e. once] to the holy ones” (v. 3); it was to be “fought/struggled over”, i.e. the minister should contend and fight to preserve it. The clear context of 2 Pet 1:16-21 is that this tradition (lit. that which is given along, passed down) goes back to the apostles, the eye-witnesses of Jesus, including Peter himself. It is no coincidence that the Transfiguration scene is mentioned, as it is a powerful example of divine revelation—God manifesting his presence and glory in the person of Jesus.

Interestingly, this same aspect of revelation—the words of Jesus and the Divine Truth manifest therein—passed on to the apostles, etc., was an important element of Gnosticism in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Many of the (apparently) Gnostic writings, such as those preserved in the texts from Nag Hammadi, are couched as pseudepigraphic “Gospels”—that is, as teaching by Jesus, usually set after the resurrection, given to select disciples. The Gnostic texts frequently suggest that this teaching reflects special revelation to which other Christians are not privy. Clearly, it was a way to ensure that the distinctively Gnostic approach to the Gospel and interpretation of the Christian message, had apostolic authority, being connected to the eye-witnesses of Jesus, just as we see in Lk 1:2; 2 Pet 1:16ff. Other (proto-)orthodox Gospels and writings use the same (literary) method of pseudepigraphy and pseudonymity. Many critical scholars would claim that at least several of the New Testament writings (e.g., the Pastoral letters, Ephesians, 2 Peter) are also pseudonymous; the weight and quality of the evidence for these claims varies, and, in any event, remain controversial in more traditional-conservative circles. Admittedly, the emphasis on tradition is strongest in the later writings (those likely written after 60 A.D.)—the Pastorals, 2 Peter, Jude, the Lukan prologue, etc. Two verbs tend to be used to express the idea of revelation passed down from the apostles, from the first generation(s) of believers down to the next:

    • paradi/dwmi (paradídœmi, “give along”), with the derived noun para/dosi$ (parádosis). More commonly used in reference to the betrayal of Jesus (in the sense “give/hand over”), it also carries the figurative meaning of passing along teaching, instruction, etc. from parents to children, and from one generation to the next, including within a religious setting (cf. Mk 7:13; Acts 6:14). A specialized sense of this latter meaning was used in early Christianity—for use of the verb, cf. Luke 1:2; Acts 16:4; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Rom 6:17; 2 Pet 2:21; Jude 3; for the noun, 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6, and note the negative sense in Col 2:8. It continues to be used in early Christian writings (cf. 1 Clement 7:2; Diognetus 11:6; Irenaeus 3.3.3).
    • parati/qhmi (paratíth¢mi, “set/put along[side]”), with the derived noun paraqh/kh (parath¢¡k¢), used in the concrete sense of placing an object (food, etc) before someone, often in the sense of providing help or assistance; figuratively, it can used with the meaning of entrusting something (or someone) into the care of another. A specialized sense of this latter meaning developed in early Christianity. These are the words used in the Pastoral letters—1 Tim 1:18; 6:20; 2 Tim 1:12, 14; 2:2; they do not occur in the undisputed letters of Paul, certainly not in this sense (cf. 1 Cor 10:27). Cf. the separate note on 1 Tim 6:20-21.

By the later part of the 2nd century, Gnostic groups and teachings had become widespread and influential enough that Irenaeus felt the need to write his five-volume work Against Heresies, to defend his (proto-Orthodox) position as representing the true Apostolic Tradition. The interpretation and application of Scripture was employed more regularly to demonstrate this, since both “sides” could lay claim to the Apostolic heritage. However, many Gnostics proved to be quite adept and incisive as commentators of Scripture (cf. Ptolemy’s letter to Flora, preserved by Epiphanius). Since various passages in the New Testament could, conceivably, be interpreted various ways, and plausibly so, depending upon one’s expectations and presuppositions, it was difficult, at times, to rely on the Scripture itself to provide decisive proof. Origin’s massive (and unfinished) commentary on the Gospel of John was begun, in large part, as a response to the Gnostic Heracleon’s own commentary (the earliest such NT commentary known to us). The main problem, of course, was that Gnostics worked from a religious/theological worldview which was markedly different, in certain respects, from that of the proto-Orthodox; as a result, they were bound to see the same passage of Scripture in a somewhat different light.

August 31 (2): 1 Corinthians 2:6ff

Today’s note concludes this series of daily notes on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16. For those just coming to this study, or who are interested in reading the prior posts, it began with the note for August 16. Of special interest in the study is the interpretation of Paul’s statement in 2:6a:

“And (yet) we (do) speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete…”

There have been longstanding questions regarding the precise identity of both this “wisdom” (sofi/a) and the ones who are “complete” (te/leio$). In a prior note, I outlined some of the more common suggestions offered by commentators; here they are listed again for reference, with no priority indicated by the numbering:

    1. The basic Gospel message (wisdom) is given to all believers, but a more advanced (esoteric?) Christian wisdom (teaching, etc) is offered for those who are “complete”—mature and committed in the faith sufficiently to receive it.
    2. Paul is simply making a rhetorical contrast. There is only one wisdom—that of the person of Christ and his death/resurrection. The “complete” believers are able to recognize this and do not need to seek after any other “wisdom”.
    3. He is distinguishing between the Gospel proclamation and the teaching/instruction, etc., which builds upon the basic message, interpreting and applying it for believers as they grow in faith. For the “complete” this includes a wide range of “wisdom”—ways of thinking/reasoning, use of argument, illustration, allegory/parable, (creative) interpretations of Scripture, etc.
    4. Paul himself evinces certain gnostic/mystic tendencies whereby there are envisioned levels or layers in the Gospel—i.e. the basic proclamation and belief regarding the person and work of Christ—as in the Scriptures, the deepest of which involve the most profound expressions of God’s wisdom. Only the “complete” are able to realize this, and to be able to communicate something of it to the wider community.
    5. Paul is responding to gnostic/mystic tendencies among believers in Corinth. Here, as a kind of rhetorical approach, he is drawing upon their own thinking and sensibilities, trying to bring their focus back to the centrality of the Gospel and a proper understanding of the work of the Spirit. As such, the apparent distinctions he makes are somewhat artificial, perhaps running parallel to the (actual) divisions among the Corinthians themselves.
    6. The wisdom for the “complete” reflects a deep understanding of, and participation in, the work of the Spirit. Believers who are completely guided by the Spirit need no other instruction. Paul is essentially expounding this thought in vv. 9-16, only to make (painfully) clear to the Corinthians how far they still are from the ideal.

In the notes on the passage, running through 3:1-3, I have indicated certain conclusions which may be drawn from the text, that help clarify what Paul means here in 2:6. I list these as bullet points:

    • The wisdom spoken to the “complete” comes by way of the Spirit. No other source of “wisdom” is possible.
    • The revelation of the (secret) wisdom of God is fundamentally tied to the proclamation of the Gospel.
    • The hidden wisdom of God relates to the very depths (the deepest parts) of God’s own being.
    • The “wisdom” is not limited to the Gospel message, but ought to be understood more comprehensively as “all the (deep) things under God”.
    • It is dependent upon our having received the (Holy) Spirit
    • Through the Spirit we are able to know and experience this wisdom
    • It is “taught” by the Spirit to believers, and is to be communicated (“spoken”) to others in turn.
    • The ones who are “complete” essentially = the ones who “have the Spirit”
    • 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”.

I would summarize these points, in light of our study of the passage as a whole, as follows—first, regarding the wisdom, I isolate three primary aspects:

    • It is based on the proclamation of the Gospel, i.e. of the person and work of Christ
    • It includes all that the Spirit communicates to believers, which they receive as a gift to be shared/communicated to others
    • It extends to the working and guidance of the Spirit (= the “mind of God/Christ”) in all things

With regard to those who are complete, this can be defined even more simply:

    • They are those believers who consistently think and act under the guidance of the Spirit; this must be distinguished on two levels:
      • The reality of having/holding the Spirit (in us)
      • The ideal of living out this identity—i.e., “walking in/by the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16, 18, 25)

The very fact that Paul, like Jesus himself, exhorts believers to be “complete”, means that it is not automatically realized through faith in Christ and receiving the Spirit; rather, it reflects a process of growth and development which, in most instances, will take place over a lifetime. This, however, does not change the force and urgency of the exhortation. Jesus’ own exhortation (Matt 5:48) to his followers essentially takes the form of a promise—if you live according to the teaching (i.e. in 5:21-47, etc), “you will be complete [te/leio$], as your heavenly Father is complete”. In Gal 5:16ff, Paul expounds upon this idea, now in a decidedly Christian sense, with the force of an imperative; note the sequence of phrases, with its central (conditional) premise:

    • “Walk about in the Spirit…” (v. 16)
      —”If you are led in the Spirit…” (v. 18)
      —”If (indeed) we live by the Spirit…” (v. 25a)
    • “We should step in line in the Spirit” (v. 25b)

The statement in Gal 5:16 reflects the very issue Paul is dealing with in 1 Corinthians, and the lament he expresses in 1 Cor 3:1-3:

“Walk about in the Spirit, and you should not complete [tele/shte, related to te/leio$] the impulse of the flesh
“We speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete… “
“And (yet) I was not able to speak to you as (one)s (who are) of the Spirit, but as (one)s (who are) of the flesh

Is it possible that Paul, in some sense, does have a more precise and sharp division in mind, i.e. between the “complete” and the ‘incomplete’—two distinct groups or categories of believers? While this would seem to contradict much of his own argument in 1:18ff, it is conceivable that he is playing off of the very “divisions” which exist among the Corinthians. Certainly, it has been suggested from the distinction he makes in 3:2 between “milk” (ga/la) and “(solid) food” (brw=ma)—the Corinthians are behaving as immature “infants” (v. 1), and cannot be treated (i.e. spoken to) as mature adults. There are several possibilities for understanding this distinction:

    • “Milk” is the simple Gospel message, while the solid “Food” represents deeper (Christian) teaching and instruction
    • The difference is between the basic ‘facts’ of the Gospel, and its deeper meaning
    • Similarly, it is between the Gospel message and how it is (effectively) applied and lived out by believers in the Christian Community
    • It rather reflects a difference in the way believers respond—as immature infants or mature adults
    • It is simply a rhetorical image, drawn from the idea of the Corinthians as “infants”, and should not be pressed further

Something may be said for each of these interpretations, except perhaps the first. Insofar as it reflects a substantive distinction in Paul’s mind, the third and fourth best fit the overall context of the passage.

Finally, I would like to bring out a particular point of emphasis that is sometimes overlooked in this passage. When Paul speaks of the wisdom of God in terms of “the (deep) things” of God, he couches this within the general expression “all things” (pa/nta). In my view, this should be understood in an absolute comprehensive sense. Note how this is framed conceptually in chapters 2 & 3:

The wisdom of God encompasses “all things”, as Paul makes clear in 3:21-23, where he establishes a (hierarchical) chain of relationship, presented in reverse order—”all things” (pa/nta), he says:

belong to you (pl., believers), and you in turn
belong to Christ, who in turn
belongs to God the Father

If we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit and the mind of God/Christ, then we are free to study and examine all things (cf. 2:10, 15), and this itself becomes an integral expression of the “wisdom of God” which we speak.

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.

August 30: 1 Cor 2:16 (continued)

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16]

1 Corinthians 2:16

In yesterday’s note, I looked at the first part of this verse, the citation from Isa 40:13 (LXX); today I will examine the second part, with Paul’s concluding declaration:

“…and (yet) we hold the mind of (the) Anointed {Christ}”

There are four components to this statement, beginning with the (emphatic) pronoun h(mei=$ (“we”), to be discussed below. The remaining three elements are:

    • de/ (“and/but”)—a conjunctive particle with an adversative sense, establishing a contrast with what is stated in the quotation of Isa 40:13. There the rhetorical question (“who knows/knew the mind of God?”) carries the obvious (implied) answer of “no one”. For the relation of the context of Isa 40:12-13 with 1 Cor 2:10ff, cf. my discussion in the previous note. Paul’s declaration may be (re)formulated as: “Of course, no one knows (or can have known) the mind of the Lord (God) Himself, and yet we do hold the mind of the Lord (Christ)!”
    • nou=$ xristou= (“[the] mind of [the] Anointed”)—as I indicated in the prior note, many witnesses read “mind of [the] Lord [kuri/ou]”; if original, then Paul is certainly making use of the wordplay involving ku/rio$, which can be understood as “the Lord (YHWH)” or “the Lord (Jesus Christ)”, interchangeably, by early Christians. The expression “mind of Christ” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament (nor “mind of Jesus”, or anything similar). Perhaps the closest we come is in Philippians 2:5: “This (work)ing of (the) mind must (be) in you which also (was) in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Jesus Christ}”; though here Paul uses the verb frone/w rather than the noun nou=$. For more on this verse, cf. below. There are a number of points of contact between 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 and Romans 7-8, especially 8:26-27, which has the parallel expression “mind [fro/nhma] of the Spirit”.
    • e&xomen (“we hold”)—the verb e&xw is often translated more generally as “have”, i.e. “hold (in one’s possession)”; however, here it seems useful to retain the more concrete and fundamental sense of holding something. This preserves contact with the basic context of Isa 40:12-13, with its concept of measuring—it is impossible to contain the Spirit/Mind of the Lord in a measuring-vessel, etc, and yet we hold the mind of the Lord (Christ) within (and among) us. That this occurs through the presence and work of the Spirit is confirmed both by the overall context of 1 Cor 2:10ff as well as the parallel expressions mentioned above:
      • “the mind [nou=$] of Christ” (v. 16)
      • “the working of (the) mind [frone/w]…which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5)
      • “the mind [fro/nhma] of the Spirit” (Rom 8:27)

Paul’s argument in Phil 2:1-5ff is similar to 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, in several important respects:

Finally, something must be said regarding the use of the pronoun “we” (h(mei=$) in v. 16. Often there is a certain ambiguity regarding Paul’s use of the 1st person plural in his letters; it can be understood three ways:

    • As a (rhetorical) reference to Paul himself, essentially = “I”
    • As a (collective) reference to Paul and his fellow ministers
    • Collectively, and generally, of (all) believers

So, when Paul says “we have the mind of Christ”, he could be saying:

    • I have the mind of Christ” (cf. 7:40, etc), in which case it brings us back to the start of his argument and the autobiographical aspect of 1:14-17; 2:1-5
    • “We (the inspired apostles, etc) have the mind of Christ”, which generally fits the context of 2:1-7 and 3:4ff
    • “We (all believers) have the mind of Christ”

The overall emphasis of 1:18-4:21, in my view, decisively favors the latter interpretation. Recall that the initial emphasis in the narratio (1:11-17) was that believers should not be relying on the status and gifts/abilities of prominent ministers (such as Paul and Apollos, etc), but should rather be trusting in (a) Christ and the message of the Gospel, and (b) the presence and work of the Spirit—these two being closely connected. What follows in 3:1 only confirms this view, as Paul laments the fact that is not able to speak to the Corinthians as ones who are “complete” (2:6)—they are not thinking and acting according to their true identity (in Christ), as those who are “spiritual” (i.e. who have the Spirit). However, it is possible that there is a progression or development in 2:1-16, which I would chart as follows:

    • “I came to you” (vv. 1-5)—Paul himself, as the founding apostle, proclaiming the Gospel message (“the secret of God”)
    • “We speak…” (vv. 6-9)—Paul and his fellow ministers, those who first preached the Gospel among the Corinthians and worked to establish congregations, etc
    • “To us…revealed…” (vv. 10-12)—transitional, emphasizing the work of God and the giving of the Spirit to believers
    • “We speak these things…” (vv. 13-15)—Believers as ministers, those gifted to speak and interpret the “deep things of God”, especially apostles, prophets and teachers, etc
    • “We hold the mind of God” (v. 16)—All believers, united with Christ, who have received the Spirit of God (and Christ)

The progression is from the (initial) proclamation of the Gospel of Christ (vv. 1-2) to the unity of believers in Christ (v. 16). This point will be touched on further in the next daily note.

August 29: 1 Corinthians 2:16

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous note dealt with 2:14-15]

1 Corinthians 2:16

Today’s note examines the concluding verse of the section, which brings together the strands of the contrastive argument into a rhetorically charged Scripture citation followed by a decisive (positive) declaration. The first part of the verse contains a quotation from Isaiah 40:13, an abridgment of the LXX version:

“Who knew the mind of the Lord, th(e one) who will bring (things) together (to instruct) him?”

The verb sumbiba/zw means “bring (or put) together” sometimes in the (logical) sense of bringing things together for the purpose of instruction. The LXX also uses the related noun su/mboulo$, which typically refers to a person who gives instruction (or counsel, advice, etc). Conventionally, the LXX would be translated:

Who knew the mind of the Lord, and who became His instructor/advisor that will instruct/advise Him?”
ti/$ e&gnw nou=n kuri/ou kai\ ti/$ au)tou= su/mboulo$ e)ge/neto o^$ sumbiba=| au)to/n;

The portion cited by Paul (with only slight variation) is indicated by italics and bold above. The taunting rhetorical question is centered in the idea of the greatness of God (YHWH the Creator) and the insignificance of (created) human beings by comparison. Paul retains the thrust of this rhetoric and applies the question to his own line of argument comparing worldy/human wisdom with the wisdom of God. The ‘abridged’ citation is, in certain formal respects, closer to the tone and feel of the original Hebrew; the Masoretic text (MT) reads:

“Who has measured the spirit of YHWH and (is) a man of his counsel/plan [i.e. his counselor] (who) causes him to know?”

An English translation tends to obscure the relatively simple, 3:3 poetic rhythm of the Hebrew:

hwhy j^WrÁta# /K@T!Áym!
WDu#yd!oy otx*u& vya!w+

Each line involves a related concept:

(a) “measuring” the spirit of YHWH—on the meaning and context of the verb /kt, cf. below.
(b) functioning as a counsellor/advisor (lit. “man of his counsel”) who instructs/advises YHWH (“causes him to know”)

The first (a) essentially implies probing and estimating the depths of God’s own “spirit” (j^Wr rûaµ), much as Paul describes the Spirit (pneu=ma) doing in 1 Cor 2:10. No human being is capable of comprehending the depths (“deep things”) of God. The second (b) touches on the idea that a human being might serve as God’s counselor or advisor; but, of course, God, who knows all things, cannot be informed about anything by a mortal being. The LXX renders Hebrew j^Wr (“spirit/breath”) with nou=$ (“mind”). More often, it is translated by pneu=ma, which corresponds closely to the Hebrew term; however, the use of nou=$ in Greek offers a distinctive interpretation of the verse. It is useful to consider the basic meaning of this word.

Greek nou=$ (or no/o$) fundamentally refers to sensual perception or recognition (i.e. by the senses), but eventually the act of perception came to dominate the meaning, along with the inner/inward faculties of a human being to enable recognition of something—primarily as intellectual faculty (i.e. “mind”), though often there may be an emotional or (deeper) “spiritual” component involved. In addition to an internal faculty (or ability), nou=$ also came to refer to an attitude (or disposition, etc), as well as the result of one’s ability (knowledge, understanding, insight, etc). Generally, this corresponds to the English word “mind”, which can be used, more or less accurately (and consistently) to translate nou=$. It is the third of three primary Greek terms used to describe the invisible, inner aspect of the human person—yuxh/ (“soul”), pneu=ma (“spirit”), nou=$ (“mind”). The first two have already been used by Paul in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 (cf. the prior notes), and now he introduces the third. Actually, the word was already used in the main proposition (propositio) of the letter in 1:10, a verse that is worth citing here:

“And (so) I call you alongside, brothers, through the name of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, that you should all give the same account and (that) there should not be (any) tears [i.e. divisions] in you, but (that) you should be joined (completely) in the same mind and in the same (way of) knowing.”

The emphasis is clear: in contrast to the divisions among the Corinthians, there should be a unity of mind for believers in Christ. Paul uses a dual formula to express this:

    • “in the self(same) mind” (e)n tw=| au)tw=| noi+/)
    • “in the self(same) knowing” (e)n th=| au)th=| gnw/mh|)

The word gnw/mh (related to the verb ginw/skw, “[to] know”) more properly refers to a way or manner of knowing; there is no English word which corresponds precisely, and it is translated variously as “opinion, judgment, decision”, etc. As will become even more clear when one looks at what follows in 3:1ff, the divisions (“rips/tears”) in Corinth are the result of believers thinking and acting in a human manner (i.e. through worldly/human ‘wisdom’) rather than according to the “mind” (wisdom) of God and Christ. This is the very point Paul makes in the second half of verse 16:

“…and (yet) we (do) hold the mind of (the) Anointed [i.e. of Christ]”

The reading xristou= (“of [the] Anointed”) is found in a number of key MSS (Ë46 a A C Y al), and probably should be considered original; however, many other witnesses read kuri/ou (“of [the] Lord”), matching the earlier citation of Isa 40:13. For early Christians, of course, the word ku/rio$ (“lord”, i.e. “the Lord”) had a double-meaning—it can refer to God the Father (YHWH) or to Jesus Christ, almost interchangeably:

“the mind of Christ” –> “the mind of the Lord (Jesus)” –> “the mind of the Lord (YHWH)”

The pronoun “we” (h(mei=$) is in emphatic position—”and (yet) we (do) hold the mind of Christ”. As often in Paul’s letters, there is some ambiguity as to just whom “we” refers. This is rather important for a correct interpretation of this verse (and the passage as a whole), and will be discussed briefly in the next daily note.

The two rhetorical questions of Isa 40:12-13:

Verses 12 and 13 each pose a question beginning with the interrogative particle ym! (“who”). The first (v. 12) asks who has “measured” out the various elements and aspects of the created world. The answer is as obvious as it is unstated: God (YHWH) alone—no other being, let alone a mere human being. The question itself is asked by way of a series of verbal phrases, governed by four verbs, each of which indicates some form of measuring:

    • dd^m*—stretching (a line, etc) to measure out—the waters (<y]m^) in the hollow (lu^v)) of His hand
    • /k^T*—regulating or fitting (according to a standard [measure])—the heavens (<y]m^v*) with the spread/span (tr#z#) of His hand
    • lWK—containing (i.e. filling/fitting a measuring-vessel)—the dust of the earth in a mere vyl!v* (“third part”?), a (small) unit of measure
    • lq^v*—weighing out—the mountains and the hills in a pair of scales or balances (cl#P#//z@am))

The second question (v. 13) asks who, besides YHWH, could know even how any of this is done, let alone offer YHWH any advice or instruction in such matters. The verb /k^T* is repeated, indicating the impossibility of “measuring” the Spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH, in the basic sense, it would seem, of “fitting” or “setting” a standard of measure. There is no way of doing this when one is dealing with the Spirit/Wisdom/Mind of God. The LXX understands the verb in intellectual terms—of a (human) being’s ability (or rather, inability) to comprehend (“know”) the Mind (nou=$) of God—which is quite appropriate for Paul’s theme of wisdom in 1 Corinthians.

“Gnosis” in the NT: Col 2:2-3 (continued)

Colossians 2:2-3 (continued)

In the previous study, I explored the context and setting of Col 2:2-3 in the letter, examining the structure, language and imagery being employed. Today, I will look more closely at these specific verses.

“…being lifted [i.e. brought/joined] together in love and into all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind), into the (full) knowledge about the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One), in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away.”

As I discussed previously, the language used here echoes and repeats that of the exordium (introduction), especially in the first sentence (spanning vv. 9-20), which is sometimes referred to as the “Christ hymn” of Colossians. Let us begin by comparing 2:2-3 with 1:9.

Col 1:9 opens with an expression of Paul’s wish (and prayer) for the Colossians, and similarly in 2:1:

    • “Through this [i.e. for this reason] we…do not cease speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying]…over you” (1:9)
    • “For I wish you (could) have seen [i.e. could know]…” (2:1)

His wish is expressed through the subjunctive, involving the word “fill, fullness”:

    • “that [i%na] you might be filled [plhrwqh=te]…” (1:9)
    • “that [i%na] their [i.e. your] hearts might be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted]…into…the full [plhro-]…” (2:2)

In 2:2, he uses the word plhrofori/a, which is somewhat difficult to translate. Literally, it indicates something which is carried or brought out fully, often in the sense of something being demonstrated convincingly; it thus connotes the idea of confidence or assurance i.e., that something is true or will be accomplished, etc. This “fullness” Paul wishes for the Colossians is defined and qualified with prepositional phrases and genitive chains using the key words gnw=si$/e)pi/gnwsi$ (“knowledge”), su/nesi$ (‘comprehension’) and sofi/a (“wisdom”).

    • “{filled} (with) the knowledge [e)pi/gnwsi$] of His will in all wisdom [sofi/a] and spiritual comprehension [su/nesi$]” (1:9)
    • “{into…full} understanding [su/nesi$], into knowledge [e)pi/gwsi$] of the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One)” (2:2)
      “in whom are all the treasures of wisdom [sofi/a] and knowledge [gnw=si$] hidden away” (2:3)

The word su/nesi$, which I here translate as “comprehension” and “understanding”, literally means the putting together of things, i.e. in the mind. In 2:2 the use of this noun together with plhrofori/a (cf. above), functions as a kind of hendiadys (two words for a single concept). They form a genitive chain modifying the noun plou=to$ (“rich[ness], riches, wealth”)—plou=to$ th=$ plhrofori/a$ th=$ sune/sew$. My attempt to capture something of the literal meaning (cf. the translation at the top of this note) is:

“(the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind)”

As always, the parentheses indicate glosses which make the translation more readable. From the standpoint of the Greek syntax, a better rendering would be:

“(the) rich(ness) of the full conviction and understanding (given to us)”

In terms of hendiadys, the translation might be:

“(the) rich(ness) of the full understanding (we have)”

I would suggest that each of these translations captures aspects of what the author (Paul) is genuinely saying. Another important point of syntax in 2:2 is the use of parallel prepositional phrases governed by ei)$ (“into/unto”), indicating the goal for believers as they are “lifted/joined together in love”:

    • “into [ei)$] all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind)”
    • “into [ei)$] (true/complete) knowledge of the secret of God”

These two phrases are parallel and apposite (placed side-by-side), the second explaining the first—that which is fully brought together in the mind of believers is the knowledge of the secret of God. This begins with the hearing of the Gospel, but continues through the Christian life, through the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned here in 2:2-3, but it may be inferred from the wording of 1:9 where the comprehension/understanding (su/nesi$) is characterized as pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual, of the Spirit”). In 2:2 (as in 1:9-10) the word translated “knowledge” is e)pi/gnwsi$ rather than the simpler gnw=si$ (which is used in 2:3). The compound form often signifies a more thorough, complete, or intimate knowledge about something (or someone). It can also carry the sense of recognition or acknowledgment. The distinction and range of meaning can be difficult to translate effectively in English without losing the etymological connection.

Of special importance is the expression “secret [musth/rion] of God”. Often in Paul’s letters this secret is identified with the Gospel; here, however, it is more properly identified with Christ himself. The syntax and word order caused some difficulty for scribes copying Colossians, as there are a number of variant readings at this point among the manuscripts, which attempt to clarify the (presumed) meaning. Along with most commentators and textual critics, I assume the reading of Ë46 B as original. The words “God” and “Christ” follow after each other, both in the genitive case (qeou= xristou=). There being no punctuation in the earliest manuscripts, the syntax was somewhat ambiguous; we can approximate this in English translation as “the secret of God of Christ”. The word xristou= (“of [the] Anointed”, “of Christ”) is best understood as being apposite the expression “of the secret of God”, with “Christ” related to “the secret” rather than “God”. In other words, Christ is the secret, hidden away from the ages and generations past, but now revealed through the proclamation of the Gospel (1:26-27). Verse 3 provides an interesting parallel use of the verb a)pokrup/tw (“hide [away] from”)—while Christ is the secret hidden away, at the same time, God has hidden away in him “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. The parallel expressions in vv. 2 and 3 are clear enough:

    • “all [pa=$] the riches [sing.]…of understanding…knowledge of the secret” (v. 2)
    • “all [pa/nte$] the treasures [plur.] of wisdom and knowledge hidden away” (v. 3)

For another parallel to the syntax of verse 3, we must turn again to the exordium (introduction), to 1:14, where the Son (Christ) is described with the following phrase: “…in whom we hold the loosing from (bondage), the release of sins”. Note the formal similarity:

    • “in whom [e)n w!|] we hold [e&xomen]…” (1:14)
    • “in whom [e)n w!|] are [ei)sin]…” (2:3)

If we press the parallel further, it is possible to tie the verses together conceptually. In other words, the things that are in Christ are those things which we have/hold in him (and vice versa). This would mean that the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” can, and perhaps should, be identified with the saving work of Christ referenced in 1:14, which is again described by two phrases set in tandem:

    • “loosing from (bondage)” (a)polu/trwsi$)
    • “release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins” (a&fesi$ tw=n a(martiw=n)

This association would tend to negate any sort of markedly gnostic interpretation of the Christian message, by connecting knowledge with the sacrificial death of Christ. Though this particular soteriological aspect is not brought out in Colossians until the main portion of the letter (see vv. 8-15), it is central to Paul’s own understanding of the Gospel. One need only consult the discussion and line of argument in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 to find this expressed most vividly—that it is in the Gospel as the “word of the cross” that God’s wisdom is most perfectly conveyed, destroying the empty and inferior “wisdom” and “knowledge” of the world.