June 19: 1 Corinthians 6:17ff; 15:44-46

1 Corinthians 6:17ff; 15:44-46

In the previous note, I mentioned Paul’s implication (in 1 Cor 2:9-16) that the “mind of Christ” is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. Paul did not go into any detail on the theological or Christological basis for this idea; however, there are certain passages in his letters which do shed some light on the matter. In today’s note, I wish to bring together two passages in 1 Corinthians where Paul refers to the Spirit.

1 Cor 6:17-19

The first of these is in 1 Cor 6:17-19, the closing verses of an extended section on ethical instruction in chapters 5-6. Two specific issues are addressed by Paul, in 5:1-5ff and 6:1-8, respectively; in each case, a more general ethical exhortation for believers follows (5:9-13, 6:9-11). This exhortation is given a more definite theological dimension in 6:12ff, involving the juxtaposition of the human body (in its essential limitation and corruptibility) with the presence of God. Paul uses the example of sexual intercourse (vv. 13-15), as a motif for the uniting of two persons (v. 16). He emphasizes illicit/immoral intercourse (i.e. with a prostitute, po/rnh), in particular, so as to make the contrast between worldly and spiritual union more pronounced. Note this contrast:

    • “the (one) being joined [kollw/meno$] to the prostitute is one body [e^n sw=ma/ e)stin]” (v. 16),
      with “one body” further equated with “one flesh [sa/rc]”
    • “the (one) being joined [kollw/meno$] to the Lord is one spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]” (v. 17)

Paul adds to the juxtaposition of body (sw=ma) and Spirit (pneu=ma) the religious image of the temple (shrine/sanctuary, nao/$) as the dwelling-place of God (v. 19). The body of the believer—and of all believers collectively—is like the Temple-sanctuary, in that the Spirit of God dwells in it:

“have you not seen that your body is (the) shrine of the holy Spirit (dwelling) in you, which you hold from God, and (which) you are not yourself? For you were obtained at market [i.e. purchased] of (great) value; (so) then, you must honor/esteem God in your body.” (vv. 19-20)

The imagery is part of the overall ethical instruction, but it contains certain profound theological implications. The religious motif of the sanctuary shrine (Tent or Temple) relates to this ethical instruction in terms of the ritual purity that needed to be maintained for the sanctuary and its altars. This purity is further tied to the idea of God’s holiness, and nearly all of the purity regulations in the Torah are rooted in the ancient principle of the Community’s encounter with the divine holiness. A defiled sanctuary—and the defilement by one individual is enough to defile the whole—disrupts the connection of the Community (the people of God) with God and His holiness. In Christian terms, this religious dynamic is expressed in terms of preserving the holiness of the Community of believers—which means each individual believer as well as the Community as a whole. On this same sort of emphasis within the Qumran Community, cf. my earlier article. Paul made use of this same Temple-motif in 3:16-17, and it also occurs in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (on this passage, cf. my earlier studies).

The individual believer receives the Spirit at baptism, and thus joins the Community of all other believers (who likewise possess the Spirit of God). It is God’s own holy Spirit, and  thus the exhortation is focused on the individual preserving this holiness, continuing to live in a pure and upright manner, appropriate to the holiness of God’s own Spirit. As the discussion in 5:1-8 makes clear, the immorality of one individual affects the Community as a whole.

Even more striking, however, is the idea expressed by the comparison in vv. 16-17—that the believer who joins with the Lord becomes “one spirit” with Him. The relative ambiguity surrounding the dual-use of the title “Lord” (ku/rio$) by early Christians was mentioned in the previous note. Here the immediate context (of the prostitute illustration) suggests that “the Lord” primarily refers to Christ—that is, the believer joins with Christ and become “one spirit” with him. At the same time, it could just as well apply to God and His Spirit—the believer joins/unites with His Spirit. That both subjects (God and Christ) are in view seems clear from Paul’s phrasing in verse 11:

“…but you were washed from (sin), but (also) made holy, but (also) made right
in the name of the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed and
in the Spirit of our God.”

The believer is baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” and “in the Spirit of God” —two aspects of the same religious experience. Again, Paul does not explain the theological basis for the dual-motif, though the association of both Christ and the Spirit with the baptism ritual is obvious enough and well-established throughout the New Testament. But Paul’s thinking runs rather deeper, as we shall see.

1 Cor 15:44-46

I have discussed Paul’s famous chapter (15) on the resurrection at length in earlier articles and notes. Here I wish to focus on one Christological detail, which Paul expounds, if only in seminal form, in verses 44-46.

In dealing with the subject of the resurrection, Paul introduces the same contrastive pair of adjectives—yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$—used in 2:14-15. As I discussed in the previous note, the adjective yuxiko/$ in this context refers to a person with only a soul (yuxh/), but not the Spirit (pneu=ma) of God—that is, the contrast is between believers (who have the Spirit) and all other human beings (who do not). The situation is a bit more complicated in this discussion on the resurrection, as Paul is contrasting the human body with the soul, which believers share with all other people, and the body transformed by the Spirit, which only believers experience. And believers are able to experience this because of what Jesus experienced in his resurrection, and by virtue of our union with him.

Let us trace the logic of Paul’s line of argument here:

    • The distinction of the believer’s body (person) before and after it is raised from the dead (v. 44)
    • The parallel between Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the last man) (v. 45)
    • A parallel further defined by the contrast between earthly and heavenly (vv. 46-47)
    • Believers in Christ join with him in belonging to this heavenly nature (v. 48)
    • And so we will partake in this same heavenly existence after being raised (v. 49)

The Christological aspect of this heavenly/spiritual existence is emphasized strongly in verse 49:

“just as we bore the image of the (one made) of dirt, (so) also we shall bear the image of the (One) upon the heavens.

I.e., human beings resemble the first man (Adam) in being made “of dirt” (xoi+ko/$), while believers in Christ, similarly, resemble the second man (the exalted Jesus) in having a heavenly nature/character (“upon the heavens”, e)poura/nio$). Believers are unique, in that they/we share the characteristics of both the first man (Adam) and the second (Jesus). It is Jesus’ own incarnate life—including his death and resurrection—which allows us to share both natures, earthly and heavenly, a living body (with a soul) and also a body transformed by the life-making Spirit of God. However, before we, as believers, can be transformed by the Spirit, it was necessary that Jesus should first be transformed:

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul [yuxh\n zw=san], the last man into a life-making Spirit [pneu=ma zw|opoiou=n]” (v. 45)

The idea seems to be that Jesus, in his resurrection (and exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven), was joined and united with God’s Spirit, according to the principle expressed in 6:17 (cf. above). While this may be somewhat problematic in terms of the subsequent Christological emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus, it is fully in accord with the early Christology of the period 30-60 A.D. Paul may have harmonized the two aspects—pre-existence and exaltation/deification—by way of a rudimentary “kenosis” doctrine, if Philippians 2:6-11 (c. 60 A.D.) is any indication. In any event, the statement in 1 Cor 15:45 suggests how Paul would explain the communication of the mind/spirit of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) to believers. Since Jesus was united with the Spirit of God, the Spirit which believers receive is not only God’s Spirit, but also the Spirit of Christ. Indeed, we find the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” (or “Spirit of Jesus”) used interchangeably by Paul, though there are no such examples in 1-2 Corinthians (1 Cor 6:11 being the closest); several instances in the other letters will be discussed in upcoming notes.

 

June 18: 1 Corinthians 2:9-16

1 Corinthians 2:9-16

The extensive Corinthian letters of Paul, so complex in structure and rich in content, provide us with a number of key passages indicating how an understanding of the Spirit of God developed in early Christianity. As one of the most influential voices of the time, Paul’s theological brilliance and inspired expression makes his treatment of the Spirit in his letters of the utmost importance.

The first main passage in the Corinthian correspondence (as it has come down to us) is in 1 Cor 2:9-16, part of the opening section (1:18-2:16) of the main body (probatio) of the letter. In it, Paul begins to address the main issue—the propositio (1:10ff)—on the existence of various divisions in the congregations which are contrary to the ideal of Christian unity. In 1:18ff, as Paul’s initial line of argument, he focuses on the Gospel message (“the account of the cross”) as a fundamental point of unity for believers. He draws heavily upon Wisdom traditions, emphasizing that the message of Christ represents the true wisdom of God, revealed especially now, at the end of the current Age. The wisdom of the “world”, of this current Age, is set in direct contrast to God’s wisdom (the Gospel).

In 2:9-16, this wisdom is defined in terms of the presence and activity of God’s Spirit. The association between wisdom and the Spirit is ancient, part of a line of Wisdom tradition that goes back at least to the book of Job in the Old Testament. This was discussed in earlier notes, especially those on Job 32:8 (cf. 33:4) and Gen 41:38. The association is especially prominent in the Book of Wisdom (the so-called Wisdom of Solomon, cf. my earlier note), and Paul’s use of the motif in 1 Corinthians has much in common with this Hellenistic Jewish outlook. The basic line of tradition begins with the idea that the very ability for human beings to understand and comprehend is due to the Spirit of God as the source of the human spirit (at creation/birth). More than this, those individuals who evince a special kind of understanding, ability, or skill were seen as being uniquely gifted by God’s Spirit.

Paul draws upon this idea, but turns it decidedly in the direction of the Gospel—that is, those who accept the message of Christ, and who receive the Holy Spirit (at baptism), possess a special wisdom and insight due the presence of God’s Spirit. This argument is introduced by way of a composite Scripture quotation (from Isaiah 64:4, cf. also Isa 52:15; Sirach 1:10), emphasizing that the spiritual revelation accessible to believers is of a kind of “wisdom” that is unknown and unintelligible to people at large. In verse 10, he states clearly:

“But to us God (has) uncovered (it) through the Spirit—for the Spirit seeks (out) all (thing)s, even the deep (thing)s of God.”

Paul explains this further in verse 11, on the basic (philosophical/epistemological) principle that a thing can be truly understood only through familiarity with the essence (or “spirit”) of the thing. What it means to be human (“the [thing]s of man”) can only be understood (“seen/known”) by “the spirit of man”, i.e. the spirit that is within a person. From this standpoint of understanding, the “spirit” is more or less equivalent to the “mind” (nou=$, cf. below). By extension, “the (thing)s of God” can only be known by the Spirit of God (= the “mind” of God). Paul’s claim in verse 12, that believers are able (unlike the rest of humankind) to understand the “(deep) things of God”, is striking indeed:

“But we did not receive the spirit of the world, but the Spirit (that is) out of God, (so) that we would see [i.e. know] the (thing)s given as a favor to us under [i.e. by] God.”

The participle xarisqe/nta (charisthénta), from the verb xarizomai (“give/grant [as] a favor”), establishes the important theme of the “spiritual gifts” that will be developed further on in the letter. Those “gifts” reflect the presence and activity of the Spirit in/among believers, giving to them—both individually and collectively—understanding of the “spiritual things” and the “things of God”, which Paul refers to here, more dramatically, as “the deep (thing)s [ba/qh] of God” (v. 10). Indeed, the Spirit teaches these things to believers (v. 13)—spiritual things can only be understood by teaching in “spiritual (word)s” (i.e., words spoken to us by the Spirit).

In verses 14-15, Paul returns to the contrast between worldly and divine wisdom, defining it more precisely in anthropological terms which are most difficult to translate. Two contrasting adjectives are used: yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$. The latter is typically translated “spiritual”, which is generally accurate; however, based on that pattern, the former adjective would have to be translated something like “soulish” (from yuxh/, “soul”). Many translations render yuxiko/$ as “natural”, but that is rather inaccurate and misleading, in terms of the contrast Paul is making. In the context here, it is better understood as “with (only) a soul”, in the sense of persons who only possess a human soul/spirit, but not the Spirit of God. That this the point of Paul’s comparison, is indicated by his use of the same terminology in 15:44-46, a usage that finds definite confirmation elsewhere in the New Testament (James 3:15; Jude 19). Indeed, Jude effectively defines the adjective yuxiko/$ in context as a person “not holding [i.e. possessing] the Spirit”.

The character of believers, who do possess the Spirit of God, as “spiritual” (pneumatiko/$), means that they/we are able to discern “all things”, including the “deep things” of God. The concluding quotation of Isa 40:13 in v. 16 again identifies the Spirit of God with the “mind” (nou=$) of God. That believers are seen as possessing this divine mind is not surprising, given Paul’s line of argument here; however, what is especially notable is how Paul further identifies the mind of God (“the Lord”, in Isa 40:13) with the mind of Christ. This interpretation, uniquely Christian, is possible because of the dual-meaning of the title “the Lord” (o( ku/rio$) among early Christians—it can refer both to God the Father (YHWH) and Jesus Christ.

“and (yet) we hold (the) mind of (the) Anointed”

This closing declaration clearly states that believers possess the “mind of Christ”, which can be understood several ways:

    • It refers to the presence of Christ himself in and among believers
    • Individually and collectively, believers possess a dual-mind, whereby our own mind/spirit interacts with the mind/spirit of Christ
    • We are able to understand the very mind/thought of Christ (which also means we can understand the mind of God)
    • Our own mind is conformed to the mind of Christ himself

All of these are valid concepts, though the second and third aspects are most directly relevant to Paul’s line of argument here. What is most significant is the implication that the “mind of Christ” (and, by extension, the mind of God) is communicated to believers through the Spirit. Paul does not explain here the theological/Christological basis for this, nor indicate in any detail the dynamic or process that is involved. However, there are other passages in his letters which do shed some light on the matter, including elsewhere in 1 Corinthians. This will be discussed in the next daily note, as we look at 1 Cor 6:17ff together with 15:44-46.

August 30: 1 Cor 2:16 (continued)

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16]

1 Corinthians 2:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The overall emphasis of 1:18-4:21, in my view, decisively favors the latter interpretation. Recall that the initial emphasis in the narratio (1:11-17) was that believers should not be relying on the status and gifts/abilities of prominent ministers (such as Paul and Apollos, etc), but should rather be trusting in (a) Christ and the message of the Gospel, and (b) the presence and work of the Spirit—these two being closely connected. What follows in 3:1 only confirms this view, as Paul laments the fact that is not able to speak to the Corinthians as ones who are “complete” (2:6)—they are not thinking and acting according to their true identity (in Christ), as those who are “spiritual” (i.e. who have the Spirit). However, it is possible that there is a progression or development in 2:1-16, which I would chart as follows:

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

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