August 26: 1 Corinthians 2:13

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:12]

1 Corinthians 2:13

“…which we also speak not in words taught of [i.e. by] (hu)man wisdom, but in (words) taught of [i.e. by] (the) Spirit, judging spiritual (thing)s together with/by spiritual (word)s.”

It must be emphasized that this verse, along with much that follows in vv. 14-15, is difficult to translate accurately into English, for a variety of reasons. Here, especially, translation and interpretation go hand-in-hand. To begin with, verse 13 builds upon (and concludes) the declaration in v. 12 (cf. the prior note). The relative pronoun form a% (“which”) refers back to the concluding expression of v. 12: “the (thing)s under God given as a favor to us”. In the note on v. 12, I pointed out the parallel between this expression and “the deep (thing)s of God”, and connected both to the “wisdom of God” mentioned previously—and especially at the beginning of verse 6. This is confirmed by Paul’s language here at the start of v. 13:

    • “we speak (the) wisdom [of God]” (vv. 6-7)
    • “which (thing)s we also [kai/] speak” (v. 13)

The particle kai/ should be regarded as significant here, since it may be intended to draw a distinction between what it is that “we” speak in vv. 6-7 and 13, respectively. There are two ways to place the emphasis:

    • “these things also we speak“—as it is have been given to us to know them, so also we speak/declare them
    • “these things also we speak”—not only the Gospel do we proclaim, but all the deep things of God given to us by the Spirit

Most commentators opt for the first reading, according to the immediate context of vv. 12-13; however, the overall flow and structure of Paul’s argument in vv. 6-16 perhaps favors the second. More important to the meaning of the verse is the continuation of the comparison/contrast between worldly/human wisdom and the wisdom of God. Here Paul formulates this with a specific expression: “in words of… [e)nlo/goi$]”. I have regularly been translating lo/go$ as “account” (i.e. oral, in speech); but here it is perhaps better to revert to a more conventional translation which emphasizes the elements or components of the account (i.e. the words). Earlier, in 1:17 and 2:1ff, Paul uses lo/go$ in the sense of the manner or style of speech used (in proclaiming the Gospel); here he seems to be referring to the actual content (the words) that a person speaks. The contrast he establishes is as follows:

    • “in words taught of [i.e. by] (hu)man wisdom” (e)n didaktoi=$ a)nqrwpi/nh$ sofi/a$ lo/goi$)
    • “in (word)s taught of [i.e. by] (the) Spirit” (e)n didaktoi=$ pneu/mato$ [lo/goi$])
      Note: I include lo/goi$ in square brackets as implied, to fill out the comparison, though it is not in the text

The contrast is explicit—”not [ou)k] in… but (rather) [a)ll’] in…” Especially significant too is the use of the adjective didakto/$ (“[being] taught”, sometimes in the sense “able to be taught”, “teachable”), rare in both the New Testament and the LXX. The only other NT occurrence is in the discourse of Jesus in John 6:45, citing Isa 54:13, part of an eschatological prophecy where it is stated that the descendants of God’s people (“your sons/children”) “…will all (be) taught [didaktou\$] by God”. This same reference is certainly in the background in 1 Thess 4:9, where Paul uses the unique compound form qeodi/dakto$ (“taught by God”). This passage is helpful for an understanding of Paul’s thought here:

“And about the fondness for (the) brother(s) [i.e. fellow believers] you hold no occasion [i.e. there is no need] (for me) to write to you, for you (your)selves are taught by God [qeodi/daktoi] unto the loving of (each) other [i.e. to love one another].”

If we ask how believers are “taught by God”, apart from Paul’s written instruction, there are several possibilities:

    • The common preaching and tradition(s) which have been received (including the sayings/teachings of Jesus, etc)
    • The common witness and teaching of the believers together, in community
    • The (internal) testimony and guidance of the Spirit

Probably it is the last of these that Paul has primarily in mind, though not necessarily to the exclusion of the others. For a similar mode of thinking expressed in Johannine tradition, cf. 1 John 2:7-8, 21, 24; 3:10ff; 4:7-8ff, and the important passages in the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel. Here, in 1 Cor 2:13, it is clear that Paul is referring to the work of the Spirit. That the Spirit would give (“teach”) believers (and, especially, Christian ministers/missionaries) the words to say was already a prominent feature of the sayings of Jesus in Gospel tradition (Mark 13:11 par, etc), depicted as being fulfilled with the first preachers of the Gospel in the book of Acts (2:4ff; 4:8, 29ff; 6:10, etc). However, the underlying thought should not be limited to the (uniquely) inspired preaching of the apostles, but to all believers. Paul’s use of “we” in this regard will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming note (on 1 Cor 2:16).

Particularly difficult to translate is the verb sugkri/nw in the last phrase of verse 13. A standard literal rendering would be “judge together” or “judge [i.e. compare] (one thing) with (another)”. However, in the case of this verb, it is sometimes better to retain the more primitive meaning of selecting and bringing/joining (things) together. Paul’s phrase here is richly compact—pneumatikoi=$ pneumatika\ sugkri/nonte$. He (literally) joins together two plural forms of the adjective pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual”), one masculine, the other neuter. The first is in the dative case, but without any preposition specified, indicating a rendering something like “spiritual (thing)s with/by spiritual (one)s”. However, given the expression e)nlo/goi$ (“in words of…”) earlier in the verse, it is probably best to read this into the context here as well. I would thus suggest the following basic translation:

“bringing together spiritual (thing)s in spiritual (word)s”

I take this to mean that the “spiritual things” are given expression—and communicated to other believers—through “spiritual words”, i.e. words given/taught to a person by the Spirit. The “spiritual (thing)s [pneumatika]” almost certainly refer to “the deep (thing)s of God” and “the (thing)s under God” in vv. 10 and 12, respectively. The Spirit “searches out” these things and reveals or imparts them to believers. This is especially so in the case of ministers—those gifted to prophesy and teach, etc—but, according to the view expressed throughout chapters 12-14, in particular, all believers have (or should have) gifts provided by the Spirit which they can (and ought to) impart to others. This allows us to draw yet another conclusion regarding the “wisdom” mentioned in verse 6a: it is “taught” by the Spirit to believers, and is to be communicated (“spoken”) to others in turn. It is also worth noting that all throughout the discussion in verses 9-13, there is no real indication that this “wisdom” is limited to the proclamation of the death/resurrection of Jesus. We should perhaps keep an eye ahead to Paul’s discussion of the “spiritual (thing)s” in chapters 12-14.

Tomorrow’s note will examine verses 14-15.

Paul’s View of the Law: The Remaining Letters (Part 2)

Part 2—Summary of other relevant Passages

After dealing with passages which refer directly to the Old Testament Law in Part 1, I will present here a brief summary of other relevant passages, including:

    1. Instances of language, concepts and imagery similar to that used by Paul in reference to the Law (in Galatians, Romans, etc)
    2. References which imply or suggest a symbolic or spiritual application of elements of the Law
    3. Verses where Paul indicates a source of religious and ethical authority for Christians similar to that of the Law

1. Similar language, concepts and imagery

There are a number of instances where Paul uses language and imagery similar to that in the major sections of Romans and Galatians dealing with the Law, faith and works, “justification”, etc. Here I point out the most notable of these, organized as follows:

    • Salvation/justification by grace (and faith)
      • 1 Cor 4:4—par. to the idea of Paul being ethically-religiously blameless (according to the Law), and yet not (on that basis) declared just/right before God
      • 1 Cor 6:11—believers are justified in the name of Jesus Christ
      • 1 Cor 12:13—Jews and Gentiles are united in Christ (and by the Spirit), entirely apart from the Law (cf. Gal 3:27-28 and throughout Romans)
      • Phil 2:12ff—exhortation to “work (out)” one’s salvation, yet it is clear that God is the one who is working (Col 1:29)
      • Phil 3:9—righteousness/justification is from God, by faith
      • Phil 3:16 (also Col 2:6ff)—ethical behavior stems from living/walking “in the Spirit” and “in Christ”, rather than according to the precepts of the Law (cf. Gal 5:16-25)
      • Col 1:13-14, 21-22—the work of Christ releases believers from the power of sin (cf. Romans) through his death (note also Eph 2:4-7); in Col 2:14, Christ’s death also wipes out the written decrees (rel. to the idea of believers death/dying to the Law, cf. Gal 2:19; Rom 7:4, etc)
      • Cf. also Eph 1:13, 19f; 2:8-9, 11ff; 2 Tim 1:9-10; Tit 2:11; 3:5-7
    • Justice/Righteousness (apart from the Law)—Note the use of dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”) in the following passages:
      • 1 Cor 1:30—Christ came to be the “justice/righteousness of God” for us (cf. Rom 3:21ff, etc)
      • 2 Cor 3:9—see the note on 2 Cor 3:7-11
      • 2 Cor 5:21—believers become the “justice/righteousness of God” in Christ (par. to 1 Cor 1:30)
      • Phil 1:11—the justice/righteousness that comes “through Christ” is emphasized (cf. Rom 3:21; 10:3-4, etc)
      • Phil 3:6, 9—again the justice/righteousness that comes through faith in Christ is distinguished from righteousness under the Law
      • Cf. also Eph 4:24; 2 Tim 3:16; 4:8; Tit 3:5
    • Old and New Covenant—The major passage in 2 Cor 3:7-18 (cf. the discussion in the recent daily note); other relevant references are:
      • 2 Cor 5:17ff—implies the passing away of the old order of things; on the “new creation”, see Gal 6:15, also Eph 4:24
      • Col 1:23—remaining in faith (in Christ) effectively replaces observance of the Law as the terms by which one fulfills the covenant
    • The “love command”—In Gal 5:13-14 (cf. also 6:2) and Rom 13:8-10, Paul refers to love (esp. love of one’s neighbor/fellow-believer, cf. Lev 19:18) as the epitome and fulfillment of the Law, effectively replacing the commands of the Torah. As previously discussed, this is a development from Jesus’ own teaching (Mark 12:28-34 par and throughout John 14-17), which is well-attested in different strands of early Christian tradition (see esp. James 2:8-13 and all through 1 John 2-5). Elsewhere in his letters, Paul refers to the ruling/guiding principle of love in a similar manner—cf. 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Cor 12:31b-13:13 (cf. also 8:1; 12:25-26); 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; Phil 2:2-3ff; Col 3:14ff; Philemon 9; and see also Eph 3:17-19; 1 Tim 1:5.

2. Symbolic/Spiritual application

In many instances, Paul mentions details or elements of the Old Testament Law only in the context of a symbolic or spiritual application for believers. This is true especially with regard to the ritual/ceremonial aspects of the Law—circumcision, purity Laws, sacrificial offerings and Temple service, etc. Paul never once suggests that any of these are still required, even for Jewish Christians, despite the claims and assumptions of many commentators. The following elements of the Law may be isolated:

    • Circumcision—Paul does deal with the actual rite of circumcision in his letters, especially throughout Galatians and Romans 2-4 (see the articles in this series on Galatians and Romans), arguing that Gentile believers need not be circumcised (nor observe the other requirements of the Torah); in Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19 and Col 3:11 he goes beyond this, declaring that circumcision itself no longer has any importance (for believers). It does continue to have value as a symbol, with its true (spiritual) significance now being applied to believers in Christ—this is expressed clearly in Rom 2:28-29; Phil 3:2-3; Col 2:11.
    • The Temple—In several passages (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; cf. also Eph 2:21), Paul refers to believers—individually and collectively—as the Temple (nao/$) of God. The nao/$ is specifically the sanctuary or (inner) shrine, but can also be used of the temple building/complex as a whole. The (Holy) Spirit of God resides in this Temple (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). The emphasis is primarily ethical, stressing the need to keep the body pure; as such it is related to the idea of purity regulations (cf. below). Elsewhere, Paul makes scant reference to the actual Temple in Jerusalem (2 Thess 2:4; 1 Cor 9:13).
    • Sacrificial offerings—Occasionally Paul refers to believers themselves as offerings presented before God, drawing upon the imagery of the sacrificial ritual. The word qusi/a properly means the victim (animal) that is ritually slaughtered, but may also refer generally to the act of sacrifice itself. Paul uses the word of believers (including himself) in Rom 12:1; Phil 2:17; 4:18. Interestingly, he tends not to describe Christ’s death as a sacrificial offering, but qusi/a is used in this context in Eph 5:2; and Christ is referred to as the Passover lamb slaughtered (related vb. qu/w) in 1 Cor 5:7. Elsewhere, qusi/a/qu/w is used only in 1 Cor 10:18-20, and there of pagan offerings. Similarly, Paul almost never mentions the Israelite/Jewish feasts (Col 3:16), referencing Passover only in 1 Cor 5:7; in addition to Jesus as the Passover lamb, believers are described as unleavened bread—again, the context is ethical, with an exhortation to purge the old “leaven” of sin and immorality.
    • Purity laws and regulations—In his letters Paul makes some mention of the dietary laws and the general (ritual) distinction between “clean” and “unclean”, but never once does he suggest that these are still valid; quite the opposite—he effectively declares them to be abolished for believers (Rom 14:14), with dietary restrictions now being entirely dependent on a person’s own conscience and choice (Rom 14; 1 Cor 8; Col 2:16ff). For similar teaching in the Pastoral letters, see 1 Tim 4:3-5; Tit 1:15. Occasionally, Paul draws upon the imagery of the purity laws in his ethical instruction and exhortation for believers—in particular, note 2 Cor 6:17; 7:1 and Eph 5:26f (there may also be an echo in Phil 1:10). It should be noted that Pauline authorship of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is questioned by some critical scholars (cf. my supplemental article on the passage), and the authorship of Ephesians continues to be disputed as well; the verb kaqari/zw (“cleanse, make clean”) is elsewhere used only in the Pastoral letters (Tit 2:14; and cf. also 2 Tim 2:21).
    • Sabbath—It is worth noting that Paul says virtually nothing in his letters regarding the Sabbath (nor any comparable Christian “Lord’s day”); he mentions it only in Col 3:16, and not as something which needs to be observed, nor does he ever apply it symbolically to believers (such as we see in Hebrews 3-4).

3. Religious and ethical authority for Christians

A particularly difficult area of study has to do with the way early Christians understood religious authority; there are various sources of authority, mentioned in the New Testament writings—and especially the Pauline letters—which appear to take the place of the Torah commands for believers. One might debate the extent to which this means that Christians create a “new Law” for themselves, somewhat in contrast with the freedom we are supposed to have in Christ—however, that is a subject for a later time. We may emphasize the following:

On “teach/teaching” in the Pauline Letters

Related to the current discussion on 1 Tim 2:11-15 (cf. Part 5 of the series “Women in the Church”, and the supplemental note), is the important question of what Paul (or the author) means by dida/skein (“to teach”). To this end, a brief survey of the Pauline use of the verb dida/skw, and the two main nouns derived from it, will be most helpful.

dida/skw (“teach”)

This verb occurs 7 times in the undisputed letters of Paul, three times more in Colossians, once in Ephesians, and 5 times in the Pastoral letters—16 in all. In Romans 2:21 (twice), 1 Cor 11:14 and Gal 1:12, it refers to instruction in a general sense. However, in Gal 1:12 it also implies the specific situation of teaching someone the Gospel, in the context of the revelatory words of Jesus himself. In 1 Cor 4:17, Paul refers to his “ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every congregation [e)kklhsi/a]”. Coincidentally, in this passage, it is Timothy who will serve the Corinthians, reminding them of Paul’s ways and teaching, in his absence. Romans 12:7 regards teaching as a specific “gift” of the Spirit that is manifest in the congregation (cf. below).

In the letter to the Colossians (which I regard as genuinely Pauline), the first two references (1:28; 2:7) very much relate to the (apostolic) ministerial role of teaching and preaching (i.e. proclaiming the Gospel), as also in Eph 4:21. In 3:16, by contrast (or complement), it is the believers in general, and together, who are exhorted to teach one another. The verb dida/skw is paired with nouqete/w (“set/put in mind”), both as verbal participles indicating continuous action. The setting is that of the congregational meeting, which includes singing psalms, hymns and “spiritual songs”. While it is possible that Paul intends “teaching” here in the specific sense of an official ministerial role, there is no immediate indication of this. It seems to apply to all believers, made clear by the emphasis at the start of the verse: “The account [i.e. word] of Christ should house [i.e. dwell] in you [i.e. you all] richly, teaching and setting (things) in mind (for) each other in all wisdom…”

Within the Pastoral Letters, three of the five occurrences deal with the “things” that a minister ought to teach—cf. 1 Tim 4:11 and 6:2 (“these things”, tau=ta). The pronoun refers to the collected body of (authoritative) Christian teaching which, according to the setting of the letter, Paul has given to Timothy, and which is effectively embodied within the letter. Note the exhortation in 4:6:

“Setting these things under the brothers [i.e. bringing these things to their attention always], you will be a fine [i.e. exemplary] minister [lit. servant] of Christ Jesus, being nourished/strengthened in the words/accounts of the faith and the fine teaching [didaskali/a] which you have followed (all) along”.

By contrast, Titus 1:11 refers to “many others” who are “teaching (thing)s which they should not” (cf. below). In 2 Timothy 2:2, the author (Paul) emphasizes the proper preservation of correct teaching and tradition:

“and the (thing)s which you heard (from) alongside me, through many witnesses, these (thing)s you must set/place alongside for trust(worthy) men who will be (equipp)ed well enough to teach others also.”

This is a point which can be found in several places in the undisputed letters of Paul (cf. 2 Thess 2:15, etc), but it takes on much greater importance in the Pastoral letters.

didaxh//didaskali/a (“teaching”)

These two nouns, derived from dida/skw, both fundamentally mean “teaching, instruction”, though the latter (didaskali/a) can refer more precisely to the content of the teaching, as well as to the act or process of teaching. The noun didaxh/ (didax¢¡) occurs four times in the undisputed letters—in Romans 6:17 and 16:17 it refers collectively to the instruction believers have received from missionaries and apostles such as Paul, while in 1 Cor 14:6, 26, it is to a specific spiritual “gift” manifest in the congregation (as also in Rom 12:7). The word is also used twice in the Pastoral letters, as a distinct role and duty of the minister, closely tied to the proclamation of the account (or “word”, lo/go$) of God, that is, the Gospel message (2 Tim 4:2). The exhortation is even more pointed in Titus 1:9:

“…holding (close) against the trust(worthy) account [lo/go$] according to the teaching [kata\ th\n didaxh/n], (so) that he may be able (both) to call (people) alongside [i.e. help/encourage them] in the wholesome instruction [didaskali/a] and to put to shame the (one)s giving a contrary account.”

This is part of the author’s (i.e. Paul’s) guidance regarding the duties and qualifications for the role of “overseer” (e)pi/skopo$)—that is, the minister who leads and oversees the congregation. He is to preserve the trustworthy account (lo/go$)—the Gospel and teachings with which he has been entrusted—and to combat the reverse, the contrary account (a)nti/logo$), promulgated by other false or deceptive teachers, etc.

The related noun didaskali/a (didaskalía) is more common in the Pauline corpus, occurring 19 times, but only twice in the undisputed letters (Rom 12:7; 15:14), and twice again in Col 2:22; Eph 4:14. The other 14 occurrences are all in the Pastoral letters, making it an important word, and an example of the sort of differences in vocabulary which have been thought to mark the Pastorals as pseudonymous (i.e., by an author other than Paul). In perhaps no other writings of the New Testament is there such a clear contrast between correct and incorrect, true and false, doctrine. The idea of a collected body of teaching and tradition, which is to be carefully guarded and preserved, is very much prominent in these letters. Note the use of the qualifying expressions:

This true teaching is threatened by the various sorts of false and vain/empty teachings (and teachers) which lay stretched out against it (1 Tim 1:10). It is often debated whether Paul (or the author) had distinct persons or groups in mind in such passages of warning; it would seem that he did, though they are difficult to identify with any precision. There can be little doubt of the seriousness with which the danger was perceived (1 Tim 4:16), and adds to the importance of those who have been entrusted with the leading/guiding roles in the congregation—in the Pastoral letters, this refers primarily to the “elders” (presbu/teroi) and to the “overseer” (e)pi/skopo$), best understood as a governing or managing elder. The elder’s duty of teaching is expressed clearly in a number of places (cf. 1 Tim 5:17, etc), as also for the leading minister/overseer (such as Timothy & Titus) given charge over a particular congregation (or group of congregations).


Based on an examination of all the passages mentioned above, it is possible to discern three main aspects or senses of “teaching” in the Pauline letters:

    1. That of general Christian instruction, between and among believers, especially in terms of the Gospel message.
    2. As a distinct spiritual “gift” (xa/risma) given to particular believers who would exercise and manifest it in the role a “teacher” in the congregational meeting, etc.
    3. The specific duty of the leading ministers—the elders and overseer—involving both the essential proclamation of the Gospel message, and the preservation/transmission of the authoritative teachings and traditions entrusted to them (by the apostles and earlier ministers).

In turning again to 1 Timothy 2:12, given the context and setting of the congregational (worship) meeting, it seems clear that only the last two of these three are viable options. In other words, Paul (or the author) most likely is not offering a blanket prohibition against women teaching, but rather of either (a) attempting to act as a teacher (exercising the gift) in the meeting, or (b) performing the ministerial role reserved for the elder/overseer of the congregation. In attempting to decide between these two, several points should be kept in mind:

    • The parallel setting of 1 Cor 14 would suggest (2, a)—that of a spiritual gift exercised in the worship meeting, and could conceivably refer to women offering teaching without being recognized as one possessing that gift.
    • The connection between teaching and “having power/authority (over) a man” (cf. in Part 5) could indicate that he has the authoritative role of teacher, such as reserved for the elder/overseer, in mind (3, b).
    • The marriage bond is in view, both in 1 Cor 14:33ff and here in 1 Tim 2:9ff, and could mean that the wives of teachers (or teaching elders) are primarily being addressed—i.e., the wife should not overstep her position and assume the teaching role of her husband.
    • Paul (or the author) may also be addressing a particular situation in which (certain) women have been influenced by false teaching; if so, then the illustration in vv. 13-15 would, in large measure, have to be read in that light. I discuss this possibility a bit further in a separate note on Genesis 3:16.