June 6: Hebrews 12:5ff

Hebrews 12:5ff

In the closing chapters of Hebrews, the author provides a general exhortation to believers, rooted in a call to remain faithful to Christ even in the face of suffering and persecution. As is typical in early Christian writings of the period, this exhortation includes ethical-religious instruction, though presented here in a generalized way. The most notable section of ethical-religious instruction is 12:3-17, framing the matter in terms of believers’ “struggle against sin”, using the verb a)ntagwni/zomai (“struggle against”).

Such struggle, which, as most believers can attest, is often difficult (and even painful), is compared by the author to the forceful kind of chastising discipline that a parent must, at times, employ when raising a child. The noun typically translated as “discipline” is paidei/a, from the verb paideu/w, which basically means “raise a child [pai=$]”, but often refers specifically to the instruction and training that a parent gives to a child. Drawing upon this idiomatic language, the author has introduced the traditional motif of God’s people as His children.

In the prior notes dealing with this theme—viz., believers as the sons (or children) of God—we have explored the Scriptural background of the motif, along with important examples in the Pauline letters, and elsewhere in the New Testament. The most recent note covered the sonship-theme as it was introduced earlier in Hebrews (2:10ff). In that passage, the emphasis was primarily Christological, while here, in 12:5ff, the focus is ethical-religious. However, the Christological aspect is still present, as vv. 1-3 make clear; the exhortation for believers is based upon the example we have in Jesus Christ, who himself suffered in the flesh just as we do, enduring both temptation (toward sin) and persecution by hostile forces.

The sonship-theme is reintroduced in verse 5, in the context of the “struggle against sin” being understood in terms of the discipline a child receives from his/her parents. The author presents this by way of a quotation from Scripture, introduced as follows:

“Indeed, have you forgotten about the calling alongside [para/klhsi$] which speaks through to you…?”

The noun para/klhsi$ comes from the verb parakale/w (“call alongside”); a person calls one alongside (or is called alongside), usually for the purpose of offering help of some kind. This help or assistance can take the form of emotional-spiritual comfort or exhortation, as is the case here. The verb diale/gomai means “gather through”, usually in the specific sense of “say/speak through”, according to a regular meaning of the verb le/gw. The preposition dia/ (“through”), in this context, can imply a conversation or discussion that is thorough, going ‘back and forth’. Certainly, this aspect of instruction and training (discipline) is very much in view here.

The Scriptural citation in vv. 5b-6 comes from Proverbs 3:11-12. In that passage, the Wisdom instruction is framed as teaching given by a father to his son (Prov 3:1ff). This is a common feature of ancient Wisdom literature; however, in vv. 11-12, the pattern is applied to the traditional religious theme of God (YHWH) as Father, and His people (esp. the righteous) as his children (or “sons”), cf. above. The human father continues to address his son, but emphasizes that it is also YHWH who acts to bring training (and discipline) to the child. By quoting these verses, the author of Hebrews takes on the role of the speaker/protagonist of Proverbs 3:

“My son, do not have little regard (for) [i.e. do not disregard] (the) child-rearing [paidei/a] of (the) Lord, and do not loosen out [i.e. become lax/weak] under His admonishing; for the (one) whom (the) Lord loves, He trains as a child [paideu/ei], and He flogs every son whom He receives alongside.”

The training/rearing of a child may include corporal discipline (here ‘flogging’, vb mastigo/w), which, though increasingly less common (or accepted) in modern times (especially in Western countries), was very much part of the ancient Near Eastern cultural milieu. Yet it is this more ‘painful’ aspect of discipline that the author wishes to emphasize here—indeed, it is central to his exhortation. The struggle against sin may be painful, but God allows His faithful ones (i.e., believers) to experience the impulse (and temptation) toward sin, along with opposition coming from the sinful world, as part of His parental discipline. It is part of being raised as a son/child of God, and every believer must accept the struggle as part of his/her identity as God’s child. This is the point made in vv. 7-8, urging believers to endure (lit. “remain under”, vb u(pome/nw) the discipline given to us by God.

If one remains faithful, even in the midst of our struggle against sin, then the discipline will produce its natural and proper result. We will come to be raised and trained as true children of God, reflecting His very nature and character. This is how the author concludes this part of his exhortation, in vv. 9-11. By willingly submitting to the child-rearing discipline of “the Father of spirits”, we shall live (v. 9)—that is, shall obtain eternal life. Another result is that we will come to share in the holiness of God (v. 10). Finally, this training will also bring forth the “fruit of righteousness” (v. 11), terminology which brings to mind Paul’s famous discussion of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:16-24 (vv. 22-23).

March 14: Galatians 5:16, 25

The notes for the next few days are supplemental to the current article on Galatians 5:16-25 in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. Because of the importance of this passage, in terms of the central place of the Spirit in the religious life and experience of believers, it is worth examining it in greater exegetical detail. (This largely replicates the exegesis earlier published/posted in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”.) I have outlined the structure of these verses as follows:

    • Exhortation: “walk [peripate/w] in the Spirit” (v. 16)
      • Conflict for believers: “flesh against the Spirit” and “Spirit against flesh” (v. 17)
        • Affirmation for believers: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under Law” (v. 18)
          • Works of the flesh (vv. 19-21)
          • Fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-23a)
        • Affirmation for believers: If the fruit of the Spirit is present, “there is no Law” (v. 23b)
      • Resolution of conflict: the flesh has been crucified (with Christ) (v. 24)
    • Exhortation: “walk [stoixe/w] in the Spirit” (v. 25)

There are thus three concentric pairs (vv. 16-18, 23b-25) surrounding the central lists of vices (“works of the flesh”) and virtues (“fruit of the Spirit”). These pairs may be summarized thus:

    • Exhortation (vv. 16, 25)
    • Conflict—Flesh vs. Spirit (vv. 17, 24)
    • Affirmation regarding freedom (vv. 18, 23b)

Each of these will be discussed in turn. Today’s note deals with the first:

Exhortation for believers—Gal 5:16, 25

These two exhortations are similar and closely related:

V. 16: “But I relate (to you): walk about in the Spirit and (no) you will not complete the impulse of the flesh”

V. 25: “If we live in the Spirit, (so) also we should walk in line in the Spirit”

To begin with, the expression “by the Spirit” in Greek is the dative form pneu/mati—there is no preposition specified. On the basis of other instances in Paul’s writings (Rom 2:29; 8:9; 9:1; 14:17; 15:16; 1 Cor 12:3; 2 Cor 6:6; Gal 6:1; Col 1:8), it may be filled out as e)n pneu/mati, “in the Spirit”, though this ought to be understood primarily in an instrumental sense, i.e. “in the (power) of the Spirit”, or “through the Spirit”, “by the Spirit” —by the power and guidance, etc., of the Spirit. Of the seven uses of this form in Galatians, all but one occur in the Exhortation (5:5, 16, 18, 25 [twice]; 6:1)—in other words, the Christian manner of life and behavior, etc, is (to be) governed by the Spirit. It will be helpful to study in detail several of the words and expressions in these verses:

Verse 16

peripatei=te (“walk about”)—this is a common verb, which may, of course, be taken in the concrete, literal sense of physically walking/moving about an area; however, it is frequently used in a more abstract philosophical and ethical sense of a regular/habitual mode of behavior, lifestyle, etc. This is how it is used in much of the New Testament, especially in the letters; it occurs 32 times in the Pauline letters, with this particular imperatival form also appearing in Col 2:6; 4:5 and Eph 5:2, 8.

pneu/mati (“in/by the Spirit”)—this expression has been discussed above; it may be useful to consider the references to the Spirit (pneu=ma) in Galatians:

    • Believers receive the Spirit (from God) through faith/trust (in Christ), 3:2, 14
    • Believers begin their new life “in the Spirit” (contrasted with “flesh”), 3:3
    • God supplies the Spirit for believers (context of miraculous power), 3:5
    • The Spirit represents the ultimate (end-time) promise of God for his people, 3:14
    • God sends the Spirit into the hearts of believers, allowing them to realize their identity as sons of God (in/with Christ), 4:6 (“born according to the Spirit”, v. 29); cf. the prior article in this series.
    • It is by/through the Spirit (and faith) that we expect to be declared/made just/righteous before God, 5:5
    • The Spirit works to bear “fruit” in believers, i.e. Christian/Christlike virtues and characteristics, 5:22f; 6:1
    • Believers ‘cooperate’ with the Spirit, allowing it/him to work in their lives, according to the image of willingly “walking” (5:16, 25) and “sowing” seed (6:8)—again, contrasted with the flesh

Consider also, for comparison, the other uses of the imperative form peripatei=te, parallel to peripatei=te pneu/mati here, “walk about in the Spirit“:

    • Colossians 2:6— “walk about in him [i.e. in Christ]”
    • Colossians 4:5— “walk about in wisdom
    • Ephesians 5:2— “walk about in love
    • Ephesians 5:8— “walk about as offspring [i.e. children] of light
    • Note also the one non-Pauline occurrence, in John 12:35 (Jesus speaking): “walk about as (ones) holding the light

e)piqumi/an sarko\$ (“impulse of the flesh”)—I translate the Greek work e)piqumi/a as “impulse [upon/toward something]”; however, in anthropological terms, it often covers a similar range of meaning as “heart” and “mind”, the verb e)piqume/w being rendered, “set (one’s) heart/mind upon (something)”. Often in the New Testament (and similar religious-ethical writings), it carries the sense of illicit, sinful longing or desire.

The word sa/rc (“flesh”) is used quite often by Paul in his letters, and with a fairly wide range of meaning, from physical/material flesh to a power/principle of sin and wickedness at work in human beings (and to which they are in bondage). Frequently, for Paul, it seems to refer specifically to the selfish or self-centered aspect of human beings, the corrupt/wicked ego (“I”) which thinks and acts contrary to God and Christ. In Galatians, Paul regularly contrasts the “flesh” with the Spirit (of God/Christ); it is also closely connected with the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah), the “works of the flesh” being parallel (and at least partly synonymous) with “works of the Law”.

ou) mh (“no, no” or “no…not”)—the double negative particle serves to strengthen the denial, i.e. “not at all”, “in no way”, “by no means”, “certainly not”, etc.

telesh/te (“complete”)—the verb tele/w, related to te/lo$ (“end, goal”), fundamentally means “finish, complete”; here it specifically refers to the completion of the “impulse of the flesh”. In modern English terms, we might describe this as acting out, or acting on, one’s desire. The verb is relatively rare in the Pauline letters (Rom 2:27; 13:6; 2 Cor 12:9, and 2 Tim 4:7), with the use in 2 Cor 12:9 expressing the opposite context: of believers being “made complete” by (and in) Christ. A dynamic similar to that indicated by Paul here, i.e. response to temptation and sinful desire, is vividly described, though with quite different language, in James 1:14-15.

Verse 25

ei@ (“if…”)—this particle marks v. 25 as a conditional statement, but one based on real or actual condition.

zw=men (“we live”)—the verb za/w (“live”) carries a two-fold sense in Paul’s letters, and particularly here in Galatians: (a) the divine/spiritual life we have (as believers) in Christ, and, properly (b) living in the world (as believers) in Christ. This double-meaning (a kind of wordplay) is expressed powerfully in Gal 2:19-20; in Gal 3:11-12 (citing Scripture), “life” is used specifically in the sense of salvation, of being made/declared just before God. The use of the present indicative here in v. 25 shows that this life/living is currently real and active for believers.

pneu/mati (“in/by the Spirit”)—on this expression, see above. As indicated, the protasis of this (conditional) statement (“if we live in/by the Spirit…”) is based on a real condition—i.e., “if we live in/by the Spirit, (as indeed we do, then)…”

kai\ (“and”)—a similar coordinating conjuctive kai-particle appears in verse 16—formally similar, but with a different use and significance:

V. 16: “walk in the Spirit, and (then, i.e. as a result)…”
V. 25: “live in the Spirit, and (also, i.e. in addition)…”

Readable English requires that in verse 25 kai be translated “also”; this establishes the apodosis of the conditional statement— “if… (then) also…”

stoixw=men (“we should walk in line”)—this is a different verb (stoixe/w, “go in line”) than that used in verse 16 (peripate/w, “walk about”), the difference being obscured in translations which render both simply as “walk”. There is probably not a great deal of distinction of meaning, though stoixe/w is a more precise, forceful verb to use, i.e. “walk/step in line, in an orderly manner”.

If peripate/w in verse 16 refers to believers’ “walk” generally, here stoixe/w likely indicates a “walk” that is properly governed and regulated by the Spirit. The first verb in v. 25 (zw=men, “we live”) is a present indicative form, suggesting the current reality of believers’ situation; on the other hand, stoixw=men (“we should walk in line”) is a present subjunctive form, i.e. “we should…”, “we ought to…”, etc. A life regulated and guided by the Spirit still requires something from us—a willingness to allow and accept the guidance, and so to “walk” in it.

The next pair of verses (vv. 17, 24) will be discussed in the next daily note.

Note on 2 Corinthians 7:1

2 Corinthians 7:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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