“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 5:27)

John 5:27

The next “son of man” reference in the Gospel of John is at 5:27, within the lengthy Discourse of chapter 5. The Johannine Discourses of Jesus are all carefully structured and arranged. For example, the first four Discourses are arranged in two pairs. The Discourses in the first pair (3:1-21; 4:1-42) are based upon encounters between Jesus and a particular individual—Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, respectively—characters who are vividly portrayed in the narrative. The Discourses of the second pair (chaps. 5 and 6) are each rooted in a different kind of historical tradition—namely, a miracle episode, similar to those we find narrated in the Synoptic Gospels. Indeed, the miraculous feeding episode in chap. 6 (vv. 1-14f) so closely resembles the Synoptic episode(s) (Mk 6:30-44 par; 8:1-10 par), that most commentators would consider both versions to be derived from a single (common) historical tradition.

As for the miracle episode in chapter 5 (vv. 1-16), it bears a certain resemblance to Mark 3:1-6 par, with the healing framed as a Sabbath controversy episode. Actually, in the Johannine narrative, the healing (vv. 1-9) and Sabbath-controversy (vv. 10-16) portions appear to reflect separate traditions, which the Gospel writer (or the underlying Johannine Tradition) has combined into a single narrative. In this regard, we might a comparison with the healing miracle (of a paralyzed man) in Mk 2:1-12 par, in its contextual position preceding the Sabbath controversy episodes of 2:23-3:6. As it happens, in both the episodes of 2:1-12 and 23-28, the expression “the son of man” plays a prominent role (vv. 10, 28).

The Johannine combination of traditional elements—healing miracle and Sabbath controversy—provides the narrative background for the main saying of Jesus (v. 17) that initiates the Discourse proper: “My Father works (even) until now, and I (also) work.” In the sections of the Discourse that follow, Jesus expounds the meaning of this saying.

In all of the Johannine Discourses, there is a reaction to the initial saying of Jesus by his hearers, and this reaction leads to an expository response by Jesus. The hostile reaction, by at least some of the populace (“the Yehudeans”) who heard him, is presented indirectly, in summary fashion by the Gospel writer, in verse 18. The people objected both to his healing act which (in their view) violated the Sabbath law, and to his statement, by which they recognized that “he was making himself equal to God”.

Typically, the audience reactions to Jesus’ statements in the Discourses involve a misunderstanding of (the true meaning of) his words. Here, the emphasis is not so much on misunderstanding, as it is on opposition to Jesus. Given the Synoptic parallels (see above), and also the certain parallels with the healing episode in chapter 9, it would seem likely that “the Yehudeans [i.e., Jews]” of verses 10-18 should be identified with the kinds of Jewish religious authorities (‘Scribes and Pharisees’) who typically feature as Jesus’ adversaries/opponents in the Gospel Tradition (cf. 9:13-16ff).

Jesus’ exposition that follows may be divided into two main portions—vv. 19-30 and vv. 31-47. The “son of man” reference occurs toward the end of first division. The principal theme of the Discourse is two-fold: (1) Jesus’ identity as the unique Son of God the Father, and (2) the fact that, as the Son, he does the work of his Father.

Like a dutiful son, Jesus follows his father’s example in his working—a principle that almost certainly reflects the practical situation of a son apprenticing in the same work/trade as his father. As Jesus states at the opening of his exposition:

“The Son is not able to do anything from himself, if not [i.e. but only] what he should see the Father doing; for the (thing)s which that (One) would do, the Son also does.” (v. 19)

The Father, like a human father instructing his son, shows the Son what to do and how to work (v. 20).

To illustrate the nature of the Father’s work, Jesus cites two examples, both of which have an eschatological orientation: (i) giving life to the dead (v. 21), and (ii) acting as Judge over humankind (v. 22). The first theme is loosely related to the healing miracle of vv. 1-16, though it would, of course, be more appropriate to the Lazarus episode of chap. 11. The ability to heal illness reflects the life-giving power of God. However, the exposition focuses specifically on giving life to the dead (i.e., resurrection), with the end-time resurrection primarily in view. This resurrection, according to traditional eschatological expectation, is connected with the end-time Judgment.

These twin themes are woven through verses 19-30, being developed in various ways, and (most importantly) given a Johannine Christological interpretation. Structurally, the exposition here is given in two parallel sections—vv. 21-24 and vv. 25-29. Three key points are made in each section:

    • The authority/ability both to give life and to judge is given by the Father to the Son (vv. 21-22f, 26-27)
    • Giving life: the one who hears the voice of the Son will receive life and be raised from the dead (v. 24a, 25ff)
    • Judging: those who hear the Son’s voice will face the Judgment (v. 24b, 28-29)

The emphasis in the second section (vv. 25-29) is on what we may call the traditional future eschatology, held by Jews and Christians in the first centuries B.C./A.D. In the first section (vv. 21-24), however, the focus is on the realized eschatology that is so distinctive of the Johannine Gospel. The two eschatological strands are joined together here by the phrase in v. 25a: “(the) hour comes, and is now (here)”.

From the standpoint of the Johannine ‘realized’ eschatology—that is, where traditional future events (i.e., resurrection, the Judgment) are realized for human beings already in the present—the eschatological events of the resurrection and the Judgment are understood in terms of trust in Jesus. This is stated quite clearly in verse 24:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me holds (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over [metabe/bhken], out of death and into life.”

The use of the perfect tense of the verb metabai/nw, in particular, makes clear that the person trusting in Jesus (as the Son sent by the Father) has already (in the present) received the resurrection-life, and has passed through the Judgment into eternal life. Much the same idea was expressed earlier in 3:16-21, and can be found at other points in the Gospel as well.

Yet this ‘realized’ eschatology does not exclude the traditional (future) understanding of the end-time resurrection and Judgment. This is clear from the second section (vv. 25-29), though some commentators would view the future eschatology in these verses as the product of a later (redacted/edited) edition of the Gospel, and not the work of the original author. As noted above, verse 25a serves to join together the two different eschatological viewpoints. More than this, there is a certain inclusio to the section which could be interpreted as presenting the theme of Jesus’ life-giving (resurrection) power according to both eschatological aspects:

    • Realized eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes and is now (here)
      when the dead
      shall hear the voice of the Son of God,
      and the (one)s hearing shall live” (v. 25)
    • Future eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes
      in which all the (one)s in the memorials [i.e. tombs]
      shall hear his voice,
      and they shall travel out…(some) unto life…and (others) unto judgment” (vv. 28-29)

In both instances, human beings hear the voice of the Son (Jesus). This “hearing” has a double meaning, but the second (deeper) meaning applies only to the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine theology. For this reason, the verb a)kou/w (“hear”) is used twice in verse 25:

    • “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God”
      viz., at the resurrection, when humankind is raised from the dead
    • “and the (one)s (hav)ing heard shall live”
      viz., believers, those trusting in Jesus, shall enter into eternal life

At the same time, the entire verse echoes the realized eschatology of vv. 21-24, and anticipates the Lazarus episode, in which “the dead hearing the voice of the Son” is applied to the present, not simply to the future.

With this analysis in place, we can now turn to the “son of man” reference in verse 27. It is important, first, to examine the reference within the unit of vv. 26-27. As noted above, in this unit, we find the theme of the Father giving to the Son the authority/ability both to give life (to the dead) and to judge. In the first section, this theme was expressed in vv. 21-22:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes live th(ose) whom he wishes.
For the Father judges no one, but has given all (power of) judgment to the Son”

It is similarly expressed, though with quite different wording/phrasing, in vv. 26-27:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father holds life in Himself, so also He (has) given to the Son life to hold in himself.
And He (has) given (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to him to make judgment, (in) that he is (the) Son of man.”

The point is thus made doubly: the Father has given life-giving power to the Son; He has also given the Son the power/authority to act as judge over humankind. With regard to the use of the expression “(the) son of man” here, there are three interpretive issues that need to be addressed:

    1. The relation between the (parallel) terminology “the Son” (v. 22) and “(the) son of man” (v. 27)
    2. In what ways (if any) does the power to give life and to judge differ, particularly as expressed in vv. 26-27, and (how) does this effect the use of the expression “son of man”?
    3. How is the judgment to be understood, comparing the matter in light of both sections (vv. 21-24, 25-29), and in the broader context of the Johannine theology? And how does the expression “(the) son of man” relate to this understanding of the judgment?

In addition, some consideration must be given to the distinctive anarthrous form of the expression (i.e., without the definite article[s]) here in verse 27.

These points will be discussed in the continuation of this study.

 

March 1: Romans 8:19-23

Romans 8:19-23

The sonship-theme presented by Paul in Romans 8:14-17 (see the previous note), and largely repeated from Gal 4:4-6 (discussed earlier), is continued in the next unit (vv. 18-25) of chapter 8. It is worth keeping in mind the outline of this chapter:

    • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
      8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

The theme of vv. 18-25—namely, the believers’ hope of future glory (through the Spirit)—is expounded largely in terms of the sonship emphasis of vv. 14-17. His exposition also develops the contrast, established in v. 17, between present suffering and future glory. In verse 17, this contrast was defined in terms of believers’ participation in the death (i.e., suffering) and resurrection (i.e., honor/glory) of Christ (cf. 6:3-11). We suffer together (vb sumpa/sxw) with him, and so we will also be honored together (vb sundoca/zw, passive) with him. Similar kinds of sun– compound verbs are used in 6:4-6, 8 to emphasize this idea of our union (and participation) with Christ.

The honor/glory aspect is expressed, in vv. 18ff, as an eschatological revelation—that is, something which is about to be revealed (lit. uncovered) at the end-time. The verb a)pokalu/ptw (in v. 18) means “take the cover(ing) from” (i.e., uncover), with the related noun a)poka/luyi$ (in v. 19) referring to a similar “uncovering”. And what is about to be uncovered, or revealed? Paul states the answer quite clearly: the sons of God. The context of vv. 14-17 clearly shows that Paul has in mind that it is believers, in union with Christ, who are the “sons of God”.

However, this identity of believers has yet to be revealed fully, for all to see. Currently, the Divine glory/honor, which we are to inherit from God (v. 17, see the discussion in the previous note), is only partially realized. What we, as believers, experience of this glory now, in the present, is only realized in a ‘hidden’, invisible way, through the Spirit. Only at the end-time, with our resurrection, will the glory of believers become fully manifest. At the same time, our identity as the sons of God, which is currently declared through the Spirit (vv. 15-16, cf. Gal 4:5-6), will be revealed in its full honor and splendor.

Paul frames the present situation in terms of the earthly creation, using the feminine noun kti/si$ (denoting something founded, or ‘formed’), in the traditional sense of that which has been created (by God). Of the 19 New Testament occurrences of this noun, 11 are in Paul’s letters—including 7 in Romans. Apart from the five occurrences in chapter 8 (four in vv. 19-22, and once in v. 39), it is used twice, in 1:20 and 25. Here in vv. 19-22, kti/si$ essentially refers to the current created order, being used, I think, somewhat more abstractly than in other passages.

This created order is characterized by suffering—which certainly includes the death (and mortality) that all created beings must face. Such suffering (and death) was part of the arranged order under which creation was placed; Paul expresses this in verse 20 by the passive of the verb u(pota/ssw (“place under order”, i.e., put in order). The subject of this verb is unspecified, and this has led to some debate among commentators. However, it seems to best to understand it as an example of the Divine passive, with God as the implied actor. It was He who set the current arrangement (of the created order) in place; the reference may be specifically to the Creation narrative, in Genesis 3, and God’s declaration (vv. 14-19) where both the suffering and death of human beings was decreed, along with a curse upon the earth (the land/ground) itself.

Jesus Christ endured this suffering and death, and was raised from it, being exalted to a position of honor and glory. Believers, who have been freed from bondage to suffering (as a result of sin) and death, are likewise able to be raised to glory. It is our participation in Jesus’ suffering and death which enables us to share in his resurrection, as Paul makes clear—6:3-11, and also here in v. 17. He emphasizes the point again in verse 21, but with the added eschatological implication that our resurrection will coincide with a transformation of the entire created order:

“…also the kti/si$ itself will be set free, from the slavery of the decay, unto the freedom of the honor/glory [do/ca] of the offspring [te/kna] of God”

This new creation follows the pattern of believers (the sons/children of God), who already have become a “new creation [kainh\ kti/si$]” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). Currently, all of the created order (kti/si$) suffers together, and even believers experience and take part in this (v. 22). The two verbs Paul uses in this regard—sustena/zw (“groan with”) and sunwdi/nw (“be in pain [together] with”)—both are compound verbs with a prepositional sun– (“[together] with”) prefix, just like the verbs in v. 17 (see above). The participation of believers in the present suffering of creation is emphasized specifically by Paul in verse 23:

“And not only (this), but also (we our)selves, (the one)s holding the beginning of (the harvest) [a)parxh/] of the Spirit, even we (our)selves groan in ourselves, looking out to receive (our full) placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a], the loosing from (bondage) of our body.”

Paul mixes together a number of different images, such as the traditional eschatological image of the (end-time) ‘harvest’. This has added resonance from the context of the suffering of creation (and spec. the ground of the earth). The groaning (vb stena/zw) and pains experienced (vb w)di/nw) suggest the image of a woman in labor (which can also serve as an eschatological motif, e.g., Mark 13:8 par). In the harvest-time, the earth figuratively ‘gives birth’ to offspring, producing its fruit. The noun a)parxh/ refers (literally) to the beginning of the harvest gathering—i.e., the ‘firstfruit(s)’.

As noted above, believers represent the beginning of the “new creation”, and their/our resurrection similarly marks the ‘firstfruits’ of the end-time harvest. With the resurrection of believers, all of the created order will come to be transformed, in a ‘new birth’. For the time being, we (as believers) groan and suffer together with the rest of creation, even though we already possess this transformative power (of the Spirit) within us.

Paul again uses the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as a son”), echoing its use from verse 15 (and earlier in Gal 4:5). Since believers already are God’s sons, ui(oqesi/a here must carry the implied sense of having our identity as His sons fully realized (and manifest); I have indicated this nuance of meaning through a parenthetical gloss in the above translation. This realization of our Divine sonship will be complete with the resurrection of our body. The hope of this future glory is what Paul has in mind when he speaks of the future hope (e)lpi/$, vb e)lpi/zw)—both for believers and for all of creation—in verses 18, 24-25.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the final section of chapter 8 (vv. 26-30), to see how Paul further develops this sonship-of-believers theme.

 

 

May 3: Romans 8:21-23

Romans 8:21-23

Towards the end of chapter 8 (cf. the previous note on Rom 8:10-11), Paul brings in a strong eschatological emphasis. Many Christians today do not fully appreciate the importance of eschatology in early Christian thought. I have discussed the subject at length in the earlier series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament” (cf. the Part 2 of the article on Romans). For first-century Christians, their eschatology was imminent, expecting  that the end would come very soon, probably within the lifetime of most believers. Salvation was understood primarily in terms of being saved from the coming Judgment.

Following the Judgment, a New Age would be inaugurated for humankind; the eschatological expectation of many Jews and Christians of the time included the idea of a complete transformation of all creation—drawing upon the prophetic tradition of a “new heavens and new earth” (Isa 65:17ff; 66:22; cf. Revelation 21:1-2; 2 Peter 3:13). Paul is expressing a similar idea here in Rom 8:18-23, working from the premise, shared by most Christians at the time, that the New Age had already been ushered in, but was only realized (in the present) for believers. This way of thinking is typically referred to as “realized eschatology” —the promise of salvation, eternal life, the resurrection of the body, and so forth—all of this is experienced by believers in Christ, in a preliminary way, through the presence of the Spirit.

Thus, as Paul expounds the matter in vv. 18-23, believers represent the ‘first-fruits’, a)parxh/, literally the beginning (of the ingathering) from (the harvest)—the harvest being a natural motif for the end of the Age. The good grain/fruit is brought in, while the bad/useless chaff is discarded (and burnt up)—cf. Mark 4:29; Matt 3:12 par; 13:30, 38ff; Rev 14:15-20; also Matt 9:37-38 par; John 4:35; cp. Jer 51:33; Joel 3:13, etc). From an eschatological standpoint, this signifies a temporal priority—i.e., the initial transformation of believers, through our possession of the Spirit, marks the beginning of the New Age.

For believers in Christ, the end time, in spite of the suffering (like that of a woman in labor) that takes place, ultimately provides a reason for great hope. Indeed, Paul declares that the present (eschatological) suffering cannot compare to the honor/splendor (do/ca) which we are about to experience (v. 18). In his words, the sufferings of “the time (right) now” are not comparable to the do/ca “being about to be uncovered [i.e. revealed] unto us” (note the imminence of this expectation). The prepositional expression ei)$ h(ma=$ could also be translated “in us”.

This hope for believers also gives hope to the rest of creation (as a whole). Paul refers to this in verse 19 as the “a)pokaradoki/a of the foundation”. The compound noun a)pokaradoki/a is almost impossible to translate; it essentially refers to the act of stretching out one’s head (and neck) with the hopes of seeing/perceiving something. The noun kti/si$, which I translate as “foundation,” properly refers to something that is founded or formed (vb kti/zw), cf. Rom 1:25. It is best understood here in a comprehensive/collective sense, referring to all of creation (cp. the use in Rom 1:20). Creation is looking out, hoping to receive (i.e. experience) the end-time manifestation of “the sons of God” (i.e. believers). Currently, this identity of believers is hidden, realized only internally, through the presence of the Spirit; eventually, the honor/splendor (do/ca) of this status will shine forth for all to see.

In verses 20-22, Paul strikingly attributes to all of creation, the same bondage (doulei/a, lit. slavery) which human beings suffered, prior to the coming of Christ. Just as all of humankind was in bondage to the power of sin and death, so all of creation is similarly enslaved. The primary manifestation of this is the fact that all of creation is subject to death and decay (fqora/). Creation has been put in (submissive) order under the authority of sin/death; this idea is expressed by the verb u(pota/ssw. However, the subject of the participle u(pota/canta in v. 20, referring to the person who put creation under this bondage, is not entirely clear. The best explanation is that Paul identifies God as the ultimate cause—He subjected creation to this bondage, allowing it to be so enslaved, with the final hope in mind: that eventually all of creation would be set free from this bondage.

Currently, this freedom is only experienced by believers in Christ, and only through the internal presence of the Spirit. But the time will (soon) come when the same freedom will be realized by all of creation:

“…even the foundation [i.e. creation] itself will be set free from the slavery of th(is) decay, into the freedom of the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the offspring of God.” (v. 21)

All of creation collectively suffers (v. 22), groaning and being in pain (like a woman in labor), but this suffering will lead to a new birth—the manifestation of the sons/children of God. Here in chap. 8, Paul utilizes both the noun ui(o/$ (ui(oi/, “sons”), and the more generic te/knon (pl. te/kna), “offspring”, with no real difference in meaning. By contrast, in the Johannine writings, believers are always referred to as “offspring [te/kna] of God”, with the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) reserved for Jesus. Paul’s use of ui(oi/ in vv. 14, 19 is perhaps influenced by the adoption motif in chapter 8 (esp. verses 14-17). The noun ui(oqesi/a literally means “placement as a son” (cf. also Gal 4:5 in context). Paul does, however, share with the Johannine writings the belief that Divine sonship is realized exclusively through our relationship to Jesus, the unique Son (vv. 29ff).

The climax of this exposition comes in verse 23, where Paul (finally) makes reference again to the Spirit. He makes clear that the transformation of creation will occur just as it does for believers—through the life-giving power of the Spirit:

“And not only (this), but (we our)selves, holding the beginning from (the harvest) of the Spirit, we also groan in ourselves, (look)ing out to receive placement as son(s), the loosing from (bondage) of our bodies.”

The occurrence of the noun ui(oqesi/a again here in v. 23 (indicated in light gray text) is problematic, and some commentators would omit it. Indeed, it is not present in a number of manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). Its inclusion would imply that believers do not already have “placement as (God’s) sons,” quite contrary to what Paul indicated earlier in vv. 14-17. By contrast, what we are currently still awaiting is the full realization of this identity—which will take place at the end-time resurrection, when our bodies will at last be set free from bondage to death. In this regard, we have the same groaning expectation as the rest of creation, even though we have already been set free from bondage within, through the presence of the Spirit.

Though Paul does not state this here, the transforming power of the Spirit, communicating the live-giving power of God (over death), is specifically related to our participation in the death of Jesus. This is to be inferred based on what was said earlier in vv. 10-11 (as also in 6:1-11)—on which, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

March 17: Romans 8:10

This note on Romans 8:10, is supplemental to the discussion on Rom 8:1-17ff in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. It largely reproduces an earlier note included in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”.

Romans 8:10

Verse 10 cannot be separated from the context of verses 9-11, which form the culmination of the exhortation in 8:1-11, regarding the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh. The announcement of freedom from the Law in vv. 1-4 means that the believer must rely upon the Spirit for guidance—Paul characterizes believers as “the ones walking about according to the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16, 25). Deliverance from sin also means that believers are no longer under its enslaving power, and now have the freedom and ability to follow the will of God; however, the flesh remains as a source of struggle and conflict.

This is the emphasis in verses 5-11, which correspond in many ways to the exhortation in Gal 5:16-25. According to Paul’s anthropology, the flesh itself remains opposed to the “Law of God” (vv. 7-8). The main argument in verses 9-11 is that believers are, and should be, guided and influenced by the Spirit, and not the flesh:

“But you are not in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/] but in (the) Spirit [e)n pneu/mati]…”

The preposition e)n here has the specific sense of “in the power of” —in a manner similar to the expression “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|). However, this is only one aspect of union with Christ and the Spirit; in the rest of vv. 9-11, the focus shifts from believers “in the Spirit” to the Spirit “in believers”. In other words, the power which guides and controls believers is based on the presence of the Spirit in them. Living, thinking, and walking “according to the flesh” is not, and should not be, characteristic of believers. This is reflected in the conditional clause which follows in v. 9a:

“…if indeed [ei&per] the Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

The particle ei&per is somewhat difficult to translate; literally, it would be something like “if (indeed) about (this)”, with the sense that “if (indeed) it is so that…”. It indicates a condition, but one that is generally assumed to be true: “if it is so (as indeed it is!)”, i.e. “since (it is so that)”. For true believers in Christ, the condition would be true: the Spirit dwells in them. A series of sentences follow in vv. 9b-11, each beginning with the conditional particle ei) (“if”) and the coordinating particle de/:

V. 9b: “But if [ei) de\] any (one) does not hold the Spirit of God, that (one) is not of him.”
V. 10: “But if [ei) de\] (the) Anointed is in you…”
V. 11: “But if [ei) de\] the Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you…”

The first (9b) is a negative condition: “if any one does not have [lit. hold] the Spirit of God”. Most likely the genitive au)tou= (“of him”) means “of Christ”, belonging to Christ—i.e. a true Christian has the Spirit of God. The last two sentences have positive conditions, and the two are closely related, connecting Christ with the Spirit of God:

    • V. 10— “the Anointed is in you [e)n u(mi=n]”
    • V. 11— “the Spirit of (God)… dwells in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

In each instance, the apodosis, indicating the fulfillment or result of the condition (“then…”), involves the theme of life vs. death. I begin with the last verse (v. 11):

    • “If the Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then)…
      • …the (one) raising (the) Anointed out of the dead also will make alive your dying [i.e. mortal] bodies through his Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] in you”

The reference here is to the bodily resurrection of the end-time, which represents the culmination and completion of salvation for believers, according to early Christian thought. Note the repetitive symmetry to this sentence:

the Spirit of the one raising Jesus from the dead dwells in you
——will make alive your dying bodies
the one raising Christ from the dead…through his Spirit dwelling in you

This brings us to verse 10:

    • “If (the) Anointed (is) in you, (then)…
      • …the body (is) dead through sin, but the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness”

Here the apodosis is expressed by way of a me\nde/ construction:

    • me\n (on the one hand)—the body is dead through sin
    • de\ (on the other hand)—the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness

If verse 11 referred to bodily resurrection at the end, verse 10 refers to a dynamic that is already realized in believers presently. It still involves life and death, but not one following the other (as in the resurrection); rather, the two exist at the same time, side by side—the body is dead, the Spirit is life. This anthropological dualism is typical of Paul’s thought; however, it is interesting to note that he has here shifted away slightly from the flesh/Spirit conflict emphasized in vv. 1-8. The “flesh” (sa/rc) relates to the impulse toward sin, the “body” (sw=ma) to death itself. It may be helpful to consider the anthropological terms Paul makes use of in Romans:

    • sw=ma (“body”)—that is, the physical (human) body, which is subject to death (“dying/mortal”, Rom 6:12; 8:11), according to the primeval judgment narrated in Gen 3:3-4, 19, 22-23. In Rom 7:24, Paul refers to it as “the body of death” (cf. also Rom 4:19). For believers, the redemption of the body, i.e. the loosing it from the bondage of death, is the final, culminating event of salvation—the resurrection (Rom 8:23).
    • ta\ me/lh (“the [bodily] parts”)—the different components (limbs, organs, etc) of the physical body, which should be understood two ways: (1) the sensory/sensual aspect of the body, which is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin, and (2) the means by which human beings act and work in the body. The first of these is expressed in Rom 7:5ff, 23—it is specifically in the bodily members that sin dwells and works. The second is indicated in Rom 6:13ff, as well perhaps by expression “the practices/deeds of the body” in Rom 8:13.
    • sa/rc (“flesh”)—a wide-ranging word and concept in Paul’s thought, it refers principally to the physical/material aspect of human nature (the body and its parts), but also within the specific context of sin. The “flesh” indicates human nature as enslaved under the power of sin (throughout Rom 7:7-25 and 8:1-11ff [cf. above]). Believers in Christ are freed from the enslaving power of sin, but can still be affected, in various ways, by the flesh and the impulse to sin which resides in it (Rom 8:1-11, and see esp. Gal 5:16-25).
    • nou=$ (“mind”)—according to Rom 7:13-25 (esp. vv. 23-25), the mind, representing intellectual, volitional and ethical aspects of human nature, is not enslaved by the power of sin the same way that the flesh is. Though it can come to be dominated entirely by wickedness (cf. Rom 1:28), in Rom 7 (where Paul likely is speaking for devout Jews and Gentiles), the mind is torn, wanting to obey the will (or Law) of God, but ultimately overcome by the power of sin in the flesh. For believers, the “mind” is to be renewed (Rom 12:2), through “walking in the Spirit” (not according to the flesh or the things of the world), so that we may be transformed more and more into the likeness of God in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3:18).
    • o( e&sw a&nqrwpo$ (“the inner man”)—Paul uses this expression in Rom 7:22, contrasting it with the “(bodily) parts”; it is best, I think, to understand it as representing a human being in the exercise of the mind, as opposed to following the (sinful) impulse of the flesh. That it is largely synonymous with the “mind” (nou=$) for Paul is indicated by his use of the expression in 2 Cor 4:16, compared with Rom 12:2. For believers, it reflects that aspect of the person which recognizes the will of God and experiences the work of the Spirit (cf. Eph 3:16).
    • pneu=ma (“spirit”)—it should be noted that Paul rarely applies this word to ordinary human nature; it is reserved for believers in Christ, and there it refers, not to the human “spirit”, but to the Spirit (of God and Christ), i.e. the Holy Spirit. However, at the inmost “spiritual” level, believers are united with the Spirit (cf. above) and it becomes the guiding power and aspect of the person.

With regard to Rom 8:10, it is interesting to observe that, after the phrase “the body is dead”, Paul does not say “the Spirit is alive”, but rather, “the Spirit is life“, using the noun zw/h. This is because it is not a precise parallel—as indicated, above, pneu=ma is not the human “spirit” but the Spirit of God (and Christ); as such, it is not alive, it is Life itself. What then, does it mean that the Spirit is life “through justice/righteousness”? Here again, it is not an exact formal parallel:

    • dia\ a(marti/an (“through sin”)—the power and work of sin results in death for the body
    • dia\ dikaiosu/nh (“through justice/righteousness”)—the power and work of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ) results in the believer experiencing the life that the Spirit brings

Some commentators would say that Paul does mean pneu=ma in v. 10 as the human “spirit”. I disagree completely. While this, admittedly, would allow for a more natural parallel, it contrasts entirely with Paul’s use of the word throughout Romans. The whole emphasis in 8:1ff is on the Spirit of God (and Christ), not the human “spirit”.

January 17: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

[This series of notes, on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, is part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The previous note discussed verse 13, and see the initial note with links to earlier notes covering 1:18-2:6; cf. also the main article.]

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

Before proceeding with the translation of these verses, it is necessary first to examine two important words which are central to a correct interpretation of the passage.

yuxiko/$ (psychikós)—An adjective here parallel to pneumatiko/$ (pneumatikós), the two being related to the words yuxh/ (psych¢¡, usually translated “soul”) and pneu=ma (pneu¡ma, usually translated “spirit”), respectively. The fundamental meaning of both words is of something blowing (cf. the primary verbs yu/xw and pne/w)—especially of wind (as a natural phenomena) or breath (of a living being), the two concepts or images being related in the ancient mind (wind as the ‘breath’ of the deity). The main difference between the word-groups can be described this way:

    • yu/xw refers to blowing in the sense of cooling—i.e. a cool(ing), cold breeze
    • pne/w refers primarily to movement—a stream of air (i.e. wind) with its visible effect (causing motion)

Each aspect, however, could be (and was) related to the life-breath of a (human) being. The ancient conception is preserved in Genesis 2:7, in which God breathes (blows) a wind/breath into the first human being; according to the Greek version (LXX), God breathes/blows in (e)nefu/shsen) a “living breath [pnoh/]” and the man becomes a “living breath [yuxh/]”. Here we see the two words used in tandem—pnoh/ (pno¢¡, closely related to pneu=ma pneu¡ma) and yuxh/ (psych¢¡). John 20:22 records a similar process (a “new creation”), when Jesus blows/breathes in(to) the first believers and they receive the Holy Spirit [pneu=ma]. The distinction between the two nouns can be defined generally as follows:

    • yuxh/ is the “life-breath” —that is, the invisible, inward aspect of a person, marking him/her as a living, breathing being (i.e., “soul”)
    • pneu=ma is the life-giving “breath” which animates and sustains a (human) being (i.e. “spirit”)

The two terms overlap in meaning, and the relationship between them in Greek thought is rather complex. Paul uses them each to refer to the inner dimension of a human being, but they are not to be understood as separate “things”, as though a person has “a spirit” in addition to “a soul”.

Earlier in 1 Cor 2:11, Paul refers to the “spirit/breath [pneu=ma] of man th(at is) in him“, and distinguishes it from the Spirit/Breath of God—that is to say, every human being has a “spirit” in him/her, but only believers (in Christ) have the “Spirit (of God)”. Now here in verse 14, a similar contrast is made—i.e., between the believer and the “ordinary” human being. This time, Paul establishes it, not by playing with the two senses of pneu=ma (“spirit”), but by playing on the difference between the two words pneu=ma and yuxh/ and their corresponding adjectives; which brings us to the problem of translation:

    • pneumatiko/$ (pneumatikós)—something belonging to, or characterized by, pneu=ma “spirit” (i.e. “spiritual”), only here it refers specifically to the “Spirit (of God)”
    • yuxiko/$ (psychikós)—something belonging to, or characterized by, yuxh/ “soul”, that is, the human soul

Unfortunately, there is no appropriate English word corresponding to this last adjective. A formal equivalence would be something like “soulish”, but that is exceedingly awkward. Most translators tend to use “natural”, for lack of any better option; however, while this manages to get the meaning across, and preserves a meaningful comparison here in verse 14, it distorts the original Greek and the fine word-distinction being used. Based on Paul’s vocabulary elsewhere, we might expect him to use the adjective sarkiko/$ (sarkikós, “fleshly”) here (see esp. 1 Cor 3:3, also Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12; 10:4). Only that word carries a definite negative connotation in Paul’s thought (associated with sin); here he wishes to preserve the more neutral, quasi-scientific sense of a normal, living human being.

The adjective yuxiko/$ appears in only three other passages in the New Testament; in Paul’s letters, the only other occurrences are in 1 Cor 15:44-46, which I will touch on below. The other two instances are in James 3:15 and Jude 19 and may help us to understand its usage by Paul here:

    • James 3:15—As in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, a contrast is made between the wisdom (sofi/a) of God (“from above”, a&nwqen) and earthly (e)pi/geio$) wisdom. The adjective “earthly” (lit. “[from] upon earth”) is followed by yuxiko/$, and then daimoniw/dh$ (“of the daimons“). Here yuxiko/$ means essentially human, as part of a triad of terms characterizing this inferior “wisdom” —earthly–human–demonic. In verse 16, the author (“James”) mentions jealousy and strife/quarrels associated with this worldly “wisdom”, which is also an important aspect of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians.
    • Jude 19—Again the adjective yuxiko/$ is the second of three descriptive terms, characterizing the ‘false’ Christians of vv. 5ff:
      (a) oi( a)podiori/zonte$ “the (one)s marking (themselves/others) off from”, i.e. separating (them) from the rest of the (true) believers
      (b) yuxikoi/—i.e. “ordinary” human beings, the term being glossed by
      (c) pneu=ma mh\ e&xonte$ “not holding/having the Spirit (of God)”

Paul uses the adjective yuxiko/$ in much the same sense as Jude—referring to human beings who possess a soul/spirit but who have not (yet) received the (Holy) Spirit. Without the guidance of the Spirit, they are led by their own human (or animal) desires and impulses.

a)nakri/nw (anakrínœ)—Paul uses this verb several times in vv. 14-15, but it does not allow for easy translation. The primary verb kri/nw I have consistently rendered with the semantic range “(to) judge”, sometimes with the nuance of “decide, examine,” etc, though its original meaning was something like “(to) separate, divide, distinguish”. The prepositional component a)na/ is best understood here as “again”, in the sense of doing something again (i.e. repeatedly); however, in the verbal context it essentially functions as an intensive element. Perhaps the best translation of the verb is “examine closely“; in a judicial setting, it can refer to an interrogation or investigation. More than half of the NT occurrences (10 of 16) are in 1 Corinthians, the only letter of Paul where the verb is used; 6 are in 1 Cor 1:18-4:21 (2:14-15; 4:3-4), being neatly divided:

    • 3: 2:14-15—the reference is to the “complete” believer, “the spiritual (one)” (see v. 6)
    • 3: 4:3-4—the reference is to Paul himself as a minister of Christ

On 1 Cor 15:44-46—Returning to the word yuxiko/$ (cf. above), it may be helpful to consider briefly Paul’s use of it in 1 Cor 15:44-46, where the context is the (end-time) resurrection. Here, too, it is contrasted with pneumatiko/$; the human being is:

    • scattered [i.e. sown, in death] (as) a yuxiko/$ body—i.e., as body in which there is a life-breath (yuxh/, “soul”)
    • raised [i.e. from the dead] (as) a pneumatiko/$ body—i.e., as a spiritual body, transformed by the Spirit of God/Christ

In verse 45, Paul explicitly cites Gen 2:7 (cf. above), making the contrast more definite—between the human soul [yuxh/] (Adam) and the Spirit [pneu=ma] (Christ). It is not simply the Spirit of God (YHWH), according to traditional Jewish thought; following his resurrection, Christ himself becomes a life-giving Spirit. The two passages, using the yuxiko/$/pneumatiko/$ contrast, reflect the two ends of early Christian (and Pauline) soteriology:

    • Regeneration—The believer experiences a “new creation” in Christ, whereby the human soul/spirit is united with the Spirit of God/Christ
    • Resurrection—The human soul (and body) of the believer is completely transformed by the Spirit of God/Christ

In 1 Cor 2:14-15, Paul has the first of these in view. The analysis above should go far in helping us gain a solid understanding of what Paul is saying in these two verses. A translation and (brief) interpretation will be offered in the next daily note.

November 11: Colossians 1:18b

Second Stanza: Col 1:18b-20

Following the intervening couplets of vv. 17-18a, the second stanza of the hymn begins with v. 18b. Conceptually, and in terms of its thematic structure, the second stanza is parallel with the first; however, it differs significantly with regard to its formal poetic structure and the rhythm of the lines. If Paul adapted an early Christian hymn already in existence, it is possible that the ‘original’ composition may have been exhibited greater consistency, formally and poetically, between its stanzas.

As previously noted, vv. 17-18a are transitional, and the second couplet (v. 18a, discussed in the previous note) prepares the way for the second stanza, focusing on Jesus’ role in the new creation, as represented by believers in Christ (i.e., the e)kklhsi/a).

Colossians 1:18b

o%$ e)stin a)rxh/
prwto/toko$ e)k tw=n nekrw=n
“who is (the) beginning,
(the one) first brought forth out of the dead”

The second stanza begins just as the first stanza did, with a relative pronoun (o%$) followed by the verb of being (e)stin, 3rd person present active indicative). Each stanza thus consists of a complex relative clause, which relates back to “the Son” (“His beloved Son”) in v. 13—i.e., “(the) Son…who is…”. The principal declaration of the first stanza was that the Son “is (the) image of God the unseeable (One)” (v. 15a), further explained by the expressive phrase “(the one) first brought forth [prwto/toko$] of every (thing) founded (by God)”. The opening of the second stanza picks up on this phrase, using the same adjective prwto/toko$ (on the meaning of this term, cf. below, and the prior note on v. 15b).

Let us consider the parallelism of the two stanzas in their opening lines:

    • Stanza 1:
      • “who is (the) image of God…
        • (the one) first brought forth [prwto/toko$] of every (thing) founded (by God)”
    • Stanza 2:
      • “who is (the) beginning
        • (the one) first brought forth [prwto/toko$] out of the dead”

Thus the term a)rxh/ (“beginning”) is parallel with e)i)kw\n tou= qeou= (“the image of God”), and so should help us understand its precise meaning in context here. While the noun a)rxh/ is often used in a temporal sense, and, as such, would certainly be appropriate in reference to the beginning of Creation (cf. LXX Gen 1:1; John 1:1ff, etc), it can also be used in a positional-relational sense, such as for a person who holds a leading/ruling position (i.e., the chief person, the one at the top). The use of the “head” motif in v. 18a (cf. the previous note) suggests that the positional-relational, rather than the temporal, aspect is primarily in view here. This also accords with the idea of Jesus (the Son) as the “image of God” in the first stanza, that expression being qualified by the adjective “unseeable”, emphasizing the greatness and glory of Jesus, rather than his temporal priority. Further confirmation for this use of a)rxh/ is found from the occurrence of the plural a)rxai/ in v. 16, referring to those beings (human and heavenly) who exercise positions of rule in the cosmos (i.e., “chief [ruler]s”). The term usually translated as “first fruits” (cf. the discussion below), a)parxh/, literally signifies “(the) beginning [a)rxh/] of (the harvesting) from (the ground)”.

There can be no doubt that the beginnings of creation are also being referenced here, especially with the adjective prwto/toko$, meaning “(the) first (thing or person) brought forth” —in the case of living beings (human or animal), it essentially means “first-born” (cf. again the discussion on v. 15b). The use of this adjective in the hymn is complicated, and potentially controversial, in its implications. There are four aspects which need to be considered carefully:

    1. The fundamental meaning of the adjective
    2. The immediate context of the expression “first-born out of the dead”
    3. The parallel usage in the first stanza (v. 15)
    4. The related use of the verbal adjective prwteu/wn (“being first”) in v. 18c

Let us begin with the first two aspects (#1 and 2). I have already discussed the fundamental meaning of prwto/toko$, which can be defined simply as “the first [prw=to$] thing (or person) brought forth [to/ko$]”, often in the sense of produce coming forth out of the ground (‘first-fruits’) or a child coming out of the mother’s womb (‘first-born’). While the adjective does not always refer strictly to temporal priority, the temporal aspect is central to the theme of the “firstborn” in Old Testament tradition (Exodus 13:2, 12, etc). Moreover, even in terms of rank and position, the heir or chosen one was typically the eldest (i.e. firstborn) son. There is thus no reason or justification for obscuring or glossing over this basic meaning of prwto/toko$ (cf. Luke 2:7; Heb 11:28), as it is used here in the hymn.

If we wish to isolate the earliest Christological use of the adjective, applying it to the person of Jesus, we need look no further than the expression that occurs here in v. 18b: prwto/toko$ e)k tw=n nekrw=n, “(the one) first brought forth out of the dead”, i.e., “first-born of of the dead”. The same essential expression occurs in Revelation 1:5, and Paul uses prwto/toko$ in much the same context (the resurrection) in Romans 8:29. This strongly suggests that we are dealing with a relatively common early Christian idiom, identifying Jesus, quite literally, as the first person to be raised from the dead (cf. Acts 26:23). The future resurrection of believers will follow the same pattern as Jesus’ own resurrection, and can thus be described using similar terminology (cf. Rom 8:11, 29, and cp. 2 Thess 2:13; James 1:18; Heb 12:23; Rev 14:4). There are several reasons why the adjective prwto/toko$ would come to be used in this context of resurrection from the dead:

    • The natural image of resurrection as a “new birth”, with the obvious parallel between the ‘womb of the earth’ and the mother’s womb
    • Similarly, this draws upon the idea of the harvest, and thus the specific concept of the ‘first-fruits’ (cp. 1 Cor 15:20ff); the harvest was a common eschatological motif, with the end of the growing-cycle serving as a symbol for the end of the Age (cf. Matt 3:12 par; Mk 4:29; Matt 13:39ff, 49; Rev 14:14-20, etc)
    • In such an eschatological context, the resurrection was tied to the new creation that would mark the New Age, and ‘new creation’ is close conceptually to a ‘new birth.’

It would seem all but certain that any further Christological development or application of the term prwto/toko$ was based on this early usage—that is, in the context of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation. This will be discussed further, along with the other two aspects of the adjective, mentioned above (#3 and 4), in the next daily note.

 

July 6: Romans 8:23, etc

These recent daily notes have dealt with the Old Testament traditions regarding the Spirit of God, and how they were developed by early Christians (as expressed within the New Testament). This study is a continuation of the series on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, and has proceeded through the (Synoptic) Gospels, the book of Acts, and the letters of Paul (through Romans, c. 58 A.D.). These letters—1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans—provide the best evidence for Paul’s view of the Spirit, and his distinctive development of the early Christian tradition. The references to the Spirit in the remainder of the Pauline corpus generally follow along the same lines, and, for the most part, it is not necessary to examine them all in detail. Before proceeding with a survey, however, it is worth considering a particular aspect of his view of the Spirit, which is expressed primarily in Romans 8:18-23. I have discussed this passage in detail as part of the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, and here focus on the concluding verses (22-23).

Romans 8:23

“For we have seen that all th(at has been) formed groans together and is in pain together, until th(is moment) now; and not only (this), but also (our)selves, holding the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit, even we (our)selves groan in ourselves, looking out to receive (our) [placement as sons], (and) the loosing of our body from (bondage).” (vv. 22-23)

Two different images are employed here, both of which were traditionally used in an eschatological context: (1) the pain of giving birth, and (2) harvest imagery. Both images refer to the climax of a period (of growth and labor, etc), thus serving as suitable figure-types for the end of the current Age. The birth-pain imagery was used especially in reference to the end-time period of distress (cf. Mark 13:9, 17 par; Luke 23:28-29ff, etc), while the harvest tended to prefigure the end-time Judgment (Matt 3:12 par; 13:39-43; Mark 4:29; Rev 14:15ff; cf. also Luke 10:2; Jn 4:35). This judgment-motif involved the separation of the righteous from the wicked (i.e. the grain from the chaff), which was understood in terms of the gathering of believers to Jesus at the moment of his end-time return (Mk 13:26-27 par; Rev 14:15-16). Paul, at least, specifically included the resurrection of dead believers in this gathering (1 Thess 4:14-17), and clearly made use of harvest-imagery in his discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (vv. 20-23, 36ff). Jesus himself was the “beginning (fruit) from (the harvest)” (a)parxh/), and believers share this same status, through the Spirit, possessing the same life-giving power that raised Jesus from the dead. This is what Paul means when he says that as believers we hold “the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit“; elsewhere the Spirit is described as a kind of deposit (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5), guaranteeing for us the promise of resurrection:

“And the (One) making us firm with you in (the) Anointed, (hav)ing anointed us, (is) God, the (One) also (hav)ing sealed us and (hav)ing given (us) the a)rrabw/n of the Spirit in our hearts.” (2 Cor 1:21-22)

The word a)rrabw/n is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew (loanword) /obr*u@, and refers to a pledge or deposit as a guarantee of future payment. Paul’s use of it is eschatological—it is a promise of resurrection for believers, entailing transformation of the human person (body-soul-spirit) to share in the heavenly, eternal life of God. Our resurrection (as believers) is patterned after Jesus’ own, and is made possible by our union with him, realized through the Spirit. As we participate in his death, so also we participate in his resurrection. The motif of the seal (sfra/gi$, vb sfragi/zw) has two aspects of meaning: (1) marking the identity of the one making the promise (God), and (2) preserving the promise and keeping it intact for a period of time (until the end). The second aspect is particularly emphasized by Paul; on the first aspect, cf. 2 Tim 2:19 (and cp. Rev 7:1-8). The same imagery occurs in Ephesians:

“…in whom [i.e. Christ] also, (hav)ing trusted, you were sealed [e)sfragi/sqhte] with the holy Spirit of the e)paggeli/a [i.e. promise], which is the a)rrabw/n of our share (in) the lot (of God), unto (the) loosing from (bondage)…” (Eph 1:13-14)

“And you must not bring sorrow (to) the holy Spirit of God, in which you were sealed [e)sfragi/sqhte] unto (the) day of loosing from (bondage).” (Eph 4:30)

The “loosing from [bondage]” (a)polu/trwsi$) refers to human existence in the current Age, this present order of creation. Paul’s entire discussion in Romans 8:18-23ff relates to this idea that all of creation will be transformed in the Age to Come, and that believers in Christ are the “first fruits” of this transformation (cf. above). On the Holy Spirit as e)paggeli/a—that is, God’s announcement (or message, a)ggeli/a) regarding salvation and eternal life in Christ—cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33, 39; 13:23, 32, etc; it is identified specifically as such by Paul in Gal 3:14ff.

Because believers continue to live in the world, in the current created order, as human beings, we groan suffering along with all of creation, since our bodies (our “flesh”) remain, to some extent, under the old bondage to sin and death. We must still confront the impulse to sin in our flesh, and we all face the reality of physical death. Our deliverance from this bondage will not be complete until the transformation of our bodies, as stated here by Paul— “the loosing of our body from (bondage)”, using the noun a)polu/trwsi$. His temporal expression a&xri tou= nu=n is a shorthand for the tou= nu=n kairou= (“of the moment now”) in verse 18, another indication of the imminence of Paul’s eschatology—that is, it was about to happen now.

There is some textual uncertainty regarding the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as son[s]”) in verse 23, as it is omitted in a number of key manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). If secondary, then the text originally would have read: “…looking out to receive the loosing of our body from (bondage)” —i.e., the reference would be entirely to the resurrection, without any mention of the ‘adoption’ motif. However, as the sonship-theme was central to vv. 12-17, as also the expression “sons of God” in v. 19, the use of ui(oqesi/a would be entirely fitting here in v. 23. The resurrection serves to complete the realization of believers as the sons (children) of God. On the role of the Spirit in terms of our identity as “sons of God”, cf. the prior note on Gal 4:1-7 and Rom 8:12-17.

Saturday Series: Isaiah 24-27 (concluded)

Isaiah 24-27, concluded

As we have seen, chapters 24-27 of the book of Isaiah represent a complex and multifaceted composition. This is indicated by the different ways that commentators have analyzed the structure of this material. While a variety of approaches might be adopted, I believe that a definite structure can be discerned, especially in chapters 25-27. I touched upon this in last week’s study; the basic pattern in 25:1-26:6 is found also in 26:7-27:6, and I would summarize it as follows: an eschatological poem, in several sections, followed by two “day of YHWH” stanzas. These concluding stanzas, which involve the expression “in/on that day” (bayyôm hahû°), emphasize the coming Judgment by God upon the nations of the earth.

Isaiah 26:7-27:6

Here is my outline of this section, according to the pattern established above:

    • Part 1—Contrast between the righteous and the wicked (26:7-11)
      • Exhortation for YHWH to act in judgment (vv. 12-13)
    • Part 2—Contrast between the fate of the righteous and wicked (vv. 14-19)
      • Exhortation for God’s people in the face of the coming judgment (vv. 20-21)
    • Stanza 1 on the Day of YHWH (“on that day…”, 27:1)
    • Stanza 2 on the Day of YHWH (“on that day…”, vv. 2-5)
    • Closing refrain—Israel’s restoration (v. 6)

The main eschatological poem (26:7-21) is divided into two parts, each of which emphasizes a contrast between the righteous (i.e., the faithful ones of Israel) and the wicked (i.e., the faithless and the other nations). The initial couplet of 26:7 establishes this, focusing on the righteous, using the language of Wisdom poetry (and Psalms):

“(The) path for (the) just (person) is (all) straightness,
[Straight (One)], the track of (the) just (person) you make level”

In passing, it is worth noting the text-critical question involving the word in square brackets (y¹š¹r, “straight”). It disrupts the rhythm of the couplet (otherwise 3-beat, 3+3), and is omitted by the Greek Septuagint [LXX] version. If original, it involves a wordplay with the noun “straightness” (mêš¹rîm, an intensive plural); the path of the righteous is straight because the One who is straight (i.e. YHWH) makes it so.

Verses 8-9 describe the character and behavior of the righteous; by contrast, the character of the wicked is described in vv. 10-11. The paradigmatic Wisdom Psalm, contrasting the righteous and wicked, is Psalm 1 (discussed in an earlier article); and this section of the apocalyptic Isaian poem follows the same general wisdom-pattern. If the path of the righteous is “straight”, the wicked “twists” and perverts (vb ±ûl) things, moving away from YHWH (v. 10); such a person is unable to see God’s hand, even as it is raised to deliver judgment (v. 11). The righteous seek after God’s judgments, and, in the New Age, they become the vehicle through which God’s own righteousness is communicated to all people.

This raises an interesting point about the identity of the righteous and wicked. As in chapter 24 (see on vv. 14-16ff in the previous study), the focus seems to be on the righteous and wicked among Israel—the point of the message being that the faithless ones will suffer the same fate/punishment in the Judgment as the other wicked nations. This is how I understand the sense of the final couplet here in verse 11:

“and they will feel shame (at the jealous) zeal of (your) people,
even (as the) fire of your oppressors shall devour them!”

The construct phrases “zeal of (your) people” and “fire of your oppressors” are best understood as object genitives—i.e., the zeal God shows for His people (the faithful ones), and the fire He unleashes on His enemies. This language leads into the exhortation for YHWH to act in judgment, as is appropriate for the righteous (v. 12) and wicked (v. 13), respectively. In verse 13, the sense of the wicked has shifted to the nations (such as the Babylonian empire) who oppress God’s people and are enemies of YHWH.

Part 2 (vv. 14-21) of the poem deals with the contrasting fate of the righteous and wicked, in terms of death and the afterlife. Here the order of treatment is reversed: first the fate of the wicked (“[the one]s being dead shall not live”, v. 14), then that of the righteous (“your dead [one]s shall live”, v. 19). Bracketed within these two statements is a difficult passage (vv. 15-18) in which the people of Israel call out to YHWH, reflecting on their troubled history and suffering as a nation. It is worth considering these verses in a bit more detail; they may be further divided into two portions:

    • Vv. 15-16—Historical summary: The growth of the nation (v. 15) and its subsequent suffering (v. 16)
    • Vv. 17-18—Illustration of a woman in labor: Her pain (v. 17) and apparent miscarriage (v. 18)

The image of a pregnant woman (and her labor pains) came to be a widely-used symbol, in Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic, for the time of distress that marks the end of the current Age and beginning of the Judgment. Early Christian eschatology made effective use of the same motif (Mark 13:8 par; 1 Thess 5:3; Rom 8:22; Rev 12:2ff, etc). Here, however, it is the exile of Israel and Judah that is primarily in view, seen both as a time of distress (ƒar) and a chastening instruction (mûs¹r) by God. The motif of the woman in labor gives to this suffering an even greater sense of apparent hopelessness. The people writhe in pain and cry out to God (in His presence), and yet give birth only to the wind (rûaµ), not to a child; the wording here in verse 18 is significant:

“We were pregnant, we twisted (in pain), (but) as it (was),
we gave birth (to the) wind—
salvation we did not achieve (on) earth,
and (one)s dwelling (in the) inhabited (world) were not made to fall (as newborn children)”

The specific language is difficult, especially in the final line, and was apparently misunderstood by the Greek LXX. The word y®šû±â (“salvation”) is used in an ironic (negative) sense, referring to the failure to secure the lasting success of the people through child-bearing (understood symbolically). There may also be a specific allusion to a failure by Israel to fulfill its role as the people through whom God will bring the light of truth to all other nations (see above, on verses 8-11). Despite this lack of national success and blessing, the situation will change markedly with the restoration of Israel in the New Age. As in the famous prophecy in Ezekiel 37, this restoration-promise is here expressed in terms of new life from the dead (i.e. resurrection). The climactic words in verse 19 make this clear:

“Your dead (one)s will live,
your corps(es) will stand up (again)—
wake (up) and cry (for joy),
(you the one)s sitting in (the) dust!
For your dew (is) a dew of (pure) light,
and (the) earth will make (the) shades fall (as newborn children).”

As in verse 18, the use of the verb n¹¸al in the Hiphil stem (i.e. “cause to fall”) to refer to childbirth (i.e., the falling/dropping of newborn children), has caused confusion for both ancient and modern translators. Otherwise, however, the imagery is straightforward—the dead bodies of the righteous will live again in the New Age. The only real question is whether this resurrection-motif is simply symbolic (as in Ezek 37), or is to be taken literally as a promise of future bodily resurrection (cf. Daniel 12:2f).

Many commentators would question the extent to which Israelites in the Kingdom period believed in life after death, much less in a bodily resurrection; however, there would seem to be more afterlife allusions in the Old Testament than are commonly admitted, even throughout the earlier poetry. Such beliefs were expressed figuratively, primarily through a developed poetic (and mythological) idiom, and so are not stated as clearly as we might like. In any case, by the mid-6th century B.C., the increasing occurrence of resurrection-imagery in the Prophets suggests that the motif is drawing upon older, established traditions.

The poem concludes with an exhortation to the people of Israel (vv. 20-21) to prepare themselves for the coming Judgment. In particular, YHWH will punish the nations for their wickedness, violence and oppression, and the warning for Israel, repeated throughout these chapters, is that those who are unfaithful will share in this punishment. The emphasis on the Judgment leads into the two “day of YHWH” stanzas (27:1, 2-5), followed by a closing refrain (v. 6). I feel it is worth examining these verses in some detail, so I will be devoting several supplemental notes this week to their study, along with a separate note on the final poem of chaps. 24-27 (27:7-13). This will complete our study here on the Isaian Apocalypse, which must be considered only an introductory survey meant to illustrate how the principles and methods of Biblical criticism can help us understand such a challenging text of Prophecy, and to elucidate its message and meaning.

Next week, we will move further ahead in the book of Isaiah, to chapters 36-39, where we will explore how the historical episode of the Assyrian invasion of Judah under Sennacherib (and the siege of Jerusalem) was handled within the Isaian Tradition.

June 19: 1 Corinthians 6:17ff; 15:44-46

1 Corinthians 6:17ff; 15:44-46

In the previous note, I mentioned Paul’s implication (in 1 Cor 2:9-16) that the “mind of Christ” is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. Paul did not go into any detail on the theological or Christological basis for this idea; however, there are certain passages in his letters which do shed some light on the matter. In today’s note, I wish to bring together two passages in 1 Corinthians where Paul refers to the Spirit.

1 Cor 6:17-19

The first of these is in 1 Cor 6:17-19, the closing verses of an extended section on ethical instruction in chapters 5-6. Two specific issues are addressed by Paul, in 5:1-5ff and 6:1-8, respectively; in each case, a more general ethical exhortation for believers follows (5:9-13, 6:9-11). This exhortation is given a more definite theological dimension in 6:12ff, involving the juxtaposition of the human body (in its essential limitation and corruptibility) with the presence of God. Paul uses the example of sexual intercourse (vv. 13-15), as a motif for the uniting of two persons (v. 16). He emphasizes illicit/immoral intercourse (i.e. with a prostitute, po/rnh), in particular, so as to make the contrast between worldly and spiritual union more pronounced. Note this contrast:

    • “the (one) being joined [kollw/meno$] to the prostitute is one body [e^n sw=ma/ e)stin]” (v. 16),
      with “one body” further equated with “one flesh [sa/rc]”
    • “the (one) being joined [kollw/meno$] to the Lord is one spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]” (v. 17)

Paul adds to the juxtaposition of body (sw=ma) and Spirit (pneu=ma) the religious image of the temple (shrine/sanctuary, nao/$) as the dwelling-place of God (v. 19). The body of the believer—and of all believers collectively—is like the Temple-sanctuary, in that the Spirit of God dwells in it:

“have you not seen that your body is (the) shrine of the holy Spirit (dwelling) in you, which you hold from God, and (which) you are not yourself? For you were obtained at market [i.e. purchased] of (great) value; (so) then, you must honor/esteem God in your body.” (vv. 19-20)

The imagery is part of the overall ethical instruction, but it contains certain profound theological implications. The religious motif of the sanctuary shrine (Tent or Temple) relates to this ethical instruction in terms of the ritual purity that needed to be maintained for the sanctuary and its altars. This purity is further tied to the idea of God’s holiness, and nearly all of the purity regulations in the Torah are rooted in the ancient principle of the Community’s encounter with the divine holiness. A defiled sanctuary—and the defilement by one individual is enough to defile the whole—disrupts the connection of the Community (the people of God) with God and His holiness. In Christian terms, this religious dynamic is expressed in terms of preserving the holiness of the Community of believers—which means each individual believer as well as the Community as a whole. On this same sort of emphasis within the Qumran Community, cf. my earlier article. Paul made use of this same Temple-motif in 3:16-17, and it also occurs in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (on this passage, cf. my earlier studies).

The individual believer receives the Spirit at baptism, and thus joins the Community of all other believers (who likewise possess the Spirit of God). It is God’s own holy Spirit, and  thus the exhortation is focused on the individual preserving this holiness, continuing to live in a pure and upright manner, appropriate to the holiness of God’s own Spirit. As the discussion in 5:1-8 makes clear, the immorality of one individual affects the Community as a whole.

Even more striking, however, is the idea expressed by the comparison in vv. 16-17—that the believer who joins with the Lord becomes “one spirit” with Him. The relative ambiguity surrounding the dual-use of the title “Lord” (ku/rio$) by early Christians was mentioned in the previous note. Here the immediate context (of the prostitute illustration) suggests that “the Lord” primarily refers to Christ—that is, the believer joins with Christ and become “one spirit” with him. At the same time, it could just as well apply to God and His Spirit—the believer joins/unites with His Spirit. That both subjects (God and Christ) are in view seems clear from Paul’s phrasing in verse 11:

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

The believer is baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” and “in the Spirit of God” —two aspects of the same religious experience. Again, Paul does not explain the theological basis for the dual-motif, though the association of both Christ and the Spirit with the baptism ritual is obvious enough and well-established throughout the New Testament. But Paul’s thinking runs rather deeper, as we shall see.

1 Cor 15:44-46

I have discussed Paul’s famous chapter (15) on the resurrection at length in earlier articles and notes. Here I wish to focus on one Christological detail, which Paul expounds, if only in seminal form, in verses 44-46.

In dealing with the subject of the resurrection, Paul introduces the same contrastive pair of adjectives—yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$—used in 2:14-15. As I discussed in the previous note, the adjective yuxiko/$ in this context refers to a person with only a soul (yuxh/), but not the Spirit (pneu=ma) of God—that is, the contrast is between believers (who have the Spirit) and all other human beings (who do not). The situation is a bit more complicated in this discussion on the resurrection, as Paul is contrasting the human body with the soul, which believers share with all other people, and the body transformed by the Spirit, which only believers experience. And believers are able to experience this because of what Jesus experienced in his resurrection, and by virtue of our union with him.

Let us trace the logic of Paul’s line of argument here:

    • The distinction of the believer’s body (person) before and after it is raised from the dead (v. 44)
    • The parallel between Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the last man) (v. 45)
    • A parallel further defined by the contrast between earthly and heavenly (vv. 46-47)
    • Believers in Christ join with him in belonging to this heavenly nature (v. 48)
    • And so we will partake in this same heavenly existence after being raised (v. 49)

The Christological aspect of this heavenly/spiritual existence is emphasized strongly in verse 49:

“just as we bore the image of the (one made) of dirt, (so) also we shall bear the image of the (One) upon the heavens.

I.e., human beings resemble the first man (Adam) in being made “of dirt” (xoi+ko/$), while believers in Christ, similarly, resemble the second man (the exalted Jesus) in having a heavenly nature/character (“upon the heavens”, e)poura/nio$). Believers are unique, in that they/we share the characteristics of both the first man (Adam) and the second (Jesus). It is Jesus’ own incarnate life—including his death and resurrection—which allows us to share both natures, earthly and heavenly, a living body (with a soul) and also a body transformed by the life-making Spirit of God. However, before we, as believers, can be transformed by the Spirit, it was necessary that Jesus should first be transformed:

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul [yuxh\n zw=san], the last man into a life-making Spirit [pneu=ma zw|opoiou=n]” (v. 45)

The idea seems to be that Jesus, in his resurrection (and exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven), was joined and united with God’s Spirit, according to the principle expressed in 6:17 (cf. above). While this may be somewhat problematic in terms of the subsequent Christological emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus, it is fully in accord with the early Christology of the period 30-60 A.D. Paul may have harmonized the two aspects—pre-existence and exaltation/deification—by way of a rudimentary “kenosis” doctrine, if Philippians 2:6-11 (c. 60 A.D.) is any indication. In any event, the statement in 1 Cor 15:45 suggests how Paul would explain the communication of the mind/spirit of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) to believers. Since Jesus was united with the Spirit of God, the Spirit which believers receive is not only God’s Spirit, but also the Spirit of Christ. Indeed, we find the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” (or “Spirit of Jesus”) used interchangeably by Paul, though there are no such examples in 1-2 Corinthians (1 Cor 6:11 being the closest); several instances in the other letters will be discussed in upcoming notes.

 

April 5: 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

1 Corinthians 15:45-49

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul [yuxh\n zw=san], the last man into a life-making Spirit [pneu=ma zw|opoiou=n]” (v. 45)

This is part of Paul’s famous chapter on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (discussed recently in the series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”), a chapter that begins with the historical traditions regarding the resurrection appearances of Jesus (vv. 3-7, cf. the previous note), and concludes with a memorable declaration of the resurrection (of believers) as a climactic end-time event (vv. 50-56). Thus the idea of the future resurrection of believers is blended together with the resurrection of Jesus—the latter serving as the basis (and pattern) for the former.

Indeed, in verses 45-49, as part of his attempt to describe the nature of the resurrection, Paul establishes a contrast between the living body of a human being (possessing a soul, yuxh/), and the body of a resurrected person that has been transformed by the Spirit (pneu=ma). This is expressed in verse 44 (and following) by a bit of wordplay that is most difficult to translate accurately in English. Paul uses two parallel, but contrasting, adjectives: yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$. For the first adjective (yuxiko/$) there is no comparable English word. It is derived from yuxh/, i.e. the cool wind/breath that animates a living being, and typically translated “soul”. Thus, as an adjective, yuxiko/$, would properly mean something like “possessing a soul”, “animated by a soul” —that is, a living (human) being. However, the point of the contrast with pneumatiko/$, is that the living being only possesses a soul, being animated/guided only by its natural soul-breath, and not by the Divine life-breath of the Spirit (pneu=ma). The same contrast is made, even more pointedly, by Paul in 1 Cor 2:14-16. That the point of the contrast is as I have explained here, is confirmed by Jude 19 (cp. James 3:15).

In 1 Cor 15:44ff, the adjective yuxiko/$ is primarily neutral, rather than negative, in meaning. The negative aspect is only hinted at, implied by the reference to Adam, and the idea that humankind is mortal, fated to die and return to the dust (i.e. decay). More important to Paul’s line of argument is the parallel between Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the second/last man), used also in Rom 5:12-21. All human beings share the nature and characteristics of the first man, but only believers in Christ take on the nature/characteristics of the second (and last) man. And what are the nature/characteristics of the second man, Jesus? Here is how Paul describes it in vv. 45-49:

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul, the last man into a life-giving Spirit. But the (thing possess)ing the Spirit (does) not (come) first, but the (thing possess)ing a soul (comes first), (and) upon [i.e. after] that, the (thing possess)ing the Spirit. The first man (is from) out of the dirt, the second man (is from) out of heaven.”

Jesus is a life-making (i.e. life-giving) Spirit, possessing and animated by the Spirit of God. He is also heavenly, coming from out of heaven, and sharing the nature and character of the One who is upon (i.e. above/over) the heavens. Paul understands this of Jesus, primarily, not in terms of divine/eternal pre-existence, but in terms of the resurrection, and his exaltation to the right hand of God the Father. In the wording of v. 45, Paul indicates that Jesus “came to be” (transformed) “into” a life-making Spirit; this certainly refers to the resurrection and exaltation.

The relationship between Jesus and the Spirit is complex, and there is no definitive treatment of the matter in the New Testament. The Johannine writings deal with the relationship extensively, as does Paul, in his own way, in his letters. The Spirit can be referred to as “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ,” almost interchangeably (see esp. Rom 8:9); in some passages, the Spirit seems to be a divine power (or being) separate from Jesus, at other times it clearly represents the power and presence of Christ himself. The passage which connects the Spirit most closely with the resurrection is Romans 8:9-11ff. It is said that the resurrection of Jesus came about by the power of the Spirit of God (that is, of God the Father), and yet, just two verses earlier (v. 9), Paul refers to “the Spirit of Christ” as that which dwells in believers. The idea seems to be that, with the resurrection, God’s Spirit is united with Jesus, so that they share the same Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:17).

In Rom 1:4, Paul, following the early line of Christian thought, describes Jesus’ identity as the Son of God as based on the power of the resurrection, by which he was exalted to the right hand of God the Father. This power is connected with “(a) spirit of holiness” —it was according to this spirit (pneu=ma) that Jesus was “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the “Son of God”, language that reflects the earliest Christian preaching and tradition (cf. Acts 2:23; 10:42; 17:31). The expression “spirit of holiness” could be understood as “Spirit of holiness”, i.e. “holy Spirit”, even though it lacks the definite article. Certainly, it would only take a small step of Christological development for the wording in Rom 1:4 to be understood in terms of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus’ resurrection, even as Paul states in 8:11:

“But if the Spirit, the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead, houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through his Spirit housing (itself) in you.”

The precise reference of the expression “his Spirit” is a bit ambiguous—is it again God‘s Spirit, or is the reference now to the Spirit of Christ as that which dwells in the believer? Almost certainly, the latter is intended, being part of the same Christological belief reflected in verse 9, and stated above. With the resurrection, Jesus comes to share the very Spirit of God which raised him from the dead, and it is this “Spirit of Christ” that dwells in the believer; we experience the Spirit of God (the Father) through the Spirit of Christ (the Son). This unifying and uniting principle is presented even more clearly in the Gospel and Letters of John, but, in this regard, Pauline and Johannine theology are very close.

Thus, when Paul says that Jesus came to be (transformed) “into a life-making Spirit”, this is to be understood in the sense that his spirit comes to be united with God’s own Spirit; this occurs through “a spirit of holiness”, the transforming power at work in the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus (Rom 1:4). With this exaltation, Jesus is identified as God’s Son (“Son of God”), and, as such, he shares the same Spirit as God the Father. While Paul likely held an (early) form of belief in Jesus as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:13-20), when speaking of the Sonship of Jesus, he tends to follow the earlier Christology that defines this in terms of the resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand.

The promise in Rom 8:11b—

“…the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through his Spirit housing (itself) in you”

which declares that the resurrection of believers will follow after the pattern of Jesus’ own resurrection, is essentially stated by Paul again in 1 Corinthians 15, as the Adam/Christ parallel and illustration continues in vv. 48-49:

“Such as the (one made) of dirt (is), even (so) these (one)s (made) of dirt (are); and such as the (One) upon the heavens (is), even (so) these (one)s upon the heavens (are). And, just as we bore the image of the (one made) of dirt, (so) also we shall bear the image of the (One) upon the heavens.

I.e., human beings resemble the first man (Adam) in being made “of dirt” (xoi+ko/$), while believers in Christ, similarly, resemble the second man (the exalted Jesus) in having a heavenly nature/character (“upon the heavens, e)poura/nio$). Believers are unique, in that they/we share the characteristics of both the first man (Adam) and the second (Jesus). It is Jesus’ own incarnate life—including his death and resurrection—which allows us to share both natures, earthly and heavenly, a living body (with a soul) and also a body transformed by the life-making Spirit of God.