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 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.

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.

“Gnosis” in the NT: Romans 11:33

This note will briefly examine Paul’s use of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in Romans 11:33.

Romans 11:33

This verse begins the doxology (vv. 33-36) that concludes the famous section of Romans spanning chapters 9-11. I have discussed the theme and structure of this section in an earlier article, along with a special note on Rom 11:26 in context. This analysis may be summarized in the following outline:

The opening verses of each section, with their personal and moving tone, lead into a presentation of arguments. The main issue at hand is how the Israelite/Jewish people relate to the new Christian identity.

Romans 9

9:1-5—Paul’s personal address: Israel (“they are Israelites…”, vv. 4-5)
9:6-13—Argument: Not all Israel is the true Israel.
9:14-33—Exposition: Three arguments, each beginning with a rhetorical question:

    • Vv. 14-18—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]?…”
    • Vv. 19-29—”You will therefore declare to me [e)rei=$ moi ou@n]…?”
    • Vv. 30-33—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]?…”

Romans 10

10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)
10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.
10:14-21—Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:

    • The proclamation of the Gospel (vv. 14-15)
    • Israel’s response to the Gospel—not all have faith (vv. 16-17)
    • Evidence of this in the Scriptures (vv. 18-21)

Romans 11

11:1-12—Paul’s address (and argument): The People of God (“His people”, vv. 1ff)
11:13-32—Exposition: A Two-fold address to Gentile believers:

    • Vv. 13-24—Illustration of the olive tree and its branches
    • Vv. 25-32—Discourse on the (eschatological) salvation of Israel

11:33-36—Doxology on the wisdom and knowledge of God

An important theme running through these chapters is the election of the people of God, which takes place according to God’s own sovereign but mysterious will. This is one aspect of knowledge (i.e. God’s knowledge of his People, etc) here in this section, and it is emphasized in chapters 9 and 11. The second aspect—the people’s knowledge of God and his truth, the promises made, etc.—is addressed primarily in chapter 10, and expounded again in the second half of chap. 11. Note the structure in this regard:

    • Chap. 9: God’s knowledge of his people (Israel)—their election
      • Chap. 10: The people’s knowledge of God, in two respects:
        (a) The failure of many Israelites to accept the revelation in Jesus and the Gospel message (cf. vv. 2-4)
        (b) The acceptance of the Gospel, on the other hand, by many non-Israelites (Gentiles) (vv. 18-21)
    • Chap. 11: God’s knowledge of his people (the true Israel, all Israel)—the election of Jews and Gentiles both

For many of the non-Jewish Christians in Paul’s audience—as for many today—the main difficulty lay in the idea that Israelites and Jews would eventually accept Christ, though they may refuse (or be unable) to do so at the present. Though some had ‘fallen away’, a large percentage, presumably, in Paul’s mind, would (soon) respond to the Gospel, as the end drew near. This point is made reasonably clear in verses 11-16, followed by his famous illustration of the olive tree, in which Jews and Gentiles both come to be “grafted in” to the holy tree of the People of God—the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ, being a principal theme of the entire letter, is given dramatic and climactic expression here. In verses 25-32 Paul powerfully states again two great points:

    • Israelites and Jews, collectively, will come to faith, and the current “hardening” of their hearts and minds will be removed
    • They will be united (in Christ) with the Gentile believers who have come to faith before them

This two-fold dynamic is expressed in the declaration: “and so all Israel will be saved” (v. 26). Paul refers to this as a secret (musth/rion), which he is making known to believers in his letter; and there can be no doubt that he also has this in mind when he opens the concluding doxology in v. 33:

“O the deep(ness) of the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God!—how unsearchable (are) his judgments, and (how) untrackable (are) his ways!”

A citation of Isaiah 40:13 follows in vv. 34-35; it is a passage which Paul also quotes in 1 Cor 2:16 (cf. my note on this verse), specifically as part of his argument contrasting human wisdom with the wisdom of God. As Paul uses the Scripture, it is meant to show how far the “mind of God” surpasses and transcends our limited human understanding. In 1 Corinthians, the quotation is followed by the positive statement which applies to believers, somewhat paradoxically: “and (yet) we (do) hold the mind of Christ“. This last point is not emphasized in Romans, except perhaps implicitly, based on Paul’s line of discussion in the prior chapters, as well as in the basic idea that the “secret(s)” of God, hidden away from the world, are now made known to believers through: (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the presence and work of the Spirit.

For the purpose of this series of articles, Romans 11:33 is especially instructive, within the context of Rom 9-11, in that it ties together several significant themes which will be discussed in some detail as we proceed:

    • The connection between the knowledge of God and salvation
    • That the (secret) will and knowledge of God is revealed, at least in part, to believers, and
    • That the knowledge of God is closely connected with the idea of the predestined/predetermined election of believers (i.e the people of God)

August 24: 1 Corinthians 2:10

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:6]

1 Corinthians 2:10

“And (yet) to us God has uncovered (this) through the Spirit—for the Spirit searches out all (thing)s, and (even) the deep(est thing)s of God.”

The statement in verse 10 is the culmination of the line of argument in vv. 6ff. It may be helpful to outline the thematic (and logical) development:

  • There is a wisdom spoken to the believers who are “complete”—it is different from the wisdom of this Age and its rulers/leaders (who have no effect for believers and will be without power in the Age to Come) [v. 6]
    • instead (“but/rather”, a)lla), this wisdom (of God) is spoken in a secret hidden away from the world [v. 7a]
      • which [h%n] God established (“marked out”) before the beginning of this Age, for the honor/glory of believers [v. 7b], and
      • which [h%n] none of the rulers/leaders of this Age knew (or understood) [v. 8]
        —demonstrated by the fact that they put Jesus Christ (“the Lord of honor/glory”) to death
        • instead (“but/rather”, a)lla), this secret was prepared beforehand, only to be revealed for “those who love God” [v. 9, citing Scripture]
          • and (de) God has revealed this to us (believers) through the Spirit [v. 10]

The thrust of this argument is clear: the wisdom of God has been kept secret, hidden away from the world, and is only revealed now to believers through the Spirit. The emphasis on the Spirit (of God) here is vital to Paul’s discussion. With regard to a correct interpretation of verse 6a (cf. the previous note), it is possible to make at least one firm conclusion—the wisdom spoken to the “complete” comes by way of the Spirit. No other source of “wisdom” is possible. Based on the context of vv. 6ff, we may assume that apostles and ministers (such as Paul), are the immediate (proximate) source, as chosen/inspired preachers and teachers, to communicate this wisdom. The wording in v. 6 (“we speak…”) is slightly ambiguous—it could refer to (a) Paul primarily, (b) Paul and his fellow ministers, or (c) believers generally. Probably the first person plural should be understood as inclusive of all three points of reference, in the order given here: Paul (founding Apostle)–Ministers–Believers.

It is significant that the work of the Spirit essentially reverses the process established by God—the (secret) wisdom is, first:

    • hidden from [a)pokekrumme/nhn] the world [v. 7], and then
    • the cover is removed from [a)peka/luyen] it [v. 10], revealing it to believers

The first verb (a)pokru/ptw, “hide [away] from”) is a passive perfect (participle) form, indicating action which began at a point (in time) and the force or effect of which continues into the present. It is an example of the “divine passive”, with God as the one performing the action (unstated). As a participle it modifies the noun “wisdom” (sofi/a), emphasizing its character as hidden/secret wisdom; this is especially clear from the precise Greek syntax and word order:

    • wisdom of God
      —in (a) secret
    • hidden from (the world)

The second verb (a)pokalu/ptw, “take/remove the cover from”, i.e. “uncover”) is a simple aorist indicative form with God as the subject. The aorist would suggest a past action performed by God (through the Spirit); there are several possibilities for a specific point of reference here:

    • The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus
    • The preaching/communication of the Gospel
    • The receipt of the Spirit by believers (associated with the baptism ritual)
    • Post-conversion work/manifestation of the Spirit to believers

The second of these—the proclamation of the Gospel (by Paul and his fellow ministers)—best fits the context. This allows us to draw a second conclusion regarding the interpretation of v. 6a: the revelation of the (secret) wisdom of God is fundamentally tied to the proclamation of the Gospel. However, I believe we will gain additional insight by a careful consideration of the last half of verse 10, which describes more generally the work of the Spirit:

“…for the Spirit searches out all (thing)s, and (even) the deep(est thing)s of God”

Two phrases are combined, the second of which builds on the first:

    • “for the Spirit searches out [e)rauna=|] all things [pa/nta]
      • even the deep things [ta\ ba/qh] of God

The essential activity of the Spirit is described by the verb e)reuna/w, which means to search out (or after) something. The searching of God’s Spirit is all-powerful and all-inclusive—it searches out all things. The second phrase narrows this to “the deep things” of God. The idea is that the Spirit, in its searching, travels (steps) all the way to the “depths” of God himself, in a manner (somewhat) similar to the functioning of the human “spirit” (v. 11). By inference, we may draw a third conclusion in relation to verse 6a: the hidden wisdom of God relates to the very depths (the deepest parts) of God’s own being. It is an extraordinary thought (and claim) that the Spirit might communicate to believers the deepest wisdom of God himself. Perhaps this suggests something of what Paul means when he states that such wisdom is spoken to “the ones (who are) complete” (in this regard, see esp. the famous words of Jesus in Matt 5:48). For a more immediate exposition (and explanation), in the context of this passage, we now turn to verse 12, to be discussed in the next daily note.

Commentators have had difficulty identifying the Scripture Paul cites in verse 9. The citation formula (“as it has been written”) clearly indicates that he regards it as coming from the Scriptures, yet it does not quite correspond with anything in the books of the Old Testament as they have come down to us. There are two possibilities:

  1. He freely quotes or alludes to parts of a number of passages, combining them in a creative fashion. Perhaps the most likely passages would be Isa 52:15; 64:4; 65:17; Jer 3:16; Sirach 1:10. New Testament authors frequently cite or allude to the Scriptures very loosely, adapting them freely—either from memory, or intentionally in order to fit the circumstances in which they are writing.
  2. Paul is quoting from a book otherwise unknown or lost to us today. Origen (Commentary on Matthew 5:29) states that it comes from an “Apocalypse of Elijah”, but it is impossible to verify this one way or the other. It is also found in the Ascension of Isaiah 8:11, but that work has been heavily Christianized and probably is simply citing 1 Cor 2:9.

The first option is much more likely; probably Isaiah 64:4 is most directly in Paul’s mind.

August 23: 1 Corinthians 2:6

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:1-5]

1 Corinthians 2:6

“And (yet) we (do) speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete, and (it is) wisdom not of this Age, and not of the chief (ruler)s of this Age th(at are) being made inactive…”

This statement introduces a new section, building upon vv. 1-5 (cf. the prior note). In verse 5, Paul contrasts human/worldly wisdom (“the wisdom of men”) with the power of God; now, here in verse 6, he returns to the earlier contrast between two different kinds of wisdom. The conjunction de/, translated “and” above (first two instances), has adversative force, and could just as well be rendered “but”. In contrast with worldly wisdom:

    • Believers (and esp. Christian ministers) do speak/use wisdom, but
      • It is altogether different from the wisdom of the world and its rulers

The use of the term ai)w/n (“age”)—properly “life(time)”, but typically used in reference to a long period or span of time—reflects the eschatological emphasis and background of much Jewish (and early Christian) thought. Practically speaking, time was fundamentally divided between This Age (the present time) and the Age to Come; and, according to the widespread manner of eschatological (and apocalyptic) thinking, the current Age was seen as coming to a close, with the inauguration of the future Age being imminent, about to take place at any time. Moreover, the current Age has been steadily growing worse and more corrupt, marked by evil (and the evil powers). Paul expresses this general belief at various points in his letters (cf. Rom 8:18ff; 1 Cor 7:26, 31; Gal 1:4; and also Eph 6:12), but he adds to it a distinctive view of the current Age (that is, up to the coming of Jesus) as being in bondage under the power of sin (Rom 5:12-6:14ff; 7:7-25; 8:20-21ff; Gal 3:22ff, etc). Thus, it is not just a question of the natural limitations of human/worldly wisdom, but also (and more significantly) that this wisdom is the product of a corrupt and sinful Age (cf. Rom 1:18-32 and the brief statement in 1 Cor 1:21 [discussed in a prior note]).

It is sometimes thought that the “chief (ruler)s” (a&rxonte$) here refer to the divine/angelic powers governing the created world, largely on the basis of Eph 2:2. According to the worldview expressed by Paul (and other Jews and Christians of the time), in light of the fallen/sinful state of creation, these would be understood as demonic powers or evil spirits. However, the context of 1 Cor 2:6 makes it all but certain that Paul is referring here to human rulers and persons of prominence. The entire theme of the passage is the contrast between human and divine wisdom, and the use of the noun again in verse 8 definitely refers to human rulers—i.e. the Jewish and Roman authorities who put Jesus to death (cf. also Acts 3:13, 17; 4:26-27 [citing Ps 2:1-2], etc). The context of Romans 13:3, the only other use of a&rxwn in the (undisputed) Pauline letters, only confirms this meaning. However, in Paul’s mind, there would have been a close connection between the (human) rulers or ‘powers’ in the world and the evil (demonic) powers—they all are part of the current order of things that is bound under sin and is “passing away” (1 Cor 7:31), especially insofar as they are ignorant of the truth and opposed to the will and work of God (in Christ). This helps to explain the use of the verb katarge/w, which occurs frequently in Paul’s letters (23 of the 27 NT occurrences are in the undisputed letters)—on this verb, see my earlier note on 1:28. With the coming of Christ—his death, resurrection, and exaltation (to God’s right hand)—the current Age, the old order of things, is now coming to a close, and the “new Age” is already being realized for believers in Christ. The present participle form (katargoume/nwn) suggests that this is an ongoing process—that the rulers and prominent persons of this Age are being made inactive, of no effect (lit. made to cease working).

There is a special interpretive difficulty for the first half of this verse, involving the precise identification of the “wisdom [sofi/a]” mentioned, and, more importantly, “the ones (who are) complete [oi( telei/oi]”. Earlier, throughout 1:18-31, Paul has identified the “wisdom”—i.e. of God, in contrast to human/worldly wisdom—with the essential proclamation of the Gospel message, of the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. Here, however, the wording he uses, as well as the specific contrast with vv. 1-5, suggests that he may have something slightly different in mind. It is not possible to offer a definitive solution to the question in this note; however, I offer below a number of interpretations which have been suggested by commentators over the years.

First, it is important to note the use of the adjective te/leio$, which fundamentally means “complete, finished”. Typically, translators have alternated between two renderings: (a) “perfect”, (b) “mature”—usually reserving the first for references to God, and the second for references to human beings (believers). Neither of these is satisfactory—the first being rather too abstract and (potentially) misleading, the second altogether too soft. I prefer the more fundamental translation “complete”, recognizing that the English “mature” may be the best (conventional) approximation in our idiom. For Paul’s use of the adjective in relation to believers, cf. Rom 12:2 (also applied to God); 1 Cor 14:20; Phil 3:15; Col 1:28; 4:12. The references in Colossians are somewhat close in meaning, since they deal with the idea of believers coming to be made “complete” in Christ; also of note is 1 Cor 13:10, where the “complete” comes, it would seem, along with the coming of the new Age. In conclusion, here are some of the suggested interpretations; I number them for convenience, without indicating any preference:

  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.
    —This view is suggested by a straightforward reading of the passage, as well as by the language Paul uses in 3:1-3; but it is difficult to square with his thought and teaching as a whole.
  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”.
    —The entire thrust of Paul’s argument here, as well as his teaching elsewhere in his letters, makes it hard to think that he imagines some other kind of “wisdom” separate from (or beyond) the basic Gospel message. However, if this wisdom is accessible to all believers, as certainly would be true of the basic Gospel, then why does he make the distinction of “the ones (who are) complete” here?
  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.
    —Perhaps the best evidence for this view is Paul’s letters themselves, which clearly include much which goes well beyond a simple statement or proclamation of the Gospel message. However, an examination of 3:1-3 would suggest that there is yet something more kept in reserve, not yet expressed in the letters, at least not entirely.
  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.
    —It is possible that this view is suggested by what follows in verses 9-16; but see #5 below.
  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.
    —Such a view is intriguing, if tenuous; much depends on whether the formulae of vv. 9-16 stem from Corinthian “gnostics” or Paul himself.
  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.
    —The context of chapter 2 strongly favors this view (or something like it); however, it would essentially require that the “complete” in v. 6 represents a paradoxical formulation: who are the “complete” believers? are there any?

I leave my own interpretation of verse 6a until the remainder of vv. 7-16 have been discussed (over the next few daily notes). By that point, a careful study of the passage as whole should give greater clarity to which view, or views, are more likely.

August 22: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous note dealt with 1:29-31, esp. verse 30]

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

“…(so) that your trust should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (v. 5)

This verse concludes the first (autobiographical) statement that opens chapter 2; it has important points of contact with the prior narration (narratio) in vv. 11-17 (see esp. verse 17). I have already discussed 2:1ff as part of a series on the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament. Here we might supplement that discussion by summarizing the components of vv. 1-5:

Verse 1—Paul continues the (dualistic) contrast of 1:18ff by applying it to his own ministry of preaching the Gospel (to the Corinthians). When he came to them (“I came”, h@lqon), Paul gave/brought down as a message (i.e. “declaring, announcing”, katagge/llwn) what he calls “the secret of God” (to\ musth/rion tou= qeou=) [Note: many manuscripts have a different reading: “the witness [martu/rion] of God”]. As I have previously explained, the “secret” here is essentially synonymous with the Gospel message, centered on the death (crucifixion) and resurrection of Jesus. Earlier in 1 Cor 1:21, 23, the announcement of this message was summarized by use of the special terms kh/rugma and khru/ssw (“proclamation”, “proclaim”). Paul is careful to qualify and characterize his proclamation with a particular phrase:

“not according to (any) excellence of (my) account or wisdom”

The Greek word translated (somewhat conventionally) as “excellence” above is actually quite difficult to render literally into English in the context here. The noun u(peroxh/ (from the verb u(pere/xw) means something like “holding (oneself) over”; the only other occurrence in the New Testament is in 1 Tim 2:2, where it can be understood in the literal sense of holding a position of authority or prominence over others. The word lo/go$ (“account”) in the New Testament often has the technical meaning of the “account of God (or the Lord)”, i.e. the Gospel message; but it can also carry the more general meaning of the speech (or words) which make up an account and how it is delivered. Here we may paraphrase: “I did not come demonstrating to you any great speech or wisdom on my part”. In 1:21 he described this ironically as “the stupidity [mwri/a] of the proclamation”.

Verse 2—Paul builds upon the statement in verse 1 with, one might say, a bit of rhetorical exaggeration:

“For I judged [i.e. decided] not to see [i.e. know] any(thing) among you, if not [i.e. except for] Yeshua (the) Anointed and this (one) put to the stake [i.e. crucified]!”

Essentially he is saying that he chose not to display any (special) knowledge on his part except for the Gospel message of the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. It is interesting to consider how far such statements by Paul are factual (strictly speaking) rather than rhetorical. If we read his letters (and even some of the speeches in Acts), it is clear that Paul was not afraid of demonstrating and utilizing many and varied aspects of “human wisdom” in order to persuade his audience of the truth. Should this be contrasted somehow with his initial work of proclaiming the Gospel, in which he perhaps stuck more simply to the traditional message (cf. the short kerygmatic statements in the sermon-speeches of Acts 213)? This seems rather unlikely, but it is worth considering, especially when we come to examine 1 Cor 2:6 (in the next note).

Verse 3—”And I, in much…came to be toward [i.e. with] you”. The ellipsis is filled out with a three-fold prepositional phrase, using three nouns:

    • “in (much) weakness”—a)sqe/neia, lit. “without strength” (cf. 1:27); here a lack of physical strength (illness?) is probably meant, though it may also indicate a lowliness of appearance or stature
    • “in (much) fear”—fo/bo$; does this reflect a natural fear in relation to public speaking, or to the work of ministry as a whole? It is unlikely that this is a traditional (religious/pious) reference to the “fear of God” (i.e. godly fear). Elsewhere Paul suggests that he may not have been a particularly impressive (public) speaker (cf. 2 Cor 10:10; 11:6, etc), and could have struggled with his own insecurities at times.
    • “in much trembling”—tro/mo$; “fear and trembling” are a traditional pair and reflect very real (and natural) human fear and insecurity.

Unlike the statements in vv. 1-2, this verse would seem to express (human) limitations and weaknesses which were largely out of Paul’s control. For a more developed excursus on this theme, cf. the moving treatment by Paul in 2 Cor 12:1-10, which has a good deal in common with his discussion in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16—note especially the statement in 2 Cor 11:30: “If it is necessary to boast, I will boast (in) the (thing)s of my weakness!”.

Verse 4—The declaration regarding Paul’s weakness in verse 3 gives added weight to the statement in verse 4 when he returns to the theme from v. 1 (and 1:17):

“And (so) my account [lo/go$] and my proclamation [kh/rugma] (was) not in persuasive account[s] of wisdom, but (rather) in (the) showing forth of (the) Spirit and Power (of God)…”

Previously, he stated the negative—that his proclamation was not based on (human) skill and wisdom; now, he adds the positive, by way of contrast:

    • Negative: not in persuasive account[s] [i.e. words] of wisdom
    • Positive: rather, in the showing forth [i.e. demonstration] of the Spirit and power (of God)

It is hard to say whether the “power (of God)” here refers to (a) the working of miracles, (b) the transformative effect of the Gospel preaching, or some combination of the two. The narratives in the book of Acts, as well as Paul’s own letters, attest both meanings and suggest that we should give them equal weight here. Certainly, the power of God is closely connected with the Spirit of God (i.e. the Holy Spirit), even as it is with Christ in 1:24.

Verse 5—This brings us to the conclusion of the statement (cf. above): “…(so) that your trust should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God”. Previously, in 1:24 (cf. also v. 30), “power” and “wisdom” were joined together in the person of Jesus, with the wisdom/power of God being contrasted with that of the world. Now, Paul separates the two terms, and contrasts human/worldly wisdom (“the wisdom of men”) with “the power of God”. An important grammatical point in the first half of the verse is the use of the aorist subjunctive with a negative particle, which typically implies prohibitive force (“should/must not…”)—”so that your trust should/must not be…” Paul took this idea very seriously in 1:17, using a similar phrasing: “so that the cross of Christ should not be emptied”. All preachers (and would-be preachers) today ought take the matter with equal seriousness, when the temptation comes to supplement and add to the Gospel with clever and appealing anecdotes, etc.

August 21 (2): 1 Corinthians 1:30

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

1 Corinthians 1:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 21 (1): 1 Corinthians 1:27-28

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 1:23-24]

1 Corinthians 1:27-28

“But God gathered out the dull/stupid (thing)s of the world (so) that he might bring down shame (upon) the wise, and God (also) gathered out the (thing)s without strength/power (so) that he might bring down shame (upon) the strong…”

The two-fold comparison from vv. 22-24 (cf. the previous note), involving “wisdom” and “power” continues here in vv. 27-28, but using the substantive adjective “strong” (i)sxuro/$) in place of “power” (du/nami$). It also continues the play between “wisdom” (sofi/a) and “dullness/stupidity” (mwri/a) from the earlier verses, especially as expressed in verse 25, which serves as the climax to the principal argument of vv. 18-25:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] the ‘stupid’ (thing) of God is wiser than men, and the (thing) of God without power/strength is stronger than men.”

Two parallel adjectives are used substantively (as nouns) in this paradoxical statement:

    • “dull, stupid, foolish” (mwro/$), related to the noun mwri/a elsewhere in the passage
    • “without strength, i.e. weak, powerless” (a)sqenh/$); the alpha prefix (a)-) is privative, indicating lack or being without something, attached to a base related to the noun sqe/no$ (“strength, might”), which is generally synonymous with the noun du/nami$ (“power”) and adjective i)sxuro/$ (“strong”) in context

These two adjectives relate back to the idea of the “stupidity” of the proclamation (v. 21), which has to be understood specifically as the Gospel message in terms of the death (crucifixion) of Jesus. The shameful (and agonizing) punishment of crucifixion is characterized as “stupid/foolish” and “weak” in the eyes of the world—that is, according to conventional (and natural) societal values; it is not to be admired nor an ideal to follow. Paul takes this association and generalizes it in terms of God’s own nature and attributes, in comparison with that of human beings. God (YHWH, the Creator and Father) so far transcends mortal human beings, that this can only be expressed by way of paradox: the ‘stupid’ and ‘weak’ things of God are wiser and stronger than anything related to humans. This statement also reflects a reversal of values, of a sort most familiar to readers of the New Testament from the Beatitudes and parables, etc, in Jesus’ teaching (e.g., Luke 6:20-26; 7:28 par; Mark 10:31 par, etc). In other words, the sorts of things which human beings value and prize are, in a fundamental sense, different (even opposite) from the things which God values.

Paul illustrates the point of this statement in verse 25 by applying it to the circumstances of the Corinthian believers (vv. 26-29). Verse 26 indicates that the congregations in Corinth (like many/most early Christian groups) were largely, though not entirely, made up of people from the lower classes and less prestigious segments of society (including slaves). And yet God “called” (that is, chose) such persons to come to faith and become members of the body of Christ, united to Jesus (and God the Father) through the Spirit. This is reflected by the use of two terms in vv. 26ff:

    • The noun klh=si$ (“call, calling”) related to the verb kale/w (“[to] call”), and to the adjective klhto/$ (“called”) which Paul used earlier in verse 24. “Called” is parallel (and generally synonymous) with “being saved” in v. 18, and reflects a strong belief in what we would term “predestination” (or preordination)—that believers were chosen by God prior to their coming to trust in Christ. The noun e)kklhsi/a, which fundamentally refers to people being called out (of their homes, etc) to gather/assemble together, and which came to be used for the Christian congregation/assembly, also carries this connotation of the verb kale/w (at least in part).
    • The verb e)kle/gomai in vv. 26-27, which means literally “gather out”—i.e. God collected or gathered (ahead of time) out of the mass of humanity those who would believe in Christ. This is an example where a literal rendering “gathered out” is far superior to the more conventional English translation “chose”.

Paul uses four characteristics to represent those whom God has “gathered out” from the world to be his people (in Christ); they are generally defined in relation to the world (“the…[thing]s of the world”):

    1. mwro/$ (“dull”, i.e. “stupid, foolish”)—that is, “dull” not merely in the sense of “dim-witted, lacking intelligence”, but more properly in contrast with what human society considers most impressive, gifted and successful (i.e. the “brightest lights” of our society); compared with such persons, many Christians will seem quite “dull” or “dim” by comparison.
    2. a)sqenh/$ (“without strength”, i.e. “weak, powerless”)—again, this does not relate simply to physical strength or health, but also to one’s position of power and influence in society.
    3. a)genh/$—this adjective is somewhat difficult to translate literally in English; essentially it means something like “without (good/proper) birth”, i.e. persons who are not born into the higher and more prestigious families or portions of society.
    4. e)couqenhme/na —a verbal noun (participle) from e)couqene/w [cf. e)coudeno/w] (“set out as nothing”), i.e. persons whom society at large regards as nothing important, of no real significance.

For the first two characteristics, Paul sets the contrast as follows:

“God gathered out the {dull/weak} things of the world (so) that he might bring down shame [kataisxu/nh|] (upon) the {wise/strong} ones/things (of the world)”

In other words, God’s choice of the less impressive (by worldly standards) persons in society to be his people effectively brings shame to the ones who are impressive (by worldly standards) and who trust in their own position and abilities, etc. The last two characteristics (3 and 4 above) serve to summarize the entire illustration, which Paul does with a concluding phrase:

“—the (thing)s (which are) not being [mh\ o&nta] (so) that he might cause the (thing)s (which are) being [o&nta] to cease working”

This is extremely difficult to translate into English. The (aorist) participle (o&nta) of the verb of being (ei)mi) is used twice, with the contrast established by simply negating the first (mh\ o&nta, “not being”). I take Paul’s expression here as a rhetorical exaggeration—the persons so characterized by the four terms (above) effectively have no real existence (“no being”) for the world, they don’t really exist. In this instance God’s action goes beyond bringing down shame upon the powerful, etc. in society—essentially he takes away their existence! This reversal-of-fortune motif was a popular element of Jewish (wisdom) traditions, which one can find frequently in the New Testament, especially in the teachings of Jesus, and those authors (Paul, James) who carry on that tradition.

The verb katarge/w allows for no simple translation: “make (someone/something) to be without work”, “make inactive/ineffective”, “cause (something) to cease (working)”. It is a popular term for Paul—25 of the 27 occurrences in the New Testament are in the Pauline letters (including 23 in the undisputed letters); he often uses it in a specific theological context (cf. Rom 3:3, 31; 4:14; 6:6; 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7-14; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11, etc). In 1 Corinthians it also appears in 2:6; 6:13; 13:8, 10-11; 15:24, 26. The basic idea here is that what the world values ceases to have any active meaning or significance for believers in Christ, and those persons whom the world values (and who value their position in the world), have no place or existence among the people of God. There is a strong eschatological sense to v. 28b, again assuming the “reversal of fortune” motif associated with the final Judgment. This is made especially clear in vv. 29-31 which follow, and which I will be discussing (with attention given to verse 30) in the next note.