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.

August 22: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

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

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 20: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 1:21]

1 Corinthians 1:23-24

“…but we proclaim (the) Anointed (One) put to the stake—for the Yehudeans {Jews}, something (which) trips (them up), and for the nations [v.l. Greeks] (some)thing stupid; but for the ones called (by God), Yehudeans {Jews} and Greeks (both), (it is the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God…”

In verse 22, Paul has expanded upon the declaration of v. 21 (cf. the prior note) by introducing the distinction, frequent in his letters, between Jews and Greeks (or the “nations”, i.e. non-Jews, Gentiles):

“the Yehudeans {Jews} ask (for) a sign, and the Greeks seek (after) wisdom…”

We can see how this parallel plays out in verses 23-24:

    • Israelites/Jews
      • ask for a sign [shmei=on]
        • the proclamation of the cross is
          • something which trips (them) up [ska/ndalon]
    • Greeks/Nations
      • seek after wisdom
        • the proclamation of the cross is
          • something stupid/foolish [mwri/a]

Here the “sign” (shmei=on) for Jews probably should be understood in relation to their Messianic expectations. As in much eschatological thinking, the coming of the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) and the end-time Judgment by God would be marked by various signs, from the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies to various natural phenomena, as well as the appearance of certain figures in history (coinciding with specific historical events). For the use of shmei=on in this context in the New Testament, cf. Mark 13:4, 22 (par Matt 24:3, 24, 30; Lk 21:7, 11, 25); John 6:14; Rev 12:1, 3. On several occasions in the Gospels, people ask Jesus for a sign to demonstrate that he is one chosen by God (as a Prophet, etc), probably also in a specific Messianic sense—Mark 8:11-12 par; Lk 11:16, 29-30 par; 23:8; John 2:18; 6:30 [cf. verse 14]; 12:18 (for more on this subject, cf. my series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Often by shmei=on is meant specifically a miraculous or supernatural event. In this regard, it is interesting that Paul himself refers to a demonstration of (God’s) power as ‘proof’ of the Spirit working/speaking through him (1 Cor 1:24; 4:19-20; 2 Cor 13:3-4).

The “sign”—that Jesus, a crucified man, is actually the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ)—turns out to be a ska/ndalon for Jews, something that “trips them up” (in a figurative sense). That Jews found the identification of Jesus as the Messiah highly problematic is clear enough from the many references in the book of Acts where the apostles and other early missionaries take pains to proclaim and demonstrate this fact (from the Scriptures)—cf. Acts 2:36; 3:18, 20; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:23, and also earlier in the Lukan Gospel (Lk 24:26-27, 44-47). In Paul’s line of argument, this Jewish dynamic (sign vs. ‘stumbling-block’) is parallel to the (main) contrast between wisdom (sofi/a) and “stupidity” (mwri/a). For non-Jews (Greeks/Gentiles), unfamiliar with the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the veneration of a man put to death by crucifixion was simply absurd. Such a death, nailed to the stake (cross), was an agonizing and humiliating punishment, reserved for slaves and the lower classes, as well as for rebels and traitors against the state, and was often inflicted to make a particularly public example of such criminals. Paul, of course, was fully aware of the shameful stigma attached to crucifixion and makes powerful use of the fact, for example, in Galatians 3:10-14.

In verse 24, Paul neatly ties together both strands of his comparison:

“but for the (one)s called (by God), Jews and Greeks (both)…”

This summarizes one his most cherished theological points: that for believers in Christ, the ethnic/religious distinction of Jew vs. non-Jew has been completely eliminated. The doctrine is at the core of his letters to the Galatians and the Romans, especially; though the formula expressed in Gal 3:28, 1 Cor 12:13, and Col 2:12 (with its baptismal context) may have existed earlier. Perhaps the clearest Pauline statement to this effect is found in Ephesians 2:11-22. The second half of v. 24 also expresses a kind of union:

“…the Anointed {Christ} (is the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God”

There are two ways to consider this joining of expressions:

1. “power of God” (du/nami$ tou= qeou=) relates to the Jewish strand, while “wisdom of God” (sofi/a tou= qeou=) relates to the Greek strand. The latter point seems clear enough. And, if we understand the “sign” in v. 23 in terms of a supernatural manifestation of God in the person of the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), according to Jewish expectation, then the identification fits here as well. From a Christian standpoint the “power of God” is manifest primarily in two respects:

    • In the resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, which, in turn, relates to his death (crucifixion) in two ways:
      (a) It defeats/overcomes the power of death, preserving the life of Jesus
      (b) It makes right again (justifies/vindicates) the injustice of Jesus’ suffering and death
    • In the power of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) to effect salvation for those who trust in him. This relates to Paul’s idea of believers being “in Christ” (and Christ in the believer), with the symbolic/spiritual participation of the believer in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

2. The “power of God” and “wisdom of God” are two aspects of the Gospel message which are summed up in the person of Christ. In Romans 1:16, the Gospel (“good message”, eu)agge/lion) is called “the power of God unto salvation [du/nami$ qeou= ei)$ swthri/on]”. The essential identification of the Gospel with the wisdom of God has already been made here in 1 Corinthians, and continues as a central theme of 1:18-2:16. The terms power (du/nami$) and wisdom (sofi/a) are both associated with the Gospel in various ways in this passage.

The force of the declaration in verse 24b should not be missed—it is not the Gospel (or account/proclamation) per se which is the power and wisdom for believers, but Christ himself. This helps to explain Paul’s statement in v. 17, that to rely upon human wisdom in the communication of the Gospel (i.e. how the message is delivered) effectively risks “emptying” the content (and power) of the message—it shifts attention away from the central point of the message: the person of Jesus, who he is, and what God has done for humankind through him. And it is Jesus’ death (by crucifixion) which is the most difficult and challenging part of this message. It may be somewhat hard for us to recognize this last point today, so far removed from the historical and cultural context of crucifixion, and so familiar with the idea of Jesus’ death on the cross; but in Paul’s day, so close in time to the events, and influenced by the vital Messianic and eschatological expectations of the period, it has a very special significance. A Messiah who would be put to death (especially a death by crucifixion) was totally foreign to Jewish thought, as is clear enough from the evidence in the Gospels (and the book of Acts) and contemporary Jewish writings (I have discussed this in my series “Yeshua the Anointed”, cf. the supplemental article on the suffering and death of the Messiah). This meant that, for Christians, Jesus was (and had to be) understood as a very different kind of Savior/Redeemer figure: one who delivered people from bondage (to sin and evil) at a spiritual level, through his sacrificial and atoning death on the cross.

August 18: 1 Corinthians 1:18

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

1 Corinthians 1:18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each group is identified by a verbal participle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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