Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 22 – Part 3

Psalm 22, continued

Verses 24-32 [23-31]

These verses represent the third (and final) section of the Psalm; the emphasis on lament and a plea for help has given way to one of praise and thanksgiving to YHWH, suggesting that God has provided (or is expected to provide) deliverance for the Psalmist. And, since this protagonist, whether or not understood as the king, represents the people as a whole, the individual salvation he experiences similarly represents the salvation God brings collectively for His people. This helps to explain the focus in verses 24-32 on exhortation to praise, and how the Psalmist’s own worship of YHWH blends with that of the “great congregation”. There may be an indication of a ritual or liturgical context for the composition preserved here as well, though one must be cautious in any attempt to reconstruct it.

Verses 24-25 [23-24]

“(You the one)s fearing YHWH, shout praise (to Him),
(you) seed of Ya’aqob, give weight [i.e. honor] to Him,
and (may) you be in awe from Him, all (the) seed of Yisra’el!
For He has not despised,
and did not treat as filthy,
(the) chanting of the oppressed—
(indeed) He has not kept His face hidden from him,
but in his calling to Him for help, He has heard!”

This initial portion begins and ends with a 3+3 bicolon (v. 24ab, 25b); in between there are lines of irregular meter—apparently a single 4-beat line (v. 24c) and a 2+2+2 tricolon (v. 25a), the rhythm of which I have tried to preserve visually above. The interplay of the singular (i.e. deliverance for the Psalmist) and plural (i.e. for the people collectively), noted above, is established in these lines. The case of the Psalmist serves as an example for the rest of Israel—as YHWH has saved him, so will God save all the faithful ones who call to Him for help (vb uwv) in their time of distress.

In the third line of the tricolon in v. 25a, there is a bit of wordplay—MT yn]u* tWnu$ (±§nû¾ ±¹nî), which would be a cognate expression (i.e., “oppressions of the oppressed”, “afflictions of the affliction”). I am inclined, however, to follow Dahood (p. 142) in reading twnu as derived from a separate root hn`u* (“sing, chant”), in which case it should presumably be vocalized as an infinitive, tonu& (or Piel toNu^), cf. Exod 32:18; Psalm 88:1. Dahood also suggests that ryT!s=h! in v. 25b should be understood as a reflexive (infixed-t) form of the verb rWs (“turn [away]”), rather than a form of the root rt^s* (“hide”); this would alter the translation, but not the essential meaning of the line—i.e. God “turning away” his face vs. “hiding” it.

Verse 26 [25]

“From (what) you (have done) (comes) my shout in (the) great assembly,
(and) my vows (to you) I will make good in front of (the one)s fearing Him.”

This 4+4 couplet continues the theme of the Psalmist as an example for the people, as he performs his acts of gratitude and worship (i.e. his “shout” of praise, etc) in the public setting of the assembly (lh*q*). The initial word is problematic, especially with its second person suffix that seems to contradict the third person suffix at the end of the second line. However, the mixing of person in ancient poetry is not all that unusual, and we should not be startled by the sudden shift from addressing God directly, to speaking of Him indirectly, especially since the third person usage in the second line is likely a relic of a fixed expression regarding righteous as “the ones fearing Him”. The MT points the initial word as a prepositional expression—;T=a!m@, “from you”, presumably in the sense of “from [i.e. as a result of] what you have done”. Dahood (p. 142) offers the interesting interpretation of itam as a verbal form, a denominative derived from ha*m@ (“hundred”), in which case in context it would mean something like “my praise is to you a hundred (fold)”. This is an attractive solution, but perhaps rather unlikely, given the lack of any other clear examples of such a denominative in the Old Testament.

Verse 27 [26]

“The oppressed (one)s will eat and be satisfied,
they will shout praise to YHWH, (the one)s seeking Him—
may your heart live for (all time) until (the end)!”

Again there is a shift from the protagonist (i.e. individual salvation) to the congregation (“assembly”) of the people (collective). Clearly, however, it is the righteous and faithful ones who are in view— “the ones seeking [vb vr^D*]” YHWH—and not the entire people in a simple national/ethnic sense. These same righteous Israelites, faithful and loyal to God, are characterized as “oppressed”, using a plural adjective (<yw]n`u&, ±¦n¹wîm) that would take on great importance as a religious self-identification for devout Jews in subsequent generations (including at the time of the New Testament). The promise is that these faithful ones will find salvation in their time of distress, and will enjoy a long and fulfilling life (expressed in the third line as a blessing). The implication throughout is that the oppression that the righteous experience is due, in large measure, to the very fact of their faithfulness to YHWH, which stimulates opposition from the wicked.

Verses 28-29 [27-28]

“They will remember and (re)turn to YHWH,
(from) all (the) ends of (the) earth;
and they will bow (down) before your face,
all (the) offspring of (the) nations—
for the kingdom (belongs) to YHWH,
and (is) ruling o(ver the) nations!”

This sequence of three couplets (with slightly irregular meter, 3+2 and 2+2[?]) has the common theme of YHWH’s position as king and ruler of the entire earth. The salvation He is able to bring for his people, in the face of oppression from the wicked (i.e. of the nations), is ultimately due to this sovereignty and power which He possesses. It is thus natural that the praise and worship of YHWH, in this setting, would turn toward the theme of His sovereignty.

The idea of the nations “remembering” (vb rk^z`) and “turning” (or re-turning, vb rWv) to YHWH can be misleading, if understood in the sense of Christian evangelism, etc. While there may be reflected here a tradition regarding the common worship of the one true God by all humankind (cf. Gen 10:32-11:1ff), the more proper meaning is that of the nations coming to recognize the truth of YHWH’s position as King over the universe, being forced to this point by the exercise of His power. This motif of all the nations coming to worship YHWH is rather more typical of the Prophetic writings in the exilic and post-exilic periods; however, it has its roots in older tradition, and cannot necessarily be used as a reliable means for dating the Psalm. Cf. for example, the similar thought and wording in Ps 59:14 [13].

Verse 30 [29]

“Indeed, to Him will they bow down, all (those) sleeping (in the) earth;
they will bend the knee, all (the one)s going down (into the) dust—
even (though) his soul does not remain alive!”

I understand these lines as a tricolon (with irregular meter), parallel in certain respects to that of verse 27 [26] (cf. above). On that basis, there is a clear contrast between the righteous ones of v. 27 and the rest of humankind here (i.e., the nations, following the thought of vv. 28-29). The righteous have their lives preserved by God, while the rest of humankind simply die off and are buried. This rather confirms that the “bowing down” of the nations to YHWH is compulsory, and not necessarily reflective of a genuine conversion to true worship of God. At the very least, the nations who bow down (vb hj^v* reflexive) and “bend the knee” (vb ur^K*) do not have the same relationship to YHWH as do the righteous/faithful ones of His people. This is entirely in accord with Israelite religion and theology, however much it may conflict with later Christian ideals.

I follow the commentators (such as Dahood, p. 143) who parse the initial word wlka (MT Wlk=a*, “they will eat”) as ol Ea* (“indeed to him”), which better fits the context. The reading Wlk=a* may have arisen due to the parallelism with verse 27, and the opening word there; at the very least, there would seem to be some wordplay involved. Also problematic is the expression Jr#a#-yn@v=D!, which would appear to mean “(the) fat (one)s of the earth”; however, this does not fit the parallelism of the lines particularly well. A more likely parsing, it seems to me, recognizes the participial form yn@v@y=, “(the one)s sleeping” (vb /v@y`); this yields the appropriate parallel (cp. Dan 12:2):

    • “(the one)s sleeping (in the) earth”
    • “(the one)s going down (into the) dust”

The initial D! would then be explained as the old Semitic relative pronoun (yD!), which was preserved in poetry (and continued to be used in Aramaic), but otherwise disappeared from Old Testament Hebrew prose (where the relative particle rv#a& is far more common). Thus, if correct, the derivation  yn@v@y= + yD! = yn@v=D!; through elision/syncope the consonant y drops out (cf. Dahood, p. 143).

The meaning of the third line in verse 30 is also uncertain; however, based on the parallel with the third line of v. 27, it would seem that the contrast is between the life of the righteous being preserved (by God), and the inability of the rest of humankind to save their life (i.e. “soul”, vp#n#) from death and the grave.

Verses 31-32 [30-31]

“(May my) seed (always) serve Him,
(and) give account of the Lord to (each) circle;
they will come and put His justice (out) front, (showing)
to people coming to be born, that He has done (this).”

These final couplets have a highly irregular rhythm; however, they serve as a fitting conclusion to the Psalm, emphasizing how each generation of Israelites has a duty to continue declaring (such as in performance of this Psalm-composition) how YHWH has acted to save His people, even as they themselves remain faithful to the covenant. The noun roD is often translated “generation”, but it literally means “circle, cycle, revolution”, i.e. a life-cycle or Age. The basic sense of “generation”, however, is correct, as the parallel between the 2nd and 4th lines makes clear—i.e., “circle” (roD) = “people coming to be born” (dl*on <u^). The noun hq*d*x= can also be difficult to translate precisely; it denotes “straightness, right(ness), rectitude”, often in the specific sense of “justice” (so translated above) or religious and moral “righteousness”. In a covenantal context, however, it can also connote loyalty—faithfulness and adherence to the binding agreement.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).


Saturday Series: Isaiah 24-27 (continued)

Isaiah 24-27, continued

In the previous study, we looked at the so-called Isaiah “Apocalypse” (chaps. 24-27) from a historical-critical and composition-critical standpoint, along with a short exegesis of the initial poem in 24:1-13. This week we will continue our study with a critical survey of the sections that follow.

Isaiah 24:14-23

It is not immediately clear if these verses belong as part of the earlier poem (vv. 1-13), or are better understood as a separate poetic section of the overall composition. Certainly the eschatological theme of the coming worldwide Judgment continues from the earlier section; however, the abrupt shift to the subject of worldwide praise suggests that the verses ought to be read as a distinct compositional unit. Perhaps it is meant as a contrast to the destruction and desolation of the great cities of the nations. Even as the entire earth is shaken, the faithful ones of God’s people (living in exile) all over the world sing out in praise. This is the two-sided character of the Judgment—destruction for the nations, but salvation for God’s people.

The context of vv. 14-16a is the dispersion of Israelites and Jews among the nations, primarily as a result of the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests. Quite possibly the central image of the sea (hayy¹m) here is meant to depict the nations in mythological terms, even as the motif would later be used in the book of Revelation. On the cosmological image of the Sea, as representative of the dark chaos of the primeval waters (Gen 1:2), cf. my earlier article in the “Ancient Parallels” series. The reason why there would be praise and singing coming from the “sea” (v. 14), i.e. from the nations, is that, for the faithful ‘remnant’ of God’s people in exile, this Judgment on the nations is a time of salvation. With the oppressive power of the nations broken, Israelites and Judeans will experience God’s deliverance. This rejoicing spans the earth from one end to the other (vv. 15-16a)—the realms of light (°¥rîm) in the East (i.e. where the sun rises) and the distant islands in the West. Quite possibly there is a bit of alliterative wordplay here between b¹°¥rîm (“in the [realm]s of light”) and b®°iyyê hayy¹m (“in [the] islands of the sea”).

Verse 16b poses a difficulty for interpretation. There is certainly a clear contrast intended, between the worldwide praise (of the faithful) in vv. 14-16a and the word of woe (against the faithfuless) in v. 16b-17. However, the point of transition in v. 16b is not entirely clear; the text reads:

“And (yet) I said: r¹zî-lî, r¹zî-lî!

The difficulty lies in the word r¹zî (yz]r*, doubled in exclamation along with (we may assume) the suffixed preposition (yl], “to me, for me”). The Greek Septuagint (LXX) omits the words in translation, perhaps an indication that the translator simply did not understand the meaning (such translation omissions can be found elsewhere in Old Testament poetry). Commentators and translators have typically derived it from the root r¹zâ (“be[come] thin, weak”), in which case the meaning of the exclamation could be something like “weakness for me!”, i.e. “I grow weak!”. Perhaps the sense is that, while God’s people around the world rejoice, the prophet is burdened by the realization that the faithless ones (among God’s people) will face judgment together with the other nations.

While the LXX does not translate r¹zî, other old Greek versions (Lucianic, Symmachus, Theodotion) understand it to be the Aramaic noun r¹z (zr*, “secret”) with first person singular suffix (i.e., “my secret”), and in this the Greek versions are followed by the Syriac and the Latin Vulgate translation. The sense would then be that, in the face of the worldwide rejoicing, the prophet holds a secret regarding the judgment that faces the faithless/disloyal ones among God’s people. If the exclamation does derive from the Aramaic r¹z (a Persian loanword, Dan 2:18-19, 27-30, 47; 4:6), then it would provide further confirmation that the section was composed in the Persian period (no earlier than the mid-6th century); on the historical-critical question, see the discussion in the previous study.

The restatement of the coming Judgment in vv. 17-20 provides another example of intertextuality in these chapters, apparently drawing upon earlier prophetic oracles and Scripture texts. We note, for example, the similarity between verse 18 and Jeremiah 48:43-44 (see Amos 5:18-20); or, again, how the opening of the windows in the high places alludes to the narrative of the great Flood (Gen 7:11; 8:2). These references indicate a blending of two Scriptural traditions: (1) the “Day of YHWH” in the prophetic nation-oracles, and (2) the great Flood; both motifs are used to express the idea of God’s judgment on the entire world at the end of the current Age (described dramatically in vv. 19-20). Subsequent Jewish and early Christian eschatology would make extensive use of the same two lines of tradition.

Verses 21-23 form a curious appendix to the poem(s) of chapter 24, and may be the product of a later editor. The heavenly entities (“armies of [the] high places [i.e. heaven]”), including the sun and moon, are set parallel with the kings of the nations on earth. From the standpoint of Israelite monotheism (in its more developed form), the worship of divine powers (deities) in the sky, sun, and moon, etc, by the Canaanites and other peoples, was a mark of wickedness and false religion—entailing a refusal to recognize YHWH as the (one) true God. In the great day of Judgment, YHWH will punish the nations together with the deities they worship (in the sun and moon, etc).

The basic idea has to do with the dissolution of the universe at the end of the current Age, especially as this is manifested in the heavenly places (of the sky); on the same eschatological imagery elsewhere in Isaiah, see 34:2ff. Possibly the motif of imprisoning the divine powers in a deep pit draws on a separate line of tradition (regarding heavenly beings [angels] who rebelled against God), similar in certain respects with accounts of war among the deities in ancient Near Eastern cosmological myths. Jewish apocalyptic literature would make much use of this tradition, and it also features prominently in the book of Revelation, including the specific idea of the wicked powers being held in prison for a long period of time before their final punishment (v. 22, Revelation 20:1-10).

Isaiah 25:1-26:6

The brief reference to praise in 24:14-16a (see above) is given much fuller treatment in chapter 25, where we find a poem of praise and thanksgiving to YHWH, composed in three main parts. The poem, and its components, emphasizing the faithfulness of God and the salvation He brings to His people, draws upon a good number of Scriptural and prophetic traditions, including a range of Isaian motifs. Compared with chapter 24, it is not so clearly eschatological in orientation; indeed, it shares much in common with a number of the Old Testament Psalms. A critical study of this section also reveals a more complex compositional setting; this may be noted by a survey of the three sections:

    • 25:1-5: A psalm, following in the Isaian tradition, which identifies (and characterizes) a great city of the nations, (to be) destroyed in the Judgment, as an oppressor of God’s people
    • [25:6-8: Refrain on the (eschatological) feast to be held on the mountain of God]
    • 25:9-12: Stanza 1 on the day of Judgment (“on that day…”)
      the great city (with its walls, etc) will be brought down to ruin
    • 26:1-6: Stanza 2 on the day of Judgment (“on that day…”)
      the fallen city will be taken over by the people of Israel/Judah

Complicating this picture are the lines on the eschatological feast (25:6-8) and the specific reference to Moab in vv. 10b-12—both of which seem to be intrusive to the remainder of the poem in its overall context.

The eschatological feast, at its core, represents a development of the ritual meal that marked the ratification of the covenant between God and Israel (see Exod 24:9-11), which took place on the mountain where God dwelt. The communal meal, with its sacrificial aspects, during the great pilgrimage festivals (e.g., Passover, Sukkot/Booths) draws upon a similar line of covenant-symbolism (compare Isa 55:1-3). It was only fitting that, at the end of the current Age, following the Judgment, the salvation of God’s people would be celebrated, in grand style, by a similar meal. Actually, the meal itself is mentioned only in verse 6; the emphasis in vv. 7-8 is on the New Age that is ushered in for God’s people, an Age in which suffering and sorrow will be eliminated. This suffering is the result of death, primarily (i.e. the motif of the mourning shroud), but also of the oppression and opposition Israel faces from the surrounding nations; this, too, has come to an end. All of it takes place on the mountain of God, a reference to the city of Jerusalem, cast in mythological/cosmological terms (see Isa 2:2-4).

The mention of Moab in vv. 10b-12 is more difficult to explain; it appears to be a holdover of the nation-oracles in chaps. 13-23 (see chs. 15-16), but is otherwise quite out of place in chaps. 24-27 where the emphasis is on all the nations of the world in a collective sense. Perhaps “Moab” serves as a cypher for Babylon here, much as “Edom” would for Rome among Jews of a later time. Certainly Babylon and Moab are closely connected in the Isaian nation oracles (chaps. 13-14, 15-16), and Moab was a traditional enemy of Israel, notorious especially from the episode in Numbers 25 (involving idolatry and immorality). Since the emphasis in Isa 25 is on the destruction of a great city of the nations, the insertion of Moab suggests that it represents either (1) Babylon as the wicked city, or (2) the cities of the nations (in their wickedness) as a whole.

The remainder of this survey will continue (and conclude) in next week’s study, where we will also consider the various critical aspects of chaps. 24-27 as a whole.

June 24: Galatians 5:16-25

Galatians 5:16-25

Paul’s view of the Old Testament Law (Torah)—as expressed in Galatians and Romans—was striking and controversial enough that many Jewish Christians at the time opposed it vehemently. Even today, thoughtful and devout believers can find it difficult to accept. This is partly due to the apparent contradiction with the inspired character of the Torah, but of even greater (practical) concern is that freedom from the Law would seem to allow license for immorality. For this reason, many Christians would maintain that the moral/ethical regulations of the Torah (the Ten Commandments, etc) continue to be binding, even as other ritual/ceremonial requirements have fallen away. This, however, does not seem to be what the New Testament teaches, and I certainly do not find evidence in Paul’s letters that he taught anything of the sort.

The problem lies in confusing the specific regulations of the Torah with the existence of effective moral and religious standards for Christians. While stating that believers in Christ are free from the Law, Paul clearly expresses the view that believers are still expected to live in a pure and upright manner. But how is such a moral way of life to be maintained without the regulations of the Law to guide believers? The answer lies in the very nature of the new covenant, where the inner presence of God’s own Spirit takes the place of the external regulations of the Torah.

Given his unique teaching on freedom from the Law, it is somewhat surprising the Paul does not touch upon this matter more often in his letters. There must have been Christians at the time who were concerned about how one should maintain moral and religious rectitude without the Law. However, he does address the question clearly enough in the parenetic/exhortation (exhortatio) section of Galatians (5:1-6:10), especially the portion beginning with verse 13:

“For you were called upon freedom, brothers—only th(is) freedom (must) not (lead) to a rushing (out) from the flesh, but through love you must be a slave to each other.”

A distinctive teaching among early Christians, found throughout the New Testament, is that the regulations of the Torah have effectively been supplanted by a single command, or principle—that of love (a)ga/ph). It is a principle that goes back to Jesus’ own teaching (Mk 12:30-33 par; Matt 5:43ff par; John 13:34-35), and Paul clearly expresses the idea that the “love command” represents a fulfillment of the entire Torah (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10, etc; cp. James 2:8; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23-24). The main point Paul makes here is that, instead of our freedom leading to a fulfillment of fleshly impulses, our choices should be guided by our love for each other. All that remains for believers from the Torah is this love-principle.

While the love-principle is authoritative and guiding, it is ultimately derived, not from any specific command or regulation, but by the presence of God’s Spirit. This is the essence of the New Covenant, and Paul expresses, in Gal 5:16-25, something of the manner in which the Spirit takes the place of the Torah for believers. Note the regulatory aspect of verse 16:

“I relate to you: you must walk about in the Spirit, and (then) you shall not complete (the) impulse [e)piqumi/a] of the flesh.”

To walk about (vb peripate/w) “in the Spirit” (pneu/mati) means to be guided by the Spirit in all that a person does. We saw this idiom expressed previously in the narratives of Luke-Acts, with the emphasis on being “in the Spirit” and guided/led by the Spirit (cf. the note on Luke 4:1, 14ff). The force of Paul’s exhortation implies that this does not happen automatically for believers, simply as a result of the Spirit’s presence; rather, it requires a willingness and attentiveness to accept and allow this guidance to occur (a point emphasized again by Paul at the close of v. 25). Even though Christians are freed from the power of sin, there remains a conflict with the “flesh” (v. 17), and the impulse (qumo/$) toward sin. Paul here uses the noun e)piqumi/a, which means something like an “impulse (to act) upon (something)”; in English idiom we might say “set one’s mind/heart upon” it. For the believer, it is possible to ignore, neglect, or even extinguish (i.e. quench, cf. 1 Thess 5:19) the influence and guidance of the Spirit.

While an impulse toward sin remains in our “flesh”, we are no longer enslaved by it, and we have the ability not to act upon it—to complete it, as Paul indicates here by the verb tele/w. Acting upon such an impulse results in “works of the flesh” (ta\ e&rga th=$ sarko/$); a representative list of these “works” is given in vv. 19-21, following the traditional “vice list” pattern in ethical instruction of the time. Thus, the kind of immorality which was prohibited and regulated by the Torah will be avoided by believers, simply by following the internal guidance of the Spirit, without any external legal standard being required. Not only will immorality be avoided, but there will be additional “fruit” that comes from the Spirit’s active guidance (vv. 22-23). It is most significant that this “fruit” does not consist in good deeds—not even acts of Christian ministry—but of fundamental attributes of a person’s character, which reflect the very attributes of God present in His Spirit.

It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that this moral standard comes through the internal influence of the Spirit, and not by observance of the Torah nor any other external command. Paul makes this clear by two statements which punctuate the instruction in vv. 16-25:

    • “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under (the) Law” (v. 18)
    • “…against such (thing)s [i.e. the fruit of the Spirit] there is no Law” (v. 23b)

In other words, the New Covenant of the Spirit has nothing whatever to do with the Law. This is a uniquely Pauline development of the early Christian belief regarding the presence of the Spirit among believers. The new covenant motif was part of the application of the earlier Prophetic tradition (regarding the restoration of Israel in the New Age), interpreting the presence and activity of the Spirit among early believers as its fulfillment. Paul has sharpened the contrast between old and new covenant, emphasizing, more than any other Christian minister of the time, that the Spirit in the new covenant takes the place of the Torah in the old.

One point that has not been discussed yet, in the context of Paul’s treatment of the Spirit, is how the presence and activity of God’s Spirit relates to the personal presence of Jesus Christ himself, in and among believers. This will be examined in the next daily note, with a comparison of several key passages in Galatians and Romans.

For more on the question of Paul’s view of the Law, cf. my extensive articles in the series “The Law and the New Testament”, including those on Galatians (spec. on 5:1-6:10), along with the separate article on “antiomianism”.

June 23: Galatians 3:2-5, 14

Galatians 3:2-5, 14

Paul’s references to the Spirit in Galatians follow those in 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 (discussed in the last two notes), in the context of his pointed contrast between the old and new covenants. This is to be expected, given that the central theme of Galatians involves the relation of believers to the Law (Torah). I have discussed the subject at length in the series “The Law and the New Testament” —cf. especially the articles on Galatians in “Paul’s View of the Law”. The very point and reason for his writing to the Galatians is to assure (and convince) them that it is not necessary for them, or any other believers, to observe the regulations of the Torah (such as circumcision or the dietary laws). Even though the question relates specifically to non-Jewish (Gentile) believers, the arguments Paul uses would apply equally well (and even more so) to Jewish Christians.

Chapters 3-4 make up the heart of the letter—the probatio, in which arguments are presented in support of the main proposition (propositio, 2:15-21). The first argument (3:1-5) is based on the Galatians’ own experience as believers—the fact that they received the Spirit. Paul treats this as self-evident proof, in light of his fundamental contrast between the Spirit (pneu=ma) and the flesh (sa/rc). The logic of the argument runs as follows:

    • as believers, they received the Spirit
      • the flesh is opposed to the Spirit
        • => they should not wish to be involved with things of the flesh

Paul is more caustic and biting in his presentation of this argument, as we can see in verse 3:

“Are you thus without a (sound) mind? (Hav)ing begun in (the) Spirit, you are now (to be) made complete (relying) upon (the) flesh?”

The implication here, of course, is that observance of the Torah regulations is part of the “flesh”, in the sense that it involves work and effort (i.e., Paul’s frequent expression “works [e&rga] of the Law”). More than this, however, in Galatians (as subsequently in Romans) Paul connects the Torah with the bondage experienced by humankind (to the power of sin) in the current Age. This association with sin helps to explain how Paul can characterize the Torah as “the flesh”. The entire created order is in bondage to the power of sin, and the Torah is part of that old order of things that passes away in the New Age—i.e., the new arrangement of things (diaqh/kh, “covenant”).

Paul deprecates the Torah observance for believers by contrasting it with their experience of receiving the Spirit at the beginning—i.e., at the time of baptism, after they first came to trust in Jesus:

“This only do I wish to learn from you: (was it) out of works of (the) Law (that) you received the Spirit, or out of (the) hearing of trust?” (v. 2)

The point is clear: they received the Spirit through trust in Jesus (in response to the proclamation of the Gospel), and not by observing the Torah. The Torah is part of the old covenant, and has nothing whatever to do with the new, and believers are under no obligation to observe its various regulations. Thus the barb in verse 3 is stinging indeed: having begun with the Spirit (the new covenant), would you now go away from this (back to the old covenant)? His wording in verse 4 suggests how misguided and confused this is: “Did you suffer so many (thing)s with(out any) purpose [ei)kh=, i.e. rashly, randomly]?” The further suggestion in verse 5 is that this turning toward the old covenant (Torah) is contrary to the will and purpose of God Himself (and His Spirit):

“(So) then, the (One) leading the Spirit upon you, and working powerful (deed)s among you, (is it) out of works of (the) Law or out of (the) hearing of trust?”

The second argument (3:6-14) of the probatio draws upon the example of Abraham from Scripture—a line of argument that Paul would repeat in Romans 4. His use of Abraham is interesting in the way that it takes the argument back to a time before the establishment of the Sinai covenant (and the Torah); indeed, this fact is central to Paul’s point. Not only does the new covenant of the Spirit supersede that of Moses and the Torah, it is actually the fulfillment of the original blessing promised to Abraham, the father of the Israelite people. The argument here develops the basis for this claim, stating it clearly enough in the concluding verse:

“(It was so) that unto the nations the (words of) good account [eu)logi/a, i.e. blessing] of Abraham might come to be, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, (and so) that we might receive (the fulfillment of) th(is) message about the Spirit, through the trust (in Yeshua).” (v. 14)

For more detail on the Abraham argument, see the earlier articles on Gal 3:6-14 and Romans 4 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”.

Paul turns again to the Abraham traditions in the midrashic argument in 4:21-31, expounding the flesh/Spirit contrast in terms of Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. This follows the same old vs. new covenant dualism (v. 24), but with a stronger association of the old covenant with slavery and bondage (Hagar being a slave). A particular interpretation of the tradition—i.e. that Ishmael ‘persecuted’ Isaac—also leads Paul to emphasize how the old covenant (of the flesh) persecutes the new covenant (of the Spirit):

“But just as then [i.e. at that time] the (one) coming to be (born) according to (the) flesh pursued the (one born) according to (the) Spirit, so also now.” (v. 29)

This relates to Jewish persecution of the early Christians, well-documented in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters, but also to the issue at hand in Galatians—of Jewish Christians pressuring Gentile believers to observe the Torah regulations (circumcision, dietary laws, etc). Paul’s words against these proponents of the need for Torah-observance are extremely harsh (1:7-8; 2:4; 3:10; 4:17; 5:10-12; 6:12-13).

Thus, if we are to summarize how Paul’s line of argument in Galatians relates to a development in the early Christian understanding of the Spirit, it rests in his sharp contrast between the old and new covenant. The old covenant is part of the old order of things (in the current Age), while the new covenant marks the beginning of a new Age. The people of God (Israelites and Jews) in the old covenant were governed by the regulations of the Torah (which represented the terms of the covenant); by contrast, in the new covenant, the people of God (believers in Christ, both Jewish and non-Jewish) are governed by the indwelling presence of God’s own Spirit. For believers in Christ, the old covenant has passed away, and they/we are free from its binding terms (i.e. the Torah).

This is a uniquely Christian development of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration. As we have discussed in earlier notes, the sixth-century prophets—particularly Jeremiah and Ezekiel—express the promise of a coming time when the people of Israel and Judah, upon their return to the Land, would be given a “new heart” and the “new spirit” so that they will be able to remain faithful to YHWH. This inward transformation of the heart/spirit is achieved by the action of God’s own Spirit being “poured out” upon them (cf. the notes on Isa 44:3 and Joel 2:28-29). The key passages on this in Ezekiel are 11:19ff; 18:31; 36:26-27, and 37:14 (cf. notes). The great “new covenant” prophecy, of course, is Jeremiah 31:31-34, in which God promises to write His Law (hr*oT, Torah) upon the hearts of the people (v. 33). Though the Spirit is not directly mentioned in this passage, it is to be inferred as the means of writing (on the writing of the Torah, and the general equivalence between the “finger of God” and the Spirit of God, cf. the prior note).

The main difference between Paul and this Prophetic line of tradition is that the Prophets clearly assume the continued binding authority of the Torah, while Paul states repeatedly (and unequivocally) that this is no longer so for believers, who are freed from the old covenant. For the Prophets, the writing of the Torah on the heart simply means that the people will be willing and able to observe it faithfully. Paul understands this idea quite differently, though, in his own way, he upholds a comparable premise—that believers effectively fulfill the Law, even without being bound to observe its specific regulations. The Law is similarly written on the hearts of believers, through the presence of the Spirit. This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

June 22: 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 (continued)

2 Corinthians 3:1-18, continued

Having established the contrast between the written word (gra/mma) and the Spirit (pneu=ma) in verse 6 (cf. the previous note), along with the motif of the Law (Torah) being written by the finger of God (Exod 31:18; Deut 9:10), in the remainder of chapters 3 (vv. 7-18) Paul embarks on an exposition of the difference between the old and new covenants (diaqh=kai). He draws upon the Moses narratives and traditions in the book of Exodus; in particular, Paul takes a midrashic interpretive approach to Exodus 34:29-35, which describes Moses’ return from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the Covenant.

This contrast between the old and new covenants is centered on the idea of “glory” (do/ca). In Greek, the word do/ca has the basic meaning of “what one thinks” about something, how it is considered or regarded, often in the (positive) sense of “reputation, renown, honor, esteem, dignity”, etc. It can also carry the more objective meaning “appearance”, including various visual phenomena, especially involving light, brightness, and so forth. It can be applied to God in both primary senses—(1) as the esteem and honor which is (to be) accorded to him, and (2) the brightness and visual phenomena which is manifested by his presence. Do/ca is frequently used to render dobK* (lit. “weight”, i.e. worth, value) in Hebrew, a word which has a similar semantic range, especially when associated with YHWH.

In 2 Cor 3:7-11, Paul makes use of a series of qal wa-homer arguments—a traditional (Jewish) principle of interpretation, which argues from the lesser to the greater: if something is true in this (lesser) case, then how much more is it to be so regarded in the (greater) case. According to this mode of argument (a fortiori), Paul is working from the basic assumption that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant which God established with Israel at Sinai. The first two arguments (in vv. 7-9) involve the diakoni/a (“service, ministry”), that is, the administration of the covenant—in the case of the old covenant this began with Moses (and Aaron) and continued through the established priesthood and ritual apparatus (Temple, sacrificial offerings, purity regulations, etc), as well as through teaching and tradition. Note the contrast:

    • Vv. 7-8: service/ministry of death [h( diakoni/a tou= qana/tou]
      • service/ministry of the Spirit [h( diakoni/a tou= pneu/mato$]
    • Vers. 9: service/ministry of judgment against [h( diakoni/a th=$ katakri/sew$]
      • service/ministry of justice/righteousness [h( diakoni/a th=$ dikaiosu/nh$]

The characterization of the old covenant as “the ministry of death” is striking; for the uniquely Pauline view on the relationship between the Law, sin and death, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56. In vv. 7-8 here, the qal wa-homer argument is:

“If the ministry of death came to be in (such) esteem [do/ca]… how will the ministry of the Spirit not (even) more be in esteem?”

The old covenant came to have glory/esteem (perf. of the verb doca/zw), but now it has come to have no glory/esteem (again, with the perfect of doca/zw). It is hard to imagine a more antinomian statement by Paul—the old covenant, with its written Law, now has no glory. However, he makes clear that this is true only in one respect: because the glory of the new covenant goes so far beyond it (the verb u(perba/llw means to throw or cast something over/beyond, i.e. past a particular distance or measure). This is an important principle for understanding Paul’s apparently negative statements regarding the Law—its binding force has come to an end because of Christ. To neglect or ignore this overwhelming Christocentric emphasis leaves the commentator with no hope of properly understanding Paul’s thought.

If there was any doubt that, in his mind, the old covenant has come to an end, he makes this clear in verse 11, using the verb katarge/w—literally to “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. This word appears already at the end of verse 7 (and will be used again in vv. 13-14); for its use by Paul elsewhere (with regard to the Law), see Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11; and also Eph 2:15. The second verb is me/nw, “remain (in place), abide”. The contrast is clear enough: the old covenant ceases to be in effect, the new covenant remains and lasts; one is temporary, the other permanent.

The new covenant (kainh\ diaqh/kh) is governed by the Spirit (vv. 6-8), and not by the Torah; indeed, the Spirit takes the place of the Torah, a principle which many Christians have been, and still are, unable (or unwilling) to accept, in spite of the clear teaching on the subject by Paul (and elsewhere in the New Testament). We will examine the point further in the next daily note (on his references to the Spirit in Galatians). However, the emphasis in 2 Cor 3:1-18 is on Paul and his fellow missionaries as ministers of this new covenant. In this light, in verses 12-18, he continues his contrast of old vs. new covenant, utilizing the motif of the covering (ka/lumma) that Moses kept over his face (cf. Exod 34:29-35) when he met with the people after speaking to God.

In the initial period of the old covenant, the people were wholly dependent on Moses as the prophet or spokesperson (ayb!n`) who communicated the word and will of God to them. Apostles and missionaries such as Paul served a similar role in the new covenant, but with a major difference: the communication of the Gospel of Christ took place without any covering, the ‘veil’ having been removed. The implication of this is that the people (i.e. believers) now are able to experience the presence and glory of God directly, without any intermediary. This is due to the fact that, with the communication (and acceptance) of the Gospel, believers receive the very Spirit of God. Paul’s wording in verse 16 is striking (and rather controversial) in this regard:

“But whenever (one) would turn about toward the Lord, the covering is taken (up from) around (him).”

This removal of the covering (symbolized by the veil of Moses) has two aspects in its meaning:

    • people are able to experience the full revelation of God, and
    • it signifies that the old covenant (of Moses and the Torah) has come to an end (cf. Rom 10:4)

The latter aspect means that believers in Christ are freed from the old covenant and its Torah, and this freedom (e)leuqeri/a) is due to our contact with the Spirit of God:

“And the Lord is the Spirit, and that which (is) of the Spirit of (the) Lord, (is) freedom [e)leuqeri/a].” (v. 17)

Insofar as we turn to God’s Spirit, we have complete freedom—meaning, in this context, primarily, freedom from the Law (Torah). Use of the title “the Lord” (o( ku/rio$) in such passages can be somewhat ambiguous, as a result of the dual-use by early Christians, where the title can refer to God the Father (YHWH) or to Jesus Christ, interchangeably. Here the expression “Spirit of the Lord” presumably means the Spirit of God, though Paul does, on occasion, also use the expression “Spirit of Christ“. Among first-century Christians the dual point of reference regarding the Spirit—whether of God the Father or Jesus (the Son)—reflected a complex theological understanding which was still in the process of development. This will be discussed further in the upcoming notes. There can be no doubt, however, that the idea of turning to the Spirit of the Lord entails acceptance of the Gospel, and of conforming our lives to the presence of Christ dwelling in us.

This latter point is emphasized especially in the famous concluding words to this section (v. 18). Given the overall focus of the passage, one might expect Paul to end with another reference to the role of apostles—persons called to represent Christ and preach the Gospel—and yet, following the association of the Spirit and freedom in verse 17, he moves in an entirely different direction: “but we all…” The glory of the old covenant was associated with a special person—Moses—who was set apart to represent God for the people; only he spoke directly with God, and the glory shone only from his face. How different is the new covenant, where every believer in Christ beholds the glory of the Lord, and is transformed, in a permanent manner, far greater than the transfiguration that Moses experienced. The true apostle and missionary does not emphasize his (or her) own abilities and accomplishments—ultimately the new covenant is administered and shared by all believers together.

In prior notes, we discussed the idea of the “democratization” of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, in which God’s Spirit (and the prophetic spirit) would come upon all people, the nation as a whole, rather than upon specific chosen/gifted individuals. This was reflected most notably, for early Christians, by the citation of Joel 2:28-29 in Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:17-18). The reference to Moses, here in our passage, brings to mind the tradition in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), in which seventy elders were allowed to share in the prophetic spirit—the Spirit of YHWH—that had been upon Moses exclusively. For believers in Christ, the inclusivity extends even further—to all of God’s people, essentially fulfilling the very wish, expressed by Moses himself:

“…who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) <ya!yb!n+ [i.e. prophets], (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [j^Wr] upon them!” (Num 11:29)

June 21: 2 Corinthians 3:1-18

2 Corinthians 3:1-18

Today’s note continues our survey of Pauline references to the (Holy) Spirit, in terms of the focus in this series on the early Christian development of the Old Testament (and Jewish) traditions regarding the Spirit of God. One of the most notable passages is the “new covenant” section in 2 Corinthians—3:1-18, the central portion of the wider section of 2:14-4:6. It is rather typical of Paul’s unique (and inspired) manner of expression, that the powerful theological component to his line of argument in this passage is not even central to the main point he is making. Indeed, here in 2:14-4:6 the focus is on Paul’s role and position as an apostle, in relation to the Corinthian congregations. The theological and expository excursus in 3:1-18 is simply a natural byproduct of Paul’s understanding of the Gospel and the nature of the Christian ministry.

I have discussed this passage at some length in earlier notes and articles, and will not go over it verse-by-verse here. Instead, I will focus on Paul’s references to the Spirit, and how they relate to the “new covenant” theme of the section. Let us begin with his statement in verse 3 (picking up from v. 2, in italics):

you are our e)pistolh/…being made to shine forth [fanerou/menoi] that you are (the) e)pistolh/ of (the) Anointed, being served under [i.e. by] us, (and) having been written not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit of (the) living God, not on (the) flat surface of stones, but on (the) flat surface of hearts (of) flesh.”

The theme in verse 1-6 involves “letters of commendation”; the word sustatiko/$ is derived from suni/sthmi/sunista/w (“stand [together] with”), in the sense of placing things together (and presenting them) in front of someone. As a technical term, it came to be applied to letters a person carried, introducing him/her to another group or in a place where he/she was not known. The noun e)pistolh/ (epistol¢¡, i.e. ‘epistle’) is derived from e)piste/llw (“set [forth] upon” a person, i.e. send to someone), related to a)poste/llw (i.e., send from someone). Here the e)pistolh/ refers ostensibly to a letter of introduction/recommendation. The point is that Paul and his fellow-missionaries, who preached the Gospel to the Corinthians, do not require any customary letter of introduction—the effect of the Gospel in their hearts is proof enough of his place as an apostle with them! It is a letter of Christ himself, whom Paul serves as a minister, written with the Spirit of the living God.

The expression “living God” (in Greek, qeo$ zw=n) derives from Old Testament usage (e.g. Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26, 36, etc); Paul tends to use it, however rarely, when citing or alluding to Scripture (Rom 9:26; 1 Thess 1:9; 2 Cor 6:16). The inclusion of the modifying verbal adjective is primarily emphatic (cf. Matt 16:16; 26:63, etc), however it also refers to the life-giving power of God’s Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25; 6:8; Rom 8:1-11). There is also implicit the traditional sense of the Spirit as the active manifestation of God among His people. In particular, we should draw attention to the metaphor of the “finger of God”, and the idea that the tablets of the Law (Torah) were written with the finger of God (Exod 24:12; 31:18; 34:1; Deut 9:10f). One is immediately reminded of the saying of Jesus in Luke 11:20 (discussed previously):

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the finger of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

The Matthean version (12:28) reads “Spirit of God”, instead of “finger of God”, evidence that the two expressions were essentially seen as synonymous. Almost certainly, Paul has this same correspondence in mind—i.e., the Spirit of God writes on the hearts of believers just as the finger of God wrote on the stone tablets. This establishes the thematic contrast of “letter vs. Spirit”, old/new covenant, that runs through the remainder of chapter 3. It is interesting the way that the initial metaphor in v. 3 leads Paul so readily to the dualistic juxtaposition contrasting the old and new covenants, in terms of “the written (word/letter) [to\ gra/mma]” and “the Spirit [to\ pneu=ma]”. See how this contrast in made, twice, in vv. 1-3 and 4-6:

    • Commendatory letters for apostles—believers under their ministry
      • written in the heart
        • contrast with being written in tablets of stone (v. 3)
    • Confidence for apostles before God—ministers of a new covenant
      • of the Spirit
        • contrast with the written word (v. 6)

Paul specifically refers to himself (and others) as “servants of (the) new diaqh/kh” (v. 6). The noun diaqh/kh literally signifies the “setting through” of things (into an arranged order); in English idiom we would say “putting things in order”, i.e., in terms of a legal will/testament or other contractual agreement. In the LXX and New Testament, it typically is used in place of the Hebrew tyr!B=, which means a binding agreement; both Hebrew and Greek terms tend to be translated as “covenant”. The word diaqh/kh is relative rare in the Pauline letters, occurring 8 times, in Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans (+ once in Ephesians). Paul’s use of it is entirely traditional; apart from references to the Old Testament and Israelite history (Rom 9:4; 11:27; Gal 3:15, 17; 4:24), we have his citation of the Lord’s Supper tradition (1 Cor 11:25; cf. Luke 22:20 and Mk 14:24 v.l.).

As in the Lord’s Supper tradition, Paul here uses the expression kainh\ diaqh/kh (i.e. “new covenant”), terminology which goes back to Prophetic tradition (in the 6th/5th centuries B.C.) regarding the restoration of Israel in the New Age (Jer 31:31-34; cf. also 32:40; Ezek 11:19; 18:31; 34:25ff; 36:26; 37:26). Jesus, in his own way, was alluding to this in the Last Supper tradition, but it received much more precise exposition among early Christians in the period c. 30-60 A.D. We saw how the idea was developed in the early chapters of the book of Acts (cf. the prior notes on 1:15-26, etc), along with the specific motif of the “pouring out” of the Spirit upon God’s people, as part of the traditional restoration-theme. In previous notes, on the “Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, I discussed at length the role of the Spirit in the key restoration-prophecies of the exilic and post-exilic periods (in Joel, Deutero-Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah). Because of the importance of this same theme here in 2 Cor 3:1-18, it will be worth devoting more space to the study of it, which will be continued in the next daily note.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 22 – Part 2

Psalm 22, continued

Verses 12-23 [11-22]

In this portion of the Psalm, the distress and misfortune experienced by the Psalmist (cf. the previous study on vv. 2-11 [1-10]) is defined in terms of attacks by his adversaries and opponents. Often in the Psalms, this line of imagery relates to the royal background and theology of the ancient poems (i.e. referring to opponents of the king and his kingdom). Admittedly, this aspect is less prominent here in Psalm 22, but we must still take it into account. The adversaries of the protagonist are never specified, though they are characterized generally as wicked and faithless/disloyal to the covenant with YHWH.

Verse 12 [11]

“Do not be far away from me,
for distress is near (to me),
for there is no (one) helping (me)!”

The section begins with a 2+2+2 tricolon, in which the Psalmist calls out urgently to God, as he faces “distress” (hr*x*), an abstract term which should be understood in the concrete sense of hostile opponents who are attacking (or who would attack). The substantive participle “(one) helping” (rz@ou) refers to human aid, perhaps in the practical sense of military assistance; since there is no one available, the Psalmist has to turn to YHWH for divine aid.

Verses 13-14 [12-13]

“Many (strong) bulls surround me,
(the) mighty (one)s of Bashan enclose me;
they open their mouths upon me,
tearing and roaring (at me as) a lion!”

The two 3+3 couplets in these verses describe the Psalmist’s enemies in the traditional imagery of fierce and powerful animals (bull / lion). They are compared with bulls (<yr!P*) in the first couplet, the parallelism filled in by the local idiom of cattle-herding in the region of Bashan, east of the Jordan (“mighty ones of Bashan”). In the second couplet, the lion (hy@r=u^) is in view, with its deadly mouth that roars and tears at its prey.

Verses 15-16 [14-15]

“Like water, I am poured out,
all my bones are separated;
my heart is (become) like wax,
it melts in the midst of my tissues;
my strength is dried up like (baked) clay,
and my tongue has been stuck to my jaws—
and (all this) has set me toward the dust of death!”

In the face of such danger, the Psalmist can feel himself on the verge of death. The strength of his limbs (and his heart) dissolves, melting all over. This liquid metaphor is replaced (in v. 16 [15]) with the opposite idea of drying—his strength drying up like the tongue in his mouth. The figurative anatomical references give way to a climactic exclamation in the final line, an exclamation, however, which is a bit difficult to interpret. The verb form, yn]t@P=v=T!, appears to be a second person singular imperfect form, suggesting a sudden switch to a direct address to YHWH by the Psalmist, perhaps blaming God for the situation he now faces—i.e., “and (so) to the dust of death you have put me!”. Dahood (p. 140), following the earlier analysis of W. F. Albright, suggests instead that it should be read as a third person feminine (collective), perhaps in the sense that ‘all these things’ (“they”), together, have set me toward the dust of death. I have tentatively followed this interpretation above. The image of “dust” (rp*u*), of course, fits the motif of drying out in v. 16.

Verses 17-19 [16-18]

“For (these) dogs have surrounded me,
a pack of (those) doing evil has gone about me,
digging (into) my hands and my feet—
I count all my bones (that are left)!
They, they give a look,
they take sight at me;
they divide my clothes among them,
and upon my garment they cast a pebble.”

These difficult (and irregular) couplets represent the violence of the attack made upon the Psalmist. Perhaps it is what he envisions happening, rather than something which, whether real or figurative, has actually taken place. In any case, the animal imagery from the prior lines continues, with the adversaries now depicted as a pack of savage dogs. They are characterized as “(one)s doing evil” (<yu!r@m=), and, in keeping with the imagery of the couplet, I have rendered the common noun hd*u@ (“appointed [gathering], assembly”) colloquially as “pack” (cf. Dahood, p. 140).

The second couplet (v. 17b/18a) is particularly difficult, evidenced by the misplaced verse division. With many commentators, I read the initial word yrak as a verbal form (infinitive) from the root hr*K* I (“dig”), with an ‘intrusive’ aleph [a]. It is often translated here as “pierce”, perhaps to give greater relevance to the subsequent (Christian) application to the crucifixion of Jesus (i.e., piercing his hands and feet, cf. Luke 24:39). However, the original context of the Psalm had nothing to do with crucifixion; rather, it would seem, the idea is of dogs digging their sharp teeth into the legs and arms (i.e. ‘hands and feet’) of the protagonist. It is a vicious attack that leaves the victim in a debilitated state; and, it is in this light that I understand the second line of the couplet, as a bit of grim irony—the Psalmist is able to count the few intact bones he has left!

Rhythmically, following this pair of 3+3 couplets, there is a terse 2-beat (2+2) couplet in the remainder of verse 18. The sense is not entirely clear, but I believe that the idea involves the attackers pausing to look at the body of their victim. This would seem to be confirmed by what follows in verse 19 (again a 3+3 couplet). Having left their victim dead (or near death), they strip him of his clothing, dividing the garments between them, casting lot to see who will receive the choicest garment (his robe/tunic). This detail, of course, features in the Gospel Passion narrative (Mark 15:24 par), the Psalm being understood as a prophecy of Jesus’ death, as the direct citation in John 19:24 makes clear.

Verses 20-23 [19-22]

“But you, YHWH, do not be far (away) from me!
My strength, you must hurry (here) to help me!
Snatch my soul away from the sword,
my (life) intact from (the) hand of (the) dog!
Save me from the mouth of (the) lion,
and answer (to rescue) me from (the) horns of wild (oxen)!
(Then) will I recount your name to my brothers,
in (the) midst of (the) assembly, I will shout (praise to) you.”

The plea of the Psalmist in verse 20 [19] repeats that of v. 12 [11] at the beginning of the section (cf. above). The depiction of violence in vv. 13-19 is thus best understood as a portent of what could (and may well) happen to him, if YHWH does not come to his aid. God is literally referred to here as the Psalmist’s strength ([tW]ly`a$), in the (military) sense of protection and the ability to fight off attackers. Verses 21-22 [20-21] clearly capture the sense of imminent, impending danger, associating the three savage, attacking animals of the prior verses—dog, lion, and wild bull/ox—with the sword.

The second line of v. 21 is a bit obscure, especially the apparent use of the adjective dyj!y` (signifying being one or united) in a substantive sense (with possessive suffix). The parallel with “soul” (vp#n#) suggests that the meaning may be something like “my only (life)”; I prefer the emphasis on being united, and tentatively translate above “my life (intact)”. Dahood (p. 141) would read blk (MT bl#K#, “dog”) as related to the root [lk (i.e., twplyk, “axe”), comparable to the word ab*l=K% in Aramaic and the cognate pair býK= and [l%K@ in late Hebrew (all meaning “axe”). Even though “axe” makes a suitable pairing with “sword” in the couplet, the earlier specific use of “dog” (bl#K#), and the same triad of animals (bull/ox, lion, dog), renders such a reading less likely.

If YHWH answers the Psalmist’s plea, saving him from danger (and death), then he will be able to recount God’s saving action to others, giving praise to Him and His name (v. 23 [22]). This includes the context of public worship in the “assembly” (lh*q*), and may indicate a specific ritual or liturgical setting for performance of the Psalm. The similar pairing of the verbs uv^y` (“save”) and hn`u* (“answer, respond”) in Psalm 20 (vv. 7, 10 [6, 9], cf. the earlier study), suggests that the royal background of military action (and God’s role in aiding the king, His faithful/loyal vassal) underlies the imagery here in v. 22. In any case, it is an appeal to the honor of YHWH’s name, such as we find frequently in Old Testament poetry. The closing couplet of this section also prepares the way for the next (vv. 24-32 [23-31]), the conclusion to the Psalm, which focuses on the praise that is due to YHWH for His power and goodness—the implication being that God will deliver the Psalmist in his time of need.

Saturday Series: Isaiah 24-27

Isaiah 24-27

In these studies focusing on the book of Isaiah, we have had occasion to examine the division of the book spanning chapters 13-27. These chapters represent a unified and coherent work, characterized by the nation-oracle form and genre. A careful critical examination indicates that a core of authentic Isaian material—that is, nation-oracles from the time of the prophet (the Assyrian period, late 8th century B.C.)—has been set in the later context of the Babylonian conquests of the 6th century. In the previous study, as part of an exegetical analysis of the poem in 14:4b-21, I discussed the theory that the oracle refers to the Assyrian ruler Sargon II who held the title “king of Babylon” (cf. the Assyrian context of vv. 24-27). On the basis of this theory, one may posit that an anti-Assyrian oracle, prophesying the (eventual) fall of the Assyrian empire, was subsequently applied (and reinterpreted) as a message of judgment against Babylon in the 6th century (some time before its fall to Persia in 539). Chapter 13 is an anti-Babylonian oracle prophesying the fall of the Babylonian empire (cf. also 14:22-23; 21:1-10).

The 6th century Babylonian setting also seems to be in view in chapters 24-27, serving as an inclusio (with chapter 13) for the entire work, enclosing all of the other (Isaian, etc) material in chaps. 14-23. Certain similarities in tone and style raise the possibility that chapters 13 and 24-27, on the whole, may have been composed by the same author (see Roberts, p. 194, 306). It is not only the judgment against Babylon that is emphasized in these chapters, but the nation-oracle genre has been expanded and developed into message of judgment with cosmic scope—that is, the poems in these chapters represent an oracle against all the nations worldwide (Babylon being only the most prominent). While this wider outlook is found in chapter 13 (vv. 4, 9-11ff), it is even more prominent in chaps. 24-27, the poems of which evince an eschatological and apocalyptic orientation. Indeed, commentators often refer to chaps. 24-27 as the Isaian “Apocalypse”.

The dating of these chapters remains in dispute, and, while most critical commentators would date them well after the time of Isaiah himself, there is a range of scholarly opinion on just how much later they were composed. The eschatological elements present in these poems, along with other aspects of language and style, make it unlikely that they were composed prior to the 6th century and the beginnings of the Persian period. J. J. Roberts, in his fine critical commentary (First Isaiah, Heremeneia [Fortress Press: 2015]) would date the section to the late 7th or early 6th century, which would be among the earliest estimates. A setting of the mid-6th century seems probable, but we shall see how well the exegetical and critical evidence bears this out.

By all accounts, Isa 24-27, as a unit, represents the earliest surviving example of Jewish eschatological and apocalyptic writing. It draws upon both the nation-oracle genre and the well-established prophetic tradition of the “day of YHWH” —an expression which refers to the time of God’s judgment against a particular nation or people. For the most part, the “day” is related to a specific nation; however, by the 6th century, and into the exilic and post-exilic periods, this concept began to be developed into a “day” when God would judge all the nations together. Perhaps the earliest example of this development is to be found in the oracle of Joel 3, which may have been written at time roughly comparable to Isa 13, 24-27 (i.e. in the early-mid 6th century). In the book of Joel, it is likely that the Babylonian conquests are in view, and that the future restoration of Israel (return from exile, etc) is tied to God’s judgment, not only on Babylon, but on all the nations of earth.

It is sometimes difficult to know, in apocalyptic writing, whether the worldwide dimension is meant to be taken in a realistic, concrete sense, or whether a local/regional situation is being described in cosmic terms. It should also be noted that, in such an early example of Jewish eschatology, the eschatological aspect is not nearly so clearly defined as in subsequent writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. While a “New Age” is certainly envisioned for Israel and Judah, it is harder to be sure of how precise the author understood its connection with the end of the current Age (on a cosmic scale). However, the numerous allusions to the primeval history (including the Creation)—i.e. the beginning of the current Age—strongly suggests that the end of that Age is also in view.

The historical and literary factors outlined above provide the parameters within which we may embark on a critical study of the poems of chapters 24-27. It will not be possible to examine every verse in detail; however, a close study of key selected passages should prove most valuable, both for our understanding of the book of Isaiah, and as an example of Biblical (Old Testament) criticism in action. Let us begin with the opening lines of 24:1-13.

Isaiah 24:1-13

Verses 1-3

“See! YHWH is emptying out the earth and laying it waste,
and He twists its face and scatters (the one)s dwelling (on) it!” (v. 1)
“Emptied, the earth will be emptied out,
and plundered, it will be plundered—
for YHWH has spoken this spoken (word).” (v. 3)

The opening verses 1-3 emphasize that YHWH is about to make the earth empty and desolate (using the alliterative verb pair b¹qaq and b¹laq); the violence of this act is indicated by the additional verbs ±¹wâ (“twist”) and b¹zaz (“plunder”). The action is taken on the earth (i.e. the inhabited land) itself, in verses 1 and 3; however, in the intervening verse 2 the effect on the human inhabitants is described. The Hebrew noun °ereƒ can be translated “earth” or “land”; the former suggests a cosmic (worldwide) event, while the latter could be understood more plausibly as a local event. The Qumran Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa) reads °¦¼¹mâ (“ground”) instead of °ereƒ (“earth, land”) in verse 1.

Commentators have noted many instances where these poems in Isa 24-27 seem to borrow from existing works, including the unquestionable oracles of Isaiah, but also from the other prophetic writings, along with the Torah, etc. The author/editor appears to be drawing from written works—that is, it is a literary phenomenon, often referred to in Biblical and textual studies as intertextuality. Even in these opening three verses we may note the following:

    • Similarities in vv. 1, 3 with the vocabulary and thematic emphasis of (earlier) prophetic passages such as Nahum 2:2, 9-10.
    • The comparison with different groups/categories of people in society appears to be an expanded version of Hosea 4:9 (cp. Isa 3:4ff)
    • The use of the verb pûƒ in the Hiphil (“break apart, scatter”) in v. 1 likely alludes to the dispersion of humankind in the Babel narrative of Genesis (cf. 10:18; 11:4, 8-9).

These intertextual references suggest two main themes at work:

    • A development of the prophetic Day of YHWH motif, from the nation/judgment-oracles in Nahum, Hosea, et al.
    • The use of imagery from the Primeval History (and the Creation narrative) in Genesis, to indicate the manner in which the end of the Age will resemble its beginning.
Verses 4-6

“It dries up, the (entire) earth withers,
it languishes, the inhabited (world) withers,
(the) highest place languishes with the earth;
and the earth is corrupted under (the one)s dwelling on her,
for they have crossed over (the) instructions (of YHWH),
they replaced (His decree) inscribed (for all time),
broke (the) agreement binding (into the) distant (future)!
Upon this [i.e. for this reason], a curse has devoured the earth,
and (the one)s dwelling on her face guilt;
upon this, dwellers of the earth are diminished,
and (the) human (being)s left over (are just) a few.”

A range of literary references and (poetic) devices are packed into these lines, emphasizing repeatedly the great judgment that is coming upon all humankind. That it will affect every human being, regardless of social position or status, was already made clear in verse 2. The author intends the situation to parallel that of the great Flood in most ancient times, in the days of Noah, when the vast majority of humankind perished, and only a few survived. The reference to the “agreement binding (into the) distant (future)” (b®rî¾ ±ôl¹m, i.e. ‘eternal covenant’) is almost certainly an allusion to Genesis 9:16, and the covenant God established with humankind after the Flood. This is perhaps the first example of an eschatological application of the great Flood—that is, as a type-pattern of the Judgment that will come upon the world at the end of the current Age (Matt 24:37-38 par; 1 Pet 3:20ff; 2 Pet 2:5ff). Human beings, in their sinfulness, have violated this binding agreement (b®rî¾) with God, and so face the curse (°¹lâ) that is built into the ancient covenant format, as a punishment for failing to fulfill the terms of the agreement.

Verses 7-9

“(The) fresh (wine) dries up, (the) vine languishes,
(and) all (the one)s joyful of heart groan;
(the) delightful (sound) of tambourine has ceased,
(the) noise of (the one)s rejoicing has left off,
(the) delightful (sound) of (the) harp has ceased!
With a song they no longer drink wine,
(and the) beer is bitter for (the one)s drinking it.”

These verses provide a good example of how clever poetic form and style can serve to enhance the message of prophecy. A pair of couplets dealing with the drinking of alcohol (wine/beer) bracket a central tricolon on the joyful social activity and communal celebration that accompanies such drinking. The curse on the earth causes the wine to dry up, which ends up affecting human society. More than this, however, it illustrates how the joy of living is destroyed by the judgment, in ways that might not immediately be apparent.

The alliterative pairing of the the verbs °¹»al (“dry up”) and °¹mal (“grow weak, languish”) echoes that of verse 4 (see above). A separate(?) root °¹»al has the fundamental meaning “mourn, lament”, and it is likely that there is a bit of wordplay intended here—i.e., as the wine “dries up”, the people’s joy comes to an end and they being to “mourn”. The disappearance of joy is depicted in terms of musical celebration; the tricolon of verse 8 is a chiasm:

    • delightful sound of tambourine ceases
      • noise of the ones rejoicing leaves off (i.e. fades away)
    • delightful sound of the harp ceases
Verses 10-12

“(The) city of confusion is broken down,
every house is shut up from coming (in) [i.e. so no one can enter];
an outcry over (the) wine (is) in the (street)s outside,
all joy has gone down (with the sun),
(the) delight of the earth is removed.
Ruin is left (behind) in the city,
and crashing to ruins (the) gate is struck (down)!”

These three verses have a similar poetic structure to those of vv. 7-9: a pair of thematically parallel couplets (emphasizing destruction) surround a central tricolon dealing with the loss of joy in society. Again this loss of joy is tied to the image of the drying up of the wine (i.e. the withering of the vine on earth). Now, however, the sense of loss has shifted to the reality of a city facing destruction and ruin. This figurative city, using the synonymous nouns qiryâ and ±îr, is called “city of confusion” (qirya¾ tœhû), using the same word (tœhû, “confusion”) from Genesis 1:2, which describes the unformed chaos of the primeval universe before God established the created order. Given the context of chapters 13-27 (see above), it is possible that Babylon is foremost in mind, however, if so, it must still be maintained that this great city represents all cities of the nations. The book of Revelation famously makes considerable use of this same Babylon / Great-City symbolism. When the City falls in the Judgment, the order of the world—the natural and social order both—disintegrates, and the world falls into chaos and emptiness, just as in the primeval condition at the beginning of creation.

Verse 13

“For thus it shall be in (the) inner-part of the earth,
in (the) midst of the peoples,
as (the) shaking of an olive (tree),
as (the) gleanings when (the) harvest-cutting is finished.”

This rhythmically balanced quatrain closes the first part of the poem, and forms a thematic parallel with the opening verse (see above). The same themes of the destruction/shaking of the earth and the scattering of its inhabitants are found here, only set within the image of the harvest. The harvest, marking the end of the growing season and life-cycle, serves as a natural metaphor for the end of the current Age. Joel 3, possibly composed at around the same time as this poem, makes use of the same imagery in an eschatological context (v. 13). The book of Revelation, influenced by both passages, follows the same line of imagery, involving the vine harvest (14:14-20). The oracle against Babylon in Jeremiah 50-51, with its use of the harvest motif (50:16; 51:33) is also relevant in this context.

We will continue this discussion in next week’s study, as we consider how the poem in 24:1-13 fits into the overall scope and thematic structure of chaps. 24-27.

June 20: 1 Corinthians 12:1-3ff

1 Corinthians 12:1-3ff

Chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians open an entirely new window upon the early Christian understanding of the Spirit of God, compared with the Pauline passages we have examined thus far in these notes. Paul begins this section with the following words:

“And, about the (thing)s of the Spirit, brothers, I do not wish you to be without knowledge.” (12:1)

The precise meaning of the substantive plural adjective oi( pneumatikoi/ is a bit uncertain. It could refer to persons—i.e., “the spiritual (one)s”, or “the (one)s of the Spirit”, masculine in gender; however, a neuter plural seems more appropriate in context: “the (thing)s of the Spirit”, “the spiritual (thing)s”. Possibly the neuter usage anticipates the plural noun xari/smata in vv. 4, 9, but it is better not to read this word (i.e. “gifts”) into the translation of v. 1.

The phrasing in verse 1 suggests that Paul is responding to something written to him by the believers in Corinth—here certain issues dealing with “matters involving the Spirit”, i.e. the presence and activity of the Spirit among believers in the community/congregational setting. The first issue, mentioned briefly in vv. 2-3, is somewhat obscure and poorly understood by Christians today. Here is how the instruction reads:

“You have seen that when, (as people of the) nations, you were (led) toward the voiceless images, being led [i.e. carried] away, even as you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking in (the) Spirit of God says ‘Yeshua (be) set up (under a curse)!’, and (similarly) no one is able to say ‘Yeshua (is) Lord!’, if not in (the) holy Spirit.”

This advice has seemed rather peculiar to many readers; after all, what Christian would ever curse Jesus? (the noun a)na/qema literally refers to something being “set up” under God’s curse). One has to keep in mind the context of charismatic prophetic experience in the ancient world, by which a person, under the influence of a divine spirit, would be caught up in an inspired ecstasy, often manifest in unusual behavior and the utterance of strange words. This was well attested as prophetic phenomena in the early periods of Israel’s history (cf. the earlier notes on Num 11:16-30; 1 Sam 10:6ff; 16:13-15, etc), though there is rather little evidence for it in the later writings (including the Prophets of the 7th-5th centuries). The charismatic/ecstatic manifestation of the Spirit in the book of Acts (i.e. the Pentecost narrative, 2:1-13ff) would seem to indicate a special reappearance of the phenomenon, associated with the “outpouring” of the Spirit in the New Age. The prophetic experience in the early chapters of Acts is manifested specifically by the miraculous speaking “in other tongues”; however, Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, has in mind a much wider set of spiritual phenomena (vv. 4ff, cf. below).

Believers, under the influence of the Spirit, would speak “in tongues” or otherwise “prophesy” in ways that might seem strange or difficult to understand (thus the need for designated interpreters, etc). Some at Corinth may have been concerned about certain things that might be said in such a state; could people be “carried away” so as to utter something scandalous, false, or even blasphemous to God? Paul addresses their concern (such as it may have been) by contrasting the Christian state of Spirit-inspired prophecy (v. 3) with similar sorts of oracular phenomena among the pagan Greeks (v. 2). As people are led (vb a&gw) toward the false gods (“voiceless images”), they are sometimes “led away” (a)pa/gw, i.e. “carried away”) so as to utter strange and false things (under the influence of false or evil spirits). However, the Spirit-inspired believer cannot utter anything false or contrary to God. Paul states this in the starkest terms by contrasting someone uttering a curse against Jesus with making a declaration of faith. No one under the influence of the holy Spirit could say anything against Jesus; similarly, no one under the influence of a false/evil spirit could declare the truth of Jesus as Lord.

Among the spiritual phenomena listed by Paul in verses 7-11 is diakri/sew$ pneuma/twn, the ability to judge/discern between spirits—that is, between the holy Spirit of God and other (false/evil) spirits. The fundamental meaning of kri/si$ has to with separating out, i.e. making distinction, such as between the true and false. The author of 1 John deals with a similar question of discerning between true Spirit-inspired teaching regarding Christ and that which is “antichrist” (against the Anointed), deriving from false/evil spirits (2:18ff; 4:1-6). In such a charismatic setting, where Christians relied on Spirit-inspired utterance for authoritative teaching and guidance, determining what speech was genuinely from the Spirit was a definite challenge for believers at the time.

The manifestation of the Spirit in the book of Acts, as crystalized in the Pentecost narrative (2:1-13) and the citation of Joel 2:28-32 in the speech of Peter that follows (vv. 17-21), would suggest that all believers were to function as Spirit-inspired prophets. Yet, here in 1 Cor 12, Paul lists prophecy as just one of the spiritual “gifts”, though certainly among the greatest of these gifts (12:28; 14:1ff). It would seem Paul has in mind that only certain individuals would possess the gift of prophecy, though his exhortation in 14:1 (and the instruction that follows) implies that all believers can (and perhaps should) possess this gift; it may only be the immaturity of believers  that limits or hinders possession and use of the gift (2:6ff, 14-16; 3:1-4ff). The egalitarian principle expressed in Joel 2:28-29 / Acts 2:17-18, and realized, to some extent at least, in the early Jerusalem Community, would seem to be maintained by Paul (and others) in the Corinthian congregations. In the congregational setting, different persons could prophesy in turn, including both men and women, though with certain restrictions (cf. 11:2-16; 14:13-40, and my earlier articles in the series “Women in the Church”). Practical considerations meant that not all believers in the congregation would actively perform as prophets, even if that were the ideal.

There may also be a valid distinction between the settings of Acts and 1 Corinthians—that of Acts is the early Christian mission (proclamation of the Gospel among the nations), while 1 Corinthians 12-14 has in view the interaction of believers with each other, in community. One may rightly say that all believers are called to be prophets, in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel, while, perhaps, this role is reserved for certain (gifted) individuals within the Community setting. We may compare, for example, the situation in Acts 6, where select individuals were called upon to serve at the table, while the apostles (i.e. the Twelve) focused more exclusively on preaching and teaching. Yet, certainly, men such as Stephen were perfectly able (and gifted by the Spirit) to preach the Gospel with skill and power, and scarcely limited to role of diako/no$ (servant) at table.

The rich assortment of spiritual “gifts” (xari/smata) outlined by Paul in 1 Cor 12:4-11, 27ff (cp. Rom 12:3-8) certainly marks a profound development of the prophetic tradition regarding the Spirit which we see in the book of Acts. From the single, overriding idea of believers functioning as inspired prophets (i.e. spokespersons for God), with the special manifestation of speaking in the tongues (languages) of the nations (i.e., for the mission to the Gentiles), in 1 Cor 12-14, the Spirit is described as manifest in a wide range of “gifts”. Even so, Paul’s discussion does focus essentially on the same two phenomena central to the Acts narrative—prophecy and speaking in tongues. Here “tongues” appears to have a rather different meaning than in the book of Acts, where it clearly (at least in the Pentecost narrative) refers to the miraculous ability to speak/preach in the languages of the nations. In 1 Corinthians, by contrast, Paul seems to have in mind a special sort of ‘heavenly’ language with which one may communicate with God. He devalues it use and importance within the public, congregational setting, since there were significant challenges regarding interpretation, which made it better suited for private worship. Also, as one reads between the lines, it is likely that some at Corinth were particularly enamored with the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”, and it may have been used among them as a status sign. Paul gives much greater weight to prophecy, since it represents the long-standing tradition of inspired communication of the word and will of God for His people. The close association between the Spirit of God and prophecy, in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, has been well documented in the earlier notes on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”.



June 19: 1 Corinthians 6:17ff; 15:44-46

1 Corinthians 6:17ff; 15:44-46

In the previous note, I mentioned Paul’s implication (in 1 Cor 2:9-16) that the “mind of Christ” is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. Paul did not go into any detail on the theological or Christological basis for this idea; however, there are certain passages in his letters which do shed some light on the matter. In today’s note, I wish to bring together two passages in 1 Corinthians where Paul refers to the Spirit.

1 Cor 6:17-19

The first of these is in 1 Cor 6:17-19, the closing verses of an extended section on ethical instruction in chapters 5-6. Two specific issues are addressed by Paul, in 5:1-5ff and 6:1-8, respectively; in each case, a more general ethical exhortation for believers follows (5:9-13, 6:9-11). This exhortation is given a more definite theological dimension in 6:12ff, involving the juxtaposition of the human body (in its essential limitation and corruptibility) with the presence of God. Paul uses the example of sexual intercourse (vv. 13-15), as a motif for the uniting of two persons (v. 16). He emphasizes illicit/immoral intercourse (i.e. with a prostitute, po/rnh), in particular, so as to make the contrast between worldly and spiritual union more pronounced. Note this contrast:

    • “the (one) being joined [kollw/meno$] to the prostitute is one body [e^n sw=ma/ e)stin]” (v. 16),
      with “one body” further equated with “one flesh [sa/rc]”
    • “the (one) being joined [kollw/meno$] to the Lord is one spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]” (v. 17)

Paul adds to the juxtaposition of body (sw=ma) and Spirit (pneu=ma) the religious image of the temple (shrine/sanctuary, nao/$) as the dwelling-place of God (v. 19). The body of the believer—and of all believers collectively—is like the Temple-sanctuary, in that the Spirit of God dwells in it:

“have you not seen that your body is (the) shrine of the holy Spirit (dwelling) in you, which you hold from God, and (which) you are not yourself? For you were obtained at market [i.e. purchased] of (great) value; (so) then, you must honor/esteem God in your body.” (vv. 19-20)

The imagery is part of the overall ethical instruction, but it contains certain profound theological implications. The religious motif of the sanctuary shrine (Tent or Temple) relates to this ethical instruction in terms of the ritual purity that needed to be maintained for the sanctuary and its altars. This purity is further tied to the idea of God’s holiness, and nearly all of the purity regulations in the Torah are rooted in the ancient principle of the Community’s encounter with the divine holiness. A defiled sanctuary—and the defilement by one individual is enough to defile the whole—disrupts the connection of the Community (the people of God) with God and His holiness. In Christian terms, this religious dynamic is expressed in terms of preserving the holiness of the Community of believers—which means each individual believer as well as the Community as a whole. On this same sort of emphasis within the Qumran Community, cf. my earlier article. Paul made use of this same Temple-motif in 3:16-17, and it also occurs in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (on this passage, cf. my earlier studies).

The individual believer receives the Spirit at baptism, and thus joins the Community of all other believers (who likewise possess the Spirit of God). It is God’s own holy Spirit, and  thus the exhortation is focused on the individual preserving this holiness, continuing to live in a pure and upright manner, appropriate to the holiness of God’s own Spirit. As the discussion in 5:1-8 makes clear, the immorality of one individual affects the Community as a whole.

Even more striking, however, is the idea expressed by the comparison in vv. 16-17—that the believer who joins with the Lord becomes “one spirit” with Him. The relative ambiguity surrounding the dual-use of the title “Lord” (ku/rio$) by early Christians was mentioned in the previous note. Here the immediate context (of the prostitute illustration) suggests that “the Lord” primarily refers to Christ—that is, the believer joins with Christ and become “one spirit” with him. At the same time, it could just as well apply to God and His Spirit—the believer joins/unites with His Spirit. That both subjects (God and Christ) are in view seems clear from Paul’s phrasing in verse 11:

“…but you were washed from (sin), but (also) made holy, but (also) made right
in the name of the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed and
in the Spirit of our God.”

The believer is baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” and “in the Spirit of God” —two aspects of the same religious experience. Again, Paul does not explain the theological basis for the dual-motif, though the association of both Christ and the Spirit with the baptism ritual is obvious enough and well-established throughout the New Testament. But Paul’s thinking runs rather deeper, as we shall see.

1 Cor 15:44-46

I have discussed Paul’s famous chapter (15) on the resurrection at length in earlier articles and notes. Here I wish to focus on one Christological detail, which Paul expounds, if only in seminal form, in verses 44-46.

In dealing with the subject of the resurrection, Paul introduces the same contrastive pair of adjectives—yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$—used in 2:14-15. As I discussed in the previous note, the adjective yuxiko/$ in this context refers to a person with only a soul (yuxh/), but not the Spirit (pneu=ma) of God—that is, the contrast is between believers (who have the Spirit) and all other human beings (who do not). The situation is a bit more complicated in this discussion on the resurrection, as Paul is contrasting the human body with the soul, which believers share with all other people, and the body transformed by the Spirit, which only believers experience. And believers are able to experience this because of what Jesus experienced in his resurrection, and by virtue of our union with him.

Let us trace the logic of Paul’s line of argument here:

    • The distinction of the believer’s body (person) before and after it is raised from the dead (v. 44)
    • The parallel between Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the last man) (v. 45)
    • A parallel further defined by the contrast between earthly and heavenly (vv. 46-47)
    • Believers in Christ join with him in belonging to this heavenly nature (v. 48)
    • And so we will partake in this same heavenly existence after being raised (v. 49)

The Christological aspect of this heavenly/spiritual existence is emphasized strongly in verse 49:

“just as we bore the image of the (one made) of dirt, (so) also we shall bear the image of the (One) upon the heavens.

I.e., human beings resemble the first man (Adam) in being made “of dirt” (xoi+ko/$), while believers in Christ, similarly, resemble the second man (the exalted Jesus) in having a heavenly nature/character (“upon the heavens”, e)poura/nio$). Believers are unique, in that they/we share the characteristics of both the first man (Adam) and the second (Jesus). It is Jesus’ own incarnate life—including his death and resurrection—which allows us to share both natures, earthly and heavenly, a living body (with a soul) and also a body transformed by the life-making Spirit of God. However, before we, as believers, can be transformed by the Spirit, it was necessary that Jesus should first be transformed:

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul [yuxh\n zw=san], the last man into a life-making Spirit [pneu=ma zw|opoiou=n]” (v. 45)

The idea seems to be that Jesus, in his resurrection (and exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven), was joined and united with God’s Spirit, according to the principle expressed in 6:17 (cf. above). While this may be somewhat problematic in terms of the subsequent Christological emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus, it is fully in accord with the early Christology of the period 30-60 A.D. Paul may have harmonized the two aspects—pre-existence and exaltation/deification—by way of a rudimentary “kenosis” doctrine, if Philippians 2:6-11 (c. 60 A.D.) is any indication. In any event, the statement in 1 Cor 15:45 suggests how Paul would explain the communication of the mind/spirit of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) to believers. Since Jesus was united with the Spirit of God, the Spirit which believers receive is not only God’s Spirit, but also the Spirit of Christ. Indeed, we find the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” (or “Spirit of Jesus”) used interchangeably by Paul, though there are no such examples in 1-2 Corinthians (1 Cor 6:11 being the closest); several instances in the other letters will be discussed in upcoming notes.