January 27: 2 Corinthians 3:9-11

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verses 7-8; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:9-11

As discussed in the previous note, 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 (cf. the previous note), 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?”

Similarly, in verse 9:

“If (there was) esteem in the ministry of judgment against (us), how (much) more is the ministry of justice/righteousness over (and above this) in esteem?”

I have translated do/ca here as “esteem” (i.e. honor, dignity, grandeur, etc); more commonly it is rendered “glory”. Given the use of the traditional motif of the appearance of Moses’ face, it may be that an emphasis on the visual aspect of do/ca (i.e., “splendor”) would be at least as appropriate.

The noun kata/krisi$ (“judgment against”) is related to the realm of the old covenant which embodies, according to Paul, death. The Law (Torah) brings judgment, and confirms to human beings that they are in bondage to sin (and death). This noun (kata/krisi$) occurs only twice in the New Testament, nor is it used at all in the LXX; apart from this verse, Paul uses it later at 7:3. If this “judgment against” us is a product of the old covenant, the contrasting noun dikaiosu/nh (“right[eous]ness, justice”) is related to the new covenant of the Spirit. The noun dikaiosu/nh is, of course, especially prominent in Paul’s writings, with more than half of the NT occurrences found in the undisputed Pauline letters. This righteousness is “of God” (Rom 1:17; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21, etc), but Paul specifically connects it with the person of Jesus Christ, to whom believers are united through the Spirit. Especially noteworthy is the similar contrast between the Law and the ‘new covenant’ in Christ, expressed by Paul in Rom 10:3-4. In 2 Cor 5:21, the flip side of this relationship is emphasized, by which Paul declares that believers themselves come to be the “righteousness of God” in Christ.

As indicated above, the “glory” of the old covenant was marked by the shining of Moses’ face (in Exod 34:29-35), as Paul describes in v. 7, mentioning both: (a) the stone tablets on which the commands of the Law had been written, and (b) that the Israelites were not able to gaze directly at the glory in Moses’ face. This last detail is implied as the reason that the veil (ka/lumma) was introduced. The superiority of the new covenant is marked by use of the comparative/superlative adverb ma=llon (“more, greater”) and the verb perisseu/w (“to have [in excess] over [and above]”). This is specified even more precisely in verse 10:

“For (indeed) the (thing) having come to be esteemed (now) has been made of no esteem, in this part [i.e. in this respect]—because of the overcasting glory/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 (cf. Rom 10:4). He says much the same thing, in a more personalized context, in Philippians 3:7-11: all that was of value in his prior religious life (under the Law and the old covenant) he now regards as mere rubbish in comparison with 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:

“For if the (thing) being made inactive/ineffective (was) through glory, how (much) more (is) the (thing) remaining in glory?”

As in verse 7 (cf. again the discussion in the previous note),  the key verb here is 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. It 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. There is also an interesting distinction in the use of prepositions:

    • the old covenant was (or came) through glory [dia\ do/ch$]
    • the new covenant is (and remains) in glory [e)n do/ch|]

The precise meaning of dia/ is uncertain; it could be instrumental (“by means of glory, accompanied by glory”), or could indicate purpose (“because of glory”). Both are possible, but the context of verse 10 suggests the latter—if so, then the idea might be that the glory of the old covenant is ultimately fulfilled in the glory of the new. This will be discussed further when we turn to examine verses 12-18, beginning in the next note.

It is important to keep in mind the primary and contextual basis of this contrast between the old and new covenants—it is based upon the reality that the new covenant is manifest through the presence and power of the Spirit. Paul established this contrast in verse 3 (and again in verse 6), and it is reflective of a spiritualistic dualism that runs through his thought, and is certainly expressed, as such, in this passage. In what remains of the discourse, in verses 12-18, Paul expresses this spiritual principle through the interpretation (and application) of the Scriptural tradition in Exodus 34:29-35. It is to this interpretation that we turn in our next note.

January 26: 2 Corinthians 3:7-8

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verse 6; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:7-11

The declaration in verse 6b (discussed in the previous note) provides the springboard for the discourse that follows in verses 7-18. Paul embarks on an exposition, much in the Rabbinic style, drawing upon traditions associated with a specific Scripture passage (Exodus 34:29-35). This is typical of the early Christian use of Scripture, in a homiletic and expository setting, to support and confirm the truth of the Gospel. In this instance, Paul adopts this approach to expound upon his view of the apostolic ministry.

However, it is not at all clear just why Paul embarks on this expository discourse at this point. He could have made his point by following verse 6a with what he says in 4:1ff, without suffering any loss to his basic line of argument. What, then, prompted him to branch off onto the discourse of vv. 7-18? This will be considered further as we proceed with our exegesis.

Verses 7-8

“Now if the ministry of death in letters engraved on stones came to be in (such) esteem [do/ca], so as (for) the sons of Yisrael not to be able to (look) straining at the face of Moshe, through the splendor of his face th(at is) being made inactive [katargoume/nhn], how shall not (all the) more the ministry of the Spirit be in esteem [do/ca]?”

Verses 7-8 clearly develop the contrastive juxtaposition of old vs new covenant from v. 6—represented by the contrast of “letter” vs Spirit—including the additional contrast from v. 6b, of the “letter” that kills, and the Spirit that makes alive. Both points of contrast are combined here, with the complex expression “the service of death in letters having been engraved on stones. ” The idea of letters written on stone comes from the initial contrast in verse 3, establishing a contrastive dualism that runs through the entire discourse.

These verses also introduce two key elements of the discourse: (1) the verb katarge/w, and (2) the tradition of Moses’ face from Exod 34:29-35.

The verb katarge/w literally means “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. I have translated it above as “make inactive,” but “make ineffective” might be more appropriate. This word is something of a special Pauline term; of the 27 NT occurrences, all but two are in the Pauline letters, being concentrated in the letters of 1 Corinthians (9), 2 Corinthians (4), Galatians (3) and Romans (6). All 4 occurrences in 2 Corinthians are in the passage we are considering (here in v. 7 and again in vv. 11, 13-14). Paul uses it here in reference to the idea of the annulment (and/or replacement) of the old covenant (and the Torah). 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.

In this section, Paul also takes a midrashic interpretive approach to Exodus 34:29-35, which describes Moses’ return from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the Covenant. In v. 29-30 it is narrated that the skin of Moses’ face shone with an aura, indicating that he had been in the presence of God and that YHWH had spoken with him. Once Moses communicated to the people what had been revealed to him, he put a veil or curtain/covering (hw#s=m^, LXX ka/lumma) over his face (v. 33); this was repeated each time Moses received communication in the presence of YHWH (vv. 34-35). I will be discussing Paul’s use of this tradition in more detail in my Saturday Series studies on 2 Corinthians 3.

Paul draws upon this narrative and uses it as a way to compare and contrast the old and new covenants, 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, and figuratively as “honor, esteem,” etc) in Hebrew, a word which has a similar semantic range, especially when associated with YHWH. I have translated it above as “esteem,” though the visual aspect of “splendor” would be just as appropriate, especially in the Scriptural context of the appearance of Moses’ face; typically the translation “glory” is used.

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.  This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

Of special significance is the the way that Paul summarizes the entirety of the Sinaitic covenant—the old covenant—by the term “death” (qa/nato$). This stems from the wording in v. 6b, with his statement that the “letter” kills, but it also functions as a shorthand for Paul’s distinctive, complex (and controversial) view regarding the nature and purpose of the Torah. This was discussed briefly in the previous note, and will be mentioned again as we continue through the passage; for a detailed study on the subject, consult my series on “Paul’s View of the Law”. On the relationship between the Law, sin, and death in Paul’s thought, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56.

Death, of course, being antithetical and opposed to life, means that, by implication, the old covenant (and the Torah) are essentially opposed to the Spirit. The consequences of this line of logic are startling, especially when we consider Paul’s statement in Romans 7:14 that the Law (that is, the Torah of the old covenant) is spiritual (pneumatiko/$). We will have occasion to give further consideration to this antithetical juxtaposition of the new covenant (of the Spirit) and the old covenant as we continue through this series of notes.

January 25: 2 Corinthians 3:6

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verses 4-6a; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:6

 Verse 6a was considered briefly in the previous note, as part of the discussion on vv. 4-5; indeed, v. 6a represents the second part of a statement that begins with verse 5, and should be presented as a single sentence:

“Not that from ourselves are we fit to count anything as (coming) out of ourselves, but (rather) our fitness (to serve comes) out of God, who indeed (has) made us fit (to be) servants of a new diaqh/kh, not of (the) letter, but of (the) Spirit”

Paul describes the (true) apostle as a servant (dia/kono$) of a “new covenant” (kainh/ diaqh/kh). The noun diaqh/kh literally means something “set/put through,” the action being expressed in English idiom as “putting (things) in order”, and can refer to a (last) will or testament, but also to any number of other kinds of agreements or arrangements made between parties. The word is used to translate Hebrew tyr!B=, which denotes a binding agreement, and is typically translated in English as “covenant”.

The idea of a “new covenant” between God and His people is part of a line of Prophetic tradition, from the exilic and post-exilic periods, expressed most clearly in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The concept developed in Jewish tradition, so that, by the 1st century B.C./A.D., the Qumran Community could use it as a self-designation, referring to themselves as the faithful ones of the end-time (cf. CD 6:19; 18:21; 19:33f; 20:12). Early Christians more or less adopted the concept in the same way, though with the distinctive and special connection to the person of Jesus. The Gospel tradition of Jesus’ words at the ‘Last Supper’ (Mark 14:24 par) certainly were highly influential on early Christian thought; Paul cites this tradition in 1 Cor 11:25, but never uses the actual expression “new covenant” elsewhere in his letters, apart from the passage here. Indeed, the expression only rarely occurs elsewhere in the New Testament (Hebrews 8:8; 9:15; cf. 12:24).

Paul is beginning to develop the dualistic contrast established in verse 3 (cf. the discussion in the prior note), now 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)

When examining verses 7-11, it will be necessary to consider just why Paul makes this connection here between his apostolic ministry and the old covenant established with Israel. For the time being, we should focus upon the formulation in verse 6, where, after identifying himself (and his colleagues) as “servants/ministers of a new covenant“, Paul adds:

“…not of (the) written (word), but of (the) Spirit; for the written (word) kills off, but the Spirit makes alive

The portion in bold represents verse 6b, a striking (and somewhat unexpected) addition to the statement made in vv. 5-6a. It is unexpected because nothing up to this point in the letter prepares us for it, but also because the main point Paul is making would come through just fine if he had followed v. 6a with 4:1ff. At first glance, not only v. 6b, but the entire discourse in vv. 7-18, seems unnecessary to his line of argument. In the next note, we will consider what may have prompted Paul to branch off onto this discourse.

To someone unfamiliar with Galatians and Romans, verse 6 would be a most surprising declaration, especially his statement that the “written (word) kills” —that is, the Law, specifically in its written form, brings death. Paul explains and expounds this idea in Romans 5-7 (note, in particular, Rom 7:7ff); even so, it must have been rather shocking to believers at the time—as it still is for many today. For the particular identification of the Law with the written word (gra/mma), see Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6, and note also Col 2:14. In Rom 2:27-29 and 7:6 there is the same contrast between the Spirit and the written word.

How are we to understand this stark distinction between the written word and the Spirit? On the surface, it would seem to raise question as to the authority and role of Scripture itself. But one must be cautious about proceeding in this direction; Paul is referring primarily to the written record of the Law (in the Pentateuch), which is also, secondarily, expounded and declared in the Prophets (and Psalms)—this accords squarely with Jewish and early Christian tradition. It is noteworthy how rarely Paul cites the Old Testament Scriptures for the purpose of instruction; his usage is limited mainly to (prophetic) support of the Gospel—and his particular exposition and application of the Gospel.I have discussed the subject in recent studies on the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura in the “Reformation Fridays” feature on this site.

To this must be added Paul’s remarkable teaching regarding the fundamental purpose of the Law—which is to bring knowledge and awareness of sin (Rom 3:20); that is to say, it makes fully manifest the reality that human beings are enslaved under the power of sin (Gal 3:19ff, also Rom 7:7ff). Without a recognition of God’s saving work in Christ, even those scrupulously observing the commands of the Law (and studying Scripture) remain fully in bondage under sin. In this sense, the Law leads to death, not life (Rom 7:9-11ff). This Paul will explain again in more detail, continuing with verses 7-11, which I will discuss in the next daily note.

January 24: 2 Corinthians 3:4-6a

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verses 2-3; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:4-6a

“And such (is the) assurance we hold through the Anointed toward God.” (v. 4)

The conjunction de/ relates verse 4 to vv. 1-3 (see the discussion in the previous note). Thus, when he speaks of “such assurance” (pepoi/qhsi$ toiau/th$), Paul is referring to the commendatory ‘letters’ he and his fellow missionaries possess, written upon their hearts by the Spirit of God. Indeed, it is a letter sent out (e)pistolh/) that belongs to Jesus Christ himself. Paul carries this ‘letter’ wherever he goes, as an apostolic missionary, a servant of Christ.

The noun pepoi/qhsi$, derived from the perfect form of the verb pei/qw (“persuade”), occurs only in Paul’s letters in the New Testament, including three more times in 2 Corinthians—1:15; 8:22; 10:2; also Phil 3:4 and Eph 3:12. The verb can carry the more general sense of “trust, rely (upon),” and the noun essentially denotes “assurance, confidence”. The polemic (and apologetic) use of the noun in 10:2 is significant, since it relates to Paul’s status as an apostle, in which he defends himself against claims that he has been “walking according to the flesh”. Instead, Paul has confidence that he has conducted himself in a manner worthy of a true apostle. A similar association with the “flesh” (sa/rc) in Philippians 3:4 would seem to confirm that Paul’s apostolic rivals at Corinth (or those who were influencing the Corinthian believers) were Jewish Christians (cf. 11:22). The polemic in chapters 10-13 is in many ways similar to that of Galatians, and this may help to explain why Paul suddenly embarks on the discourse in 3:6b-18.

As a true apostle, Paul’s assurance/confidence is “toward God” (pro\$ to\n qeo/n); he holds this assurance, not through his own merit, but “through the Anointed” (dia\ xristou=). It was Christ who commissioned and “sent forth” (root meaning of the verb a)poste/llw) Paul as an apostle, equipping him to communicate the Gospel by the presence and power of the Spirit. Believers who responded to the Gospel came to possess the same Spirit, uniting them with Paul; indeed, Paul’s status as a founding apostolic missionary gives a special aspect to that spiritual bond. This is the point he makes in vv. 2-3, and underlies the entire argument of chapters 1-7.

“Not that from ourselves are we fit to count anything as (coming) out of ourselves, but (rather) our fitness (to serve comes) out of God…” (v. 5)

Paul makes clear a point elucidated above—namely, that the assurance he holds as a true apostle (before God) come through Christ, which means that ultimately God Himself is the source. The key term here in verse 5 is the adjective i(kano/$, from the verb i(kne/omai, which essentially means “come to a (particular) place (or point).” It can be used in the general sense of “reaching the proper point,” e.g., in one’s ability, or when something should be done, etc.

The adjective i(kano/$ is common in the Gospels and Acts, but rare in the rest of the New Testament—occurring just six times, but all in the Pauline letters, five of which are in 1 and 2 Corinthians (1 Cor 11:30; 15:9; 2 Cor 2:6, 16). The earlier occurrence in 2:16 is most relevant, since it relates specifically to the question of who is “fit” (or “competent,” “worthy”) to be an apostle, communicating the Gospel message that leads to life (for those who accept it) and death (for those who do not). Here, Paul essentially answers his earlier question: the true apostle is not fit/worthy of the position through his/her own abilities, etc, but through the power of God’s Spirit.

The related noun i(kano/th$ (“fitness, worthiness, ability”) occurs nowhere else in either the New Testament or LXX. It represents an abstraction of the fundamental idea conveyed by the adjective, the noun being more appropriate to indicate something that is given to the believer from God.

Paul’s statement continues in verse 6:

“…who indeed (has) made us fit (to be) servants of a new diaqh/kh, not of (the) letter, but of (the) Spirit”

The verb translated “made fit” is i(kano/w, related of course to the adjective i(kano/$ and noun i(kano/th$ in v. 4. How was Paul “made fit” by God? It can only be through the Spirit given to him, from which he was specially gifted to proclaim the Gospel and function as an apostolic missionary. Only a Spirit-gifted minister could serve to administer a “new covenant,” based on the Spirit.

Here, then, Paul is beginning to develop the dualism introduced in verse 3, contrasting the “letter” with the Spirit. As I noted, this is fundamental to the spiritualism of Paul. For this reason, it is necessary to discuss verse 6 in a bit more detail, which we will do in the next daily note.

January 23: 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Verses 2-3

You are our (letter) sent out, having been written on our hearts—being known, and being known again (through reading), by all men, being made to shine (forth) that you are (the letter) of (the) Anointed sent out, (hav)ing been served under [i.e. by] us—having been written, not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit of (the) living God, (and) not on (the) flat surfaces of stones, but on (the) flat surfaces of fleshy hearts.”

Paul prepares the way for his 2 Corinthinans 3 discourse with this statement in verses 2-3. It is a relatively complex sentence, as the translation above indicates, and the syntax of which I outline below.

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. In the ancient world, which lacked modern-day high-speed communication, such practice was necessary to establish a person’s identity and credentials; it also could serve as a source of authority and legitimacy.

Naturally enough, the more impressive or prestigious the letter of recommendation, the more influence it provided; even today, the right letter of recommendation still carries tremendous weight for prospective employers, and so forth. It is possible that Paul’s opponents included visiting “apostles” who possessed such letters and credentials.

In vv. 1-6, he argues that neither he nor his colleagues require written letters recommending them to the believers of Corinth (v. 1), since they are already well known—that is to say, this written authentication is already there in the hearts of the believers, having been written by the very Spirit of God (v. 3). He is referring primarily to the work of preaching the Gospel, which the Corinthian believers accepted; as a result they themselves become “the epistle of Christ”, under the service/ministry of Paul and his fellow missionaries.

It is important to understand the reference to the Spirit in verse 3 within the context of vv. 1-6 as a whole. Let us begin, in particular, with the immediate context of the sentence in vv. 2-3. I would outline the syntax of this sentence as follows:

    • “You are our e)pistolh/
      • having been written [e)ggegramme/nh] on our hearts
        • being known [ginwskome/nh]
          and being known again [a)naginwsokme/nh]
          by all men
        • being made to shine forth [fanerou/menoi]
          • that you are the e)pistolh/ of Christ
            having been administered by us
      • having been written [e)ggegramme/nh]
        • not with black ink,
          but with the Spirit of the living God
        • not on tablets of stone,
          but on tablets of fleshy hearts.”

The structure is governed by repeated use of passive participles, modifying the subject u(mei$ (“you” [plural]) and the corresponding predicate noun of the main declaration, e)pistolh/ (singular). The passive participles here (for the most part) agree with the noun e)pistolh/ (feminine singular), which designates a letter “sent upon [i.e. to]” (vb e)piste/llw) someone. Often, this noun is simply transliterated in English as “epistle” (epistol¢¡).

At the first level, the two main modifying participles are the two occurrences of e)ggegramme/nh (perfect passive particple of the verb gra/fw, “write”), which characterizes the letter (e)pistolh/), naturally enough, as “having been written”. The first participial clause is: “having been written on our hearts” (e)ggegramme/nh e)n tai=$ kardi/ai$ h(mw=n). The parallel in the second participial clause is: “having been written…on tablets of hearts of flesh” (e)ggegramme/nhe)n pla/cin kardi/ai$ sarki/nai$).

In between these two clauses, at a secondary (subordinate) level, the subject is further modified by the passive participles:

    • ginwskome/nh (“being known”)
      / a)naginwskome/nh (“being known again”)
    • fanerou/menoi (“being made to shine forth”)

What has been written is “made known” (ginw/skw); the compound verb a)naginw/skw (“made known again”) is added by Paul to convey the idea of something being made known by reading. The verb a)naginw/skw essentially means “read” —that is, to know something again, by reading it (and re-reading it) in written form. People everywhere are able to ‘read’ the letter, as Paul and his fellow missionaries travel about, since the ‘letter’ is written in their hearts.

What has been written is further made to “shine forth” (fanero/w)—that is, its meaning and significance is made known. It becomes apparent to everyone who ‘reads’ this ‘letter’ that Paul and his fellow missionaries are simply servants administering (i.e., carrying/transmitting) the letter. In fact, the letter belongs to their master, Jesus Christ—it is an e)pistolh\ Xristou=, a letter “of (the) Anointed (One)”.

This brings us to the second (and final) participial clause, involving the main participle e)ggegramme/nh (“having been written”). Here, Paul expounds the relatively simple idea of a letter “written on the heart” by way of a dualistic contrast:

    • “not with black (ink)” (ou) mela/ni)
    • “but with (the) Spirit…” (a)lla\ pneu=mati…)

A normal physical/material letter (written with ink on paper, etc) is contrasted with a spiritual letter. This basic contrast reflects the essential spiritualism of Paul, and we gain a rather clear sense of its power and place in his thought by the way that he so quickly leaps to the profound and inspired (in every sense) discourse that follows in the remainder of chapter 3.

The full expression “…(the) Spirit of (the) living God” requires comment. The language is rooted in Old Testament tradition (e.g., Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1 Sam 17:26, 36; 2 Kings 19:4, 6; Psalm 42:3; 84:3; Isa 37:4, 17; Hos 2:1 [1:10]), as rendered in the Greek of the LXX, and occurs elsewhere in the New Testament, either with the definite articles (Matt 16:16; 26:63; Rev 15:7) or without (Acts 14:15; Heb 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22; Rev 7:2). For other occurrences in the Pauline letters, see 1 Thess 1:9; 2 Cor 6:16; Rom 9:26; and also 1 Tim 3:15; 4:10. Cf. Furnish, p. 182.

Paul’s use of the expression has particular significance here, as he is emphasizing two important aspects of the Spirit: (1) it is the Spirit of God, and (2) it is living (and life-giving). The first point may be obvious, but it reflects a fundamental premise of Christian spiritualism that is often overlooked: by possessing the Holy Spirit, believers in Christ have direct access to the abiding presence of God’s very Spirit. The second point is more immediately relevant to Paul’s discussion, since it anticipates his contrast in verse 6 between the letter that kills (i.e., brings death) and the Spirit that gives life (lit. makes [a]live, vb zwopoie/w).

The parallel contrast that Paul makes, at the close of verse 3, is just as important as the first contrast (between ordinary ink and the Spirit):

    • “not on tablets of stone” (ou)k e)n placi\n liqi/nai$)
    • “but on tablets of fleshy hearts” (ou)k e)n placi\n kardi/ai$ sarki/nai$)

The use of the adjective sa/rkino$ (“of flesh, fleshy”) is somewhat surprising, given Paul’s dualistic contrast elsewhere in his letters between the Spirit and the flesh (sa/rc). This can be explained, in part, from that fact that, once again here, he is drawing upon Old Testament tradition—cf. Ezek 11:19 and 36:26 (see also Jer 31:33), contrasting a “heart of stone” with the “heart of flesh” that Israel will possess in the New Age (of the ‘new covenant’). In that line of Prophetic tradition, the New Age of Israel’s restoration is characterized by the special presence of God’s Spirit on His people.

Even so, we might expect that an immaterial, spiritual aspect of the human “heart” (kardi/a) would be emphasized here. Instead, God writes with His Spirit upon a heart of flesh. This is distinctive of the early Christian understanding of the relationship of the Spirit to the believer. As a human being, the believer possesses the Spirit within a body of flesh. Paul took a special interest in this seeming paradox, and develops the idea, expounding it at a number of points in his letters. Some of these passages will be discussed in upcoming articles and notes in this series.

Our exegesis will continue, in the next daily note on verses 4-5.

References above marked “Furnish” are to Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 32A (1984).

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: 2 Corinthians 3

The first Pauline passage we examined was 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, within the wider context of 1:18-2:16 (extending into 3:1-3)—cf. the article and the supplemental series of exegetical notes. Paul emphasizes the role of the Spirit instructing believers in the wisdom of God; indeed, this wisdom is fundamentally spiritual in character. A key statement is the climactic declaration in verse 16: “but we hold (the) mind of (the) Anointed”. To this may be added the statement in v. 15: “the (one) with the Spirit judges all ([th]ese) things, and (yet) he is judged under no one” — “these things” referring to “the (thing)s of the Spirit” (ta\ tou= pneu/mato$).

Given the spiritualistic tenor and emphasis to Paul’s discussion, one might readily ask what is the place of the human teacher, as well as the role of external sources of religious (and moral) authority. The reason why Paul writes to the Corinthians as he does, is because, on the whole, they are not yet spiritually mature (“complete”), often thinking and behaving like one who does not possess the Spirit (3:1-3). But how would he write to them if they were mature? Would there be any need for him to write to them at all? Presumably, there would be more opportunity for exploring and expounding the “deep things of God” (2:10), but what would his role be, in this regard, if the people to whom he was writing were themselves being fully guided and instructed by the Spirit?

It is an interesting question to ponder. In general, it is fair to say that Paul’s spiritualism, to judge by the evidence from 1 Corinthians, was tempered by two main considerations:

    1. the manifestation of the Spirit within the confines of the Community, through specific ‘spiritual gifts‘ given to specific individuals.
    2. the unique role (and authority) of the apostle—that is, the missionary, sent and commissioned by Christ himself, who (first) proclaimed the Gospel in a region and helped to found the first congregations.

According to the first principle, expounded and applied in some detail by Paul in chapters 12-14, an individual believer would not rely wholly on the inner guidance and instruction of the Spirit; rather, one must also experience the Spirit as manifest within the Community, through the distinct spiritual gifts given to the various members.

The second principle—the role and place of the founding apostle—is given special attention by Paul in 2 Corinthians. One passage, in particular, relates the apostolic ministry to the wider experience of the Spirit’s presence and work among believers. As such, a careful examination of it should allow us to gain a better sense of Paul’s spiritualism, especially in relation to other (external) aspects of Christian ministry.

2 Corinthians 3

The passage under examination 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 (i.e., the second of the two themes outlined above). 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 will be exploring the passage, from a critical and rhetorical standpoint, in the Saturday Series studies during the remainder of January and February.

I will also be devoting detailed notes (a series of daily notes) to an exposition of the passage. But let us begin here with a 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 surfaces of stones, but on (the) flat surfaces of hearts (of) flesh.”

Paul here makes a stark contrast between ordinary (physical/material) written letters and spiritual ones (for more, see the note on verses 2-3). This sort of dualistic language (and imagery) is typical of Paul’s spiritualism. But it is interesting to consider the way that this is introduced here.

The theme in verse 1-6 involves “letters of commendation”, the word sustatiko/$ being 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’), which I left untranslated above, 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). 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), and thus is central to the spiritualistic emphasis in Paul’s thought—the living Spirit being contrasted with the dead material thing. 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. The specific motif of the “pouring out” of the Spirit upon God’s people was 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).

In the remainder of chapters 3 (vv. 7-18) Paul embarks on an exposition of the difference between the old and new covenants. 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). 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 (perfect 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. Indeed, 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. 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. This reflects, in my view, a clear spiritualistic tendency in Paul’s thought. 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). 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” (see the discussion at the beginning of the previous article). 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 (and rather spiritualistic) 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.

This may be related to what I have referred to as the “democratization” of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration—the idea that 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)

January 21: 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

[This series of notes, on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, is part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The previous note dealt with 2:16; and see the initial note with links to earlier notes covering 1:18-2:6; cf. also the main article.]

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

Before concluding this series of daily notes (focusing on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15), it is necessary to study briefly the opening of the section which follows (3:1-4:21), in which Paul applies the arguments of 1:18ff more directly to the situation at Corinth. To begin with, the parallel between 2:6 and 3:1 is unmistakable, and must be noted:

“And we speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete…” (2:6)
“And I was not able to speak to you as (one)s with the Spirit…” (3:1)

This allows us to supplement the earlier conclusions regarding a proper interpretation of 2:6a more precisely: the ones who are “complete” essentially = the ones who “have the Spirit”. However, the distinction in 2:6-16 was between those who have the Spirit and those who have (only) the soul/spirit of a human being—the contrast of the adjectives pneumatiko/$ and yuxiko/$ being that of believer vs. non-believer. Here in 3:1ff, on the other hand, Paul is speaking directly to believers, which means that he now gives a somewhat different nuance to the adjective pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual”). To the basic sense of “one who has (received) the Spirit”, we must add the connotation of “one who thinks/acts according to the Spirit“. This is confirmed by Paul’s use of the more familiar contrast between “Spirit” and “flesh”, with its strong moral/ethical implication. The Corinthian believers are not living out (i.e. thinking and acting according to) their identity as believers who have the Spirit. We can capture this through a careful translation of v. 1:

“And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as (one)s of the Spirit [pneumatikoi/], but (rather) as (one)s (still) of the flesh [sarki/noi], as infants in (the) Anointed {Christ}.”

This “fleshly” manner of thinking/acting is marked by the very divisions (“rips/tears”) in the Community mentioned in 1:10ff, along with jealously, quarreling and partisan/sectarian identity (“of Paul”, “of Apollos”, etc). Paul actually makes use of two related adjectives:

    • sa/rkiko$ (sárkikos)—generally belonging to, or characterized by, the flesh (sa/rc)
    • sa/rkino$ (sárkinos)—more specifically, something made of, or constituted by, the flesh

The second of these is used initially in v. 1, followed by the first (twice) in v. 3. The adjective sa/rkino$ (sárkinos) carries the more neutral sense of a physical human being (i.e. made of flesh). It is used by Paul, somewhat metaphorically, in 2 Cor 3:3, while in Rom 7:14 it preserves the moral/ethical sense of the spirit vs. flesh distinction; the only other NT occurrence is in Heb 7:16. The adjective sa/rkiko$ (sárkikos) is a bit more common, used by Paul in 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12; 10:4 and Rom 15:27; the only non-Pauline occurrence in the NT is 1 Pet 2:11. It is likely that the specific use of sa/rkino$ in 3:1 is due to the earlier usage of the adjective yuxiko/$ (psychikós) in 2:14. There would seem to be a progression of terms involved, which narrows the focus of Paul’s discussion:

    • yuxiko/$ (2:14)—one who has the inner life-breath (“soul”) of a human being, but has not received the Spirit of God
    • sa/rkino$ (3:1)—a human being who is “made of flesh”, i.e. in his/her physical and sensual aspect
    • sa/rkiko$ (3:3)—a person who thinks/acts “according to the flesh” —that is, fundamentally in a sinful, selfish or “immature” manner

The progression involves a kind of natural and logical consequence:

    • The person without the Spirit is merely a human being, and is not able to be guided by the power and direction of the Spirit
    • He/she is left to be guided by his/her own natural impulses and inclinations, which tend to be dominated by physical and sensual concerns
    • As a result, the person tends to act, and ultimately think, in a selfish and sinful manner

This again allows us to refine a basic conclusion regarding Paul’s terminology in 2:6a: the ones who are “complete” are defined, in a negative sense by the opposite—those who think and act in a “fleshly” manner are “incomplete”.

January 20: 1 Corinthians 2:16 (cont.)

[This series of notes, on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, is part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. See the initial note with links to earlier notes covering 1:18-2:6; cf. also the main article.]

1 Corinthians 2:16

In yesterday’s note, I looked at the first part of this verse, the citation from Isa 40:13 (LXX); today I will examine the second part, with Paul’s concluding declaration:

“…and (yet) we hold the mind of (the) Anointed {Christ}”

There are four components to this statement, beginning with the (emphatic) pronoun h(mei=$ (“we”), to be discussed below. The remaining three elements are:

    • de/ (“and/but”)—a conjunctive particle with an adversative sense, establishing a contrast with what is stated in the quotation of Isa 40:13. There the rhetorical question (“who knows/knew the mind of God?”) carries the obvious (implied) answer of “no one”. For the relation of the context of Isa 40:12-13 with 1 Cor 2:10ff, cf. my discussion in the previous note. Paul’s declaration may be (re)formulated as: “Of course, no one knows (or can have known) the mind of the Lord (God) Himself, and yet we do hold the mind of the Lord (Christ)!”
    • nou=$ xristou= (“[the] mind of [the] Anointed”)—as I indicated in the prior note, many witnesses read “mind of [the] Lord [kuri/ou]”; if original, then Paul is certainly making use of the wordplay involving ku/rio$, which can be understood as “the Lord (YHWH)” or “the Lord (Jesus Christ)”, interchangeably, by early Christians. The expression “mind of Christ” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament (nor “mind of Jesus”, or anything similar). Perhaps the closest we come is in Philippians 2:5:
      “This (work)ing of (the) mind must (be) in you which also (was) in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Jesus Christ}”;
      though here Paul uses the verb frone/w rather than the noun nou=$. For more on this verse, cf. below. There are a number of points of contact between 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 and Romans 7-8, especially 8:26-27, which has the parallel expression “mind [fro/nhma] of the Spirit”.
    • e&xomen (“we hold”)—the verb e&xw is often translated more generally as “have”, i.e. “hold (in one’s possession)”; however, here it seems useful to retain the more concrete and fundamental sense of holding something. This preserves contact with the basic context of Isa 40:12-13, with its concept of measuring—it is impossible to contain the Spirit/Mind of the Lord in a measuring-vessel, etc, and yet we hold the mind of the Lord (Christ) within (and among) us. That this occurs through the presence and work of the Spirit is confirmed both by the overall context of 1 Cor 2:10ff as well as the parallel expressions mentioned above:
      • “the mind [nou=$] of Christ” (v. 16)
      • “the working of (the) mind [frone/w]…which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5)
      • “the mind [fro/nhma] of the Spirit” (Rom 8:27)

Paul’s argument in Phil 2:1-5ff is similar to 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, in several important respects:

Finally, something must be said regarding the use of the pronoun “we” (h(mei=$) in v. 16. Often there is a certain ambiguity regarding Paul’s use of the 1st person plural in his letters; it can be understood three ways:

    • As a (rhetorical) reference to Paul himself, essentially = “I”
    • As a (collective) reference to Paul and his fellow ministers
    • Collectively, and generally, of (all) believers

So, when Paul says “we have the mind of Christ”, he could be saying:

    • I have the mind of Christ” (cf. 7:40, etc), in which case it brings us back to the start of his argument and the autobiographical aspect of 1:14-17; 2:1-5
    • “We (the inspired apostles, etc) have the mind of Christ”, which generally fits the context of 2:1-7 and 3:4ff
    • “We (all believers) have the mind of Christ”

The overall emphasis of 1:18-4:21, in my view, decisively favors the latter interpretation. Recall that the initial emphasis in the narratio (1:11-17) was that believers should not be relying on the status and gifts/abilities of prominent ministers (such as Paul and Apollos, etc), but should rather be trusting in (a) Christ and the message of the Gospel, and (b) the presence and work of the Spirit—these two being closely connected. What follows in 3:1 only confirms this view, as Paul laments the fact that is not able to speak to the Corinthians as ones who are “complete” (2:6)—they are not thinking and acting according to their true identity (in Christ), as those who are “spiritual” (i.e. who have the Spirit).

However, it is possible that there is a progression or development in 2:1-16, which I would chart as follows:

    • “I came to you” (vv. 1-5)—Paul himself, as the founding apostle, proclaiming the Gospel message (“the secret of God”)
    • “We speak…” (vv. 6-9)—Paul and his fellow ministers, those who first preached the Gospel among the Corinthians and worked to establish congregations, etc
    • “To us…revealed…” (vv. 10-12)—transitional, emphasizing the work of God and the giving of the Spirit to believers
    • “We speak these things…” (vv. 13-15)—Believers as ministers, those gifted to speak and interpret the “deep things of God”, especially apostles, prophets and teachers, etc
    • “We hold the mind of God” (v. 16)—All believers, united with Christ, who have received the Spirit of God (and Christ)

The progression is from the (initial) proclamation of the Gospel of Christ (vv. 1-2) to the unity of believers in Christ (v. 16). This point will be touched on further in the next daily note.

January 19: 1 Corinthians 2:16

[This series of notes, on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, is part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The previous note discussed verses 14-15, and see the initial note with links to earlier notes covering 1:18-2:6; cf. also the main article.]

1 Corinthians 2:16

Today’s note examines the concluding verse of the section, which brings together the strands of the contrastive argument into a rhetorically charged Scripture citation followed by a decisive (positive) declaration. The first part of the verse contains a quotation from Isaiah 40:13, an abridgment of the LXX version:

“Who knew the mind of the Lord, th(e one) who will bring (things) together (to instruct) him?”

The verb sumbiba/zw means “bring (or put) together” sometimes in the (logical) sense of bringing things together for the purpose of instruction. The LXX also uses the related noun su/mboulo$, which typically refers to a person who gives instruction (or counsel, advice, etc). Conventionally, the LXX would be translated:

Who knew the mind of the Lord, and who became His instructor/advisor that will instruct/advise Him?”
ti/$ e&gnw nou=n kuri/ou kai\ ti/$ au)tou= su/mboulo$ e)ge/neto o^$ sumbiba=| au)to/n;

The portion cited by Paul (with only slight variation) is indicated by italics and bold above. The taunting rhetorical question is centered in the idea of the greatness of God (YHWH the Creator) and the insignificance of (created) human beings by comparison. Paul retains the thrust of this rhetoric and applies the question to his own line of argument comparing worldy/human wisdom with the wisdom of God. The ‘abridged’ citation is, in certain formal respects, closer to the tone and feel of the original Hebrew; the Masoretic text (MT) reads:

“Who has measured the spirit of YHWH and (is) a man of his counsel/plan [i.e. his counselor] (who) causes him to know?”

An English translation tends to obscure the relatively simple, 3:3 poetic rhythm of the Hebrew:

hwhy j^WrÁta# /K@T!Áym!
WDu#yd!oy otx*u& vya!w+

Each line involves a related concept:

(a) “measuring” the spirit of YHWH—on the meaning and context of the verb /kt, cf. below.
(b) functioning as a counsellor/advisor (lit. “man of his counsel”) who instructs/advises YHWH (“causes him to know”)

The first (a) essentially implies probing and estimating the depths of God’s own “spirit” (j^Wr rûaµ), much as Paul describes the Spirit (pneu=ma) doing in 1 Cor 2:10. No human being is capable of comprehending the depths (“deep things”) of God. The second (b) touches on the idea that a human being might serve as God’s counselor or advisor; but, of course, God, who knows all things, cannot be informed about anything by a mortal being. The LXX renders Hebrew j^Wr (“spirit/breath”) with nou=$ (“mind”). More often, it is translated by pneu=ma, which corresponds closely to the Hebrew term; however, the use of nou=$ in Greek offers a distinctive interpretation of the verse. It is useful to consider the basic meaning of this word.

Greek nou=$ (or no/o$) fundamentally refers to sensual perception or recognition (i.e. by the senses), but eventually the act of perception came to dominate the meaning, along with the inner/inward faculties of a human being to enable recognition of something—primarily as intellectual faculty (i.e. “mind”), though often there may be an emotional or (deeper) “spiritual” component involved. In addition to an internal faculty (or ability), nou=$ also came to refer to an attitude (or disposition, etc), as well as the result of one’s ability (knowledge, understanding, insight, etc). Generally, this corresponds to the English word “mind”, which can be used, more or less accurately (and consistently) to translate nou=$. It is the third of three primary Greek terms used to describe the invisible, inner aspect of the human person—yuxh/ (“soul”), pneu=ma (“spirit”), nou=$ (“mind”). The first two have already been used by Paul in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 (cf. the prior notes), and now he introduces the third. Actually, the word was already used in the main proposition (propositio) of the letter in 1:10, a verse that is worth citing here:

“And (so) I call you alongside, brothers, through the name of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, that you should all give the same account and (that) there should not be (any) tears [i.e. divisions] in you, but (that) you should be joined (completely) in the same mind and in the same (way of) knowing.”

The emphasis is clear: in contrast to the divisions among the Corinthians, there should be a unity of mind for believers in Christ. Paul uses a dual formula to express this:

    • “in the self(same) mind” (e)n tw=| au)tw=| noi+/)
    • “in the self(same) knowing” (e)n th=| au)th=| gnw/mh|)

The word gnw/mh (related to the verb ginw/skw, “[to] know”) more properly refers to a way or manner of knowing; there is no English word which corresponds precisely, and it is translated variously as “opinion, judgment, decision”, etc. As will become even more clear when one looks at what follows in 3:1ff, the divisions (“rips/tears”) in Corinth are the result of believers thinking and acting in a human manner (i.e. through worldly/human ‘wisdom’) rather than according to the “mind” (wisdom) of God and Christ. This is the very point Paul makes in the second half of verse 16:

“…and (yet) we (do) hold the mind of (the) Anointed [i.e. of Christ]”

The reading xristou= (“of [the] Anointed”) is found in a number of key MSS (Ë46 a A C Y al), and probably should be considered original; however, many other witnesses read kuri/ou (“of [the] Lord”), matching the earlier citation of Isa 40:13. For early Christians, of course, the word ku/rio$ (“lord”, i.e. “the Lord”) had a double-meaning—it can refer to God the Father (YHWH) or to Jesus Christ, almost interchangeably:

“the mind of Christ” –>
“the mind of the Lord (Jesus)” –>
“the mind of the Lord (YHWH)”

The pronoun “we” (h(mei=$) is in emphatic position— “and (yet) we (do) hold the mind of Christ”. As often in Paul’s letters, there is some ambiguity as to just whom “we” refers. This is rather important for a correct interpretation of this verse (and the passage as a whole), and will be discussed briefly in the next daily note.

The two rhetorical questions of Isa 40:12-13:

Verses 12 and 13 each pose a question beginning with the interrogative particle ym! (“who”). The first (v. 12) asks who has “measured” out the various elements and aspects of the created world. The answer is as obvious as it is unstated: God (YHWH) alone—no other being, let alone a mere human being. The question itself is asked by way of a series of verbal phrases, governed by four verbs, each of which indicates some form of measuring:

    • dd^m*—stretching (a line, etc) to measure out—the waters (<y]m^) in the hollow (lu^v)) of His hand
    • /k^T*—regulating or fitting (according to a standard [measure])—the heavens (<y]m^v*) with the spread/span (tr#z#) of His hand
    • lWK—containing (i.e. filling/fitting a measuring-vessel)—the dust of the earth in a mere vyl!v* (“third part”?), a (small) unit of measure
    • lq^v*—weighing out—the mountains and the hills in a pair of scales or balances (cl#P#//z@am))

The second question (v. 13) asks who, besides YHWH, could know even how any of this is done, let alone offer YHWH any advice or instruction in such matters. The verb /k^T* is repeated, indicating the impossibility of “measuring” the Spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH, in the basic sense, it would seem, of “fitting” or “setting” a standard of measure. There is no way of doing this when one is dealing with the Spirit/Wisdom/Mind of God. The LXX understands the verb in intellectual terms—of a (human) being’s ability (or rather, inability) to comprehend (“know”) the Mind (nou=$) of God—which is quite appropriate for Paul’s theme of wisdom in 1 Corinthians.

January 18: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 (cont.)

[This series of notes, on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, is part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. See the initial note with links to earlier notes covering 1:18-2:6; cf. also the main article.]

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

In yesterday’s note, I provided a fairly detailed study on two key words used in these verses (14-15)—the adjective yuxiko/$ (related to yuxh/) and the verb a)nakri/nw. This was necessary in order to give a proper translation and interpretation of the passage.

“And the man with a soul does not receive [i.e. accept] the (thing)s of the Spirit of God, for it is (all) stupidity [mwri/a] to him and he is not able to know (them), (in) that they are judged (carefully) with the Spirit. And the (one) with the Spirit judges all ([th]ese) things, and (yet) he is judged under no one.”

It will be helpful to offer notes on specific words and phrases as they occur in the passage:

“with a soul” —I have decided, as a practical necessity, to slant the grammar of my translation, in order to give a meaningful rendering of the adjectives yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$ (cf. the previous note). Fundamentally, Paul’s use of yuxiko/$ here (and in 15:44-46), means a human being with a soul, but not yet united to (i.e. having received) the Spirit of God. As the prior look at the usage of yuxiko/$ in James 3:15 and Jude 19 makes clear, the sense of the term as a whole is not limited to this—it also connotes a distinctly worldly, human way of thinking and acting. However, Paul captures this more negative aspect in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 by specific use of “world” (ko/smo$) and “(hu)man” (a&nqrwpo$).

“receive” —It is worth noting the difference between the verbs de/xomai (here) and lamba/nw (in v. 12), both of which can be rendered “receive”. The verb lamba/nw basically means “receive” in the sense of taking (hold) of something, while de/xomai as accepting something offered as a gift, etc. This also touches back on verse 12, where the “things of God [lit. under God]” are said to be given (by God) to us as a favor or gift. The human being without the Spirit does not (indeed, can not) receive or accept the things offered to us (believers) as a gift.

“the (thing)s of the Spirit of God” —Paul’s use of a plural substantive with the definite article (“the [thing]s…”) is an important syntactical (and thematic) element of his argument in 1:18-2:16, and especially of 2:6ff, where the emphatic “wisdom” (sofi/a), i.e. of God, is given collective (and comprehensive) expression by the plural. It begins with the Scriptural citation(s) in verse 9— “the (thing)s which” (a%)—and continues on through the passage:

    • V. 10: “all (thing)s [pa/nta]”
    • V. 10-11: “the deep (thing)s of God [ta\ ba/qh tou= qeou=]”; “the (thing)s of God [ta\ tou= qeou=]”
    • V. 12: “the (thing)s under God [ta\ u(po\ tou= qeou=] given as a favor/gift to us”
    • V. 13a: “the (thing)s which [a%] we also speak”
    • V. 13b: “spiritual (thing)s [pneumatika/]”, or better, “(thing)s of the Spirit”
    • V. 14: “the (thing)s of the Spirit of God [ta\ tou= pneu/mato$ tou= qeou=]”
    • V. 15: “all ([th]ese thing)s [{ta\} pa/nta]”

“to him it is stupidity” —The noun mwri/a (“dullness, stupidity”), along with the related adjective mwro/$ and verb mwrai/nw, is a keyword of the entire section (cf. 1:18, 20-21, 23, 25, 27, and the notes on these verses; also 3:18-19; 4:10). Previously it described the world’s view of God’s wisdom as expressed specifically in the proclamation of the Gospel (and the death of Christ); now, it represents the world’s reaction to the wisdom of God taken as a whole— “all the (deep) things of God”. Note how the comprehensive plural is here put into the singular “it is [e)stin]”; Paul may be suggesting that the human mind/soul is inclined to dismiss all of God’s wisdom at a single stroke. I have tried to capture this with a parenthesis— “it is (all) stupidity”. The pronoun is emphatic in the phrase: “to him [i.e. the human] it is stupidity”.

“he is not able to know (them)” —The verb du/namai essentially means having the power, i.e. being empowered, to do something. Paul has already established the connection between the Spirit of God and power (du/nami$) in 2:4-5 (cf. also 1:18, 24; 4:19-20). The idea of knowledge (gnw=nai [ginw/skw], “to know”) is implicit under the arching theme of wisdom (sofi/a) in the passage (cf. 2:8, 11, 16; also 3:20; 4:19). Earlier, Paul applied this to believers with the verb ei&dw (“see”, i.e. perceive, recognize, know) in 2:2, 11-12. The object of the verb “know” here has to be supplied—I identify it with the comprehensive plural (“the [thing]s…”, i.e. “them”) relating to the wisdom of God (cf. above).

“judged/judges” —Paul uses the verb a)nakri/nw three times in vv. 14-15. Understanding the prepositional component (a)na) to the verb as an intensive, I render it as “judge (something) closely”, in the basic sense of “examine closely/carefully”. Each instance of the verb here has a slightly different nuance:

    • “the things of the Spirit of God…are judged with the Spirit” —they can only be examined (and understood) spiritually, by way of the Spirit of God, through the guidance of the Spirit; this may be related to the idea of the Spirit “searching out” the (deep) things of God in vv. 10-11.
    • “the one with the Spirit judges all (these) things” —the Spirit enables the believer to examine all the things of God closely. It is possible that Paul is beginning to shift the meaning slightly, with a play on pa/nta (“all things”); there may be an allusion here to the idea of believers judging the world (“all things”), as in 6:2ff.
    • “he is judged under no one” —here it would seem that Paul is drawing on a specific judicial meaning of the verb (interrogate, etc); i.e. believers stand under the judgment of no other human being, since we are truly judged only by God before the (heavenly) tribunal at the end-time. This emphasis would seem to be confirmed by the parallel discussion in 4:1-5.

We should probably also understand a bit of word-play between a)nakri/nw and sugkri/nw in v. 13 (see below).

“with the Spirit” —As indicated above, I use this to render the adjective pneumatiko/$ (second instance in the translation above), but also the related adverb pneumatikw=$ (first instance above). This contrasts with the standard translation “spiritual(ly)”, which is accurate enough, but misses the comparison between the human soul and God’s Spirit. The adjective describes the person (the believer), who is characterized by the Spirit, while the adverb describes the action (judging/examining). There is almost certainly a close parallel to be drawn with the phrase in verse 13: “judging spiritual (thing)s with spiritual (word)s”.

The verb sugkri/nw shares with a)nakri/nw the root verb kri/nw (“judge, examine,” etc), which is extremely wide-ranging, but usually retains something of the primitive sense (“separate, divide, sift/sort”). As believers examine the things of God (of his Spirit), by the Spirit, and begin to understand them, we are able to sift through them and bring them together, allowing us to express and communicate them to others in the body of Christ.

“all ([th]ese thing)s” ([ta\] pa/nta)—There is a textual question regarding this word. A number of important manuscripts (Ë46 A C D* al) include the definite article, while many others do not. If the article is original, it almost certainly means that Paul is referring specifically to “the (thing)s of God”, i.e. the wisdom of God in a comprehensive/collective sense (see above). Even if the article is secondary, it may indicate that scribes sought to make the same point clear, to avoid confusion—the word pa/nta (“all [thing]s”) being taken in a general sense. I believe that here, as in verse 10, Paul is playing on the two aspects of this word: (a) all things generally, and (b) the wisdom of God specifically. The dual meaning is more properly combined at the end of the chapter 3 (vv. 21-23), where “all things” (in creation, etc) are subsumed under Christ (the wisdom of God manifest), who is, in turn, under God (YHWH, the Father) himself.

“under no one” —The preposition u(po/ can carry an instrumental sense (“by [way of], through”), but more properly it means “under”; here specifically the reference is to believers being examined and judged (in a judicial sense) under a human authority. Only God truly has the authority to judge believers (in Christ), at the end time (cf. 4:1-5). Note an interesting kind of parallel in Paul’s use of u(po/:

The line of reasoning serves as a fittingly climax to the overall contrast of human vs. divine wisdom, etc, running through this section, and which culminates powerfully with the declaration in verse 16, to be discussed in the next daily note.