August 27: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:13]

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

Before proceeding with the translation of these verses, it is necessary first to examine two important words which are central to a correct interpretation of the passage.

yuxiko/$ (psychikós)—An adjective here parallel to pneumatiko/$ (pneumatikós), the two being related to the words yuxh/ (psych¢¡, usually translated “soul”) and pneu=ma (pneu¡ma, usually translated “spirit”), respectively. The fundamental meaning of both words is of something blowing (cf. the primary verbs yu/xw and pne/w)—especially of wind (as a natural phenomena) or breath (of a living being), the two concepts or images being related in the ancient mind (wind as the ‘breath’ of the deity). The main difference between the word-groups can be described this way:

    • yu/xw refers to blowing in the sense of cooling—i.e. a cool(ing), cold breeze
    • pne/w refers primarily to movement—a stream of air (i.e. wind) with its visible effect (causing motion)

Each aspect, however, could be (and was) related to the life-breath of a (human) being. The ancient conception is preserved in Genesis 2:7, in which God breathes (blows) a wind/breath into the first human being; according to the Greek version (LXX), God breathes/blows in (e)nefu/shsen) a “living breath [pnoh/]” and the man becomes a “living breath [yuxh/]”. Here we see the two words used in tandem—pnoh/ (pno¢¡, closely related to pneu=ma pneu¡ma) and yuxh/ (psych¢¡). John 20:22 records a similar process (a “new creation”), when Jesus blows/breathes in(to) the first believers and they receive the Holy Spirit [pneu=ma]. The distinction between the two nouns can be defined generally as follows:

    • yuxh/ is the “life-breath”—that is, the invisible, inward aspect of a person, marking him/her as a living, breathing being (i.e., “soul”)
    • pneu=ma is the life-giving “breath” which animates and sustains a (human) being (i.e. “spirit”)

The two terms overlap in meaning, and the relationship between them in Greek thought is rather complex. Paul uses them each to refer to the inner dimension of a human being, but they are not to be understood as separate “things”, as though a person has “a spirit” in addition to “a soul”. Earlier in 1 Cor 2:11, Paul refers to the “spirit/breath [pneu=ma] of man th(at is) in him“, and distinguishes it from the Spirit/Breath of God—that is to say, every human being has a “spirit” in him/her, but only believers (in Christ) have the “Spirit (of God)”. Now here in verse 14, a similar contrast is made—i.e., between the believer and the “ordinary” human being. This time, Paul establishes it, not by playing with the two senses of pneu=ma (“spirit”), but by playing on the difference between the two words pneu=ma and yuxh/ and their corresponding adjectives; which brings us to the problem of translation:

    • pneumatiko/$ (pneumatikós)—something belonging to, or characterized by, pneu=ma “spirit” (i.e. “spiritual”), only here it refers specifically to the “Spirit (of God)”
    • yuxiko/$ (psychikós)—something belonging to, or characterized by, yuxh/ “soul”, that is, the human soul

Unfortunately, there is no appropriate English word corresponding to this last adjective. A formal equivalence would be something like “soulish”, but that is exceedingly awkward. Most translators tend to use “natural”, for lack of any better option; however, while this manages to get the meaning across, and preserves a meaningful comparison here in verse 14, it distorts the original Greek and the fine word-distinction being used. Based on Paul’s vocabulary elsewhere, we might expect him to use the adjective sarkiko/$ (sarkikós, “fleshly”) here (see esp. 1 Cor 3:3, also Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12; 10:4). Only that word carries a definite negative connotation in Paul’s thought (associated with sin); here he wishes to preserve the more neutral, quasi-scientific sense of a normal, living human being. The adjective yuxiko/$ appears in only three other passages in the New Testament; in Paul’s letters, the only other occurrences are in 1 Cor 15:44-46, which I will touch on below. The other two instances are in James 3:15 and Jude 19 and may help us to understand its usage by Paul here:

    • James 3:15—As in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, a contrast is made between the wisdom (sofi/a) of God (“from above”, a&nwqen) and earthly (e)pi/geio$) wisdom. The adjective “earthly” (lit. “[from] upon earth”) is followed by yuxiko/$, and then daimoniw/dh$ (“of the daimons“). Here yuxiko/$ means essentially human, as part of a triad of terms characterizing this inferior “wisdom”—earthly–human–demonic. In verse 16, the author (“James”) mentions jealousy and strife/quarrels associated with this worldly “wisdom”, which is also an important aspect of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians.
    • Jude 19—Again the adjective yuxiko/$ is the second of three descriptive terms, characterizing the ‘false’ Christians of vv. 5ff:
      (a) oi( a)podiori/zonte$ “the (one)s marking (themselves/others) off from”, i.e. separating (them) from the rest of the (true) believers
      (b) yuxikoi/—i.e. “ordinary” human beings, the term being glossed by
      (c) pneu=ma mh\ e&xonte$ “not holding/having the Spirit (of God)”

Paul uses the adjective yuxiko/$ in much the same sense as Jude—referring to human beings who possess a soul/spirit but who have not (yet) received the (Holy) Spirit. Without the guidance of the Spirit, they are led by their own human (or animal) desires and impulses.

a)nakri/nw (anakrínœ)—Paul uses this verb several times in vv. 14-15, but it does not allow for easy translation. The primary verb kri/nw I have consistently rendered with the semantic range “(to) judge”, sometimes with the nuance of “decide, examine,” etc, though its original meaning was something like “(to) separate, divide, distinguish”. The prepositional component a)na/ is best understood here as “again”, in the sense of doing something again (i.e. repeatedly); however, in the verbal context it essentially functions as an intensive element. Perhaps the best translation of the verb is “examine closely“; in a judicial setting, it can refer to an interrogation or investigation. More than half of the NT occurrences (10 of 16) are in 1 Corinthians, the only letter of Paul where the verb is used; 6 are in 1 Cor 1:18-4:21 (2:14-15; 4:3-4), being neatly divided:

    • 3: 2:14-15—the reference is to the “complete” believer, “the spiritual (one)” (see v. 6)
    • 3: 4:3-4—the reference is to Paul himself as a minister of Christ

On 1 Cor 15:44-46—Returning to the word yuxiko/$ (cf. above), it may be helpful to consider briefly Paul’s use of it in 1 Cor 15:44-46, where the context is the (end-time) resurrection. Here, too, it is contrasted with pneumatiko/$; the human being is:

    • scattered [i.e. sown, in death] (as) a yuxiko/$ body—i.e., as body in which there is a life-breath (yuxh/, “soul”)
    • raised [i.e. from the dead] (as) a pneumatiko/$ body—i.e., as a spiritual body, transformed by the Spirit of God/Christ

In verse 45, Paul explicitly cites Gen 2:7 (cf. above), making the contrast more definite—between the human soul [yuxh/] (Adam) and the Spirit [pneu=ma] (Christ). It is not simply the Spirit of God (YHWH), according to traditional Jewish thought; following his resurrection, Christ himself becomes a life-giving Spirit. The two passages, using the yuxiko/$/pneumatiko/$ contrast, reflect the two ends of early Christian (and Pauline) soteriology:

    • Regeneration—The believer experiences a “new creation” in Christ, whereby the human soul/spirit is united with the Spirit of God/Christ
    • Resurrection—The human soul (and body) of the believer is completely transformed by the Spirit of God/Christ

In 1 Cor 2:14-15, Paul has the first of these in view. The analysis above should go far in helping us gain a solid understanding of what Paul is saying in these two verses. A translation and (brief) interpretation will be offered in the next daily note.

“Gnosis” in the NT: Phil 3:8-10

Philippians 3:8-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 1: “Gnosis” and related terms

This article will explore the usage of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis) and related terms in the New Testament. The survey will be divided as follows—

    • The verb ginw/skw
    • The noun gnw=si$
    • The Pauline usage
    • gnwri/zw and other terms
    • The Johannine usage

with certain verses discussed in more detail in separate notes.

The verb ginw/skw

The verb ginw/skw (ginœ¡skœ) has the basic meaning “(to) know”, generally corresponding to the Hebrew ud^y` (y¹da±). It often carries a very specific Christian (theological) sense in Paul’s letters, as well as in the Gospel and letters of John—which will be discussed in separate sections below. We can see something of this already taking shape in the early Christian tradition preserved in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts. Apart from generic use of the verb in the narrative context, the following passages and occurrences may be noted:

    • Mark 4:13; 8:17; 13:28f par—Jesus’ disciples are to know (that is, understand) the truth of his teaching “hidden” under the parables. This is emphasized especially in the saying in Matt 13:11 (par Lk 8:10):
      “To you [pl., i.e. the disciples] it has been given to know [gnw=nai] the secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those (others) it has not been given”
      This indicates that knowledge has been revealed specially to Jesus’ followers, but not to the rest of the people (indeed, to them it has been hidden). I have discussed this passage in an earlier note.
    • Mark 5:43; 7:24; 9:30; Matt 9:30; 12:15f; Lk 18:34, pars—Similarly, on a number of occasions, Jesus seeks to keep his presence, his miracles, and/or the truth of his identity, from being known to people at large. This is sometimes referred to as the “Messianic secret”, as it is emphasized, in particular, in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1:25, 34, 44; 3:12; 7:36; 8:30; 9:9, etc).
    • This idea is built upon in Luke-Acts, where the people do not recognize (know) Jesus, and even the disciples truly understand only after it has been revealed to them following the resurrection—Lk 18:34; 19:42, 44; 24:35, cf. also 2:43, 50; 9:45; 17:20-21; 18:34; 22:34, 67-69; 24:16, 31ff, and note also the usage in Acts 19:15. Related to this is the important motif of the disciples coming to understand who Jesus is from the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures (Lk 24:25-27, 32, 44-45f; Acts 8:30, etc).
    • The image of the disciples (believers) being known by Jesus and by God the Father (Matt 7:23; 12:33 par). With regard to the latter, early tradition draws upon the older concept of God knowing the heartLk 16:15; Acts 1:24; 15:8, cf. also Mk 2:8; 7:6 par; Matt 15:8; Lk 24:38. Jesus’ special knowledge regarding his followers takes on distinctive meaning in the Gospel of John (cf. below), but it is suggested also at many points in the Synoptics.
    • The reverse image, of believers knowing God and His will, is mentioned several times, though in rather conventional terms (Lk 12:46-48; Acts 22:14, etc). More significant is the idea of knowing God the Father as manifest in the person of Jesus. This is stressed frequently throughout the Gospel of John; less so in the Synoptics, but cf. especially the saying in Luke 10:22, which I discuss here in a separate study.

As far as the remainder of the New Testament writings, the significant occurrences of the verb are: Heb 3:10 (LXX); 10:34; and Rev 2:23-24. Especially worth noting is the citation of Jer 31:34 in Hebrews 8:11, since it gives expression to the distinctive Christian interpretation of the “new covenant”—that believers will be taught by God himself through the presence of the (Holy) Spirit.

The noun gnw=si$

The noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) is derived from the verb ginw/skw (above). Of the 29 occurrences of the noun in the New Testament, 23 are found in the Pauline letters (cf. below). Interestingly, though the verb is prominent in the Johannine writings, the noun gnw=si$ does not occur. If the Gospel and letters are combating some form of gnostic (or Gnostic) tendency, as many commentators suggest, the absence of this word could be intentional. Here is a brief summary of the relevant occurrences (the Pauline passages will be discussed in context further below):

    • Rom 2:20—the Old Testament Law (Torah) is said to contain “the shape/form of knowledge and truth”
    • Rom 11:33—”the deep(ness) of the wealth and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!”; this is part of the doxology that serves as the climax of chapters 9-11, drawn from Old Testament passages such as Isa 40:13 and Job 41:3(?) [cf. also Job 9:10; Ps 77:20; Prov 25:3]. I discuss this in a separate study.
    • Romans 15:14—Paul expresses confidence that the believers in Rome are “soaked (full) of goodness, having been filled with all knowledge, and able to bring things to mind (for) each other”. A similar idea is found in 1 Cor 1:5; 2 Cor 8:7; 11:6; almost certainly this knowledge is to be understood as something given to believers specially through the presence of the Spirit. It may also reflect the prophecy of the “new covenant” in Jer 31:34 (cf. Heb 8:11).
    • 1 Cor 8:1, 7, 10-11—Paul’s argument is based on the statement in v. 1, presumably reflecting the conviction of many in Corinth, that believers “all hold knowledge”. Again, this should be understood as a ‘gift’ of the Spirit for those in Christ. Paul, however, makes clear that knowledge (and the expression of it) should be guided by love (i.e. the ‘love command’).
    • 1 Cor 12:8—Here knowledge is specifically described as something given (as a favor/gift) by God through the presence and work of the Spirit in and among believers (cf. also 14:6). It is paired with wisdom (sofi/a).
    • 1 Cor 13:2, 8—Paul uses gnw=si$ is a comprehensive sense, comprising both ‘ordinary’ human knowledge and divine/spiritual secrets that have been revealed to Christians. All of which is far surpassed by, and subordinate to, the principle of love in Christ.
    • 2 Cor 2:14; 4:6—believers are given the knowledge of God through Christ, and, in turn, reflect the glory of God (and Christ); cf. 3:12-18. I discuss these two passages in separate studies.
    • 2 Cor 10:5—worldly attitudes and ‘wisdom’ are contrary to the knowledge of God (and Christ, i.e. the Gospel). This is parallel to the important line of argument Paul develops in 1 Cor 2-3 (cf. below).
    • Phil 3:8—again, the knowledge of Christ surpasses worldly/religious experience and status; this verse is also treated in a separate note.
    • Col 2:3—Christ is referred to as “the secret of God”, in whom “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away” (cf. the separate study). This verse stands between the important Christological section in 1:9-19, the summary of the Gospel in vv. 23-29, and the section 2:8-18ff where Paul contrasts the knowledge believers have in Christ with worldly/religious thinking (cf. also 1 Tim 6:20).
    • Eph 3:19—Here it is said that the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge (cf. 1 Cor 13, etc).
    • 2 Pet 1:5-6—Knowledge is treated as a spiritual virtue/characteristic of believers (cf. 2 Cor 6:6).
    • 2 Pet 3:18—Believers are called to “grow in (the) favor and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Yeshua (the) Anointed”.

The Pauline Usage

In addition to the noun gnw=si$ (cf. above), the verb ginw/skw occurs frequently in the Pauline letters, usually with a definite theological and/or ethical sense. The significant occurrences may be outlined as follows:

Knowing God and his will

    • Rom 1:21: context of “natural revelation”—i.e., knowing something of God’s nature and character from what is manifest in creation (cf. the use of noe/w in v. 20)
    • Rom 2:18: context of God’s will as expressed in the Old Testament Law (Torah) (cf. 7:1)
    • Rom 3:17: part of a sequence of Scripture citations (Isa 59:7-8 etc) indicating that human beings, under the power of sin, are unable to know and understand God properly (cf. also 7:7, 15, including the idea that one comes to know/recognize sin as such through the Law); for more on “knowing” sin, cf. 2 Cor 5:21 (with regard to Jesus)
    • Rom 11:34 (Isa 40:13): the inability of created human beings to know/understand the mind (nou=$) of God; cf. 1 Cor 2:16
    • 1 Cor 1:21: the world did not (was not able to) know God through its (own) wisdom and/or as part of God’s own wisdom (cf. Rom 1:21); I have discussed this verse in an earlier note
    • Gal 4:9: the two-fold aspect of knowing—believers knowing God, and being known by Him (cf. the study on 1 Cor 13:12)

Knowing, specifically in the sense of recognizing/accepting Christ (the Gospel)

Knowing God through the presence/work of Christ and the Spirit

The specific idea of knowing Christ
    • Phil 3:10 (cf. v. 8)
    • Eph 3:19: knowing the love of Christ (which surpasses all knowledge)

God knowing the hearts/minds of human beings (and his people)

    • 1 Cor 3:20 (Ps 94:11); cf. also 2 Tim 2:19 (Num 16:5?)
    • 1 Cor 8:3: connected to the love of believers for God/Christ (and each other)
    • 1 Cor 14:7, 9: knowing in terms of understanding what is said/spoken among believers through the Spirit (importance of order and proper exercise of spiritual gifts)
    • Gal 4:9: being known by God, with the implied sense of election/predestination

Believers’ faith, attitude and behavior being known (to Paul and others, etc)

Knowing another person (believer), in terms of Christ, Christian love, and/or the Spirit

For more on Paul’s use of other, related terms, see the next section below.

The verb gnwri/zw and other terms

The related verb gnwri/zw (gnœrízœ, “make known”) is occasionally used in reference to God’s manifesting or revealing himself (“making himself known”), closely connected with the idea of the proclamation of the Gospel. Of the 25 occurrences in the New Testament, 18 are in the Pauline letters. It is often used by Paul as a rhetorical phrase to place emphasis on a specific point of teaching or instruction—”let it be known to you, I make known to you, etc” (1 Cor 15:1; 2 Cor 8:1, etc). More substantially, it is used of God in two basic senses:

    1. God making known his nature, character, power, etc to human beings or in creation—Rom 9:22-23; also Eph 1:9
    2. God making himself known in the person of Christ and the Gospel, which has been kept hidden until now—Rom 16:26; Col 1:27; also Eph 1:9; 3:5. Specifically it is referred to as a “secret” revealed to Paul (Eph 3:3; 6:19), manifest further, through believers, to the heavenly ‘rulers’ (Eph 3:10)

Outside of the Pauline writings, the verb is found in Luke 2:15, 17; John 15:15; 17:26; Acts 2:28 (citing Ps 16:11); and 2 Pet 1:16. There are several important compound forms of ginw/skw and gnwri/zw which are used on occasion:

e)piginw/skw (with the derived noun e)pi/gnwsi$)

The verb e)piginw/skw essentially means to have knowledge about [lit. upon, e)pi] (someone or something). It can be used in the sense of (a) gaining knowledge, (b) recognition, understanding, or acknowledgement, or (c) having thorough or intimate knowledge. The verb is used with some frequency in the New Testament, often in the context of recognizing Christ—Matt 11:27 par (cf. the earlier note); 14:35; 17:12; Mk 6:33, 54; Lk 24:16, 31; cf. also Lk 7:37. On occasion, we also read of Jesus (and others) gaining knowledge of someone’s thoughts, or other ‘hidden’ information (Mk 2:8; 5:30; Lk 5:22). The idea of knowing and/or acknowledging the truth of the Gospel and Christian teaching is expressed in Lk 1:4 and 2 Pet 2:21, and frequently in the use of the noun e)pi/gnwsi$. The verb occurs 12 times in the Pauline letters, and the noun 15 of the 20 instances in the New Testament; this usage may be summarized:

    • Rom 1:32—knowledge of the Law of God (especially in the ethical/moral aspect)
    • 1 Cor 13:12—to know God fully (at the end time), even as believers are fully known by him (cf. the study on this verse)
    • 1 Cor 14:37—to know/recognize the inspired/authoritative character of (Paul’s) apostolic instruction (cf. 2 Cor 1:13)
    • 1 Cor 16:18—believers are to acknowledge/recognize those who minister in Christ faithfully (cf. 2 Cor 1:14, also 6:9)
    • 2 Cor 13:5—believers should (be able to) recognize the presence of Christ in/among them
    • Col 1:6—believers recognize the grace/favor of God shown to them
    • [1 Tim 4:3—believers characterized as those with knowledge of the truth]

The Noun—

Elsewhere, the noun occurs four times in 2 Peter (1:2-3, 8; 2:20), always referring to believers’ knowledge of God and Christ.

noe/w

The verb noe/w (noéœ) means to have (something) in one’s mind [nou=$], often in the sense of perceiving, comprehending, or understanding. It is used 14 times in the New Testament, including five important occurrences in the Pauline letters (but apart from Rom 1:20 [cf. above], only in the disputed letters):

    • Eph 3:4—Paul’s insight/understanding (along with the noun sunesi$) of the “secret” of God; cf. also 3:20
    • 2 Tim 2:7—believers given understanding from God/Christ (cf. 1 Tim 1:7)

In Hebrews 11:3, it is connected specifically with the faith/trust (pi/sti$) of believers. The verb a)gnoe/w indicates the opposite, i.e. being without knowledge. It is used specifically by Paul (16 of 22 occurrences in the NT), often as a rhetorical phrase:”do you not know”, “I do not want you to be ignorant (of)…” More substantive (theological) use is found in Rom 10:3; 1 Cor 14:38.

suni/hmi and su/nesi$

The verb suni/hmi means to bring (things) together [sun], i.e. in one’s mind. It likewise refers to someone perceiving and understanding (or his/her failure to do so); in the Gospels it relates to the people’s response to the things Jesus said and did (Mk 4:12 par [LXX]; 7:14; 8:17, 21 pars; Lk 18:34; 24:45, etc). The related noun su/nesi$ is more common in Paul’s writings, in a specifically Christian sense, though, apart from 1 Cor 1:19 (citing Isa 29:14), only in the disputed letters: Col 1:9; 2:2 (rel. to the knowledge of Christ as God’s “secret”); Eph 3:4 (the “secret” of Christ); 2 Tim 2:7. The verb is used in Rom 3:11; 15:21 (both citing Scripture), and in 2 Cor 10:12 and Eph 5:17. The verb sunei/dw (su/noida) has a similar meaning (“see [things] together”), but is rare in the New Testament (the noun sunei/dhsi$ being much more common). However, frequently knowledge is described in terms of sight and seeing, the Greek language coming to use forms of the verb ei&dw (oi@da) interchangeably with ginw/skw; this will be discussed in an upcoming article (Part 3, on Revelation).

e)pi/stamai

The verb e)pi/stamai literally means “stand upon”, usually in the sense of “set (one’s mind) upon”, and thus come to know and understand something, i.e. specifically to know something well. It is typically used in an ordinary sense in the New Testament (narrative); but note Heb 11:8; Jude 10, and the Pauline 1 Tim 6:4.

The Johannine Usage

The verb ginw/skw is used most frequently in the Johannine writings: 57 times in the Gospel, 25 in the first letter, and once again in the second letter—83 in all, with the Gospel and first letter accounting for more than a third of all occurrences in the New Testament. The related noun gnw=si$, so important in Paul’s letters, and in much of early Christian thought and expression, does not appear in the Johannine writings at all (on this, cf. above). On “knowledge” in the Johannine writings, this is discussed in more detail in a separate article and supplemental note.

It may also be significant that a number of the other compound or related words discussed above likewise occur only rarely (or not at all) in the Johannine writings. For example, e)piginw/skw (and the related noun e)pi/gnwsi$) does not appear, nor does suni/hmi (and su/nesi$), etc; the verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) occurs only three times, though these instances are important (Jn 15:15; 17:26 [twice]). All of this is surely due, in large part, to the relatively simple (and repetitive) vocabulary used in both the Gospel and the letters—the basic verb ginw/skw (“know”) serves to cover virtually the entire semantic range. In the case of the Gospel, of course, it is impossible to separate such usage from the complicated question of the relationship between the developed discourses of Jesus in John, and the generally simpler sayings, parables, and discourses in the Synoptics. The consistent vocabulary could reflect the original (Aramaic) of Jesus himself, or a layer of interpretive translation and editing by John (and/or the Johannine writer[s]). Given the close similarity between the language of the Gospel and the letters (esp. 1 John), the latter seems far more likely.

Supplementing the verb ginw/skw is the important use of verbs related to sight and hearing. Jesus in the Johannine sayings and discourses, repeatedly connects knowledge with seeing and hearing the Son, who, in turn, is faithfully presenting what he has seen and heard from the Father. This is a vital aspect of Johannine portrait of Jesus—the theology (and Christology) expressed in these writings—and will be addressed in detail, and with considerable care, through the articles in this series.

“Gnosis” in the NT: 2 Cor 4:6

This is the second of a pair of daily notes dealing with Paul’s use of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in 2 Corinthians 2:14 and 4:6. The prior study discussed 2:14; here I will address 4:6. For the overall structure and context of the section 2:14-4:6, cf. the previous note.

2 Corinthians 4:6

“—(in) that (it is) God, the one saying ‘out of (the) darkness light [fw=$] shall (shine as a) beam [la/myei]’, who has shone a beam [e&lamyen] (of light) in our hearts, toward the lighting [fwtismo/$] of the knowledge of the honor/splendor of God in (the) face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

This climactic statement must be read both in terms of the section 2:14-4:6 as a whole, but also within the smaller structure of 4:1-6 (itself parallel with 2:14-17):

    • v. 1: Paul and his fellow missionaries have received this duty of service (diakoni/a) through the mercy of God, just as they were made slaves/captives of Christ through the favor (xa/ri$) of God (cf. 2:14a); note the specific use of dou=lo$ (“slave”) further in 4:5.
    • v. 2: As ministers of the Gospel they shine/manifest the truth to people everywhere (“in the sight of God”), just as they shine/manifest the scent of God’s knowledge everywhere (2:14b); here the verb fanero/w takes on more the literal sense of shining (in the darkness).
    • vv. 3-4: The Gospel gives light to those being saved, while the ones perishing remain blinded in darkness; similarly the contrast between the Gospel as pleasant fragrance (of life) to the one group, but a stench (of death) to the other (2:15)
    • v. 5 formally returns to the theme of v. 1 (and 2:14a), leading into verse 6:
      “For we did not proclaim ourselves, but Yeshua (the) Anointed (the) Lord, and ourselves as your slaves through Yeshua—”
      The word ku/rio$ is best understood as a predicate—i.e. Yeshua (the) Anointed (who is the) Lord, as (our) Lord, etc.

The specific relationship of Jesus to God the Father, implicit in verse 5, is given greater clarity in vv. 3-4; here the nature of the Gospel is stated in dramatic fashion:

“…to cast (as) a ray the light of the good message [i.e. Gospel] of the honor/splendor of (the) Anointed, who is (the) image [ei)kw/n] of God” (v. 4b)

The language Paul uses here is important for the way it brings together all the imagery of 2:14ff, before repeating it again in v. 6. The various words relating to light, as applied to the Gospel, are here stated explicitly—”the light [fwtismo/$] of the good message [eu)agge/lion]”. The Gospel itself conveys the do/ca (dóxa) of Christ. The full significance of this word (do/ca) is extremely difficult to render into English. Fundamentally, as related to God, it has the meaning “consider/regard (worthy of honor)”, “esteem, honor,” etc. However, it also connotes the nature and character of God which makes him worthy of honor. Typically it is translated flatly as “glory”; however, I tend to avoid this rendering, and, in such a context as 2 Cor 4:4 and 6, find something like “splendor” much preferable. While this splendor, honor or “weight” (i.e. the corresponding Hebrew term dobK*) is ultimately ineffable, it is often depicted or described in terms of light. Paul certainly draws upon this traditional imagery throughout 2:14-4:6, and especially in chapter 3 where he uses the episode of the shining (and veiling) of Moses’ face (Exod 34:29-35) to compare (and contrast) the Old Covenant with the New (3:7-18). The splendor (do/ca) of the Old Covenant, symbolized by the shining of Moses’ face, has passed away, eclipsed by the far greater splendor of the New Covenant in Christ. Believers, including, in particular, Paul and other ministers of the Gospel, are able to gaze upon this splendor without any veil or intermediary, through the presence of the Spirit (v. 17). This splendor is that of Christ’s face, which, in turn, is a (perfect) reflection of the face of God—described by Paul in v. 4 as the image (ei)kw/n) of God. Note the parallelism:

    • The face of Moses, along with the faces of the people (veiled)
      —The face of Christ (the veil is removed)
    • The face of believers, including ministers of the Gospel (unveiled)

This analysis will help us ourselves to see more clearly what Paul is finally stating in 4:6. He moves beyond the Exodus narrative to the very account of Creation—Gen 1:2-3 being paraphrased very loosely in Greek:

“…God, the one saying, ‘out of (the) darkness light shall (shine as a) beam'”
cp. “…darkness was over the deep…and God said, ‘Light shall come to be!'” (LXX)

The original act of creation God has now reproduced (as a ‘new creation’) for believers in Christ:

“…(he) has shone a beam (of light) into our hearts”

Both phrases use the same verb la/mpw (lámpœ), cognate with the English word lamp, which is derived from it. There is a clear parallelism of vocabulary joining the two creative acts:

    • fw=$ (“light”)
      la/myei (“shall shine”)
      e&lamyen (“he has shone”)
    • fwtismo$ (“light, lighting, [en]lightening”)

The latter word fwtismo/$ refers more properly to the act of shining light, or, perhaps, the means and/or source of light. In Christian (Pauline) conception, this source/means of light is to be identified with the Spirit, sometimes referred to as the (living) word of God, but also with the proclamation of the Gospel. Once a person receives the Gospel, it comes to abide in them as a living word through the presence and work of the Spirit; it is also the word (and Spirit) of Christ—the presence of Christ in the believer. This is powerfully summarized in the genitive chain that concludes verse 6:

“…toward the light(ing) of the knowledge of the splendor of God in the face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

The preposition pro/$ (“toward”) indicates purpose, i.e. the purpose of the proclamation of the Gospel. The four-part genitive chain represents an extremely exalted manner of description, which is found quite often in Ephesians, but rather less common in the undisputed Pauline letters. Most translations obscure this construction, but the chain of relationship it expresses is worth retaining in English:

    • the shining of light [fwtismo/$] reveals and leads to —>
      • knowledge [gnw=si$], which specifically makes known —>
        • the honor/splendor [do/ca] which belongs to, and reveals the nature/character of —>
          • God, that is, the Father (YHWH)—his splendor is manifest and expressed —>
            • in the face [pro/swpon] of the Anointed (Christ)

Ultimately, the light is identified with the “face” of Christ—that is, his presence made manifest to believers (through the Spirit). The Gospel is the means by which the elect (believers) first come to know and experience his presence.

“Gnosis” in the NT: 2 Cor 2:14

2 Corinthians 2:14

In treating the subject of knowledge (gnw=si$, gnœsis) in the New Testament, two related verses in 2 Corinthians are especially important—2 Cor 2:14 and 4:6—expressing Paul’s view of the matter quite succinctly and effectively. These two verses happen to form an inclusio, framing the section 2:14-4:6, being the first and last sentences, respectively. This can be seen clearly by an outline of the section:

    • 2:14-17: Paul and his fellow ministers who proclaim the Gospel—the knowledge of God in Christ
      • 3:1-6: Contrast between the old covenant (on tablets of stone) and new covenant (in the heart)—the letter vs. the Spirit
        —vv. 4-6: Ministers of the New Covenant
      • 3:7-18: Contrast between the veiled face of Moses and the unveiled face of believers in the Spirit
        —vv. 12-18: Ministers of the New Covenant (par. with Moses)
    • 4:1-6: The ministry of proclaiming the Gospel—the knowledge of God in Christ

The chiastic structure of this section becomes even more obvious when comparing 2:14-17 with 4:1-6:

Thus these two verses perfectly enclose the section, and should be studied together. I begin in today’s note with 2:14. Interestingly, this verse itself has a chiastic symmetry. The opening phrase is: “To God be thanks for (his) favor… [tw=| de\ qew=| xa/ri$ tw=|…]”. The second definite article defines (and explains) the favor (xa/ri$) which God has shown. This, in the remainder of the verse, may be presented as a chiasm:

    • every time [pa/ntote, i.e. always]
      • leading us in procession [qriambeu/onti h(ma=$]
        • in Christ [e)n Xristw=|]
        • the smell of the knowledge of Him [th\n o)smh\n th=$ gnw/sew$ au)tou=]
      • shining forth [i.e. making manifest] through us [fanerou=nti di’ h(mw=n]
    • in every place [e)n panti\ to/pw=]

These elements—the words and phrases—require some closer examination. First, the expressions using forms of pa=$ (“all, every”), which occur frequently in Paul’s letters:

(a) pa/ntote, “every [pa=$] (time) when [to/te]”, “always, whenever, etc.”—27 of 41 NT occurrences
(b) e)n panti\ to/pw|, “in every [pa=$] place, in all place(s)”, “everywhere”—cf. also in 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Thess 1:8; and 1 Tim 2:8

These expressions encapsulate the completeness and universal reach of God’s action—temporal and spatial—covering every aspect of human existence. Specifically, here it relates to every aspect of the ministry of Paul and his fellow missionaries. The second pair of phrases are governed by two participles with predicate pronoun (“us”). The two verbs involved are:

    • qriambeu/w (thriambeúœ), which refers primarily to a military triumph (as by the Roman forces), and often in the specific sense of a triumphal procession following victory, in which captives and the spoils of battle would be displayed. There is some uncertainty as to the precise sense of Paul’s image here; it could be (a) that God leads Paul and other ministers in triumph, with the spread of the Gospel, etc. For similar military imagery along these lines, see e.g. 10:4-5. The other possibility is (b) that God leads Paul and the other ministers in procession as captives—i.e. they themselves have been made captive to the Gospel. Paul occasionally uses the term “slave” (dou=lo$) to refer to himself (and others) as ministers of Christ and the Gospel (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1, etc), and it is probably this latter sense that is meant in context here. The only other occurrence in the New Testament is Col 2:15, where a military victory, performed by God through the death (crucifixion) of Jesus, is properly meant.
    • fanero/w (phaneróœ), related to fw=$ (phœ¡s), “light” and the principal verbs fa/w [obs.], fai/nw (“shine [as] light”), meaning “shine forth”, often in the figurative sense of “appear, make apparent, (make) manifest”. It is found frequently in the Pauline letters (22 of 49 occurrences), and also in the Gospel and First letter of John (18 times). This verb will be discussed further in Part 3 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, dealing with the topic of revelation.

Finally the words in the third (inner) pair of expressions:

    • “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|)—a well known expression, found frequently in Paul’s writings, and almost exclusive to him in the New Testament. Typically it refers to the general status of believers, reflecting (a) our faith/trust in Christ, and (b) our union with him, through the Spirit, and symbolized in the rite of Baptism. However, here there is the specific sense of the status of Paul and his fellow apostles and missionaries as ministers of Christ and the Gospel. God leads them in procession in Christ—which, based on the interpretation given above, could be clarified as in captivity to Christ. For something of this sense, cf. also Rom 16:3, 9; Philem 23, etc. As captives, they are specifically required to speak (i.e. proclaim the Gospel)—cf. further in verse 17, and 12:19.
    • “the smell of the knowledge of Him” (h( o)smh\ th=$ gnw/sew$ au)tou=)—a genitive chain with three terms, each of which are treated below; a parallel genitive chain, even more extended, is used at a similar point in 4:6 (cf. the next study):
      • o)smh/ (osm¢¡), “smell”, either pleasant or foul. Here a pleasing aroma or fragrance is meant, as indicated by the use of eu)wdi/a (“good scent”) in verse 15. The combination of o)smh/ and eu)wdi/a strongly suggests the fragrance of the sacrificial offerings (cf. Lev 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, etc. [LXX]). Here the “sacrifice” as such is the proclamation of the Gospel, and the role of Paul and his fellow ministers in this activity—for the parallel between Christian ministers and Moses (and the Priesthood), cf. the illustration in chapter 3. Paul plays again on the ambiguity of o)smh/ is verse 16—a good smell of life to the ones being saved (through the Gospel), but a stench of death for the ones perishing. The otherwise mixed metaphor of sight and smell indicates that the verb fanero/w is used more or less in the general sense of “appear, make manifest”.
      • gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis), “knowledge”. For Paul’s use of gnw=si$, cf. Part 1 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. The genitive construct makes clear that the smell is “the smell of knowledge“. If the sacrificial allusion is accepted (cf. above), then the orientation has shifted notably—instead of being directed toward God, the sacrifice is intended for human beings, to bring the knowledge of God to them. This is important when considering possible gnostic elements in the New Testament, and will be discussed further in that series.
      • au)tou=, “of him, his”—I have rendered the genitive relationship literally (“knowledge of him [i.e. God]”), though itself it is ambiguous; it could be subjective (God’s own knowledge) or objective (knowledge about/regarding God). Certainly the latter is meant here, though the two aspects can never be separated entirely, especially with regard to God’s (fore)knowledge of believers.

What is particularly significant about this pair of expressions is the way they must be taken to inform each other: the sacrificial “smell of the knowledge of (God)” comes about entirely “in Christ”.