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.