Sola Scriptura: Romans 16:25; Hebrews 1:1-2

Sola Scriptura

In our studies thus far, we have seen how the Scriptures (that is, the Old Testament) continued to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a secondary (and supplemental) sense. The primary source of authority was what we may broadly call the Apostolic Tradition. This may seem to contradict the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura; however, to make such an unqualified conclusion would be quite misleading. In point of fact, the Apostolic Tradition was the basis for the development of the inspired writings of the New Testament—and the greater revelation that was contained in those writings, ultimately to be regarded as sacred Scripture by every Christian.

With the passing of the first generation (or two) of apostles, by the end of the 1st century (and into the 2nd), the authoritative Apostolic Tradition had come to be preserved in written form (i.e., the New Testament Scriptures), gradually taking the place of the communication of that Tradition in the person of the apostles themselves (and their representatives). It seems clear, for example, that the publication of the Gospel of John was stimulated by the death of the ‘Beloved Disciple’, the leading apostolic figure of the Johannine Community (Jn 21:20-24). The authority of the apostles was based on their personal connection to Jesus himself.

The very word a)po/stolo$ (apostolos) derives its significance from the fundamental meaning of the verb a)poste/llw (“set [out] from, send forth”). An apostle is someone “sent forth from” Jesus, as his representative, an idea rooted in the early Gospel tradition and the ministry-work of Jesus in Galilee (Mark 3:14-15ff par; 6:7-13 par; Luke 10:1ff). Commissioned and sent out by Jesus, they were given (and possessed) his own divine (and inspired) authority, to preach (the Gospel) and work healing miracles. This formed the pattern for the broader apostolic mission of early Christians (Acts 1:8, 21-22, etc). The earliest congregations were founded by missionary work that was an extension of this apostolic mission, and thus the principal source of religious authority for these 1st-century congregations was the authority of the Apostolic Tradition.

The Apostolic Tradition has three fundamental components:

    1. The proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel
    2. The words of Jesus—sayings, teachings, parables—along with his example (of what he said and did), preserved and transmitted by the apostles to the early congregations (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-4)
    3. The authoritative teaching by the apostles

A study will be devoted to each of these components; we begin with the first of these.

1. The Proclamation (Kerygma) of the Gospel

The “good message” (or “good news”), the eu)agge/lion, or Gospel, has its origins in the preaching of Jesus (Mark 1:14-15 par, et al), being carried on, even during his lifetime, by his disciples, acting as his representatives (i.e., as apostles) (Luke 9:6, etc). However, following the resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus, the “good message” gradually came to take on a distinctive form—as a thumbnail narrative of Jesus’ life and work. The sermon-speeches in Acts preserve examples of this early Gospel proclamation (kerygma). In these speeches, the Gospel narrative is extremely simple, focusing on the death and resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, and only slowly incorporating certain details or aspects of his earthly ministry. Noteworthy examples, representative of the earliest preaching, are: Acts 2:22-24, 29ff, 36; 3:13-15; 4:27ff; 5:30-32; 10:37-42; 13:26-32. It is easy to see how these simple narrative statements, over time (c. 35-60 A.D.), would develop into the larger narratives of the Gospels.

It must be emphasized that, from the very beginning, this Gospel proclamation held primary authority for early Christians, taking precedence over the Old Testament Scriptures. This can be seen already in the way that the Scriptures supplement (and support) the kerygma in the sermon-speeches (on this, cf. the earlier study, and throughout the series “The Speeches of Acts”). The revelation of the inspired Old Testament Scriptures (i.e., of the old covenant) are thus subordinate to the Gospel; they continue to hold authority for Christians, primarily, insofar as they point the way to the greater revelation of Christ (in the new covenant).

There are a number of New Testament passages, many of which were written when the composition and development of Gospels was still in its very early stages, which indicate that the proclamation of the Gospel (with its seminal narrative) was being compared with the Scriptures—being on a par with them, and even altogether surpassing them in many important ways. I wish to examine a couple of these passages briefly.

Romans 16:25-26

“And to Him having the power to set you firm(ly), according to my good message [eu)agge/lion] and the proclamation [kh/rugma] of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to the uncovering of (the) secret [musth/rion] having been kept silent in (the) times (of) ages (past), but now (hav)ing been made to shine (forth) even through (the) writings of (the) Foretellers, according to (the) arrangement of (the) God of the Ages, unto hearing under trust, unto all the nations, having been made known…”

The authenticity of the doxology in Rom 16:25-27 continues to be debated, with many commentators convinced that it was neither originally part of Romans, nor written by Paul. Even if this were granted, the wording reflects genuine Pauline thought (and style), as well as the thought-world of Christians in the mid-to-late 1st century. Three key nouns are used which are largely synonymous in context: (1) eu)agge/lion (“good message,” i.e., Gospel), (2) kh/rugma (“proclamation,” transliterated as a technical term, kerygma), and (3) musth/rion (“secret,” i.e., mystery). All three are important early Christian terms, and they all refer to the seminal message (and narrative) of the Gospel. The expressions and phrases that contain these words are also closely related:

    • “my good message” —i.e., the good news of Christ that is preached by apostles like Paul
    • “the proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed” —the genitive can be understood in either a subjective sense (Jesus’ preaching) or objective sense (preaching about Jesus), or both.
    • “the uncovering of the secret kept silent…” —the noun a)poka/luyi$ (“removal of the cover from, uncovering”) emphasizes that the Gospel is a divine (and inspired) revelation, akin to the prophetic revelations (by God) during the time of the old covenant (cf. below).

The use of the term musth/rion (“secret”) in this respect is authentically Pauline (1 Cor 2:1, 7; 4:1; 13:2; 14:2; 15:51; cf. also 2 Thess 2:7), though it is perhaps more prominent in the disputed letters of Colossians (1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3) and Ephesians (1:9; 3:3-4, 9; 5:32; 6:19). For more on the meaning, background, and use of the term, see my earlier word study. Indeed, of the three terms, musth/rion has the greatest theological significance. Here, it relates to a distinction between the two ages or dispensations—the old and new covenants, respectively—that is fundamental to early Christian thought:

    • Old Covenant (periods of time/ages past): the Gospel-secret has been “kept silent/hidden” (verb siga/w)
    • New Covenant (“now”): it has been “made to shine forth” (vb fanero/w), i.e., has been made manifest, revealed, and has at last “been made known” (vb gnwri/zw).

The Gospel proclamation is expounded out of the Old Testament Scriptures (“writings of the Prophets”), which is fully in accord with the earliest Christian preaching and teaching, even going back to the teaching of Jesus himself. The Scriptures (especially the Psalms and the books of the Prophets) contained, in a secret and hidden way, the seeds of the Gospel (e.g., Gal 3:8); but it required the new inspired revelation of the apostles in order to “uncover” and make known this secret. On this basis alone, the Gospel represents a superior kind of revelation, however it is rooted in the Scriptures and supported by them. Indeed, without the New Covenant revelation, people remain blind to the true meaning of the Scriptures (2 Cor 3:14-16, etc).

Hebrews 1:1-2

“(In) many parts and many ways (in times) of old, God (was) speaking to the Fathers by the Foretellers, (but) upon (the) end of these days He spoke to us by a Son, whom He set (as one) to receive the lot of all (thing)s, through whom also He made the Ages…”

The same dispensational contrast—between the old and new covenants—serves as a key theme that runs throughout Hebrews, and it is established at the very beginning of the introduction (exordium, 1:1-4). It marks the current time—i.e., of the first generation(s) of believers—as a turning point, marking the beginning of a New Age (= new covenant), and presenting  a clear dividing line between the time now and all that has gone before:

    • Old Covenant: “(in times) of old [pa/lai]” —God spoke through the Prophets
    • New Covenant: “at the end [e)p’ e)sxa/tou] of these days,” that is, in the eschatological present time—God has spoken through His Son

There is a clear contrastive parallel here between the Prophets and Jesus (the Son of God), as the source of divine-inspired revelation (communicating the word of God) in each dispensation (and covenant), respectively. The superiority of the revelation in the person of Jesus is obvious, and the author develops the point systematically throughout his work. Here, this superiority is expressed by contrasting the singular revelation in Jesus with the multifaceted way that God spoke through the many different Prophets. For Jews and Christians in the first-century, of course, the revelation through the Prophets (in the old covenant) was known only through its preservation in the Scriptures (the Prophetic writings, including the Psalms). The Torah (Pentateuch) doubtless would also be included, but emphasis is given on the Prophetic oracles as the vehicle for God’s revelation.

The comparison between Jesus and the Prophets, as well as the idea of God speaking (vb lale/w), might suggest that it is the words of Jesus that are primarily in view here. The preserved words and teachings of Jesus are certainly a key component of the authoritative Apostolic Tradition (cf. above), and will be discussed in the next study; however, I believe that a much more comprehensive and holistic view of the Tradition is being expressed here. This can be affirmed by what follows in vv. 2-4, beginning with the statement that God “set” (vb ti/qhmi) Jesus (His Son) to be the “heir of all things”. This phrase reflects the fundamental Gospel tenet of the exaltation of Jesus (to the right hand of God in heaven) following his resurrection (Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56 [cf. Mk 14:62 par]; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1, etc). The earliest Christology was unquestionably an exaltation-Christology, focusing almost entirely on Jesus’ deity, and identity as the Son of God, in terms of his resurrection (and exaltation) by God the Father. However, by the time Hebrews was written (c. 70 A.D.?), early Christians had begun to evince a pre-existence-Christology as well, and Hebrews combines both of these Christologies (e.g., the ‘Christ-hymn’ in vv. 2-4, on which cf. my earlier study; cp. also the study on Philippians 2:6-11.

In any case, the point is that the declaration in v. 2b is a key component of the Gospel kerygma; thus, the contrast between the Prophets and Jesus can also be understood as a contrast between the Prophets and the Gospel. And, from the standpoint of our study, it is important to note that the written record of the Gospel (taking shape during the years c. 35-90 A.D.) forms a close parallel to the written record of the Prophets (in the Old Testament Scriptures).

Statements such as those in Rom 16:25-26 and Heb 1:2 thus are seminal (and foundational) for establishing the authority of the New Testament Scriptures. And, the authority of these new Scriptures (of the new covenant), while being on a par with the old Scriptures—in terms of their divine/prophetic inspiration and revelatory content—far surpasses that of the old. This is a vital principle that must be maintained—for believers, the new covenant in Christ (manifest through the presence of the Spirit) has entirely eclipsed the authority of the old covenant (cf. 2 Corinthians 3).

Notes on Prayer: Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, his references to prayer follow the familiar pattern we have noted in his other letters (esp. 1 Thessalonians). The focus on prayer is a prominent element of the introduction (exordium) portion, in which Paul offers thanks to God for the believers whom he is addressing (here, in Philippi):

“I give thanks to my God for (His) good favor upon every remembrance of you, (at) every time and in every need [de/hsi$] of mine (expressed to God) over all of you, with joy making the need [de/hsi$] (known)…” (vv. 3-4)

Prayer is defined here (as it frequently is by Paul) in terms of making one’s need (de/hsi$) known to God. As Paul does this, he makes mention (bringing to mind/memory, mnei/a) of the believers in the congregations where he has worked as a missionary (such as in Philippi). Indeed, many of the requests he makes to God are “over” (peri/, i.e., on behalf of) these believers. This is an important point of emphasis that we have noted repeatedly in these studies—how the focus of one’s prayers ought to be for the needs of others, at least much (or more) than for our own needs.

Part of Paul’s focus in prayer, and which features prominently in the letter-introductions, is that the believers for whom he prays will continue to grow in faith and Christian virtue. Just as they responded to his initial preaching of the Gospel, so he asks that they will continue to respond:

“…upon your common-bond in the good message, from the first day until now, having been persuaded of this very (thing), that the (One hav)ing begun in you a good work will complete (it) until (the) day of (the) Anointed Yeshua” (vv. 5-6)

As is typically the case, Paul frames this faithfulness of believers in eschatological terms. Given the fact that first-century Christians almost universally evinced an imminent eschatology, this is hardly surprising. The “day of Christ Jesus” —that is, the day when he will return to earth to usher in the Judgment—was expected to come very soon, within the life-time of believers.

In the expression e)pi\ th=| koinwni/a|, the preposition e)pi/ (“upon, about”) should probably be understood in a causal sense (i.e., because of); in English idiom, we might say, “on the grounds of”. The noun koinwni/a is a fundamental word used to express the unity (common-bond, community) of believers (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Jn 1:3ff), and is used with some frequency by Paul (13 of the 19 NT occurrences are in the undisputed Pauline letters). This “common bond” is defined in terms of the Gospel (“good message, good news”). As is often the case in the New Testament, the noun eu)agge/lion is used in a comprehensive sense, extending from believers’ initial response to the Gospel preaching until the present moment (“from the first day until now”).

The “common bond” between believers can also be viewed in the specific (local) context of the relationship between Paul and the Philippian congregations. In this regard, Paul gives thanks for the Philippians’ continued support for his missionary work; this support certainly includes their prayers for him (v. 19). We have discussed this aspect of Paul’s prayer-references in the previous studies.

It is Paul himself who is persuaded (vb pei/qw) of the fact that God is faithful and will complete the work begun among the Philippian believers. As believers, we also have to do our part, remaining committed to the Gospel (and the common-bond of unity), following the example of Jesus (2:5-6ff), and allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit (2:1ff).

Following the thanksgiving of vv. 3-6, Paul shifts to address the Philippian congregations directly in vv. 7-8:

“Even so it is right for me to have this mind-set over all of you, through my holding you in the heart—both in my bonds and in the account (I give) and (the) confirmation of the good message—all of you being my common partners of the favor (of God). For God (is) my witness, how I long after all of you with (the) inner organs [spla/gxna] of (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

Paul says that it is right (di/kaio$) and proper for him to hold this view regarding the Philippians, because they have already demonstrated their faith and commitment to the Gospel. Indeed, they continue to support Paul through the difficulties and travails of his mission-work, even to the point where he has been imprisoned (“in my bonds”). The noun sugkoinwno/$ (“common [partner] together”) is, of course, related to koinwni/a, and reflects a more active and direct manifestation of the “common bond” of Christian unity—in terms of participation and cooperation in the Christian mission. The bond of unity is also an emotional bond, as Paul describes how he “longs for” the Philippian believers, with a longing that reflects the very “inner organs” (spec. intestines, as the seat of emotion) of Christ himself. This longing is further manifest in Paul’s prayers for the Philippians:

“And this I speak out toward (God) [proseu/xomai]: that your love still more and more would abound, with (full) knowledge and all perception, unto your giving consideration (to) the (thing)s carrying through (as pleasing to God), (so) that you would be shining like the sun, and without striking (your foot) against (a stone), until (the) day of (the) Anointed” (vv. 9-10)

Paul essentially repeats his confident hope (and wish) from verse 6 (cf. above), regarding the Philippians being ‘made complete’ in anticipation of the return of Christ (“the day of [the] Anointed”). The Christian growth in virtue is understood in relation to the fundamental ethical principle of love (a)ga/ph), and it is  this ‘love principle’ (or ‘love command,’ cf. Rom 13:8-10, etc) that informs Paul’s ethical instruction and exhortation in the body of the letter (beginning at 2:1ff). If the love of Christians continues to grow and abound (vb perisseu/w), then all other important aspects of Christian life will follow. The ultimate goal of this growth is expressed through the rather colorful pair of adjectives: ei)likrinh/$ (“shining like the sun”) and a)pro/skopo$. The latter term literally means something like “without striking/dashing against,” which, as an idiom, relates to the idea of striking one’s foot against a stone (and thus falling); in simpler English, we would say “without stumbling”. The promise of being made complete in Christ is summarized more succinctly in verse 11 as “having been filled (with the) fruit of righteousness”. How often do make such a prayer—that our fellow believers would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness”?

This interrelationship between Paul and the Philippian congregations continues to be a key point of emphasis throughout the remainder of the exordium. Paul prays for the Philippians’ continued growth in the Gospel, while they are to pray for him in his continued mission-work of preaching the Gospel. The latter is the focus in vv. 19-26, while the former is emphasized in vv. 27-30. His prayer for the Philippians is expressed as an exhortation to them, marking a transition to the ethical instruction in chapters 2-4:

“Only as it comes up (to the level) of the good message of the Anointed, may you live as a citizen…” (v. 27)

The verb politeu/omai (lit. something like “live as a citizen”) refers, in a comprehensive sense, to a person’s daily life and conduct. The exhortation means that this does not happen automatically for believers—it requires commitment and attention on our behalf. The power to achieve this measure of growth, and to realize the ideal of unity, does, however, come from God (and His Spirit); if we are faithful, and allow God’s work to proceed in our hearts and lives, then we will be made complete. Indeed, Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians would be faithful in this regard; let us, too, make such prayer on behalf of our fellow believers, asking (together with Paul):

“…that you stand in one spirit, with a single soul striving together in the trust of the Gospel”

 

Saturday Series: Galatians 1:11-2:14

Narratio (Galatians 1:11-2:14)

Following the introduction (exordium) to the letter (1:6-10, see last week’s study), Paul proceeds with the narratio in 1:11-2:14. In classical rhetoric, the narratio (Greek di¢¡g¢sis) refers to a statement (narration) of the facts of a case, along with related events, by the author/speaker; it also sets the stage for the principal arguments (or proofs) which follow. Cicero defines it as “an exposition of events that have occurred or are supposed to have occurred” (De inventione 1.19.27; see Quintilian 4.2.2ff, and Betz, pp. 58-9).

In Paul’s letters, the narratio tends to be autobiographical in character, since the issues dealt with in the letter are typically related in a fundamental way to Paul’s missionary work. That is certainly the case here in Galatians, and all the more so, since the rhetorical thrust of the letter has a strong apologetic character, in which Paul defends the legitimacy of his apostolic ministry.

Verses 11-12 make up the propositio, or opening statement, intended to influence the audience. This is indicated by Paul’s use of gnœrízœ gár hymín (“For I make known to you…”) at the start. This sort of opening is relatively common, positioning and presenting the speaker/author’s arguments as something the audience is already familiar with (“You are certainly aware of…,” “You are not unaware of the fact…,” “You must remember…,” etc). Verses 11-12 are transitional, joining the exordium to the narratio that follows; note the significance of this central proposition:

“For I make known to you, brothers, the good message [euangélion] being brought as a good news [euangelisthén] by me, that it is not according to man, for not even did I receive it along from a man, nor was I taught (it), but (it came) through an uncovering of [i.e. revelation by] Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

Here Paul begins to develop themes and lines of argument which were introduced in the letter opening (vv. 1, 4) and the exordium (vv. 6-9). Two key themes, which are interrelated in Paul’s argument, are presented in the proposition: (1) his apostolic commission came as the result of a direct revelation from Jesus himself, and (2) the Gospel (euangélion, “good message, good news”) as proclaimed by him is part of this same revelatory commission. The central point was made back in verse 1—namely, that the Gospel Paul proclaims was not taught to him by other human beings, but came to him directly by revelation from Jesus Christ. This fact is intimately connected with his role as a representative and emissary (apostle) of Christ, both aspects—Gospel message and apostolic authority—being central to his exposition.

The exposition/narration that follows in 1:13-2:14 does more than simply present the facts of the case; rather, Paul uses this rhetorical opportunity to develop these two key lines of argument. This is done by three narrative stages—that is, in three sections of the narratio. Indeed, as noted above, the narratio itself is autobiographical, and can be divided into three parts:

    • Paul’s early career—the call to be an Apostle (1:13-24)
    • The meeting in Jerusalem—confirmation of Paul’s role as Apostle to the Gentiles (2:1-10)
    • The incident at Antioch—questions regarding the Gospel as proclaimed to the Gentiles, concerning Jewish-Gentile relations and the Law (2:11-14)

Let us examine briefly how Paul uses the rhetorical and epistolary form of the narratio to develop the argument by which he hopes to persuade the Galatians.

Paul’s early career (1:13-24)—From the standpoint of this study, three basic themes or points can be isolated:

    • His religious devotion and zeal—that is, his Jewish identity (vv. 13-14). The “traditions [lit. things given along, passed down] of the Fathers” certainly includes legal (i.e. commands and regulations of the Torah) as well as extra-legal religious matters. His devotion extended even to persecuting the early Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, which corresponds to the scenario described in Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2ff. Note also how here he effectively contrasts Judaism with the Gospel (presented in v. 15), but not as either competing or complementary religions; rather, the revelation of Jesus Christ to him represents something entirely new.
    • His call and commission as Apostle (to the Gentiles)—it came directly from God and Christ (vv. 15-17) This is indicated by two aspects of the narrative:
      (1) He was set apart (vb aphorízœ) by God (even before he was born), being called by the favor of God and through the (personal) revelation of Christ (vv. 15-16a)
      (2) He did not consult at first with other Christian leaders (in Jerusalem), i.e. his instruction and earliest ministry work was directly under the guidance of God and Christ (vv. 16b-17)
    • His ministry work becoming accepted within the wider early Christian community—including contact with the apostles in Jerusalem (vv. 18-24)

The meeting in Jerusalem (2:1-10)—I have discussed this passage in some detail in relation to the so-called ‘Jerusalem Council’ of Acts 15. I would generally follow the majority of commentators in their view that Acts 15 and Galatians 2 refer to the same underlying historical event[s], though this identification is not without difficulties. However one chooses to interpret the relation between these passages at the historical level, here we must focus exclusively on what Paul writes in his letter. The following points should be noted:

    • Paul’s attendance in Jerusalem is also the result of a revelation (vv. 1-2, cp. Acts 15:2f)
    • At issue is the Gospel Paul has been proclaiming to the Gentiles (v. 2)
    • There were some (Jewish Christians) in Jerusalem who would require/compel Gentile believers to be circumcised [and, presumably, to observe other Torah regulations as well] (v. 3; this is more prominent in Acts 15:1-11ff)
    • Paul characterizes these Jewish Christians (“Judaizers”) as “false brothers” (pseudádelphoi), indicating that they have come in surreptitiously (infiltrating/spying), and with false/improper motives (v. 4); note the introduction here of a motif (slavery vs. freedom) which will appear throughout the epistle.
    • Paul clearly contrasts this Jewish-Christian view with the “truth of the Gospel” (al¢¡theia tou euangelíou)—as such, Paul feels compelled to oppose it (v. 5)
    • The authority and importance of the (apostolic) leaders in Jerusalem, judged in human terms, is devalued by Paul (v. 6, 9)
    • And yet, Paul’s role as apostle to the Gentiles is confirmed—along with his missionary approach and the Gospel he proclaims—by the leaders in Jerusalem (James, Cephas/Peter, and John) (vv. 7-9)

We can detect how many of the important themes and motifs of the epistle, to be expounded by Paul, are introduced and interwoven throughout this narrative. The points of controversy and conflict are brought forward, and already Paul has begun the polemical (and vituperative) treatment of his opponents which will increase markedly in the climactic sections of the letter.

The incident at Antioch (2:11-14)—For a detailed treatment of this section, see my earlier discussion, and also on the Peter/Paul controversy in Christian tradition. It also may be worth consulting my notes on the so-called Apostolic Decree from Acts 15. Here we have a narrative snippet from a minor, but significant, event in early Church history, which shows the cultural and religious difficulties in incorporating Gentile (non-Jewish) believers within a largely Jewish-Christian matrix.

The incident at Antioch, by all accounts, did not involve Jewish Christians urging or compelling Gentiles to observe the Torah; rather, it had to do with the behavior of the Jewish believers. Should Jews (as believers in Christ) continue faithfully to observe the Torah regulations and/or their religious traditions if it meant separating themselves from fellowship with Gentiles? The issue may even have gone deeper, for Paul speaks of Peter as starting to be in a Gentile manner of living (ethnikœ¡s); this perhaps indicates that Peter has ceased to observe certain Torah regulations (such as the dietary restrictions, cf. Acts 10:9-16), at least when living and eating among Gentile believers. Social pressure (from prominent Jewish believers) apparently caused Peter to return to his prior religious scruples.

Paul saw and sensed in this a great danger, as it seemed to place Jewish distinctiveness ahead of Jewish-Gentile unity in Christ. This is an important observation directed at those commentators who would view Paul’s arguments regarding the Law in Galatians as being limited to what is necessary for salvation. The incident at Antioch shows that Paul’s argument goes well beyond this, for it relates to the very notion of Christian identity. Galatians is first surviving Christian writing (however one dates it exactly) to address this issue head-on.

Through this relatively lengthy narration (narratio), Paul has moved from a defense of his apostleship (section 1) to a defense of his view of the Gospel and what it means to be a Christian (section 3). He has effectively laid out the groundwork for his lines of argument in chapters 3-4. However, before Paul begins with his “proofs” in chaps. 3-4, he first must present the central proposition (propositio) which he seeks to prove. This is done formally in 2:15-21, which we will examine in next week’s study. The issue is stated, in practical terms, at the close of the narratio, which the question (posed to Peter, but, by extension, to all Jewish Christians):

“how can you make it necessary (for) the nations [i.e. Gentiles] to live as Jews?”

Paul’s view of the Gospel is that it is not necessary at all for believers (esp. Gentile believers) to “live as Jews” (vb Ioudaï¡zœ), by which is meant accepting the binding authority of the Torah regulations. He will expound this proposition in vv. 15-21, and then go on to prove it (probatio) through six lines of argument in chaps. 3-4.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia, ed. by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

Saturday Series: Galatians 1:6-10

Exordium (Galatians 1:6-10)

Last week, we began our rhetorical-critical study on Galatians, starting with the opening (epistolary prescript) of the letter (1:1-5). We saw how Paul’s rhetorical purpose resulted in the adaptation of the traditional opening (even as realized in the majority of Paul’s letters). Both the superscription and the greeting (salutatio) were expanded to include thematic elements that will become important for the rest of the letter—namely, (1) the legitimacy of Paul’s status as an apostle, and (2) an emphasis on the Gospel message (kerygma) proclaimed by Paul (as an apostle). Today we will move on to the start of the body of the letter proper, the introduction or exordium (to use the classical rhetorical term).

This opening section of a speech (or letter) can also be referred to as a proeemium or principium. From the standpoint of classic Greco-Roman rhetoric, the exordium is treated, for example, by Aristotle (Rhetoric 1.1.9; 3.14.1ff), Cicero (De inventione 1.4.6-7.11), and Quintilian (4.1.1-79); see Betz, p. 44. The exordium can serve a number of different purposes for the speaker/author. The author (in the case of a letter) can state his/her reason for writing (causa), introduce the subject to be addressed, present the facts of the case, and/or prepare the audience so that they are more likely to be receptive and respond favorably to the message.

For the exordium of Galatians (1:6-10), Paul has several key purposes or themes which he wishes to introduce. One may divide the exordium into three parts. In the first of these (vv. 6-7), Paul gives the reason for writing to the Galatians; in Latin rhetorical terminology, this is the causa (or cause) for his writing.

“I wonder that so quickly you (would) set yourselves away from the (one hav)ing called you in (the) favor [of the Anointed], (and) to a different good message, (for) which there would not be another, if (it were) not (that) there are some (people) troubling you and wishing to turn away [i.e. distort] the good message of (the) Anointed.”

Paul’s approach here is indirect, in that he does not adopt a standard direct and straightforward opening (principium), but takes a ‘subtler’ and more creative approach, using a method called insinuatio. This approach tends to be used when the audience has (already) been won over by the arguments of the author’s opponent(s) (see Betz, p. 45). Note the present tense verbs in vv. 6-7, indicating that the influence of Paul’s opponents on the Galatians is something current and ongoing.

The forcefulness of Paul’s language is also an indication of the urgency of the situation. He begins, “I wonder/marvel [thaumázœ] that…”, a deliberative rhetorical technique that draws attention to the course of action being taken (or about to be taken) by his audience; similarly, his use of the adverb tachéœs (“[so] soon/quickly”). It is a device of ‘indignant rebuttal’, implicitly attacking the things said and done by the opposition side. On the rhetorical use of the verb thaumázœ in this regard, see Betz, p. 47.

Note the two parallel verbs in vv. 6-7:

    • metatíth¢mi (“set [something] after”, i.e. change the place of)—metatíthesthe “you have moved (yourselves) away from [apó]”
        • The transfer is away from the one calling the Galatians to faith and salvation, i.e. God (but in a secondary sense, also Paul as apostle), and toward (“unto”, eis) “another Gospel” (héteron euangélion)
    • metastréphœ (“turn after/across”, i.e. turn to a different place or condition)
        • Paul’s opponents (the ones “troubling” [tarássontes] the Galatians) wish “to change/pervert/distort” [metastrépsai] “the Gospel of Christ” [to euangélion toú Christoú]

As Betz notes (p. 47), much of this vocabulary reflects a partisan political context—being applied to a religious setting. Paul immediately establishes two sides, tied to a particular view of the “good message” (Gospel) proclaimed by the early Christians. On one side, we have the Gospel as proclaimed by Paul (and his fellow missionaries), and, on the other side, the version of the Gospel held by his opponents (yet to be introduced in the letter).

This sense of conflict relates to the two rhetorical themes introduced by Paul in the opening (epistolary prescript) of the letter (vv. 1-5, see above). We have: (1) the essence of the Gospel message, and (2) the legitimacy of Paul as an apostle proclaiming this message. His primary focus is on the first point—the essence and truth of the Gospel. This is why he speaks of a “different” (héteros) or “another” (állos) Gospel—that is, a version of it different from the one he has proclaimed to the Galatians. It is not clear, at this point in the letter, what this “difference” entails, only that the matter is most serious, in his mind. This explains the forcefulness of the language here in the causa, but also the introduction of the curse-formula that follows in vv. 8-9 (see below).

The second theme is also present: the legitimacy of Paul as an apostle. The expression “the (one) having called you” (ho kalésantos hymás) is ambiguous. It is best understood in terms of God the Father as the One who calls believers to faith in Christ (“in the favor [i.e. grace] of Christ”); however, it could also refer, in a subordinate sense, to Paul as the one who calls them through his proclamation of the Gospel. Almost certainly, Paul has both levels of meaning in mind.

Paul cleverly disparages the view of the Gospel held by his opponents, in verse 7, by emphasizing that there really cannot be a different Gospel—i.e., there is only one Gospel, and by implication it corresponds with Paul’s version of the Gospel. Indeed, he goes on to say that he would not even bother to speak of “another” Gospel, were it not for the fact that there have been some (tinés) people “troubling” (vb. tarássœ) the Galatian believers with their claims and teachings. Paul states that these ‘other’ people actually wish to the distort/pervert (vb metastréphœ, see above) the truth of the Gospel. Certainly, Paul’s opponents would not see the matter this way, and would claim just the opposite, attributing any distortion of the Gospel to Paul.

The seriousness with which Paul views the matter is indicated by the double curse (anathema) he gives in verses 8-9. It is not uncommon for classical orators to make use of threats as a means of persuading their audience, nor is the use of curses in a speech (or letter) unknown. However, typically, any curse formula would appear at a later point, toward the end of the speech or letter—a portion referred to as peroratio. It is unusual to include a curse formula as part of the introduction, as Paul does here. Rhetoricians tend to view threats or curses as something that should be used only as a last resort, when other means of persuasion do not seem likely to succeed (see Betz, p. 46). Paul’s use of it here illustrates two pertinent facts: (1) that his opponents have been successful, to some measure, in persuading the Galatians; and (2) it shows the seriousness and urgency with which Paul views the matter. It was most serious, indeed, for a missionary or leading figure in the Church to proclaim a “different” Gospel:

“But, even if we, or a Messenger out of heaven, should proclaim as (the) good message [to you] (something) alongside of [pará] the good message which we proclaimed to you, may he be set up (as cursed)! As we have said before, even now again I say: if anyone proclaims as (the) good message to you (something) alongside that which which you received along (from us), may he be set up (as cursed)!”

Implied within the curse is an affirmation of Paul’s own apostolic authority—this will be the main focus of the narration section (narratio) that follows in vv. 11ff. Paul’s position and authority as an apostle (representative of Christ) is also indicated in verse 10, which serves as the transitus, or transition, between the exordium and the narratio. This transitional declaration is also important for a proper understanding of Paul’s application of rhetorical techniques in his letters:

“For do I now persuade men or God? Or do I seek to please men? If I would yet please men, a slave of the Anointed (One) I would not be.”

Paul seems to deny that he is trying to persuade (vb peíthœ) people, and yet clearly that is what is is doing in his letter. The point is, however, not that he makes no use of persuasive (rhetorical) techniques, but that he does not rely upon them to convey the truth of his message. Nor does he seek to “persuade God,” an idea which he perhaps includes here because of the curse-formula in vv. 8-9. God is not to be swayed or persuaded by quasi-magical means. More critical is Paul’s final point in verse 10: that he is not writing to please men. His duty, as an apostle, is to proclaim the Gospel; to this end, he is effectively a “slave” (doúlos) of Christ.

This statement leads to the question of Paul’s apostleship—and the relation of his apostolic authority to the truth of the Gospel message that he proclaims. It is this theme which comes more firmly into focus in the next section of the letter (the narratio, 1:11-2:14), which we will examine in next week’s study.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia, ed. by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

November 24: 1 Timothy 3:16cd

The Hymn, continued

(The first couplet was discussed in the previous note)

Second Couplet (verse 16c)

w&fqh a)gge/loi$
e)jhru/xqh e)n e&qehsin
“(he) was seen by (the) Messengers,
(and) was proclaimed among (the) Nations”

The contrast in the first couplet was between the “flesh” (sa/rc) and the “Spirit” (pneu=ma); here in the second couplet the juxtaposition is between the “Messengers” (a&ggeloi, i.e., Angels) and the “Nations” (e&qnh). The connection between the Angels and the Nations is ancient, as can be seen, for example, by the tradition preserved in Deut 32:8 (4QDeutj and LXX)—the number of the nations (trad. 70) corresponds to the number of the “sons of God” (divine/heavenly beings). The book of Daniel preserved a more developed form of this correspondence, when it refers to the tradition of a heavenly/angelic “Prince” who belongs to a particular nation (10:13, 20-22; 12:1), overseeing it.

The eschatological outlook of the Qumran Community evinces a more oppositional (and antagonistic) dualism, dividing the heavenly beings between the “sons of light” and “sons of darkness”. The righteous ones of the Community (on earth) are aligned with the “sons of light” (led by Michael), while the wicked nations are aligned with the “sons of darkness” (led by Belial); expressed vividly in the War Scroll (1QM) and other texts. This basic tradition is reflected in Rev 12:7-12, and thus was part of the early Christian apocalyptic as well.

The juxtaposition here in the hymn, however, does not represent an antithetical dualism; rather, the contrast is simply between the beings dwelling in heaven (Angels) and the peoples dwelling on earth (Nations).

As in the first couplet, the verbs are aorist passive indicative forms—w&fqh (“he was seen”) and e)khru/xqh (“he was proclaimed”). The context, in both instances, is the exaltation of Jesus, building on the second line of the first couplet, which alludes to the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The heavenly beings (Angels) are witnesses to the exalted Jesus’ presence in heaven, even as Jesus’ disciples on earth were witnesses to his resurrection. Those disciples, the first believers in Christ, then proclaimed (vb khru/ssw) the message of his exaltation to the surrounding peoples and nations.

The verb khru/ssw is fundamental to the early Christian tradition, and is used throughout the New Testament (including 19 times by Paul in his letters) to refer to the preaching of the Gospel. The related noun kh/rugma (k¢¡rygma, “proclamation”) is less common, with only 9 occurrences in the New Testament, but 6 of these are in the Pauline letters, where it is essentially synonymous with the Gospel (eu)agge/lion), as the message is proclaimed (preached) by missionaries and ministers (Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 1:21, etc; cp. the short ending of Mark [16:8]); as such, it is also used twice in the Pastoral letters (2 Tim 4:17; Tit 1:3). The word has come to serve as a technical term by New Testament scholars for the earliest Christian Gospel-preaching (kerygma).

Third Couplet (verse 16d)

e)pisteu/qh e)n ko/smw|
a)nelh/mfqh e)n do/ch|
“(he) was trusted in the world,
(and) was taken up in splendor”

The contrast in the final couplet follows the same heaven-earth juxtaposition from the first two couplets (cf. above). Here the order of the pairing reverts to that in the first couplet—earthly, then heavenly. The formal pattern of the prepositional predicate also continues, using the preposition e)n (“in”). The same pattern applied in the second couplet as well, though the sense of the preposition there is more properly rendered “among”. There is no preposition specified in the first line of the second couplet, but the dative could certainly reflect e)n—i.e., “was seen among the Messengers”.

The earthly aspect here is expressed by the common word ko/smo$, typically translated “world”, but which properly signifies the order and arrangement of the world (i.e., world-order, created order). The noun do/ca is also a common term, but one which can be difficult to translate, due to its relatively wide semantic range. It fundamentally refers to how something (or someone) is regarded, especially in the positive sense of being esteemed, i.e. treated with honor. In a religious context, when applied to God, it connotes the esteem and honor which is due to God. He is deserving of this honor simply because He is the Creator and one true God, the Ruler of the universe. For this reason, do/ca (like the corresponding Hebrew word dobK*) is often used, in the more objective sense, for all that distinguishes God from all other (created) beings. Along these lines, the word is typically rendered “glory”, “splendor”, and the like. Here, it is best viewed as a comprehensive term for the entire divine/heavenly realm, in contrast to the earthly/material cosmos.

The verbs in the third couplet, again expressed in aorist passive indicative forms, have a simple and straightforward meaning. The verb pisteu/w means trust, in the specifically Christian sense of trust (pi/sti$) in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. To say that he was trusted “in the world” draws upon the context of the corresponding lines in the first two couplets: (a) Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, and (b) the post-resurrection proclamation of the Gospel. His disciples trusted in him, becoming believers, while others came to faith, in turn, through their proclamation.

The verb a)nalamba/nw (“take up”), especially in a passivum divinum sense (“taken up [by God]”), was a technical term for the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:2, 11, 22; [Mk 16:19]; cf. also the noun a)na/lhmyi$ in Lk 9:51). Implicit in this, of course, is the wider idea of Jesus’ exaltation. A central component of the early Gospel proclamation is the motif of the exalted Jesus standing “at the right hand” of God in heaven (Mk 14:62 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:33f; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22). This motif stems largely from Psalm 110:1 (cf. Mk 12:36 par; Acts 2:34; Heb 1:13), but may be influenced by other Scriptural traditions as well, such as the ‘son of man’ passage in Daniel 7:13-14. In any case, it certainly would inform the idea of Jesus being taken up “in glory/splendor” here in the hymn.

As in the Christ hymns of Philippians and Colossians, there is a strong emphasis on the exalted Jesus’ position of rule over all creation. This is perhaps clearest in the second couplet (cf. above), in which all beings—both in heaven and on earth—recognize the exaltation of Jesus (and his divine place alongside God the Father).

Conclusion

In the study of each couplet, I have brought out the conjunction of the two lines; however, when considering the hymn-portion of v. 16 as a whole, it is better to present it consistently in its flowing, litany-like character:

“…who
was made to shine forth in (the) flesh,
was made right (again) in (the) Spirit,
was seen (among the) Messengers,
was proclaimed among (the) Nations,
was trusted in (the) world,
was taken up in splendor”

Clearly, the lines do not represent a chronological summary of the Gospel message. The thematic structure is better understood as being woven around the heaven-earth dualism of each couplet. The first and third couplets are in relatively close parallel, contrasting Jesus’ earthly life and ministry with his heavenly exaltation (resurrection/ascension). The second (middle) couplet emphasizes the reaction to Jesus’ exaltation, as both heavenly beings (Angels) and earthly beings (human believers) acknowledge the exalted and ruling position of Jesus. This acknowledgement (trust/faith/confession) leads to proclamation—that is, the preaching of the Gospel message. While the Angels may proclaim this message, in certain ways, it more properly refers to the work of believers on earth, the ministry and mission-work of the Gospel, in all its different forms.

November 3: Revelation 14:6-13

Revelation 14:6-13

This is the second of three visions in chapter 14 (on the first in vv. 1-5, see the previous note). In terms of the basic framework of early Christian eschatology, it marks the end of the period of distress (qli/yi$) and announces the beginning of the great Judgment (kri/si$). It thus holds the same place as the half-hour of silence (at the opening of the seventh seal) in 8:1f; note the parallel structure:

  • Vision-cycle depicting the period of distress (chapters 5-6)
  • Vision of the 144,000, together with the Lamb (chapter 7)
  • Angels & the preparation for the Judgment (8:1-2)
  • Vision-cycle depicting the great Judgment (chapters 8-9)
    • Vision-cycle depicting the period of distress (chapters 12-13)
    • Vision of the 144,000 together with the Lamb (14:1-5)
    • Angels & the preparation/onset of the Judgment (14:6-13, 14-20)
    • Vision-cycle depicting the great Judgment (chapters 15-16)

While the 144,000 symbolize the People of God (believers) generally, there is also a specific reference to those who have faithfully endured the period of distress (7:14; 14:4-5), whether or not they were put to death for following Christ. Since the author/seer and the first readers of the book would have assumed that they were about to enter into this period (i.e. that it was imminent and about to begin), there is no real contradiction in this. Modern-futurist interpretation (in its various forms), of course, requires that the period of distress is yet to come, and so the 144,000 must symbolize future believers.
[The entire question of modern-futurist interpretation of the book of Revelation will be discussed at the end of this series]

The vision in 14:6-13 describes the appearance of three heavenly Messengers (Angels), each of whom delivers a different, but related, message regarding the coming Judgment.

Verses 6-7: First Messenger

“And I saw another Messenger taking wing in the middle of the heaven, holding (the) good message of the Ages to deliver (as) a good message upon the (one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] upon the earth, upon every nation and offshoot (of the human race), and (every) tongue and people, declaring in a great voice: ‘You must fear God and give to him honor, (in) that [i.e. because] the hour of His Judgment (has) come, and you must kiss toward [i.e. worship] the (One) making the heaven and the earth and (the) sea and fountains of waters!'”

The image of the Messenger flying “in the middle of the heavens” echoes that of 8:13, confirming the Judgment-setting. There, however, it was a message of woe to the people on earth; here, along with the warning of the Judgment is a message of hope. The idea seems to be that God is giving humankind one final chance to repent and turn to Him, much as we saw in the earlier Trumpet-cycle depicting the Judgment—note the remnant motif (i.e., two-thirds survive) and the specific notice at the close of the cycle (9:20-21).

I have translated the expression eu)agge/lion ai)w/nion literally (“good message of the Age[s]”). It is typically rendered “everlasting Gospel” or “eternal Gospel”; however, I feel it is especially important here to preserve the etymological meaning, since the “good message” relates to the consummation of the Ages, the end of the current Age. The Judgment marks the moment when God will eradicate evil and wickedness from the world, fully establishing His justice and rule over humankind. At the same time, no early Christian reader could hear the word eu)agge/lion without associating it with the message of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Like many symbols in the book of Revelation, the great Judgment itself has both earthly and heavenly aspects—i.e. Judgment that takes place on earth, and that which takes place (subsequently) in Heaven. It would seem that the visions allow for the possibility of people turning to faith in God (and Christ?) during the earthly Judgment (cf. below).

For the expression “good news” (using the eu)aggel– word-group), its background and usage in connection with the Roman emperor and the imperial cult, see my earlier Christmas season note and the recent Word Study series on Gospel/eu)agge/lion.

The use of the aorist tense (h@lqen, “came”) in verse 7 is interesting, since it suggests that the Judgment is a past event, even though it is just now being announced by the Messengers. Most translations render this like a perfect (“has come”); it may be considered as an ingressive aorist, indicating the start of an action. The focus on God as Creator, may reflect a style of Gospel-preaching to (Gentile) non-believers (cp. Acts 14:15-18; 17:23-31), but may also refer back to the idolatry and false religion emphasized in the chap. 13 visions (cp. Wisdom 13:1-19; Rom 1:18-25; Koester, p. 612). The chain of terms in verse 7, summarizing all of the inhabited world, is a direct echo of 13:7.

Verse 8: Second Messenger

“And another Messenger, a second, followed declaring: ‘Babilim the great (has) fallen, fallen!—the (one) who has made all the nations drink out of the wine of the (evil) impulse of her prostitution!'”

This second Messenger continues the “good message”, concerning the end of the current (and wicked) Age, with an announcement regarding “Babel” (i.e. the city Babylon). Greek Babulw/n is a transliteration of the name, presumably deriving from Akkadian b¹b-ilim (“Gate of God”); Hebrew lb#B* (B¹»el) is a similar transliteration, while English Babylon comes from the Greek. The nation-state centered on the city of Babylon was the pre-eminent (imperial) power at the time of the Judean exile, thus making it a fitting symbol for the conquering imperial power (Rome) in the first-century A.D.—the time of the Judean distress (c. 40-70) as well as suffering/persecution of believers when the book of Revelation was written. Most commentators regard “Babylon” as a cypher for Rome, both here and in 1 Peter 5:13. On the whole this is correct, and the identification is made more clear and specific in chapter 17; however, I believe that the symbolism is actually somewhat broader in scope. The interpretive key lies in the vision(s) of 11:1-13, especially the reference to the “great city” (h( po/li$ h( mega/lh) in v. 8, which is there identified with Jerusalem (cf. also vv. 1-2), but also called “Sodom” and “Egypt”, names specifically indicating worldly power and wickedness. Here, too, Babylon is called “the great (city)” (h( mega/lh), and, I believe, the meaning is generally the same. Whether identified by the specific name “Sodom”, “Egypt”, “Jerusalem”, “Babylon”, or “Rome”, the symbol refers primarily to the center of earthly power and influence, which is fundamentally (at least in this current Age) wicked and opposed to God.

Again an aorist form (e&pesen, “fell”) is used to describe something which, from the standpoint of the overall narrative, has not yet taken place. The use of a past tense (whether aorist or perfect in Greek) is sometimes used in reference to future events, speaking of them as something already completed—i.e. proleptic aorist. The use of the prophetic (and precative) perfect in Hebrew does much the same thing, often used to assure readers that something will take place. The specific form of the message (regarding Babylon) derives from Old Testament tradition and the nation-oracles in Isaiah and Jeremiah—specifically Isa 21:9 and Jer 50-51 (50:2; 51:8). It will be greatly expanded in chapter 18.

As is frequently the case in Jewish and early Christian tradition, the noun pornei/a (lit. referring to acts of prostitution) is used figuratively for wickedness and faithlessness to God (i.e. ‘idolatry’ and false religion, etc).

Verses 9-11: Third Messenger

“And another Messenger, a third, followed them declaring in a great voice: ‘If any one kisses toward [i.e. worships] the wild animal and its image, and takes the engraved (mark) upon the (space) between his eyes or upon his hand, even (so) th(is person) he will drink of the impulse of God’s (anger) having been poured out (for him), without (being) mixed (with water), in the drinking-cup of His anger, and he will be tested severely (and proven false), in fire and sulphur, in the sight of (the) holy Messengers and in the sight of the Lamb!—and the smoke of their severe testing steps [i.e. goes] up into the Ages of Ages, and they hold no resting up (from this) day and night, the (one)s kissing toward [i.e. worshiping] the wild animal and his image (and), indeed, if any one takes the engraved (mark) of its name!'”

I view the message in vv. 9-11 as comprised of a single long (elliptical) sentence, which I have sought to make more readable by punctuating with commas throughout. Its elliptical structure can be illustrated with a chiastic outline:

    • Any one who worships the creature…and takes its mark
      • he will drink from the cup of God’s anger (i.e. divine judgment)
        • they will be tested severely in fire (judged & punished)
          • in the sight of the holy Messengers and the Lamb
        • the smoke of their severe testing rises (judged & punished)
      • they have no rest from it day and night (i.e. eternal judgment)
    • ones who worships the creature…and take its mark

The description of the one who worships (lit. “kisses toward”, vb proskune/w, a common Greek idiom signifying worship/veneration) the “wild animal” (qhri/on, i.e. the Sea-creature) occurs both at the beginning and end of the message, a dual-emphasis that shows just how serious the matter is. It also confirms the context of the visions in chapter 14 as that of chap. 13, with its depiction of the wicked influence exerted by the Sea-creature over humankind. It is specifically stated that anyone who so venerates the Sea-creature (and its living ‘image’ on earth), and takes the engraved mark (xa/ragma) showing that he/she belongs to the creature, will face the full brunt of God’s anger (o)rgh/) in the Judgment. The immediate context of these verses makes clear that it is the heavenly aspect of the Judgment that is in view.

Drinking from a cup (poth/rion) is a traditional motif for the fate a person will experience, often in the negative sense of suffering and/or punishment. For the idiom in the Old Testament, cf. Psalm 16:5; 75:8; Isa 51:17; Jer 25:15-17; 49:12, etc. Jesus famously uses it in the garden scene of the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mark 14:36 par, cf. also 10:38-39 par). This cup is controlled by God, and given out to human beings (who meet their fate over the course of their lives). Here it is meant as a precise contrast with the wine that Babylon made the nations drink (v. 8; cf. Jer 51:7). In both instances the noun qumo/$ is used, which I regularly translate as “impulse” (for lack of a better option in English); it basically refers to a violent or passionate movement, as of air, breath, etc, sometimes internalized as a movement of the soul or mind. The wine Babylon gives is from her wicked impulse to “prostitution”, whereas the wine God makes people drink in the Judgment comes from His impulse to anger, to punish the wicked. This wine is said to be a&krato$, “without mixture”, that is, without being diluted by water—at its full strength.

The verb basani/zw (and related noun basanismo/$) is typically translated as “torment”, but more properly refers to an intense testing, as of metal that is tried by fire. That is the basic image here. The wicked, of course, are proven to be false in the fire of testing, which becomes a painful torture for them (a common denotation when basini/zw is used of human beings). The motifs of fire and sulphur, along with the rising smoke, allude to the destruction of cities (even a “great city”, cf. above), following the traditional imagery of the destruction of the wicked Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24, 28) which came to be used as a symbol of the end-time Judgment (Luke 10:12 par; 17:29; 2 Pet 2:6; Jude 7; cf. also Rev 11:8). Many Christians are naturally disturbed by the idea of the wicked being tormented endlessly; however, any ethical-religious issues we may have today are quite foreign to the text itself and its first-century setting. We should not try to soften or mitigate the imagery, nor should any attempt be made to view it as an absolute metaphysical description of the afterlife.

Verses 12-13: A Fourth Voice

“Here is the need for the holy (one)s to remain under [i.e. endure faithfully], the (one)s keeping watch (over) the e)ntolai/ of God and the trust of Yeshua. And I heard a voice out of the heaven saying, ‘Write (this): happy the (one)s th(at are) dying away in the Lord from now (on)’. ‘Yes’, says the Spirit, ‘(so) that they will rest up out of [i.e. from] their beatings, for their works follow with them’.”

Verse 12 represents the author/seer’s own words to his readers. He stresses again the importance of remaining faithful to Christ during the end-time period of distress (which he and his audience are believed to be entering). The dangers for believers described in the chap. 13 visions—both in terms of being led astray and of being persecuted (and put to death) for remaining faithful—would have been realized already by the surrounding pagan culture and, especially, the imperial cult tied to Roman rule. What is envisioned in chapter 13 is a more extreme, intense, and wicked version of what Christians in Asia Minor, at the end of the 1st-century, were already facing. The description of believers in v. 12b echoes that of 12:17, there referring to believers as children of the Woman (i.e. the People of God on earth). See the prior note on that verse for a discussion of the plural noun e)ntolai/, usually translated “commandments”. In my view, the expression “the e)ntolai/ of God” is best understood and comparable to “the law [no/mo$] of God” in Paul’s letters (Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21). It refers generally to the will of God, such as is expressed in the Old Testament law (Torah) and the teaching of Jesus, but should not be reduced to a specific set of commands or teachings. The pairing of expressions means that believers are people who generally live in a manner that corresponds to the will of God, and who also, specifically (and most importantly), have trust/faith in Jesus.

The final message is one of comfort for believers, given by a heavenly Messenger, and echoed by the Spirit. The main difficulty lies in the expression a)p’ a&rti (“from now [on]”); it can be understood three ways, moving from narrower to broader focus:

    • It refers to believers (or those who come to be believers) alive during the great Judgment on the earth. The message of the first Angel (cf. above) seems to allow for the possibility of people coming to faith during the Judgment, or just prior to its onset. Given the terrible events that will occur on earth at the Judgment (vividly described in the Trumpet- and Bowl-cycles), death certainly would be a blessing.
    • It refers primarily to the period of distress that precedes the Judgment on earth; believers certainly will live through this (according to the visions of chaps. 12-13 and elsewhere in the book), and will suffer greatly. Here, too, death, even as a result of execution, would be a comfort.
    • It is meant more directly for the audience/readers of the book, who, it must be said, were expected to live into the (imminent) period of distress.

In my view, the last, and most inclusive interpretation best fits the context of both the vision and the book as a whole. In any case, the blessing (or happiness) of believers who die during this time is two-fold: (1) they receive rest from suffering and distress (referred to as “beatings” ko/poi, something with weakens or reduces strength), and (2) they are rewarded for their faithfulness (referred to here as “works”, e&rga).

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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
Gospel
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).

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 3: Revelation

According to the basic outlines of gnostic (and Gnostic) thought, because human beings are trapped within the evil (material) world of sin and darkness, it is necessary for a divinely appointed savior-figure to bring knowledge of salvation. In customary theological language, we would refer to this as divine revelation—that is, something made known specially to believers by God Himself. In the New Testament, there are a number of specific words and concepts which refer to revelation, of which I list the three most important here:

    • gnwri/zw (gnœrízœ), “make known”—this verb is derived from ginw/skw (“know)”, on which see Part 1 of this series.
    • fai/nw (phaínœ) and fanero/w (phaneróœ), “shine, make (to) shine (forth)”, specifically of light, but often figuratively in the sense of “appear, be/make visible, (make) manifest/apparent”—this includes a variety of compound and derived words.
    • a)pokalu/ptw (apokaly¡ptœ), “take (the) cover from, uncover”.

Each of these carries a different image or nuance, and will be discussed in turn. Following this, I will discuss two distinctly Christian aspects of revelation which are vital for a proper understanding of the relationship between knowledge and salvation (cf. Part 2): (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the person of Christ.

gnwri/zw (“make known”)

This verb occurs 25 times in the New Testament, primarily in the Pauline Letters (18 times). It refers to the aspect of revelation which is directly connected with knowledge. Before one can know something, it first has to be made known by some means, all the more so when dealing with divine and heavenly matters. The verb is rare in the Gospels and Acts, but it occurs in two important contexts which are seminal to the Gospel message, and which specifically frame the (Lukan) narrative:

    • The Birth of Jesus:
      Lk 2:15—God makes it known to the shepherds through an Angelic announcement
      Lk 2:17—The shepherds, in turn, make the news known to others
    • The Resurrection of Jesus:
      In Acts 2:28, Psalm 16:11 is applied to Jesus—”you have made known to me the ways of life

Elsewhere, in Paul’s letters, the verb is used more precisely in reference to the proclamation of the Gospel; two key passages in Romans express this in slightly different ways:

    • Romans 9:22-23—God has worked to make known: his power (v. 22), and the riches of his glory/mercy (v. 23). The eschatological (Judgment) setting here reflects a two-fold aspect of the Gospel which Paul expresses more directly in 1 Cor 1:18ff and 2 Cor 2:14-4:6—the Gospel for those perishing and for those being saved.
    • Romans 16:26—the secret hidden by God is uncovered (cf. below) and made known, through the Scriptures (Prophets), and, by implication, the proclamation of the Gospel (in which the Scriptures are interpreted).

In Col 1:27 and also Eph 1:9, the verb is again used in a similar context. Paul himself, as an appointed, authoritative minister of the Gospel, is said to make known this “secret” of the Gospel—cf. Eph 3:3, 5, 10; 6:19. The verb becomes part of Paul’s rhetorical and didactic approach in his letters:

Similarly, in 2 Peter 1:16, the apostles are described as eye-witnesses making known the power and presence of Christ. In the Gospel of John (15:15; 17:26), it is Jesus (the Son) who has made God the Father known to his followers (cf. the recent notes on Jn 8:32 and 17:3), who (like the Lukan shepherds) will do so in turn for others.

fai/nw, fanero/w, etc (“shine [forth]”)

The verbs fai/nw and fanero/w are related to the word fw=$ (“light”), and are often used (figuratively) to refer to revelation under the image of shining forth light. This motif goes back to Old Testament tradition, including the creation narrative (Gen 1:3ff), the Exodus narrative (Exod 10:23; 13:21), the priestly blessing (Num 6:25), and frequently of God in the Psalms, Wisdom literature, and Prophets. God’s word is described as light in Psalm 119:105, 130, and light is associated with God’s salvation for his people in Ps 27:1; Isa 9:2; 49:6; 60:1ff; Mic 7:8-9, etc. This Old Testament imagery was applied to Jesus in the Gospel tradition—cf. Luke 1:79; 2:30-32 (Isa 49:6; 52:10); and Matt 4:16 (Isa 9:2). Christ is the light (or sun) shining on those in darkness; by implication, the message of Christ (the Gospel) is also to be understood as light shining in the same way. Light is an especially important motif in the Gospel of John, where Christ (the Son and living Word) is identified with the divine, eternal light, and where there is a strong (dualistic) contrast between light and darkness—Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 5:35; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, etc.

fai/nw, e)pifai/nw, e)pifanei/a

Here we have the straightforward image of light (or the sun, etc) shining; the compound forms with e)pi specifically refer to light shining upon someone or something. In its more concrete sense, fai/nw is used in the Gospel for the appearance of a heavenly being (Angel), especially in the context of the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:20; 2:7ff) and at the resurrection (Mark 16:9). Similarly, it is used of the end-time heavenly appearance of the “Son of Man” (Matt 24:27, 30), while the compound a)nafai/nw refers to the eschatological appearance of the Kingdom of God in Luke 19:11. For the appearance of a wondrous, miraculous event in general, cf. Matt 9:33. Throughout the New Testament, these words tend to be used in a metaphorical, figurative sense in several primary ways:

In Rom 7:13, the verb is used (uniquely) in the sense of gaining knowledge and awareness of sin; while in Titus 2:11 and 3:4, the compound e)pifai/nw refers more abstractly (in Pauline language) to salvation coming through the appearance of the grace and love of God, the person and work of Christ being understood. The related noun e)pifanei/a came to be used specifically for Christ’s future appearance on earth (i.e. his return)—2 Thess 2:8; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; Tit 2:13. Eventually, it was used in early Christianity as a technical term for the incarnation of Christ (i.e. his first appearance), suggested already in 2 Tim 1:10.

fanero/w, etc

The verb fanero/w more properly means “make (light) to shine forth”, i.e. “make visible, cause to appear, make manifest”. It is frequently used in a revelatory sense in the New Testament—that is, of something coming to be made visible, or made known, by God. For the general sense of making known something secret or hidden, cf. Mark 4:22 par; Eph 5:13-14; in the Gospel tradition, there are the notable reference to the so-called “Messianic secret”, whereby Jesus wishes to keep his identity (as Anointed One and Son of God) from being made known publicly, until after the resurrection (Mk 3:12; Matt 12:16; cf. also Jn 7:10). For the verb fanero/w, and the related words fanero/$ and fane/rwsi$, we can isolate the same three ways it is applied in the New Testament as mentioned above for fai/nw, etc:

Somewhat unique is the idea of natural revelation expressed in Rom 1:19—that is, of the knowledge of God which is evident in creation, but which humankind, in bondage to sin, cannot truly recognize.

Other words

There are a number of other similar verbs and terms which describe revelation in terms of light, vision, seeing, etc. The most significant will be mentioned briefly here:

    • fwti/zw (“give light”) and la/mpw (“give a beam [of light]”), which are related to the words fw=$ and lampa/$ (cf. also lu/xno$) respectively [to distinguish between these, verses with la/mpw or its compound forms are marked by an asterisk (*)]. These words can refer:
      • To the heavenly appearance of God, Christ and Angels (Lk 2:9*; Acts 12:7*; Rev 18:1; 21:23; 22:5); with which we should include the transfiguration scene (Matt 17:2*), and the future appearance of the Son of Man in Lk 17:24*.
      • Figuratively, in a theological/christological sense, to Jesus as light (Jn 1:9); for other light-references in John, cf. above.
      • To the revelation of God/Christ in the Gospel, with its proclamation (Eph 3:9; 2 Tim 1:10; Heb 10:32); cf. especially 2 Cor 4:4-6 (which uses both verbs) and my earlier note.
      • To the heart, etc., being enlightened by God (1 Cor 4:5; Eph 1:18; Heb 6:4)
      • To the shining forth of believers (and their works), cf. Matt 5:15-16*; 13:43*
    • e)mfani/zw (“shine forth in”)—there are two important references to this compound verb which are relevant here:
      • John 14:21-22—of Christ’s manifestation in/to the believer
      • Heb 9:24—of Christ’s appearance in heaven before God
    • o)pta/nomai (lit. “look with, use the eyes”, “perceive, see”)—the (aorist) passive of this verb is used frequently for something that comes to be seen, i.e. made visible to the eye, especially in the case of a divine/heavenly being, such as an Angel or the resurrected Christ. Of the many references, cf. Mk 9:24 par; Lk 1:11; 24:34; Acts 9:17; 13:31; 1 Cor 15:5-8; 1 Tim 3:16. The future form can also be used in the context of a promise to see the heavenly/divine (cf. Jn 11:40), and several occurrences are significant in connection with the Gospel message (Matt 28:7, 10; Lk 3:6). Note also the important use of the verb in John 3:36 and Rom 15:21.

a)pokalu/ptw (“uncover”)

This verb literally means “take the cover (away) from”, and represents the third aspect of revelation to be discussed in this article—that of uncovering something hidden or secret. I have dealt with the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament in an earlier series of notes, which ought to be consulted, since the passages are relevant to the idea being discussed here. For the verb and the related noun (a)poka/luyi$), we may isolate the way they are used in the New Testament as follows (passages with the noun are marked by an asterisk):

The Gospel and Christian Identity

Careful study of the references cited above, will show, as I have demonstrated in several places, that there are three main aspects or strands which relate to the idea of revelation, and which may be labeled as follows:

    1. The proclamation of the Gospel
    2. The person of Christ, and
    3. The religious identity of believers in Christ

The last of these is closest to a gnostic point of view—that is, of our religious (Christian) identity being defined in terms of knowledge and revelation. However, it is in the first two aspects that any aberrant or exaggerated gnostic tendency is checked. These two points require a bit more explanation:

(a) The proclamation of the Gospel

A large percentage of the passages listed above are connected to some degree with knowledge and revelation that is expressed and determined by the proclamation of the Gospel. This especially the case in the Pauline letters, where salvation is directly connected to the Gospel message (and its proclamation)—cf. 2 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 1:21; 9:14-23; 15:2; Gal 1:6-9; Rom 1:16-17; 10:14-21; 15:18-20. I have discussed the important passages 1 Cor 1:18ff and 2 Cor 2:14-4:6 in earlier notes. Paul had a very definite sense of what the Gospel was, and what it was not (cf. Gal 1:7-9ff), and, especially, how it could be distorted or rendered ineffective in its proclamation (1 Cor 1:17; 2:1-5). For early Christians, it was unquestionably the death of Christ (and his subsequent resurrection/exaltation) which was the central element of the proclamation (Acts 2:23; 3:13-15; 4:10, 26-28; 5:30, etc). In Paul’s letters, one may say that the crucifixion (the cross) of Christ receives even greater prominence. In 1 Cor 1:18 the Gospel message is referred to specifically as “the account [i.e. word] of the cross”. It is just at this point—the death and crucifixion of Christ—that many Gnostics struggled with the Gospel, as Paul surely would have predicted. He understood well the difficulty of this message, for Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) alike (cf. Gal 3:10-13; 5:11; 6:12, etc). In 1 Cor 1:18ff, he sets up a direct contrast between the cross (as an expression of the wisdom of God) and the wisdom of the world—that is, of human wisdom, which includes religious knowledge and wisdom, apart from Christ. Moreover, in several places, Paul centers the (Christian) religious identity of believers squarely on the death and crucifixion of Christ. This is expressed most powerfully in Gal 2:19-20; 6:14-15, and also in the baptismal symbolism of Rom 6:3-11, as well as in other key passages (cf. Rom 8:3-4; Col 2:11-15).

(b) The person of Christ

The centrality of Christ in the New Testament and early Christian thought scarcely requires comment. However, believers often struggled (and continue to struggle) with exactly how one is to understand: (1) the special (divine) nature of Christ, and (2) the believer’s relationship to him. We may look to the Pauline and Johannine writings for powerful and distinctive teaching on both counts. Interestingly, both branches of early theology (and Christology) have a number of key points in common.

    • The parallel concept of believers being “in Christ” and Christ being in the believer
    • Both express the idea of believers in Christ as reflecting a “new birth” or “new creation”, including the expression “sons/children of God”, “sons of light”, etc
    • Both give strong emphasis to the role of the Spirit as the abiding presence of Christ in and among believers, and the point of union with God in Christ
    • Christ is seen as manifesting and embodying the character and nature of God—his love, truth, righteousness, power, etc.

This will be discussed further in Part 4 of this series, as well as in a separate article discussing knowledge and revelation in the Gospel of John.

“Gnosis” in the NT: 2 Cor 4:6

This is the second of a pair of daily notes dealing with Paul’s use of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in 2 Corinthians 2:14 and 4:6. The prior study discussed 2:14; here I will address 4:6. For the overall structure and context of the section 2:14-4:6, cf. the previous note.

2 Corinthians 4:6

“—(in) that (it is) God, the one saying ‘out of (the) darkness light [fw=$] shall (shine as a) beam [la/myei]’, who has shone a beam [e&lamyen] (of light) in our hearts, toward the lighting [fwtismo/$] of the knowledge of the honor/splendor of God in (the) face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

This climactic statement must be read both in terms of the section 2:14-4:6 as a whole, but also within the smaller structure of 4:1-6 (itself parallel with 2:14-17):

    • v. 1: Paul and his fellow missionaries have received this duty of service (diakoni/a) through the mercy of God, just as they were made slaves/captives of Christ through the favor (xa/ri$) of God (cf. 2:14a); note the specific use of dou=lo$ (“slave”) further in 4:5.
    • v. 2: As ministers of the Gospel they shine/manifest the truth to people everywhere (“in the sight of God”), just as they shine/manifest the scent of God’s knowledge everywhere (2:14b); here the verb fanero/w takes on more the literal sense of shining (in the darkness).
    • vv. 3-4: The Gospel gives light to those being saved, while the ones perishing remain blinded in darkness; similarly the contrast between the Gospel as pleasant fragrance (of life) to the one group, but a stench (of death) to the other (2:15)
    • v. 5 formally returns to the theme of v. 1 (and 2:14a), leading into verse 6:
      “For we did not proclaim ourselves, but Yeshua (the) Anointed (the) Lord, and ourselves as your slaves through Yeshua—”
      The word ku/rio$ is best understood as a predicate—i.e. Yeshua (the) Anointed (who is the) Lord, as (our) Lord, etc.

The specific relationship of Jesus to God the Father, implicit in verse 5, is given greater clarity in vv. 3-4; here the nature of the Gospel is stated in dramatic fashion:

“…to cast (as) a ray the light of the good message [i.e. Gospel] of the honor/splendor of (the) Anointed, who is (the) image [ei)kw/n] of God” (v. 4b)

The language Paul uses here is important for the way it brings together all the imagery of 2:14ff, before repeating it again in v. 6. The various words relating to light, as applied to the Gospel, are here stated explicitly—”the light [fwtismo/$] of the good message [eu)agge/lion]”. The Gospel itself conveys the do/ca (dóxa) of Christ. The full significance of this word (do/ca) is extremely difficult to render into English. Fundamentally, as related to God, it has the meaning “consider/regard (worthy of honor)”, “esteem, honor,” etc. However, it also connotes the nature and character of God which makes him worthy of honor. Typically it is translated flatly as “glory”; however, I tend to avoid this rendering, and, in such a context as 2 Cor 4:4 and 6, find something like “splendor” much preferable. While this splendor, honor or “weight” (i.e. the corresponding Hebrew term dobK*) is ultimately ineffable, it is often depicted or described in terms of light. Paul certainly draws upon this traditional imagery throughout 2:14-4:6, and especially in chapter 3 where he uses the episode of the shining (and veiling) of Moses’ face (Exod 34:29-35) to compare (and contrast) the Old Covenant with the New (3:7-18). The splendor (do/ca) of the Old Covenant, symbolized by the shining of Moses’ face, has passed away, eclipsed by the far greater splendor of the New Covenant in Christ. Believers, including, in particular, Paul and other ministers of the Gospel, are able to gaze upon this splendor without any veil or intermediary, through the presence of the Spirit (v. 17). This splendor is that of Christ’s face, which, in turn, is a (perfect) reflection of the face of God—described by Paul in v. 4 as the image (ei)kw/n) of God. Note the parallelism:

    • The face of Moses, along with the faces of the people (veiled)
      —The face of Christ (the veil is removed)
    • The face of believers, including ministers of the Gospel (unveiled)

This analysis will help us ourselves to see more clearly what Paul is finally stating in 4:6. He moves beyond the Exodus narrative to the very account of Creation—Gen 1:2-3 being paraphrased very loosely in Greek:

“…God, the one saying, ‘out of (the) darkness light shall (shine as a) beam'”
cp. “…darkness was over the deep…and God said, ‘Light shall come to be!'” (LXX)

The original act of creation God has now reproduced (as a ‘new creation’) for believers in Christ:

“…(he) has shone a beam (of light) into our hearts”

Both phrases use the same verb la/mpw (lámpœ), cognate with the English word lamp, which is derived from it. There is a clear parallelism of vocabulary joining the two creative acts:

    • fw=$ (“light”)
      la/myei (“shall shine”)
      e&lamyen (“he has shone”)
    • fwtismo$ (“light, lighting, [en]lightening”)

The latter word fwtismo/$ refers more properly to the act of shining light, or, perhaps, the means and/or source of light. In Christian (Pauline) conception, this source/means of light is to be identified with the Spirit, sometimes referred to as the (living) word of God, but also with the proclamation of the Gospel. Once a person receives the Gospel, it comes to abide in them as a living word through the presence and work of the Spirit; it is also the word (and Spirit) of Christ—the presence of Christ in the believer. This is powerfully summarized in the genitive chain that concludes verse 6:

“…toward the light(ing) of the knowledge of the splendor of God in the face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

The preposition pro/$ (“toward”) indicates purpose, i.e. the purpose of the proclamation of the Gospel. The four-part genitive chain represents an extremely exalted manner of description, which is found quite often in Ephesians, but rather less common in the undisputed Pauline letters. Most translations obscure this construction, but the chain of relationship it expresses is worth retaining in English:

    • the shining of light [fwtismo/$] reveals and leads to —>
      • knowledge [gnw=si$], which specifically makes known —>
        • the honor/splendor [do/ca] which belongs to, and reveals the nature/character of —>
          • God, that is, the Father (YHWH)—his splendor is manifest and expressed —>
            • in the face [pro/swpon] of the Anointed (Christ)

Ultimately, the light is identified with the “face” of Christ—that is, his presence made manifest to believers (through the Spirit). The Gospel is the means by which the elect (believers) first come to know and experience his presence.

August 22: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous note dealt with 1:29-31, esp. verse 30]

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

“…(so) that your trust should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (v. 5)

This verse concludes the first (autobiographical) statement that opens chapter 2; it has important points of contact with the prior narration (narratio) in vv. 11-17 (see esp. verse 17). I have already discussed 2:1ff as part of a series on the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament. Here we might supplement that discussion by summarizing the components of vv. 1-5:

Verse 1—Paul continues the (dualistic) contrast of 1:18ff by applying it to his own ministry of preaching the Gospel (to the Corinthians). When he came to them (“I came”, h@lqon), Paul gave/brought down as a message (i.e. “declaring, announcing”, katagge/llwn) what he calls “the secret of God” (to\ musth/rion tou= qeou=) [Note: many manuscripts have a different reading: “the witness [martu/rion] of God”]. As I have previously explained, the “secret” here is essentially synonymous with the Gospel message, centered on the death (crucifixion) and resurrection of Jesus. Earlier in 1 Cor 1:21, 23, the announcement of this message was summarized by use of the special terms kh/rugma and khru/ssw (“proclamation”, “proclaim”). Paul is careful to qualify and characterize his proclamation with a particular phrase:

“not according to (any) excellence of (my) account or wisdom”

The Greek word translated (somewhat conventionally) as “excellence” above is actually quite difficult to render literally into English in the context here. The noun u(peroxh/ (from the verb u(pere/xw) means something like “holding (oneself) over”; the only other occurrence in the New Testament is in 1 Tim 2:2, where it can be understood in the literal sense of holding a position of authority or prominence over others. The word lo/go$ (“account”) in the New Testament often has the technical meaning of the “account of God (or the Lord)”, i.e. the Gospel message; but it can also carry the more general meaning of the speech (or words) which make up an account and how it is delivered. Here we may paraphrase: “I did not come demonstrating to you any great speech or wisdom on my part”. In 1:21 he described this ironically as “the stupidity [mwri/a] of the proclamation”.

Verse 2—Paul builds upon the statement in verse 1 with, one might say, a bit of rhetorical exaggeration:

“For I judged [i.e. decided] not to see [i.e. know] any(thing) among you, if not [i.e. except for] Yeshua (the) Anointed and this (one) put to the stake [i.e. crucified]!”

Essentially he is saying that he chose not to display any (special) knowledge on his part except for the Gospel message of the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. It is interesting to consider how far such statements by Paul are factual (strictly speaking) rather than rhetorical. If we read his letters (and even some of the speeches in Acts), it is clear that Paul was not afraid of demonstrating and utilizing many and varied aspects of “human wisdom” in order to persuade his audience of the truth. Should this be contrasted somehow with his initial work of proclaiming the Gospel, in which he perhaps stuck more simply to the traditional message (cf. the short kerygmatic statements in the sermon-speeches of Acts 213)? This seems rather unlikely, but it is worth considering, especially when we come to examine 1 Cor 2:6 (in the next note).

Verse 3—”And I, in much…came to be toward [i.e. with] you”. The ellipsis is filled out with a three-fold prepositional phrase, using three nouns:

    • “in (much) weakness”—a)sqe/neia, lit. “without strength” (cf. 1:27); here a lack of physical strength (illness?) is probably meant, though it may also indicate a lowliness of appearance or stature
    • “in (much) fear”—fo/bo$; does this reflect a natural fear in relation to public speaking, or to the work of ministry as a whole? It is unlikely that this is a traditional (religious/pious) reference to the “fear of God” (i.e. godly fear). Elsewhere Paul suggests that he may not have been a particularly impressive (public) speaker (cf. 2 Cor 10:10; 11:6, etc), and could have struggled with his own insecurities at times.
    • “in much trembling”—tro/mo$; “fear and trembling” are a traditional pair and reflect very real (and natural) human fear and insecurity.

Unlike the statements in vv. 1-2, this verse would seem to express (human) limitations and weaknesses which were largely out of Paul’s control. For a more developed excursus on this theme, cf. the moving treatment by Paul in 2 Cor 12:1-10, which has a good deal in common with his discussion in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16—note especially the statement in 2 Cor 11:30: “If it is necessary to boast, I will boast (in) the (thing)s of my weakness!”.

Verse 4—The declaration regarding Paul’s weakness in verse 3 gives added weight to the statement in verse 4 when he returns to the theme from v. 1 (and 1:17):

“And (so) my account [lo/go$] and my proclamation [kh/rugma] (was) not in persuasive account[s] of wisdom, but (rather) in (the) showing forth of (the) Spirit and Power (of God)…”

Previously, he stated the negative—that his proclamation was not based on (human) skill and wisdom; now, he adds the positive, by way of contrast:

    • Negative: not in persuasive account[s] [i.e. words] of wisdom
    • Positive: rather, in the showing forth [i.e. demonstration] of the Spirit and power (of God)

It is hard to say whether the “power (of God)” here refers to (a) the working of miracles, (b) the transformative effect of the Gospel preaching, or some combination of the two. The narratives in the book of Acts, as well as Paul’s own letters, attest both meanings and suggest that we should give them equal weight here. Certainly, the power of God is closely connected with the Spirit of God (i.e. the Holy Spirit), even as it is with Christ in 1:24.

Verse 5—This brings us to the conclusion of the statement (cf. above): “…(so) that your trust should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God”. Previously, in 1:24 (cf. also v. 30), “power” and “wisdom” were joined together in the person of Jesus, with the wisdom/power of God being contrasted with that of the world. Now, Paul separates the two terms, and contrasts human/worldly wisdom (“the wisdom of men”) with “the power of God”. An important grammatical point in the first half of the verse is the use of the aorist subjunctive with a negative particle, which typically implies prohibitive force (“should/must not…”)—”so that your trust should/must not be…” Paul took this idea very seriously in 1:17, using a similar phrasing: “so that the cross of Christ should not be emptied”. All preachers (and would-be preachers) today ought take the matter with equal seriousness, when the temptation comes to supplement and add to the Gospel with clever and appealing anecdotes, etc.