Note on 2 Corinthians 7:1

2 Corinthians 7:1

This note is supplement to the current Saturday Series studies on 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, a passage many commentators consider to be a non-Pauline interpolation. In the prior studies, I presented some of the key evidence of vocabulary, stylistic details, and points of emphasis that appear to be unusual or atypical of Paul in his other (undisputed) letters (see esp. Study 1 and the article on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls). However, in so doing, it also was made clear, I think, that the unusual vocabulary could be at least partly explained by the reliance upon certain Old Testament passages, as well as the poetic format, used in vv. 14-18 (see Study 2). Therefore, it would seem that a fairer judge of authorship would be the concluding exhortation in 7:1, which is more likely to be a direct product of the author’s own thought and manner of expression. I felt it worth devoting a detailed note to the analysis of the words, phrases, and stylistic devices in 7:1, to see whether, or to what extent, they conform to Pauline usage. I will touch upon these in order of occurrence in the verse.

oún échontes (ou@n e&xonte$)… . The exhortation begins, “(So) then, holding these (thing)s…”, followed by a hortatory subjunctive “we should cleanse [katharísœmen] ourselves”, i.e., “let us cleanse ourselves”. This syntax here is homiletical in nature, and accords with the overall character of 6:14-7:1 as a Jewish Christian homily. This particular format is found in Hebrews (4:14; 10:19, cf. also 12:1), a work which reads more like an extended sermon than a standard letter or epistle. It does not occur precisely so elsewhere in the Pauline letters, though Galatians 6:10 is reasonably close:

“(So) then [oún], as we hold [échomen] (the) time [i.e. have opportunity], we should work [i.e. let us work] (for) the good…”

Paul opens similarly with échontes oún in 2 Cor 3:12 (cf. also 4:1), but not followed by a (hortatory) subjunctive.

tás epangelías (ta\$ e)paggeli/a$). The noun epangelía literally means a message about something, or on a certain point, sometimes with the more forceful connotation of a declaration or announcement. The related verb (epangéllœ) always occurs in the middle voice in the New Testament, often with the sense of a message about oneself, i.e. about what a person will do. The noun is frequently used in the New Testament in reference to what God will do, that is, what he has promised to do, and thus is typically translated as “promise”. The word is used, both in the singular and plural (as here), by Paul 19 times in the undisputed letters, almost all in Romans and Galatians (Romans 4:13-14, 16, 20; 9:4, 8-9; Galatians 3:14, 6-18, 21-22, 29; 4:23, 28), in connection with his arguments regarding the Law (Torah) and the covenant promises of God, as applied to believers in Christ. It also occurs 6 times in Ephesians and the Pastorals (1:13; 2:12; 3:6; 6:2; 1 Tim 4:8; 2 Tim 1:1). The only other occurrence in the Corinthian letters is 2 Cor 1:20:

“For as (many) promises [epangelíai] of God as (there are), in him [i.e. in Jesus Christ] (is) the ‘yes’ (to them)…”

This reflects the Pauline teaching that all the promises made by God (in the Law and Prophets) to His people (Israel) have been fulfilled for believers in the person and work of Christ. There is no reason to think that this is not the same meaning in 7:1; however, it is worth noting that the closest parallel to the specific expression “holding [échonta] the promises” is found in Hebrews (7:6; but see also 1 Tim 4:8).

agap¢toí (a)gaphtoi/), “(be)loved (one)s”. This manner of address, to fellow believers as “beloved”, appears to have been common among early Christians. It occurs frequently in Paul’s letters, the closest parallels to the plural form, as it is used here, would be Rom 12:19; 1 Cor 10:4; 15:58; 2 Cor 12:19; Phil 2:12; 4:1. However, it is even more common in the non-Pauline letters of the New Testament (19 times in Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 John, and Jude).

katharísœmen heautoús (kaqari/swmen e(autou\$), “we should cleanse ourselves”, “let us cleanse ourselves”. The verb katharízœ (“make clean, cleanse”) occurs 31 times in the New Testament, but would appear to be extremely rare for Paul, occurring nowhere else in the undisputed letters, and only twice at all in the corpus (Eph 5:26; Titus 2:14). As many commentators have noted, the idea of believers cleansing themselves seems foreign, not only to Paul’s thought, but to the thought-world of the New Testament as a whole. We need only point to Eph 5:26 and Tit 2:14, the only other Pauline occurrences of the verb—in these passages it is Christ who cleanses believers, through his sacrificial and redeeming work. Even in the context of the baptism ritual, it is still God and Christ (and the Spirit) that does the cleansing, not believers themselves. In many ways the idea of believers making themselves clean, through obedience to God, etc, is closer to the manner of thinking of the Qumran Community (see, for example, 1QS 3:8-9), than that of the New Testament.

apo pantós molysmoú (a)po\ panto\$ molusmou=), “from all stain”. The noun molysmós, “stain, soil(ing)”, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and is extremely rare in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) as well (Jer 23:15; also 1 Esdras 8:80; 2 Macc 5:27). The related verb molýnœ, is more frequent, though still rare in the New Testament (3 times), but is used by Paul in 1 Cor 8:7, in a context (the eating of food previous offered to ‘idols’) not too dissimilar from that of 2 Cor 6:14ff. His argument is that if believers are seen eating food (i.e. meat) that is known (or thought) to have been slaughtered in a pagan religious setting it could harm a fellow believer who is ‘weaker’ in understanding; if this ‘weaker’ believer, influenced the example of the ‘stronger’, is encouraged to eat such food, against his/her own conscience, he/she is then “stained” (molýnetai) by it. In Rev 3:4, the verb generally refers to immorality and/or improper religious behavior, but may relate to the same context of eating food offered to ‘idols’ (cf. 2:14, 20); in Rev 14:4, it refers to sexual intercourse, and marriage/relations between believer and (pagan) non-believer may also be in view in 2 Cor 6:14ff.

It should be noted that a much more common word for Paul to express the idea of impurity is akatharsía, “uncleanness” (2 Cor 12:21; Rom 1:24; 6:19; Gal 5:19; 1 Thess 2:3; 4:7). Conceivably, a different word (molysmós) was chosen here, for variety, since the cognate verb katharízœ was already used in the verse.

sarkós kai pneúmatos (sarko\$ kai\ pneu/mato$), “of flesh and spirit”. Paul frequently uses both words sárx (“flesh”) and pneúma (“spirit”), but the latter almost always refers to the Holy Spirit (or Spirit of God/Christ), and rarely in the general sense of the human “spirit” or “soul”. When he does use pneúma this way, i.e. in the anthropological sense, it is combined with the word sœ¡ma (“body”), not sárx (1 Cor 7:34; 1 Thess 5:23). Normally Paul juxtaposes sárx and pneúma quite differently, as a dualistic contrast between human beings (“flesh”) governed/driven by sin and the “Spirit” of God and Christ (Gal 5:16ff et al). The idea of the human “spirit” being defiled is unusual, but perhaps something along the lines of what Paul expresses in 1 Cor 6:15-20 is intended. Certainly the emphasis here is on the entire person becoming stained by impurity.

epiteloúntes hagiœsýn¢ (e)pitelou=nte$ a(giwsu/nh), “making holiness complete”. The verb epiteléœ, an (intensive) compound form of teléœ (“[make] complete”), is used by Paul 6 other times in his letters, including three times more in 2 Corinthians (8:6, 11 [twice]). Generally the emphasis is on completing something which has already begun, though without necessarily any special theological significance (Rom 15:28). In Phil 1:6, the context is eschatological, expressing confidence that God will complete His good work (that He is currently doing) in and among believers, when Christ appears again on earth. In Galatians 3:3, the focus is rather different—believers are completing things themselves (middle voice of the verb), and in the wrong direction, moving from the Gospel of trust in Christ to a view of Christianity that would include (and/or require) observance of the Torah regulations (such as circumcision). Here, too, in 2 Cor 7:1, it is believers who are to do the completing, but in the positive direction, by avoiding the impurity that comes from involvement with the surrounding (pagan) religious-cultural environment.

The noun hagiœsýn¢ (“holiness”) is actually quite rare in the Pauline letters; indeed, it occurs only two other times in the New Testament, but these are both in Paul’s letters. Romans 1:4 is generally thought to represent part of a credal formula or (Christological) hymn which Paul is adapting. The use in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 is closer in tone and meaning to 2 Cor 7:1, part of a prayer-wish for the Lord Jesus

“to make your hearts firm, without blame [ámemptos], in holiness [en hagiœsýn¢], in front of our God and Father…”

The eschatological setting of this statement is close to that of Phil 1:6 (see above).

en phóbœ theoú (e)n fo/bw| qeou=), “in (the) fear of God”. The expression “fear of God” is traditional, referring to the proper reverence (i.e. fear/awe) due to God, with strong roots in the Old Testament. It would have been relatively common among Jews and Christians of the period, even though the specific expression “(the) fear of God” ([ho] phóbos [tou] theoú) itself is rare in the New Testament. Paul uses the word phóbos (“fear”) at least a dozen times, but “fear of God” only occurs in Rom 3:18 (citing Psalm 36:1), while the synonymous “fear of the Lord” is used in 2 Cor 5:11 (see also Col 3:22). In Eph 5:21, we also have “fear of Christ”, which some MSS read as (or correct to) “fear of God”; in its variant form, the expression is exactly that of 2 Cor 7:1—”in the fear of God” (en phóbœ qeoú).

The title “(one) fearing God” ([ho] phoboúmenos ton theón) was specifically used of Gentiles who worshiped the God of Israel, or who otherwise lived upright lives, were devout, and/or sympathetic to Israelite religion. There are several important occurrences in the book of Acts, especially regarding Cornelius (10:2, cf. also 10:35), and in Paul’s speech at Antioch (13:16, 26).

Conclusion

The evidence for 2 Cor 7:1, like that of 6:14-7:1 as a whole, is mixed. There are peculiar features, but also others well in accord with Paul’s style and manner of expression. The unusual or atypical details permit genuine questions regarding Pauline authorship of the passage, and yet can by no means exclude it as the work of Paul. The central clause of the exhortation (“let us cleanse ourselves of all stain of flesh and spirit”) remains problematic, for two reasons: (1) the strong idiom of ritual purity, with the idea of believers cleansing themselves, and (2) the atypical joining of “flesh” and “spirit”.

Even so, strong arguments can be made for Pauline authorship, or, at least, that he himself made use of traditional material in authoring his letter (specifically 2:14-7:16). This will be discussed, in some detail, in next week’s Saturday Series study.

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