Notes on Prayer: Colossians 1:3; 4:2-3, etc

We conclude our series of studies on the references to prayer in the Pauline letters with a survey of the remaining letters—beginning with Philemon and Colossians, and then turning to consider the references in the disputed letters of Ephesians and 1 Timothy.

Philemon 4-6, 22

The letter to Philemon was, of course, written to an individual rather to the collective believers of a city or territory. Even so, the references to prayer follow the same pattern of the other letters addressed to congregations. The references occur in the introduction (thanksgiving) and closing (exhortation) sections of the letter-body, and are framed specifically in terms of the relationship between Paul and his audience. The prayer references in the thanksgiving (vv. 4-7) could have easily been lifted right out of one of the other Pauline letters.

“I give thanks to my God for (His) good favor, always making mention of you in my (time)s of speaking out toward (Him) [proseuxai/], hearing of your love and trust which you hold toward the Lord Yeshua and (directed) to all the holy (one)s, so that the communication of your trust might come to be working in (the) knowledge about every good (thing) that (is) in you for (the sake of the) Anointed…” (vv. 4-6)

Several of the features here we have seen repeatedly:

    • Paul refers to making mention of the believers (here, Philemon) to God regularly during his times in prayer
    • He gives thanks because of their faithfulness in response to the Gospel (as it has been reported to him)—trusting in Jesus, demonstrating love, growing in faith and virtue and understanding
    • He expresses the wish that they continue to remain faithful

But Paul’s prayers are only one side of the relationship that he holds (as an apostle) with the congregations—they are also asked to pray for him. And so Paul would request this of Philemon as well, just as he does at the close of the letter:

“…but also make ready for me a place (of lodging) for the stranger, for I hope that, through your speaking out toward (God) [proseuxai/], I shall be given to you as a favor (from God).” (v. 22)

The middle-passive verb xari/zomai means “show favor, give (something) as a favor”; in the passive, it refers to the gift or favor itself. It is related to the verb eu)xariste/w in v. 4, which, in a religious context, refers to the favor shown by God, and the gratitude or thanks that we show to Him (in response) for this favor. Here, the favor God will show, through the cooperation of Philemon in his prayers, is to allow Paul the opportunity to visit him.

Colossians 1:3, 9

The prayer references in Colossians follow the same Pauline pattern. The first references occur in the introduction (exordium), which may be divided into two sections—the first containing the thanksgiving (1:3-8), and the second, Paul’s exhortational prayer-wish for the Colossian believers (1:9-14). The opening reference to prayer in the thanksgiving (v. 3) is virtually identical to the statement in Philemon 4 (cf. above). Notably, the statement in Colossians is given in the first-person plural: “We give thanks to God for (His) good favor…always over you, speaking out toward (Him) [proseuxo/menoi]”. In Colossians, Paul gives particular emphasis to his co-workers and fellow missionaries, and so the plural here is significant (cf. verse 7, and further below).

As is typical for Paul, his thanksgiving effectively takes the form of praise for the faithfulness of the believers he is addressing. Specific mention is made of their trust and love, remaining firm in the truth of the Gospel (vv. 4-5), as also of their growth in virtue and understanding (vv. 6-7), and of unity in the Spirit.

The second prayer-reference in the introduction, correspondingly, comes at the opening of the exhortational prayer-wish in vv. 9ff:

“Through [i.e. because of] this we also, from the day on which we heard (this), do not cease speaking out toward (God) [proseuxo/menoi] over you…” (v. 9a)

Paul’s wish (as a prayer to God) is for the Colossians to continue in faith and virtue, growing further in spiritual knowledge and understanding, etc.:

“…and asking (Him) that you would be filled (with) the knowledge about His will, in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v. 9b)

The remainder of the prayer-wish—also to be characterized as an intercessory request—is phrased in the typical manner of early Christian ethical instruction and exhortation, of which there certainly are a number of Pauline examples:

“…(for you) to walk about (in a manner) up to a level (worthy) of the Lord, into everything (that is) pleasing (to Him), bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of God, being (em)powered in all power, according to the might of His splendor…” (vv. 10-11a)

Also typical of Paul, is the eschatological aspect of this exhortation—a theme that is developed throughout the letter—but nuanced here with a strong dualistic Christological emphasis:

“…(the Father), (hav)ing made us fit for the portion of the lot of the holy (one)s in the light, (and) who rescued us out of the power [e)cousi/a] of darkness and made (us) stand over into the kingdom of His (be)loved Son—in whom we hold the loosing from (bondage), the putting away of sins” (vv. 12-14)

On the Christological hymn (‘Christ hymn’) that follows in vv. 15-20, cf. my earlier series of notes.

Colossians 4:2-3, 12

The Pauline pattern continues with the prayer-references in the closing (exhortation) section of the letter (4:2-6). Typically, in these sections Paul emphasizes the other side of the prayer relationship between himself and the congregations—namely, that they should regularly be praying for him. He leads into this with a general exhortation for the Colossians to remain firm in prayer:

“In speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/], you must be firm toward (it), keeping awake in it with thanks for (His) good favor” (v. 2)

The verb proskartere/w (“be firm/strong toward [something]”) is a key word characterizing the unity of believers in the early chapters of Acts (1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4; 8:13; 10:7). Paul also uses it in Romans (12:12; 13:6), and the prayer context of its use in 12:12 is comparable to what we find here. The noun eu)xaristi/a corresponds to the related verb eu)xariste/w in 1:3 (cf. above), emphasizing again the relationship between prayer and the favor God shows to us. As Paul makes clear, there are two aspects to this relationship: (1) we give thanks for the favor God has shown, and (2) we ask that He will continue to show us favor, and that we will act in a manner that is worthy of His favor.

The prayer-emphasis shifts in verse 3:

“…at the same time, also speaking out toward (God) over us, that God would open up for us a door for the account [lo/go$], to speak the secret [musth/rion] of the Anointed, through which I have been bound”

The prayers believers are to make on his behalf typically relate specifically to his missionary work, defined in terms of preaching the Gospel. Here, two key terms are used, in a technical sense, for the Gospel:

    • lo/go$, “account,” that is, a spoken account, shorthand for the expression the “account of God” (Acts 4:31; 6:2, et al)—viz., the account of what God has done through the person of Jesus.
    • musth/rion, “secret” —on this usage, cf. the recent discussion on Rom 16:25-26, as well as my earlier word study series. The Gospel of Christ is a “secret,” hidden throughout all the ages past, and revealed only now, at the present time, through the kerygma (proclamation) by the prophets and apostles of the early Christian mission.

This is a regular theme in Paul’s prayer-references—that believers work together with him (and his fellow missionaries), through their prayers. We have seen repeatedly in our studies the importance of praying for the needs of others, rather than simply for our own needs. It is a key New Testament principle that such selfless and sacrificial prayer is assured of being answered by God.

As in the introduction (cf. above), Paul uses the first-person plural. Sometimes he does this in his letters as a rhetorical device, but here he is specifically including his fellow missionaries and co-workers with him. In the closing that follows in vv. 7-17, Paul mentions ten different persons, among them Epaphras in vv. 12-13. He was mentioned earlier in 1:7, and also in Philemon 23 (both in the context of the prayer-references, cf. above). Epaphras apparently was an apostolic missionary in his own right, and one who would have had much more frequent contact with the congregations of the region. Paul refers to him much as he does to himself, as a “slave” (dou=lo$) of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1). In 1:7 the word is su/ndoulo$ (“slave together with [me/us]”), while in Philem 23 he is called “one taken captive [lit. at spearpoint] together with (me)” (sunaixma/lwto$), i.e. “co-prisoner, fellow prisoner”.

Like Paul, Epaphras’ role as an apostolic missionary led him to pray frequently (and fervently) for the believers of that area. Paul describes this here in v. 12 as “struggling over you in his speaking out toward (G0d) [proseuxai/]”. The verb is a)gwni/zomai (“struggle”), used, viz., in athletic competitions; it is something of a Pauline term, as 6 of the 8 NT occurrences are in the Pauline letters (elsewhere, 1 Cor 9:25; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). The occurrences of the substantive (verbal noun), a)gw/n, used in a similar context, should also be noted—1 Thess 2:2; Phil 1:30; Col 2:1; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7. In Paul’s usage, the verb alludes to believers (esp. missionaries) laboring—and enduring suffering—for the sake of the Gospel.

 

 

 

Notes on Prayer: Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Notes on Prayer: Romans 8:26-27; 10:1; 12:12

In our survey of the references to prayer in the Pauline letters, there are three remaining references in Romans to be considered briefly:

    • Romans 8:26-27
    • Romans 10:1
    • Romans 12:12

Romans 8:26-27

“And even so, the Spirit also takes hold opposite together with (us), in our lack of strength; for th(at for) wh(ich) we should speak out toward (God), according to (what) is necessary, we have not seen [i.e. we do not know], but the Spirit it(self) hits on it over (us), with speechless groanings; and the (One) searching the hearts has seen [i.e. knows] what the mind(-set) of the Spirit (is), (in) that [i.e. because] he hits upon it over (the) holy (one)s according to God.”

Paul’s syntax is a bit tricky to translate literally, but I have attempted to do so above, as cumbersome as it might seem in modern English. I have provided exegetical notes, along with an examination of the passage within the overall context of Romans, in an earlier study, which you should consult. This is one of the key Pauline passages on prayer, and the aforementioned study discusses it in detail.

Romans 10:1

“Brothers, the good consideration of my heart, and (my) need [de/hsi$] (expressed) toward God over them, (is) for (their) salvation”

This verse marks the beginning of chapter 10, which is at the midpoint of chapters 9-11. These famous chapters, which I discuss in the earlier series “Paul’s View of the Law” and “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, need to be understood within the overall framework of the letter. In some ways there is a parallel between chapters 9-11 and 2-4; certainly there is an interesting symmetry and balance of presentation:

    • Rom 2-4—addressed primarily to Jews, emphasizing that Gentiles are on an equal footing before God with regard to both judgment and salvation
    • Rom 9-11—addressed primarily to Gentiles, emphasizing the (future) salvation of Israelites/Jews and their inclusion into the body of Christ

In between (Rom 5-8) Paul presents a kind of “salvation history”, an exposition of the Gospel message for all human beings—Jews and Gentiles alike. Chapters 9-11 actually have the character of a personal appeal or confession—indeed, this characterizes each of the sections (matching the numbered chapters):

The opening verses of each section, with their personal and moving tone, lead into a presentation of arguments. The main issue at hand is how the Israelite/Jewish people relate to the new Christian identity. As a missionary and representative (apostle) of Christ, Paul saw how many of his fellow Israelites and Jews had been unwilling to accept the Gospel, some even being openly hostile to his missionary work (as narrated repeatedly in the book of Acts, cf. also 1 Thess 2:14-16, etc). Even Jewish believers could be opposed to his presentation of the Gospel, especially his unique view of the Law and his missionary approach to the Gentiles, as seen in Acts 15:1ff and throughout Galatians. At some level, this must have been traumatic for Paul, and difficult to understand—how could so many of God’s elect people, Israel, fail to trust in Christ? While he never really addresses this directly in his other surviving letters, it is clear that he had thought about it a good deal. The result is the wonderful, if somewhat enigmatic, exposition in Romans 9-11.

Chapter 10 is the second of the three main sections; it may be outlined as follows:

    • Rom 10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)
    • Rom 10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.
    • Rom 10:14-21—Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:

As noted above, each of the chapters begins with a personal address by Paul. In chapter 10, the theme of the personal address (vv. 1-4) is: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4). The reference to prayer in verse 1 thus must be understood within this context. Paul expresses his heartfelt desire that his fellow Israelites and Jews would trust in Christ and be saved:

“(my) need (expressed) [de/hsi$] toward God over them (is) for (their) salvation” (v. 1b).

The noun de/hsi$ is something of a Pauline term; of the 18 New Testament occurrences, 12 are in the Pauline letters, including including 7 in the undisputed letters—in addition to its use here, it also occurs in 2 Cor 1:11; 9:14; Phil 1:4 [twice], 19; 4:6. The related verb de/omai is also used in Rom 1:10; 2 Cor 5:20; 8:4; 10:2; Gal 4:12; 1 Thess 3:10. The fundamental meaning of the verb is to be in need; in the context of prayer to God, it denotes making one’s need known (to God). The noun has a similar meaning, as it is used here, for example. It is a need for Paul because it is a burden on his heart, and so he expresses it to God.

In verses 2-3 he offers his diagnosis regarding Israel’s current situation:

“For I witness regarding them that they hold a fervent desire of God, but not according to (true) knowledge upon (Him); for, lacking knowledge of the justice/righteousness of God, and seeking to stand (up) th(eir) own [justice/righteousness], they did not put themselves (in order) under the justice/righteousness of God.”

Then follows, by way of contrast, the famous statement in verse 4, functioning as a concise (and controversial) summary of the Gospel:

“For (the) Anointed (One) is (the) completion [te/lo$] of the Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at) is trusting.”

For more on this verse, cf. my earlier note. Salvation is to be found, not through observing the Torah regulations, but through trust in Christ. His desire is for Israel to be saved, and he believes that this will yet take place, however unlikely it may seem from his current vantage point. Chapters 9-11 represent a complex and powerful treatise on Israel’s ultimate conversion within the framework of early Christian eschatology (cf. the article in the earlier series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament). Paul’s thoughts on this subject also relate to his current missionary efforts, which include his journey to Jerusalem with the “collection for the saints”, which, in his mind, symbolized the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers. Chapters 9-11, including his prayer-wish in 10:1, also reflect this same hope for unity.

Romans 12:12

“…rejoicing in hope, remaining under in distress, being strong toward speaking out toward (God)”

Chapters 12-15 comprise a new section in Romans, in which Paul offers a range of ethical and practical instruction. If the theme of justification (i.e., being made right before God) by faith is a central theme of the letter in the earlier chapters, then chaps. 12-15 could be described as “a paraenetic development of the consequences of justification” (Fitzmyer, p. 637), illustrating how the justified believer should live. The basis of this instruction is found in the opening verses—the declaration in verse 1 that believers are to present their bodies as “living sacrifices” to God, followed by the directive in verse 2:

“and do not be conformed to the (pattern of) this Age, but be changed in form [i.e. transformed] by the renewing of the mind, unto the considering (acceptable) by you what the wish of God (is)—the good and well-pleasing and complete (thing).”

Justification leads to the transformation of the believer—a change in his/her entire way of thinking and acting; only this requires a certain willingness of the believer to be guided by the Spirit, as well as by the teaching and example of Jesus (embodied in the love principle). In verses 3-8, Paul goes on to emphasize the extent to which this new way of life takes place with the community of believers. In Romans, no less than in the Corinthian letters, Paul strongly emphasizes the ideal of the unity of believers.

This brings us to the instruction in verses 9-21, which, indeed, begins with the love principle (v. 9, cf. 13:8-10). This entire paraenesis follows a distinctive syntactical pattern, with an object noun (or phrase) in the dative followed by a participle that possesses the force of an imperative. This chain of habitual actions and attributes begins with the injunction in verse 9:

“…hating (thoroughly) the evil, (and) being joined [lit. glued] to the good”

The dualistic command has its roots in Old Testament tradition (Amos 5:15; Psalm 97:10), and was developed as an ethical principle within Judaism (e.g., 1QS 1:4-5); Paul’s wording resembles that in Testament of Benjamin 8:1 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 653). The chain of injunctions that follows, utilizing the same grammatical pattern, illustrates what it means to “hate the evil and be joined to the good”. Prayer is just one of these attributes for believers, albeit an important one:

“…being strong/firm toward speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/]” (v. 12)

The verb proskartere/w, which I translate literally above as “be strong/firm toward (something),” occurs primarily in the book of Acts where it functions as a key term expressing the unity of the early believers in Jerusalem (1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4; 8:13). Paul uses it again in Rom 13:6, and in Col 4:2 it is used in virtually the same context as here (emphasizing the importance of being devoted to prayer). This verb signifies the active nature of believers’ prayers—the strength/firmness reflecting both their faith and devotion to God, but also their commitment to Christian unity (cf. above), since prayer is made over the needs of others as much as (or more than) it is made for one’s own needs. Certainly also implied is the idea of continual prayer, that believers are constantly engaged in prayer to God, which elsewhere Paul expresses by the adverb a)dialei/ptw$ (“without [any] gap [i.e. interruption],” cf. 1:9; 1 Thess 1:2; 5:17).

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 33 (Doubleday / Yale: 1993).

Notes on Prayer: Romans 1:8-10; 15:30-33

Romans 1:8-10; 15:30-33

In these studies on the references to prayer in the Pauline letters, we turn now to the letter to the Romans, that veritable compendium of Paul’s theology and teaching, in which he touches on virtually every important area of early Christian thought.

By contrast with Galatians (cf. the previous study), Romans follows the epistolary pattern of the Pauline letters, with positive references to prayer, occurring primarily in the introduction (thanksgiving) and closing exhortation sections. As we have seen, such references tend to emphasize two important aspects of Paul’s relationship to the congregations to which he is writing: (1) he prays for them, that they will continue growing in faith and virtue, in response to the Gospel; and (2) that they would pray for him, that he would be strengthened and continue to find success in his mission of proclaiming the Gospel.

Romans 1:8-10

The introduction (exordium) sections of Paul’s letters typically contain a thanksgiving portion, in which he publicly mentions giving thanks to God on behalf of his audience (in this case, the Christians in Rome). The situation in Romans is somewhat different, in that Paul did not play a key missionary (apostolic) role in founding the Christian congregations there. Even so, he addresses them in the thanksgiving section much as he does in the other letters:

“First, I give (thanks) to my God for (His) good favor, through Yeshua (the) Anointed, over all of you, that the news (of) your trust is given (all) around in the whole world.” (v. 8)

The positive prayer-references in the thanksgiving sections tend to be expressed in terms of praise for the faithfulness of his readers, with such praise being intended, in large part, to encourage them to continue acting and behaving in a faithful manner. Also typical is a statement by Paul that he repeatedly makes mention of the believers (and congregations), to whom he is writing, in his prayers to God:

“For God is my witness, to whom I perform service in my spirit in (proclaiming) the good message of His Son, how, without any interruption [a)dialei/ptw$], I make mention of you always, upon [i.e. at/during] my (time)s of speaking out toward (God)” (v. 9)

The noun proseuxh/ is, of course, the common noun for prayer (rel. to the verb proseu/xomai, “speak out toward [God]”), while the adverb a)dialei/ptw$ (“without any gap throughout”, i.e., without interruption, without ceasing) was used by Paul, in a similar context, in 1 Thessalonians (1:2; 2:13; 5:17). The focus of Paul’s prayers regarding the Roman Christians is unique, and reflects the fact that he was not a founding missionary (apostle) of those congregations. As verse 10 makes clear, Paul prays to God for the opportunity to visit those congregations in Rome, seeing them for the first time:

“…making request if, (some)how, sometime now I will be set well on the way, in [i.e. by] the wish of God, to come to you. For I long to see you…”

Even though Paul does not hold the same position (as an apostle) to the Roman Christians, he still wishes to extend to them something of that ministry, giving forth to them as well a “spiritual gift” (xa/risma pneumatiko/n). There is a special kind of poignancy in the humble way Paul states this wish of his in Romans.

Romans 15:30-33

At the close of the letter, Paul mentions again his desire to come to Rome, framing it in the wider context of his missionary work (15:22-29). A visit to Rome would, in his mind, be a fitting climax to his missionary labors (throughout much of the Roman empire). He mentions it specifically in connection with his intended journey to Jerusalem (vv. 25-26ff), to deliver the money for the poor that he has been collecting, through a major relief effort, among the churches of Greece and Macedonia (2 Cor 8-9, etc). This mission to Jerusalem informs Paul’s wider teaching on Jewish-Gentile unity throughout the body of the letter, and there can be no question that he saw the ‘collection for the saints’ as a concrete and symbolic expression of that unity. Once Paul has delivered the money, on his way for a possible missionary journey into Spain, he plans to stop at Rome to visit the Christians there (v. 28). Because of the significance (and spiritual value) of his relief effort, Paul is confident that he (and his fellow missionaries) will receive a special blessing on their way to Rome (v. 29).

In verse 30, Paul asks the Christians in Rome to pray for him regarding this journey:

“I call you alongside, [brothers,] through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, and through the love of the Spirit, to struggle together with me in (your moment)s of speaking out toward God over me.”

His wording echoes that of 1:9 earlier (cf. above), only instead of his prayers to God (on behalf of the Romans), he asks for their prayers on his behalf. Even though Paul does not share the same kind of apostolic relationship with the Romans that he does with other Christians elsewhere the Empire, he and they still share the basic bond of unity as believers, which he expresses as twofold: (1) “through our Lord Jesus Christ”, and (2) “through the love of the Spirit”. On the important association of love and the Spirit, cf. 5:5 and the ethical teaching in 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15 (in light of Gal 5:6, 13-15, 16ff).

Paul makes use of a rare compound verb (used only here in the New Testament), sunagwni/zomai, “struggle together with”. It expresses an important aspect of the role of prayer in missionary work. Believers across a wide geographic area (even around the entire world) are united together with missionaries, at a spiritual level, through prayer. Even when not physically present on the mission field, those praying labor together with the missionaries, and play no less an active and vital role in the work. Paul realized this keenly, and it is an important part of why he frames the prayer-references in his letters as he does (cf. above).

Believers praying to God contribute, in a real sense, to God’s response in aiding and helping the missionaries (in this case, Paul and his co-workers). This is part of a key New Testament teaching (and principle) regarding prayer: when one prays selflessly, for the needs of others (rather than focusing on one’s own needs), such prayer is certain to be answered by God. Paul recognized the danger he faced on his journeys—especially this last journey to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 20:22ff)—and so he calls on the Roman Christians to assist him (and his fellow missionaries) through their prayers:

“…that I might be rescued from the (one)s being without trust in Yehudah, and (that) my service to Yerushalaim would come to be well-received by the holy (one)s” (v. 31)

A successful completion of this mission will result in the opportunity for him to travel to Rome in joy and blessing (v. 32). As it happened, Paul’s journey to Rome turned out much different than he might have imagined, yet his prayer-wish was fulfilled, and he was able to visit the Christians in Rome, and to impart from his inspired gifts and experience, teaching and encouragement to them (Acts 28:15, 30-31).

Notes on Prayer: Galatians 1:8-9; 6:12-17

Galatians 1:8-9; 6:12-17

There are no direct references to prayer in Galatians, nor do we see anything like the positive points of exhortation that are associated with the prayer-references in the other letters of Paul. The main reason for this has to do with the controversial nature of Galatians, and the harsh rhetorical polemic he uses in the letter. In the introduction and closing sections, where Paul typically offers thanksgiving and exhortation for his readers, he instead presents a harsh attack against his opponents. The seriousness of the issue, in Paul’s mind, required this different approach. Indeed, at stake was the truth of the Gospel itself and very identity of what it means to be a Christian.

Somewhat shockingly, instead of a positive reference to prayer in the introduction (exordium) of the letter (1:6-10), Paul actually includes a curse formula (vv. 8-9). The tenets of classical rhetoric allowed for the use of threats or curses, though usually as a last resort, in cases where it is felt that the intended audience had already been persuaded by the arguments of one’s opponent. However, the inclusion of a curse-formula in the introduction is most unusual, it being far more common (and appropriate) to occur toward the conclusion (peroratio section, cf. below) of the speech or letter.

I have recently discussed the introduction (exordium) of Galatians from a rhetorical standpoint. It can be divided into three parts:

    • Vv. 6-7: Statement by Paul of his reason for writing (causa)
    • Vv. 8-9: Double-curse formula
    • V. 10: Rhetorical question that serves as the transition (transitus) to the next section (the narratio, 1:11-2:14)

Here is the causa of vv. 6-7, in which Paul states his reason for writing to the Galatians. A sense of anguish and frustration comes through in his words:

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

Paul’s approach here is indirect, using a method called insinuatio. This approach tends to be used when the audience has (already) been won over by the arguments of the author’s opponent(s). The present tense verbs in vv. 6-7 indicates that the influence of Paul’s opponents on the Galatians is something current and ongoing.

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

Indeed, Paul immediately establishes two sides, tied to a particular view of the “good message” (Gospel) proclaimed by the early Christians. On one side, we have the Gospel as proclaimed by Paul (and his fellow missionaries), and, on the other side, the version of the Gospel held by his opponents.

This sense of conflict relates to the two important themes being developed by Paul: (1) the essence of the Gospel message, and (2) the legitimacy of Paul as an apostle proclaiming this message. His primary focus is on the first point—the essence and truth of the Gospel. This is why he speaks of a “different” (e%tero$) or “another” (a&llo$) Gospel—that is, a version of it different from the one he has proclaimed to the Galatians. It is not clear, at this point in the letter, what this “difference” entails, only that the matter is most serious, in his mind. This explains the forcefulness of the language here in the causa, but also the introduction of the curse-formula that follows in vv. 8-9.

Paul cleverly disparages the view of the Gospel held by his opponents, in verse 7, by emphasizing that there really cannot be a different Gospel—i.e., there is only one Gospel, and by implication it corresponds with Paul’s version of the Gospel. Indeed, he goes on to say that he would not even bother to speak of “another” Gospel, were it not for the fact that there have been some (tine/$) people “troubling” (vb. tara/ssw) the Galatian believers with their claims and teachings. Paul states that these ‘other’ people actually wish to the distort/pervert (vb metastre/fw) the truth of the Gospel.

The seriousness with which Paul views the matter is indicated by the double curse (anathema) he gives in verses 8-9. Paul’s use of the device here illustrates two pertinent facts: (1) that his opponents have been successful, to some measure, in persuading the Galatians; and (2) it shows the seriousness and urgency with which Paul views the matter. It was most serious, indeed, for a missionary or leading figure in the Church to proclaim a “different” Gospel:

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

The key word is the preposition para/, which fundamentally means “alongside” (so translated above). However, if something can be placed alongside, then it must be separate and different. In English, we would get this across more generally by saying “besides” —i.e., any version of the Gospel besides the one we have proclaimed.

The curse formula involves the term a)na/qema, which literally means “something set up” (vb a)nati/qhmi). Often the word is simply transliterated in English (as anathema), but it is better to give an actual translation. In the particular religious context of a curse, the idea is that something (or someone) is “set up” as accursed—or, we might say, “given up” (given over) to God’s curse. And, indeed, anyone who utters such a curse-formula (as Paul does here) intends God to bring a curse down on the person who is “set up” to be accursed. Thus, the curse-formula can be seen as a genuine type of prayer, albeit one which makes many Christians quite uncomfortable. It was much more common and accepted as a religious-cultural custom in the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world. Even so, it is worth pointing out that Paul makes use of such a curse-formula only on very rare occasions (1 Cor 16:22; cf. also Rom 9:3).

Paul’s curse is intended against anyone proclaiming a “different” Gospel. As is clear from reading through Galatians, for Paul the “different” Gospel, in this instance, relates specifically to the idea that believers in Christ continue to be obligated, under the binding authority of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (the Torah), to observe its regulations. Circumcision was the primary regulation in view, but certainly other regulations (such as the dietary restrictions) would have been mandated as well. Paul vehemently opposed such a view of the Gospel, and argues vigorously against it all throughout Galatians.

He states his position memorably in the propositio (2:15-21), and then proceeds to ‘prove’ it in chapters 3-4, utilizing six main lines of argument. By the time we reach the close of the letter, Paul has given an extensive treatment of the subject, following the ‘proofs’ of chaps. 3-4 with a lengthy exhortation (exhortatio) in 5:1-6:10. This exhortation entails a stern warning against adopting the Torah regulations and accepting the Law as binding for believers (5:1-12). He emphasizes, rather, that the guiding force for all religious and ethical conduct is the abiding presence of the Spirit, coupled with the exemplary teaching of Jesus (principally the ‘love command’).

At the conclusion of the letter (6:11-18), Paul returns to his earlier condemnation of his opponents. However, rather than repeating a curse-formula in this peroratio section, the condemnation is implicit, given through a description of the conduct (and intentions) of his opponents. The language is harsh and unremitting, even if an actual curse-formula is avoided:

“As many as wish to have a good appearance in the flesh, these (person)s would make it necessary (for) you to be cut around [i.e. circumcised], (but) only (so) that they might not be pursued [i.e. persecuted] for the stake [i.e. cross] of (the) Anointed.” (v. 12)

He imputes to his opponents a pair of unworthy motives: they wish to appear good in people’s eyes (“in the flesh”), and to avoid being persecuted as Christians; on the latter point, presumably persecution by other Jews is in mind. He goes on in verse 13 to claim that these people do not really keep the Torah regulations themselves, meaning that their emphasis on observing the Torah is not due to a particular religious or moral concern about the regulations; rather, they want to be able to boast “in the flesh” of the Galatians (i.e., that they were circumcised, etc).

Paul proceeds in vv. 14-15 to emphasize again the complete unimportance of circumcision for believers in Christ. To insist on believers being circumcised is, in Paul’s mind, a perversion of the Gospel, and one that is worthy of the strongest possible condemnation.

In verse 16, we have the closest thing to a prayer-wish in Galatians. It relates back to Paul’s declaration in verse 15:

“For cutting around [i.e. circumcision] is not anything, and neither (is having) a foreskin, but (only) a new formation [kti/si$] (counts for anything).”

This new formation (or foundation, kti/si$) of the entire person—that is, of the believer in Christ—transcends and surpasses any prior religious or cultural distinction. Paul offers a blessing for everyone “(who) will walk in line by this rule” (tw=| kano/ni tou/tw| stoixh/sousin). The “rule” (kanw/n) is the principle expressed by Paul in v. 15 (and throughout Galatians); for those who live and ‘walk’ by this principle, Paul wishes peace and mercy from God for them. This is essentially the reverse of his earlier curse-formula. He extends this blessing even to all the Jewish Christians who are part of the true “Israel of God”. Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers together form the new people of God, and are equal with one another, united in Christ. Anyone who would attack this unity, by attempting to introduce (or re-introduce) a religious-cultural distinction as a part of the Christian identity, will face severe judgment from God.

Notes on Prayer: 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; 9:12-15; 13:7-9

As we continue in these Notes on Prayer for the Fall season, examining prayer in the letters of Paul, we now turn to the references in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 1:10-11; 9:12-15; 13:7-9

There are three main references to prayer in 2 Corinthians, indicated by the heading above. Paul typically reserves his prayer-references to the introductory (thanksgiving) and concluding (exhortation) sections of his letters. This is also true here, though the situation regarding 2 Corinthians is complicated by certain signs, recognized by many commentators, that the 2 Corinthians may be a composite work—comprised of at least two distinct letters (or parts of letters). Perhaps most common among New Testament scholars is the recognition of 10:1-13:10 as representing a separate and distinct letter (the body of the letter), though some would also view chaps. 8-9 as stemming from a separate letter, and there are other more complex scenarios involving multiple letter-sources (not to mention the thorny question surrounding 6:14-7:1).

Fortunately, these critical theories regarding the composition, structure, and integrity of 2 Corinthians are only marginally relevant to our study on Paul’s references to prayer.

The first reference, in 1:10-11, comes at the close of the introduction (1:3-11), and is typical of the thanksgiving context we saw, for example, in the Thessalonian letters. There is a two-fold emphasis to Paul’s prayer references in this context: (1) the close relationship between Paul and the congregations, and (2) the success of his continued missionary work. In terms of both of these points of emphasis, there is a mutual duty of prayer, between Paul and the congregations.

On the one hand, he prays for them, that they will continue to respond to the Gospel (growing and becoming stronger in faith and virtue), even as they first responded in faith to the message proclaimed by him. And, on the other hand, they are to pray for him, that he will continue to be strengthened and protected in his missionary work of proclaiming the Gospel. It is the second aspect that is emphasized here in the introduction to 2 Corinthians—namely, his request that the Corinthian congregations continue to pray for him:

“…God, the (One) raising the dead, who, out of such a great death (also) rescued us, and will (continue to) rescue, in whom we have hoped [that] even yet He will rescue (us), indeed (with) your working together over us by making (urgent) request [deh/si$] (to God), that, out of many faces, (for) the favor (shown) to us, (and) through many, thanks may be given for (this) favor over us.”

These verses are part of a typically long and grammatically complex sentence by Paul, such as we often find in the introductions to his letters. The thrust in verse 11 is on how the Corinthians believers, through their prayers, “work together” (vb sunupourge/w) with God to protect and rescue Paul in his time of need. It is also a sign of unity that they work together with each other—a unity reflected by the bond of prayer. Paul believes that the prayers by the congregations, on his behalf, play an important role in God’s saving and protecting work.

The noun used here for prayer is deh/si$, which denotes a request made (to God) for a particular need. Here, believers pray, not for their own needs, but for the needs of others—in this case, Paul and his fellow missionaries (“over us,” u(pe\r h(mw=n). It is this selfless and sacrificial quality that makes such prayers both efficacious (meaning God will answer) and meritorious (they result in reward/blessing for the one praying). The sense of blessing is indicated by the verb eu)xariste/w, which often is used for giving thanks to God for the “good favor” (eu) + xari$) that He shows; however, here, the emphasis is just as much on the favor that believers show to Paul by praying to God over him. Thus, as a result, the thanks for this favor falls upon the praying believers (as a blessing).

A similar sort of idea is expressed at the conclusion of chapter 9 (vv. 11-15), even though the focus of the passage is somewhat different. The focus in chapters 8-9 is on the ‘collection for the saints’, Paul’s fundraising campaign to provide much needed relief for the poor and suffering Christians in Judea. Paul mentions this campaign a number of times in his letters—and especially in 1 and 2 Corinthians. It was an important part of his missionary work, and one that was close to his heart, organized throughout all of the territorial congregations that he had helped to found. At the end of Romans (15:31), he mentions how he is taking this relief money to Jerusalem, indicating that the fundraising effort has been completed; but here in 2 Corinthians, it is still in progress.

As with the prayers for Paul by the Corinthians, their generosity in giving money to the relief campaign will result in blessing:

“In every (way) you are being enriched for all (this) single (purpose), which works fully through us (to bring) thanks to God (for His) favor, that the service of this work being performed not only is filling up the (thing)s lacking for the holy (one)s, but is also flowing over through many (expression)s of thanks to God (for His) favor.” (vv. 11-12)

The thanks that is given to God falls to the believers, for their selfless generosity, as well. Indeed, other Christians will give thanks and honor to God precisely because of the work that the Corinthians do in this regard (v. 13). Their single-minded willingness to provide for the needs of the Community (the expression a(plo/th$ th=$ koinwni/a$) is a powerful sign of unity among believers, and of faithful obedience to the Gospel of Christ. This leads other Christians to pray for them, just as they prayed for Paul in his ministry work (cf. above):

“…and (by) their urgent request [deh/si$] (to God) over you, (they are) longing upon you, through the overcasting favor of God upon you.” (v. 14)

Paul’s syntax here is a bit complex and contorted, but the logic of his statement is relatively simple:

    • Their prayers to God over your needs are a sign that they are longing for you (vb e)pipoqe/w)
    • At the same time, the act of praying only serves to increase and intensify this longing
    • This longing over the Corinthians mirrors the favor that God Himself spreads out over (vb u(perba/llw, “cast over”) the Corinthians, and the two actions—longing over (with prayer) and spreading over (with favor)—are related. As noted above, the fervent prayers of believers, for the needs of others, is tied to God’s response, working in tandem with it.

Indeed, it is, in large part, because of the generosity of the Corinthian believers, that Paul can proclaim: “Thanks to God for (his) favor, upon His indescribable gift!” (v. 15)

The final reference to prayer in 2 Corinthians is found at 13:7-9, the close of a major division of the letter (10:1-13:10) that is thought by many commentators to be so different (from the remainder of 2 Corinthians) as to stem from a separate letter entirely. Certainly, the tone and focus is very different in these chapters. The positive and exhortational emphasis gives way to a vigorous and harsh polemic. For commentators who would defend the unity of 2 Corinthians, it is difficult to explain just how chaps. 10-13 relate to the rest of the letter.

Paul’s harsh words in chaps. 10-13 are directed primarily against certain influential missionaries or church leaders whom he disparagingly (and sarcastically) refers to as people “much above (the other) apostles” (u(perli/an a)posto/lwn), 11:5; 12:11; elsewhere he calls them “false apostles” (11:13). Though Paul does not provide us with much specific detail, it appears that he regarded these people as opponents or rivals who were usurping his apostolic authority at Corinth, exerting an undue and negative influence on the Corinthian congregations. He also offers a stern rebuke to the Corinthians themselves for allowing themselves to be led astray by these ‘super-apostles’.

As part of the warning he gives in 12:14ff, Paul also mentions immoral and unworthy behavior among the Corinthians (vv. 20-21), but it is not entirely clear how this might relate to the influence of the ‘super-apostles’. It may simply be mentioned as a way of adding to the rebuke—i.e., not only have the Corinthians turned away from Paul (in favor of other leaders), but, at the same time, they have allowed immorality to take root within the congregations.

Paul repeats much the same warning in the closing section (13:1-10), mentioning again instances of blatant sinning among the Corinthians. It is in this context that we find the reference to prayer (vv. 7-9); and here the focus of prayer is on the restoration of unity within the Corinthian congregations, and between Paul and the Corinthians. This restoration will only be possible if the Corinthians examine themselves and repent of any misconduct or attitudes that have damaged the bond of unity among them (verse 5). His prayer for the Corinthians is that the relationship will be restored and that their behavior will be reformed:

“But we speak out toward God (for) you not to do anything bad–not (so) that we would shine forth as accepted (by God), but (so) that you would do the beautiful (thing), even (if) we might be (seen) as without acceptance.” (v. 7)

Here the expression for prayer is the verb eu&xomai + pro$, equivalent to the compound verb proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”) that is regularly used to express the idea of prayer. Paul makes clear that his desire for them to do good (“the beautiful [kalo/$] thing”), and to avoid evil (“anything bad [kako/$]”), is for their own sake, and for the sake of truth (v. 8), regardless of how it makes himself look. This selfless (and sacrificial) mindset represents prayer in it purest form, expressed by Paul most poignantly in verse 9:

“For we rejoice when we should be without strength, but (when) you should be powerful; and (indeed) this (is what) we speak out (to God for): your being made fit.”

The noun kata/rtisi$ is difficult to translate concisely; the related verb (katarti/zw) means something like “make completely fit, put (completely) in order”. Here it is related to the idea of the Corinthians being “powerful” (dunato/$). Paul would rather give of himself and become weak (“be without strength,” vb a)sqene/w) if it meant that the Corinthians would become strong. This strength can only be achieved through turning away from sin (repentance) and the restoration of unity within the congregation. This, indeed, is the focus of Paul’s prayer. As noted above, such selfless prayer, praying for the needs of the others (rather than one’s own needs) is assured of being answered by God, and will result in much joy and blessing.

 

Notes on Prayer: 1 Corinthians 14:13-15

1 Corinthians 14:13-15

“Therefore, the (one) speaking in a tongue must speak out toward (God) (so) that one might explain (it) thoroughly. [For] if I speak out toward (God) in a tongue, my spirit is speaking out toward (God), but my mind is without fruit. What is it then? I will (indeed) speak out toward (God) in (the) spirit, but also with (the) mind; I make music with (the) spirit, but I also make music with (the) mind.”

In the previous study, we saw the importance of prayer within the congregational worship. Public (spoken) prayer was treated by Paul in 1 Cor 11 along with prophecy—that is, a gifted person who communicates the word and will of God to the congregation. In this context, both prayer and prophecy were special gifts of the Spirit, and the speaker should be understood as one speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit. As a spiritual gift, prayer and prophecy were available to both men and women (so long as they were genuinely gifted). Paul affirms the ability of a woman to fulfill this role in the congregational worship, so long as a certain gender-distinction was maintained (symbolized by the use of a head/hair covering).

Paul’s main concern was that everything in the congregational worship be done in an orderly manner, so as to avoid divisiveness and disunity within the congregation. He has the same goal in mind when addressing the congregational worship in chapter 14.

Paul discussed the matter of different spiritual gifts in chapter 12 (vv. 1-11), maintaining as the principal point, that the different gifts (and the individual use/expression of them) must serve the unity of the congregation—i.e., the illustration of different members comprising a single body (vv. 12-31). The single body (of Christ) is parallel to the idea that a single Spirit (of God and Christ) works through all of the different gifts (vv. 4-11).

Along with the Spirit, the unifying bond among the congregation is that of love (chap. 13). All of the gifts which individuals may use within the congregation are subservient to the principle of love.

It is in this context that Paul addresses the spiritual gifts again in chapter 14, focusing on the same two phenomena within the congregational worship that he discussed in chapter 11 (cf. above and in the previous study): prayer and prophecy. With regard to prayer, Paul deals with the specific phenomena of praying (lit. “speaking out toward [God],” vb proseu/xomai) “in a tongue” (glw/ssh|). This raises the longstanding question regarding the early Christian phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”.

In the book of Acts, the coming of the Spirit upon believers frequently results in their “speaking in tongues”. The principal episode in the Pentecost event (2:3-4ff), where it is clear that the “tongues” are actual foreign languages (v. 11). This is tied to the central theme of the book of Acts: the proclamation of the Gospel out into the surrounding nations (1:8, etc). The speaking in foreign languages symbolizes the early Christian mission and illustrates the empowerment of believers (by the Holy Spirit) for this task. The same phenomenon (apparently) is mentioned in three other narratives, with the “speaking in tongues” occurring in the same manner, following the coming of the Spirit, usually after the laying on of hands by an apostle (19:6, cf. also 8:17-18), though on one occasion (10:46) the Spirit comes upon believers prior to baptism (and the laying on of hands).

Elsewhere in the New Testament, ‘speaking in tongues’ is mentioned only in 1 Corinthians, where it seems to have a somewhat different meaning—as a specific gift possessed by only certain believers. Also, Paul’s language strongly suggests that the gift involves a special (heavenly) prayer-language, rather than an actual foreign language. It is, however, a strange/foreign tongue that other people would not normally be able to understand. That is why Paul mentions both the gift of speaking in tongues and a separate gift of interpreting such speech (12:10, 28, 30).

If we read between the lines in chaps. 12-14, it would seem that some believers at Corinth were particularly enamored with the gift of tongues, and Paul carefully (and gently) seeks to dissuade them of this. Chapter 13, which emphasizes the subordination of the spiritual gifts to the principle of love within the congregation, begins the point of contrast, notably, with the gift of tongues (vv. 1, 8). Moreover, in chapter 14, Paul is quick to point out the superiority of prophecy over the gift of tongues. The reason for this is, among other things, the practical reality that many people simply will not understand something spoken in tongues, compared with a prophetic message in the hearers own language (vv. 1-5ff).

Paul’s specific instruction in vv. 13-15 involves speaking in tongues. The implication is that the gift of tongues is a gift for prayer, a kind of heavenly ‘prayer-language’ that one uses in speaking to God (vb proseu/xomai). Paul warns against using this prayer-language in public, in the congregational worship, unless there is someone who is able to interpret (explain, vb diermhneu/w) the words. One suspects that some in Corinth were doing precisely what Paul warns against—that they were eagerly speaking in tongues (praying) in public, without anyone interpreting.

As mentioned above, the ‘gift of tongues’ seems to relate to a special prayer-language, that one utters, speaking to God in an inspired state, speaking with one’s spirit. The Spirit touches the believer’s own spirit, inspiring (gifting) it to be able to pray to God in a kind of Spirit-language. This is almost certainly what Paul is referring to in Rom 8:26-27. In any case, he clearly states here in v. 14 that, when one prays “in a tongue”, it is with the spirit, and not the mind, that one prays. That is to say, it is not prayer made in ordinary, intelligible language, but rather a special kind of prayer. Paul emphasizes, however, that it is also important to pray “with the mind” (tw=| noi+/), especially when prayer is made in the congregation, so that all people can understand. One ought not to pray in tongues in the congregation without an interpreter.

Paul himself prayed in tongues (as he states in v. 18), but his instruction in verse 19 comes right to the point:

“But in the e)kklhsi/a I wish to speak five words with my mind [i.e. in normal intelligible language], (so) that also others I might teach, rather than a multitude of words in a tongue.”

The term e)kklhsi/a here retains the basic denotation of a public gathering to which the people have been “called out” (vb e)kkale/w) to attend. In this context, of course, it refers to the congregational worship meeting.

Paul’s main concern, again, is that the congregational worship proceeds in an orderly way that will benefit all of the people who attend. This reflects the principal theme in 1 Corinthians, of the need to preserve unity among believers, and to avoid anything that might cause division. His advice regarding speaking/praying in tongues in eminently practical in this regard. He would not wish to deny the use of tongues in the worship, but only sets the requirement that they should not be used unless someone is present who can interpret the language. That point is made again in verse 28, along with the directive that only two or three people at the meeting should speak in tongues, and that they must proceed in turn, in an orderly manner.

In next week’s study, we will turn to Paul’s references to prayer in 2 Corinthians.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Corinthians 11:4-5ff

1 Corinthians 11:4-5ff

In the previous two studies on 1-2 Thessalonians, we saw how prayer played an important role in Paul’s letters, with the references in the introduction (exordium) and exhortation (exhortatio) sections framing the body of the letter. The focus was on Paul’s relationship to the Thessalonian congregations, with an emphasis on mutual prayer—that the Thessalonians would continue to remain faithful to the Gospel message, and that Paul’s missionary work in proclaiming the Gospel would continue to have success.

Prayer is given decidedly less emphasis in the letters that involve deliberative rhetoric (including forceful polemic) by which Paul addresses controversial issues. There is scarcely any reference to prayer in Galatians, for example, and it is also less prominent in 1 Corinthians. In particular, the framing sections of 1 Corinthians—a long and complex letter with an elaborate rhetorical structure—make very little mention of prayer. The thanksgiving in 1:4-9 resembles that of Thessalonians, but the positive aspect of mutual relationship (and the specific mention of prayer) is noticeably absent. This is not coincidental, as the idea of divisions (and divisiveness) within the congregations immediately takes center stage in the introduction (1:10-17). There has been a disruption in the relationship, and, indeed, throughout the letter Paul works hard urging the Corinthian believers to resolve the divisiveness and to strive for unity.

The primary references to prayer relate specifically to public prayer in the setting of congregational worship. This worship setting is one area where divisions within the congregations were manifest. And, since public prayer was an important component of the congregational worship, it is not surprising that Paul addresses it as part of his instruction to the Corinthians.

1 Cor 11:2-16 deals with the subject of the relationship between the sexes (between men and women) for those who have an active role participating in the public worship. This context is vital for a proper understanding of the passage—it deals specifically with women who function in a ministry role within a public worship setting. The charismatic nature of congregational life in Corinth meant that believers—both men and women—who where uniquely gifted (by the Spirit) in different areas were encouraged to exercise those gifts. It is clear from Paul’s discussion in chapters 11 and 14 that women were participating as prophets in the congregational worship setting. Paul does not deny the validity of this, whatever his personal preference might have been; he accepts women serving in this role, but would require of the Corinthians that they take steps to maintain a clear distinction regarding the relationship between men and women in these roles.

The issue, for Paul, clearly centers on those who speak, in the Spirit (in a ministry role), during the congregational worship. In verses 4-5 he refers to both men and women who are “speaking out toward (God) or foretelling [i.e. prophesying]”. The verb used is the common verb for prayer, proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”). The verb profhteu/w is translated literally as “foretell”, but this can be misleading, since the prefixed element pro– (“before”) can be understood in a temporal sense (“beforehand”), but also in a positional/relational sense (i.e., standing “before” someone). The latter is often the specific meaning in the New Testament, matching the denotation of the root abn in Hebrew, where a ayb!n`, usually translated “prophet”, refers more properly to someone who functions as a spokesperson for God, communicating His word and will to the people. Similarly, Christian prophets—those gifted/inspired by the Spirit—communicated the word and will of God within the congregation.

Gifted women are allowed to speak in the congregation—both praying (in the Spirit) and prophesying—as long as they did so with their head covered. The purpose and significance of this specific detail has been much discussed by commentators. I have addressed it at length in the earlier series “Women in the Church”, and will not repeat that discussion here. The symbolism of the head/hair covering was clearly important for Paul, though modern readers may not find all of his arguments entirely convincing. It would seem that charismatic tendencies within the congregation led many believers in Corinth to consider the gender distinction (of the older order of Creation) to have been replaced by the egalitarianism of the new order. And, indeed, Paul’s own declaration in Gal 3:28 (cp. 1 Cor 12:13), along with the general logic of his teaching regarding the spiritual unity of believers in Christ, points in that very direction.

However, in 11:2-16, Paul’s line of argument indicates that, while the old order of Creation has been transformed, it has not been entirely abolished. He draws upon the Genesis Creation account (vv. 8-9ff) as a primary argument for preserving the (hierarchical) distinction between men and women in that public ministry role—especially if the relationship of husband and wife was involved. Men should pray and prophesy with head uncovered, and women with head covered. This does not refer to private prayer, nor to prayer within the family unit—i.e., between husband and wife, which Paul mentions in passing in 7:5. He is addressing the specific context of the public, congregational worship—where men and woman function in roles as Spirit-gifted ministers.

However one interprets and responds to the detail of Paul’s instruction in 11:2-16, it is most important to keep in mind that his primary concern is to maintain a sense of order and unity within the congregation. The same is true regarding his instruction in chapter 14, where again the place of prayer within the congregational worship is addressed. We will be discussing this passage (esp. verses 13-15) in the next study.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 55 (Part 1)

Psalm 55

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This is another prayer-Psalm that includes a lament in the face of suffering and opposition from wicked adversaries, continuing a genre of which we have seen numerous examples among the Psalms studied thus far. Psalm 55 is a particularly complex example of the genre—a relatively long composition, divided into three sections:

The two hl*s# (Selah) markers are curiously placed in the text as it has come down to us (cf. below), and cannot be used as an indication of the structure of the composition.

The Psalm tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) meter, varying with the ‘limping’ 3+2 meter that is often used in lament-poems; however, there other irregularities as well.

The superscription indicates that this is another lyK!c=m^ (ma´kîl, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 32), attributed to David (“belonging to David”, dw]d*l=), to be performed on stringed instruments (toyg]n+B!).

VERSES 2-9 [1-8]

Verse 2-3 [1-2]

“Give ear, O Mightiest, to my petition,
and do not hide from my request for favor;
be attentive to me and answer me,
come down in (response to) my prayer.”

These first two couplets establish the Psalmist’s plea, in relation to the lament that follows in vv. 4ff; the meter is 3+2, which often is used in poems of lament. There is a synonymous (and synthetic) parallelism in each couplet, but the four lines also form a chiasm from a conceptual standpoint:

    • Give ear to (i.e., hear) my petition
      • do not hide (i.e., giving no response)…
      • be attentive and answer/respond
    • Come down in response to my prayer

The noun in line 1 is hl*p!T=, while in the line 4 it is j^yc!. Both are terms denoting prayer; the main significance of hl*p!T= refers to a petition/plea that is made to God, while j^yc! implies a burden that is on a person’s heart, about which one speaks to God, going over the matter (repeatedly) in a fervent way. With the inner lines (2 and 3), the Psalmist’s prayer is framed, regarding God’s response, in both negative and positive terms:

    • Negative: “do not hide yourself from my request for favor”
    • Positive: “be attentive to me and answer me”

The verb <l^u* (“hide [away], conceal”) in the reflexive Hithpael stem (“hide oneself”) should perhaps be understood in the sense of ‘pretending not to see/hear’ (cf. Dahood, II, 31). The noun hN`j!T=, formally parallel to hl*p!T= (cf. above), is derived from the root /nj (“show favor”), and so I have translated the noun literally as “request for favor” in order to preserve this etymology.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 31) in reading the verb form dyr!a* as an Aphel (imperative) from the root dry (“go down”); this explanation provides a rather elegant solution that fits the context of these lines.

It should be noted in passing that Psalm 55 is another ‘Elohist’ Psalm, in which the Divine name YHWH (hwhy) is typically replaced by the title <yh!l)a$ (Elohim, “Mightiest [One],” i.e., ‘God’).

Verse 4 [3]

“I am disturbed from (the) voice of (the one) hating (me),
from (the) faces of oppression (of the) wicked;
for they make trouble to fall upon me,
and with anger show hatred to me.”

These next two couplets give the reason for the Psalmist’s plea to YHWH, and begin the lament proper in this section. As is often the case in the Psalms, the protagonist speaks of suffering and oppression he faces from wicked adversaries (enemies). In most instances, it would be futile to attempt to identify these enemies with any specific persons; rather, these nameless and faceless opponents represent the wicked, who oppose and attack the righteous.

The final word of verse 3 [2] in the MT (hm*yh!a*w+, “I have been disturbed”), according to the standard verse-division, properly belongs at the beginning of verse 4; the initial conjunction (-w+) can be retained from a stylistic standpoint, but typically has no real force when beginning a couplet.

The Psalmist is disturbed by both the “voice” and the “face” (lit. plural, “faces”, i.e. presence) of his wicked enemies. They are enemies in the sense that they hate him (participle by@oa), a point emphasized again in the fourth line, with the use of the verb <f^c* (“show hatred/animosity” toward someone). They give both distress (lit. “pressure,” hq*u*, i.e., oppression) and trouble (/w#a*) to the righteous. This is expressed violently and with vicious intent, done both with anger and by the act causing trouble to fall/slide down (like an avalanche) on the Psalmist.

Verses 5-6 [4-5]

“My heart is twisting around within me,
and (the) terrors of death
have fallen upon me;
fear and trembling has come (to be) in me,
and shuddering has covered over me!”

The Psalmist’s lament continues here with a pair of 3+2 couplets, the first of which has been expanded with an additional 2-beat line (forming a 3+2+2 tricolon); this irregular meter in verse 5 would seem to be intentional, creating a tension that is appropriate to the context of  the fear of death. In each couplet, the first line refers to what the Psalmist feels inside himself in the face of threatening attacks by the wicked:

    • “My heart is twisting around [vb lWj] within [br#q#B=] me”
    • “Fearful trembling [lit. fear and trembling] has come to be within [B=] me”

The following line(s) of each verse refer to the external threat that faces the Psalmist, and which is the source of his fear:

    • “Terrors of death have fallen [vb lp^n`] upon me”
    • “(Great) shuddering has covered over [vb hs*K*] me”

The idea that the wicked ultimately threatens the righteous with death is expressed frequently in the Psalms.

Verses 7-9 [6-8]

The opening plea (and lament) of this section concludes with a short poem, which may have existed independently of our Psalm (cp. Jeremiah 9:1 [2]).

“And I said:
Who would give to me wing[s] like a dove,
(so) I might take wing and dwell (in safety)?
See, I would go far off, (my wings) flapping,
and would find lodging in the outback. Selah
(That) I might make quick (the) escape for me
from (the) rushing wind (and) wind-storm!”

This wonderful little poem, so vivid and evocative, hardly requires any comment. The Hebrew idiom “Who will give to me…?” is a colorful way of expressing an urgent wish or request—in English idiom, we would probably say, “Oh, if I only had…!” Here, however, the literally rendering of the idiom is especially important, in light of the prayer-context of these lines. The implicit answer to the question “Who will give…?” is that YHWH will give to him the means for escape.

The image is of a bird that could take flight from trouble (down below, on earth), and go far away to find a safe dwelling-place (vb /k^v*); it would be in the outback (or ‘desert,’ rB^d=m!), far away from other people. The wings of the bird, which enables it to fly off, are especially emphasized: the protagonist desires a pair of wings (sing. rb#a@), so that he can “take wing” (take flight, vb [Wu), his wings constantly flapping (dd)n+) as he makes his escape.

Even as he flies, danger would follow, and thus there is a second part to the Psalmist’s wish: that his wings would enable him also to escape from the onrushing wind of the storm (windstorm) that threatens behind him.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

Notes on Prayer: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2:16-17

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2:16-17

In the previous study, we looked at Paul’s references to prayer in 1 Thessalonians, and saw how they were focused on two primary themes: (1) Paul’s relationship to the Thessalonian believers, and (2) Paul’s (apostolic) ministry as a missionary and preacher of the Gospel. The Thessalonians were asked to pray for Paul (and his fellow missionaries) in their ministry work, while Paul prays for the Thessalonians, in relation to his work of preaching the Gospel—that is, he gives thanks to God and makes request for the Thessalonians, that they will continue to demonstrate the positive results of their acceptance of the Gospel.

We see much the same in 2 Thessalonians, both in the introduction (exordium, 1:3-12) and the concluding exhortation (3:1-15). These sections bracket the central section of the letter (probatio) that deals with the specific issue addressed by Paul. Thus, the references to prayer in 2 Thessalonians are more integral to the deliberative rhetoric of the letter. The main issue of the letter, on which Paul wishes to persuade the Thessalonians, involves a point of eschatology—the nuance of which is difficult to recapture at this far remove. The eschatological emphasis is clearly expressed in the introduction. The thanksgiving (1:3-4) mentions the suffering and persecution faced by believers (part of the end-time period of distress); the exordium proper (1:5ff) makes abundantly clear that the end-time judgment by God is at hand, and that the return of the Lord (the exalted Jesus) will soon occur. It is in this light that Paul speaks of praying for the Thessalonians:

“(It is) unto this [i.e. for this reason] that we speak out toward (God) always over you, that you might hold up (as worthy) of th(is) calling, and (that) our God would fulfill every good consideration of goodness and work of trust in power, so (that) the name of our Lord Yeshua would be honored in you, and you in him, according to the favor of our God and (our) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed.” (vv. 11-12)

The main focus of his prayer, according to this statement, is summarized by the phrase “that you might hold up (as worthy) [a)ciw/sh|] of th(is) calling”. The verb a)cio/w derives from the context of something being measured (in value) on the balance-scales, bringing up the balance to match a specific weight/value. What believers are measured against is the calling (klh=si$)—that is, the call of God to salvation. For early Christians, salvation was understood primarily in an eschatological sense—i.e., being saved from the coming Judgment—and that is very much the sense here, as the context of vv. 3-12 makes quite clear. Specifically, we read in the preceding verse (v. 10):

“…when he should come—to be honored among his holy (one)s, and to be regarded with wonder among the (one)s (hav)ing trusted, (in) that they trusted our witness to you—on that day.”

Note the clear eschatological context: “when he should come (i.e. return of the exalted Jesus from heaven)…on that day”. His appearance means judgment and punishment for the world, but salvation for those who have trusted in the Gospel—the preaching of the Gospel here specifically defined in terms of the ministry work of Paul and his colleagues (“our witness to you,” cf. above). The focus of Paul’s exhortation for the Thessalonians is that they will remain faithful to the end, showing themselves worthy of the salvation that is to come. Through this faithfulness, the exalted Jesus (together with God the Father) will be given honor when he appears.

The specific eschatological issue addressed by Paul in chapter 2 continues to be debated by commentators. It involves the expression “the day of the Lord” (h( h(me/ra tou= qeou=), and, in my view, Paul’s concern is to draw a clear distinction between the end-time suffering believers are enduring and the “day of the Lord”. Both are end-time events, but they should be treated as distinct stages in the eschatological sequence. The suffering of believers is part of the end-time ‘period of distress [qli/yi$]’ which precedes the “day of the Lord” proper. The latter denotes the moment when God appears (through His Messianic/heavenly representative [Christ]) to usher in the great Judgment on humankind; at this time, the wicked/faithless ones will be punished, while the righteous (believers) will be rescued and saved. Paul introduces this eschatological discussion in vv. 1-2 (the partitio, where he makes his point), before demonstrating and arguing the proof (probatio) of it in vv. 3-15.

The latter portion of the probatio (vv. 13-15) is framed as a declaration of thanksgiving (to God) and an exhortation (for believers) to remain faithful until the moment of Christ’s return. This exhortation is followed by a wish-prayer (peroratio) for the very purpose (and goal) he had expressed:

“Now he—our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed—and God our Father, the (One hav)ing loved us and (hav)ing given us a calling along of the Ages, and a good hope in (His) favor, may He call along your hearts and make (you) firm in every work and good account.” (vv. 16-17)

The “calling along” (para/klhsi$, vb parakale/w) is related to the “calling” (klh=si$) in 1:11 (cf. above), and this calling is to be understood as the call to salvation—i.e., the hope (e)lpi/$) of deliverance from the coming Judgment. Through the favor (xa/ri$) of God, we, as believers, were called to salvation (eternal life); and Paul’s prayer is that God (along with the exalted Jesus) would continue to “call along” our hearts all the way to the end, strengthening us (vb sthri/zw) in every important way. Such strengthening and help is necessary due to the suffering believers face—and will continue to face—during the end-time period of distress.

The closing exhortation and conclusion to the letter (chap. 3) follows this same thematic emphasis, but adds the aspect of the Thessalonian believers also praying for Paul (cf. above). The persecution faced by Paul and his fellow missionaries is part of the same end-time suffering faced by the Thessalonians themselves. The two sides of the prayer-relationship—between Paul and the Thessalonians—are captured in verses 1-2:

“For the remainder [i.e. in conclusion], may you speak out toward (God), brothers, over us, (so) that the account of the Lord might run (unhindered), and might be honored, even as (it gives honor) to you, and that we might be rescued from the improper and evil men—for (there is) not trust (present) among all (people).”