Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: 2 Corinthians 3

The first Pauline passage we examined was 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, within the wider context of 1:18-2:16 (extending into 3:1-3)—cf. the article and the supplemental series of exegetical notes. Paul emphasizes the role of the Spirit instructing believers in the wisdom of God; indeed, this wisdom is fundamentally spiritual in character. A key statement is the climactic declaration in verse 16: “but we hold (the) mind of (the) Anointed”. To this may be added the statement in v. 15: “the (one) with the Spirit judges all ([th]ese) things, and (yet) he is judged under no one” — “these things” referring to “the (thing)s of the Spirit” (ta\ tou= pneu/mato$).

Given the spiritualistic tenor and emphasis to Paul’s discussion, one might readily ask what is the place of the human teacher, as well as the role of external sources of religious (and moral) authority. The reason why Paul writes to the Corinthians as he does, is because, on the whole, they are not yet spiritually mature (“complete”), often thinking and behaving like one who does not possess the Spirit (3:1-3). But how would he write to them if they were mature? Would there be any need for him to write to them at all? Presumably, there would be more opportunity for exploring and expounding the “deep things of God” (2:10), but what would his role be, in this regard, if the people to whom he was writing were themselves being fully guided and instructed by the Spirit?

It is an interesting question to ponder. In general, it is fair to say that Paul’s spiritualism, to judge by the evidence from 1 Corinthians, was tempered by two main considerations:

    1. the manifestation of the Spirit within the confines of the Community, through specific ‘spiritual gifts‘ given to specific individuals.
    2. the unique role (and authority) of the apostle—that is, the missionary, sent and commissioned by Christ himself, who (first) proclaimed the Gospel in a region and helped to found the first congregations.

According to the first principle, expounded and applied in some detail by Paul in chapters 12-14, an individual believer would not rely wholly on the inner guidance and instruction of the Spirit; rather, one must also experience the Spirit as manifest within the Community, through the distinct spiritual gifts given to the various members.

The second principle—the role and place of the founding apostle—is given special attention by Paul in 2 Corinthians. One passage, in particular, relates the apostolic ministry to the wider experience of the Spirit’s presence and work among believers. As such, a careful examination of it should allow us to gain a better sense of Paul’s spiritualism, especially in relation to other (external) aspects of Christian ministry.

2 Corinthians 3

The passage under examination is the “new covenant” section in 2 Corinthians—3:1-18, the central portion of the wider section of 2:14-4:6. It is rather typical of Paul’s unique (and inspired) manner of expression, that the powerful theological component to his line of argument in this passage is not even central to the main point he is making. Indeed, here in 2:14-4:6 the focus is on Paul’s role and position as an apostle, in relation to the Corinthian congregations (i.e., the second of the two themes outlined above). The theological and expository excursus in 3:1-18 is simply a natural byproduct of Paul’s understanding of the Gospel and the nature of the Christian ministry. I will be exploring the passage, from a critical and rhetorical standpoint, in the Saturday Series studies during the remainder of January and February.

I will also be devoting detailed notes (a series of daily notes) to an exposition of the passage. But let us begin here with a focus on Paul’s references to the Spirit, and how they relate to the “new covenant” theme of the section. Let us begin with his statement in verse 3 (picking up from v. 2, in italics):

you are our e)pistolh/…being made to shine forth [fanerou/menoi] that you are (the) e)pistolh/ of (the) Anointed, being served under [i.e. by] us, (and) having been written not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit of (the) living God, not on (the) flat surfaces of stones, but on (the) flat surfaces of hearts (of) flesh.”

Paul here makes a stark contrast between ordinary (physical/material) written letters and spiritual ones (for more, see the note on verses 2-3). This sort of dualistic language (and imagery) is typical of Paul’s spiritualism. But it is interesting to consider the way that this is introduced here.

The theme in verse 1-6 involves “letters of commendation”, the word sustatiko/$ being derived from suni/sthmi/sunista/w (“stand [together] with”), in the sense of placing things together (and presenting them) in front of someone. As a technical term, it came to be applied to letters a person carried, introducing him/her to another group or in a place where he/she was not known. The noun e)pistolh/ (epistol¢¡, i.e. ‘epistle’), which I left untranslated above, is derived from e)piste/llw (“set [forth] upon” a person, i.e. send to someone), related to a)poste/llw (i.e., send from someone). Here the e)pistolh/ refers ostensibly to a letter of introduction/recommendation. The point is that Paul and his fellow-missionaries, who preached the Gospel to the Corinthians, do not require any customary letter of introduction—the effect of the Gospel in their hearts is proof enough of his place as an apostle with them! It is a letter of Christ himself, whom Paul serves as a minister, written with the Spirit of the living God.

The expression “living God” (in Greek, qeo$ zw=n) derives from Old Testament usage (e.g. Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26, 36, etc). The inclusion of the modifying verbal adjective is primarily emphatic (cf. Matt 16:16; 26:63, etc), however it also refers to the life-giving power of God’s Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25; 6:8; Rom 8:1-11), and thus is central to the spiritualistic emphasis in Paul’s thought—the living Spirit being contrasted with the dead material thing. There is also implicit the traditional sense of the Spirit as the active manifestation of God among His people. In particular, we should draw attention to the metaphor of the “finger of God”, and the idea that the tablets of the Law (Torah) were written with the finger of God (Exod 24:12; 31:18; 34:1; Deut 9:10f). One is immediately reminded of the saying of Jesus in Luke 11:20 (discussed previously):

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the finger of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

The Matthean version (12:28) reads “Spirit of God”, instead of “finger of God”, evidence that the two expressions were essentially seen as synonymous. Almost certainly, Paul has this same correspondence in mind—i.e., the Spirit of God writes on the hearts of believers just as the finger of God wrote on the stone tablets. This establishes the thematic contrast of “letter vs. Spirit”, old/new covenant, that runs through the remainder of chapter 3.

It is interesting the way that the initial metaphor in v. 3 leads Paul so readily to the dualistic juxtaposition contrasting the old and new covenants, in terms of “the written (word/letter) [to\ gra/mma]” and “the Spirit [to\ pneu=ma]”. See how this contrast in made, twice, in vv. 1-3 and 4-6:

    • Commendatory letters for apostles—believers under their ministry
      • written in the heart
        • contrast with being written in tablets of stone (v. 3)
    • Confidence for apostles before God—ministers of a new covenant
      • of the Spirit
        • contrast with the written word (v. 6)

Paul specifically refers to himself (and others) as “servants of (the) new diaqh/kh” (v. 6). The noun diaqh/kh literally signifies the “setting through” of things (into an arranged order); in English idiom we would say “putting things in order”, i.e., in terms of a legal will/testament or other contractual agreement. In the LXX and New Testament, it typically is used in place of the Hebrew tyr!B=, which means a binding agreement; both Hebrew and Greek terms tend to be translated as “covenant”. The word diaqh/kh is relative rare in the Pauline letters, occurring 8 times, in Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans (+ once in Ephesians). Paul’s use of it is entirely traditional; apart from references to the Old Testament and Israelite history (Rom 9:4; 11:27; Gal 3:15, 17; 4:24), we have his citation of the Lord’s Supper tradition (1 Cor 11:25; cf. Luke 22:20 and Mk 14:24 v.l.).

As in the Lord’s Supper tradition, Paul here uses the expression kainh\ diaqh/kh (i.e. “new covenant”), terminology which goes back to Prophetic tradition (in the 6th/5th centuries B.C.) regarding the restoration of Israel in the New Age (Jer 31:31-34; cf. also 32:40; Ezek 11:19; 18:31; 34:25ff; 36:26; 37:26). Jesus, in his own way, was alluding to this in the Last Supper tradition, but it received much more precise exposition among early Christians in the period c. 30-60 A.D. The specific motif of the “pouring out” of the Spirit upon God’s people was part of the traditional restoration-theme. In previous notes, on the “Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, I discussed at length the role of the Spirit in the key restoration-prophecies of the exilic and post-exilic periods (in Joel, Deutero-Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah).

In the remainder of chapters 3 (vv. 7-18) Paul embarks on an exposition of the difference between the old and new covenants. He draws upon the Moses narratives and traditions in the book of Exodus; in particular, Paul takes a midrashic interpretive approach to Exodus 34:29-35, which describes Moses’ return from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the Covenant.

This contrast between the old and new covenants is centered on the idea of “glory” (do/ca). Paul makes use of a series of qal wa-homer arguments—a traditional (Jewish) principle of interpretation, which argues from the lesser to the greater: if something is true in this (lesser) case, then how much more is it to be so regarded in the (greater) case. According to this mode of argument (a fortiori), Paul is working from the basic assumption that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant which God established with Israel at Sinai. The first two arguments (in vv. 7-9) involve the diakoni/a (“service, ministry”), that is, the administration of the covenant—in the case of the old covenant this began with Moses (and Aaron) and continued through the established priesthood and ritual apparatus (Temple, sacrificial offerings, purity regulations, etc), as well as through teaching and tradition. Note the contrast:

    • Vv. 7-8: service/ministry of death [h( diakoni/a tou= qana/tou]
      • service/ministry of the Spirit [h( diakoni/a tou= pneu/mato$]
    • Vers. 9: service/ministry of judgment against [h( diakoni/a th=$ katakri/sew$]
      • service/ministry of justice/righteousness [h( diakoni/a th=$ dikaiosu/nh$]

The characterization of the old covenant as “the ministry of death” is striking; for the uniquely Pauline view on the relationship between the Law, sin and death, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56. In vv. 7-8 here, the qal wa-homer argument is:

“If the ministry of death came to be in (such) esteem [do/ca]… how will the ministry of the Spirit not (even) more be in esteem?”

The old covenant came to have glory/esteem (perfect of the verb doca/zw), but now it has come to have no glory/esteem (again, with the perfect of doca/zw). It is hard to imagine a more antinomian statement by Paul—the old covenant, with its written Law, now has no glory. However, he makes clear that this is true only in one respect: because the glory of the new covenant goes so far beyond it (the verb u(perba/llw means to throw or cast something over/beyond, i.e. past a particular distance or measure). This is an important principle for understanding Paul’s apparently negative statements regarding the Law—its binding force has come to an end because of Christ. Indeed, the old covenant has come to an end, he makes this clear in verse 11, using the verb katarge/w—literally to “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. The second verb is me/nw, “remain (in place), abide”. The contrast is clear enough: the old covenant ceases to be in effect, the new covenant remains and lasts; one is temporary, the other permanent.

The new covenant (kainh\ diaqh/kh) is governed by the Spirit (vv. 6-8), and not by the Torah; indeed, the Spirit takes the place of the Torah. This reflects, in my view, a clear spiritualistic tendency in Paul’s thought. However, the emphasis in 2 Cor 3:1-18 is on Paul and his fellow missionaries as ministers of this new covenant. In this light, in verses 12-18, he continues his contrast of old vs. new covenant, utilizing the motif of the covering (ka/lumma) that Moses kept over his face (cf. Exod 34:29-35) when he met with the people after speaking to God.

In the initial period of the old covenant, the people were wholly dependent on Moses as the prophet or spokesperson (ayb!n`) who communicated the word and will of God to them. Apostles and missionaries such as Paul served a similar role in the new covenant, but with a major difference: the communication of the Gospel of Christ took place without any covering, the ‘veil’ having been removed. The implication of this is that the people (i.e. believers) now are able to experience the presence and glory of God directly, without any intermediary. This is due to the fact that, with the communication (and acceptance) of the Gospel, believers receive the very Spirit of God. Paul’s wording in verse 16 is striking (and rather controversial) in this regard:

“But whenever (one) would turn about toward the Lord, the covering is taken (up from) around (him).”

This removal of the covering (symbolized by the veil of Moses) has two aspects in its meaning:

    • people are able to experience the full revelation of God, and
    • it signifies that the old covenant (of Moses and the Torah) has come to an end (cf. Rom 10:4)

The latter aspect means that believers in Christ are freed from the old covenant and its Torah, and this freedom (e)leuqeri/a) is due to our contact with the Spirit of God:

“And the Lord is the Spirit, and that which (is) of the Spirit of (the) Lord, (is) freedom [e)leuqeri/a].” (v. 17)

Insofar as we turn to God’s Spirit, we have complete freedom—meaning, in this context, primarily, freedom from the Law (Torah). Here the expression “Spirit of the Lord” presumably means the Spirit of God, though Paul does, on occasion, also use the expression “Spirit of Christ” (see the discussion at the beginning of the previous article). There can be no doubt, however, that the idea of turning to the Spirit of the Lord entails acceptance of the Gospel, and of conforming our lives to the presence of Christ dwelling in us.

This latter point is emphasized especially in the famous concluding words to this section (v. 18). Given the overall focus of the passage, one might expect Paul to end with another reference to the role of apostles—persons called to represent Christ and preach the Gospel—and yet, following the association of the Spirit and freedom in verse 17, he moves in an entirely different (and rather spiritualistic) direction: “but we all…” The glory of the old covenant was associated with a special person—Moses—who was set apart to represent God for the people; only he spoke directly with God, and the glory shone only from his face. How different is the new covenant, where every believer in Christ beholds the glory of the Lord, and is transformed, in a permanent manner, far greater than the transfiguration that Moses experienced. The true apostle and missionary does not emphasize his (or her) own abilities and accomplishments—ultimately the new covenant is administered and shared by all believers together.

This may be related to what I have referred to as the “democratization” of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration—the idea that God’s Spirit (and the prophetic spirit) would come upon all people, the nation as a whole, rather than upon specific chosen/gifted individuals. This was reflected most notably, for early Christians, by the citation of Joel 2:28-29 in Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:17-18). The reference to Moses, here in our passage, brings to mind the tradition in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), in which seventy elders were allowed to share in the prophetic spirit—the Spirit of YHWH—that had been upon Moses exclusively. For believers in Christ, the inclusivity extends even further—to all of God’s people, essentially fulfilling the very wish, expressed by Moses himself:

“…who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) <ya!yb!n+ [i.e. prophets], (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [j^Wr] upon them!” (Num 11:29)

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: 1 Corinthians 2:10-15

This study on Spiritualism and the New Testament (cf. the Introduction and article defining the term “Spiritualism”) will be divided into two main sections, corresponding to the Pauline and Johannine writings, respectively. We begin with the Pauline Letters.

The Letters of Paul

Paul wrote extensively on the Spirit, and doubtless he played a significant role in shaping first-century Christian views on the subject. Paul inherited early Christian traditions and beliefs regarding the Spirit, but, in his own way, he also developed these, presenting them within a deeper and more systematic framework. Before proceeding to the first passage of our study, let us first conduct a brief survey of several key beliefs which Paul shared, we may assume, with many other believers in the mid-first century (c. 50 A.D.).

    • The coming of the Spirit upon believers marks the fulfillment of the exilic/post-exilic prophetic oracles regarding the pouring out of God’s Spirit on His people in the New Age (of Israel’s restoration).
    • Believers receive the Spirit in connection with the ritual of baptism, which parallels the tradition of Jesus’ own baptism (Mk 1:8, 10 par).
    • The Spirit is communicated (by God) through the person of the exalted Jesus.
    • The exaltation of Jesus (to heaven, at God’s right hand), following his resurrection, gave to him a Divine status and position that enabled Jesus to share in God’s own Spirit. For more on this, cf. below.
    • Thus, when believers receive the Spirit of God, they/we are also receiving the Spirit of Christ. Through the Spirit, the exalted Jesus is manifest and present in (and among) believers.
    • Upon receiving the Spirit, believers are enabled to function as prophets, communicating the word and will of God, accompanied by other special abilities and ‘gifts’ (including speaking in ‘tongues’ and the working of miracles).

Because of the number of Paul’s letters that are available to us, we have a clearer understanding of these early beliefs. For example, Paul is the only New Testament author who offers any kind of an explanation of how Jesus came to share the Spirit of God (as his own Spirit). We can obtain a glimpse of this Christological point by combining Paul’s words in 1 Cor 15:45 (in the context of his discussion on the resurrection in chap. 15) with the declaration in 6:17. And, on this point, we may note the way that Paul can refer to the (Holy) Spirit as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ (or of Jesus) interchangeably (see esp. Rom 8:9).

1 Corinthians 2:10-15

In the section 1:18-2:16, Paul contrasts worldly wisdom with the wisdom of God. The Gospel proclamation centered on the painful and humiliating death (by crucifixion) of Jesus, embodies, rather paradoxically, the wisdom of God. And yet, Paul speaks in vv. 6-15, of a wisdom that is spoken among those believers who are complete (te/leio$). In describing this wisdom, Paul’s exposition seems to have a spiritualist emphasis. The key verses are 10-15; however, before examining them in detail, it is necessary to give careful consideration to how Paul leads into that discussion. Let us begin with verse 6.

1 Corinthians 2:6

“And (yet) we (do) speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete, and (it is) wisdom not of this Age, and not of the chief (ruler)s of this Age th(at are) being made inactive…”

This statement introduces a new section, building upon vv. 1-5 (see my earlier note). In verse 5, Paul contrasts human/worldly wisdom (“the wisdom of men”) with the power of God; now, here in verse 6, he returns to the earlier contrast between two different kinds of wisdom. The conjunction de/, translated “and” above (first two instances), has adversative force, and could just as well be rendered “but”. In contrast with worldly wisdom:

    • Believers (and esp. Christian ministers) do speak/use wisdom, but
      • It is altogether different from the wisdom of the world and its rulers

There have been longstanding questions regarding the precise identity of both this “wisdom” (sofi/a) and the ones who are “complete” (te/leio$). In a prior note, I outlined some of the more common suggestions offered by commentators; here they are listed again for reference, with no priority indicated by the numbering:

    1. The basic Gospel message (wisdom) is given to all believers, but a more advanced (esoteric?) Christian wisdom (teaching, etc) is offered for those who are “complete”—mature and committed in the faith sufficiently to receive it.
    2. Paul is simply making a rhetorical contrast. There is only one wisdom—that of the person of Christ and his death/resurrection. The “complete” believers are able to recognize this and do not need to seek after any other “wisdom”.
    3. He is distinguishing between the Gospel proclamation and the teaching/instruction, etc., which builds upon the basic message, interpreting and applying it for believers as they grow in faith. For the “complete” this includes a wide range of “wisdom” —ways of thinking/reasoning, use of argument, illustration, allegory/parable, (creative) interpretations of Scripture, etc.
    4. Paul himself evinces certain gnostic/mystic tendencies whereby there are envisioned levels or layers in the Gospel—i.e. the basic proclamation and belief regarding the person and work of Christ—as in the Scriptures, the deepest of which involve the most profound expressions of God’s wisdom. Only the “complete” are able to realize this, and to be able to communicate something of it to the wider community.
    5. Paul is responding to gnostic/mystic tendencies among believers in Corinth. Here, as a kind of rhetorical approach, he is drawing upon their own thinking and sensibilities, trying to bring their focus back to the centrality of the Gospel and a proper understanding of the work of the Spirit. As such, the apparent distinctions he makes are somewhat artificial, perhaps running parallel to the (actual) divisions among the Corinthians themselves.
    6. The wisdom for the “complete” reflects a deep understanding of, and participation in, the work of the Spirit. Believers who are completely guided by the Spirit need no other instruction. Paul is essentially expounding this thought in vv. 9-16, only to make (painfully) clear to the Corinthians how far they still are from the ideal.

I have discussed the passage, running through 3:1-3, in considerable detail in earlier notes, a portion of which I am reproducing (especially those on 2:10-15) as part of this series. I have indicated certain conclusions which may be drawn from the text, that help clarify what Paul means here in 2:6. I list these as bullet points:

    • The wisdom spoken to the “complete” comes by way of the Spirit. No other source of “wisdom” is possible.
    • The revelation of the (secret) wisdom of God is fundamentally tied to the proclamation of the Gospel.
    • The hidden wisdom of God relates to the very depths (the deepest parts) of God’s own being.
    • The “wisdom” is not limited to the Gospel message, but ought to be understood more comprehensively as “all the (deep) things under God”.
    • It is dependent upon our having received the (Holy) Spirit
    • Through the Spirit we are able to know and experience this wisdom
    • It is “taught” by the Spirit to believers, and is to be communicated (“spoken”) to others in turn.
    • The ones who are “complete” essentially = the ones who “have the Spirit”
    • The ones who are “complete” are defined, in a negative sense by the opposite—those who think and act in a “fleshly” manner are “incomplete”.

From these points, the spiritualistic tendency in Paul’s thought seems clear enough. That is to say, the wisdom of God is manifest fundamentally, and principally, through the presence of the Spirit in and among believers. But let us look more closely at the wisdom Paul has in mind. I would isolate three primary aspects:

    • It is based on the proclamation of the Gospel, i.e. of the person and work of Christ
    • It includes all that the Spirit communicates to believers, which they receive as a gift to be shared/communicated to others
    • It extends to the working and guidance of the Spirit (= the “mind of God/Christ”) in all things

With regard to those who are complete, this can be defined even more simply:

    • They are those believers who consistently think and act under the guidance of the Spirit; this must be distinguished on two levels:
      • The reality of having/holding the Spirit (in us)
      • The ideal of living out this identity—i.e., “walking in/by the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16, 18, 25)

The very fact that Paul, like Jesus himself, exhorts believers to be “complete”, means that it is not automatically realized through faith in Christ and receiving the Spirit; rather, it reflects a process of growth and development which, in most instances, will take place over a lifetime. This, however, does not change the force and urgency of the exhortation. Jesus’ own exhortation (Matt 5:48) to his followers essentially takes the form of a promise—if you live according to the teaching (i.e. in 5:21-47, etc), “you will be complete [te/leio$], as your heavenly Father is complete”.

In Gal 5:16ff, Paul expounds upon this idea, now in a decidedly Christian sense, with the force of an imperative; note the sequence of phrases, with its central (conditional) premise:

    • “Walk about in the Spirit…” (v. 16)
      — “If you are led in the Spirit…” (v. 18)
      — “If (indeed) we live by the Spirit…” (v. 25a)
    • “We should step in line in the Spirit” (v. 25b)

The statement in Gal 5:16 reflects the very issue Paul is dealing with in 1 Corinthians, and the lament he expresses in 1 Cor 3:1-3:

“Walk about in the Spirit, and you should not complete [tele/shte, related to te/leio$] the impulse of the flesh”
“We speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete
“And (yet) I was not able to speak to you as (one)s (who are) of the Spirit, but as (one)s (who are) of the flesh”

Is it possible that Paul, in some sense, does have a more precise and sharp division in mind, i.e. between the “complete” and the ‘incomplete’ —two distinct groups or categories of believers? While this would seem to contradict much of his own argument in 1:18ff, it is conceivable that he is playing off of the very “divisions” which exist among the Corinthians. Certainly, it has been suggested from the distinction he makes in 3:2 between “milk” (ga/la) and “(solid) food” (brw=ma)—the Corinthians are behaving as immature “infants” (v. 1), and cannot be treated (i.e. spoken to) as mature adults. There are several possibilities for understanding this distinction:

    • “Milk” is the simple Gospel message, while the solid “Food” represents deeper (Christian) teaching and instruction
    • The difference is between the basic ‘facts’ of the Gospel, and its deeper meaning
    • Similarly, it is between the Gospel message and how it is (effectively) applied and lived out by believers in the Christian Community
    • It rather reflects a difference in the way believers respond—as immature infants or mature adults
    • It is simply a rhetorical image, drawn from the idea of the Corinthians as “infants”, and should not be pressed further

Something may be said for each of these interpretations, except perhaps the first. Insofar as it reflects a substantive distinction in Paul’s mind, the third and fourth best fit the overall context of the passage.

Finally, I would like to bring out a particular point of emphasis that is sometimes overlooked in this passage. When Paul speaks of the wisdom of God in terms of “the (deep) things” of God, he couches this within the general expression “all things” (pa/nta). In my view, this should be understood in an absolute comprehensive sense. Note how this is framed conceptually in chapters 2 & 3:

The wisdom of God encompasses “all things”, as Paul makes clear in 3:21-23, where he establishes a (hierarchical) chain of relationship, presented in reverse order— “all things” (pa/nta), he says:

belong to you (pl., believers), and you in turn
belong to Christ, who in turn
belongs to God the Father

If we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit and the mind of God/Christ, then we are free to study and examine all things (cf. 2:10, 15), and this itself becomes an integral expression of the “wisdom of God” which we speak.

This analysis of the thrust of 2:6-16 (extending to 3:1-3) provides the framework for our detailed study of 2:10-15, which contain the key references to the Spirit. For this study, see the first note, on v. 10.

Sola Scriptura: 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:12-14

Sola Scriptura

We have here been considering the primacy of the Apostolic Tradition as a source of religious authority for early Christians. The Apostolic Tradition has three fundamental components:

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

The first two components were discussed in the previous two studies (last week and the week prior); it now remains to example that last of these three.

3. Authoritative Teaching by the Apostles

We may begin by returning to our previous examination of Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, which is based on three different authoritative sources:

    • Verses 10-11: Paul cites a Jesus tradition (saying/teaching by Jesus) as a command— “not I, but the Lord”
    • Verses 12-14ff: He gives a similar directive, for which no Jesus tradition was available, based on his own inspired apostolic authority— “I, not the Lord”
    • Verses 25ff: He has neither a command from Jesus, nor an inspired directive of his own; rather, Paul offers an authoritative opinion (gnw/mh), as advice, or by way of a recommendation, for believers.

The last two sources fit under the same heading for this article, representing two kinds of authoritative apostolic teaching. The New Testament Epistles are replete with examples of apostolic teaching, which may be divided into three general categories:

    • Theological and doctrinal teaching
    • Ethical instruction, and
    • Guidance on congregational activity and organization

Rather than selecting from the hundreds of passages that deal with these areas, it is perhaps more useful here to consider the place of the Apostolic Tradition as a whole, embracing all three of the components outlined above. The principal noun referring to this Tradition is para/dosi$, from the verb paradi/dwmi (“give along, give over”); it thus signifies something that is “given along”, or ‘handed down,’ from one person to another, and from one generation to the next. Our word “tradition” is cognate to the Latin traditio, which has a comparable meaning to para/dosi$.

Para/dosi$ occurs 13 times in the New Testament; however, eight of these are part of a single Synoptic episode (Mk 17:3, 5, 8-9, 13; Matt 15:2-3, 6). The other five occurrences are in Paul’s letters, thus making the word something of a Pauline term.

The earliest of these, in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, is significant, in light of our previous study on 1 Cor 7:10ff (cf. above). If we combine the evidence from both Thessalonian letters, it is possible to compare Paul’s eschatological teaching in 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 with that of 2 Thess 1:5-2:15. The teaching in 1 Thessalonians is rooted in “an account by the Lord” (or, “a word of the Lord,” lo/go$ kuri/ou), which could refer to a variety of eschatological sayings/teachings by Jesus, such as those contained in the “Eschatological Discourse”. The wording in 5:2-4ff almost certainly is based on sayings by Jesus as well.

By contrast, 2 Thessalonians 1-2 represents more distinctly Pauline teaching—that is, stemming from Paul’s own, inspired status as an apostle. He attempts to explain and expound the early Christian eschatological framework, such as is found in the “Eschatological Discourse”. Paul concludes his eschatological instruction with these words in 2:15:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold firmly to the (thing)s given along [parado/si$ plur], which you were taught, whether through an account (of speech) or through our (letter) sent to you.”

Paul includes his current eschatological instruction as part of the various authoritative apostolic teachings he (and other apostles like him) have ‘given along’ to the Thessalonians. The mention of an e)pistolh/ (epistle) simply means that the apostolic authority was the same, whether it was spoken (when the apostle was personally present), or conveyed through writing (when he was absent). It does, however, also anticipate the preservation of letters like 2 Thessalonians, and their eventual inclusion among the New Testament Scriptures.

The same noun (para/dosi$) occurs in 3:6, in connection with Paul’s ethical instruction. The faithful and upright conduct, to which he exhorts the Thessalonians, is contrasted (as a warning) with the conduct of “…every brother walking about (in a) disorderly (manner) and not according to the (thing) given along [para/dosi$] which you received alongside [vb paralamba/nw] from us”. The verbs paradi/dwmi (“give along”) and paralamba/nw (“receive along, take long”) are similar in meaning, describing the same dynamic from two different vantage point—i.e., the giving of the tradition (by an apostle), and the receiving of it (by the congregation). For examples of paradi/dwmi in this context, cf. Luke 1:2; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Rom 6:17; 2 Peter 2:21; Jude 3. For other instances of paralamba/nw, cf. 1 Cor 11:23; 15:1, 3; Gal 1:9, 12; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:1.

Another verb, which can be used, even more forcefully, for the giving (and preservation) of the Apostolic Tradition, is parati/qhmi, “set/place alongside”. This verb can be used in reference to the act of teaching (e.g., Acts 17:3), but it is not used this way in the NT Epistles. Rather, it specifically means “place (something) along into one’s care,” i.e., entrust it to someone (cf. Lk 12:48). It can refer to entrusting a person into another’s care (Acts 14:23; 20:32); however, in the Epistles, it is the Apostolic Tradition, we may say, that is entrusted. This is the specific context in the Pauline Pastorals, in which the apostle (Paul) “places along” the authoritative tradition(s) to ministers such as Timothy (2 Tim 2:2; cf. also 1 Tim 1:18), who will then transmit them to the believers (and congregations) under his charge.

The related noun paraqh/kh, derived from parati/qhmi, when used in this context, is more or less synonymous with para/dosi$, but entailing also the added meaning associated with the verb parati/qhmi described above. The Apostolic Tradition that is “given along” (para/dosi$) is also “placed along” (paraqh/kh) into the care of ministers like Timothy, to be preserved and guarded carefully. This latter noun occurs just three times in the New Testament, and all in the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy). The main passage, in which the noun occurs twice, is 2 Timothy 1:12-14:

“…I suffer these (thing)s, but I am not ashamed, for I have seen the (One) in whom I have trusted, and I have been persuaded that He is able to guard the (thing) placed alongside [paraqh/kh] me unto [i.e. until] that day. You must hold (firm to the) under(lying) pattern of words being [i.e. that are] healthy, which you heard alongside [para/] me, in (the) trust and love th(at is) in (the) Anointed Yeshua; the beautiful (thing) placed alongside [paraqh/kh] you must guard, through (the) Holy Spirit th(at is) dwelling in us.”

Note the chain of transmission, presented as a chiastic outline:

    • God guards [vb fula/ssw] the Tradition
      • this Tradition was placed alongside [paraqh/kh] Paul
        • Timothy heard it alongside [para/] Paul
      • the Tradition was placed alongside [paraqh/kh] Timothy
    • Through God’s Spirit, Timothy is to guard [vb fula/ssw] the Tradition

Timothy is similarly commanded to “guard” the Tradition (paraqh/kh) at the conclusion of 1 Timothy (6:20). It is worth mentioning that most critical commentators regard the Pastoral Letters as pseudonymous ‘Deutero-Pauline’ works. As such, they likely would have been written toward the end of the first-century (c. 90-100), rather than the early 60’s. The specific emphasis on guarding the Apostolic Tradition (from false believers and ‘heretics,’ etc) does seem to reflect a later development, but it is possible that Paul could already be using such language c. 63-64 A.D. I tend to regard 2 Timothy (on objective grounds) as a genuine work by Paul, but find the arguments for pseudonymity reasonably strong in the case of 1 Timothy.

Similar critical considerations go into judging the date (and thus the context) of 2 Peter and Jude—two letters which share with 1-2 Timothy a concern for guarding the Apostolic Tradition against false believers. Note, for example, the wording of 2 Peter 2:21 in the overall context of the eschatological-ethical warnings in chaps. 2-3. Jude is even more pointed in this regard, with the warnings and exhortation framed by the grand statement in verse 3:

“Loved (one)s, (in) making all haste to write to you about our common salvation, I held (myself with) constraint to write to you, calling you along to struggle over the trust once (and for all) having been given along [vb paradi/dwmi] to the holy (one)s.”

By this rhetorical syntax, the author prepares his audience for the forceful warnings that follow. He “held (himself) with constraint” in writing, because he knew that it was necessary to give the tough message warning his readers against the dangers posed by false believers within the congregations. This statement, in my view, truly does represent a relatively late development, as can be seen by the way that the noun pi/sti$ refers, not simply to trust in Jesus, but to the authoritative (apostolic) Tradition as a whole.

In conclusion here, it is also worth mentioning the reference to the letters of Paul in 2 Pet 3:15-16, usually taken by commentators as a sign for a late dating of 2 Peter (and for its pseudonymity). Whether or not this critical opinion is valid (and it may be debated), there can be little doubt that the process of collecting and preserving the New Testament Letters was already underway by the end of the first-century. This very process implies a recognition of the authoritative character of these letters, insofar as they reflect (and preserve) the Apostolic Tradition. It is possible the apostolic missionaries and leaders themselves sought to preserve some written record of their teaching. To be sure, the letters written by the apostles would have been considered just as authoritative as their spoken words when personally present (e.g., 2 Cor 10:11; 2 Thess 3:14, and cf. the discussion above). Indeed, Paul urges the Thessalonians to have his letter read (out loud) to a wide audience (1 Thess 5:27). See also the way the author of the book of Revelation refers to his work (22:6-9, 18-19, etc).

By the end of the first-century, the writings of the apostles—some of them, at any rate—were effectively being treated as authoritative Scripture, on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures, even as the Apostolic Tradition, on the whole, superseded those very Scriptures. Around the same time (c. 90 A.D.), all four of our Gospels had been written, preserving, in a similar way, a different aspect of the Tradition. The process of producing a corpus of New Testament Scriptures was well under way.

Saturday Series: Galatians 1:1-5

The Saturday Series studies this Fall will focus on the area of Rhetorical Criticism, a specialized field of Biblical Criticism, in which a Scripture passage (or book) is examined from the standpoint of rhetorical analysis—that is, a study of how the message is communicated by word (spoken or written), particularly the art of persuasion and the techniques and arguments used.

Rhetorical Criticism is a relatively new field of Biblical Criticism, introduced and applied primarily to the New Testament Scriptures, in light of Classical Greco-Roman rhetoric. To be sure, rhetorical analysis can be applied to any book or passage, but for the most part it has been the reserve of New Testament scholars, and its application has yielded many valuable insights.

In particular, study of the New Testament letters—and especially the letters of Paul—has benefited greatly from application of rhetorical analysis, as part of an examination of the epistolary form and techniques used by the author. Rhetoric is perhaps more commonly understood in terms of oral speech, but many of the techniques relate nearly as well to literary communication of a message, especially when presented in an epistle or letter.

As a way of introducing the methods and techniques of rhetorical criticism, we will take an inductive approach, working from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which happens to possess one of the clearest rhetorical structures of any New Testament book. Paul is trying to communicate a very particular (and important) message in this letter, and he effectively uses a number of rhetorical techniques to achieve his goal. Despite the self-effacing tone Paul adopts at times (e.g., 2 Cor 11:6), he was quite well-versed and adept in classical rhetorical techniques, and did not hesitate to apply them in an effort to persuade his audience (his protestation in 1 Cor 1:17; 2:1ff notwithstanding).

Epistolary Prescript (Galatians 1:1-5)

The technical term for the opening of the letter (here 1:1-5) is the epistolary prescript. The openings of Paul’s letters tend to follow the standard framework of Greco-Roman letters, though not infrequently he adapts this in small but important ways. In the case of Galatians, the adaptations to the epistolary prescript are rhetorically charged—meaning that he includes here, in the opening of the letter, in seed-form, key lines of argument that will be developed in the following sections.

The standard elements of the prescript (opening) are: identification of the author(s) (superscriptio, vv. 1-2a), identification of the addressee(s) (adscriptio, v. 2b), and the greeting (salutatio, vv. 3-5); here the greeting includes a doxology (v. 5). Paul’s rhetorical adaptations occur in the superscriptio and salutatio (greeting, vv. 3-4). Let us look at each of these.

“Paulus, an apostolos, not from men and not through a man, but through Yeshua (the) Anointed, and God (the) Father, the (One hav)ing raised him out of (the) dead, and all the brothers with me…” (vv. 1-2a)

Paul often begins his letters by identifying himself as an apóstolos (lit. “[one] set forth”, i.e. sent forth); we typically transliterate this word in English as apostle. Occasionally he qualifies this by including an expression or short phrase, such as “called through (the) will of God” (1 Cor 1:1; cp. Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Col 1:1). Here in Galatians, however, he has included a much more expansive insertion (in green above); this insertion can be divided into three parts:

    • “not from men and not through a man” —i.e., the source of his apostolic commission (and authority) is not human
    • “but through Yeshua (the) Anointed and God (the) Father” —i.e., identifying Jesus Christ and God the Father as the source of his commission
    • “the (One hav)ing raised him out of (the) dead” —further identifying God the Father in terms of the resurrection of Jesus

The middle element essentially echoes the phrase “called through the will of God” (see above). It is the first and third elements which relate to two key components of Paul’s rhetoric in Galatians: (1) his apostolic authority, and (2) the Gospel that he proclaims (as an apostle).

1. His Apostolic Authority. Paul as an apostle, that is, one who is set forth as a special emissary and representative (of Christ). This will be a central theme in establishing the argument of the letter—Paul’s role and authority as an apostle to the Gentiles. Note how he qualifies the term “apostle” in verse 1— “not from men and not through a man, but through Yeshua (the) Anointed and God (the) Father”. In other words, his apostolic authority comes directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father. It does not come from a human being (“from [apo] men”), nor was it established through a human intermediary (“through [dia] a man”).

There appears to have been some controversy around Paul’s identification as an apostle, since he was not an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus, nor was he commissioned by Jesus personally (prior to Jesus’ ascension)—see Acts 1:21-22. We can sense this tension at various points in his letters (1 Cor 4:9; 9:1ff; 15:9), and Paul’s opponents may have emphasized the illegitimacy of his apostleship (see esp. the polemic in 2 Cor 11:5ff). In Galatians Paul similarly defends his apostleship.

2. The Gospel he proclaims. Consider also how his apostleship is connected to the Gospel message here in v. 1 with the concluding formula “…the (One) raising him [i.e. Jesus] out of the dead”. The nature of the Gospel that Paul proclaims, as an apostle, is very much at issue in Galatians, since he argues throughout that the Jewish Christians who have been influencing the Galatian congregations essentially proclaim a different Gospel.

Turning to the greeting or salutation (salutatio), the standard Pauline greeting occurs in verse 3:

“Favor [i.e. grace] to you and peace from God our Father and (the) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed”

As in verse 1, God the Father and Jesus Christ are mentioned together.

Verse 4 applies to Jesus a more extensive Gospel formula than we saw in verse 1; indeed, it functions as a kind of summary of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma):

“…the (One) giving himself over our sins, that he might take us out of the standing evil Age, according to the will of our God and Father”.

This is important, since a proper definition and understanding of the Gospel (“good message”) is likewise central to the argument of Galatians, as we will see.

These expansive insertions within the framework of the epistolary prescript are a bit unusual, and reflect the importance (and urgency) of the issue that Paul is addressing here. They anticipate the forceful rhetoric that he will use throughout the letter.

In next week’s study, we will turn to the next section of Galatians, the introduction (exordium) in 1:6-11.

July 8: 1 Corinthians 6:11; Philippians 1:27, etc

In these notes on Paul’s view of the Spirit, we have seen how he draws upon early Christian tradition regarding the nature and role of the Spirit. Often he simply maintains the existing line of tradition, though at times he also develops it in interesting and profound ways. In continuing our survey of references in the Pauline letters (cf. the previous note), we may note the following areas of early Christian thought and belief regarding the Spirit:

The role of the Spirit in the resurrection (of Jesus). Paul deals with this extensively in 1 Corinthians 15 (especially verses 44-46, cf. the earlier note), and also in Romans 8 (vv. 9-11, 23ff). In his resurrection (and exaltation), the life-giving Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead, transforming his entire person so that he “became a life-giving Spirit”, wholly united with God’s own Spirit. This is expressed less clearly in Romans 1:3-4, which many commentators believe represents an earlier credal formula that Paul has adapted. In verse 4, this statement declares that Jesus was “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the Son of God through the resurrection, which took place “according to (the) spirit of holiness”. The Greek pneu=ma a(giwsu/nh$ (“spirit of holiness”) is a literal rendering of the Hebrew vd#q) j^Wr, which typically refers to the Spirit of God’s holiness; however, it can also refer to the holiness of a righteous person’s spirit, as we saw in several of the Qumran texts (cf. the earlier study). There is thus some ambiguity in the use of the expression here.

1 Timothy 3:16 is also thought to represent an older hymn or creed-fragment expressing the early kerygma. The opening lines parallel the thought of Rom 1:3-4:

“…(he) was made to shine forth [i.e. was manifest] in (the) flesh,
(and he) was made just/right in (the) Spirit…”

The second line alludes to the resurrection of Jesus, though the use of the verb dikaio/w (“make right/just”) creates certain difficulties in light of Paul’s frequent use of the same verb (in Romans, Galatians, etc) to express the idea of believers (human beings) being made right/just in God’s eyes. Such a sense of the verb, applied to Jesus, would be highly problematic in terms of a developed (orthodox) Christology. This atypical use of dikaio/w is a strong indicator that the verse may be pre-Pauline in origin.

Again, it is not entirely clear whether pneu=ma refers to the Spirit of God or Jesus’ own spirit, or both. The fundamental idea, in terms of the earliest Christological thought, has to do with the injustice that was done to Jesus by his death. Not only was he innocent of any crime, but as God’s own Anointed One (Messiah), he certainly was not deserving of such treatment. This situation was “made right” by God through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, which took place through the work of God’s own Spirit, but also involved the glorification/transformation of Jesus’ spirit (1 Cor 15:44-46). Admittedly, this exaltation-Christology is problematic in the context of subsequent belief (and revelation) regarding the pre-existent deity of Jesus, but it very much reflects the early Christian view in the New Testament (at least prior to c. 60 A.D.).

Washing/Cleansing by the Spirit. This is perhaps the earliest aspect of the Spirit emphasized by Christians, being inherited as it was from the Old Testament and Gospel tradition (beginning with the historical tradition of John the Baptist’s ministry). It was a core component of the baptism ritual from the beginning, and was so basic that it scarcely needed to be explained or expounded further. Paul makes relatively few direct references to believers being cleansed by the Spirit, the most obvious being in 1 Cor 6:11:

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

Clearly this refers specifically to the cleansing symbolized by the water-rite of baptism (cp. Eph 5:26). A similar statement is found in Titus 3:5:

“…but according to His mercy He saved us, through (the) washing of coming to be (born) again [paliggenesi/a] and being made new again [a)nakai/nwsi$] (through the) holy Spirit.”

The process of sanctification—of believers being “made holy” (vb a(gia/zw)—begins with baptism, but continues throughout the course of one’s life. This sanctification is a fundamental goal and purpose of the Spirit’s work, and of the Gospel ministry (cf. Paul’s statement in Rom 15:16). It underlies the ethical instruction associated with the baptism ritual proper, and likewise informs much of the instruction and exhortation given by Paul to believers throughout his letters. Such ethical instruction is central to the “flesh vs. Spirit” juxtaposition, for example, in Galatians 5-6. The references to the Spirit in Gal 5:16-25 were discussed in an earlier note, but mention should be made of the agricultural illustration in 6:7-9 as well; note verse 8 in particular:

“…the (one) scattering (seed) into his flesh will harvest decay out of the flesh, but the (one) scattering (seed) into the Spirit will harvest life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life] out of the Spirit.”

This Flesh/Spirit dualism is most prominent in Galatians, but we have also seen it in Romans (esp. 8:4-9ff). Elsewhere, it is relatively rare, but I would note Philippians 3:3, where circumcision (and worship of God) in the flesh is contrasted with that for believers in the Spirit (cf. also Rom 2:25-29; Col 2:11; Eph 5:18-19).

Love and the Spirit. Paul is scarcely alone in emphasizing the association between the Spirit and love—the divinely-inspired love that binds and unites believers together. It has even greater prominence in the Johannine Gospel and Letters, for example, and is rooted in a core Christian tradition (i.e., the love command or principle) that goes back to Jesus’ own teachings. Paul is the only New Testament author, however, who develops this tradition in terms of the “New Covenant”, stressing how, in this New Age for believers in Christ, the Spirit takes the place of the old Law (Torah), even as the “love command” represents the fulfillment of the entire Law. This point has been discussed in prior notes, and there is no need to cite again the most relevant passages in Corinthians, Galatians and Romans. However, several specific references should be mentioned here, connecting love with the Spirit:

    • Rom 5:5—the famous image of God’s love being “poured into our hearts” through the holy Spirit
    • Rom 15:30— “I call you alonside[, brothers], through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, and through the love of the Spirit, to struggle together with me…”
    • 2 Cor 13:14— “…the love of God and the common-bond [koinwni/a] of the holy Spirit (be) with you all”
    • Phil 2:1— “…if (there is) any calling alongside [para/klhsi$] in (the) Anointed, if (there is) any speaking alongside [paramu/qion] of love, if (there is) any common-bond [koinwni/a] of (the) Spirit…”
      —the nouns para/klhsi$ and paramu/qion are similar in meaning, i.e. giving help or comfort alongside (para/) someone
    • Col 1:8— “…your love in the Spirit”
    • See also the immediate juxtaposition of the Spirit and love in the ‘virtue lists’ of 2 Cor 6:6 and Gal 5:22 (fruit of the Spirit).

Unity of believers in the Spirit. An especially important point of emphasis for Paul in his letters is on the unity of believers in Christ. This applied not only to the question (in Galatians and Romans) of the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers, but to anything that might cause separation or disunity (cf. the central issue of divisions among the congregations in 1 Corinthians). For Paul, there were two primary guiding forces for unity—(a) the love principle (cf. above), and (b) the presence of the Spirit. We noted the expression “the common-bond [koinwni/a] of the Spirit” in 2 Cor 13:14 and Phil 2:1 above, and how it was closely connected with the divinely-inspired love which believers share in Christ. Mention should also be made of Paul’s instruction in Phil 1:27, were he urges believers

“…that you would stand (firm) in one Spirit, and (with) a single soul, contending together in the trust of the good message [i.e. faith of the Gospel]”

Regarding the rather unusual expression “(with) a single a soul”, one is reminded of the repeated use of the term o(moqumado/n in the early chapters of the book of Acts (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6; also 15:25), used to express the unity of the first believers. Literally, that word means something like “(with) one impulse”; in English, we might say “of one mind” or “with one heart” —sharing a common bond and with a single guiding purpose. Paul clarifies what this “single soul” entails: that believers stand together “in the Spirit”, here specified as “in one Spirit”. In a non-Christian context, the expression e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati could mean in a single (human) spirit, i.e. acting and living and thinking in a common way. Certainly Paul does expect cooperative unity at that level, but such is only realized truly through the far deeper bond of our union with the Spirit of God (and Christ). As history has proven repeatedly, it is almost impossible for human beings to achieve lasting, positive unity, without the presence and work of God’s Spirit; efforts at unity, even with the best of intentions, often devolve into destructive and oppressive patterns of behavior.

No writing in the New Testament addresses the theme and goal of Christian unity so powerfully as does the Pauline letter to the Ephesians. In the next daily note, we will examine several of the key references to the Spirit in Ephesians.

July 7: Romans 8:26-27; 9:1; Colossians 1:9, etc

Today I wish to survey the remaining references to the Spirit in the Pauline letters—passages which have not yet been addressed in these notes. For the most part, this will be done in summary fashion, giving more attention to references which represent, in some way, a distinct development of the early Christian tradition.

Romans 8:26-27; Phil 1:19; Eph 6:18

Let us begin with a further discussion of Romans 8 (cf. the two previous notes), which contains Paul’s most extensive treatment of the Spirit, emphasizing the freedom and new life that exists for the believer in the Spirit. In verse 16, Paul mentions how the Spirit “gives witness together with our spirit”, indicating the sort of active, dynamic presence that the Spirit has in and among believers. This co-operation is emphasized again in verse 26f, using the verb sunantilamba/nomai, which literally means something like “take up together” —i.e. the Spirit works together with us, in our weakness (a)sqe/neia, “lack of strength”). This is framed in terms of “speaking out toward (God)” (vb proseu/xomai), i.e. prayer—since, in our human weakness, we do not always know how to communicate with God, the Spirit aids us in this process. The verb e)ntugxa/nw essentially means “have an effect on” someone or something, and the added prepositional prefix u(per– can specifically connote doing this on behalf of another—i.e., the Spirit communicates with God on our behalf, since God understands (“sees, knows”) the mind of the Spirit (it being His own Spirit).

This idea of the help or assistance provided by the Spirit is also expressed by Paul in Philippians 1:19, where the rare expression “the Spirit of Yeshua (the) Anointed” is used:

“For I have seen [i.e. known] that this [i.e. my imprisonment] will step forth into my salvation through your request (to God) and (through) the (contribution) of the Spirit of Yeshua (the) Anointed brought upon (it).”

In other words, the action of the Spirit (which is also the Spirit of Christ) in helping Paul comes in response to the believers’ prayer to God; the context of prayer here is similar to that in Rom 8:26-27. On Eph 6:18, cf. the discussion in the next daily note. The term para/klhto$ in the Johannine tradition (Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 Jn 2:1) captures this idea of help and assistance given by the Spirit—the Spirit of God (and Christ) being “called alongside” (vb parakale/w) to help.

Witness of the Spirit—development of prophetic and Wisdom tradition

Along these same lines, the Spirit speaks to the believer, giving wisdom and insight, as well as special revelation (i.e. inspiration, cf. below). Paul does not often refer to the Spirit as a witness, but it is an important point of emphasis in Rom 8:16 (cf. above), and one which continues in the beginning of the next major section of the letter (9:1), as he begins his famous treatise on the place of Israel in the New Covenant, punctuated as it is with such poignant personal remarks:

“(In) truth I say (this) in (the) Anointed (One)—I do not lie—my sunei/dhsi$ giving witness together with me in the holy Spirit…”

This statement replicates the idea in 8:16, of the Spirit giving witness together with the believer’s spirit (using the same verb summarture/w); only here it is sunei/dhsi$, rather than the “spirit” of the person—a slightly different aspect being emphasized. That particular compound noun is difficult to translate in English; literally, it means “seeing (things) together”, or the ability to see (and put) things together. In English, we might say “perception”, both in terms of the intellect, but also touching on a deeper sense of insight and understanding. The word can also carry the same ethical/moral connotation as our “conscience”. Paul’s witness in chapters 9ff is thus both truthful and inspired, since it is given “in Christ” and “in the holy Spirit” —a correspondence which illustrates again how the Spirit is understood as both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ.

While this sort of revelatory insight and “inspiration” is common to all true believers in Christ, since they/we all possess the Spirit, Paul recognizes that certain individuals are specially gifted by the Spirit in specific areas of activity and leadership within the Christian Community (on the subject of “spiritual gifts”, cf. the recent note on 1 Corinthians 12:1-3ff). This special giftedness of individuals represents an early Christian development of the older tradition of prophetic inspiration by God’s Spirit. It would seem to contradict the egalitarian principle expressed in Acts 2:1-4ff, 17-18 (citing Joel 2:28-29, cf. also Num 11:29) and elsewhere in the New Testament. At the same time, however, the organization of functioning congregations required the designation of at least a loose leadership structure (of elders, ministers, active prophets, etc); Paul both admits and affirms this fact in his letters, while maintaining the ideal (and hope) that all believers might, in their own way, obtain the higher giftings of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:6ff; 3:1ff; 12:31; 14:1ff).

Paul certainly acknowledged that he, himself, was a uniquely inspired minister, appointed by God to proclaim the Gospel and establish congregations throughout the Roman world. This meant that he possessed the Spirit, and interacted with it, in a special way; interestingly, he does not often state this directly—1 Cor 7:40 being one of the few examples. The comparison of inspired ministers and apostles with the Old Testament prophets (and thus the older tradition of prophetic inspiration) is part of the wider Christian tradition regarding the Spirit. The idea is expressed most clearly in the Pauline letters at Ephesians 3:5 (cf. also 1 Tim 4:1).

The association of the Spirit with wisdom is equally ancient, as discussed frequently in these notes (cf. on 1 Cor 2:9-16). In Colossians 1:9, Paul (assuming he is the author) expresses the traditional idea that believers will be “filled” with wisdom through the Spirit:

“…that you would be filled (with) the knowledge of [lit. about] His will, in all spiritual wisdom and su/nesi$.”

The adjective pneumatiko/$ is usually translated “spiritual”, which is accurate enough; however, in such a Christian context, it properly denotes “belonging to the Spirit”, i.e., possessing the nature and character of the Spirit. The noun su/nesi$ is comparable to sunei/dhsi$ (cf. above on Rom 9:1), and likewise means the ability to “put (things) together” in the mind (i.e., intelligence, understanding, knowledge). A comparable prayer is expressed in Eph 1:17, though with the idea of revelation joined to that of wisdom and understanding:

“…that He would give you the Spirit of wisdom and uncovering [i.e. revelation], in (the) knowledge of [lit. about] Him”

Power of the Spirit—development of the ecstatic (prophetic) tradition

In the ancient tradition of ecstatic inspiration, the Spirit of God would come (or “rush”) upon a person, resulting at times in strange or violent action. Typically, this inspiration had a positive effect—such as giving a king or military leader strength and ability in battle. For the prophet this could also be manifest in unusual or supernatural ability, of various kinds. In early Christianity, the activity of the Spirit in and among believers produced comparable effect, in line with the older prophetic tradition. This involved not only the miraculous speaking in “tongues”, but the performance of healing miracles, and so forth. It also represented the fulfillment of an idea expressed earlier in the Gospel tradition, whereby the close disciples of Jesus (i.e. the Twelve) were able to share in his Spirit-inspired power to work miracles, etc (similar to the ancient tradition in Num 11:16-30, discussed in an earlier note).

When speaking of the power (du/nami$) provided by the Spirit, Paul is not only referring to the sorts of miracles recorded in the book of Acts (some of which he himself performed), but has in mind a more comprehensive sense of all that the Spirit accomplishes for believers, and to the Christian ministry in all its aspects (cf. Rom 15:19-20, etc). One of the most notable of these summary statements is in 1 Cor 2:4, in which Paul contrasts earthly wisdom with the “power of God”, manifest in the Spirit; he uses the pairing “Spirit and power” (for more on this passage, cf. the earlier note). He has in mind principally the effect of the proclamation of the Gospel—its transforming power—upon the hearts and lives of believers. Other verses associating the Spirit with power are:

    • 2 Cor 6:6-7—note the parallel between “in the holy Spirit” and “in the power of God”; the emphasis here is on “power” in terms of truth, love, righteousness, and God’s very word (cf. Eph 6:17)
    • Rom 15:13—Paul’s wish is that believers would be filled with hope, the same hope that comes with trust in Christ—this is realized “in the power of (the) holy Spirit”; note also the association of the Spirit with “peace and joy” (cp. 14:17)
    • 2 Tim 1:7— “For God did not give to us a spirit of timidity, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”
    • Eph 3:16—the prayer is that the “inner man” of the believer will be strengthened, through God’s Spirit, “in power” (duna/mei)

The remainder of this survey will continue in the next daily note.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Letters of Paul (Introduction)

Having examined the eschatology of Jesus as recorded in the (Synoptic) Gospels, as well as that expressed by the early Christian preaching in the book of Acts, it is now time to turn our attention to the Pauline Letters, and to give consideration to the eschatology of Paul, as studied through his letters.

One fact we may note before proceeding, is that, with regard to the eschatology found in the letters, there is surprisingly little that is unique to Paul’s thought and manner of expression (the discussion in Romans 9-11 being a notable exception). On the whole, he follows the traditional eschatology of early Christians, very much in accord with what we find in the preaching recorded in the book of Acts (cf. the previous two articles). What is distinctive is the way that Paul develops the tradition, giving added theological (and Christological) weight to the basic contours of the eschatological expectation of 1st century Christians. The main eschatological components handled and addressed by Paul in his letters are:

    • The return of Jesus to earth (i.e. the Parousia)
    • The great Judgment by God on humankind, and
    • The Resurrection (spec. of believers)

It is the last of these which is given most attention by Paul, since it relates to a fundamental (theological) aspect of his understanding of the religious identity of believers in Christ—namely, our identification (and union) with Jesus in both his death and resurrection (see especially Romans 6:3-4). This will be discussed in more detail as we encounter the various passages.

Any comprehensive treatment of Paul’s letters must always take into account certain critical questions of authorship. In particular, many (if not most) critical commentators regard a number of the canonical letters as pseudonymous. Among such scholars, there is general agreement that the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy, Titus) and Ephesians are pseudonymous; others believe that Colossians and/or 2 Thessalonians are as well. For my part, entirely on objective grounds, I consider 2 Thessalonians and Colossians as genuinely Pauline, and will treat them as such in these articles (while occasionally mentioning certain critical objections). More substantial questions surround the Pastorals (esp. 1 Timothy) and Ephesians, in terms of vocabulary, style, and points of emphasis. I do not intend to address any of these, except in passing; however, as a point of procedure, in deference to the (critical) questions, I will treat the eschatology in Ephesians and the Pastorals last among the letters of Paul.

Here is an outline of the articles:

  • 1 & 2 Thessalonians:
  • 1 & 2 Corinthians:
    • Part 1: Survey of the Corinthian correspondence
    • Part 2: Key passages examined in detail
    • Part 3: The Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15
  • Romans:
    • Part 1: Survey of passages
    • Part 2: Development of the Resurrection theme
    • Part 3: Romans 9-11 (esp. chap. 11)
  • Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, and Colossians
  • Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters

“…Spirit and Life” (continued): Acts and the Pauline Letters

Having examined all of the relevant passages in the Gospel of John, before proceeding to the Johannine Letters, it will be useful to look at some of the key references to the Spirit and Life in the remaining New Testament writings.

I have already discussed the passages in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts, dealing with the Holy Spirit, in an earlier series of notes on “The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition” (the articles “The Spirit in Luke-Acts” cover the Acts references).

Life (zwh/) in Luke-Acts

There are five occurrences of the noun zwh/ in the Gospel of Luke, along with nine of the related verb za/w (“live”). Most of these are derived from the wider Synoptic tradition, such as the use of the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ (“Life of the Age”) in 10:25 (+ the verb za/w in v. 28); 18:18, 30. In these episodes, a devout/religious person asks Jesus “What should I do to receive the lot of [i.e. inherit] (the) Life of the Age?”—that is, to inherit the divine/heavenly (eternal) life given to the righteous in the Age to Come (after the Judgment). In the first episode, Jesus elicits from the man the answer of the two-fold “Great Commandment” (Deut 6:5 + Lev 19:18), which came to be understood in early Christian terms as the so-called Love-command (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8; cf. also John 13:34-35; 15:9-13; 1 Cor 12:31b-14:1a, etc). In the second episode, Jesus emphasizes the need to follow him, and, in the process, give up the worldly things valued in this life. The only other occurrence of zwh/ in something like the sense of “eternal life” is the saying in 12:15, and in a similar context—i.e., the “life” of a person does not come out of an abundance of (material) possessions.

The verb za/w also refers to “eternal life” in Lk 10:28; we may also note the traditional citation of Deut 8:3 in the Temptation scene: “it is not upon bread alone that man will live” (Lk 4:4)—i.e., one “lives” through the life-giving Word of God. The discourses of Jesus in John develop this idea, as we have seen, especially in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6 (and the key-verse of this series, 6:63). A similar idea is expressed in the Lukan version of the saying in 20:38: “But he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live in/by him”. The giving of new (spiritual) life to persons lost or “dead” in sin, so familiar in the Johannine discourses, also appears at the conclusion of the Prodigal Son parable: “…this brother of yours was dead and came alive (again), and had ruined [i.e. lost] (himself) and was found!” (15:32).

Of course, the verb is also used of the actual resurrection of Jesus, as in 24:5, 23; Acts 1:3; 25:19 (on the symbolic/spiritual idea of resurrection, cf. John 5:21-24ff; 11:21-27), and similarly of physical raising of persons from the dead in the book of Acts (9:41 etc).

An interesting use of the verb is in Acts 7:38, where Stephen, in his sermon-speech, refers to the words given by God to Moses as “living sayings/declarations” (lo/gia zw=nta), the idea being that words spoken by the living God are themselves living. The concept of God as the source of life is expressed twice by Paul in sermon-speeches, delivered in a non-Jewish (Greco-Roman) setting—of the one true living God (14:15), and cf. especially the famous philosophical formula cited in 17:28: “for in Him we live and move and have being [e)sme/n]”.

“Life” in the Pauline Letters and Theology

Paul uses the verb za/w (“live, have life”) frequently in his letters (more than 50 times in the undisputed letters). Sometimes it is meant in the ordinary sense of human life (and/or daily living), but quite often it denotes divine/eternal or spiritual Life.

Paul also makes use of the verb zwopoie/w (“make [a]live”)—7 of the 11 occurrences in the New Testament are found in his letters (cf. also John 5:21 [twice]; 6:63; 1 Pet 3:18):

    • Rom 4:17; 8:11—where the reference is specifically to the life-giving (and resurrection) power of God
    • 1 Cor 15:22, 36, 45—the life-giving power of Jesus, specifically through his resurrection (on the last reference, cf. below)
    • 2 Cor 3:6—the life-giving power of the Spirit (Spirit/Law [“Letter”] contrast), cf. also Gal 3:21

The noun zwh/ (“life”) is somewhat less common, occurring 28 times in the undisputed letters (with 9 more in Ephesians and the Pastorals). The specific expression “Life of the Age” (zwh/ ai)w/nio$) occurs five times—Rom 2:7; 5:21; 6:22-23; Gal 6:8 (cf. also 1 Tim 1:16; 6:12; Tit 1:2; 3:7)—usually in a strongly ethical context (but note the emphasis on the “favor” [xa/ri$] of God in Rom 5:21; 6:23).

The remaining Pauline passage which are particularly relevant may summarized as follows:

“Life” in the other New Testament Writings

Before continuing on to look at the references to the Spirit in the Pauline letters, it is worth surveying briefly other occurrences of the noun zwh/ and verb za/w in the rest of the New Testament (excluding the Johannine letters and book of Revelation):

Hebrews
    • The basic idea of eternal life (in the sense of always living) is applied variously to the figure of Melchizedek (as a type/figure of Jesus) in 7:3, 8, 16, 25
    • The figure of God as living (cf. above), along with his Word as living—3:12; 4:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22
    • Of the sacrificial (priestly) work of Jesus, which leads to Life—10:20 (“living way”)
    • One lives through trust in Jesus—10:38 (citing Hab 2:4, cf. above)
James
    • The expression “crown of life” as a motif for eternal Life (1:12)
1 Peter
    • Life through (the death and resurrection of) Jesus—1:3 (“living hope”); 2:24
    • Participation/union of believers with Jesus, i.e. we are “living” as he is “living”—2:4-5
    • The living (and life-giving) Word of God—1:23
    • Life comes to believers through the favor [xa/ri$] of God—3:7 (“favor of life”)
    • Believers live “in the Spirit”—3:18 (vb. zwopoie/w); 4:6
2 Peter & Jude

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 6: Dualism

In this final part of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, I will be discussing the aspect of Gnosticism that is perhaps best known to people generally—their dualistic worldview and mode of expression. In an earlier article defining and explaining the term (cf. also the main article on “Gnosticism”), I outlined the four main kinds or types of dualism:

    1. Cosmological—There are two opposing principles which control and govern the world.
    2. Metaphysical—There two contrasting (and opposing) principles which make up the structure of the universe.
    3. Anthropological—The human being is made up of two contrasting principles.
    4. Ethical—The human being chooses (and must choose) between two contrasting/opposing principles.

When we turn to the dualism that exists in early Christian thought, and in the writings of the New Testament, it is the first and last of these types which are most common and widespread. For the most part, such early Christian dualism was simply inherited from the language and imagery of the Old Testament Scriptures and subsequent Jewish writings—especially from the (later) Prophets and Wisdom tradition. In the Gospels, and the earliest strands of Christian tradition, we can isolate two areas of dualistic thought and expression:

    • The conflict between God and the Devil (Satan), which can be understood as a kind of partial or qualified cosmic (cosmological) dualism. There is a sense in which the current (fallen) order of creation has come under the control or dominion of the Devil—cf. Matt 4:1-11 (esp. verse 8); Mk 3:26ff; 4:15; Lk 13:16 etc, and pars, along with the overall context of the many healing (exorcism) miracles narrated in the Gospel (and Acts). This means that the world is controlled by evil and darkness, and is generally in conflict with, and opposed to, the ways and things of God (Mark 8:33 par). Jesus’ presence on earth reflects this sense of conflict against the forces of sin and evil, etc (cf. Lk 10:18; Heb 2:14), a struggle which is continued in the lives of believers (James 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8, etc).
    • More common is the ethical dualism such as we see in the sayings and teachings of Jesus, expressed in language and images largely inherited from Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Sayings such as Matt 6:24; 7:13-14, 17-20, 24-27 par, or the Lukan form of the Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26), as well as the contrasting figures and settings in a number of the parables (e.g., Matt 13:24-30, 36-43; 21:28-32 par; chap 25; Lk 16:19-31; 18:9-14), present two different (opposite) “paths” or examples a person may follow. Under the direct influence of Jesus’ teaching, this developed into the so-called “Two Ways” conceptual framework in early Christianity, preserved within several different lines of tradition (cf. Didache 1-16; Epistle of Barnabas 18-21). The earliest Christians, like the Qumran Community, understood their identity in light of Isa 40:3ff and apparently referred to themselves as “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). On the expressions “way of truth”, “way of God”, etc, see Acts 16:17; 18:26; 2 Pet 2:2, 15, 21. The ethical instruction in the letter of James is almost entirely dependent on the teaching of Jesus as found in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul draws upon this as well, though he also expresses the “two ways” in the traditional language of the “virtue and vice” lists from Greco-Roman (and Jewish) tradition.

Both of these aspects—cosmological and ethical—are found blended together in Jewish writings roughly contemporary with the time of Jesus, especially in the Qumran texts (the Dead Sea Scrolls). The Community represented in these texts had a strongly dualistic worldview, best expressed in the so-called Community Rule (1QS) 3:13-4:26, a section often referred to as the “treatise of the Two Spirits”. There are two Spirits at work in the world—one of Truth and one of Falsehood, of light and darkness, God and Belial. Human beings are characterized by one of these two “worlds”, ultimately choosing the follow the path of one or the other. The Elect or faithful ones, the true believers, are the “sons of light”, while those who refuse (or are unable) to join the Community remain among the “sons of darkness”. Needless to say, as has been amply documented, in spite of many differences, there is a good deal in common between early Christians and the Community of the Qumran texts.

The most pronounced dualism in the New Testament is found in the letters of Paul and the Johannine writings, respectively. As we shall see, the dualism expressed in the latter is closer both to that of the Qumran texts, and to gnostic modes of expression.

Pauline Dualism

In Paul’s letters, we see very distinctive forms of both cosmological and ethical dualism (on these in the New Testament generally, cf. above).

Cosmological

Paul has more or less inherited the Christian worldview outlined above—that there is a fundamental conflict between God and the Devil, with the current condition/order of the world being under the dominion of sin and evil. Paul’s direct references to Satan or the Devil are relatively rare; indeed, the term dia/bolo$ (i.e. devil) does not occur in the undisputed letters (only in Eph 4:27; 6:11; 1 Tim 3:6-7; 2 Tim 2:26). The transliterated Semitic title Satan[a$] (/f*C*h^, ha´´¹‰¹n, “the adversary, accuser”) is the term Paul regularly uses (Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Thess 2:9; also 1 Tim 1:20; 5:15). Though he does not often state it directly, there can be no doubt that Paul believed that the current age or “world” was wicked and corrupt, under the effective control of evil (2 Cor 4:4; Gal 1:4, also Eph 2:2; 3:10; 6:12), characterized by a definite (cosmological) structure and hierarchy (Gal 4:3, 9 [Col 2:8, 20]; Col 1:16; 2:15). For more on Paul’s understanding and use of the term “world” (ko/smo$), cf. 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 3:19; 6:2; 7:31; Gal 6:14; Rom 12:2, etc. The most distinctive Pauline teaching is that the world—and, in particular, humankind—is under the dominion of sin, in bondage to it. This theme is most prominent in Romans (3:9, 19-20; 5:12-21; 7:7-24; 8:18-22; 11:32) and Galatians (3:19-24; 4:1-3, 21ff, etc); for the relation between sin and the Law in Paul’s thought, cf. my earlier articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”. God, through Christ, has freed us from this bondage; occasionally this is expressed in terms of being delivered out of the world of sin and darkness (Col 1:13; 1 Thess 5:4-5, and note Eph 5:8). However, it is only at the end of this current Age that God will finally destroy the power of evil (Rom 16:20).

Ethical

As noted above, Paul occasionally draws upon the “two ways” tradition, usually expressing it in the “virtue/vice list” format known from Greco-Roman philosophy and also found frequently in other early Christian writings—cf. Rom 1:29-31; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-23, etc. Paul’s unique contribution is in his frequent contrast between “flesh” and “(the) Spirit”. Read carelessly, in a superficial manner, one might think that Paul is espousing a kind of metaphysical dualism, such as is known from certain Gnostic writings and teachings, whereby the good spiritual realm is contrasted with the evil material world. He is, perhaps, somewhat closer in thought to the anthropological dualism in some version of Greek ascetic philosophy. The key to Paul’s Spirit/Flesh contrast is found in a careful reading of Romans 5-7. The “flesh” (sa/rc) represents the aspect of the human soul (i.e. the human being or person) that is under bondage to the power of sin. Even after the believer in Christ is freed from this power, he/she is still prone to the old, habitual patterns of thought and behavior (i.e. the “flesh”, or the ‘impulse[s]’ of the flesh). Thus the believer must consciously allow him/herself to be guided by the (Holy) Spirit, rather than by the impulses of the flesh. In Galatians 5:19-23, Paul applies this Spirit/Flesh contrast to the “two ways” ethical tradition, describing the “works” (or “fruit”) of the flesh and the Spirit, respectively. His ethical instruction is summed up in verse 25: “If we live in/by the Spirit, we must also walk [lit. step in line] in/by the Spirit”. The Johannine idiom (cf. below) would be “walk in the light”, but it has much the same meaning.

Rather more difficult is Paul’s contrast between the Law and the Gospel, letter vs. Spirit, etc., which is perhaps best described as a kind of religious dualism, whereby the religious identity of believers in Christ (the new covenant) is contrasted with the old ethnic-religious identity of Israelites and Jews (the old covenant). Much of Paul’s writing and teaching on this point is rooted in the specific historical circumstances and background of the early Christian missionary work, but remains important for us to consider and study today. I have dealt with it extensively in the articles on Paul’s view of the Law in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

Perhaps the most dualistic portion of ethical teaching in the Pauline corpus is 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, which has many points of contact with the language and imagery of the Qumran texts. The precise relationship of this section with the surrounding material in 2 Corinthians remains a matter of considerable discussion and debate among commentators. It appears suddenly, and seems very much to interrupt the train of thought. Many scholars consider it to be an interpolation, or part of a composite document (i.e. portions of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence collected together). However, there has never been any convincing explanation as to how such a fragment came to be inserted between 2 Cor 6:13 and 7:2; nor, for that matter, as to just why Paul (as the author) would have ‘interrupted’ his address to include it as he does. It remains one of unexplained ‘mysteries’ of New Testament and Pauline studies. For more on this passage, see the current Saturday Series studies.

Johannine Dualism

There are three main themes or motifs by which a dualistic contrast is expressed in the Gospel and letters of John. So distinctive was the dualism of the Johannine writings that an earlier generation of scholars (prior to the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls) could theorize that these writings were influenced by a primitive form of Gnosticism, or by way of similar dualistic tendencies in Greco-Roman religion and philosophy. The Qumran texts have since made abundantly clear that commentators need not look further afield for the background of this dualism than to the Old Testament Scriptures and subsequent Jewish tradition (on this, cf. above). However, in at least two of three themes discussed here, very distinctive theological (and Christological) elements have been incorporated into the mode of expression. As in the Qumran texts, there is a blending of cosmological and ethical dualism.

Light/Darkness

The first theme is the contrast between light (fw=$) and darkness (skoti/a). It is a natural contrastive pairing, and can be found in many religious and philosophical traditions, including the Old Testament Scriptures—of the numerous passages, cf. Gen 1:4ff; Job 17:12; 29:3; 30:26; 38:19; Psalm 18:28; 112:4; 139:12; Eccl 2:13; Isa 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; 58:10; Mic 7:8; Dan 2:22; Matt 4:16; Lk 1:79. This dualistic motif is quite prominent at several points in the Gospel and Letters of John, and carries a theological (and Christological) meaning. In the Prologue of the Gospel (1:4-9), the pre-existent Christ (the Word) is the Light which shines into the darkness of the world (cf. below). Jesus applies the image to himself in the discourses—he is the light, and those who come to him are in the light, while those who do not remain in darkness (3:19-21; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46). Since he is the true, eternal light which shines in the darkness of the world, Jesus identifies himself as “the light of the world” (11:10), including in two famous “I am” declarations (8:12; 9:4-5). This is related to the Johannine motif of seeing (and not seeing, i.e. blindness, cf. chap. 9), along with the idea of revelation as bringing light, causing to shine, etc. On this, see the article “Knowledge and Revelation in the Gospel of John”.

An interesting detail in the Gospel narrative is the night-time setting of the Passion scene (the Last Supper and arrest/trial of Jesus). After Satan enters Judas and he departs from the disciples, the author states simply “…and it was night” (13:30). A similar description of Peter warming himself in the cold darkness occurs in 18:18. Again, when the women come to the tomb the morning after Jesus’ death (20:1), the setting is described as “it being still dark [skoti/a]”. These are basic narrative details of the Gospel, but in the Johannine context they almost certainly carry a deeper symbolism as well.

In the First Letter, this same light/darkness contrast occurs in two key passages—1:5-7 and 2:8-11. If we count the book of Revelation among the same Johannine writings, then we may have the motif in the vision of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21, where the very glory/splendor of God and the Lamb (Christ) gives continual light and “there will not be (any) night there” (vv. 23-25).

According to a common Gnostic way of understanding, Jesus brings knowledge and awareness to believers of their (true) identity as offspring of the Divine, eternal Light. This is similar to the teaching in John, only in the Gospel the emphasis is squarely on Christ as the light—believers come to the light, walk in the light, and come to be “sons/children of light”.

Above/Below

The second dualistic theme is spatial, drawing upon the ancient cosmological pairing of heaven and earth—heaven above, earth below. This conceptual framework had already been given a theological interpretation in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, which early Christians inherited; but in the Johannine discourses of Jesus, it has an even more distinctive Christological emphasis. The fundamental dualism is: God above, the World below. Christ comes from God, from above (a&nwqen), while the world is in darkness below (ka/tw). He has come down into the world, as light shining in the darkness (cf. above), one sent by God, come to show people (believers) the way out of darkness, back to the Father. The main passages illustrating this spatial dualism are: 3:13f, 31; 6:33, 38, 50-51, 58, 62; 8:23, (28); 10:17f; (12:32ff); 20:17. Those (believers) who come to Jesus and trust in him, are also born a&nwqen (“from above”, cf. 3:3ff), and thus are, or come to be, from above, just as he is; on the other hand, those who refuse to trust in him remain below (8:23, etc).

Closely related to the spatial motif is the specific idea of Jesus descending from the Father, and ascending back to Him. This is expressed through the use of the verbs katabai/nw (“step down”) and a)nabai/nw (“step up”). This ascent/descent theme is introduced in the description of the Baptism scene (1:32-33) and again with the vision of the Son of Man promised by Jesus in 1:51. In the discourses, these verbs are used in 3:13; 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58, 62; 10:1; 20:17. The verb a)nabai/nw is common in narration, used for a person “going up” (to Jerusalem, etc), but because of the special meaning elsewhere in John, it is possible that the references to Jesus “stepping up” to Jerusalem may carry a deeper significance (cf. especially in 7:8ff). In the great Last Discourse (chaps. 13-17), Jesus expresses the idea of his going away (back to the Father), and then coming again to his disciples—cf. throughout ch. 14, 16 and again in the prayer-discourse of chap. 17. His reason for coming to his disciples is to bring them with him back to the Father (14:1-4; 17:24, etc); at the same time, in Jesus’ absence, the Spirit comes to reside in and among believers—a ‘realized’ union with God the Father, prior to the (final) ascent with Jesus at the end-time.

The World

The term ko/smo$ (kósmos), usually translated “world”, refers to the visible universe, in the sense that it is “decorated”, but also in its apparent and structured “order”. Often, in the New Testament, it would be fair to render ko/smo$ as “world order“—i.e., how things are ordered and arranged. This can have a decidedly negative connotation, as a (dualistic) term set in contrast with God (his will, ways, Kingdom, etc). On this cosmological dualism, cf. above.

In the Gospel of John, ko/smo$ (“world”) occurs 78 times, with another 24 in the Letters—the 102 combined representing more than half of all occurrences in the NT (186). There are two main aspects to its usage in the Gospel: (a) in reference to Jesus coming into the world (i.e. the Incarnation, etc), and (b) as the domain of darkness, etc, which is hostile and opposed to the Light. Both of these aspects can be seen already in the Prologue:

    • “the light shines in the darkness
      …and the darkness did not take down (hold of) it” (1:5)
    • “he was the true light coming into [ei)$] the world…he was in [e)n] the world…
      …and the world did not know him” (1:9-10)

For the specific connection between the world (ko/smo$) and the light/darkness motif, cf. 3:19ff; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46. This aspect of opposition is found throughout the Gospel, though occasionally the word is used in the more general (neutral) sense, for humankind (and, specifically, believers), cf. 3:16-17; 6:33, etc. The “world” is associated with sin in 1:29 (cf. also 16:8, etc), but more commonly we find a direct contrast between Christ and the world. Jesus comes into the world bringing judgment and to testify against it (3:19; 7:7; 8:26; 9:39; 12:31, etc., but see also 3:17; 12:47); and, because he (the Light) shines into the darkness, the world, which loves the darkness, hates him (3:19; 7:7). Even more fundamental is the idea that the “world” can have no part of Christ, since he is not “of the world” (8:23ff).

As the death of Jesus approaches in the Gospel narrative, the motif of opposition and conflict with the world becomes more prominent, even drawing upon the more traditional dualism of God vs. Satan (the “ruler” of the world). This begins with the declaration in 12:31, and runs through the Last Discourse (chaps. 13-17), in which the word ko/smo$ occurs no less than 38 times. Jesus’ closing declaration in 16:33 provides a suitable parallel to that in 12:31:

    • “Now is the judgment of this world, now the chief (ruler) of this world will be cast out” (12:31)
    • “…have courage! I have been victorious (over) the world!” (16:33)

This harkens back to 1:5 in the Prologue and the ambiguity of the verb katalamba/nw, which means literally “take down”, but which, however, can be understood in several possible ways, in the sense of: (a) “bring down, overtake, overcome”, (b) “take down, grasp [with one’s mind]”, i.e. “understand, comprehend”, or (c) with kata/ as an intensive, “take/receive fully, eagerly”, etc. The statement in 1:5 thus can mean: (a) “the darkness did not overcome it”, (b) “the darkness did not understand/recognize it”, or (c) “the darkness did not receive it”. The immediate context of the passage suggests some combination of (b) and (c), but the theme of opposition which runs through the Gospel also makes (a) a possibility.

What is true of the conflict between Christ and the world, also applies to the Spirit, and to those who follow Christ (believers). These two points are important themes in the Last Discourse—cf. 14:17; 15:18ff; 16:8, 11, 20, 33. Especially significant is the emphasis on Christian identity—that believers, like Jesus, are not “of the world”. The preposition involved is e)k, literally “out of”, which can indicate one’s origin (being from), but also that to which one belongs (being of). The birth motif (3:3ff, and frequently in 1 John) uses the concrete sense of the preposition—i.e. born out of another. This specific theme is introduced in 15:19 and then becomes a major point of emphasis in the prayer-discourse of chapter 17. I have discussed this in earlier notes, as well as in Part 5 of this series.

Jesus’ final reference to the “world”, in the dialogue with Pilate, brings together both the dualistic contrast, as well as the theme of the believer’s identity as being “of God” (and not the world):

    • 18:36: “My kingdom is not of [e)k] this world…”
    • 18:37: “…I have come into the world that I might bear witness to the truth; everyone being [i.e. who is] of [e)k] the truth hears my voice”

In Gnostic thought, there is a similar negative sense of the “world”, but typically with a more pronounced metaphysical dualism (cf. above). In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls believers “out of” the world, in a manner similar to the role of Jesus as Savior in certain Gnostic systems. There can be no mistaking, however, the Christological emphasis in John—it is not that believers are “not of the world” because they are offspring of the divine Light, but because they belong to Christ.

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 1: “Gnosis” and related terms

This article will explore the usage of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis) and related terms in the New Testament. The survey will be divided as follows—

    • The verb ginw/skw
    • The noun gnw=si$
    • The Pauline usage
    • gnwri/zw and other terms
    • The Johannine usage

with certain verses discussed in more detail in separate notes.

The verb ginw/skw

The verb ginw/skw (ginœ¡skœ) has the basic meaning “(to) know”, generally corresponding to the Hebrew ud^y` (y¹da±). It often carries a very specific Christian (theological) sense in Paul’s letters, as well as in the Gospel and letters of John—which will be discussed in separate sections below. We can see something of this already taking shape in the early Christian tradition preserved in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts. Apart from generic use of the verb in the narrative context, the following passages and occurrences may be noted:

    • Mark 4:13; 8:17; 13:28f par—Jesus’ disciples are to know (that is, understand) the truth of his teaching “hidden” under the parables. This is emphasized especially in the saying in Matt 13:11 (par Lk 8:10):
      “To you [pl., i.e. the disciples] it has been given to know [gnw=nai] the secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those (others) it has not been given”
      This indicates that knowledge has been revealed specially to Jesus’ followers, but not to the rest of the people (indeed, to them it has been hidden). I have discussed this passage in an earlier note.
    • Mark 5:43; 7:24; 9:30; Matt 9:30; 12:15f; Lk 18:34, pars—Similarly, on a number of occasions, Jesus seeks to keep his presence, his miracles, and/or the truth of his identity, from being known to people at large. This is sometimes referred to as the “Messianic secret”, as it is emphasized, in particular, in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1:25, 34, 44; 3:12; 7:36; 8:30; 9:9, etc).
    • This idea is built upon in Luke-Acts, where the people do not recognize (know) Jesus, and even the disciples truly understand only after it has been revealed to them following the resurrection—Lk 18:34; 19:42, 44; 24:35, cf. also 2:43, 50; 9:45; 17:20-21; 18:34; 22:34, 67-69; 24:16, 31ff, and note also the usage in Acts 19:15. Related to this is the important motif of the disciples coming to understand who Jesus is from the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures (Lk 24:25-27, 32, 44-45f; Acts 8:30, etc).
    • The image of the disciples (believers) being known by Jesus and by God the Father (Matt 7:23; 12:33 par). With regard to the latter, early tradition draws upon the older concept of God knowing the heartLk 16:15; Acts 1:24; 15:8, cf. also Mk 2:8; 7:6 par; Matt 15:8; Lk 24:38. Jesus’ special knowledge regarding his followers takes on distinctive meaning in the Gospel of John (cf. below), but it is suggested also at many points in the Synoptics.
    • The reverse image, of believers knowing God and His will, is mentioned several times, though in rather conventional terms (Lk 12:46-48; Acts 22:14, etc). More significant is the idea of knowing God the Father as manifest in the person of Jesus. This is stressed frequently throughout the Gospel of John; less so in the Synoptics, but cf. especially the saying in Luke 10:22, which I discuss here in a separate study.

As far as the remainder of the New Testament writings, the significant occurrences of the verb are: Heb 3:10 (LXX); 10:34; and Rev 2:23-24. Especially worth noting is the citation of Jer 31:34 in Hebrews 8:11, since it gives expression to the distinctive Christian interpretation of the “new covenant”—that believers will be taught by God himself through the presence of the (Holy) Spirit.

The noun gnw=si$

The noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) is derived from the verb ginw/skw (above). Of the 29 occurrences of the noun in the New Testament, 23 are found in the Pauline letters (cf. below). Interestingly, though the verb is prominent in the Johannine writings, the noun gnw=si$ does not occur. If the Gospel and letters are combating some form of gnostic (or Gnostic) tendency, as many commentators suggest, the absence of this word could be intentional. Here is a brief summary of the relevant occurrences (the Pauline passages will be discussed in context further below):

    • Rom 2:20—the Old Testament Law (Torah) is said to contain “the shape/form of knowledge and truth”
    • Rom 11:33—”the deep(ness) of the wealth and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!”; this is part of the doxology that serves as the climax of chapters 9-11, drawn from Old Testament passages such as Isa 40:13 and Job 41:3(?) [cf. also Job 9:10; Ps 77:20; Prov 25:3]. I discuss this in a separate study.
    • Romans 15:14—Paul expresses confidence that the believers in Rome are “soaked (full) of goodness, having been filled with all knowledge, and able to bring things to mind (for) each other”. A similar idea is found in 1 Cor 1:5; 2 Cor 8:7; 11:6; almost certainly this knowledge is to be understood as something given to believers specially through the presence of the Spirit. It may also reflect the prophecy of the “new covenant” in Jer 31:34 (cf. Heb 8:11).
    • 1 Cor 8:1, 7, 10-11—Paul’s argument is based on the statement in v. 1, presumably reflecting the conviction of many in Corinth, that believers “all hold knowledge”. Again, this should be understood as a ‘gift’ of the Spirit for those in Christ. Paul, however, makes clear that knowledge (and the expression of it) should be guided by love (i.e. the ‘love command’).
    • 1 Cor 12:8—Here knowledge is specifically described as something given (as a favor/gift) by God through the presence and work of the Spirit in and among believers (cf. also 14:6). It is paired with wisdom (sofi/a).
    • 1 Cor 13:2, 8—Paul uses gnw=si$ is a comprehensive sense, comprising both ‘ordinary’ human knowledge and divine/spiritual secrets that have been revealed to Christians. All of which is far surpassed by, and subordinate to, the principle of love in Christ.
    • 2 Cor 2:14; 4:6—believers are given the knowledge of God through Christ, and, in turn, reflect the glory of God (and Christ); cf. 3:12-18. I discuss these two passages in separate studies.
    • 2 Cor 10:5—worldly attitudes and ‘wisdom’ are contrary to the knowledge of God (and Christ, i.e. the Gospel). This is parallel to the important line of argument Paul develops in 1 Cor 2-3 (cf. below).
    • Phil 3:8—again, the knowledge of Christ surpasses worldly/religious experience and status; this verse is also treated in a separate note.
    • Col 2:3—Christ is referred to as “the secret of God”, in whom “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away” (cf. the separate study). This verse stands between the important Christological section in 1:9-19, the summary of the Gospel in vv. 23-29, and the section 2:8-18ff where Paul contrasts the knowledge believers have in Christ with worldly/religious thinking (cf. also 1 Tim 6:20).
    • Eph 3:19—Here it is said that the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge (cf. 1 Cor 13, etc).
    • 2 Pet 1:5-6—Knowledge is treated as a spiritual virtue/characteristic of believers (cf. 2 Cor 6:6).
    • 2 Pet 3:18—Believers are called to “grow in (the) favor and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Yeshua (the) Anointed”.

The Pauline Usage

In addition to the noun gnw=si$ (cf. above), the verb ginw/skw occurs frequently in the Pauline letters, usually with a definite theological and/or ethical sense. The significant occurrences may be outlined as follows:

Knowing God and his will

    • Rom 1:21: context of “natural revelation”—i.e., knowing something of God’s nature and character from what is manifest in creation (cf. the use of noe/w in v. 20)
    • Rom 2:18: context of God’s will as expressed in the Old Testament Law (Torah) (cf. 7:1)
    • Rom 3:17: part of a sequence of Scripture citations (Isa 59:7-8 etc) indicating that human beings, under the power of sin, are unable to know and understand God properly (cf. also 7:7, 15, including the idea that one comes to know/recognize sin as such through the Law); for more on “knowing” sin, cf. 2 Cor 5:21 (with regard to Jesus)
    • Rom 11:34 (Isa 40:13): the inability of created human beings to know/understand the mind (nou=$) of God; cf. 1 Cor 2:16
    • 1 Cor 1:21: the world did not (was not able to) know God through its (own) wisdom and/or as part of God’s own wisdom (cf. Rom 1:21); I have discussed this verse in an earlier note
    • Gal 4:9: the two-fold aspect of knowing—believers knowing God, and being known by Him (cf. the study on 1 Cor 13:12)

Knowing, specifically in the sense of recognizing/accepting Christ (the Gospel)

Knowing God through the presence/work of Christ and the Spirit

The specific idea of knowing Christ
    • Phil 3:10 (cf. v. 8)
    • Eph 3:19: knowing the love of Christ (which surpasses all knowledge)

God knowing the hearts/minds of human beings (and his people)

    • 1 Cor 3:20 (Ps 94:11); cf. also 2 Tim 2:19 (Num 16:5?)
    • 1 Cor 8:3: connected to the love of believers for God/Christ (and each other)
    • 1 Cor 14:7, 9: knowing in terms of understanding what is said/spoken among believers through the Spirit (importance of order and proper exercise of spiritual gifts)
    • Gal 4:9: being known by God, with the implied sense of election/predestination

Believers’ faith, attitude and behavior being known (to Paul and others, etc)

Knowing another person (believer), in terms of Christ, Christian love, and/or the Spirit

For more on Paul’s use of other, related terms, see the next section below.

The verb gnwri/zw and other terms

The related verb gnwri/zw (gnœrízœ, “make known”) is occasionally used in reference to God’s manifesting or revealing himself (“making himself known”), closely connected with the idea of the proclamation of the Gospel. Of the 25 occurrences in the New Testament, 18 are in the Pauline letters. It is often used by Paul as a rhetorical phrase to place emphasis on a specific point of teaching or instruction—”let it be known to you, I make known to you, etc” (1 Cor 15:1; 2 Cor 8:1, etc). More substantially, it is used of God in two basic senses:

    1. God making known his nature, character, power, etc to human beings or in creation—Rom 9:22-23; also Eph 1:9
    2. God making himself known in the person of Christ and the Gospel, which has been kept hidden until now—Rom 16:26; Col 1:27; also Eph 1:9; 3:5. Specifically it is referred to as a “secret” revealed to Paul (Eph 3:3; 6:19), manifest further, through believers, to the heavenly ‘rulers’ (Eph 3:10)

Outside of the Pauline writings, the verb is found in Luke 2:15, 17; John 15:15; 17:26; Acts 2:28 (citing Ps 16:11); and 2 Pet 1:16. There are several important compound forms of ginw/skw and gnwri/zw which are used on occasion:

e)piginw/skw (with the derived noun e)pi/gnwsi$)

The verb e)piginw/skw essentially means to have knowledge about [lit. upon, e)pi] (someone or something). It can be used in the sense of (a) gaining knowledge, (b) recognition, understanding, or acknowledgement, or (c) having thorough or intimate knowledge. The verb is used with some frequency in the New Testament, often in the context of recognizing Christ—Matt 11:27 par (cf. the earlier note); 14:35; 17:12; Mk 6:33, 54; Lk 24:16, 31; cf. also Lk 7:37. On occasion, we also read of Jesus (and others) gaining knowledge of someone’s thoughts, or other ‘hidden’ information (Mk 2:8; 5:30; Lk 5:22). The idea of knowing and/or acknowledging the truth of the Gospel and Christian teaching is expressed in Lk 1:4 and 2 Pet 2:21, and frequently in the use of the noun e)pi/gnwsi$. The verb occurs 12 times in the Pauline letters, and the noun 15 of the 20 instances in the New Testament; this usage may be summarized:

    • Rom 1:32—knowledge of the Law of God (especially in the ethical/moral aspect)
    • 1 Cor 13:12—to know God fully (at the end time), even as believers are fully known by him (cf. the study on this verse)
    • 1 Cor 14:37—to know/recognize the inspired/authoritative character of (Paul’s) apostolic instruction (cf. 2 Cor 1:13)
    • 1 Cor 16:18—believers are to acknowledge/recognize those who minister in Christ faithfully (cf. 2 Cor 1:14, also 6:9)
    • 2 Cor 13:5—believers should (be able to) recognize the presence of Christ in/among them
    • Col 1:6—believers recognize the grace/favor of God shown to them
    • [1 Tim 4:3—believers characterized as those with knowledge of the truth]

The Noun—

Elsewhere, the noun occurs four times in 2 Peter (1:2-3, 8; 2:20), always referring to believers’ knowledge of God and Christ.

noe/w

The verb noe/w (noéœ) means to have (something) in one’s mind [nou=$], often in the sense of perceiving, comprehending, or understanding. It is used 14 times in the New Testament, including five important occurrences in the Pauline letters (but apart from Rom 1:20 [cf. above], only in the disputed letters):

    • Eph 3:4—Paul’s insight/understanding (along with the noun sunesi$) of the “secret” of God; cf. also 3:20
    • 2 Tim 2:7—believers given understanding from God/Christ (cf. 1 Tim 1:7)

In Hebrews 11:3, it is connected specifically with the faith/trust (pi/sti$) of believers. The verb a)gnoe/w indicates the opposite, i.e. being without knowledge. It is used specifically by Paul (16 of 22 occurrences in the NT), often as a rhetorical phrase:”do you not know”, “I do not want you to be ignorant (of)…” More substantive (theological) use is found in Rom 10:3; 1 Cor 14:38.

suni/hmi and su/nesi$

The verb suni/hmi means to bring (things) together [sun], i.e. in one’s mind. It likewise refers to someone perceiving and understanding (or his/her failure to do so); in the Gospels it relates to the people’s response to the things Jesus said and did (Mk 4:12 par [LXX]; 7:14; 8:17, 21 pars; Lk 18:34; 24:45, etc). The related noun su/nesi$ is more common in Paul’s writings, in a specifically Christian sense, though, apart from 1 Cor 1:19 (citing Isa 29:14), only in the disputed letters: Col 1:9; 2:2 (rel. to the knowledge of Christ as God’s “secret”); Eph 3:4 (the “secret” of Christ); 2 Tim 2:7. The verb is used in Rom 3:11; 15:21 (both citing Scripture), and in 2 Cor 10:12 and Eph 5:17. The verb sunei/dw (su/noida) has a similar meaning (“see [things] together”), but is rare in the New Testament (the noun sunei/dhsi$ being much more common). However, frequently knowledge is described in terms of sight and seeing, the Greek language coming to use forms of the verb ei&dw (oi@da) interchangeably with ginw/skw; this will be discussed in an upcoming article (Part 3, on Revelation).

e)pi/stamai

The verb e)pi/stamai literally means “stand upon”, usually in the sense of “set (one’s mind) upon”, and thus come to know and understand something, i.e. specifically to know something well. It is typically used in an ordinary sense in the New Testament (narrative); but note Heb 11:8; Jude 10, and the Pauline 1 Tim 6:4.

The Johannine Usage

The verb ginw/skw is used most frequently in the Johannine writings: 57 times in the Gospel, 25 in the first letter, and once again in the second letter—83 in all, with the Gospel and first letter accounting for more than a third of all occurrences in the New Testament. The related noun gnw=si$, so important in Paul’s letters, and in much of early Christian thought and expression, does not appear in the Johannine writings at all (on this, cf. above). On “knowledge” in the Johannine writings, this is discussed in more detail in a separate article and supplemental note.

It may also be significant that a number of the other compound or related words discussed above likewise occur only rarely (or not at all) in the Johannine writings. For example, e)piginw/skw (and the related noun e)pi/gnwsi$) does not appear, nor does suni/hmi (and su/nesi$), etc; the verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) occurs only three times, though these instances are important (Jn 15:15; 17:26 [twice]). All of this is surely due, in large part, to the relatively simple (and repetitive) vocabulary used in both the Gospel and the letters—the basic verb ginw/skw (“know”) serves to cover virtually the entire semantic range. In the case of the Gospel, of course, it is impossible to separate such usage from the complicated question of the relationship between the developed discourses of Jesus in John, and the generally simpler sayings, parables, and discourses in the Synoptics. The consistent vocabulary could reflect the original (Aramaic) of Jesus himself, or a layer of interpretive translation and editing by John (and/or the Johannine writer[s]). Given the close similarity between the language of the Gospel and the letters (esp. 1 John), the latter seems far more likely.

Supplementing the verb ginw/skw is the important use of verbs related to sight and hearing. Jesus in the Johannine sayings and discourses, repeatedly connects knowledge with seeing and hearing the Son, who, in turn, is faithfully presenting what he has seen and heard from the Father. This is a vital aspect of Johannine portrait of Jesus—the theology (and Christology) expressed in these writings—and will be addressed in detail, and with considerable care, through the articles in this series.