Saturday Series: 1 John 2:28-3:10 (continued)

1 John 2:28-3:10, continued

This is a continuation of last week’s study (on 1 John 2:28-3:10). If you have not already done so, I would urge you to read through the discussion last week before proceeding. As previously noted, the passage is comprised of two parallel sections; indeed, the parallelism of the instruction is precise, as each section has the same general outline:

    • Initial exhortation, with the opening address “(my dear) offspring” (2:28; 3:7a)
    • Statement characterizing (true) believers as those who are just, and act justly (2:29; 3:7bc)
    • Statement regarding the opposite—i.e. those who sin (3:4, 8a)
    • Statement regarding the purpose for Jesus coming to earth (as a human being) (3:5, 8b)
    • Statement to the effect that the (true) believer does/can not sin, and why (3:6a, 9)
    • Statement of the opposite—that the one sinning cannot be a true believer (3:6b, 10)

The core of this teaching is actually made up of a pair of dual-statements, with a Christological declaration in between:

    • Statement 1: True believers act justly, while those who sin do not (and are thus not true believers) [2:27-3:4 / 3:7-8a]
    • Christological declaration regarding Jesus’ appearance on earth [3:5 / 3:8b]
    • Statement 2: The true believer cannot sin and the one who sins cannot be a true believer [3:6 / 3:9-10]

We have already noted how Christology is at the center of the instruction, and, in many ways, is the key to a correct interpretation of the passage as a whole. The first three components were examined in the study last week; now, building on those results, we shall proceed to consider the final three.

1 John 3:5 / 3:8B

    • “And you have seen [i.e. known] that this (one) was made to shine forth (so) that he would take away sins, and sin is not in him.” (3:5)
    • “Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth, (so) that he would loose [i.e. dissolve] the works of the Diábolos” (3:8b)

Both statements use the verb form ephanerœ¡th¢, literally “he was made to shine forth”. This verb (phaneróœ) is rather frequent in the Johannine Writings—9 times in the Gospel and 9 in the First Letter—as part of the key (dualistic) imagery of light vs. darkness. It often has the generic meaning of “appear”, but the Johannine context makes preserving the etymological connection with light especially important. Jesus as the Light of God (Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9f; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5, 7; 2:8-10) shines for human beings on earth, and the Elect ones (believers) recognize and come to the light. Thus the motif of “shining” relates to the appearance of Jesus on earth—that is, as a human being (i.e. the incarnation), and, in particular, the work that he performed during his earthly life. The purpose of his work and life is made clear in these verses, with the concluding hína-clauses (“so that…”):

    • “he would take away [ár¢] sins” [some manuscripts read “…our sins”]
    • “he would loose [lýs¢] the works of the Diábolos

These are parallel statements which should be understood as generally synonymous—that is to say, “taking away” sins is essentially the same as “loosing” the works of the Devil. The verb lýœ (“loose[n]”), often has the meaning “dissolve”, i.e. “destroy”. The reference to the Diábolos (literally “one throwing over [accusations/insults]” or “one casting [evil] throughout”) continues the thought of the previous statement (v. 8a, discussed in last week’s study), where by the ones “doing the sin” are identified as belonging to (or born of) the Devil (ek tou diabólou), i.e. they are children of the Devil rather than children of God.

This echoes several passages in the Gospel where sin is closely connected with the Evil One. The most notable example comes from chapter 8 of the great Feast of Tabernacles discourse. The statement by Jesus in verse 19 connects acceptance of him with knowledge of God the Father. The dialogue that follows builds on this idea, using dualistic language to identify those who do not accept the Son (Jesus) as belonging to a different Father—children of the Devil, rather than being children of God (vv. 42-47). Their sin is that of unbelief, which reflects their identity as belonging to the Devil, and it is from this sin that others spring out (including hatred, violence, and murder).

In Jn 16:8-11 (also discussed last week), sin is also defined there as failing to trust in Jesus. The context of these verses has to do with the work of the Spirit/Paraclete who makes known the truth to the world—that is, the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done. Failing to trust in Jesus means that the person belongs not to God, but to the Devil; and, as verse 11 makes clear, the Devil (here called the Chief/Ruler of the world) has already been judged. It was the life and work of Jesus, culminating in his death and resurrection, which judged both the world (i.e. the current world-order of darkness) and the Devil. All who commit the ultimate sin of unbelief are judged along with their ‘Father’ the Devil.

Sin (and sins) are referred to here as “the works of the Devil”. In Pauline terms, this would be described as the power of sin that held humankind in bondage, with Sin (and Death) personified as a kind of world-ruler generally identified with the figure of the Satan/Devil. Jesus’ sacrificial death (and resurrection) freed humankind, making it possible to escape from this bondage through trust in him. However, the Johannine imagery relates more to the essential identity of human beings—believers belong to God and Christ, while all others (non-believers, i.e. those who sin) belong to the Devil. Believers do the works of God and Christ, non-believers do the works of the Devil.

An important point in the first Christological statement above (v. 5) is that there is no sin in Jesus (“sin is not in him”). Here the singular hamartía (without the definite article) refers to sin in the general sense, and is a declaration of the sinlessness of Jesus. This may be seen as relating to the declaration by Jesus in Jn 14:30 that the Chief of the world “holds nothing on me”. Any sense of the sinlessness of believers, as expressed in 1 John, must be understood in terms of the sinlessness of Jesus.

1 John 3:6a / 3:9

    • “Every one remaining in him does not sin;” (3:6a)
    • “Every one having come to be (born) out of God does not do the sin, (in) that [i.e. because] His seed remains in him; and he is not able to sin, (in) that [i.e. because] he has come to be (born) out of God.” (3:9)

These statements are similar in meaning (and parallel) to those in 2:29 and 3:7bc (discussed last week). Clearly “doing justice” is related to “not doing sin”; these are flip sides of the same coin. Here we have a more precise formulation in terms of religious identity (“every one…”). Believers—true believers, that is—are described with a pair of participles, so that there is a sense of dynamic (verbal) action that characterizes their essential identity:

    • “the (one) remaining [ménœn] in him”
    • “the (one) coming to be (born) [gegenn¢ménos] out of God”

Both verbs—ménœ (“remain”) and gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”)—are key terms in the Johannine writings. More than half of the occurrences of ménœ in the New Testament are in the Gospel (40) and Letters (27) of John. It is a common verb, but virtually everywhere it is used in the Johannine writings it carries the special theological and spiritual meaning of the union believers share with the Son (Jesus) and the Father. It is reciprocal: Jesus remains in believers, and believers remain in Jesus. The verb gennᜠdefines this identity in a different way, according to the image of being born of God, i.e. as children of God, even as Jesus is the Son. It is our union with the Son (and the Father), through the presence and power of the Spirit, that makes this “birth” possible (see esp. John 3:3-8). The verb occurs 18 times in the Gospel, and 10 in the First Letter; the substantive verbal noun (participle with the definite article) is especially distinctive of 1 John (see also Jn 3:6, 8). Thus, insofar as believers “do not sin”, this is predicated upon two things: (1) being born out of God (as His offspring), and (2) remaining in Jesus.

However, the author explains this a bit further in verse 9b, when he adds the detail that, for the person born out of God, the seed (spérma) of God also remains in him/her. A careful study of the language and thought of Johannine writings leaves little doubt that this “seed” is to be identified with the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that we come to be born of God, and it is thus the life-producing seed. What needs to be pointed out, is that this same seed remains in us. The Spirit of God the Father is also the Spirit of the Son, and represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers.

The statements regarding sin in these verses are essentially two:

    • “every one remaining in him does not sin [ouch hamartánei]”
      “every one coming to be born out of God does not do (the) sin [hamartían ou poieí]”
    • “…and he is not able to sin [ou dýnatai hamartánein], (in) that he has come to be born out of God”

Are the differing forms of the first statement saying the same thing? The expression “do the sin” was used in verse 4, with the definite article (literally “the sin” (h¢ hamartía). I argued that this use of the singular referred to the fundamental Johannine definition of sin (in Jn 16:9, etc) as unbelief—failing or refusing to trust in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. At the same time, the singular (without the definite article) in v. 5b seems to mean sin in a general sense. There would appear to be three levels of meaning to the noun hamartía and the concept of “sin”:

    1. “the sin” (singular with definite article)—the fundamental sin of unbelief
    2. “sin” (singular without the definite article)—sin in the general or collective sense, and
    3. “sins” (plural)—individual sins committed by human beings

The verb hamartánœ relates to all three of these meanings, but here especially to the first two.

1 John 3:6b / 3:10

    • “every one sinning has not seen him and has not known him” (3:6b)
    • “…every one not doing justice is not (born) out of God, and (this is) the (one) not loving his brother” (3:10)

Again we see the close connection between sin and justice (dikaiosýn¢, or “just-ness, right-ness”). Previously we had the equation doing justice = not sinning; similarly, here we have the reverse of this: sinning = not doing justice. Recall above that the use of the substantive verbal noun (participle with definite article) indicated the essential identity and character of a believer; now the same syntax is used to refer to the non-believer (or false believer). That this characterizes the non-believer is clear from the phrases “has…seen/known him” and “out of God [i.e. belonging to God, born of God]”. This typical Johannine language, used throughout the Gospel and First Letter. Thus the “one sinning” clearly is not (and cannot be) a true believer in Christ.

But is this “sinning” meant in the general sense, or does it have a particular meaning in its context here? The final phrase of verse 10 (and of the passage) confirms that the intended meaning is quite specific, by the identification of the “one sinning / not doing justice” as “the one not loving his brother”. There can be little doubt that the use of “brother” in context means one’s fellow believer. Love (agáp¢) between believers is a fundamental mark of the Christian identity, and central to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of John. It is part of the great command—the only command—under which believers are bound. Actually, the great command is a two-fold command, presented succinctly in 3:23:

“And this is His entol¢¡ [i.e. command]: that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and (that) we should love each other, even as he [i.e. Jesus] gave us the entol¢¡.”

Thus the essential definition of sin must be expanded to include a failure to love one another. That this is primarily in mind for the author is clear enough by the section which follows our passage (3:11-24). Beginning with a statement of the love-command (v. 11), and the key illustration in v. 12 from the story of Cain and Abel, the author’s instruction turns entirely to the demonstration of love as the mark of the true believer. Remember that the issue of those ‘false’ believers who separated from the Community is at the heart of the letter, and informs this section on love, even as it does the prior section on sin. We may thus summarize the teaching regarding sin as follows:

There are four levels of meaning to hamartía and the concept of sin (compare with the list of three above):

    1. “sins” (plural) = individual sins committed by human beings
    2. “sin” (singular, without the definite article) = sin in the general sense
    3. “sin” (singular, with the article) = the fundamental sin of unbelief
    4. “sinning” (verb hamartánœ) = principally, violations of the two-fold command

The main point at issue in 1 John, especially here in 2:28-3:10, is not the first two levels of meaning (as the casual reader might assume), but specifically the last two. For the true believer, it is impossible to sin in the sense of (3.) and (4.); indeed, sin, in either of these senses, marks the distinction between the true and false believer. To see this clearly, let us cite the concluding statement of verse 10 in full:

“In this it is shining [i.e. clear/apparent] (who are) the offspring of God and the offspring of the Diábolos: every one not doing justice [i.e. sinning] is not (born) out of God, and (this is) the one not loving his brother.”

What then of meanings (1.) and (2.) above? The work of Jesus, his sacrificial death and resurrection, frees believers from sin in the general sense (1:7; 2:2), as is indicated in the pair of Christological statements of vv. 5, 8b (see above). This leaves meaning #1, which, I would argue, is the only sense of sin that applies to the true believer in Christ. Believers will (or may) occasionally commit sins, as the author makes quite clear in 1:8-2:2 and 5:16ff. The same power that frees us from sin in the general sense, also cleanses us from individual sins we commit. In that way, believers do take part in the sinlessness of Jesus, and the power that he has over sin.

We will touch on this question of sin (as it relates to the believer) again in these studies on 1 John. Hold on to these past studies, meditating on the line of interpretation I have presented, as there will be occasion to develop it further. However, for next week, I wish to move ahead in the letter, looking at 4:1-6 in detail. In so doing, we will survey again the preceding instruction (on love) in 3:11-24, taking great care in considering how 4:1-6 fits into the overall structure and argument of the letter. I hope to see you here for this study…next Saturday.

Saturday Series: 1 John 2:28-3:10

This week, in our studies on the Johannine Letters, we turn to a theological problem in 1 John which has challenged commentators for centuries—the apparent contradictory statements indicating that a Christian does and does not sin, or, indeed, can and cannot sin. The difficulty is obviously more pointed in the latter instance, which may be illustrated by comparing the following two statements:

“If we say we have not sinned, we make him [i.e. God] (to be) false…” (1:10)
“Everyone coming to be (born) out of God…is not able to sin.” (3:9)

The main passage making it clear that Christians do (and can) sin is 1:7-10; the statements that they do not (and cannot) are primarily found in the current passage under discussion. There are two (or three) such statements in our passage (vv. 6, 9), with another in 5:18:

    • “Every (one) remaining in him does not sin [ouch hamartánei]…” (3:6)
    • “Every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not do sin [hamartían ou poieí]…” (3:9a)
      “…and is not able to sin [ou dýnatai hamartánein], (in) that he has come to be (born) out of God” (3:9b)
    • “…every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin [ouch hamartánei]…” (5:18)

The statement in 5:18 is actually a conflation of those in 3:6 and 3:9a. One popular way of explaining the apparent contradiction is the idea that the use of the present tense in these four statements refers to habitual sin, or a lifestyle characterized by sinful behavior, rather than occasional sins. Some English versions circumvent the problem for the average reader by building this interpretation into the translation. However, far too much is made of this supposed grammatical difference. For example, in 1:8 the present tense is used when it is essentially stated that believers do sin: “if we say that we do not hold/have sin, we lead ourselves astray”. Also the perfect tense, used in 1:10, would generally indicate a past action or condition that continues into the present: “if we say that we have not sinned [i.e., = do not sin], we make Him (to be) false”.

Beyond this, the author’s statements, especially in 3:6ff, are fundamental to his overall theology, and should not be made to hinge on a subtle grammatical distinction. There have, indeed, been many other attempts at explanation. A proper solution is to be derived from careful study of the Johannine thought-world, beginning with 1 John, then widening to consider the Gospel along with the other two letters. One should avoid importing solutions or doctrinal issues that are foreign to these writings. I offer here three possibilities for consideration:

    • The statements in 3:6 etc. represent the ideal, while those in 1:7-10 etc. reflect the practical reality for believers. To frame this more in accordance with Johannine thought, we might say that the fundamental identity of believers is sinless, based on our union with the sinless Christ. However, this sinlessness is maintained for believers through confession (of sin) and forgiveness (through the intercession of Jesus). According to Luther’s famous expression, the nature of believers is two-fold: simul iustus et peccator (“at once righteous and sinner”).
    • Christians are sinless only so far as we remain in Christ. This idea of “remaining”, using the verb ménœ, is central to Johannine theology, in both the Gospel and letters (the verb occurs 40 times in the Gospel and 27 in the letters—more than half of all NT occurrences [118]). This is expressed most famously by the Vine illustration in Jesus’ Last Discourse (15:1-11). To use this illustration, if one remains in the Vine, the believer is unable to sin; only when one fails to remain in, through neglect, etc, does the believer sin. Through confession/forgiveness, the believer is ‘grafted’ back into the Vine and once again remains/abides.
    • In 3:6, etc, the author is not referring to sin (hamartía, vb hamartánœ) in the general ethical-religious sense; rather, here it specifically means violation of the two-fold command (3:23f), which no true believer can violate. In this regard, sin is identified as “lawlessness” (anomía) in a very specific sense.

Before any determination can be made on the viability of these (or any other) solution, it is necessary to examine the context and setting of the statements in 3:6 and 9. New Testament theology, which ultimately serves as the basis for Christian theology, must be derived from careful exegesis and critical analysis of the key passages in question. From the standpoint of Biblical Criticism, this falls generally under the heading of literary criticism—the vocabulary, style, structure, literary/rhetorical devices, etc, used by the author.

In last week’s study (on 2:18-27), we saw how the thrust of the letter, up to that point, related to a conflict and division within the Johannine congregations. Certain members, characterized as false believers, who, according to the author, held a view of Jesus considered to be contrary to the Johannine Gospel (and called antichrist, “against the Anointed”), had apparently separated from the Community. The author clearly felt a real danger that these “separatists” could lead astray others in the congregations, and so is writing to warn and persuade his readers against the views (and actions) of these ‘false’ believers. We must keep this in mind as we study the portion that follows (2:28-3:10).

In terms of its structure, our passage follows the basic pattern of 2:18ff, begun earlier in vv. 12ff, of paraenesis (i.e. instruction, exhortation), whereby the author addresses his fellow believers as “(my) children”, using either the diminutive teknía or paidía. The latter term (used at 2:18) literally means “little children”, while the former (teknía, here and in v. 12) is harder to translate, something like “(my dear) offspring“. 2:28-3:10 is comprised of two parallel instructions, each beginning with teknía. The parallelism is precise, a fact which may be obscured by the digression in 3:1-3; if we temporarily omit those verses, then there are six components, or statements, in each section:

    • Initial exhortation, with the opening address “(my dear) offspring” (2:28; 3:7a)
    • Statement characterizing (true) believers as those who are just, and act justly (2:29; 3:7bc)
    • Statement regarding the opposite—i.e. those who sin (3:4, 8a)
    • Statement regarding the purpose for Jesus coming to earth (as a human being) (3:5, 8b)
    • Statement to the effect that the (true) believer does/can not sin, and why (3:6a, 9)
    • Statement of the opposite—that the one sinning cannot be a true believer (3:6b, 10)

The core of this teaching is actually made up of a pair of dual-statements, with a Christological declaration in between:

    • Statement 1: True believers act justly, while those who sin do not (and are thus not true believers) [2:27-3:4 / 3:7-8a]
    • Christological declaration regarding Jesus’ appearance on earth [3:5 / 3:8b]
    • Statement 2: The true believer cannot sin and the one who sins cannot be a true believer [3:6 / 3:9-10]

Christology is thus at the heart of the instruction, and the parallel declarations in 3:5, 8b must kept clearly in mind as we study the statements in 2:27-3:4, 6, 7-8a, 9-10. Let us now examine carefully each of the six parallel components.

1 John 2:28 / 3:7a

    • “And now, (my dear) offspring, you must remain in him…” (2:28)
    • “(My dear) offspring, no one must lead you astray” (3:7a)

The idea of remaining (vb ménœ) in Christ (“in him” en autœ¡) is parallel to not being “led astray” (vb planáœ), the implication being that the one who is led astray no longer remains in Christ. In light of Jesus’ words of warning in John 15:4-7, this must be taken most seriously. The influence and views of those who have separated from the Community is certainly in mind here as that which could lead believers astray (see the discussion on 2:18-27). The exhortation in 2:28 is set within an eschatological context (as is that in 2:18ff): “…you must remain in him, (so) that, if [i.e. when] he should be made to shine forth (to us), you would hold an outspoken (confidence) and not feel shame from him in his coming to be alongside (us) [parousía]”. The return of Jesus to earth, believed by the author to be imminent (2:18), and marking the moment of the final Judgment, is a key part of the urgency of this exhortation. We must keep this eschatological dimension in mind throughout our study as well.

1 John 2:29 / 3:7bc

    • “If you have seen [i.e. known] that he is just, (then) you know that also every (one) doing justice has come to be (born) [gegénn¢tai] out of him.” (2:29)
    • “every (one) doing justice is just, even as that (one) [i.e. Jesus] is just” (3:7bc)

This statement expresses a fundamental (two-fold) principle of Johannine theology: (1) as Jesus is just/righteous [díkaios], so his true followers (believers) will be as well; and (2) the just-ness [dikaiosýn¢] of believers comes from that of Jesus himself, through our union with him. Here we also have the basic problem of how to translate the dikaio- word group, whether by “just/justice” or “right[eous]/righteousness”. Either way, we must, I think, here avoid the tendency of understanding dikaios[yn¢] in terms of conventional ethical-religious behavior. The author certainly would have taken for granted that true believers would think and act in a moral and upright manner; I doubt that is really at issue here, since, presumably, those who separated from the Community were quite moral (in the conventional sense) as well. Many commentators assume that they were licentious, but I find not the slightest hint of that in the letters. Moreover, it is worth noting that, throughout Church history, separatist groups and supposed ‘heretics’ have tended toward an ideal of ascetic purity much more so than toward flagrant immorality.

How, then, should we understand díkaios and dikaoisýn¢ here? We must look to the evidence of how these words are used elsewhere in the Johannine writings. They occur infrequently in the Gospel, but there is one key passage, 16:8-11, in the great Last Discourse, where Jesus is speaking of the work that the Spirit/Paraclete will do after his departure back to the Father. As it happens, sin (hamartía) and justice/righteousness are juxtaposed in that passage, much as they are in 1 John 2:28-3:10:

“and, (at his) coming, that one [i.e. the Spirit/Paraclete] will expose (to) the world (the truth) about sin and about justice and about judgment:
(on the one hand) about sin, (in) that they do not trust in me;
(on the other) about justice, (in) that I go back to the Father and you (can) look at me no longer…”

Here sin is defined as failing (or refusing) to believe in Jesus; and, I would say, that justice is similarly to be understood as the truth of who Jesus is. The work of the Spirit is described with the verb eléngchœ, which has the basic judicial meaning of exposing the guilt, etc, of someone—more precisely here, that of exposing the truth of the matter. Indeed, the Spirit is closely identified with Truth in the Johannine writings, being called “the Spirit of truth” in verse 13 (also 14:17; 15:26; and see 1 John 4:6; 5:6). The truth of Jesus’ identity is defined here by two phrases:

    • “I go back to the Father” — i.e., the raised/exalted Jesus’ return to the Father, confirming his identity as the Son.
    • “you see me no longer” — this is a shorthand way of referring to the time after his departure, in which the disciples will “see” Jesus only through the (invisible) presence of the Spirit. The abiding presence of the Spirit confirms the reality of who Jesus is, and marks the true believer.

Thus “sin” and “justice” (dikaiosýn¢) here have a very specific and distinct meaning. The terms are not being used in the ordinary ethical-religious sense, but in a decidedly theological and Christological sense. What of the dikaio- word group elsewhere in the Johannine letters? The noun occurs only in our passage (2:29; 3:7, 10), but the adjective (díkaios) three other times in 1 John:

    • In 1:9 and 2:1, it is used as a title/attribute of Jesus, specifically in the context of his relation to the Father (as Son), with the power to cleanse/forgive sin. This is an importance point of emphasis which we will be exploring further.
    • In 3:12, immediately following our passage, it characterizes Abel in contrast to the evil of Cain. The two are brothers, and, as such, the illustration represents the contrast between true and false believers—another important point for our passage.

As in the earlier statement in 2:28, that in v. 29 is followed by an exposition with an eschatological emphasis, only much more extensive (3:1-3). It is beyond the scope of our study to examine these verses in detail, but the following brief points should be noted:

    • Believers are identified as “the offspring (i.e. children) of God”, using the same noun (teknía) as in the opening exhortations (2:28a; 3:7a). This expounds the important Johannine verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”), used repeatedly as a way of identifying (true) believers as those who are born from God. This essential identity is in complete contrast to that of “the world [kósmos]”.
    • The identity of believers will not be realized fully until the end-time appearance of Jesus; currently, they/we experience him through the Spirit, but ultimately the union will be even more complete.

1 John 3:4 / 3:8a

    • “Every (one) doing the sin also does the lawless (thing), and (indeed) the sin is the lawless (thing).” (3:4)
    • “Every (one) doing the sin is out of the Diábolos, (in) that from the beginning the Diábolos sins.” (3:8a)

Here, being “out of [ek] the Diábolos” is a precise contrast to coming to be born “out of [ek] God” (or “out of Christ”). The word diábolos literally signifies one who “throws over” accusations, insults, etc, but it came to be used in a technical sense for the Evil One opposed to God (= “the Satan” of Old Testament tradition). We might, perhaps, translate the term literally as “the one casting (evil) throughout”. In any case, here the Diábolos (“Devil”) is part of a dualistic contrast with God and Christ, in much the same way the term kósmos (“world-order, world”) is used in the Johannine writings. In John 16:11 (see above), we find the title “the chief of this world” (ho árchœn tou kósmou toútou, also in 14:30), a title more or less synonymous with diábolos.

In the first statement (3:4), sin (hamartía) is identified with anomía, a term literally meaning something “without law” (ánomos), i.e. “lawless (thing)”, “lawlessness”. This noun does not occur elsewhere in the Johannine writings, and, indeed, is relatively rare in the New Testament (13 other occurrences). How are we to understand its use here, which would seem to be quite important for a correct understanding of “sin” in our passage? In a Jewish (or Jewish Christian) context, anomía and ánomos could refer to the Old Testament Law (Torah), and to non-Jews (Gentiles) and non-observant Jews as being “without the Law”. Paul occasionally uses the term this way, but more frequently it signifies “lawlessness” in the general sense of wickedness and opposition to God. However, there are two distinct connotations for anomía among Christians in the first century, either (or both) of which are likely significant in regard to its use here:

    • The term came to be used in an eschatological context, as a way to describe the wickedness and social/moral upheaval of the current Age, especially as it comes to a close at the end-time. It occurs in the Matthean version of the Eschatological Discourse (Matt 24:12; cf. also 13:41), and again, more prominently, in 2 Thess 2:3, 7 (see the upcoming article on 2 Thess 2:1-12 in the series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”). The author of 1 John clearly believed he and his readers were living in the “last hour” right before the end (2:18), so his use of anomía here likely has an eschatological emphasis.
    • The word anomía (also anóm¢ma) was occasionally used to translate the Hebrew b®liyya±al, a term of uncertain derivation but tending to be associated with death, or more generally to the idea of hostility, chaos, and confusion (i.e. disorder). The frequent expression “son/man of Beliyya’al” essentially refers to a person who violates and disrupts the order of things—either in a specific social or religious setting, or within society at large. This may well serve as the basis for Paul’s expression “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2:3. In 2 Cor 6:14, anomía is parallel to Belíar, a transliteration in Greek (with variant spelling) of b®liyya±al. Belial/Beliar came to be used as a title of the Evil One (equivalent to “the Satan”, “Devil”) in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D., and frequently occurs in an apocalyptic/eschatological context. For more on 2 Cor 6:14ff, see the recent Saturday series studies on that passage.

We should consider here also the specific wording in these statements, especially the phrase ho poiœ¡n t¢n hamartían. The verb poiéœ (“do, make”) occurs 13 times in 1 John, always in the present tense—either an indicative or an articular participle. In both instances, the verb serves to summarize the fundamental character and identity of a person, but particularly so with the participle (“the [one] doing”); the active behavior of a person indicates his/her identity. But what does it mean to “do sin”? Is this simply a matter of committing sins, i.e. moral/religious failings or transgressions, or is something more involved? Much depends on whether or not there is specific force intended in the definite article preceding hamartían: is it “the one doing sin” or “the one doing the sin”? In all other instances with the definite article (1:9; 2:2, 12; 3:5; 4:10); the noun is plural, indicating the sins a person commits—i.e., committing sin in the conventional sense. In my view, the articular use of the singular here means something different and quite specific: the sin. And what is the sin? I would maintain that is best understood in light of John 16:8ff (see above), where sin—ultimately, the sin that is judged—is failing/refusing to trust in Jesus, i.e. to accept the truth of who he is. This sin is a fundamental transgression of the two-fold command (3:23), the only “law” which is binding for believers. As such, this sin of unbelief is “lawlessness” (anomía), quite apart from the general wickedness that may be associated with unbelief.

For those accustomed to reading 2:28-3:10 with the assumption that religious-ethical behavior is in view, the line of interpretation developed thus far in our study may seem somewhat surprising, even disconcerting. However, that it is generally on the right track, can, I believe, be shown by a careful examination of the rhetorical thrust of 1:1-2:27 (see the prior two studies). Throughout the letter, the emphasis has been on need for Christians to preserve the message about Jesus—the truth of who he is and what he has done—that is contained, specifically, in the Johannine Gospel. Certain people, whom the author characterizes as false believers, have left the Community, and hold/express a view of Jesus that is considered to be contrary to this Gospel (antichrist, “against the Anointed”). We will see this emphasis come more clearly into view in our passage as we proceed, beginning with the Christological declarations in 3:5 and 8b. I hope you will join me next Saturday for the continuation of this important study.

Saturday Series: 1 John 2:18-27

Last week we embarked on a series of studies on the Letters of John, beginning with the ‘prologue’ of 1 John (1:1-4). We noted the similarities with the Prologue (1:1-18) of the Gospel of John, an indication that the author is drawing upon both the manner of expression and the fundamental thought of the Johannine Gospel. This is particularly important in the light of the relation of the Letters (and the Gospel) to the Johannine Community—that group of congregations, presumably unified in thought and organization, in which those writings were produced and circulated. It is worth considering again the wording in 1:3-4, especially the use of the subjunctive in the central clause (note the portion in italics):

“th(at) which we have seen and heard we also give forth as a message to you, that you also might hold common (bond) with us; and, indeed, our common (bond) (is) with the Father and with His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and we write these (thing)s (so) that our delight (in it) may be made full.”

It would seem that the force of the subjunctive éch¢te, “that you might hold, that you would hold”, is part of a deliberative rhetoric by the author—meant to convince his readers to align themselves with his view, and to avoid/reject the opposing position. This seems clear enough from the language used: “that you might also hold common (bond) with us“. The two pronouns are in emphatic position; and, indeed, as we shall see, there is a definite us/them contrast that runs through the letters. Most commentators would interpret this as a sign of a serious conflict within the Community, even though the precise nature and extent of it remains uncertain.

1 John 2:18-27

Today’s study will focus on 1 John 2:18-27, from the standpoint, primarily, of historical criticism—that is, of determining the historical background and setting of both the particular passage and the work as a whole. Sound historical-critical analysis must begin with text as we have it, working from it based on careful exegesis. Even if it is necessary to read between the lines a bit, this ought to be done in a cautious manner; indeed, it is just at this point that close scrutiny of specific words and phrases is most vital.

Before proceeding, it will be helpful to examine briefly the two prior passages—2:3-11 and 12-17. The first is a three-fold discussion regarding Christian identity which is fundamental to the overall argument of the writing. It begins as follows, in verse 3:

“And in this we know that we have known him—if we keep watch (over) his entolai.”

The Greek plural entolaí is typically translated “commandments”, but this can be somewhat misleading in context. Literally, the word entol¢¡ refers to a charge or duty placed on (i.e. given to) someone to complete. The conventional translation suggests that the author is referring to something like the ‘commandments’ in the Law of Moses, or a similar set of commands given by Jesus in his teaching. This, however, does not appear to be correct, a point which will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming study. In the Johannine tradition, and for the author of 1 John, there is only one ‘command’ or duty for believers, and it is a dual, two-fold command, stately precisely in 3:23:

    • Trust in Jesus as God’s Son, and
    • Love for fellow believers, according to Jesus’ own example

These are the marks of a true Christian. In verses 4-11, the author lays out three basic ‘tests’ for one who claims to be a true believer:

    • “the one considering [i.e. claiming] (that) ‘I have known him‘”, but who does not keep/guard the two-fold command (“his entolai“) [vv. 4-5]
    • “the one considering (himself) to remain in him, but does not walk (i.e. live/act/behave) as Jesus walked, i.e. who does not follow Jesus’ own example [vv. 6ff]
    • “the one considering (himself) to be in the Light, but does not show love to his fellow believer (“hating his brother”), and so is actually in darkness [vv. 9-11]

Such a ‘false’ believer, being in darkness, cannot possibly belong to God, given the declaration in 1:5 (cf. also 2:8, and throughout the Gospel and First Letter). In 2:12-17, the focus shifts from the false believer to the true, and the author writes exhorting and admonishing his readers (as true believers), to remain in the truth, avoiding/resisting that which is false and evil, living according to the Word of God that remains in them (v. 14). In vv. 15-17, this is framed as part of the dualistic contrast between God and the world (kósmos, the current world-order).

This brings us to 2:18-27, which opens with an ominous (eschatological) warning:

“Little children, it is the last hour, and, even as you (have) heard that (one who is) against the Anointed [antíchristos] comes, even now there have come to be many (who are) against the Anointed [antíchristoi], (from) which we know that it is the last hour.”

The significance of both the ‘Antichrist’ tradition and the imminent eschatology in this passage will be discussed as part of the current series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”. What is clear is that (a) the author believed he and his readers were living in the “last hour” of the current Age, and (b) that this was indicated by the rise of these persons who are “against the Anointed One”. Whatever the author’s understanding of an underlying ‘Antichrist’ tradition (i.e. such as expressed in 2 Thess 2:1-12), he is using the term antíchristos differently, according to the basic meaning of the word—to characterize belief and/or behavior which is “against Christ”, or, more specifically, “against Jesus as the Anointed One”. In each verse that follows, the author describes those who are “against the Anointed”, and, at the same time, urges his readers not to follow in their path.

Verse 19

“They went out of us [ex h¢mœ¡n] but they were not out of us [ex h¢mœ¡n], for if they were out of us [ex h¢mœ¡n], they would have remained with us [meth’ h¢mœ¡n]; but (this happened so) that it might be made to shine forth [i.e. be revealed] that they all were not out of us [ex h¢mœ¡n].”

There is a bit of wordplay, using the expression ex h¢mœ¡n (“out of us”), which is lost in most English translations. It plays on two meanings of the preposition ex (e)c, “out of”). In the first use of the expression here (“they went out of us”), the sense of the preposition is “(away) from”, like the spatial sense of going “out of” (i.e. leaving) a room; here it refers to people who, according to the author, have left the Community. In the last three occurrences of the expression, “out of us” signifies origin and identity—i.e., “coming out of”, as in a birth, and so belonging to a person or group (like a child to a family). In the central clause, the two meanings are brought together: if these people truly belonged to the (rest of the) Community, they would not have left it. This last point is expressed in Johannine language, familiar from the Gospel, using the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”)—if they had belonged as believers with the rest of us, they would have remained with us. In the Gospel and letters of John, the verb ménœ has profound theological significance in terms of Christian identity—the believer “remaining” in Christ, and Christ “remaining” in the believer. The author goes so far as to state that the divisive conflict within the Community has taken place (according to God’s own purpose) so that it might be revealed those who are true believers, and those who are not.

Verse 20

“And you hold (the) anointing [chrísma] from the Holy (One), and you all have seen [i.e. known].”

The translation “Antichrist(s)” in verse 19 loses the important connection here between chrísma (“anointing”) and antíchristos (“against the Anointed”). There is an emphatic contrast intended between the author’s audience, assumed to be true believers, and those who have left the Community. The true believer holds the anointing of Christ (the Anointed One), and so could never be “against the Anointed”. Though it has to be inferred here, in speaking of “anointing” the author means the presence of Jesus in and among believers through the Spirit. The title “Holy (One)” (hágios) here almost certainly signifies Jesus (rather than God the Father), parallel (and partially synonymous) with “Anointed (One)”. The adjective pántes (“all”) is in emphatic position, stressing that this is so for all true believers. Some manuscripts read pánta (“all things”), but this would seem to be a ‘correction’, since otherwise the verb oídate (“you have seen”) lacks a clear object (compare v. 27). The implication is that all believers, through the presence of the Spirit, can see/know the truth—that is, the truth of who Jesus is, his example that we are to follow, etc.

Verse 21

“And I did not write to you (in) that [i.e. because] you have not seen the truth, but (rather) that you have seen it, and (have seen) that every lie is not out of the truth.”

There is a definite rhetorical purpose for the author to continue to address his reader with the presumption that they are true believers, repeatedly confirming this point. It would seem that it is intended to persuade his audience to stay away from the ‘false’ believers who have separated, and to treat them as non-believers (belonging to the world). This will become increasingly clear as we proceed through the letters, and is a point that needs to be considered with the utmost care. At any rate, here the author affirms that his readers, as true believers, have seen the truth (and will surely continue to do so). The language in the final clause mirrors that used in verse 19. A lie does not come out of the truth, in the sense of belonging to it, even as those who separated from the Community do not belong to it. This implicitly characterizes them as false believers.

Verse 22

“Who is the false (one) if not the (one) denying that Yeshua is the Anointed (One)? This is the (one who is) against the Anointed [antíchristos]: the (one) denying the Father and the Son.”

Here the false believer is defined more precisely as one “denying that Yeshua is the Anointed (One)”. From this verse alone, it is impossible to know just what this denial (vb arnéomai) entails. The verb literally means “fail/refuse to speak”, but could also denote “speak/utter against”, bringing it more in line with the idea of being “against” the Anointed One. A superficial reading might suggest Jews who refuse to accept Jesus as the Messiah; however, given the obvious Christian context of 1 John, this can scarcely be correct. Presumably everyone in the Community, even those who separated from it, would have affirmed the basic identification of Jesus as the Anointed One, however the title was understood precisely. And this seem to be just what was at issue—what does it mean to say that Jesus is the Anointed One? As history has proven, believers can adhere to a common Christological belief, while understanding it in very different ways. The second portion of verse 22, I think, brings more clarity to how the author views the matter: denying Jesus as the Anointed One is essentially the equivalent of denying the Father and the Son. As the Gospel John makes abundantly clear, the person of Jesus is fundamentally defined in terms of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus as God’s Son.

Verse 23

“Every (one) denying the Son does not even hold the Father, (but) the (one) giving common account of the Son holds the Father also.”

The opposite of denying (arnéomai), or failing to properly acknowledge, Jesus is to give an account as one (vb homologéœ) regarding him, i.e. to recognize and confess belief in him in unity with other believers. The logic is clear and simple: those who ‘deny’ Jesus cannot have a bond or relationship with God as their Father; however, if they properly recognize Jesus, which means being united with him, then they are united with the Father (as His children) as well. This all reinforces the idea that those who separated from the Community are not (and could not have been) united with God (and Christ) as believers.

Verse 24

“(That) which you heard from the beginning, it must remain in you; (and), if it should remain in you, (that) which you heard from the beginning, (then) indeed you will remain in the Son and in the Father.”

Here, remaining in union with God the Father and Jesus the Son is dependent on the message/truth which believers have heard (and accepted) remaining in them. This formulation clearly echoes that of 1:1-4 (see the previous study), with its key use of the expression “from the beginning” (ap’ arch¢¡s), embued with theological and Christological meaning. The message about who Jesus is, which goes back to the very beginning—both of the proclamation of the Gospel and the Creation itself—will continue to be upheld by every true believer. We still do not know, at this point in the letter, precisely how the view of those who separated from the Community differs, only that, in the mind of the author, it contradicts the fundamental message of the Gospel.

Verse 25

“And this (truly) is the message which he gave about (this) to us—the Life of the Age.”

The expression “life of the Age [i.e. Age to Come]” is an eschatological idiom, signifying the future blessed life (in heaven) for the righteous, but which, in the Johannine writings, has special theological meaning: as the (eternal) Life which God possesses, and which He gives to His Son (Jesus), and, through him, to believers. Thus the message (angelía) is not merely the words of the Gospel that are proclaimed about Jesus, but the life-giving power and presence of Jesus (the Son) himself. An even clearer definition of “Eternal Life” along these lines is found in the Gospel (17:3; cf. also 20:31, etc). The compound noun epangelía, literally a message about something, is often used in the sense of what a person will do about something, i.e. a promise, and so the word is typically translated in the New Testament. Here it should be understood more generally, in terms of the (Gospel) message about Jesus—who he is (in relation to the Father), and what God has done through him—that believers have heard and accepted “from the beginning”.

Verse 26

“I write these (thing)s to you, about the (one)s making you stray (from the truth).”

Here, in spite of assurances to his readers that they are true believers, the author clearly recognizes the real (and present) danger that there are people causing members of the Community to go astray (vb. planáœ). He uses a present participle, indicating that this is active and ongoing at the time he is writing. As noted above, the author clearly wishes to convince his readers of the error of these people, and to avoid them, regarding them instead as false believers. The statement “I write these things” should be understood of the letter (1 John) as a whole—the purpose of writing was to warn his readers of these people who might make them go astray.

Verse 27

“And (as for) you, the anointing which you received from him, it remains in you and you do not hold (the) need that any (one) should teach you; but, as his anointing teaches you about all (thing)s, and is true and is not (something) false, (so) also, even as it taught you, you are to remain in it.”

This verse summarizes the previous instruction, functioning as a reinforcing exhortation to readers. The precise force of it depends on a minor, but significant, textual question involving the last three words. The verb ménete (again the important Johannine vb ménœ, “remain”) can be read as either a present indicative (“you [do] remain”) or an imperative (“[you must] remain”):

    • “even as it taught you, (so) you remain in it” (indicative)—i.e. one naturally follows as a consequence of the other for believers, the emphasis being on the work of the “anointing” (i.e. the Spirit)
    • “even as it taught you, (so) you must remain in it” (imperative)—the emphasis shifts to the believer, his/her response to instruction by the Spirit/Anointing, involving a willingness to remain in the Spirit’s teaching.

I believe that at least some measure of imperative force is intended, based on the importance of the message which the author is intending to convey to his readers, exhorting them to remain fully rooted in the Community and the view of Jesus Christ which the author affirms for the Community. I have sought to preserve this, while recognizing the textual ambiguity, by translating “you are to remain…”.

Should the final pronoun in the prepositional phrase (en autœ¡) be understood as a reference to the anointing (“in it“), or to the person (Jesus) who relates to the believer through the anointing (“in him“). On the basic assumption that the anointing essentially refers to the Spirit (a point to be clarified in upcoming studies), which is also the manifest presence of Jesus in and among believers, either translation would be acceptable. I believe that the immediate point of reference in the closing words, consistent with the sense of verse 27 as a whole, is to the anointing (i.e. the Spirit). The same question of translation, of course, comes up when rendering passages mentioning the Spirit—should the Spirit be referred to as “it” or “he”? It is largely a matter of preference, though there are theological implications also which should not be ignored.

I hope that the exegetical treatment of 1 John 2:18-27 above is helpful in elucidating the circumstances under which the author is writing. We may summarize this briefly as:

    • There has been a conflict (and split) in the Community, with certain members (and congregations?) separating from the rest.
    • These people hold a view of Jesus (as the Anointed One and Son of God) which is viewed as erroneous and/or incompatible with the Johannine Gospel message.
    • This view of Jesus is characterized as “denying” him, and/or speaking “against” him—thus the label of these people as “against the Anointed” (antichrist).
    • This aspect of their view of Jesus, and their willingness to separate from the rest of the Community, marks them as false believers.
    • To some extent, these people (and their view of Jesus) have influenced others in the Community, causing some to “go astray”. In spite of the author’s assumption, in his writing, that his readers are true believers, he clearly recognizes the danger that they may still be misled by the ‘false’ ones.

The views of these ‘false’ believers are further explained in the remainder of 1 John, and we will have occasion to study this in greater depth. However, next week, I wish to shift the focus a bit, moving from historical criticism to a particularly difficult and challenging theological aspect of the work—namely, the seemingly contradictory message presented in 1 John: that believers both are and are not able to sin, and that the true believer both does and does not commit sin. This is addressed at several points in the letter; we will begin with an examination of 2:28-3:10. I would ask you to read this passage carefully, bringing out for yourself any of the questions that naturally come up for Christians today; I expect you will find them addressed, in some fashion, in our study…next Saturday.

Saturday Series: 1 John 1:1-5

Over the next month or so, these Saturday studies will focus on the Johannine Letters (1-2-3 John). Key passages in the letters will be highlighted, using the methods and principles of critical analysis—textual, historical, and literary criticism—to elucidate the text.

Even a casual reading, in translation, of both the Gospel and Letters of John, would make rather apparent the many similarities in language, style, and thought between these writings. If not written by the same person, then, at the very least, they share a common religious and theological worldview, and manner of expression, suggesting that they were both produced and read among a specific group of first-century believers. New Testament scholars typically refer to this as a Johannine “Community” or “School”. Community is the better term, in the sense of referring to a number of congregations in a particular region which were unified, to some extent, in thought and organization. Tradition ascribes all four writings (Gospel and Letters) to John the apostle (son of Zebedee); this is certainly possible, but technically the works are anonymous, and attribution to John should not be treated as established fact. A disciple of Jesus known as the “Beloved Disciple” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) is referenced in the Gospel as an eyewitness source of information and tradition, and it is often assumed that he was a central (perhaps the central) apostolic figure of the Johannine Community. I will regularly use the standard term “Johannine” without necessarily affirming the traditional identification of John the apostle as either the “Beloved Disciple” or author of the Gospel and Letters.

The location of the Johannine Community is also unknown, though tradition would identify it as the region around Ephesus, and, here too, the tradition may well be correct. In favor of Ephesus and Asia Minor are the following objective details:

    • The letters of Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110-115 A.D.), many of which are addressed to congregations in Asia Minor, show many similarities with Johannine thought. The same is true of the letter of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who is said to have been a disciple of John the apostle. In writing to the Christians of Smyrna and Tralles, Ignatius attacks Christological views similar to those denounced in 1 John.
    • The book of Revelation, written by a “John”, and traditionally identified with John the Apostle, is addressed primarily to churches in Asia Minor (chaps. 2-3), the first of which is Ephesus. The warnings in those letters are similar in certain respects to those given in 1 and 2 John.
    • The island of Patmos, where “John” writes the book of Revelation, and where John the Apostle was exiled (according to tradition), is not too far from Ephesus.
    • John the Baptist features prominently in the Gospel of John, and it often thought that the Gospel was written, in part, against those would might identify the Baptist (rather than Jesus) as the Messiah. According to Acts 18:25ff; 19:2-6, there appear to have been disciples of the Baptist in the vicinity of Ephesus.

The emphasis on this idea of a Johannine Community relates to the importance of studying the Scriptures, first of all, in the historical-cultural context in which they were originally authored and distributed. Too often, there is a tendency for Christians to read Scripture out of context, as though the writings simply dropped down out of heaven fully formed. Any sound and reasonable view of the inspiration of Scripture must take full account of the natural processes by which the text took shape and was produced—this means a real life-setting of the work. Such a setting is easier to establish in the case of the Letters of Paul, where so much more detail is provided, but the critical analysis—under the heading of historical criticism— is just as necessary for the Letters of John. For a study on the background of the Letters, see my earlier article on the subject.

By way of introduction, we will begin with the first five verses of 1 John—the “prologue” (1:1-4) together with the initial declaration (in v. 5) of the work proper.

1 John 1:1-5

Every attentive reader will, I think, readily recognize the points of similarity between the “prologue” to 1 John (1:1-4) and the more famous Prologue of the Gospel (Jn 1:1-18). This is clear enough from the opening words:

1 John
Hó ¢¡n ap’ arch¢¡s
 ^O h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$
Th(at) which was from the beginning
En arch¢¡ ¢¡n ho
 )En a)rxh=| h@n o(
In the beginning was the…

The form of the verb of being (eimi, here imperfect indicative ¢¡n, “was”) has profound theological (and Christological) significance in the Gospel of John, and is used most carefully in the Prologue as a mark of divine/eternal existence and life, contrasted with the contingent coming to be (vb gínomai) of creation. Also important is the noun arch¢¡ (“beginning, first, fore[most]”)—note the Gospel references in 1:1-2; 2:11; 6:64; 8:25, 44; 15:27; 16:4. There are nine other occurrences in the Letters, always in the expression “from the beginning” (ap’ arch¢¡s): 1 Jn 2:7, 13-14, 24 [twice]; 3:8, 11; 2 Jn 5, 6. One might also note the important occurrences of arch¢¡ in the book of Revelation (3:14; 21:6; 22:13).

The very way that 1 John starts, with the neuter relative pronoun (“[that] which”), could almost be read as a reference to the Gospel Prologue; indeed, many commentators feel that the author of the Letter is intentionally drawing on Jn 1:1-18, as a “deliberate reflection” upon its wording and theological message (Brown, p. 174). This seems most likely. However, while the (poetic) syntax of the Gospel Prologue is rather smooth and elegant, that of 1 Jn 1:1-4 is anything but, as most commentators and translators will acknowledge. The four verses make up one long (and rather awkward) sentence in the Greek; translations typically break this up and smooth things out considerably. Here I give my rendering of 1:1-4:

“Th(at) which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked at (closely) and our hands felt (by touching), about the word/account [lógos] of Life—and th(is) Life was made to shine forth, and we have seen (it), and we bear witness and give forth (as) a message to you, the Life of the Ages [i.e. Eternal Life] which was (facing) toward the Father and was made to shine forth to us—th(at) which we have seen and heard we also give forth as a message to you, that you also might hold common (bond) with us; and, indeed, our common (bond) (is) with the Father and with His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and we write these (thing)s (so) that our delight (in it) may be made full.”

I believe that a good deal of the grammatical awkwardness stems from the way that the thought/message of the Gospel Prologue is incorporated into the introductory message of the letter. It would seem that this took place two ways: (1) the initial (and repeated) use of the relative pronoun, and (2) the central proclamation (verse 2, highlighted in blue above) that interrupts the main statement. It is this proclamation that most clearly echoes the Gospel prologue:

    • “and th(is) Life was made to shine forth” (kai h¢ zœ¢¡ efanerœ¡q¢) [v. 2a]
      —Gospel: “and th(is) Life was the Light of men; and the Light shines…” (1:4)
    • “and we have seen (it)” (kai heœrákamen) [v. 2b]
      —Gospel: “and we looked at his splendor” (1:14, cf. also v. 18)
    • “and we bear witness [martyroúmen] and give forth (as) a message to you” [v. 2c]
      —Gospel: John the Baptist, in particular, bears witness to the Light/Life (1:6-8)
    • “the Life of the Ages which was [¢¡n] toward [prós] the Father” [v. 2d]
      —Gospel: “the Word [Logos] was [¢¡n] toward [prós] God…” (1:1) “this (one) was [¢¡n] in the beginning toward [prós] God” (1:2) “In him was [¢¡n] Life, and th(is) Life was [¢¡n]…” (1:4)
    • “and was made to shine forth to us” (kai efanerœ¡q¢ h¢mín) [v. 2e]
      —Gospel: 1:4f, 9ff, 14, 18 (see under v. 2a above)

The use of the relative pronoun adds to the complexity of 1:1-4 and requires some comment. It is a neuter pronoun, and, occurring as it does at the beginning of the sentence, is best understood in a general and comprehensive way. As I noted above, the allusions to the Gospel Prologue suggest that it is the unique message about Jesus, as presented in the Gospel of John, that is in view. I believe that this functions with three levels of meaning:

    1. Jesus as the eternal Word/Life/Light who came to earth as an incarnate (flesh and blood) human being
    2. The manifestation of this Life/Light on earth among other human beings—esp. his close disciples
    3. The message of Jesus—who he was and what he did—proclaimed by and among the first believers, down to the time of writing

The last of these is less prominent in the Gospel Prologue, but takes on special emphasis and importance in the Johannine Letters. The relative pronouns and points of reference in 1:1-4 shift subtly between these three levels of meaning, especially in vv. 1-3a—and it must be said that they are equally important (and interconnected) for the author. If the author is indeed making use of the (written) Gospel, then it is likely that 1 John was written somewhat later, after the Gospel (in some form) had already been in circulation in the Johannine churches. Probably he would have expected that his audience would understand and be familiar with his references to the Gospel Prologue, as well as the theology (and Christology) expressed by it. At any rate, the author’s own purpose in writing as he does is clear enough from the closing words in vv. 3-4:

“…th(at) which we have seen and heard we also give forth as a message to you, that you also might hold common (bond) [koinœnía] with us; and, indeed, our common (bond) [koinœnía] (is) with the Father and with His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and we write these (thing)s (so) that our delight (in it) may be made full.”

The specific wording here is significant and should be examined carefully. In particular, it is worth asking: if the author is writing to fellow believers, united in thought and purpose (as part of the Community), then why would he have any doubt that they “might also hold common (bond) with us”? The use of the subjunctive here (éch¢te, “might hold, would hold”) I believe is telling, as it relates to a certain conflict within the Community. We will examine this conflict in next week’s study; in preparation, I would ask that you read the letter carefully, from verse 4 through the end of chapter 2, paying special attention to the discussion in 2:18-27. What sort of conflict is described there, and what is the nature of the dispute? How would you relate it back to what the author expresses in the prologue of 1:1-4? In closing, it is worth noting the way the author re-states the Gospel message in verse 5:

“And this is the message which we have heard from him [i.e. Jesus] and deliver up (as a) message to you: ‘that God is Light, and there is not any darkness in Him’!”

This declaration again echoes the language of the Gospel prologue (1:5), as well as reflecting the dualism (i.e. Light vs. Darkness) that is especially characteristic of Johannine thought (3:19; 8:12; 12:35-36, 46, etc). This dualistic imagery will play an important role in how the author frames the conflict which is at the heart of the letter’s message. This we will explore…next Saturday.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 30 (1982).

Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (concluded)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, continued

Last week, under the heading of Literary Criticism (and Composition Criticism), we explored our passage (2 Cor 6:14-7:1) from the standpoint of Pauline authorship, both in terms of the immediate context of 2:14-7:4, and the letter of 2 Corinthians as a whole. In particular, at the close of the prior study, I gave consideration to the place of the passage within the entire letter, on the theory that our canonical book was, in fact, composed as a single letter by Paul. Compilation theories are common among critical commentators, and are plausible (more or less) to some degree, but they all face considerable difficulties with relatively little hard evidence to support them. At the same time, the structure and flow of 2 Corinthians, considered as a single letter, is also problematic.

Last week, I noted that there is a consistent (and apparently straightforward) letter at the core of 2 Corinthians, one centered on the financial collection for the Christians in Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9); it could plausibly be reconstructed as follows: 1:1-2:13; 7:5-16; chaps. 8-9; and 13:11-14 (or a comparable closing). What distorts this clean structure are the two lengthy discussions on Paul’s apostolic status and relationship to the Corinthians—2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:10—which fit uneasily into the formal epistolary and rhetorical pattern, and which largely account for the shifts in tone and emphasis. Both of these lengthy sections could serve as the core of letters themselves, with a self-contained structure that extends and distorts the outline of 2 Corinthians when taken as a whole. Thus, the critical view that one or both of these sections come from separate letters. But what of the possibility that they were both authored by Paul as part of the same letter (i.e. our canonical 2 Corinthians)? This could have a considerable bearing on the place and purpose of 6:14-7:1, and so should be examined in a bit more detail.

If, in fact, the financial collection for Jerusalem is the center of the letter, and Paul’s main purpose for writing, then the two ‘digressions’ on his apostolic status (in connection to the Corinthians) could be related to this. Is it possible to explain the letter’s (current) structure on this basis? and what, then, is the relationship? To begin with, in the structure of the letter as we have it, the two apostolic ‘digressions’ are embedded as part of the sections that bracket the central instruction regarding the collection for Jerusalem:

    • Extended Narration (narratio)—1:15-7:16
      [2:14-7:4—Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians]
    • Main Proposition (propositio) and Arguments (probatio) with Exhortation (exhortatio?)—8:1-9:15
    • Extended Exhortation (exhortatio), with concluding Argument/Appeal (peroratio)—10:1-13:10

Moreover, in spite of the differences in tone and style between the two apostolic discussions, they share a number of features and details in common, and are clearly related to the same basic subject—Paul’s role and status as an apostle to the Corinthians believers. Let us briefly consider the structure of these two sections—first, the discussion in 2:14-7:4:

    • 2:14-7:4—Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
      • Basic proposition (2:14-17)
      • Issue 1: On Ministers and letters of recommendation (3:1-18)
      • Issue 2: On the honesty/sincerity of true apostles (such as Paul) in the preaching and ministry (4:1-6)
      • Issue 3: On the (physical) suffering of apostles such as Paul for the sake of the Gospel (4:7-5:10)
      • Exhortation/Appeal to the Corinthians, regarding Paul’s role as Apostle (5:11-6:10)
      • Personal (Concluding) Appeal by Paul (6:11-7:4)

Second, that in 10:1-13:4:

    • 10:1-13:4—Extended Exhortation (exhortatio): Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
      • Initial Appeal and Statement (10:1-6)
      • Issue 1: The nature of Paul’s (apostolic) authority—theme of boasting introduced (10:7-18)
      • Issue 2: Comparison between Paul and other would-be Apostles who are influencing(?) the Corinthians (11:1-12:13)
      • Issue 3: Paul’s apostolic authority—exercise of discipline (12:14-21)
      • Closing appeal (13:1-4)

There is a general similarity in terms of structure: an initial statement, followed by three issues/arguments addressed by Paul, ending with a forceful exhortation/appeal. Admittedly, there are also significant differences, especially in terms of the thrust of each discussion. In particular, in 10:1-13:4 Paul uses a much stronger (and harsher) tone, similar in style and language to what we find in Galatians; as in that letter, Paul focuses on specific ‘opponents’, other (outside) leaders/ministers who are influencing the congregations he helped to found. There remains considerable scholarly debate as to just who these other (would-be) apostles are, along with the exact nature of Paul’s conflict with them. Based on the data in 2 Cor 10-13, we may plausibly determine the following details: (a) they were Jewish, (b) they came from outside the initial apostolic mission that founded the congregations, (c) they came with noteworthy credentials (commendatory letters), (d) they had a charismatic emphasis (more so than Paul), and perhaps were also more eloquent and impressive as speakers. It is unlikely that these were Palestinian Jewish Christians (from Jerusalem, etc); they appear to have been from the wider Hellenistic Jewish world, perhaps similar in background to Apollos. Interestingly, unlike in Galatians, Paul mentions no specific theological or doctrinal differences; his attack on them has more to do with how he viewed their personal character and understanding of the apostolic ministry.

Though it requires reading between the lines a bit, I believe the situation addressed by Paul in 10:1-13:4 is also in view in the earlier discussion of 2:14-7:4. In particular, the importance he gives to the question of letters of recommendation in chapter 3 is noteworthy. In an age when communication was extremely slow (and could be unreliable), transmission and presentation of letters played a key role in establishing a person’s legitimacy, qualifications, and intent. We also know from early Christian writings of the issues surrounding traveling ministers, the difficulties faced in establishing their pedigree and character, etc., including the potential danger an illegitimate itinerant minister could pose to a congregation. See, for example, chapters 11-13 of the so-called “Teaching (Didache) of the Twelve Apostles”. Apart from all other concerns, it was natural that a missionary like Paul would be highly protective of the congregations he played a role in founding. Moreover, from 1 Cor 1:10-17, it would seem there was a tendency among at least some in Corinth to identify themselves strongly with specific apostolic figures, in a partisan way that Paul found troubling. This could help us understand how influence from other outside ‘apostles’ could have quickly taken hold at Corinth, especially if such persons had impressive recommendations and/or demonstrated exciting charismatic abilities.

I think it may be possible to reconstruct a scenario that could explain why Paul writes as he does, including the two lengthy apostolic discussions. He wishes to see the effort of the financial collection for Jerusalem, so important in his mind, be carried through to completion (1 Cor 16:1-4, etc). However, significant problems had arisen which have disrupted and strained his relationship with the Corinthian congregations. He mentions one specific issue in 2:5-11, but it is clear that the conflict goes deeper and is more serious than this. He would not write so extensively defending and explaining his apostolic role and status, in relation to the Corinthians, were this not the case. Based on a careful reading of both apostolic discussion sections, it is possible to isolate two major (and likely related) issues: (1) the influence of other ‘apostles’ from outside who raised questions regarding Paul’s behavior and qualifications, etc, and (2) accusations/suggestions of misconduct by Paul. It is proper to consider them in this order and weight, since that is how Paul treats them in both discussions:

    • Extended discussion, with arguments, illustrations, etc, on Paul’s apostolic status and qualifications, both in relation to the Corinthians (emphasized in 2:14-7:4), and in comparison to these other ‘apostles’ (emphasized in chaps. 10-13)
    • At the close of the discussion, mention of accusations of misconduct, along with an implicit, but forceful denial.

Though less attention is given to the latter, it would seem to be the point that is most relevant for connecting the two apostolic discussions to the central matter of the financial collection for Jerusalem. The suggestions of misconduct occur at roughly the same point in each discussion—at the close of his arguments and in the context of the concluding appeal. In this first discussion, it happens to occur directly after 6:14-7:1 (a point to be further considered below), in 7:2ff. As I noted previously, Paul gives a concise three-fold denial of misconduct toward the Corinthians, using three verbs:

    • “we treated no one unjustly” (oudéna ¢dik¢samen)
    • “we corrupted no one” (oudéna ephtheíramen)
    • “we sought to have more (from) no one” (oudéna epleonekt¢¡samen)

In the second discussion, he addresses the matter in more detail, in 12:14-18:

“See, this (is the) third (time) I hold (myself) ready to come toward you, and I will not numb [i.e. weigh] you down—for I do not seek the (thing)s (that are) yours, but you. … And it must be (then), (that) I did not weigh you down; but (surely) (operat)ing under (an) all-working (cleverness), I took you with a trick! No, by any (one) whom I se(n)t forth toward you, did I seek to get more (from) you through him? I called Titus alongside and se(n)t him forth (to you) together with the brother; Titus did not (make) any attempt to get more (from) you (did he)? (and are we) not (moving) in the same track?”

Paul’s language here needs to be understood in light of the wider discussion in 2 Corinthians (especially here in chaps. 10-13), where Paul emphasizes that he did not burden the Corinthians with requests/demands for financial assistance (to support his ministry work)—on this point, see 11:7-11; 12:13, and the similar discussion in 1 Cor 9:1-18. The specific verb used in 12:14 (also 12:13 and 11:9) is katanarkᜠ(“numb down”), synonymous with katabaréœ (“weigh down”) in verse 16. This should have been viewed as a sign of Paul’s love and concern (his heart opened wide, 6:11); and yet, it appears to have played a part in suspicions and accusations against him. Twice in 12:17-18 (see the italicized words above), the verb pleonektéœ is used in this regard. It means simply “hold/have more”, but is often used in the sense of seeking to gain/get more from others (i.e. act greedily), sometimes with the harshly negative connotation of deceiving/defrauding others. This is one of the three verbs in Paul’s three-fold denial in 7:2 (see above), which would seem to confirm that the wrongdoing (adikía, “injustice”) of which he is suspected and/or accused relates primarily, if not entirely, to the idea that he is trying to get hold of money from the Corinthians through deception. If this is so, then it almost certainly is connected with the fundraising effort for Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9).

The accusation or suspicious criticism against Paul may have been along the following lines: He claims that he doesn’t ask any money of you for himself, but can you be sure he isn’t trying to defraud you with this collection? What if he is trying to trick you with these requests for money? Given the harshness of Paul’s attack in 10:1-13:4, it is likely that these other ‘apostles’ were at least partly responsible for spreading suspicions of this sort. As such, his collection efforts (and any accusations regarding them) cut right to the heart of his relation to the Corinthians as an apostle. Thus, he felt it necessary to expound and explain this to them in considerable detail—the nature of the apostolic ministry, and what it means for he (and his fellow missionaries) to be specially chosen and sent forth (i.e. an apostle) by God to proclaim the Gospel. At some level, he must have been hurt by any suspicions or accusation against him, however unfounded, and this comes through, especially in the first discussion, in the concluding exhortation/appeal (6:11-7:4), when he declares:

“Our mouth has been opened up toward you, Korinthians, our heart has been made wide; you are not in a narrow space in us, but you have (only) a narrow space in your inner organs (for us)! But (to give us) the (same) wage (back) in exchange, as (my dear) offspring, I say to you—make wide (your hearts) also to us, …. make space for us!

The striking difference in tone between 2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:4 has been noted numerous times, and this, too, can perhaps be explained in context of the Jerusalem Collection (chaps. 8-9). Since the Collection is foremost in mind, central to the letter and Paul’s purpose for writing, it would make sense that he waited until the matters regarding it were addressed before embarking in his polemic against the would-be apostles that were influencing the Corinthians. In other words, the two apostolic discussions are, in effect, two halves of a single line of argument separated by the matter of the Collection. In the first half (2:14-7:4) Paul presents himself as a true apostle, whom the Corinthians should regard in their proper relationship to him; in the second half (10:1-13:4), Paul compares/contrasts himself with these would-be ‘false’ apostles. We may view this as two sides of the same conflict.

Even if this line of interpretation is essentially correct, how does 6:14-7:1 relate to it? In the previous study, I laid out a possible contextual relationship, relating the injustice (adikía) that characterizes the non-believer (6:14ff) with the accusation/suspicion that Paul has acted unjustly (vb. adikéœ, 7:2). As it happens, there is a similar sort of dynamic at the end of the second apostolic discussion; note the following comparative outline:

    • First appeal—for the the proper relationship between Paul & the Corinthians (6:11-13 / 12:14-18)
    • Warning against behavior that is improper for believers, drawing upon traditional ethical-religious instruction (6:14-7:1 / 12:19-21)
    • Second appeal—picking up and restating the substance of the first appeal (7:2-4 / 13:1-4)

Due to the harsher tone of 10:1-13:4, the warning in 12:19-21 seems less out of place than in 6:14-7:1, and it also happens to resemble more closely the type of traditional ethical instruction (utilizing standard vice lists) Paul gives elsewhere in his letters (Gal 5:19-23; Rom 1:29-31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10). Even so, a strong argument can be made that 6:14-7:1 and 12:19-21 play the same role in both sections, and are evidence for the careful construction of those apostolic discussions within the setting of the letter as a whole. Though the context is less clear in the case of 6:14-7:1, it is strikingly evident in 12:19ff:

“In (what has) passed, do you consider that we are giv(ing) an account of ourselves to you? (It is) down before God in the Anointed {Christ} (that) we speak—and all th(ese thing)s, loved (one)s, (are) over [i.e. for] your (be)ing built (up). For I am afraid (in) no (little) way (that), (in my) coming, I should not find you like I wish (you to be), and I should be found like you do not wish (me to be)…”

In other words, the purpose of the apostolic discussions—both here and in 2:14-7:4—despite their apologetic character, where Paul seems to be defending his apostleship, is to the restore and preserve the proper relationship between Paul and the Corinthians. Note the important reciprocal language he uses: “For I am afraid … (that), (in my) coming, I should not find you like I wish (you to be), and I should be found like you do not wish (me to be).” Both sides of the relationship are threatened. This reflects a key theme that runs through both Corinthian letters—the importance of unity among believers, and how this aspect of our Christian identity is threatened by divisions and partisanship. In 12:20b, Paul neatly summarizes this disruption of unity through the popular ‘vice list’ format.

As in the case of 6:14-7:1, it is fair to refer to this as a description of what should not be present among believers (pístoi, those trusting)—rather, such disputes and divisiveness would more properly be characteristic of non-believers (ápistoi, those without trust). Moreover, the kind of immaturity that would lead to such division—including, to be sure the influence of the ‘false apostles’ and suspicions/accusations against Paul—might equally show one prone to more basic immorality and improper behavior. Again, as in 6:14-7:1, Paul refers to the immorality characteristic of non-believers, here indicating more directly that this may be a genuine problem for some Christians at Corinth (12:21). Thus, while Paul may deal with such ethical-religious matters in more detail in 1 Corinthians (5:1-13; 6:9-20; 10:14ff), it is not necessarily out of place here in 2 Corinthians, where the very character of what it means to be a true believer in Christ (in unity with others) is being addressed.


It may be helpful here, in conclusion, to bring together the strands of our study by way of a brief summary.

    • That there are a significant number of unusual or atypical details—words, phrases, style, points of emphasis, etc—in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, compared with the other undisputed Pauline letters, seems rather clear, as documented especially in our first study and in the separate note on 7:1.
    • For many commentators, these differences suggest that the passage is a non-Pauline interpolation, and thus not part of the original text. Such views are often related to the theory that 2 Corinthians is a compilation of letters (or parts of letters) by Paul.
    • The passage may be characterized as Jewish Christian homiletic material, based on a verse from the Torah (Lev 19:19), with a poetic exposition that includes a short chain (catena) of Scripture references, and concluding with a forceful exhortation (7:1) for believers. See our second study, as well as the article on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
    • There is evidence that Paul not infrequently made use of various sorts of traditional material—creeds, hymns, baptismal formulas, vice lists, Scripture catena, etc—which likely were not entirely his own creation, but reflect the early Christian tendency to adapt and promote traditional ways of thought and expression. A strong argument can be made that just such traditional material/expression was utilized by Paul in 6:14-7:1—this would explain many of the apparent differences in vocabulary and style, without excluding Paul as final author.
    • All interpolation theories face the profound difficulty of explaining just why 6:14-7:1 was included at its current location, especially since nearly all commentators consider 2:14-7:4, at least, to be part of a single letter. Though not without its own problems, the theory that Paul himself included the material as part of his line of argument/exhortation at the end of 2:14-7:4 is preferable. It does, however, require that some attempt be made to explain the sudden shift in tone by which our passage appears to interrupt the flow between 6:13 and 7:2.
    • Compilation theories for 2 Corinthians as whole, while plausible in varying degrees, remain highly speculative and ultimately rest on slight support. In terms of the external evidence (manuscript tradition, early versions, etc), there is no indication whatever that 2 Corinthians ever existed in a form different than our canonical text. If it is a compilation, it had to made early on, well prior to the middle of the 2nd century. Thus, it is at least worth seriously considering, on objective grounds, the possibility that Paul intended, and wrote, the letter as we have it.
    • The difficulties of structure, as well as the shifts in tone and style, are largely due to the two lengthy discussions on Paul’s apostolic status—2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:4—which extend and distort the epistolary (and rhetorical) form of the letter. If original to 2 Corinthians, these sections surround the central discussion in chapters 8-9, on the financial collection for Jerusalem, and would have to be connected with it in some fundamental way.
    • The two apostolic ‘digressions’, while differing in tone and emphasis, share many key themes in common, as well as a basic outline—(1) initial statement, (2) discussion of three issues (with arguments, illustrations), and (3) a concluding exhortation/appeal. The primary subject in each is that of Paul’s role as an apostle, and his relationship, as such, to the Corinthians. These parallels strongly indicate careful authoring, with each discussion set within the structure of the letter, surrounding the matter of the financial collection.
    • Toward the end of each apostolic discussion, Paul mentions suspicions/accusations of wrongdoing on his part. Similarities in language suggest that more or less the same issue is being addressed in each discussion, and that it involves deceit/fraud related to the financial collection (on this, see above).
    • Connected with this, in each apostolic discussion, Paul includes a warning to the Corinthians regarding behavior that is improper for a believer, framing it in traditional religious-ethical terms: (a) Jewish Christian homiletic in 6:14-7:1, and (b) Greco-Roman/Jewish ‘vice lists’ in 12:19-21. Such behavior contrasts with how a true believer should behave—indeed, it is characteristic of non-believers.
    • Thus, in each instance, as part of his appeal regarding his apostolic status (and relationship to the Corinthians), Paul includes a warning to the Corinthians that they not behave like unbelievers—acting in a divisive and (potentially) immoral way. There should be unity among believers, which involves preserving the divinely ordained relationship between a true apostle (Paul) and the congregations he helped to found. The restoration/preservation of this relationship was essential for the completion of the fundraising mission for Jerusalem, but ultimately points to deeper issues as well—regarding Christian identity and how believers ought to think and act in relation to one another.

While these critical studies do not resolve all of the questions surrounding 6:14-7:1, nor of 2 Corinthians as a whole, I hope they have served to demonstrate ways that critical methods and approaches can elucidate a Scripture passage. By confronting serious critical questions head on, without glossing them over or brushing them aside, it only strengthens our understanding of the Scriptures, giving us, I believe, more insight into the inspired text and how it came to be produced. The purpose of these Saturday Studies is to introduce any and all interested readers to the techniques and methods of Biblical Criticism, and how they may be applied to our study of Scripture. Next week, we will shift are attention to an entirely different area of the Scriptures. I hope you will join me for this new study!

Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (part 4)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, continued

In last week’s study, we examined 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 from the standpoint of the critical theory that the passage is an interpolation, i.e. a secondary addition to the text. In particular, the apparent non-Pauline features—those considered unusual or atypical of Paul—were discussed (following the prior examination of the vocabulary and other details in Parts 1 and 2). This study came under the heading of redaction criticism—that is, the passage as included in the text by an editor/redactor, a view often related to the theory that 2 Corinthians as a whole represents a compilation of two or more letters by Paul (for more on this, see below).

Composition Criticism

This week, we will be considering 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 from the standpoint of Pauline authorship; our discussion now falls under the heading of composition criticism—i.e. how the passage came to be authored (or composed) in the context of the letter as we have it. The study will be divided into four sections:

    1. The structure and content of 2:14-7:4 and the (current) location of 6:14-7:1
    2. Pauline authorship of 6:14-7:1 and how it might relate to 2:14-7:4
    3. The overall context of 1:1-7:16 as a unified composition (and how 6:14-7:1 fits in)
    4. Questions regarding the letter as a whole (including chaps. 8-9 and 10-13)
1. The Structure and Content of 2 Cor 2:14-7:4

Nearly all commentators (even those who view 2 Corinthians as a compilation) consider 2:14-7:4 (excluding 6:14-7:1) to be a unified composition and part of a single letter. It is for this reason, as we discussed last week, that the inclusion of our passage in the middle of this section—i.e. after 6:13 instead of 7:4—is so problematic for any interpolation/compilation theory. It will be useful now to examine briefly the structure and content of 2:14-7:4 as a whole. Most commentators and New Testament scholars today recognize that Paul, in his letters, makes use of common rhetorical (and epistolary) techniques in presenting his arguments and exhorting his readers, etc. I will be discussing the structure of 2 Corinthians in this light in the sections below. Generally we may describe the rhetorical thrust of 2:14-7:4 as deliberative, centered on two interrelated themes: (1) Paul’s relation to the Corinthians as an apostle, and (2) the importance of this relationship being maintained and/or restored. Here is how I would divide this section as a whole:

    • 2:14-17—Basic proposition: Paul and his colleagues as apostles who are honest and sincere in their ministry
    • 3:1-18—Issue/Argument #1: On letters of recommendation (for apostles/ministers)
      • Illustration: The written tablets of the Old Covenant, in relation to the New (homiletic exposition)—letter vs. Spirit (vv. 3, 7-18)
    • 4:1-6—Issue/Argument #2: On the honesty/sincerity of true apostles (such as Paul) in the preaching and ministry
      • Illustration: Light vs. Darkness (blindness), alluding to the Mosaic veil in the prior illustration (vv. 3-6)
    • 4:7-5:10—Issue/Argument #3: On the (physical) suffering of apostles such as Paul for the sake of the Gospel
      • Illustration 1: The death and resurrection of Jesus—the participation of believers in it (4:10-15)
      • Illustration 2: The inner vs. outer nature of the human being (esp. the believer) (4:16-18)
      • Illustration 3: The body as a house or tent (i.e. clothing) that perishes, to be replaced by one that is imperishable (at the resurrection) (5:1-5)
      • Illustration 4: At home vs. away from home—i.e. believers in the present world (of suffering) vs. the future life in Heaven (5:6-10)
    • 5:11-6:10—Exhortation/Appeal to the Corinthians, regarding Paul’s role as Apostle
      • 5:11-15—His ministry is centered on proclamation of the Gospel
      • 5:16-21—Effect of the Gospel: The life of believers is new in Christ, and does not depend on the ‘old’ standards of the world; as an apostle, his ministry serves this dynamic of making things new.
      • 6:1-10—The Corinthians must receive, realize, and act according to this new identity in Christ (vv. 1-2), which includes recognizing Paul’s relation to them as an Apostle (vv. 4-10)
    • 6:11-7:4—Personal Appeal by Paul
      • 6:11-13—First statement (“make wide [your hearts] to us”)
      • 6:14-7:1—Illustration (?) from Scripture (Lev 19:19)—Homiletic exposition/exhortation {disputed passage}
      • 7:2-4—Second(?) statement (“make space for us”)

This outline shows that 2:14-7:4 admirably forms the torso of a letter with a deliberative rhetorical thrust (i.e. seeking to persuade/exhort the reader with regard to current/future action):

Unfortunately, the situation is more complicated when 2:14-7:4 is considered in the context of 1:1-7:16 (on this, see below). How exactly does 6:14-7:1 relate to this outline for 2:14-7:4? It appears to have little, if anything, to do with the specific matters being addressed—of Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians. As most commentators recognize, the transition from 6:13 to 6:14ff is sudden, appearing to interrupt the line of thought most abruptly. Nothing in 2:14-6:13 would prepare us for the style and tone (and subject matter) of 6:14-7:1. As I mentioned last week, 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 seems to have much more in common with Paul’s discussion(s) in 1 Corinthians (e.g. 5:6-8; 6:19; and 10:6-13) than anything we find in 2 Corinthians.

Perhaps a clue is to be found in the immediate context. In the letter as we have it, 6:14-7:1 is bracketed by two similar, and more or less synonymous, exhortations by Paul:

    • “make wide (your hearts) also to us” [platýnth¢te kai hymeís] (end of 6:13)
    • “make space [i.e. in your hearts] for us” [chœr¢¡sate hymás] (beginning of 7:2)

As commentators have noted, removing 6:14-7:1 yields a relatively smooth and consistent statement by Paul; for example, I translate with the temporary join indicated by italics and a vertical bar:

“Our mouth has been opened up toward you, Korinthians, our heart has been made wide; you are not in a narrow space in us, but you have (only) a narrow space in your inner organs (for us)! But (to give us) the (same) wage (back) in exchange, as (my dear) offspring, I say to you—make wide (your hearts) also to us, | make space for us! We treated no one unjustly, we corrupted no one, we (desir)ed to seize much from no one. …”

At the same time, it must be admitted that 6:11-7:4 represents the climax of the composition (defined here as 2:14-7:4), and, if such a dramatic piece of exposition as 6:14-7:1 belongs anywhere in this work, it would be just where it is currently located, in the middle of the climactic appeal. But does it truly belong there? To make a fair determination, let us now consider what Paul, as author, might have intended with this passage, and possible arguments for its inclusion at the point where we have it (between 6:13 and 7:2).

2. Pauline authorship of 6:14-7:1 and its current location

We have already examined some of the apparent “non-Pauline” features of this passage—words, expressions, style and points of emphasis that would seem to be unusual or atypical of Paul. These are significant enough to raise legitimate questions regarding authorship, and cannot simply be brushed aside. However, we have also seen enough genuine Pauline features to establish the possibility that he is ultimately responsible for the passage. A reasonable solution would be that Paul is here making use of traditional Jewish Christian material—in style and tone, if nothing else—adapting a piece homiletic exposition (on Lev 19:19), and applying it to his Corinthian audience. While this seems fair enough, and is more or less the explanation I would adopt, there is at least one serious challenge to Pauline authorship/use that must be addressed. This is the strong idiom of ritual purity in 6:14-7:1, with the corresponding emphasis on the need for believers to separate from non-believers. According to some commentators, this line of thought and mode of expression runs contrary to Paul’s own, based on evidence from his other (undisputed) letters. I addressed this argument in the previous study (see also the separate article on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls), but is worth outlining again here the most relevant passages where Paul draws on the idea of (ritual) purity from the Pentateuch/Torah, and uses it in a similar context of exhorting believers to avoid close association with immorality and/or ‘idolatry’. The passages are:

    • Rom 6:12-13, 19—there is perhaps a faint allusion to the purity of sacrificial offerings (i.e. service at the altar) in the idea of believers presenting themselves before (vb paríst¢mi, lit. “[make] stand alongside”) God (cf. also the quasi-ritual context of the image in 2 Cor 11:2); it is noteworthy that v. 19 contains the same juxtaposition of dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness”) and anomía (“lawlessness”) that we find in 2 Cor 6:14 (see below).
    • 1 Cor 5:6-8—Passover imagery (esp. that of unleavened bread) is applied to believers, exhorting them not to associate with persons engaged in sexual immorality (vv. 1-2, 9-13f); the main difference with 2 Cor 6:14ff is that here it directed specifically against believers engaged in sinful behavior and not non-believers.
    • 1 Cor 6:19—the bodies of believers are identified (symbolically) with the Temple, which had to be kept ceremonially pure (a primary concern of the Torah purity laws); here we find perhaps the closest example of ritual purity meant to symbolize believers separating themselves from the immorality of the surrounding society (vv. 9ff, 13-18).
    • 1 Cor 10:6-13—the application of the Golden Calf episode (Exod 32; note the implicit context of ceremonial purity in 19:10-15) to the very matter addressed in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, namely, believers separating from the idolatrous culture around them (vv. 7-8, 14ff).

The last two examples from 1 Corinthians, in particular, are reasonably close to the basic message of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, and serve to demonstrate, I think, that Paul was capable of addressing believers (and especially the Corinthians) in such a manner. However, if 6:14-7:1 genuinely comes from Paul (even if as an adaptation of traditional material), can any sense be made of its use at the current location in the letter? Why would Paul address his audience this way, at this point?

Much depends on the nature of the problems existing between Paul and at least some in the Corinthian congregations. The extent to which he emphasizes both (a) his role as an apostle, and (b) the sort of relationship the Corinthians ought to have with him, in 2:14-7:4, strongly suggests that there has been a breach in the relationship, to some extent. The wording he uses in the climactic appeal at 7:2 raises the possibility that there had been accusations of wrongdoing and, perhaps, misuse of his apostolic authority. He strings together three verbal phrases, forming a three-fold denial of any such wrongdoing on his part; each beginning with an emphatic oudeís (oudéna), “no one”:

    • oudéna ¢dik¢¡samen, “we treated no one unjustly”
    • oudéna ephtheíramen, “we corrupted no one”
    • oudéna epleonekt¢samen, “we (wish)ed to take more (from) no one” (i.e., acting greedily, etc)

It is possible—and admittedly, it is only a possibility—that the digression in 6:14-7:1 is connected in some way to these ‘charges’. The initial verb used in 7:2 (adikéœ, “act without justice, act/treat unjustly, injure”) is related to the initial noun (adikía, “[being] without justice, injustice”) that establishes the contrast (between believer and non-believer) in 6:14ff. Perhaps the point Paul is making, by utilizing the homiletic of 6:14ff, is: believers are not to be closely joined with non-believers, but should not separate from other believers (unless they behave like non-believers, cf. 1 Cor 5:9ff); how much more, then, should the Corinthians remain closely joined with an apostle and minister like Paul, who has not acted wrongly toward them, but has honestly and faithfully preached the Gospel that led to their experience of new life in Christ. This could also explain Paul’s wording in 7:3: “I do not say (this) toward bringing down judgment (on you)”, i.e. I am not saying you are acting like this (i.e. like unbelievers, 6:14ff), nor that you are making such charges against me (7:2), which would be wrong. If 6:14-7:1 is actually targeting immorality or idolatrous associations among the Corinthians, such as are mentioned in 1 Corinthians, then it would, indeed, seem to be out of place in its current location. But, if the point, by drawing the contrast between believer and non-believer, is meant to enhance and emphasize the unity and bond between believers (and between minister and congregation), then the inclusion of 6:14-7:1 here could perhaps be explained. We will take this up again in the concluding study next week.

3. The context of 1:1-7:16 (as a unified composition)

Even a casual reader will notice that, after the long discussion in 2:14-7:4, the following section (7:5-16) picks up where 2:13 left off. This has led some commentators to posit that two letters have been spliced together: (1) 1:1-2:13 + 7:5-16, and (2) 2:14-7:4. I must say that I find little evidence to support such a theory; in which case, it would be more plausible to view 1:1-7:16 as (part of) a unified composition. However, this does complicate the structure of the letter considerably, since 1:8-2:13 + 7:5-16 appears to serve as the narration (narratio) portion of the letter—i.e. narrating the facts and historical circumstances, etc, related to the matter being discussed. Normally this section precedes the main proposition (propositio), presentation of arguments (probatio), and exhortation (exhortatio); for a clear example of this order, following the tenets of classical rhetoric and epistolary form, see esp. the outline of Galatians. As I noted above, 2:14-7:4 appears to have the character of the main body of the letter—propositio, probatio, exhortatio—but, if 1:1-7:16 is a single composition, then 2:14-7:4 instead functions as a (lengthy) digression in the middle of the narratio. It also would seem to require additional material to make up the body of the letter; such material, of course, would be at hand with chapters 8-9ff of 2 Corinthians as we have it. Thus, it will be useful, at the close of this part of our study, to consider the structure of the entire letter (our current 2 Corinthians), to see how 6:14-7:1 might relate to it.

4. The letter as a whole (including chaps. 8-9 and 10-13)

Upon examining chapters 8-9 and 10-13 we find two very distinct kinds of material: (a) instruction relating to the charitable collection for the Christians of Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9), and (b) a lengthy discussion on Paul’s status as an apostle, similar in some respects to that of 2:14-7:4, only much more pointed and harsher in tone, directed at specific opponents (and similar in style and manner of argument to Galatians). Thus, it is possible to isolate two structural lines, or strands, which make up the letter as we have it:

    1. A practical, and relatively straightforward letter, dealing primarily with the collection for Jerusalem, and
    2. Two lengthy treatments regarding Paul’s role and status as an apostle, and his relationship, as such, to the Corinthian churches

At first glance, these two strands seem to have little to do with each other; in particular, the harsh polemic of chaps. 10-13 appear at odds with the rest of the letter, which is why many scholars (including more traditional-conservative commentators) hold that chaps. 10-13 represent a separate letter from chaps. 1-9. If we were to remove 2:14-7:4 and chs. 10-13, temporarily, from the letter, a rather simple and straightforward outline emerges:

    • Greeting (Epistolary Prescript)—1:1-2
    • Introduction (Exordium)—1:3-11
    • Statement of the reason/purpose for writing (Causa)—1:12-14
    • Narration (Narratio)—1:15-2:13 + 7:5-16
    • Proposition (Propositio) [regarding the Collection]—8:1-7
    • Arguments/Instruction (regarding the Collection)—8:8-9:5
    • Exhortation (Exhortatio) [regarding the Collection]—9:6-15
    • Conclusion / Epistolary Postscript (?) cf. 13:11-14

The core of this letter relates to the Jerusalem Collection (chaps. 8-9). There have been some prior difficulties between Paul and the Corinthians, as he narrates (1:15-2:4); but, as was subsequently reported to him by Titus (7:5-16), to some extent at least, these seem to have been resolved. Now, following the preparatory work by Titus (8:6ff), Paul urges the Corinthians to complete their part in the Collection. How does 2:14-7:4 (much less chaps. 10-13) fit into this outline? As I have previously noted, a good number of commentators believe that 2 Corinthians represents a compilation of different letters from Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Such theories, while interesting, and not entirely implausible, remain highly speculative, with little hard evidence to support them. Ultimately, though not without difficulties, it is easier to explain 2 Corinthians, as we have it, as a single letter. Assuming this, for the moment, how would 6:14-7:1 relate to the overall structure of this letter? The lengthy excursions regarding Paul’s role as an apostle, which clearly are of prime importance to the letter, at the same time distort the rhetorical picture. Commentators who accept the integrity of the entire letter, outline this complex picture in various ways. Here is a tentative outline on my part:

  • 1:1-2—Greeting (epistolary prescript)
  • 1:3-11—Introduction (exordium)
  • 1:12-14—Reason/purpose for writing (causa)
  • 1:15-7:16—Extended Narration (narratio)
    • 1:15-2:13—Initial narration: On the prior troubles between he and the Corinthians
    • 2:14-7:4—Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
      • Basic proposition (2:14-17)
      • Issue 1: On Ministers and letters of recommendation (3:1-18)
      • Issue 2: On the honesty/sincerity of true apostles (such as Paul) in the preaching and ministry (4:1-6)
      • Issue 3: On the (physical) suffering of apostles such as Paul for the sake of the Gospel (4:7-5:10)
      • Exhortation/Appeal to the Corinthians, regarding Paul’s role as Apostle (5:11-6:10)
      • Personal (Concluding) Appeal by Paul (6:11-7:4)
    • 7:5-16—Concluding narration: On the expected resolution of troubles between he and the Corinthians
  • 8:1-7—Main Proposition (propositio), regarding the Collection for Jerusalem
  • 8:8-9:15—Arguments (probatio), in support of the Corinthians faithfully completing the Collection
  • 10:1-13:4—Extended Exhortation (exhortatio): Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
    • Initial Appeal and Statement (10:1-6)
    • Issue 1: The nature of Paul’s (apostolic) authority—theme of boasting introduced (10:7-18)
    • Issue 2: Comparison between Paul and other would-be Apostles who are influencing(?) the Corinthians (11:1-12:13)
    • Issue 3: Paul’s apostolic authority—exercise of discipline (12:14-21)
    • Closing appeal (13:1-4)
  • 13:5-10—Concluding Argument and Appeal (peroratio)
  • 13:11-14—Closing/Benediction (epistolary postscript)

The (possible) relation of 6:14-7:1 to this outline will be considered carefully in next week’s study, which will bring our discussion of this provocative passage to a close. I hope to see you here next Saturday.

Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (part 3)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, continued

Literary Criticism

This is the third of five planned Saturday Series studies on 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, a passage thought by many commentators to be a (non-Pauline) interpolation. The evidence and arguments for this are significant, and worth pursuing as a way of demonstrating the importance (and value) of a thorough critical treatment of Scripture. The first study introduced the passage and looked at it from the standpoint of textual criticism; the second study examined it in terms of source criticism and form/genre criticism. Today, we will approach the passage through the eyes of literary criticism—that is, examining how it was authored and/or included in the letter of 2 Corinthians as a whole. This approach touches upon the style, circumstances, and purpose of the passage, as a section in the larger literary work. However, because of the serious questions regarding authorship and integrity of the passage—especially the thought that it may be a secondary addition (interpolation)—questions justified, at least in part, by the evidence we have considered so far, it is necessary to focus our study here in two ways. These reflect two other aspects of Biblical criticism:

    • Redaction Criticism—Here we will specifically consider the hypothesis that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is an interpolation, added to, or included in, the letter by an editor or compiler (i.e. redactor).
    • Composition Criticism—The focus shifts to explanations of the passage as the work of the author (i.e. Paul) of the letter.

Redaction Criticism

As mentioned previously, there are three different theories regarding 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 as an interpolation (i.e., a passage added secondarily to the letter): (a) Pauline, (b) non-Pauline, and (c) anti-Pauline. I will deal with these in reverse order:

Anti-Pauline theory

Some commentators feel that the unusual vocabulary, style and points of religious/theological emphasis, some of which we have already examined, are not only unusual to Paul, but actually run contrary to his way of thinking as expressed elsewhere in his letters. One prominent scholar who takes this position is Hans Dieter Betz, who discussed the matter in an article (“2 Cor 6:14-7:1: An Anti-Pauline Fragment?” Journal of Biblical Literature 92:88-108 [1973]), and again (as an appendix) in his outstanding critical commentary on Galatians (Hermeneia series [Fortress Press: 1979], pp. 329-30). He holds that the emphasis on the Torah, ritual purity, separation (from the ungodly/non-believer) in the passage, along with the strong dualistic manner of expression, better reflects the viewpoint of Paul’s Jewish Christian opponents (in Galatians, etc) than that of Paul himself. This seems rather to overstate the case, and on the whole I do not agree with such analysis; however, there is at least one supposition that needs to be examined seriously: whether the strong emphasis on separation from non-believers, so central to the passage, is foreign to Paul, or is in accord with his thought. In particular, this separationist teaching appears to run contrary to Paul’s specific instruction elsewhere to the Corinthian believers at three points: (1) the statement in 1 Cor 5:10, (2) the teaching regarding mixed marriage (1 Cor 7:12-16), and (3) relating to the issue of eating food that had been offered in a pagan religious setting (1 Cor 8-10, esp. 8:4-10; 10:23-30). It is worth considering each of these briefly.

In 1 Cor 5:1-12, Paul addresses the issue of a believer known to be engaged in improper sexual relations, and stresses that others in the congregation(s) should not associate with those involved in such behavior. The main difference with 2 Cor 6:14ff is that here the injunction to separate from immoral/ungodly people relates to believers, not the non-believer. Indeed, Paul seems to suggest the opposite of 2 Cor 6:14ff when he remarks, regarding this separation, that he is referring

“not (at) all (to) the ‘prostitutes’ [i.e. sexually immoral] of this world, or th(ose) looking to hold more [i.e. the greedy] and (who are) seizing (from others), or (to) the (one)s serving images [i.e. idols], (for) then you ought to go out of the world (completely)” (v. 10)

In other words, Paul is not telling them to separate (physically) from all the non-believers in the society at large, but, rather, to keep their distance from (lit. not to “mix together with”, vb sunanamígnymi) anyone claiming to be a believer (lit. “being named [a] brother”) who behaves in an openly immoral way (v. 11). In my view, the assumption that this instruction contradicts 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, while perhaps understandable, is misplaced. The same can be said of the other two instances mentioned above, even though, in many ways, those passages relate more directly to the teaching in 2 Cor 6:14ff.

In 1 Cor 7:12-16, as a part of wider teaching regarding marriage among believers in chap. 7, Paul specifically advises a man or woman, married to an unbeliever (lit. one “without trust”, ápistos), to remain together and not to separate, in the hopes that the unbelieving spouse might be converted. Following this, in chapters 8-10, Paul gives a most thorough and complex treatment on the question of whether believers should eat food that had been offered beforehand in a pagan religious setting (lit. food [meat] “slaughtered to [an] image”, eidwlóqyton, 8:1). This lengthy, nuanced instruction appears at odds with the stark contrast (and prohibition) given in 2 Cor 6:14ff. Paul, it seems, would permit believers to eat any such food as long as the act (and example) of doing so was not detrimental to others (those ‘weaker’ in faith). These two instances are notable, in relation to 2 Cor 6:14ff, in that they appear to be directly on point in several respects:

    • The same contrast between believer and non-believer (lit one “without trust”, ápistos) is made in both 1 Cor 7:12ff and 2 Cor 6:14ff. If, in the latter, the author (assuming it to be Paul) instructs a believer not to be “joined together” with a non-believer, how can he, in the former instance, tell them to remain ‘joined together’ in the marriage bond? Indeed, the very Scripture (Lev 19:19) upon which the homiletic in 2 Cor 6:14ff is based implies the sexual joining (i.e. breeding) of two different kinds of animals.
    • In 2 Cor 6:16 it is certainly implied that believers (as the “shrine of God”) should have nothing at all to do with the “images” (shorthand for the idolatrous deities) associated with Greco-Roman (polytheistic) religion. How, then, could Paul, if he is the author of the former passage, permit believers, under any circumstances, to eat food that had been offered beforehand to such ‘idols’ (cf. 8:4-10; 10:23-30)?

Does Paul’s teaching in these passages truly run counter to the exhortation in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (and vice versa)? In answer to this question, I would make several points related to each passage:

1 Corinthians 7:12-16—In 1 Cor 7:12-16, Paul is dealing with a very specific situation: instances where one spouse came to faith in Christ while the other did not, or has not yet, remaining a ‘pagan’ non-believer. In other words, the two were already married when the one spouse became a believer. This must have been a relatively common occurrence in the early years when the Gospel took root in a particular region of the Greco-Roman world (i.e., in a city like Corinth). Paul’s hope (and expectation) in his instruction to the believing spouse within a ‘mixed’ marriage clearly is evangelistic—that the non-believing spouse will be converted. This situational advice should not be mistaken for a general teaching regarding marriages between believers and non-believers. If a believer, upon coming to faith, were then to consider marrying a (pagan) non-believer, I am quite certain that Paul’s exhortation (and warning) would be very much akin to that of 2 Cor 6:14: “You must not come to be joined with (one who is) different, (one) without trust!”

1 Corinthians 8-10—The teaching in 1 Cor 8-10, regarding the issue of food (meat) that had been offered to “images”, also deals with a very specific situation, and ought not to be taken as a general principle, as some in Corinth may have done—e.g., if an idol is “not anything (real)” (8:4), then why should we be concerned about food that has been offered to it? I suspect that Paul, if left to his own opinion on the matter, would have been inclined to give a blunt prohibition along the lines of 2 Cor 6:16 (cf. also Acts 15:20, 29, and the context of Rev 2:14, 20). However, he seeks to balance two equally important concerns—(1) the freedom believers have in Christ, and (2) the need to avoid immorality and evil (associated with idolatry), etc. As such, 1 Cor 8-10 is a masterpiece of Christian homiletic, though admittedly different in scope and style from 2 Cor 6:14ff. Ultimately, Paul’s exhortation (10:14-22) comes very close to 2 Cor 6:16ff, though with the caveat of the sort of special instruction in 10:23-30 that is absent from the latter passage. This instruction is important to keep in mind, because it marks the distinction, and particular situation, Paul is addressing. Meat purchased in the marketplace, and thus presented at meals, often would have come from a sacrificial setting, as the byproduct of offerings made to deities. If such an association is clearly evident, then believers ought not to partake of such food (in accordance with 2 Cor 6:16); only when there is no public or known association with pagan religion, are believers free to eat, without worrying about the food’s origins.

1 Corinthians 5:10—The notice in 1 Cor 5:10 should also be viewed in terms of the specific circumstances of Paul’s instruction, and not as a principle to follow on its own. Paul is telling believers not to associate with another believer (or one calling himself/herself such) who is known to be involved in immoral behavior. This involved a real distancing, or separation, since living and meeting in close proximity was a sign of religious identity and (spiritual) union. This does not apply to other non-believers in society at large (“the world”), since there is no such union involved, and physical proximity per se had no intrinsic meaning. As such, there was no need for believers to avoid passing contact with non-believers; indeed, as Paul makes clear, to do so would require that they virtually “go out of the world”. Some might say that this is just the idea suggested by the citation of Isa 52:11 in 2 Cor 6:17—of a strict separation from the world. However, the language in 2 Cor 6:14-16 indicates a close joining rather than casual contact. If a believer were tempted to join together closely or intimately with pagan non-believers, Paul might well use similar language as in 2 Cor 6:14ff.

It is hard to see how the theory that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is anti-Pauline can be maintained. Even more decisive is that it is virtually impossible to explain how such an anti-Pauline fragment was ever included as part of a Pauline letter (on this, see below).

Non-Pauline theory

Even if it is not anti-Pauline, that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 may not have been authored by Paul himself (i.e. non-Pauline) still remains a possibility, given the evidence that we considered in the previous studies. The passage is to be characterized as a Jewish-Christian homiletic treatment of Leviticus 19:19, comprised of a poetic exposition (in Semitic style, parallelistic couplets) with a chain (catena) of Scripture citations. The poetic style, and reliance upon Scriptural passages, may explain the apparent non-Pauline features, at least in part. A fairer judge concerning authorship, I think, would be any unusual or atypical details in the concluding exhortation (7:1). I discuss these in a separate, supplemental note.

If the passage was, indeed, not composed at all by Paul himself, what are its origins and how did it come to be included as part of 2 Corinthians? One critical theory is that it represents early Jewish Christian (homiletic) material that was, presumably, mistakenly identified (by an editor/compiler of the letter) as coming from Paul. There are three notable details or points of emphasis that, in large measure, appear to be foreign to Paul, and, at the same time, may have more in common with other Jewish (and Jewish Christian) writings of the period. I highlight these as:

    1. The emphasis on ritual purity, and, with it, the idea of believers separating from the non-believers.
    2. A strong dualism in thought and expression, as a way of contrasting believer vs. non-believer.
    3. Use of the name Belíal.

In particular, on these three points, many commentators point out the parallels in certain of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls); I address these in some detail in a supplemental article which you may want to consult as part of this study. I will be discussing these ‘non-Pauline’ features, and whether, or to what extent, they may be compatible with Paul’s actual style, thought, and mode of expression, in the section on “Composition Criticism” (see below).

One problem faced by proponents of the theory that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is a non-Pauline interpolation, is the question of just how it ever came to be included as part of 2 Corinthians. It would seem to require two basic suppositions: (1) it was mistakenly attributed to Paul by an editor or compiler, and (2) 2 Corinthians is a composite work, made up of more than one letter by Paul. On the second point, I mentioned this possibility in a prior study, pointing out the variety of theories advanced by scholars, perhaps the most common being: 2-document (chaps. 1-9 + 10-13), 3 document (chaps. 1-8 + 9 + 10-13); and 5-document (1:1-2:13 + 2:14-6:13, 7:2-16 + chap. 8 + 9 + 10-13). In general, these theories would apply just as well if 6:14-7:1 was authored by Paul, or was itself part of a genuine letter; this will be discussed briefly below. However, both of these suppositions (1 & 2 above) remain highly questionable, and to require both makes the theory, my view, rather implausible.

A Pauline interpolation?

Finally, we must consider the theory that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is Pauline, at least in the sense that it comes from an authentic letter by Paul, perhaps as part of his Corinthian correspondence. From the New Testament evidence itself, we know that Paul wrote at least four letters to Corinth—1 & 2 Corinthians, and the two letters referenced in 1 Cor 5:9 and 2 Cor 2:3-4. Indeed, it is quite natural that Paul would have written to believers there any number of times. Internal considerations regarding shifts of style, tone, and subject matter, have prompted many commentators to consider 2 Corinthians, as we have it, as representing several different letters (or parts of letters) that Paul wrote. In terms of 6:14-7:1 itself, the tone and theme of separation (between believer and non-believer) has led a fair number of scholars to identify it with the letter mentioned in 1 Cor 5:9, since it seems to relate to the sort of thing Paul is addressing there in 5:1-12 (see above). Indeed, 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 appears to have much more in common with the language and subject matter of 1 Corinthians (see esp. 5:6-8; 6:19; and 10:6-13, and my discussion in the supplemental article [on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls]) than anything we find throughout 2 Corinthians.

However, any interpolation theory, based on the idea of 2 Corinthians as a compilation, founders for lack of any explanation as to why 6:14-7:1 was included where it is now, since virtually all commentators agree that 2:14-6:13 + 7:2-4, at the very least, belong to the same letter. It would have made considerably more sense to place the passage (as a fragment from another letter) after 7:4 rather than 6:13, or even at a different location altogether. It would have been an extremely clumsy and/or inattentive editor (or copyist), indeed, who left 6:14-7:1 in its current location. No one has yet provided anything like a satisfactory explanation for the passage being included where it is located today.

If we were to summarize the evidence and analysis provided thus far (and above), I believe it would be fair to make two basic points:

    • There is strong evidence characterizing 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 as Jewish Christian homiletic material with features that are, in part at least, unusual or atypical of Paul.
    • At the same time, any theory treating the passage as an interpolation, even one based on a theory of 2 Corinthians as a composite compilation, rests on rather slim and questionable evidence, and is difficult to maintain.

Do you agree with either or both of these conclusions? Why or why not? Think over and examine carefully what I have presented in the studies thus far. How would you explain some of the curious or apparently ‘non-Pauline’ details in the passage, and way it seems to interrupt the flow between 6:13 and 7:2? In the next study, we will turn our attention to the supposition that Paul is the author of 6:14-7:1, in the sense that it is a genuine part of 2 Corinthians (or at least 2:14-7:16) as it has come down to us. This discussion will take place under the heading of Composition Criticism (see above), looking at 6:14-7:1, within the context of the letter as a whole, in terms of Paul’s style, mode of expression, rhetorical thrust, and ultimate purpose. I hope to see you here for this exciting study…next Saturday.

Note on 2 Corinthians 7:1

2 Corinthians 7:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (part 2)

This study continues our discussion last week on 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, a passage that is often regarded as an interpolation, due to: (a) the way that it apparently disrupts the flow of the letter between 6:13 and 7:2, and (b) the significant number of unusual words, expressions and concepts present in the section, many of which are rare or not otherwise found in Paul’s letters. I outlined five approaches or theories regarding the passage:

    • It is Pauline (i.e. authored by Paul) and in its proper place as part of single unified letter—whether defined as 2:14-7:4, all of 2 Corinthians, or something in between  [View #1]
    • It is non-Pauline, but used by Paul and in its proper location [View #2]
    • It is Pauline, but from a separate letter or writing, and has been inserted into its current location secondarily (i.e. an interpolation) [View #3]
    • It is non-Pauline, and an interpolation [View #4]
    • It is anti-Pauline (i.e. contrary to Paul’s own thought, in certain respects) and an interpolation [View #5]

The previous study examined 6:14-7:1 from the standpoint of textual criticism, especially noting 11 rare or unusual words which, taken together, make a serious argument against Pauline authorship. However, before this can be evaluated entirely, we must look at the passage from the standpoint of source criticism and form (or genre) criticism.

Source Criticism & Form/Genre Criticism

Source criticism primarily examines a passage in terms of whether it may be derived from a separate source (document) to be included within the larger literary work, and what the nature and characteristics of such a source might be. The high incidence of rare/unusual vocabulary increases the likelihood that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is, in some manner, derived from a separate source. This does not necessarily preclude Pauline authorship, since many commentators believe that Paul may have adapted previously existing material, using it for his own purposes—a possibility that will be discussed in due course.

The source-critical question is especially complicated, in the case of 2 Corinthians, since a good number of commentators hold that the letter itself, as we have it, is composite—a compilation of more than one letter, i.e. genuine letters (or parts of letters) written by Paul. These theories will not be discussed here (consult any reputable critical commentary for a survey), except to mention several representative views, which would divide the letter as follows:

    • 2-document—(1) chapters 1-9, and (2) chapters 10-13; this is the simplest such theory, and is held even by a number of more traditional-conservative commentators.
    • 3-document—(1) chapters 1-8; (2) chap. 9, a letter regarding the financial collection for Jerusalem; and (3) chaps. 10-13.
    • 5-document—(1) 1:1-2:13; (2) 2:14-6:13 + 7:2-16 (some would join 7:4-16 with 1:1-2:13); (3) chap. 8 and (4) chap. 9 as separate letters (perhaps sent at the same time) regarding the collection; and (5) chaps. 10-13.

Most commentators who hold the above theories (or a variation of them) regard 6:14-7:1 as a (non-Pauline) interpolation. However, before proceeding to an examination of source-critical theories, it is necessary to consider just what kind of material we are dealing with.

Form (Genre) Criticism

Form criticism analyses the shape and structure of a passage independently, as a unit, especially in terms of the common techniques, literary devices and approaches, style of writing, etc, used by authors of the time. This relates to what is called Genre criticism, analysis of the type or kind (genre) of writing represented by a particular section or passage, often expressed according to a set of standard categories. For example, a personal letter is itself a literary genre (and form), for which there have been identified a number of sub-genres. A sermon is another kind of genre, as is poetry, etc. Quite often a literary work, including letters/epistles—especially lengthier, complex letters such as Romans and 1-2 Corinthians—contain a variety of forms and genres utilized by the author.

Let us consider specifically the form of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; last week I provided an outline of the structure of this section:

    • Initial statement (injunction)—V. 14a
    • Poetic exposition, concluding in a Scripture citation—Vv. 14b-16
    • Catena (chain) of Scripture citations—Vv. 17-18
    • Concluding exhortation—Ch. 7:1

I noted how this gives it the character of a mini-sermon or homily. Specifically, it appears to be a homiletic treatment of a particular injunction from the Torah—the prohibition(s) against the joining together of different kinds of animals (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:10). Though neither Scripture is cited explicitly, the injunction in v. 14a clearly implies the former, applying it to the life situation of believers:

You must not come to be yoked with (those who are) different, (to one)s without trust!
M¢ gínesthe heterozygoúntes apístois

The key word is the verb heterozygéœ (“join together with [something/someone] different”), one of the 11 rare/unusual words in the passage I noted last week. Almost certainly, it is drawn from the related adjective heterózygos in the Greek version (LXX) of Lev 19:19, and thus suggests that marriage and sexual intercourse (i.e. breeding of animals) is the principal association used in the application, rather than simply being under the same “yoke” (Deut 22:10). Clearly, however, the rare word heterozygéœ is fundamentally derived here from the (Greek) Old Testament. Similarly, three other rare/unusual words (all compound nouns) appear to have been introduced to express the same basic idea: (1) metoch¢¡ (“holding [something together] with [another]”), (2) sumfœ¡n¢sis (“giving voice together [i.e. agreement] with [another]”), and (3) sungkatáthesis (“setting down together with [another, i.e. in agreement]”). All three nouns essentially serve to expound/explain the idea contained in the verb heterozyg霗of being “joined together with (someone) different”.

Returning to the structure of the section, the exposition in vv. 14b-16 is unquestionably poetic, and really ought to be presented as such when the text is quoted or translated. It follows ancient and traditional conventions for Semitic (i.e. Hebrew and Aramaic) poetry, which utilizes a bicolon (couplet, 2-line) format, with consistent parallelism (i.e. the second line restates and reinforces the first). This poetic exposition in vv. 14b-16, though given in Greek (translation?), reflects this same basic pattern. There are three couplets (6 lines), concluding with a Scripture citation; to illustrate this, I give the first line of each couplet in bold:

“For what holding (is there) with [i.e. between] justice and lawlessness,
or what common (bond is there) with [i.e. between] light and darkness?
15And what voice (sounding) together (is there) of (the) Anointed (One) toward Belîal,
or what portion for (the one) trusting with (the one) without trust?
16And what setting down together (is there) for the shrine of God with images?
for you are the shrine of (the) living God, even as God said that
‘I will make (my) house among them and will walk about among (them),
and I will be their God and they will be my people.'”

As is readily apparent, the parallelism runs through all three couplets; but in the first two couplets the parallelism is specifically synonymous (i.e. second line restates the first), while in the third couplet it is synthetic (i.e. second line builds upon the first).

The Scripture citation in verse 16 leads into a chain (catena) of citations, such as we find frequently in Jewish (and Christian) writings of the period. It was a common technique, used in both preaching and teaching (and as a memory device), bringing together various Scripture passages seen as related to the subject at hand. Paul himself used this catena technique a number of times in the undisputed letters, especially in Romans (3:10-18; 9:25-29; 10:15-21; 11:8-10, 26, 34-35; 15:9-12). However, some would claim that the citation style here is foreign to Paul. The specific Scriptures cited appear to be:

Finally, we have the concluding exhortation in 7:1—a message by the preacher applying the exposition more directly to the life situation of believers. How does the form and genre of the section—a homiletic exposition using poetry and a Scripture chain (catena) device—relate to the question of source/authorship? I would make the following points:

    • The structure of the section fits that of a self-contained mini-sermon or homily, which does not obviously relate, either in language or theme, to the surrounding context. However, Paul was certainly capable of, and adept at, applying passages from the Pentateuch/Torah, in a homiletic (midrashic) fashion, to fit the circumstances of believers in Christ—see esp. the notable examples in 1 Cor 10:1-13 and Galatians 3:6-18; 4:21-31. These examples are more extensive (and obviously Pauline) than that of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1.
    • Much of the rare/unusual vocabulary is tied to author’s citations and allusions to the Old Testament Scriptures (Greek LXX), especially the verb heterozygéœ in the opening injunction (drawn from Lev 19:19), and the divine title Pantokrátœr in the citation of v. 16 (from 2 Sam 7:8ff). As noted above, three other rare compound nouns appear to have been introduced specifically to expound the verb heterozygéœ in the poetic section of vv. 14b-16. As a point of information, it may be noted that Paul does not make use of any of these particular Scriptures elsewhere in his letters.
    • The unusual vocabulary and manner of expression is also due to the poetic character of the exposition in vv. 14b-16, which continues, in part, into the Scripture chain of vv. 17-18. Paul typically does not write in poetry, and, where it does occur in his letters, it would seem to be largely due to: (1) quotation and allusion to Scriptural poetry, or (2) inclusion of pre-existing (early Christian) hymn or creedal forms. The last point may be debated, but it is the view of many commentators regarding, for example, the Christological statements in Romans 1:3-4 and Philippians 2:6-11 (see also Col 2:15-20; 1 Tim 3:16).
    • Moreover, the style of poetic, comparative expression in vv. 14b-16 is traditional, examples of which can be seen in a number of Jewish writings of the period. An interesting parallel may be seen in the deutero-canonical book of Sirach 13:2, 17ff:
      “What common (bond) does an earthen (pot) share toward a (metal) basin?” (v. 2, cp. 2 Cor 6:14c)
      “What common (bond) does a wolf share with a lamb?…” (v. 17)
      “What peace (is there for) a hyena toward a dog?…” (v. 18)
      On parallels in the Qumran texts and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, see below.

With this in mind, let us turn again to the question of 6:14-7:1 as deriving from a separate (non-Pauline) source.

Source Criticism

Considered on its own merits, what we can say about 6:14-7:1 is that it represents an early Jewish-Christian homiletic exposition of a command from the Torah. It was written/composed by someone familiar with Jewish preaching/teaching techniques and devices, and the conventions of Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) poetry. It is not entirely certain whether it was originally composed in Hebrew/Aramaic (and subsequently translated), or in Greek, the latter being more likely. Even for a native Greek speaker, the conventions of Semitic poetry could be learned through familiarity with the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Old Testament. When we come to examine the literary style and content of the section more closely, it will become even more clear that the orientation of 6:14-7:1 is fundamentally Jewish—i.e. Jewish Christian. The theme of ritual purity in the section confirms this, and is one of the aspects that makes commentators question authorship by Paul. However, in most respects, Paul, as author/composer of the section, would fit the criteria indicated above. Thus, we can consider the following source-critical theories:

    1. 6:14-7:1 represents traditional Jewish (Jewish Christian) homiletical material adapted and included by Paul in his letter (either 2 Corinthians itself or a separate letter of which it is comprised).
    2. It is from an entirely separate (Jewish Christian) document, or literary work, which has been included as part of 2 Corinthians, presumably under the (mistaken) belief that it was part of his Corinthian correspondence.
    3. It is purely Paul’s own (inspired) composition and reflects no separate ‘source’ at all.

The last theory would be the standard traditional-conservative view, one held by very few critical commentators. Given the unusual vocabulary of the passage, its self-contained poetic-homiletic character, and other Jewish-Christian points of emphasis (to be examined in the next study [cf. below]) which seem at odds, to some extent, with Paul’s thought and manner of expression in his other letters, the existence of a distinct source seems more likely. For many scholars, there are extensive parallels to be found in other Jewish writings of the period—especially certain of the Qumran (Dead Sea Scroll) texts, and a collection of writings known as the “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs”—and that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 evinces at least as close an affinity to these as it does to the letters of Paul. This evidence will be examined in the next study, as well as in a supplemental article. In preparation, I would ask you to consider carefully the following points (and questions):

    • The motif of ritual purity that runs through the section, and which is applied to the separation of believers from non-believers. It is expressed most directly in the closing exhortation of 7:1. Does this agree with what Paul teaches, and how he communicates it, in his other letters? Why or why not?
    • This separation/purity theme is part of a strongly dualistic (Christian) worldview. To what extent does this fit Paul’s own view and manner of expression? In particular, does the use of the contrasting nouns dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness, justice”) and anomía (“lawlessness”) here accord with Paul’s thought and theology?
    • The name Belíal (here in the variant spelling Belíar) is not used anywhere else by Paul in his letters (nor anywhere in the New Testament at all), even in similar contexts where he might have had occasion to use it; but it does occur frequently in Jewish writings of the period, such as the Qumran texts and the “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” (for more on this, read my supplemental article). If 6:14-7:1 comes from Paul, how is this to be explained?

2 Cor 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls

This article is meant to supplement the discussion on 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 in the current Saturday Series studies, especially with regard to the source-critical question—whether, or in what manner, the passage may derive from a separate early Jewish-Christian source. The most recent study addresses the evidence regarding the Jewish-Christian character of the passage. In some ways, this must be considered separately from the question of Pauline authorship, since Paul himself certainly could have made use of pre-existing material in his letter. However, many commentators consider 6:14-7:1 to have more affinity with other Jewish writings of the period than to the other (undisputed) Pauline letters. In particular, parallels have been pointed out with the Qumran (Dead Sea Scroll) texts. This article will briefly examine this in relation to three specific areas:

    1. The thematic/conceptual framework of ritual purity, and its importance for religious identity in terms of separation from non-believers
    2. The strong dualism of the passage, especially as applied to the contrast between dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness, justice”) and anomía (“lawlessness”)
    3. Use of the name Belíal

As the last of these is simplest to address, I will discuss it first.

The name Belíal

The word Belíal (Beli/al), here in the variant spelling Belíar (Beli/ar), is never used by Paul elsewhere in his letters, even in situations where he may have had occasion to; in fact, it does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament at all. It is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew lu^Y^l!B= (b®liyya±al), a (proper) noun occurring 27 times in the Old Testament. In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version, it is always translated, rather than transliterated, except in the A-text of Judges 20:13. Unfortunately the exact meaning and derivation of the word remains uncertain; two theories have been the most popular:

    • As a compound of: (1) the verbal form b®lî (yl!B=), “be(com)ing old, worn”, used as an adverb/particle of negation (i.e., “not, without”), together with (2) a (verbal) form of the root y±l (lu^y`), “(be of) benefit”. Thus the word would mean something like “(of) no benefit, worthless(ness)”.
    • A noun from the root b¹la± (ul^B*), with the fundamental meaning “swallow”, presumably relating to the ancient image of Death/Sheol as a devouring power with a ravenous appetite (and wide gulping mouth), or to the consumption/decay associated with death and grave generally.

Neither explanation is especially convincing, though it would seem that b®liyya±al is a compound noun/name, akin to ±¦z¹°z¢l (Lev 16:8ff), and perhaps formed according to a similar pattern. Ultimately, the meaning has to be determined by the context of its use in the Old Testament. The oldest usage would seem to be preserved in several examples of early poetry, especially in Psalm 18:5[4] (= 2 Sam 22:5), where it is synonymous with “Death” (m¹we¾) and “Sheol” (š®°ôl, see my recent article for more on this term). The expression “deadly (poison) of Beliyya’al” (d®»ar b®liyya±al) in Psalm 41:9[8] (also 101:3) likely stems from the same use of b®liyya±al as a name for Death.

Much more frequent is the expression “son/s of Beliyya’al”, ben / b®nê b®liyya±al (Deut 13:14; Judg 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam 2:12; 10:27; 25:17; 1 Kings 21:10, 13; 2 Chron 13:7), along with the parallel (and more or less equivalent) expression “man/men of Beliyya’al”, °îš / °anšê b®liyya±al (1 Sam 25:25; 30:22; 2 Sam 16:7; 20:1; 1 Kings 21:13; Prov 16:27), °¹¼¹m b®liyya±al (Prov 6:12); also “daughter [ba¾] of Beliyya’al” in 1 Sam 1:16. In Hebrew, the word ben (“son”) is often used in the sense of a person belonging to a particular group or category, i.e. possessing a set of certain characteristics in common, and so it must be understood in these instances. It refers to a Beliyya’al-like person, someone who “belongs” to Beliyya’al, with evidence (by his/her attitudes and behavior) of similar characteristics. The context of the passages cited above makes clear that a “son/man of Beliyya’al” essentially refers to a person who violates and disrupts the order of things—either in a specific social (or religious) setting, or within society at large. This relates more to the idea of hostility, chaos, and confusion (i.e. disorder), rather than the more direct association with Death in the (older?) poetic references mentioned above.

It is hard to say whether, in the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, the word b®liyya±al is used in an abstract sense, or as a proper noun (i.e. personal name). Both are possible, though the parallel with Death/Sheol in Psalm 18:5, etc, suggests that an ancient (mythological) personification of death (and the grave) informs the usage. This figurative association would naturally extend to encompass the idea of chaos, confusion, and destruction—all related to the realm of death and “non-existence”, i.e. the primal condition of the universe (as a dark, formless mass [see Gen 1:2 etc]) prior to the establishment of the created order by God. At the same time, b®liyya±al is clearly synonymous with the more abstract concepts of “evil” (r¹±), “wickedness” (reša±) and “trouble” (°¹wen), especially in the Wisdom writings (Prov 6:12; 16:27; 19:28; Job 34:18). Most likely, this is a secondary development, from the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, and the characteristic of a such a person as a wicked trouble-maker (see the generalized usage, where the expression is implied, in 2 Sam 23:6; Nahum 1:11; 2:1 [1:15]). A wicked/evil thought, expressed by d¹»¹r b®liyya±al (Deut 15:9; Psalm 101:3 [?]), may involve wordplay with an older poetic expression “deadly (poison) [dbr] of Beliyya’al” (Ps 41:9, cf. above).

We do not encounter the word/name Beliyya’al again until the first centuries B.C., when it appears in a number of surviving Jewish texts of the period. (e.g., Jubilees 1:20). Already in Greek texts (and translations) of the time, the variant spelling Belíar (instead of Belíal) is attested as a transliteration of the Hebrew word. Most notably, b®liyya±al occurs frequently in the Qumran texts, where it is used to refer to an evil figure opposed to God, personifying (and governing) the darkness and wickedness of the current (evil) Age. As such, the name is more or less synonymous (though not necessarily equivalent) with “(the) Sa‰an” or “Devil” (diabólos in Greek). This is a significant development from the earlier Hebrew expression “son(s) of Beliyya’al”. Now, those who ‘belong’ to Beliyya’al are defined in a most pronounced dualistic sense as the “sons of darkness”, opposed to God and the “sons of light” (i.e. the Qumran Community); and the wicked “sons of darkness” will be destroyed (along with Beliyya’al) by God’s end-time Judgment that is about to be ushered in. Not surprisingly, Beliyya’al features prominently in the War Scroll (1QM 1:1, 5, 13; 13:2, 4-5, 11); for other passages, I would note: the Community Rule [1QS] 1:18; 2:4-5, 19; the Damascus Document [CD/QD] 4:13ff; 5:18-19; 12:2; the Florilegium [4Q174] col. i. 8f and Testimonia [4Q175] 23.

There is even a closer parallel with 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 to be found in the so-called Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a collection of Jewish pseudepigraphic writings, inspired by Genesis 49. The underlying material and tradition is Jewish, but there are signs of subsequent Christian editing and adaptation as well. The name Beliyya’al occurs frequently in the Testaments—Greek form regularly Belíar, as in 2 Cor 6:15—nearly 30 times: Asher 1:8; 3:2; Benjamin 3:3, 5, 8; 6:1, 7; 7:1-2; Dan 1:7; 4:7; 5:1, 10-11; Issachar 6:1; 7:7; Joseph 7:4; 20:2; Judah 25:3; Levi 3:3; 18:12; 19:2; Naphtali 2:6; 3:2; Reuben 4:8, 11; 6:4; Simeon 5:3; Zebulun 9:8. There is also here a dualistic contrast between the Law of God and the “works of Beliar”, with an exhortation throughout for people to shun and flee (i.e. separate from) this wickedness of Beliar, especially in light of the Judgment about to come upon the world. The exhortation in Test. Levi 19:1-2 is perhaps the closest in form and substance to 2 Cor 6:14ff:

“…choose for yourselves light or darkness, the Law of the Lord or the works of Belial!”

As noted above, in the Septuagint, the Hebrew word b®liyya±al is always translated, rather than transliterated, using a number of different Greek words, such as: loimós (“pest[ilence]”), paránomos (one who “[step]s alongside [i.e. violates] the law”), aseb¢¡s (“without [proper] reverence”), anomía (“without law, lawless[ness]”), hamartœlós (“erring, sinful”), and áphrœn (“without [good] sense”). Especially in the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, the word b®liyya±al indicates a violation or disruption of order in society, and thus suggests a semantic range reasonably close to anomía (“without law, lawlessness”) in Greek. As such, Belíal (or Belíar) is a fitting parallel to anomía in 2 Cor 6:14-15. It is possible that Paul has the Hebrew idiom in mind in 2 Thessalonians 2 (vv. 3, 8), when he uses the expressions “the lawless (one)” (ho ánomos), “the man of lawlessness” (ho ánthrœpos t¢s anomías), and “the son of ruin/destruction” (ho huiós t¢s apœleías); if so, he translates b®liyya±al for his Greek audience rather than using a transliterated form.

The Idea of Ritual Purity

In my view, the question of Pauline authorship of 6:14-7:1 ultimately hinges on the motif of ritual purity in the section, how it applied to believers, and whether (or not) this accords with Paul’s thought as expressed elsewhere in his letters. As it happens, 1 and 2 Corinthians are the most relevant writings, since they are by far the longest and most extensive letters written by Paul, to congregations with whom he was intimately familiar, and which address many practical ethical issues facing believers as they conduct their lives (and govern their congregations) within the wider Greco-Roman society. I will be discussing this aspect of 6:14-7:1 in considerable detail in the next Saturday Series study on the passage; here I will only summarize the evidence briefly, before turning to the Qumran texts.

As far as the regulations in the Torah relating to ritual purity, Paul’s view on the matter seems quite clear (for detailed studies on this, cf. my series “Paul’s View of the Law”). Believers are free from the Law, and the Torah regulations are no longer binding; this is as true of the various purity laws not mentioned by Paul as it is of circumcision and dietary laws (which he does discuss). His relationship with the apostolic “decree” from the Jerusalem Council is uncertain at best, since he never once refers to it in his letters, and may have been unaware of it at the time(s) of writing (despite the notice in Acts 16:4 [compare 21:25]). More important would be examples in his letters where Paul uses ideas or language related to ritual purity, applying it (figuratively) to believers. I would note the following:

    • Rom 6:12-13, 19—there is perhaps a faint allusion to the purity of sacrificial offerings (i.e. service at the altar) in the idea of believers presenting themselves before (vb paríst¢mi, lit. “[make] stand alongside”) God (cf. also the quasi-ritual context of the image in 2 Cor 11:2); it is noteworthy that v. 19 contains the same juxtaposition of dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness”) and anomía (“lawlessness”) that we find in 2 Cor 6:14 (see below).
    • 1 Cor 5:6-8—Passover imagery (esp. that of unleavened bread) is applied to believers, exhorting them not to associate with persons engaged in sexual immorality (vv. 1-2, 9-13f); the main difference with 2 Cor 6:14ff is that here it directed specifically against believers engaged in sinful behavior and not non-believers.
    • 1 Cor 6:19—the bodies of believers are identified (symbolically) with the Temple, which had to be kept ceremonially pure (a primary concern of the Torah purity laws); here we find perhaps the closest example of ritual purity meant to symbolize believers separating themselves from the immorality of the surrounding society (vv. 9ff, 13-18).
    • 1 Cor 10:6-13—the application of the Golden Calf episode (Exod 32; note the implicit context of ceremonial purity in 19:10-15) to the very matter addressed in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, namely, believers separating from the idolatrous culture around them (vv. 7-8, 14ff).

When we consider the situation in the Qumran texts, there is naturally a much greater emphasis on holiness in terms of ritual purity, since (a) the Community’s religious identity was based on strict observance of the Torah (including the purity regulations), and (b) it also identified itself with the Priestly line (“sons of Zadok”), including many priests who has separated from the ruling priesthood and Temple establishment, which itself was viewed as impure and corrupt. The very idea of the Community involved separation from the surrounding society—both the Greco-Roman world and other Israelites (“sons of darkness”, dominated by Belial [see above])—to join with the “sons of light”. This was a real separation, into a communalistic, sectarian organization, much moreso than was the case with early Christian congregations (though the initial Jerusalem community was perhaps closer to this model). The so-called “Community Rule” document (1QS) is perhaps the best source for the religious self-identity of the Qumran Community—e.g., 5:1f, 6, 13-20; 8:5ff; 9:5f, 8-9. Cf. also the Damascus Document [CD] 6:14-18; 12:19-20, and many other passages.


For a definition and explanation of the term “dualism”, see my recent article on the subject. There is an especially strong dualistic outlook in 6:14-7:1, which, indeed, is central to the idea of separation within the religious-thematic framework of ritual purity (see the discussion above). This dualistic “separation” is expressed several ways, corresponding to the (poetic) parallelism of the passage:

    • Believer vs. Non-believer—pístos  vs. ápistos (lit. “trusting” and “without trust”) [v. 14a, 15b]
    • Dikaiosýn¢ vs. Anomía (“righteousness/justice” vs. “lawlessness”) [v. 14b]
    • Light (fœ¡s) vs. Darkness (skótos) [v. 14c]
    • Christ vs. Belial [v. 15a]
    • Shrine of God vs. (Pagan) Images [v. 16a]
    • Clean [implied] vs. Unclean (akáthartos) [v. 17a]
    • Stain/soiling (moslysmós) vs. Purity, i.e. holiness (hagiosýn¢) [7:1]

To be sure, Paul himself frequently makes use of a dualistic mode of expression in his letters; indeed certain of these contrasts (e.g. light/darkness) are practically universal in religious/ethical teaching (cf. 1 Thess 5:5; Rom 13:12, etc). However, it is the especially strong dualistic imagery here, informed by the idea of (ritual) purity, and aimed at religious-cultural separation, that many commentators feel is foreign to Paul’s thought in his letters.

In particular, the noun dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness, justice”), used frequently by Paul in the specific theological sense (and context) of human beings being justified (lit. “made right”) before God through the work of Jesus, here seems to have a rather different emphasis. In 6:14 it is used in the more conventional religious sense, so it would seem, of right behavior, i.e. in contrast with “lawlessness” (anomía, lit. being “without law”). While this latter word could refer specifically to the Torah, it often denoted generally the violation of social and religious standards, i.e. “sin, iniquity, immorality”, but could also connote flagrant opposition to religion and God himself. The noun occurs 6 other times in the Pauline letters (Rom 4:7 [citation]; 6:19 [twice]; 2 Thess 2:3, 7; also Tit 2:14), with the related adjective ánomos 6 times (1 Cor 9:21 [4 times]; 2 Thess 2:8; also 1 Tim 1:9), and the adverb anómœs twice (in Rom 2:12). Paul alternates between using these words in the literal sense of “without (the) Law [i.e. Gentiles without the Torah]”, and the general sense of “wickedness, etc”. The only other instance where Paul directly contrasts anomía (“lawlessness”) with dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness”) is Romans 6:19, an exhortation (for believers) that is reasonably close to the line of thought in 2 Cor 6:14ff (see above).

Some commentators, however, would find even closer parallels in the Qumran texts, especially the key sectarian writings that establish most clearly the Community’s religious identity. This was touched on above, in the section on ritual purity; however, it is worth noting the pervasive dualism with which this was expressed. While light vs. darkness is a common religious motif, for the Qumran Community it was absolutely a way of defining themselves—as “sons of light” vs. “sons of darkness”. All the other nations, as well as the wicked/unfaithful in Israel, belonged to the darkness (and under the domain of Belial, see above), while only the Community, the faithful ones, belonged to the light. Evidence of their belonging to the light was their strict adherence to the Torah, and to the inspired teaching/guidance of the Community. Of many passages, cf. 1QS [Community Rule] 1:9-11; 2:16-17; 3:3, 13, 19-20ff; 1QM [War Scroll] 1:1, 3, 9ff; 13:5-6, 9; 4QFlor [4Q174] col. i. 9.

This same dualism was expressed, naturally enough, by a contrast between “righteousness” (ƒ®d¹qâ  hdqx) and “iniquity” (±¹wel  lwu = “lawlessness”), as Paul does in Rom 6:19 etc; however, for the Qumran Community (and contrary to Paul), this was defined more precisely along the lines of (ritual) purity employed in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (cf. above). Again, many passages could be cited, among which I would note: 1QS 1:4-5; 5:1-4; 1QH [Hymns] VI [XIV]. 15-16; IX [I]. 26-27. It was adherence to the Law (Torah) and the Community’s teaching, etc, that constituted “righteousness”, demonstrating that a person was, indeed, “righteous”. And central to much of the Torah, and the Community, was the idea of separation—that is, religious separation (i.e. from non-believers, what is unclean, etc)—so clearly emphasized in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1. The extent to which this is in accord (or not) with Paul’s own thought and teaching continues to be debated. I will be discussing the matter further in the next Saturday Series study.


To the evidence above, one might add that, according to some commentators, the manner of citing Scripture passages in 2 Cor 6:16-18 better fits the catena-format used at Qumran than Paul’s own style (a debatable point, to be sure). Also, while the Scriptural citations and allusions are not utilized elsewhere by Paul, we do find them in the Qumran texts—2 Sam 7:14 in 4QFlor i.11, and Ezek 20:34 (perhaps) in 1QM 1:2-3. These are minor points compared with the three areas discussed above, and even those, in and of themselves, are not especially strong arguments against Pauline authorship, with the possible exception of the use of the name Belial. It is the cumulative effect of the evidence that convinces many critical commentators. The parallels between 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 and the Qumran texts have even led some to declare that the former is “a Christian exhortation in the Essene [i.e., Qumran] tradition” or “a Christian reworking of an Essene paragraph” (cf. Furnish, p. 377, citing J. Gnilka and J. A. Fitzmyer). Few commentators today would go that far, the tendency now being to downplay considerably the idea of any direct influence on the New Testament from Qumran. Instead, most New Testament scholars today would speak in terms of the wider Jewish milieu, that both Qumran and early Christian Communities inherited many similar ideas, techniques, modes of interpretation, etc, within the Judaism of the period, and that this accounts for most, if not all, of the evident parallels.

The use of the name Belial remains perhaps the most notable ‘non-Pauline’ feature discussed above; its frequent occurrence in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D., and, in particular, the usage in the (Christianized) Jewish material of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, offers us a window on the kind of Jewish-Christian homiletic we see in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1. However, based on this evidence alone, one cannot simply exclude Pauline authorship of the section, though, at the very least, it does increase the likelihood that Paul may have made use of pre-existing (Jewish-Christian) material in his letter.

References above marked “Furnish” are to Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, Anchor Bible [AB] Vo. 32A (1984).
“Gnilka” refers to the study by J. Gnilka, “2 Cor 6:14-7:1 in the light of the Qumran texts and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” in Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by J. Murphy O’Connor and James H. Charlesworth (Geoffrey Chapman Ltd.: 1968); originally published in Neutestamentliche Aufsätze, Festschrift J. Schmid (1963).