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.

August 18: 1 Corinthians 1:18

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note examined 1:17, the concluding statement of the narratio, which leads into the first main section of the letter]

1 Corinthians 1:18

“For the account of the stake [i.e. cross] is (mere) stupidity to the (one)s being lost/destroyed; but to us the (one)s being saved, it is the power of God.”

This declaration by Paul begins the section 1:18-2:16, the first section of the probatio—the main body of the letter, which presents arguments and illustrations in support of the central proposition (in 1:10ff). It builds immediately off of the closing words in verse 17 (cf. the previous note):

“…the Anointed (One) set me forth…to give the good message, (and) not in (the) wisdom of (the) account, (so) that the stake [i.e. cross] of (the) Anointed (One) should not be emptied.”

The Gospel (“the good message”) is identifying as “the account of the stake” (o( lo/go$ [o(] tou= staurou=)—that is, a declaration or proclamation of the death of Jesus on the cross. We typically translate stauro/$ as “cross”, but it really means a stake or post set in the ground, such as that upon which a prisoner or executed man might be hung or impaled. It graphically signifies the punishment of crucifixion. In verse 17, Paul is stating that the significance is in the message itself, not in the way it is delivered or presented. The preacher ought to declare the fact of Jesus’ death (and subsequent resurrection), and what it means for humankind, without relying upon the style and technique of the oration, or clever/persuasive reasoning, etc. This Paul refers to by the expression “(the) wisdom of the account”—i.e. the intelligence and cleverness, etc, with which the message is proclaimed. The word lo/go$ (“account”) often means specifically the Gospel message (“the account/word of God”), but can also mean more generally the use of speech itself (“word[s]”)—Paul is playing on both of these meanings in vv. 17-18. According to the statement in v. 17, to rely on “wisdom” (that is, human wisdom) in proclaiming the Gospel risks emptying it of its true significance. One must admit that there is a bit of (rhetorical) exaggeration at work here, since, as any reading of the letters (and the speeches, etc., in the book of Acts) makes clear, Paul was himself a gifted speaker in many respects, and was more than willing to make use of “wisdom” to persuade men and women of the truth of the Gospel. However, the stark contrast has a definite purpose—to focus our attention on the content of the message, to the death (and resurrection) of Christ.

In verse 18, a different kind of contrast is established, with regard to the purpose and effect of the Gospel message (“the account of the cross/stake”), involving two distinct groups or classes of persons:

    • “the ones being lost/destroyed” (oi( a)pollume/noi)
    • “the ones being saved” (oi( swzome/noi)

Each group is identified by a verbal participle:

(1) The verb a)po/llumi (compound of o&llumi + the preposition a)po/ [“from”]) fundamentally means suffering loss from (someone/something). In the intransitive (middle) form, it often has the sense of “perish, be ruined, destroyed”. A strict rendering of the middle voice would indicate “lose/ruin oneself, lose one’s (own life)”, etc, implying that the loss is the fault or responsibility of the one who suffers it.

(2) The form here is a passive participle of sw/zw (“[to] save”)—i.e. “being saved”. Clearly the passive form here is an example of the passivum divinum (“divine passive”), used frequently in the Scriptures, in which God is assumed to be the one who acts. Both participles are present forms, indicating something which occurs generally or is going on at the present.

The message of the death of Christ has a different effect on each group:

    • the ones being lost/destroyed—”it is stupidity [mwri/a]”
    • the ones being saved—”it is (the) power of God [du/nami$ qeou=]”

Conventional Christian thinking associates being saved or lost with the person’s response to the Gospel; however, here Paul sets a different priority—the one (already) being saved/lost responds differently to the Gospel message. Salvation or destruction is realized and confirmed by how a person is affected by the message; the two responses may be compared:

(1) mwri/a—the word fundamentally means “dull(ness)”, which is typically applied to a human being in the sense of being “dim(-witted)”, often in the pejorative sense of “stupid, silly, foolish”, etc. The five occurrences in the the New Testament all come from 1 Cor 1:18-4:21, and are used in tandem (by way of contrast) with sofi/a (“wisdom”).

(2) du/nami$ qeou=—the word du/nami$ (“power”) also appears frequently (7 times) in 1:18-4:21, providing a different kind of contrast with “wisdom [sofi/a]” (that is, human wisdom). It is also a word that may be implied already in verse 17, in Paul’s statement that relying on “(human) wisdom” risks emptying the Gospel message (“the cross/stake of Christ”)—i.e. emptying it of its power. I prefer to understand the verb keno/w in the more ‘literal’ sense of emptying the message of its content; however, in Paul’s mind, the two aspects are probably connected rather closely. Certainly, he writes elsewhere (Rom 1:16) of the Gospel as being “the power of God”, which normally connotes the ability of God to effect a miraculous transformation of (human) nature. In 1 Cor 1:24 (to be discussed), the power of God is identified with the person of Christ himself.

The dualism established in 1:18 provides the basic framework for the line of argument running through this section. It is hard to say how far this was influenced by Isaiah 29:14, which Paul cites in v. 19:

“For it has been written:
‘I will destroy/ruin the wisdom of the wise (one)s,
and the understanding of the understanding (one)s I will unset [i.e. set aside]'”

The quotation follows the LXX—particularly in its substitution of the 1st person for the 3rd (“the wisdom of the wise will perish…”)—but with, it would seem, a free gloss or adaptation in the second half using the verb a)qete/w (“unset, set aside”) in place of kru/ptw (“hide” = Hebrew rt^s*). At any rate, the use of Isa 29:14 is fitting and confirms two basic points in Paul’s argument:

    1. The salvation and destruction are ultimately the result of God’s own will and action, and
    2. It is particularly human wisdom and knowledge which are destroyed or “set aside” in the proclamation of the Gospel

These are important to keep in mind as one reads the verses which follow, especially as Paul begins to play with the various aspects of the word “wisdom” (sofi/a)—alternating between divine and human wisdom—in verse 21, which is the subject of the next daily note.

“Secret” in Paul’s Letters: Rom 11:25; 16:25

This study continues the survey of occurrences of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament, most of which are found in the Pauline letters. Previously, I discussed the references in 1 Corinthians; here I turn to a pair of verses in Romans.

Romans 11:25; 16:25

I begin with Romans 16:25, the beginning of a doxology (vv. 25-27) which is often thought, by many critical commentators, to be a secondary addition, and not part of the original letter. However, there can be little doubt that verse 25 reflects genuine Pauline thought, such as we find in 1 Corinthians 2 (cf. the previous study):

“And to the (One who is) empowered [i.e. able] to set you firm, according to my good message [i.e. Gospel] and the proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to the uncovering of the secret kept silent for times (and) ages (past)…”

The phrasing in v. 25b is similar in thought (and expression) to 1 Cor 2:7. Here, however, two points are emphasized:

1. The secret (musth/rion, myst¢¡rion) is parallel to, and essentially synonymous with, the Gospel (eu)agge/lion, euangélion), which is further defined specifically as “the proclamation [kh/rugma, k¢¡rygma] of Jesus Christ”. This can be seen by an examination of the structure of this part of the sentence:

    • the one empowered/able to set you firm
      • according to [kata/] the good message [eu)agge/lion]…
      • according to [kata/] the uncovering of the secret [musth/rion]…

2. Two additional details are given regarding this secret: (a) it has been kept silent [sesighme/nou] for long ages past, and (b) it is now being uncovered (a)poka/luyi$, from the verb a)pokalu/ptw, “remove the cover from”). This “uncovering” of the secret is specifically parallel with the “proclamation” of the Gospel. Paul does not quite use this language in 1 Corinthians; rather he simply says that he and his fellow ministers are now speaking this secret, i.e. making it known, which generally amounts to the same thing. To the extent that this secret has been “uncovered” it has been done so by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:10).

Interestingly, Paul typically uses the noun a)poka/luyi$ and verb a)pokalu/ptw in relation to the appearance (revelation) of Jesus at the end-time (2 Thess 1:7 [and note 2:3, 6, 8]; 1 Cor 1:7 [and 3:13]; also Rom 1:18; 2:5; 8:18-19); though, more properly, it refers to any (personal) manifestation of Christ (cf. Gal 1:12, 16; 2 Cor 12:1), etc. It can also refer generally to anything communicated (a prophecy, etc) to believers through Christ or the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 14:6, 26, 30; Gal 2:2; Phil 3:15; also Eph 3:3). Perhaps most notable are those passages which indicate that faith, righteousness, salvation, etc., have been revealed (“uncovered”) in the person of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:23).

In Romans 11:25, the word musth/rion (“secret”) is used in a special context, but one which, significantly, takes us back to the saying of Jesus in Mark 4:11 par:

“I do not want you to be without knowledge, brothers, (regarding) this secret—that you should not be (going) [along] in your own mind(-set)—that the rock-hard (attitude) from part of Israel has come to be (so) until the (time) in which the filling/fullness of the nations should come in.”

From our vantage point, Paul’s syntax (read literally) could easily obscure the point he is making; the central declaration is as follows (paraphrasing):

“this secret is: that the hardness of part of Israel has occurred (only) until the full number of Gentiles should come in (to faith in Christ)”

This statement (and what follows down through verse 32) represents the climax of a long and complex line of discussion by Paul in chapters 9-11, where he attempts to explain an issue dear to his heart: why it is that many of his fellow Jews have failed (or have been unwilling) to accept Christ and the Gospel message. This is something Paul dealt with all throughout his missionary work. We find fierce opposition to Paul and his co-workers throughout the book of Acts (esp. in chapters 13-21), during which time he began to turn his attention toward preaching to Gentiles (non-Jews)—cf. Acts 13:46-47; 18:6; 28:28. Something of his own fiery reaction to this can be found in 1 Thess 2:14-16 (a passage which must be read and handled with great care). Jewish Christians continued to oppose certain aspects of Paul’s teaching, or offered rival doctrines and sources of authority to Paul’s own—cf. throughout Galatians, and especially in 2 Corinthians 10-13. What is especially notable is that we find, in Paul’s addressing of the issue (at the end of the book of Acts, 28:26-27), the same Scripture (Isaiah 6:9-10) cited by Jesus in Mark 4:12 par (cf. the discussion in my previous note). It is possible to trace a line of interpretation and development:

    • Mark 4:12 par—God has blinded/hardened the people (Israel) so they cannot understand the “secret of the Kingdom” disclosed in Jesus’ parables, etc
    • John 12:40—This blindness/hardness of the people (Israelites/Jews) has resulted in their failure (and/or unwillingness) to accept and trust in Jesus
    • Acts 28:26-27—The blindness/hardness of Jews has forced Paul to turn his missionary efforts to non-Jews (Gentiles), who are coming to faith in Christ
    • Romans 11:25—This blindness/hardness was brought about by God for the specific purpose of bringing (the full number of) Gentiles to salvation

The first three of these passages cite Isa 6:9-10 directly; it is only implied, one can assume, in Romans 9-11. This narrows the focus of at least one aspect of the “secret(s) of God” and the “secret(s) of the Kingdom”, but one which was of fundamental importance to early Christians (especially Paul). It is perhaps hard for believers today—particularly those in the Western nations—to appreciate how intense this issue was in the early Church. The first generation of Christians, including most (if not all) of the apostles, was predominantly Jewish. The problem at first involved how non-Jewish believers should be included within the Church, and, it seems clear, there was much heated debate on the matter, which we can now glimpse vividly (if only partly) by reading Acts 10-11, 15, 21, etc, and Paul’s argument running through Galatians. By the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (mid/late 50s), many more Gentiles had come to believe in Christ, with congregations springing up all of the Greco-Roman world. A major theme, and purpose, of Paul in Romans was to make a fundamental statement on the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. This was given theological (and soteriological) formulation, in various ways, throughout chapters 1-8; in chapters 9-11, there is a stronger eschatological emphasis. Commentators continue to struggle on just how one should interpret (and apply) the logic and force of Paul’s argument(s) in Rom 9-11 (cf. my earlier article in the series The Law and the New Testament); it must be studied and treated carefully, lest we too miss out on this aspect of the “secret of the Kingdom”.

August 16: 1 Corinthians 1:10

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16

In connection with to the current study series, in which I examine the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament (esp. in the Pauline letters), I have decided to explore, in some detail, Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16. This passage (and the wider division of 1:18-4:21) includes several of the key references where musth/rion is used (2:1, 7; 4:1), where it is central to the overall argument. This next series of daily notes will be looking at various phrases and expressions which Paul uses to develop his argument. The difficult and richly textured passage is, in my opinion, often poorly understood; and, as a result, the thrust of Paul’s line of argument in the letter, as well as the basic historical (and theological) context, is not always appreciated. It is hoped that these notes will shed some light on what is one of the more essential sections in the New Testament (outside of the Gospels).

To begin with, it is useful to consider the epistolary (and rhetorical) structure of 1 Corinthians (here I follow the outline provided by Witherington, pp. 75-77, with which I generally agree):

    • 1:1-3—The epistolary prescript, that is, the opening of the letter, which includes the initial greeting (vv. 1-2) and blessing (v. 3)
    • 1:4-9—The introduction to the letter (exordium), which, in many of Paul’s letters, functions primarily as a thanksgiving, offering thanks to God and praise for the faithfulness, etc., of the believers
      (in Corinth).
    • 1:10—This verse contains the basic proposition (propositio) or statement/thesis which will be addressed in the letter.
    • 1:11-17—The narratio, in which the basic ‘facts’ of the case are narrated; in Paul’s letters this often has an important (auto)biographical component. Verse 11 states the main reason or cause (causa) for his writing.
    • 1:1816:12—The bulk of the letter, which can be delineated several ways, is the probatio, or “proof”, whereby various arguments and illustrations are presented in support of the main proposition. Unlike the shorter letter to the Galatians (or even the larger letter to the Romans), 1 Corinthians does not have a tightly argued and balanced structure. Only the first section, 1:184:21, deals with the central proposition (1:10ff) directly. The remainder of the letter illustrates the point in principle, as Paul addresses specific issues of importance to the life and functioning of the congregations in Corinth.
    • 16:13-18—The peroratio, or close of the argument, with an exhortation to the hearers/readers. This relates primarily to vv. 13-14, with vv. 15-18 perhaps being more aligned with the conclusion (greeting) that follows.
    • 16:19-24—The epistolary postscript, or close to the letter, with final greeting(s) and blessing.

1 Corinthians 1:10

Here is the proposition (propositio) of 1 Corinthians from 1:10:

“I call you alongside, brothers, through the name of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, that you all should give account (to) the same (thing), and (that) there should not be splits [i.e. divisions] in/among you, but (that) you should be fit (together completely) in the same mind and in the same (way of) knowing.”

Several points can be made:

The initial verb (parakalw=) functions as an exhortation (and injunction) to the believers whom he is addressing. Literally, it means “I call you alongside”, but in English idiom we might rather say “I call on you” (i.e. I urge you). The phrase “through the name of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed {Jesus Christ}” is important as it governs both what precedes and what follows:

    • Paul’s call to the Corinthians is done “through the name” of Jesus—i.e. in his role as (inspired) apostle
    • The Corinthians’ unity should take place “through the name” of Jesus—the essential identity of Christians being “in Christ”

In a concrete grammatical sense, by going “through” (dia/) the name of Jesus (“our Lord”, the basis of our religious identity), we see clearly the goal and idea of the unity of believers in Christ. Note the structure:

    • You should all (pa/nte$) give account to the same (thing)
      —there should not be splits in you
      —you should be fit (together completely)
    • in the same mind and in the same (way of) knowing

The three primary verbs all are subjunctive forms, indicating the wish of how things should be. The outer statement emphasizes that believers should say and think the same thing, marked by the adjectival (intensive) use of the personal pronoun au)to[$] (“he/it”), which is nearly impossible to render literally in English. I translate the verb le/gw in the (more literal) sense of “give (ac)count”—this can refer to any sort of speaking/saying, but it specifically relates to the Gospel message (i.e. the “account/word [lo/go$] of God”). As will become clear in Paul’s argument, unity in speech and thought is (to be) achieved fundamentally by focusing on the Gospel message. The emphasis on “mind” (nou=$) and “knowing” (gnw/mh) likewise foreshadows the line of argument running through 1:18-4:21 and throughout the letter. The ‘inner’ statement indicated above sets a clear contrast:

    • Negative: “there should not be [mh\ h@|] splits in you”
    • Positive: “you should be [h@te] fit (together completely)”

The word sxi/smata is typically translated “divisions”, but the contrast relates more to the idea of “splits” or “tears” (as in a garment), which is also a somewhat more literal rendering. These “splits” (which are discussed initially in vv. 11f), are set against the concept of believers being fit or joined (together), using the verb katarti/zw (an intensive compound of a)rti/zw). The perfect tense (perfect participle) of this verb is used, suggesting a situation or condition which has already taken place and continues in the present. Paul is essentially saying that the Corinthians ought to be acting as they truly are (in Christ)—united together, like a single untorn garment. Interestingly, the verb katarti/zw can also carry the sense of adjusting or repairing something (i.e. mending a garment), which certainly fits the context as well. Paul does not follow up particularly on this metaphor of the garment elsewhere in the letter; rather, he utilizes the images of the building/house and (human) body as symbols of unity.

The next note will look at the closing statement of the narratio (in v. 17), which leads into the section 1:18-2:16.

Above “Witherington” = Ben Witherington III, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Eerdmans: 1995)

February 9: Word study on “Gospel” (conclusion)

Today’s note concludes the series of word studies on the eu)aggel- (“gospel”) word group in the New Testament. I will begin with a summary of the results, followed by a short survey of how the word group was used in other early Christian writings in the late-first and second centuries. The results of our study may be presented as follows:

1. The original context of the eu)aggel- word group had to do with the delivery of (good) news, lit. a “good message”, especially that which involved the outcome of military action or other important events related to the public welfare. Since the public good was often connected with the action of the ruler, thought (according to the ancient mindset) to be appointed and/or gifted by divine power, the idea of the “good message” was extended to the ruler himself—esp. his birth and accession, his own health and welfare, etc. This was specially so in the case of the Roman emperors of the first centuries A.D., who, as “Caesar” and successors to Augustus, were understood to be divine (“son of god”). The peace, protection (i.e. “salvation”), and prosperity brought about by the emperor’s rule, was “good news” for the population, and, as such, the eu)aggel- word group became associated prominently with the imperial cult. This certainly would have affected the early Christian use and understanding of eu)aggel-, though there is relatively little direct evidence for this in the New Testament itself. The contrast, between Jesus and the Emperor, in terms of the “good message”, is most apparent in the Gospel of Luke (esp. the Infancy narrative), and, less directly, in Luke-Acts as a whole. Neither the common noun eu)aggeli/a (“good message”) nor eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger of good [news]”) occurs in the New Testament. The neuter noun eu)agge/lion is used, but only in the singular, never the plural (eu)agge/lia). Originally, the neuter noun referred to the response to good news—i.e., the reward given to the messenger, or an offering of celebration and thanks, etc. It is this aspect that was notable in connection with the Roman imperial cult—offerings and celebration for the good news of the emperor’s accession, etc.

2. The verb eu)aggeli/zw (Koine middle eu)aggeli/zomai), “bring/declare a good message”, also occurs a number of times in the New Testament, largely under the influence of the Greek translation (LXX) of the Old Testament Scriptures. The verb translates the Hebrew rc^B* (“bring [good] news”), just as eu)aggeli/a/eu)agge/lion translates the derived noun hr*c)B=. The theological significance of the verb is more or less limited to its use in the Prophets, especially several key passages in (Deutero-)Isaiah, all of which came to be interpreted in a Messianic and eschatological sense—40:9; 52:7; 60:6, and (most notably) 61:1. It is Isa 61:1 which exerted the greatest influence on the New Testament, rooted in the Gospel tradition. According to Lk 4:18ff and 7:22 par, Jesus identified himself with the Anointed (Messianic) herald of the passage, especially in the context of the teaching and healing miracles performed during his ministry in Galilee. Indeed, this may well define Jesus’ own use of eu)aggel- (Aramaic rcb), recorded in several important sayings within the Synoptic tradition. It clearly influenced the frequent use of the verb in the Gospel of Luke (and the book of Acts). Luke virtually never uses the noun (only the verb); the opposite is the case in the core Synoptic tradition (of Mark-Matthew, cf. below).

3. With the Gospel and earliest Christian tradition, the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, i.e. the announcing of good news to God’s people, came to be understood in two primary (and related) senses: (a) that one may obtain forgiveness of sin, and (b) will thus be saved from the coming (end-time) Judgment by God upon humankind. The Gospel message was thus originally (and primarily) eschatological in orientation. Both forgiveness and salvation were experienced only by believers who repented and trusted in Jesus. This was the essence of the “good news” proclaimed by Jesus and his first followers, and represents the core of the apostolic preaching. However, in both the Pauline letters and the early sermon-speeches preserved in the book of Acts, this was expanded to form a core message proclaimed by missionaries and preachers during the first century. The announcement of the opportunity for salvation (in Jesus’ name) came to include a brief narrative outline of Jesus’ life—from John the Baptist, through to Jesus’ own ministry, and his death and resurrection. To this was added a pair of fundamental theological/Christological statements: (i) that Jesus was the Anointed One (Messiah) prophesied in the Scriptures, and (ii) that God exalted him (as Son of God) to a divine position/status in heaven, from whence he will appear (as a heavenly savior-figure) at the end time to rescue believers and usher in the Judgment. This is the “good message” proclaimed by Peter, Paul, and other early missionaries.

4. In Paul’s letters (c. 49-60 A.D.), this use of both the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, and, in particular, the noun eu)agge/lion, took on still deeper theological significance. Already in the earliest surviving letters (1-2 Thessalonians), Paul was using the noun in three distinct expressions, each with an important point of emphasis:

    • “my/our good message”—Paul and his fellow ministers have been specially appointed by God to proclaim the message
    • “the good message of God”—God is the source of the message, having brought it about for believers in Jesus
    • “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}”—the message is about the person of Jesus, who he is and what God has done through him

It is in Galatians and Romans that Paul expounds and explains what he means by the word eu)agge/lion. In Galatians, it is central to the conflict (with certain Jewish Christians) over the religious identity of believers. Paul argues forcefully for the central doctrine that it is through trust in Jesus alone that human beings are justified (“made right” in God’s eyes) and saved from Judgment; adherence to the Old Covenant and its Torah plays only a negative role in this process. In Romans, Paul adds to this an exposition of the nature of salvation (see esp. chapters 5-8). The twin ideas of forgiveness of sin and deliverance from the coming Judgment are deepened in Paul’s thought, being expressed now in terms of the belief that, through trust in the Gospel, human beings are delivered from the power of sin that is dominant in the current world-order. In the mode of thought and expression by Paul, eschatology truly has become soteriology. Moreover, we find the important point that trust in Jesus (i.e. the good message) activates and makes effective the saving power of his sacrificial death and resurrection. This is central to Pauline theology and is expressed more clearly in his letters than perhaps anywhere else in the New Testament. We can thus begin to glimpse in Paul’s letters a wider and more expansive meaning of the word eu)agge/lion, so that it very nearly becomes synonymous with the Christian faith itself.

5. First Peter was probably written c. 60 A.D., roughly contemporary with the latest of Paul’s letters. In this work too we find a theological expansion (and exposition) of the meaning of eu)agge/lion. It is identified with the living and eternal word of God, with its creative and life-generating power, as also with the living Spirit of God (and Christ) that comes to dwell in the believer (1:23-25). The eschatological aspect is also sharpened, so that acceptance of the “good message” becomes the entire basis for deliverance from the coming Judgment and inheritance of eternal life through the Spirit (4:6, 17, and the surrounding context). The eu)aggel- word group does not appear in the Gospel or Letters of John at all, but does occur several times in the (Johannine) book of Revelation, where the early/traditional eschatological aspect is emphasized, much as we see elsewhere in the New Testament. Other NT occurrences are rare, and generally follow the usage and semantic range detailed above.

6. The Gospel of Mark, probably written some time in the 60’s A.D., represent the earliest usage of eu)agge/lion to refer to a written work. The author (trad. John Mark) identifies his literary work specifically as eu)agge/lion, virtually serving as its title (1:1). At one other point—the declaration by Jesus in 14:9 (par Matt 26:13)—the noun appears to be used in the same context, whereas elsewhere it seems to refer to the message and teaching of Jesus in a comprehensive sense (8:35; 10:29; 13:10). The noun is less frequent in Matthew, which generally follows the Synoptic (Markan) usage.

By about 150 A.D., roughly a hundred years later, the earlier meaning of eu)agge/lion had largely disappeared from use. The relatively rare occurrences of the word group in writings of the mid/late 2nd century demonstrate a rather clear shift in meaning—from an oral proclamation about Jesus to an authoritative written record. We can see this, for example, in the writings of Justin Martyr. In the rare instances where the word eu)agge/lion occurs, it clearly refers to written works, most likely corresponding to some (if not all) of the canonical Gospels. In his First Apology 66:3, the “memoirs of the Apostles” (ta\ a)pomnhmoneu/mata tw=n a)posto/wn) are specifically called eu)agge/lia, the plural of eu)agge/lion. The word a)pomnhmoneu/mata literally means “(thing)s given/coming from memory”; that written works (i.e. written/recorded from memory) are meant is relatively clear from the context, and is confirmed by the use of the singular eu)agge/lion in the Dialogue with Trypho (twice, 10:2; 100:2). The Letter to Diognetus (author unknown), probably written around the same time, uses the plural eu)agge/lia to refer to written Gospels (11:6). Two or three decades on, Irenaeus, in his famous work Against Heresies (c. 180), has gone a step further: not only does eu)agge/lia refer to authoritative written works, it is used specifically for the four canonical Gospels—these four and no other (III.10-11, etc).

Concluding note on the Apostolic Fathers

An examination of the so-called “Apostolic Fathers”, a collection of Christian writings surviving from the period c. 90-150 A.D., allows us to fill in the gaps a bit, to see how the use of the eu)aggel- word group in the New Testament developed to the point that the “good message” became defined in terms of authoritative written documents (“Gospels”).

It is a bit surprising that, in the lengthy letter-treatise of Clement (1 Clement) to the congregations in Corinth, written c. 95 A.D., the eu)aggel- word group is so rare. The author clearly is familiar with Paul’s letters, and is writing to congregations founded by Paul, yet this important Pauline terminology is absent. In 42:1, 3, the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used in the older, traditional sense of the “good news” proclaimed by Jesus in his ministry, and which was subsequently declared by the Apostles (cf. also the Letter of Polycarp, 6:3; Barnabas 5:9; 8:3; 14:9). At 47:2, where the noun eu)agge/lion occurs, the author is citing Paul (cf. Phil 4:15).

The noun also is used several times by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters (c. 110)—to the Christians of Philadelphia and Smyrna. In Philadelphians 5:1-2 he appears to use eu)agge/lion as synonymous with the Christian faith and one’s religious identity (as a believer in Christ). He describes the eu)agge/lion of Christ as being manifest or embodied in the Eucharist. Elsewhere in the letter, however, the term seems to refer to an authoritative record (oral and/or written) of Jesus’ teaching and saving work (8:2; 9:2; also Smyrneans 5:1; 7:2). This is in accord with the later strands of the Synoptic tradition (c. 60-70 A.D., cf. above). Passages such as Smyrn. 5:1 seem to imply a written record.

The work known as the Didache (“Teaching”), and attributed to the Twelve Apostles, is properly called a Church Manual, composed sometime before 150 A.D., but containing traditional material that may go back to the late 1st century A.D. The noun eu)agge/lion occurs four times (8:2; 11:3; 15:3f), signifying an authoritative body of teaching by Jesus (and the Apostles), and perhaps intended to correspond to one or more of the canonical Gospels. In tone and approach it is closest to the Gospel of Matthew, yet even where the Lord’s Prayer (close to the Matthean version, 6:9-13) is cited (at 8:2ff), eu)agge/lion probably is not meant as a reference to Matthew per se, since the expression is “in his [i.e. Jesus’] eu)agge/lion“, i.e. the teaching of Jesus which is recorded in Matthew. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (written c. 155-165), the noun is used repeatedly, where it similarly refers to an authoritative record of Jesus’ teaching and life-example (including his suffering and death), without necessarily intending any particular written Gospel (or Gospels).

In the work known as 2 Clement, on the other hand, eu)agge/lion does refer to a specific written work; however, interestingly, the saying of Jesus cited (8:5) does not correspond precisely to anything in our canonical Gospels (cp. Lk 16:10-12). It may be a reference to the so-called “Gospel of the Egyptians”, or a similar extra-canonical work. Another extra-canonical saying of Jesus is cited by the author in 12:2.

The custom of referring to the canonical Gospels by the title [to\] eu)agge/lion kata\ … (“the Good Message according to…”), which may have been established by the middle of the 2nd century, was probably inspired by the Markan title (Mk 1:1). Given Luke’s reluctance to use the noun, it is highly unlikely that he would ever have referred to his own work that way (he uses the noun dih/ghsi$ in 1:1). Matthew is more likely to have followed the Markan usage. The title appears to have the sanction of Jesus himself, at least in the Synoptic formulation of the tradition in Mk 14:9 par, which implies the existence of an account more or less corresponding with 14:3-9 as part of a larger narrative. Such a narrative is represented by the Gospel of Mark, and followed, with certain additions and modifications, in the Gospel of Matthew. The author of the latter may well have understood Jesus’ statement in 24:14 as encompassing the publication and distribution of his own work narrating “the Gospel of the Kingdom”. In the centuries since, the New Testament title “Gospel according to…” has become so familiar that there is little thought given as to how this custom was established in the first place. I hope that this series of notes has helped you to appreciate better the rich heritage surrounding the eu)aggel- word group as it was used and developed by believers in the first two centuries.

February 8: 1 Peter 4:6, 17, etc

In the previous note, I discussed the use of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in 1 Peter 1:12, 25; today, I want to look at two more occurrences of the eu)aggel- word group in chapter 4 of that letter, before surveying briefly the remaining occurrences in the New Testament.

1 Peter 4:6, 17

The noun eu)agge/lion occurs in verse 6, part of a section of ethical instruction and exhortation with a strong eschatological emphasis. For the author (Peter), like nearly all early Christians, it was believed that the end was imminent (“the completion/end of all [thing]s has come near”, v. 7a), and the Judgment by God close at hand. The final Judgment is certainly in view in verse 6, as we read in verse 5: “…(they) shall give forth an account to the (One) holding readiness to judge the living and the dead”. We find in verse 6 the difficult phrase “the good message was brought even to the dead”, which has tripped up many commentators (cf. the earlier notice in 3:19). The main point to note, however, is that the Judgment of all humankind is to be based on the (Gospel) message of Jesus. Even more significant is that life (for the dead) in the Age to Come (i.e. eternal life) is dependent on the Spirit, which can only be bestowed on persons following reception of the Gospel message. Note the me\nde/ contrast:

    • “(on the one hand) they should live in the flesh according to man [i.e. as human beings]”
    • “(on the other hand) they (should live) in the Spirit according to God”

The same Judgment context, and implicit contrast between those who do and do not accept the message of Jesus, is present in verse 17, were the noun eu)agge/lion occurs:

“(it is) the time of the beginning of the Judgment from the house of God; and, if it is first from us, what (then) is (its) completion for the (one)s unpersuaded by the good message of God?”

The expression “good message of God” is familiar from Paul’s letters, where it occurs several times (Rom 1:1; 15:16; 1 Thess 2:2, 8-9), and was doubtless traditional by the time this letter was written (c. 60 A.D.?). What is unique about this usage in chapter 4 is how thoroughly the eu)aggel- word group is identified with trust in Jesus within the specific eschatological context of the last Judgment.

The Remainder of the New Testament

The eu)aggel- word group is entirely absent from the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), but it does occur twice in the (Johannine) book of Revelation—the verb in 10:7, and noun and verb together in 14:6. In 10:7, it is possible that the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is being used more or less in the general sense of bringing good news—in this case, the “good message” involves, not the Gospel per se, but the final eschatological mystery of how/when God will bring the current Age to an end. The dual use of noun and verb in 14:6 is especially dramatic, as would be appropriate for the scene:

“And I saw another Messenger taking wing [i.e. flying] in the middle of the heaven(s), holding the good message of the Ages, to deliver as a good message upon the (one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] upon the earth, and upon every nation and offshoot and tongue and people…”

Probably the technical sense of eu)aggel- as the (Christian) preaching of the Gospel is more in view here; however, the message is still primarily eschatological (not evangelistic), which can be obscured by translating the expression eu)agge/lion ai)w/nion as “eternal Gospel”, rather than more literally as “good message (of the) Age(s)”—i.e. the good news that the Ages of humankind are coming to an end, and that the New Age of God is being ushered in.

The occurrence of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in Hebrews 4:2 and 6 is interesting in the way that the Christian meaning is read back into the more general sense (i.e. bringing good news). This is done in the context of paraenesis—ethical/religious teaching—involving the interpretation and application of Scripture (a common preaching technique, then as now). Believers in Christ had the “good message” of Jesus proclaimed to them, and yet are being warned of the danger of falling away. To emphasize this point, the example of the Israelites in the time of the Exodus is brought forth:

“indeed we are (one)s having the good message (declar)ed (to us) even as it also (was) to those (person)s; but the account [lo/go$] (which was) heard did not benefit those (person)s, not having been mixed together with trust/faith by the (one)s hearing.”

The rather complicated syntax in the second half of the verse is a roundabout way of saying that hearing the Gospel preached has to be accompanied by genuine trust from the person hearing in order to have its saving effect. The verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used again in the same context in verse 6.

Finally, we should note three occurrences of the noun eu)aggelisth/$. The common Greek noun eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger of good [news]”) does not occur in the New Testament at all, but only eu)aggelisth/$, which is derived from the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, and thus means “one bringing/declaring a good message”, emphasizing the action of bringing or announcing the message. Even so, this noun is rare, being used just three times, and in relatively late writings: Lukan narration in the book of Acts (21:8), 2 Timothy 4:5, and Ephesians 4:11. Second Timothy and Ephesians are often considered to be pseudonymous by commentators; whether or not this is correct, it is unlikely that either letter was written prior to the early-60’s A.D. The book of Acts was probably written c. 70-80 A.D.

In all three passages, eu)aggelisth/$ appears to be used in the established Christian sense of a specific ministry role, or position, within a group of believers (or congregation)—i.e., one who is specifically devoted to, and gifted in, preaching the Gospel message. The absence of this noun in the undisputed letters of Paul, and in the rest of the book of Acts, makes it unlikely that it was widely used prior to the 60’s A.D. It is possible that 2 Tim 4:5, if genuinely Pauline, represents the earliest surviving use of the noun, which was a word essentially coined by Christians. I am not aware of any occurrence prior to the 1st century, nor in any contemporary non-Christian context.