Note on 2 Corinthians 7:1

2 Corinthians 7:1

This note is supplement to the current Saturday Series studies on 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, a passage many commentators consider to be a non-Pauline interpolation. In the prior studies, I presented some of the key evidence of vocabulary, stylistic details, and points of emphasis that appear to be unusual or atypical of Paul in his other (undisputed) letters (see esp. Study 1 and the article on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls). However, in so doing, it also was made clear, I think, that the unusual vocabulary could be at least partly explained by the reliance upon certain Old Testament passages, as well as the poetic format, used in vv. 14-18 (see Study 2). Therefore, it would seem that a fairer judge of authorship would be the concluding exhortation in 7:1, which is more likely to be a direct product of the author’s own thought and manner of expression. I felt it worth devoting a detailed note to the analysis of the words, phrases, and stylistic devices in 7:1, to see whether, or to what extent, they conform to Pauline usage. I will touch upon these in order of occurrence in the verse.

oún échontes (ou@n e&xonte$)… . The exhortation begins, “(So) then, holding these (thing)s…”, followed by a hortatory subjunctive “we should cleanse [katharísœmen] ourselves”, i.e., “let us cleanse ourselves”. This syntax here is homiletical in nature, and accords with the overall character of 6:14-7:1 as a Jewish Christian homily. This particular format is found in Hebrews (4:14; 10:19, cf. also 12:1), a work which reads more like an extended sermon than a standard letter or epistle. It does not occur precisely so elsewhere in the Pauline letters, though Galatians 6:10 is reasonably close:

“(So) then [oún], as we hold [échomen] (the) time [i.e. have opportunity], we should work [i.e. let us work] (for) the good…”

Paul opens similarly with échontes oún in 2 Cor 3:12 (cf. also 4:1), but not followed by a (hortatory) subjunctive.

tás epangelías (ta\$ e)paggeli/a$). The noun epangelía literally means a message about something, or on a certain point, sometimes with the more forceful connotation of a declaration or announcement. The related verb (epangéllœ) always occurs in the middle voice in the New Testament, often with the sense of a message about oneself, i.e. about what a person will do. The noun is frequently used in the New Testament in reference to what God will do, that is, what he has promised to do, and thus is typically translated as “promise”. The word is used, both in the singular and plural (as here), by Paul 19 times in the undisputed letters, almost all in Romans and Galatians (Romans 4:13-14, 16, 20; 9:4, 8-9; Galatians 3:14, 6-18, 21-22, 29; 4:23, 28), in connection with his arguments regarding the Law (Torah) and the covenant promises of God, as applied to believers in Christ. It also occurs 6 times in Ephesians and the Pastorals (1:13; 2:12; 3:6; 6:2; 1 Tim 4:8; 2 Tim 1:1). The only other occurrence in the Corinthian letters is 2 Cor 1:20:

“For as (many) promises [epangelíai] of God as (there are), in him [i.e. in Jesus Christ] (is) the ‘yes’ (to them)…”

This reflects the Pauline teaching that all the promises made by God (in the Law and Prophets) to His people (Israel) have been fulfilled for believers in the person and work of Christ. There is no reason to think that this is not the same meaning in 7:1; however, it is worth noting that the closest parallel to the specific expression “holding [échonta] the promises” is found in Hebrews (7:6; but see also 1 Tim 4:8).

agap¢toí (a)gaphtoi/), “(be)loved (one)s”. This manner of address, to fellow believers as “beloved”, appears to have been common among early Christians. It occurs frequently in Paul’s letters, the closest parallels to the plural form, as it is used here, would be Rom 12:19; 1 Cor 10:4; 15:58; 2 Cor 12:19; Phil 2:12; 4:1. However, it is even more common in the non-Pauline letters of the New Testament (19 times in Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 John, and Jude).

katharísœmen heautoús (kaqari/swmen e(autou\$), “we should cleanse ourselves”, “let us cleanse ourselves”. The verb katharízœ (“make clean, cleanse”) occurs 31 times in the New Testament, but would appear to be extremely rare for Paul, occurring nowhere else in the undisputed letters, and only twice at all in the corpus (Eph 5:26; Titus 2:14). As many commentators have noted, the idea of believers cleansing themselves seems foreign, not only to Paul’s thought, but to the thought-world of the New Testament as a whole. We need only point to Eph 5:26 and Tit 2:14, the only other Pauline occurrences of the verb—in these passages it is Christ who cleanses believers, through his sacrificial and redeeming work. Even in the context of the baptism ritual, it is still God and Christ (and the Spirit) that does the cleansing, not believers themselves. In many ways the idea of believers making themselves clean, through obedience to God, etc, is closer to the manner of thinking of the Qumran Community (see, for example, 1QS 3:8-9), than that of the New Testament.

apo pantós molysmoú (a)po\ panto\$ molusmou=), “from all stain”. The noun molysmós, “stain, soil(ing)”, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and is extremely rare in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) as well (Jer 23:15; also 1 Esdras 8:80; 2 Macc 5:27). The related verb molýnœ, is more frequent, though still rare in the New Testament (3 times), but is used by Paul in 1 Cor 8:7, in a context (the eating of food previous offered to ‘idols’) not too dissimilar from that of 2 Cor 6:14ff. His argument is that if believers are seen eating food (i.e. meat) that is known (or thought) to have been slaughtered in a pagan religious setting it could harm a fellow believer who is ‘weaker’ in understanding; if this ‘weaker’ believer, influenced the example of the ‘stronger’, is encouraged to eat such food, against his/her own conscience, he/she is then “stained” (molýnetai) by it. In Rev 3:4, the verb generally refers to immorality and/or improper religious behavior, but may relate to the same context of eating food offered to ‘idols’ (cf. 2:14, 20); in Rev 14:4, it refers to sexual intercourse, and marriage/relations between believer and (pagan) non-believer may also be in view in 2 Cor 6:14ff.

It should be noted that a much more common word for Paul to express the idea of impurity is akatharsía, “uncleanness” (2 Cor 12:21; Rom 1:24; 6:19; Gal 5:19; 1 Thess 2:3; 4:7). Conceivably, a different word (molysmós) was chosen here, for variety, since the cognate verb katharízœ was already used in the verse.

sarkós kai pneúmatos (sarko\$ kai\ pneu/mato$), “of flesh and spirit”. Paul frequently uses both words sárx (“flesh”) and pneúma (“spirit”), but the latter almost always refers to the Holy Spirit (or Spirit of God/Christ), and rarely in the general sense of the human “spirit” or “soul”. When he does use pneúma this way, i.e. in the anthropological sense, it is combined with the word sœ¡ma (“body”), not sárx (1 Cor 7:34; 1 Thess 5:23). Normally Paul juxtaposes sárx and pneúma quite differently, as a dualistic contrast between human beings (“flesh”) governed/driven by sin and the “Spirit” of God and Christ (Gal 5:16ff et al). The idea of the human “spirit” being defiled is unusual, but perhaps something along the lines of what Paul expresses in 1 Cor 6:15-20 is intended. Certainly the emphasis here is on the entire person becoming stained by impurity.

epiteloúntes hagiœsýn¢ (e)pitelou=nte$ a(giwsu/nh), “making holiness complete”. The verb epiteléœ, an (intensive) compound form of teléœ (“[make] complete”), is used by Paul 6 other times in his letters, including three times more in 2 Corinthians (8:6, 11 [twice]). Generally the emphasis is on completing something which has already begun, though without necessarily any special theological significance (Rom 15:28). In Phil 1:6, the context is eschatological, expressing confidence that God will complete His good work (that He is currently doing) in and among believers, when Christ appears again on earth. In Galatians 3:3, the focus is rather different—believers are completing things themselves (middle voice of the verb), and in the wrong direction, moving from the Gospel of trust in Christ to a view of Christianity that would include (and/or require) observance of the Torah regulations (such as circumcision). Here, too, in 2 Cor 7:1, it is believers who are to do the completing, but in the positive direction, by avoiding the impurity that comes from involvement with the surrounding (pagan) religious-cultural environment.

The noun hagiœsýn¢ (“holiness”) is actually quite rare in the Pauline letters; indeed, it occurs only two other times in the New Testament, but these are both in Paul’s letters. Romans 1:4 is generally thought to represent part of a credal formula or (Christological) hymn which Paul is adapting. The use in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 is closer in tone and meaning to 2 Cor 7:1, part of a prayer-wish for the Lord Jesus

“to make your hearts firm, without blame [ámemptos], in holiness [en hagiœsýn¢], in front of our God and Father…”

The eschatological setting of this statement is close to that of Phil 1:6 (see above).

en phóbœ theoú (e)n fo/bw| qeou=), “in (the) fear of God”. The expression “fear of God” is traditional, referring to the proper reverence (i.e. fear/awe) due to God, with strong roots in the Old Testament. It would have been relatively common among Jews and Christians of the period, even though the specific expression “(the) fear of God” ([ho] phóbos [tou] theoú) itself is rare in the New Testament. Paul uses the word phóbos (“fear”) at least a dozen times, but “fear of God” only occurs in Rom 3:18 (citing Psalm 36:1), while the synonymous “fear of the Lord” is used in 2 Cor 5:11 (see also Col 3:22). In Eph 5:21, we also have “fear of Christ”, which some MSS read as (or correct to) “fear of God”; in its variant form, the expression is exactly that of 2 Cor 7:1—”in the fear of God” (en phóbœ qeoú).

The title “(one) fearing God” ([ho] phoboúmenos ton theón) was specifically used of Gentiles who worshiped the God of Israel, or who otherwise lived upright lives, were devout, and/or sympathetic to Israelite religion. There are several important occurrences in the book of Acts, especially regarding Cornelius (10:2, cf. also 10:35), and in Paul’s speech at Antioch (13:16, 26).

Conclusion

The evidence for 2 Cor 7:1, like that of 6:14-7:1 as a whole, is mixed. There are peculiar features, but also others well in accord with Paul’s style and manner of expression. The unusual or atypical details permit genuine questions regarding Pauline authorship of the passage, and yet can by no means exclude it as the work of Paul. The central clause of the exhortation (“let us cleanse ourselves of all stain of flesh and spirit”) remains problematic, for two reasons: (1) the strong idiom of ritual purity, with the idea of believers cleansing themselves, and (2) the atypical joining of “flesh” and “spirit”.

Even so, strong arguments can be made for Pauline authorship, or, at least, that he himself made use of traditional material in authoring his letter (specifically 2:14-7:16). This will be discussed, in some detail, in next week’s Saturday Series study.

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:8 (continued)

Matthew 5:8, continued

In the previous article, I discussed the first clause of the sixth Matthean Beatitude (Matt 5:8)—

Maka/rioi oi( kaqaroi\ th=| kardi/a|, o%ti au)toi\ to\n qeo\n o&yontai
“Happy the (ones) clean in the heart, (in) that they will see God”

where I examined the meaning and significance of the expression “pure/clean in the heart” (kaqaro\$ th=| kardi/a|). Today, I will look at the result-clause, which states that they are declared “happy/blessed” in that they will see (o)pta/nomai optánomai, lit. “look with [open] eyes [at]”) God.

“They will see God”

There are several difficulties involved with this phrase, both theological and eschatological.

A fundamental tenet of Israelite and Jewish monotheism was that no human being could surviving seeing God (in this life); Moses’ encounter in Ex 33:20ff makes this clear (for a possible poetic echo of this motif, cf. Song 2:14). This theological point is emphasized especially in the Johannine literature: Jn 1:18; 5:37; 6:46; 1 Jn 4:12. However, there are other passages where chosen individuals are given a direct vision of God (Gen 32:30; Ex 24:10; and the prophetic visions 1 Kings 22:19; Isa 6:1-5; Amos 9:1; Ezek 1:1ff; Dan 7:9-22 [cf. Rev 1:12-16ff; 20:11ff]). In addition, there are references to Moses and others encountering God “face to face” (Exod 33:11; Num 12:8; 14:14; Deut 4:36; 5:4; 34:10; cf. also the expression in Judg 6:22; 1 Cor 13:12). For the metaphor of seeing God’s “face”, note in Gen 33:10; Isa 64:4, etc.

In the Old Testament, vision of God is intertwined with the idea of a divine appearance or manifestation (theophany), which usually takes place in the language and imagery of various natural phenomena (fire, wind, light, etc.)—Ex 3:4ff; 16:10; 19:16-25; Deut 5:24; Judg 6:22; 13:22; Ezek 1:1ff; 10:20; cf. also 1 Kings 19:11-13, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). In general terms, God also is said to have “appeared” to the Patriarchs and other saints (Gen 12:7; 17:1; 18:1; 35:9; Num 12:5). In the New Testament, God becomes visible in the Person of Jesus, as noted especially in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:14, 50-51; 12:45; 14:7ff).

So, on the one hand, God cannot be seen; on the other, he is seen. This has led to the theological distinction that God, in his essence, is invisible (cf. Deut 4:12; Rom 1:20; Col 1:15-16; 1 Tim 1:17; Heb 11:27), and can only be seen through an intermediary. Jewish tradition and theology, in particular, was uncomfortable with the idea of any personal theophany, attributing the Old Testament accounts (see above) to an angel or the hypostasized Word (memra) of God, rather than to YHWH himself (see Acts 7:38 for an instance of this in the New Testament). Christian theologians debated whether human beings in their unfallen state had a true vision of God, and whether even the blessed in Heaven could ever see God in His essence (cf. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae Part I Question 12; Question 94.a1; Part II:ii Question 173.a1; Part III suppl. Question 92).

A vision of God (or, at least, of His Glory) was an established element of eschatological hope throughout the religions of the ancient world. We see this expressed in Old Testament passages such as Job 19:26; Ps 98:3; Isa 35:2; 40:5; 52:10; 60:2; [Lk 2:30-32; 3:6]. In Greco-Roman religion and the mystery cults the promise of blessedness in the afterlife could also be expressed in terms of beatific vision, related to the purity of soul (e.g., in Plato, Phaedo 69; Plutarch, On the Cessation of Oracles 40, On the Delay of Divine Vengeance 22ff; On the Face appearing in the orb of the Moon p.943; Apuleius, Metamorphoses bk 11, etc). This language of eschatological promise pervades the New Testament (Mark 9:1 par; Jn 11:40; 17:24; Acts 22:14; 1 Cor 13:12; 1 Jn 3:2; Rev 20:11ff; 22:4) and is certainly the primary emphasis in Matt 5:8—the one who is pure in heart will be found worthy to receive a vision of God Himself in the afterlife. It is worth noting that the future forms of the verb o)pta/nomai typically are used in an eschatological context in the New Testament (Mark 13:26; 14:62 par; Luke 3:6; 13:28; 17:22; Jn 1:50-51; 3:36; 16:16-22, etc).

However, the New Testament references also suggest an experience of the promise for believers now (in this life), which will only be realized fully in the life to come (see 1 Cor 13:12). This is understood first in terms of seeing God (the Father) in the person of Jesus (Jn 1:14, 50-51; 12:45; 14:7ff, also Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:1-4ff). Fundamentally, then, it is experienced through the power and presence of the Spirit (of God and Christ), cf. Rom 8:9-16; 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Gal 4:6; Eph 1:13-14; 2:22, etc). In an earlier article, I discussed the principal significance of the Beatitude—that the happy/blessed status of the righteous (believer) consists in sharing in the blessedness of God. Here vision is closely related to the idea of imitation (and even transformation), as Paul makes clear especially in 2 Cor 3:18.

The beatific paradox of God’s invisibility and our vision of Him was cherished and deeply felt by Christian mystics throughout the ages. Gregory of Nyssa holds these two aspects together in his Life of Moses II.152-158, 162-169, and esp. 219-255 (commenting on Exod 33:11, 20) and Sermon 6 On the Beatitudes (commenting on Matt 5:8). He states, in appropriately paradoxical fashion—

Kai\ tou=to/ e)stin o&ntw$ to\ i)dei=n to\n qeo\n, to\ mhde/pote th=$ e)piqumi/a$ ko/ron eu(rei=n
“And this is really to see God: not ever to find (one’s) fill of desiring (to see Him)”
This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see Him” (transl. Ferguson/Malherbe)
Life of Moses II.239

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:8

Matthew 5:8

The sixth Beatitude in Matthew (Matt 5:8) is one of the most striking:

Maka/rioi oi( kaqaroi\ th=| kardi/a|, o%ti au)toi\ to\n qeo\n o&yontai
“Happy the (ones) clean in the heart, (in) that they will see God”

The adjective kaqaro/$ (katharós, “clean, pure”) is the key characteristic in this beatitude, and it derives from the context of religious ritual. In ancient and traditional religions worldwide, a basic concept was that, in order to maintain the proper relationship between human beings and God (or the gods)—whether at the individual or societal level—religious ritual and sacrifice must be performed in a state of purity. This purity, with related cleansing in cases of pollution or impurity, was itself maintained through a specific set of rules and ritual (“purity laws”). Purity begins with those invested with handling the sacred things and working in the sacred place(s), but ultimately extends to the entire community. For the religion of Israel, this is expressed throughout the Levitical law code (i.e., the book of Leviticus, esp. the “Holiness Code” of chaps. 17-26), according to the fundamental revelatory principle: “you shall be holy, for I am Holy—YHWH your God” (Lev 19:2, cf. Matt 5:48). The word translated “holy” is vodq* (q¹dôš, “separate, set apart, sacred, holy”), while the Greek term kaqaro/$ usually translates rohf* (‰¹hôr, “clean, pure”); other conceptually related words are yq!n` (n¹qî, “free, empty, clean”), Ez~ (zak, “bright, clear, clean”), rB^ (bar, “shining, clear, pure”), and <T* (t¹m, “complete, pure”). God is called “holy” (vdq/a(gio$), but the term “pure” (rhf/kaqaro$) normally only applies to humans in relation to Him (but see Psalm 12:6; 18:26).

“Pure/Clean in the Heart”

An important religious and spiritual principle is that purity in ritual must be accompanied by inward purity—for both priest and people—involving (a) one’s intention regarding the religious activity, and (b) one’s religious/spiritual condition attending the activity. The Old Testament Prophets, in particular, deliver a fierce condemnation to those who regularly engage in wicked thought and action but yet still participate in the religious ritual (with superficial piety) as though nothing were wrong (see esp. Isa 1:12-20; 66:1-6; Jer 7:1-15). The corruption of the priesthood was also a frequent theme (Mal 1:6-2:16) which would carry into later Jewish thought (emphasized by the Qumran community) and in the New Testament (see my earlier note on Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple); indeed, the priesthood and religious ritual itself was in need of thorough cleansing (see Isa 52:11; Ezek 43:20-23; Zech 3:4; Mal 1:11; 3:3).

The phrase “pure in heart” in  this regard goes back to Psalm 24 (esp. verses 3-4):

3Who shall go up in/on the hill of YHWH, and who shall stand in His holy standing-place?
4(The one) free/clean [yq!n`] (in his) two hands and shining/pure [rB^] of heart,
who has not lifted his soul to emptiness and has not declared seven-fold [? i.e. sworn] to deceit

It is perhaps not inappropriate to say that “clean of hands” suggests ritual purity, while “pure of heart” reflects inward purity. An equivalent phrase is also found in Psalm 51:10 (“a clean [rohf*] heart create for me, O God…”), and in Psalm 24:4; 73:1, 13; Prov 20:9; 22:11 (cf. also at the beginning of the Qumran Beatitudes fragment 4Q525 line 1). This ethical sense of purity (before God) would become an important theme in Wisdom Literature (see Job 4:7; 8:6; 11:4; 15:14-15; 25:4-5; 33:9; Prov 16:2; 21:8; Wis 1:1; Sir 51:20; there would seem to be an echo of Psalm 24:3 in Job 16:17; Sir 38:10). The emphasis on purity of soul (over and above ritual purity) is found also in Greek philosophy and the mystery cults—cf. Pindar Pythian 5 l.2; Plato Phaedo 65e-69d, 80d-83e, 108a-c, 113d, 114c; Laws 4.716d-e; Republic 6.496d; Theophrastus “On Piety” frag. 8, 9; and the Orphic gold plates [DK frag. 32, 33] (for these and other references [and bibliography], see Betz, Sermon, pp. 134-136). For a similar idea in Hellenistic Judaism see Epistle of Aristeas §2, 234; Testament of Benjamin 6:6; 8:2-3; Josephus Antiquities 18 §117 [regarding John the Baptist]; Philo On the Special Laws 1 §257-260; The Worse Attacks the Better §17ff; Noah’s Work as a Planter §62-64; The Life of Moses 2 §24;  (cf. TDNT III.416-417).

Elsewhere in the New Testament the word kaqaro/$ is used in Jesus’ disputes with scribes and Pharisees (related to purity laws and traditions, Matt 23:26; Lk 11:41), and is used to indicate the true cleansing of the disciples (by Jesus’ word) in John 13:10-11; 15:3. In Acts, it (translates an idiom which is) used by Paul to indicate that he is “innocent, free from guilt” (Acts 18:6; 20:26). In the Pastoral epistles, we find the same idiom as in the beatitude (“pure in heart”, 1 Tim 1:5; 2 Tim 2:22, also “pure conscience”, 1 Tim 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3; Tit 1:15; and cf. 1 Pet 1:22; Acts 15:8-9); while similar ethical instruction occurs in James 1:27 (cf. the examples from Wisdom literature above). The related nouns kaqaro/th$ (katharót¢s, “cleanness, purity”) and kaqarismo/$ (katharismós, “cleansing, purification”) are used in the New Testament for cleansing in either the outward ritual sense (Mk 1:44 par; Lk 2:22; Jn 2:6; 3:25) or inward ethical/spiritual sense (Heb 1:3; 9:13; 2 Pet 1:9). The verb kaqari/zw (katharízœ, “make clean, cleanse, purify”) occurs more frequently, also in both outward (ritual) and inward (spiritual) senses; in the latter usage, especially, it is synonymous or parallel with a(gia/zw (hagiázœ, “make holy, sanctify”).

For more on the “heart” as an ethical and spiritual symbol in Jesus’ teaching, see Mark 7:6, 19-21 par; Matt 5:28; 6:21; 12:34 pars; Lk 8:15; Jn 7:38; and elsewhere see in Lk 2:35; Acts 5:3-4; 8:21-22; Rom 2:29; 6:17; 8:27; 1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 5:12; Eph 6:5-6; Col 3:22; 1 Tim 1:5; 2 Tim 2:22; Heb 4:12; 8:10; 10:16, 22; James 1:26; 3:14; 4:8; 5:8; 1 Pet 1:22; 3:4, 8; 1 Jn 3:17-21. The heart is viewed as the center of belief (Rom 10:9-10) and focus of unity among believers through the Spirit (Acts 4:32; Rom 2:29; 5:5; 8:27; 2 Cor 1:22; 3:2; 6:11-13; 7:2-3; Gal 4:6, etc.). There are two sayings involving the heart, used by Jesus, which may be understood as relating to the Beatitude in Matt 5:8:

In particular, I would affirm a parallel with the expression in Matt 5:3—”the poor in the spirit” / “the pure in the heart”.

The second portion of the sixth Beatitude will be discussed in the next article.

This series was originally posted in the earlier version of Biblesoft’s online Study Blog. It is also available for use in Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible program (Version 5 or OneTouch) [find out more]