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.

 

 

 

June 21: Acts 4:31 (Lk 11:13)

Acts 4:31 (Luke 11:13)

The prayer-speech of the Jerusalem believers in Acts 4:23-31 follows the conflict-episode of 4:1-22, and comes in response to that episode. It is the first recorded instance of opposition to the Gospel message (by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem). Both the content of the speech and the framing of it (vv. 24a, 31) make clear that it truly is a prayer to God:

“And, (hav)ing made their request (to God)…” (v. 31)

The verb de/omai is largely synonymous with the common verb for prayer, proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”)—compare 10:2 and 30. In the introduction to the prayer-speech (v. 24a) it is said that the believers “lifted (their) voice toward God”. The specific request they make relates to their mission of proclaiming the Gospel; the petition is two-fold:

    • That they would be enabled to proclaim the Gospel (lit. the account [lo/go$] of God, “your account”) with all outspokenness (parrhsi/a, i.e. boldness) [v. 29]
    • That God would continue to perform miracles through them (like the healing of the crippled man in chap. 3) [v. 30]; this miracle-working power is intended to support the preaching of the Gospel:
      “…to speak your account with all outspokenness, in the stretching out of your hand to (perform) healing and signs and wonders…”

It is recognized that the power to work miracles comes “through the name” of Jesus—that is, believers acting in Jesus’ name, with his power and authority, as his representatives. This is an extension of the authority given to the disciples by Jesus during the period of his earthly ministry (Luke 9:1-6 par; 10:1-12). Only now, with the departure of Jesus to heaven, this authority comes through the direct presence of the Spirit, given to the believers by Jesus himself. And, in fact, God answers the prayer, by gifting the believers with a fresh empowerment by the Spirit:

“And, (hav)ing made their request (to God), the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they all were filled by the holy Spirit, and they spoke the account (of God) with outspokenness [parrhsi/a].” (v. 31)

This essentially repeats the manifestation of the Spirit in the earlier Pentecost scene (2:1-4ff), when, it may also be assumed, believers had been gathered together and united in prayer (1:14, 24). The coming of the Spirit, and the manifestation of its presence, is thus the answer to believers’ prayer. In this regard it is worth considering Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Gospel (Lk 11:1-13), which includes the Lukan version of the Lord’s prayer. This teaching is distinctive in that it climaxes with a saying by Jesus that indicates that the true goal (and purpose) of the disciples’ prayer is the sending of the Spirit by God:

“So if you, beginning under [i.e. while you are] evil, have known (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will the Father out of heaven give (the) holy Spirit to the (one)s asking him!” (11:13)

In the Matthean version of this “Q” tradition, the saying makes no mention of the Spirit:

“…how much more will your Father, the (One) in the heavens, give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking him!” (7:11)

This raises the strong possibility that the reference to the Spirit is a Lukan adaptation of the saying, interpreting (and explaining) the “good things” that God will give as referring primarily to the Spirit. This is consonant with the Spirit-theme of Luke-Acts, and, in my view, there is little doubt that the author is here anticipating the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in the early chapters of Acts.

In this regard, mention should be made of the interesting variant reading in the Lukan version of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer (11:2). In a handful of manuscripts and textual witnesses, in place of the request for the coming of the Kingdom (“may your Kingdom come”, we have a request for the coming of the Spirit; in minuscule MS 700 this reads:

“May your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”
e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$

While this reading almost certainly is secondary (and not original), it is fully in accord with the Lukan understanding of the true nature of God’s Kingdom. The key declaration by Jesus in Acts 1:8 serves as the primary theme for the entire book, and it defines the Kingdom according to the two-fold aspect of: (a) the presence of the Spirit, and (b) the proclamation of the Gospel (into all the nations). The answer to the believers’ prayer in 4:31 clearly encapsulates both of these aspects.

June 13: Luke 4:18

Luke 4:18

A key reference to the Spirit in Luke-Acts is the quotation of Isa 61:1-2 by Jesus in the Nazareth episode (Lk 4:16-30, vv. 17-19). This episode is part of the Synoptic tradition (Mk 6:1-6a par), but the Lukan version is quite distinctive, drawing upon an entirely separate line of tradition. I have discussed the various critical issues related to this passage in earlier notes and articles (cf. especially the study in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”).

Luke has located the Nazareth episode at the very start of Jesus’ public ministry, but there are details in the text that suggest that the location of the episode in Mark and Matthew reflects the more accurate historical chronology. For a discussion regarding the reasons why the Gospel writer would have included the episode at the beginning of the Galilean ministry, cf. the notes and articles mentioned above.

Here in this study our focus is on the way that the Lukan Spirit-theme is developed in the narrative. In this regard, it is necessary to consider carefully the context of chapters 3-4. The thematic development follows the progress of the narrative; we may summarize this as follows:

    • The Spirit comes upon Jesus at the Baptism (3:22)
    • Jesus is filled and guided by the Spirit as he is led into the desert (4:1)
    • The presence of the Spirit enables Jesus to overcome the Devil and come through the period of testing (implicit in the narrative)
    • Jesus returns “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14) to begin his ministry.

In the Synoptic Tradition, Jesus’ public ministry opens with the narration in Mk 1:14-15 (par Matt 4:17), which describes the preaching of Jesus, encapsulated by the declaration regarding the Kingdom (v. 15). This Kingdom-preaching is referred to as “the good message [eu)agge/lion, i.e. the Gospel] of God” (v. 14). Luke delays inclusion of this tradition (along with the call of the first disciples) until a slightly later point in the narrative (4:43ff). For the Lukan Gospel, the quotation of Isa 61:1-2 effectively takes the place of the Kingdom declaration (Mk 1:15), marking the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The author only alludes, in passing, to the Kingdom declaration in 4:43.

Interestingly, the author of Luke-Acts is very cautious in his use of the term eu)agge/lion (“good message, good news”); it occurs only twice (Acts 15:7; 20:24), and not at all in the Gospel. By contrast, he much prefers the related verb eu)aggeli/zw (“give the good message, bring good news”), emphasizing the act of proclaiming the Gospel. It occurs twice in the Infancy narratives, in relation to the Angelic announcement of the ‘good news’ (1:19; 2:10), and also is used to characterize the preaching of John the Baptist (3:18). It is used again here, embedded in the (LXX) quotation of Isa 61:1 (4:18), to characterize the ministry of Jesus.

In terms of the development of the Spirit-theme, this citation of Isa 61:1-2 relates to three key aspects:

    1. The Messianic Identity of Jesus
    2. The New Age of Prophecy
    3. A Prefiguring of the Gospel

1. The Messianic Identity of Jesus. During the time of his public ministry, the Messianic identity of Jesus was defined (and expressed) in terms of the Messianic Prophet figure-types. This is rooted in the early Gospel Tradition, and dominates the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry in the Synoptic narrative. It differs markedly from the Lukan Infancy narratives, where the figure-type of the royal/Davidic Messiah is in view.

Here in the Nazareth episode, Jesus specifically identifies himself with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1-2ff (v. 21); cf. also 7:22 par. The inspired character of this herald certainly involves the prophetic spirit—that is, the Spirit of God which comes upon the chosen individual and enables him/her to function as a ayb!n` (spokesperson for YHWH), communicating His word. In the context of the Trito-Isaian poems, the key reference in this regard is the statement (and promise) in 59:21. It also draws upon the ‘Servant Songs’ of chapters 40-55; the Deutero-Isaian “Servant” is both an individual and collective figure—representing both a prophetic leader and the people of God as a whole, during the New Age of Israel’s restoration.

This ‘Servant’ follows the pattern of Moses as a prophetic figure-type. The Messianic and eschatological dimension of this figure is rooted in the promise of a “Prophet like Moses” who is to come (Deut 18:15-19).  Jesus is identified with this Moses-figure in a number of ways in early Christian tradition (including a direct identification in Acts 3:22; 7:37). However, here in the Lukan narrative, as well as in the Qumran text 4Q521, the herald of Isa 61:1ff is associated with the prophetic figure of Elijah. Jesus clearly connects the text with his own identity as a prophet (the saying in v. 24), and the Scriptural illustrations he gives in vv. 25-27 all come from the Elijah/Elisha narratives. The wording of the LXX in Isa 61:2, referencing the blind recovering their sight, gives to the passage a healing-miracle aspect that is lacking in the original Hebrew, but which is quite appropriate for the ministry of Jesus, where such miracles feature prominently. Elijah (along with his disciple Elisha) was the pre-eminent miracle-working Prophet in Old Testament tradition. Cf. again the association of this aspect with the herald of Isa 61:1ff in Lk 7:18-23 par, and also the Qumran text 4Q521.

For more on Jesus as a Messianic Prophet, cf. Parts 2 & 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

2. The New Age of Prophecy. Isa 61:1-2ff is one of a number of passages in Isa 40-66 (the so-called Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah) which express the presence and work of the Spirit in the ‘New Age’ of Israel’s restoration. For more on the original context of 61:1-2ff, cf. the earlier article in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. The Deutero-Isaian ‘Servant’ is both an individual and collective figure, as noted above. The references to the Spirit, in this regard, indicate that, in the New Age, the Spirit of God will come in new way upon both the prophetic leaders and the people as a whole (cf. 42:1; 44:3; 48:16).

This prophetic ideal reflects the New Age (and the New Covenant) for God’s people (cp. Ezek 11:19; 36:26-27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29), but one which clearly was not realized for Israel in the post-exilic period. Here in the Lukan Gospel, Jesus declares that now is the time when the prophecy will be fulfilled, and that he is the Anointed One who will bring the ‘good news’ : that the time has come for the prophetic ideal to be realized. The New Age of justice and righteousness, of blessing and deliverance for God’s people—i.e., the Kingdom of God—is now at hand.

3. Prefiguring the Gospel. In the Lukan Infancy narratives, the last prophets of the Old Covenant (Zechariah, Elizabeth, [Mary], Simeon, and John the Baptist), under the direct influence of the Spirit, all prophesy. The inspired message they communicate involves the Messianic identity of Jesus (cf. above), and the end-time work God is doing (and is about to do) through him. In this regard, their prophetic oracles prefigure the Gospel (on the use of the verb eu)aggeli/zw in the Infancy narratives, cf. above). Also noteworthy, from the Lukan standpoint, is how the aforementioned prophetic figures also function as transitional figures, representing a point of contact (and continuity) with the New Covenant. They stand at the threshold of the New Age—the new revelation by God in the person of Jesus.

Jesus himself uses the verb eu)aggeli/zw in 4:18, at least as the quotation of Isa 61:1 is preserved in the Greek (LXX) translation; in the original Hebrew, the verb is rc^B* (in the Piel stem), which has a comparable meaning (“give the [good] news”). At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus thus proclaims the Gospel (cf. Mk 1:14-15 par); he does this under the unique inspiration of the Spirit. This relates to his Messianic identity (cf. above). The anointing of the herald with the Spirit was clearly understood as having been fulfilled at the Baptism; the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus follows the image of oil (of anointing) being poured out (like the water of the Baptism) upon him.

It should be remembered that the Deutero-Isaian ‘Servant’ is both an individual and a collective figure. He represents both the inspired prophetic leader, as well as the people as a whole. Here, the Spirit has come upon Jesus (the Messianic leader) and he prophesies, proclaiming the Gospel; in the book of Acts (2:1-4ff), it is all the people (believers) who do so.

 

 

June 5: Mark 13:11 par

Mark 13:11; Matt 10:19-20; Luke 12:11-12

One of the clearest indications of a development of the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God, within the earliest layers of the Gospel tradition, is the idea that the coming of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration will occur through Jesus, as God’s Anointed representative. As a Spirit-inspired Prophet, uniquely empowered by the holy Spirit of God, Jesus will communicate that same Spirit to others. This is reflected in the saying of the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), discussed in a prior note, and it is also implied in the way that the relationship between Jesus and his disciples is depicted in the Gospels.

The references to the Spirit in the Synoptic account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (esp. in the Lukan version, cf. the prior note on Lk 4:1, 14ff) make clear that his teaching/preaching and his ability to work healing miracles are the result of his being ‘anointed’ by the Spirit (see esp. the use of Isa 61:1ff in Luke 4:17-19ff, also 7:18-23 par). Having gathered around him a group of close disciples, to share in his ministry (Mk 3:13-19 par), Jesus gives to them a share of the same power to preach and work miracles (Mk 6:7-13 par). His disciples thus function as anointed prophets in a manner similar to Jesus himself. We must assume that this activity is likewise Spirit-inspired, even though there is no specific reference to the Spirit in these passages. The situation is comparable to the episode in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), where God allows a group of seventy Israelite elders to share in the same divine Spirit that is “upon” Moses. The Spirit comes upon them, and they each function as a ayb!n` (inspired spokesperson/representative for God, i.e. “prophet”), in a manner similar to Moses. The emphasis in that narrative is on leadership, but it is also clear that the activity of the inspired men includes proclamation and certain kinds of ministry performed throughout the camp (vv. 17, 26ff).

Though no direct mention is made of the Spirit in the Gospel passages dealing with the disciples’ activity during Jesus’ ministry, it is fair to assume that their preaching and miracles, like those of Jesus, were done with the “Spirit/finger of God” (Matt 12:28; Lk 11:20). The only instance where this ministry activity of the disciples is explicitly said to be inspired by the Spirit is the saying in Mark 13:11, for which there is a corresponding version in Matt 10:19-20 / Lk 12:11-12.

The Markan saying is part of the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 13 = Matthew 24 / Luke 21:5-36), the literary setting of which, in the Synoptic narrative, is in Jerusalem, not long before Jesus’ death. The Discourse thus foretells things that will occur after Jesus’ own death and departure. There will be a time of great distress (qli/yi$) for humankind (especially those in Jerusalem and Judea), and this will mean suffering and persecution for Jesus’ disciples as well (vv. 9-13). Jesus announces that his disciples will arrested and interrogated before government tribunals (both Jewish and non-Jewish), but his exhortation to them is that, when this occurs, they should not be anxious about how they are to respond or what they are to say; instead, he assures them:

“…whatever should be given to you in that hour (to say), so you must speak; for you are not the (one)s speaking, rather (it is) the holy Spirit.” (v. 11)

The corresponding saying in Matthew/Luke occurs at a different location in the narrative, but the context would seem to be the same—it relates to things that will take place in the near future, following Jesus’ departure. This fact is obscured by Matthew’s location of it in the setting of the mission of the Twelve (10:5-15). In one sense that location is anachronistic, but it reflects a different organizing principle for the traditional (sayings) material—as with the Eschatological Discourse, it is a literary, rather than a historical/chronological, arrangement. In any case, the Matthean version reads as follows:

“And when they give you along [i.e. over to the authorities], you must not be concerned (about) how or what you should speak; for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but (rather) the Spirit of your Father is the (one) speaking in you.” (10:19-20)

Luke has this saying in yet a different location, at 12:11-12, joined by way of “catchword-bonding” with the saying on the Spirit in 12:10 (discussed in the previous note). The Lukan wording is clearer and cast in a form that would better relate to early Christians in the author’s own time; the relevant portion reads:

“…you must not be concerned (about) how or what you should give forth as an account (of yourself), or what you should say; for the holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s it is necessary (for you) to say.”

The distinctly Lukan elements (glosses) are given in italics—these include the use of the verb a)pologe/omai (“give forth an account”), the emphasis on teaching (vb dida/skw), and the verb form dei= (“it is necessary…”). This must be understood as a Christianized form of the saying, made to apply more directly to the life situation and experience of early Christians. Jesus’ prediction, of course, was admirably fulfilled during the period prior to 70 A.D., as documented by the experience of the apostles and other missionaries in the book of Acts. At several points in the Acts narratives, it is specifically stated that the early Christians respond as inspired spokespersons (i.e. prophets), being moved or “filled” with the Spirit—4:8, 31; 6:3, 5ff; 7:55; 13:9, etc. It goes without saying that this represents a distinctly Christian development of the Old Testament tradition(s) regarding prophetic inspiration. The juxtaposition of the Spirit-inspired prophecy of David (in the Psalms, 4:25, cp. Mk 12:36), with that of the early Christians (4:8, 31), demonstrates that they are parallel concepts of inspiration.

What is especially noteworthy about these references in the book of Acts is how they are specifically tied to the early Christian mission and the proclamation of the Gospel. The “good message”, which had already been proclaimed during the period of Jesus’ ministry (Mk 1:14-15; 6:12; 13:10 par, etc), is now framed in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The primary purpose for the holy Spirit coming upon the early Christians in Jerusalem was their mission to the surrounding nations and the proclamation of the Gospel (1:8; 2:1-4ff), a point that will be discussed further in the upcoming notes. As this proclamation is centered on a basic narration of the events of Jesus’ life (and death), it may be seen as providing a seminal basis for the idea of the inspiration of the Gospels, and even of the New Testament as a whole.

December 26: Acts 13:33

Jesus as the Son of God: The Resurrection and Exaltation of Christ

If we are to ask: how did the earliest Christians understand Jesus’ identity as the Son of God? The answer may be somewhat surprising. The orthodox Christology, as enshrined in the 4th century Nicene Creed, affirms Jesus Christ as the eternal, pre-existent Son of God the Father. However, Christians did not come to such a fully developed belief immediately. Indeed, there is actually little evidence, clear and direct, for the pre-existent deity of Jesus in much of the New Testament. For the earliest believers, Jesus’ divine Sonship was understood and expressed almost entirely in terms of the resurrection. And, while this did not remain the limit of the New Testament Christology, it is very much where the Christology began.

This can be illustrated by an examination of the preaching in the book of Acts. While commentators debate the extent to which the sermon-speeches in Acts genuinely reflect the earliest preaching, there appear to be enough unusual or archaic details in them to affirm, on entirely objective grounds, that the speeches preserve, in substance, authentic Gospel preaching from the time of the first apostles. For more on this, cf. the articles in my series “The Speeches of Acts”.

When one looks as the Gospel preaching in Acts, one is struck by the absence of a ‘high’ Christology, with virtually no suggestion of Jesus’ pre-existent deity. In the earliest years, still flush from the experience of the resurrection, the first preachers and missionaries presented their proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel squarely in terms of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. With the resurrection, Jesus was exalted to a divine status and position, to be seated at the right hand of God. This was the result of the resurrection, and there is no real indication that he had this position prior to his life and ministry on earth. Of all the sermon-speeches in Acts, those by Peter and Paul, in Acts 2 and 13 respectively, are primary, encapsulating the essence of the earliest preaching. In each of these speeches, the deity of Jesus is clearly expressed in relation to the resurrection; note, for example, Peter’s declaration:

“This Yeshua God made to stand up (out of the dead), of which we all are witnesses; so (then), having been lifted high to the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of God, and receiving the message about (what will be done by way) of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father, he poured this out… So (then), all the house of Yisrael must know, without fail, that God made him (to be) even Lord and Anointed (One), this Yeshua whom you put to the stake!” (2:32-33, 36)

The passage clearly states that Jesus was made (vb poie/w) Lord and Christ as a result of the resurrection. This sort of language would be problematic for later Christians, since, according to the orthodox Christology, Jesus was already Lord (as the pre-existent Son) long before he was raised from the dead. While Peter’s speech does not mention the motif of sonship, it is part of Paul’s great speech at Antioch in chapter 13; it is worth devoting some attention to the statement in verse 33.

Acts 13:33

The two great sermon-speeches by Peter and Paul (in Acts 2 and 13) have a similar structure, style, and points of emphasis. In both speeches there are key Scripture passages (from the Psalms) that are expounded as part of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma), so as to demonstrate (to the Jewish audience) that Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah), the end-time ruler and redeemer from the line of David. As it happens, both speeches make use of Psalm 16:8-11, as a (Messianic) prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (2:25-31; 13:34-37). Along with this Scripture passage, another Psalm verse is included as a Messianic prophecy. In Acts 2, it is Psalm 110:1 (vv. 34-35), while in Acts 13 it is Psalm 2:7 (vv. 32-33). These happen to be the two Old Testament verses which exerted the most influence on early Christians, both in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and his divine status. With Psalm 110:1, this involves the title Lord (ku/rio$), while in Ps 2:7 it is the Messiah’s identity as God’s Son. The Gospel proclamation in Acts relates both of these to Jesus in his resurrection and exaltation (not as pre-existent titles). Here is Paul’s use of Psalm 2:7 in verses 32-33:

“And we bring th(is) good message to you: the message about (what God will do), (hav)ing come to be toward the fathers, (it is) this that God has fulfilled for us th[eir] offspring, (by) making Yeshua stand up (out of the dead), even as it has been written in the second Psalm— ‘You are my son; today I have caused you to be (born)’.”

The point could not be any clearer: Jesus’ ‘birth’ as God’s Son occurred as a result of his resurrection. The author of Hebrews makes similar use of Psalm 2:7 , but with a major difference—the traditional context of Jesus’ resurrection (5:5) has been expanded to include the idea of his eternal pre-existence (1:5). This is a proper development in early Christian thought, but it is a development which, by all accounts, had not yet occurred in the earliest period. It is generally absent from the Synoptic Gospels and Acts; the earliest evidence for a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent deity appears to be the Christ-hymn in Phil 2:6-11, probably some time around 60 A.D. (or a few years prior). There are other possible allusions in Paul’s letters (cf. below), but few if any clear references earlier than the Christ-hymn.

The only other reference to Jesus as the Son of God in the book of Acts is 9:20, where Paul again is the focus of the narrative. It summarizes his Gospel preaching among Jews (in the synagogues):

“And straightway, in the (place)s (where people) are brought together [i.e. synagogues], he proclaimed Yeshua, (saying) that this (one) is the Son of God.”

This narrative statement is generally synonymous with the one that follows in verse 22: “…he poured out (his teaching) together (among) the Yehudeans {Jews}…driving together (the point) that this (one) is the Anointed (of God).” By bringing the two statements together, we obtain a snapshot of the apostolic message, and specifically that emphasized by Paul. Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah) expected by the people, and more—through his resurrection and exaltation to heaven, he also is truly “the Son of God”.

Thus, when the earliest Christians spoke of Jesus’ birth, they did not immediately have in mind his physical birth as a human being, but, rather, his “birth” as the Son of God that resulted from his resurrection from the dead. Being exalted to heaven, and seated as the right hand of God the Father, he is very much the Son. How was this idea expressed and how did it develop in the earliest Christian writings?

The best evidence we have for Christian belief in the period c. 45-60 A.D. comes from the Pauline letters, especially those where authorship is undisputed (1 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians, etc). In the next note, we will look at some key references to Jesus as God’s Son in these letters, with special attention being paid to the declaration in Romans 1:4.

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 3: Revelation

According to the basic outlines of gnostic (and Gnostic) thought, because human beings are trapped within the evil (material) world of sin and darkness, it is necessary for a divinely appointed savior-figure to bring knowledge of salvation. In customary theological language, we would refer to this as divine revelation—that is, something made known specially to believers by God Himself. In the New Testament, there are a number of specific words and concepts which refer to revelation, of which I list the three most important here:

    • gnwri/zw (gnœrízœ), “make known”—this verb is derived from ginw/skw (“know)”, on which see Part 1 of this series.
    • fai/nw (phaínœ) and fanero/w (phaneróœ), “shine, make (to) shine (forth)”, specifically of light, but often figuratively in the sense of “appear, be/make visible, (make) manifest/apparent”—this includes a variety of compound and derived words.
    • a)pokalu/ptw (apokaly¡ptœ), “take (the) cover from, uncover”.

Each of these carries a different image or nuance, and will be discussed in turn. Following this, I will discuss two distinctly Christian aspects of revelation which are vital for a proper understanding of the relationship between knowledge and salvation (cf. Part 2): (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the person of Christ.

gnwri/zw (“make known”)

This verb occurs 25 times in the New Testament, primarily in the Pauline Letters (18 times). It refers to the aspect of revelation which is directly connected with knowledge. Before one can know something, it first has to be made known by some means, all the more so when dealing with divine and heavenly matters. The verb is rare in the Gospels and Acts, but it occurs in two important contexts which are seminal to the Gospel message, and which specifically frame the (Lukan) narrative:

    • The Birth of Jesus:
      Lk 2:15—God makes it known to the shepherds through an Angelic announcement
      Lk 2:17—The shepherds, in turn, make the news known to others
    • The Resurrection of Jesus:
      In Acts 2:28, Psalm 16:11 is applied to Jesus—”you have made known to me the ways of life

Elsewhere, in Paul’s letters, the verb is used more precisely in reference to the proclamation of the Gospel; two key passages in Romans express this in slightly different ways:

    • Romans 9:22-23—God has worked to make known: his power (v. 22), and the riches of his glory/mercy (v. 23). The eschatological (Judgment) setting here reflects a two-fold aspect of the Gospel which Paul expresses more directly in 1 Cor 1:18ff and 2 Cor 2:14-4:6—the Gospel for those perishing and for those being saved.
    • Romans 16:26—the secret hidden by God is uncovered (cf. below) and made known, through the Scriptures (Prophets), and, by implication, the proclamation of the Gospel (in which the Scriptures are interpreted).

In Col 1:27 and also Eph 1:9, the verb is again used in a similar context. Paul himself, as an appointed, authoritative minister of the Gospel, is said to make known this “secret” of the Gospel—cf. Eph 3:3, 5, 10; 6:19. The verb becomes part of Paul’s rhetorical and didactic approach in his letters:

Similarly, in 2 Peter 1:16, the apostles are described as eye-witnesses making known the power and presence of Christ. In the Gospel of John (15:15; 17:26), it is Jesus (the Son) who has made God the Father known to his followers (cf. the recent notes on Jn 8:32 and 17:3), who (like the Lukan shepherds) will do so in turn for others.

fai/nw, fanero/w, etc (“shine [forth]”)

The verbs fai/nw and fanero/w are related to the word fw=$ (“light”), and are often used (figuratively) to refer to revelation under the image of shining forth light. This motif goes back to Old Testament tradition, including the creation narrative (Gen 1:3ff), the Exodus narrative (Exod 10:23; 13:21), the priestly blessing (Num 6:25), and frequently of God in the Psalms, Wisdom literature, and Prophets. God’s word is described as light in Psalm 119:105, 130, and light is associated with God’s salvation for his people in Ps 27:1; Isa 9:2; 49:6; 60:1ff; Mic 7:8-9, etc. This Old Testament imagery was applied to Jesus in the Gospel tradition—cf. Luke 1:79; 2:30-32 (Isa 49:6; 52:10); and Matt 4:16 (Isa 9:2). Christ is the light (or sun) shining on those in darkness; by implication, the message of Christ (the Gospel) is also to be understood as light shining in the same way. Light is an especially important motif in the Gospel of John, where Christ (the Son and living Word) is identified with the divine, eternal light, and where there is a strong (dualistic) contrast between light and darkness—Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 5:35; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, etc.

fai/nw, e)pifai/nw, e)pifanei/a

Here we have the straightforward image of light (or the sun, etc) shining; the compound forms with e)pi specifically refer to light shining upon someone or something. In its more concrete sense, fai/nw is used in the Gospel for the appearance of a heavenly being (Angel), especially in the context of the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:20; 2:7ff) and at the resurrection (Mark 16:9). Similarly, it is used of the end-time heavenly appearance of the “Son of Man” (Matt 24:27, 30), while the compound a)nafai/nw refers to the eschatological appearance of the Kingdom of God in Luke 19:11. For the appearance of a wondrous, miraculous event in general, cf. Matt 9:33. Throughout the New Testament, these words tend to be used in a metaphorical, figurative sense in several primary ways:

In Rom 7:13, the verb is used (uniquely) in the sense of gaining knowledge and awareness of sin; while in Titus 2:11 and 3:4, the compound e)pifai/nw refers more abstractly (in Pauline language) to salvation coming through the appearance of the grace and love of God, the person and work of Christ being understood. The related noun e)pifanei/a came to be used specifically for Christ’s future appearance on earth (i.e. his return)—2 Thess 2:8; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; Tit 2:13. Eventually, it was used in early Christianity as a technical term for the incarnation of Christ (i.e. his first appearance), suggested already in 2 Tim 1:10.

fanero/w, etc

The verb fanero/w more properly means “make (light) to shine forth”, i.e. “make visible, cause to appear, make manifest”. It is frequently used in a revelatory sense in the New Testament—that is, of something coming to be made visible, or made known, by God. For the general sense of making known something secret or hidden, cf. Mark 4:22 par; Eph 5:13-14; in the Gospel tradition, there are the notable reference to the so-called “Messianic secret”, whereby Jesus wishes to keep his identity (as Anointed One and Son of God) from being made known publicly, until after the resurrection (Mk 3:12; Matt 12:16; cf. also Jn 7:10). For the verb fanero/w, and the related words fanero/$ and fane/rwsi$, we can isolate the same three ways it is applied in the New Testament as mentioned above for fai/nw, etc:

Somewhat unique is the idea of natural revelation expressed in Rom 1:19—that is, of the knowledge of God which is evident in creation, but which humankind, in bondage to sin, cannot truly recognize.

Other words

There are a number of other similar verbs and terms which describe revelation in terms of light, vision, seeing, etc. The most significant will be mentioned briefly here:

    • fwti/zw (“give light”) and la/mpw (“give a beam [of light]”), which are related to the words fw=$ and lampa/$ (cf. also lu/xno$) respectively [to distinguish between these, verses with la/mpw or its compound forms are marked by an asterisk (*)]. These words can refer:
      • To the heavenly appearance of God, Christ and Angels (Lk 2:9*; Acts 12:7*; Rev 18:1; 21:23; 22:5); with which we should include the transfiguration scene (Matt 17:2*), and the future appearance of the Son of Man in Lk 17:24*.
      • Figuratively, in a theological/christological sense, to Jesus as light (Jn 1:9); for other light-references in John, cf. above.
      • To the revelation of God/Christ in the Gospel, with its proclamation (Eph 3:9; 2 Tim 1:10; Heb 10:32); cf. especially 2 Cor 4:4-6 (which uses both verbs) and my earlier note.
      • To the heart, etc., being enlightened by God (1 Cor 4:5; Eph 1:18; Heb 6:4)
      • To the shining forth of believers (and their works), cf. Matt 5:15-16*; 13:43*
    • e)mfani/zw (“shine forth in”)—there are two important references to this compound verb which are relevant here:
      • John 14:21-22—of Christ’s manifestation in/to the believer
      • Heb 9:24—of Christ’s appearance in heaven before God
    • o)pta/nomai (lit. “look with, use the eyes”, “perceive, see”)—the (aorist) passive of this verb is used frequently for something that comes to be seen, i.e. made visible to the eye, especially in the case of a divine/heavenly being, such as an Angel or the resurrected Christ. Of the many references, cf. Mk 9:24 par; Lk 1:11; 24:34; Acts 9:17; 13:31; 1 Cor 15:5-8; 1 Tim 3:16. The future form can also be used in the context of a promise to see the heavenly/divine (cf. Jn 11:40), and several occurrences are significant in connection with the Gospel message (Matt 28:7, 10; Lk 3:6). Note also the important use of the verb in John 3:36 and Rom 15:21.

a)pokalu/ptw (“uncover”)

This verb literally means “take the cover (away) from”, and represents the third aspect of revelation to be discussed in this article—that of uncovering something hidden or secret. I have dealt with the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament in an earlier series of notes, which ought to be consulted, since the passages are relevant to the idea being discussed here. For the verb and the related noun (a)poka/luyi$), we may isolate the way they are used in the New Testament as follows (passages with the noun are marked by an asterisk):

The Gospel and Christian Identity

Careful study of the references cited above, will show, as I have demonstrated in several places, that there are three main aspects or strands which relate to the idea of revelation, and which may be labeled as follows:

    1. The proclamation of the Gospel
    2. The person of Christ, and
    3. The religious identity of believers in Christ

The last of these is closest to a gnostic point of view—that is, of our religious (Christian) identity being defined in terms of knowledge and revelation. However, it is in the first two aspects that any aberrant or exaggerated gnostic tendency is checked. These two points require a bit more explanation:

(a) The proclamation of the Gospel

A large percentage of the passages listed above are connected to some degree with knowledge and revelation that is expressed and determined by the proclamation of the Gospel. This especially the case in the Pauline letters, where salvation is directly connected to the Gospel message (and its proclamation)—cf. 2 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 1:21; 9:14-23; 15:2; Gal 1:6-9; Rom 1:16-17; 10:14-21; 15:18-20. I have discussed the important passages 1 Cor 1:18ff and 2 Cor 2:14-4:6 in earlier notes. Paul had a very definite sense of what the Gospel was, and what it was not (cf. Gal 1:7-9ff), and, especially, how it could be distorted or rendered ineffective in its proclamation (1 Cor 1:17; 2:1-5). For early Christians, it was unquestionably the death of Christ (and his subsequent resurrection/exaltation) which was the central element of the proclamation (Acts 2:23; 3:13-15; 4:10, 26-28; 5:30, etc). In Paul’s letters, one may say that the crucifixion (the cross) of Christ receives even greater prominence. In 1 Cor 1:18 the Gospel message is referred to specifically as “the account [i.e. word] of the cross”. It is just at this point—the death and crucifixion of Christ—that many Gnostics struggled with the Gospel, as Paul surely would have predicted. He understood well the difficulty of this message, for Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) alike (cf. Gal 3:10-13; 5:11; 6:12, etc). In 1 Cor 1:18ff, he sets up a direct contrast between the cross (as an expression of the wisdom of God) and the wisdom of the world—that is, of human wisdom, which includes religious knowledge and wisdom, apart from Christ. Moreover, in several places, Paul centers the (Christian) religious identity of believers squarely on the death and crucifixion of Christ. This is expressed most powerfully in Gal 2:19-20; 6:14-15, and also in the baptismal symbolism of Rom 6:3-11, as well as in other key passages (cf. Rom 8:3-4; Col 2:11-15).

(b) The person of Christ

The centrality of Christ in the New Testament and early Christian thought scarcely requires comment. However, believers often struggled (and continue to struggle) with exactly how one is to understand: (1) the special (divine) nature of Christ, and (2) the believer’s relationship to him. We may look to the Pauline and Johannine writings for powerful and distinctive teaching on both counts. Interestingly, both branches of early theology (and Christology) have a number of key points in common.

    • The parallel concept of believers being “in Christ” and Christ being in the believer
    • Both express the idea of believers in Christ as reflecting a “new birth” or “new creation”, including the expression “sons/children of God”, “sons of light”, etc
    • Both give strong emphasis to the role of the Spirit as the abiding presence of Christ in and among believers, and the point of union with God in Christ
    • Christ is seen as manifesting and embodying the character and nature of God—his love, truth, righteousness, power, etc.

This will be discussed further in Part 4 of this series, as well as in a separate article discussing knowledge and revelation in the Gospel of John.

“Gnosis” in the NT: 2 Cor 2:14

2 Corinthians 2:14

In treating the subject of knowledge (gnw=si$, gnœsis) in the New Testament, two related verses in 2 Corinthians are especially important—2 Cor 2:14 and 4:6—expressing Paul’s view of the matter quite succinctly and effectively. These two verses happen to form an inclusio, framing the section 2:14-4:6, being the first and last sentences, respectively. This can be seen clearly by an outline of the section:

    • 2:14-17: Paul and his fellow ministers who proclaim the Gospel—the knowledge of God in Christ
      • 3:1-6: Contrast between the old covenant (on tablets of stone) and new covenant (in the heart)—the letter vs. the Spirit
        —vv. 4-6: Ministers of the New Covenant
      • 3:7-18: Contrast between the veiled face of Moses and the unveiled face of believers in the Spirit
        —vv. 12-18: Ministers of the New Covenant (par. with Moses)
    • 4:1-6: The ministry of proclaiming the Gospel—the knowledge of God in Christ

The chiastic structure of this section becomes even more obvious when comparing 2:14-17 with 4:1-6:

Thus these two verses perfectly enclose the section, and should be studied together. I begin in today’s note with 2:14. Interestingly, this verse itself has a chiastic symmetry. The opening phrase is: “To God be thanks for (his) favor… [tw=| de\ qew=| xa/ri$ tw=|…]”. The second definite article defines (and explains) the favor (xa/ri$) which God has shown. This, in the remainder of the verse, may be presented as a chiasm:

    • every time [pa/ntote, i.e. always]
      • leading us in procession [qriambeu/onti h(ma=$]
        • in Christ [e)n Xristw=|]
        • the smell of the knowledge of Him [th\n o)smh\n th=$ gnw/sew$ au)tou=]
      • shining forth [i.e. making manifest] through us [fanerou=nti di’ h(mw=n]
    • in every place [e)n panti\ to/pw=]

These elements—the words and phrases—require some closer examination. First, the expressions using forms of pa=$ (“all, every”), which occur frequently in Paul’s letters:

(a) pa/ntote, “every [pa=$] (time) when [to/te]”, “always, whenever, etc.”—27 of 41 NT occurrences
(b) e)n panti\ to/pw|, “in every [pa=$] place, in all place(s)”, “everywhere”—cf. also in 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Thess 1:8; and 1 Tim 2:8

These expressions encapsulate the completeness and universal reach of God’s action—temporal and spatial—covering every aspect of human existence. Specifically, here it relates to every aspect of the ministry of Paul and his fellow missionaries. The second pair of phrases are governed by two participles with predicate pronoun (“us”). The two verbs involved are:

    • qriambeu/w (thriambeúœ), which refers primarily to a military triumph (as by the Roman forces), and often in the specific sense of a triumphal procession following victory, in which captives and the spoils of battle would be displayed. There is some uncertainty as to the precise sense of Paul’s image here; it could be (a) that God leads Paul and other ministers in triumph, with the spread of the Gospel, etc. For similar military imagery along these lines, see e.g. 10:4-5. The other possibility is (b) that God leads Paul and the other ministers in procession as captives—i.e. they themselves have been made captive to the Gospel. Paul occasionally uses the term “slave” (dou=lo$) to refer to himself (and others) as ministers of Christ and the Gospel (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1, etc), and it is probably this latter sense that is meant in context here. The only other occurrence in the New Testament is Col 2:15, where a military victory, performed by God through the death (crucifixion) of Jesus, is properly meant.
    • fanero/w (phaneróœ), related to fw=$ (phœ¡s), “light” and the principal verbs fa/w [obs.], fai/nw (“shine [as] light”), meaning “shine forth”, often in the figurative sense of “appear, make apparent, (make) manifest”. It is found frequently in the Pauline letters (22 of 49 occurrences), and also in the Gospel and First letter of John (18 times). This verb will be discussed further in Part 3 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, dealing with the topic of revelation.

Finally the words in the third (inner) pair of expressions:

    • “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|)—a well known expression, found frequently in Paul’s writings, and almost exclusive to him in the New Testament. Typically it refers to the general status of believers, reflecting (a) our faith/trust in Christ, and (b) our union with him, through the Spirit, and symbolized in the rite of Baptism. However, here there is the specific sense of the status of Paul and his fellow apostles and missionaries as ministers of Christ and the Gospel. God leads them in procession in Christ—which, based on the interpretation given above, could be clarified as in captivity to Christ. For something of this sense, cf. also Rom 16:3, 9; Philem 23, etc. As captives, they are specifically required to speak (i.e. proclaim the Gospel)—cf. further in verse 17, and 12:19.
    • “the smell of the knowledge of Him” (h( o)smh\ th=$ gnw/sew$ au)tou=)—a genitive chain with three terms, each of which are treated below; a parallel genitive chain, even more extended, is used at a similar point in 4:6 (cf. the next study):
      • o)smh/ (osm¢¡), “smell”, either pleasant or foul. Here a pleasing aroma or fragrance is meant, as indicated by the use of eu)wdi/a (“good scent”) in verse 15. The combination of o)smh/ and eu)wdi/a strongly suggests the fragrance of the sacrificial offerings (cf. Lev 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, etc. [LXX]). Here the “sacrifice” as such is the proclamation of the Gospel, and the role of Paul and his fellow ministers in this activity—for the parallel between Christian ministers and Moses (and the Priesthood), cf. the illustration in chapter 3. Paul plays again on the ambiguity of o)smh/ is verse 16—a good smell of life to the ones being saved (through the Gospel), but a stench of death for the ones perishing. The otherwise mixed metaphor of sight and smell indicates that the verb fanero/w is used more or less in the general sense of “appear, make manifest”.
      • gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis), “knowledge”. For Paul’s use of gnw=si$, cf. Part 1 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. The genitive construct makes clear that the smell is “the smell of knowledge“. If the sacrificial allusion is accepted (cf. above), then the orientation has shifted notably—instead of being directed toward God, the sacrifice is intended for human beings, to bring the knowledge of God to them. This is important when considering possible gnostic elements in the New Testament, and will be discussed further in that series.
      • au)tou=, “of him, his”—I have rendered the genitive relationship literally (“knowledge of him [i.e. God]”), though itself it is ambiguous; it could be subjective (God’s own knowledge) or objective (knowledge about/regarding God). Certainly the latter is meant here, though the two aspects can never be separated entirely, especially with regard to God’s (fore)knowledge of believers.

What is particularly significant about this pair of expressions is the way they must be taken to inform each other: the sacrificial “smell of the knowledge of (God)” comes about entirely “in Christ”.