Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 24

Psalm 24

This Psalm has one of the clearest liturgical settings of any in the Psalter, even if the historical situation cannot be reconstructed in detail. The superscription itself merely indicates that it is another musical composition (romz+m!) “belonging to David”, and offers no other information regarding the performance tradition. The structure of the composition is more enlightening, divided as it is into two main strophes, each of which may tell us something about how this Psalm was used in the ancient liturgy. Following an opening pair of couplets (vv. 1-2), the first strophe (of irregular meter) is comprised of vv. 3-6; the second strophe (of 3+3+3 tricola) is in vv. 7-10. A hl*s# (selah) notation comes at the end of each strophe.

VERSES 1-2

“The earth and her fullness (belongs) to YHWH,
(the) productive land, and (the one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] in her;
for He set her firmly upon the seas,
and fixed her upon (the) flowing (water)s.”

This pair of 3+3 couplets establishes YHWH as the Creator and Sovereign Lord of the universe. It is a fundamental statement of Israelite monotheism, identifying YHWH as the one supreme Deity. His position as Creator and Lord makes him worthy of worship and honor.

The “earth” (Jr#a#) is paired with the noun lb@T@, difficult to translate in English, emphasizing what the earth contains and produces (“brings forth”); for lack of a suitable alternative, I have rendered it above as “productive land”. Both terms refer to the flat disc or cylinder of the earth (or land) in the ancient Near Eastern cosmology, a geocentric view of the universe. The notice in verse 2, that YHWH set the earth firm and fixed “upon the seas / waters” is an allusion to the the primeval waters that surround the universe (Gen 1:2). This founding/fixing of the earth implies that the chaos of the primeval condition has been ‘subdued’, allowing for order to be established in creation. In ancient Near Eastern cosmological myth, this is often described and depicted in terms of the deity defeating the Sea (and its allies) in battle. While this cosmological myth-aspect is virtually absent from the Genesis Creation account, vestiges of it—i.e., of El-Yahweh’s defeat of the waters—are preserved in the poetry of the Old Testament. For the relevant examples, and the ancient background of this mythic theme, cf. my article “Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

VERSES 3-6

“Who shall go up on (the) mountain of YHWH,
and who shall stand in (the) standing place of His holiness?
(The one) clean of palms [i.e. hands] and pure of heart,
who has not lifted his soul to the (thing that is) empty,
and has not (bound himself) seven-fold to deceit.” (vv. 3-4)

The expression “mountain of YHWH” in the Old Testament, while also deriving from cosmological myth, typically refers to the city of Jerusalem—in particular, the ancient fortified hill-top site around which the larger city grew. This original location, a Canaanite fort-city captured by David, was known as the “city of David” and also by the name /oYx! (Zion). Like most such Canaanite walled cities of the period, it was comprised largely of the Temple-Palace complex (rather than being a residence for the populace). So it was also with “Mount Zion”, the most ancient part of Jerusalem—it had a special association with the Temple sanctuary as the dwelling place of God.

The Temple mount was thus a holy site, and no one could approach God’s dwelling in the sanctuary if they were not themselves holy. This applied principally to the priests who officiated in the Temple precincts; however, by extension, the principle of holiness and (ritual) purity related to the wider community of Israel as well. Much of the legislation in the Torah involves the preservation of ritual purity, so that sacrificial offerings and other business conducted in the precincts of the Tent-shrine (Tabernacle) and Temple, performed in God’s presence, would not be rendered impure and ineffective.

This purity requirement is described in verse 4, a tricolon with irregular meter (3+4+3). Any one coming into the Temple courts and sanctuary must be both ritually pure (“clean of hands”) on the outside, but also inwardly “pure of heart” (bb*l@ rB^)—that is, one’s mind and intention must be pure. The final two lines function as a couplet with synonymous parallelism, expressing purity in terms of true religion—devotion to YHWH alone. The expression “lift (up) his soul” is parallel to the verb form uB^v=n], a Niphal (reflexive) of the root ub^v*. The precise meaning of this root in the Niphal is uncertain, but is perhaps best understood in its presumed literal sense as “bind oneself seven-fold” (i.e. by an oath or vow). The nouns aw+v* (“emptiness”) and hm*r=m! (“deceit”) are also parallel; while they could simply connote wickedness in a general sense, here, as in other instances in the Psalms, they seem to carry a specific association with the worship/veneration of false deities (i.e., any deity other than YHWH).

“He shall take up blessing from YHWH,
and justice from (the) Mighty (One) of his salvation;
(Yes,) this (is the) circle (that is) seeking Him,
(the one)s searching for (the) face of Ya’aqob. Selah” (vv. 5-6)

The couplet in verse 5 affirms the relationship between YHWH and the one who is righteous; the covenant bond is preserved, and God will provide hk*r*B= (“blessing”) and hd*q*x= to such a person. The latter noun has a semantic range that can be hard to translate consistently; it is usually rendered “righteousness” or “justice”, but in the context of the covenant bond, it can also connote loyalty, generosity, and the like.

The concluding couplet in verse 6 is most difficult, but the (demonstrative) pronoun hz# (“this”) gives the final answer to the question in v. 3: “Who shall go up…?” — “this is who…”. However, the syntax is by no means clear; the first line is alliterative, and reads:

ovr=D) roD hz#
zeh dôr dœršô

The translation would be “this (is the) circle seeking him”, a reference, presumably, to the faithful ones (the priests?) of YHWH, parallel with the initial word of the second line, “(the one)s searching for him” (<yv!q=b^m=). The last two words are the main source of confusion, the Masoretic text apparently being in error (“your face [;yn#P*], Jacob”). Critical commentators are inclined to emend the text here, one of two ways:

    • His face [wyn`P*], Jacob”, following the Targum
    • “(the) face of the Mighty One [i.e. God] of Jacob”, assuming that yhla has dropped out of the text, following some Syriac MSS; for this expression cf. Exod 3:6, 15; Psalm 20:1; 46:7, 11 (and elsewhere in the Psalms), etc.

The latter option is to be preferred; however, it is possible that the expression “face of the God of Jacob” here is preserved by the shorthand “face of Jacob”, the MT suffix ; either being a scribal mistake or representing an emphatic/enclitic particle (yK!) that has been mispointed (cf. Dahood, p. 152). The “face” is the manifest presence of God (Exod 33:14, etc).

Verses 7-10

“Lift up your heads, (you) gates,
and be lifted up, openings of (the) distant (past),
and (the) King th(at is) worth(y) shall come!
Who (is) this King th(at is) worth(y)?
YHWH, strong and mighty,
YHWH (the) mighty (one) of battle!

Lift up your heads, (you) gates,
lift up, (you) openings of (the) distant (past),
and (the) King th(at is) worth(y) shall come!
Who (is) this King th(at is) worth(y)?
YHWH (Creator) of (the heavenly) armies—
He (is) the King th(at is) worth(y)! Selah

By all accounts this is a very old piece of poetry (10th cent. B.C., cf. Cross, pp. 91ff), perhaps older than the remainder of the Psalm. It certainly retains the ancient ritual/liturgical context much more so than the first strophe. Many commentators would associate it with a ceremonial transport of the golden box (or ark) that served as the symbolic throne and dwelling of YHWH in the Temple. It is theorized that a procession of priests and people led the ark into the Temple complex, and that these verses were recited, perhaps in alternating chorus, as accompaniment. Even if this were correct, the exact occasion remains unknown and can only be guessed at. The reference to the Creation in vv. 1-2 raises the possibility of a New Year ceremony, when YHWH takes his place in his house after his victory in battle over the primeval forces of chaos and darkness. Another possibility is that it involves a ceremony commemorating the building/founding of the Temple itself, or of the moment when the ark of God’s Presence first entered the Temple (cp. the setting of Psalm 132).

The gates/doors of the Temple (and city) are directed to “lift up” their heads in homage to YHWH as he enters. This solemn bit of ritual imagery as always seemed curious, but there is some evidence that the basic portrait is derived, in different ways, from cosmological myth. The identification of the Temple-site with the “mountain of God” confirms the correspondence between God’s dwelling in heaven and his symbolic, manifest dwelling on earth. The Semitic Creator deity °E~l (“Mighty [One]”) was thought to dwell on a great (cosmic) mountain also depicted as a (heavenly) Tent. The same basic imagery was applied to YHWH, otherwise identified with as the Creator °E~l. Any local mountain could serve as a form of the cosmic “mountain of God”, even a modest hill-top site such as Jerusalem/Zion.

The heavenly dwelling of God was itself divine, and could be conceived as living or alive. Moreover, the mountain/palace of °E~l in west Semitic (Canaanite) tradition served as the heavenly court where the gods would assemble for feasts and other important occasions. In the great Canaanite Baal Epic (tablet II, column ii [CAT col. III]), as part of the conflict between Baal-Haddu and the Sea (Yamm), messengers from the Sea appear while the gods are assembled in the mountain/palace of °E~l. The purpose of their appearance is to deliver a threatening message that Baal should be handed over as a slave to the Sea. The deities lower their heads at the sight of these fearful emissaries from the Sea, to which Baal rebukes them with an opening line nearly identical to vv. 7a, 9a of Psalm 24:

š°u °ilm r°aštkm
“Lift up your heads, (you) Mighty (one)s [i.e. gods]!”

The only difference is that in the Psalm personified gates of the heavenly dwelling take the place of the gods residing within. It is hard to imagine that the formula used in the Psalm does not stem from the same basic line of tradition. A significant point is that, in the Baal Epic, following his battle with the Sea, a great heavenly palace is constructed for Baal-Haddu comparable to that of °E~l. It is only natural that the gods would likewise “lift their heads” to greet Baal as he comes into his palace, thus affirming his kingship and rule over the universe (cp. verses 1-2 here); it is easy to see how, in an Israelite monotheistic setting, the circle of deities might be replaced by the surrounding gates of the palace.

The gates are called <l*ou, a term which can mean either the distant past or the distant future; it can connote the idea of “eternity, eternal”, and thus implies that these ‘gates’ are somehow divine, or at least have an ancient and eternal quality. It is the heavenly dwelling itself that greets YHWH on his victorious return from battle. Dahood (p. 153) notes the use of the expression “king of the gate” in the Ugaritic texts, as a title for the Canaanite king; even more so would the Creator deity deserve such a title.

The construct expression dobK*h^ El#m# deserves some comment. Literally, it means “king of the weight”, i.e. “the king of weight”. The noun dobK* has the fundamental meaning “weight”, in the sense of have a certain worth or value. It often connotes the idea of “honor”, especially when applied to God, and in such cases is typically translated as “glory” (i.e., “the king of glory”). However, in my view, the force of the ritual has to due with YHWH’s worthiness to be enthroned in his palace as king—sovereign over the universe. A proper translation of the expression might then be “the king of worth”, which preserves the construct form. Along these lines, I have opted for a rendering which is less accurate syntactically, but which, I think, better captures the sense of the passage: “the King th(at is) worth(y)”. Because of YHWH’s strength and might, demonstrated in battle against the waters of chaos, He is worthy to be recognized as King over all Creation.

It is, indeed, YHWH’s role as a warrior (“mighty [man] of battle”) that is emphasized in vv. 7-10, and the cosmological background of the ritual scene best explains this. That is to say, the primary association is with God’s victory over the primeval waters of chaos (the “Sea”), by which He established the current order of creation. The extent to which this same pattern applied to the “holy war” tradition—i.e. YHWH achieving victory for Israel over her enemies—can be debated. Certainly the expression “YHWH of the armies” (toab*x= hwhy), essentially shorthand for “…creator of the heavenly armies”, relates to God’s role as protector of Israel, who fights (with the forces of heaven) on behalf of His people. Whether the ritual setting of Psalm 24 specifically refers to the “wars of Israel” —Exodus and Conquest, etc—remains uncertain.

How do the verses of the first strophe (vv. 3-6, cf. above) fit into the ritual/liturgical context of the second? Possibly, before the procession with the ark entered the Temple precincts, there was a liturgical affirmation of the holiness and purity of the officiants (priests and people), represented in these verses. There was often a magical quality inherent in such ritual formulae—that is to say, the proper performance of the ritual was essential to its efficacy. Without the ritual affirmation of purity, the effectiveness of the entire ceremony—including the divine blessing and favor that result from it—would be put at risk. The ceremonial aspect, however, was only intended to confirm the reality of the situation—i.e., that the priests, etc, had kept themselves pure, conducting themselves in a holy and righteous manner, in accordance with the regulations of the covenant bond.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).
Those marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).

 

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.

2 Cor 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls

This article is meant to supplement the discussion on 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 in the current Saturday Series studies, especially with regard to the source-critical question—whether, or in what manner, the passage may derive from a separate early Jewish-Christian source. The most recent study addresses the evidence regarding the Jewish-Christian character of the passage. In some ways, this must be considered separately from the question of Pauline authorship, since Paul himself certainly could have made use of pre-existing material in his letter. However, many commentators consider 6:14-7:1 to have more affinity with other Jewish writings of the period than to the other (undisputed) Pauline letters. In particular, parallels have been pointed out with the Qumran (Dead Sea Scroll) texts. This article will briefly examine this in relation to three specific areas:

    1. The thematic/conceptual framework of ritual purity, and its importance for religious identity in terms of separation from non-believers
    2. The strong dualism of the passage, especially as applied to the contrast between dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness, justice”) and anomía (“lawlessness”)
    3. Use of the name Belíal

As the last of these is simplest to address, I will discuss it first.

The name Belíal

The word Belíal (Beli/al), here in the variant spelling Belíar (Beli/ar), is never used by Paul elsewhere in his letters, even in situations where he may have had occasion to; in fact, it does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament at all. It is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew lu^Y^l!B= (b®liyya±al), a (proper) noun occurring 27 times in the Old Testament. In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version, it is always translated, rather than transliterated, except in the A-text of Judges 20:13. Unfortunately the exact meaning and derivation of the word remains uncertain; two theories have been the most popular:

    • As a compound of: (1) the verbal form b®lî (yl!B=), “be(com)ing old, worn”, used as an adverb/particle of negation (i.e., “not, without”), together with (2) a (verbal) form of the root y±l (lu^y`), “(be of) benefit”. Thus the word would mean something like “(of) no benefit, worthless(ness)”.
    • A noun from the root b¹la± (ul^B*), with the fundamental meaning “swallow”, presumably relating to the ancient image of Death/Sheol as a devouring power with a ravenous appetite (and wide gulping mouth), or to the consumption/decay associated with death and grave generally.

Neither explanation is especially convincing, though it would seem that b®liyya±al is a compound noun/name, akin to ±¦z¹°z¢l (Lev 16:8ff), and perhaps formed according to a similar pattern. Ultimately, the meaning has to be determined by the context of its use in the Old Testament. The oldest usage would seem to be preserved in several examples of early poetry, especially in Psalm 18:5[4] (= 2 Sam 22:5), where it is synonymous with “Death” (m¹we¾) and “Sheol” (š®°ôl, see my recent article for more on this term). The expression “deadly (poison) of Beliyya’al” (d®»ar b®liyya±al) in Psalm 41:9[8] (also 101:3) likely stems from the same use of b®liyya±al as a name for Death.

Much more frequent is the expression “son/s of Beliyya’al”, ben / b®nê b®liyya±al (Deut 13:14; Judg 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam 2:12; 10:27; 25:17; 1 Kings 21:10, 13; 2 Chron 13:7), along with the parallel (and more or less equivalent) expression “man/men of Beliyya’al”, °îš / °anšê b®liyya±al (1 Sam 25:25; 30:22; 2 Sam 16:7; 20:1; 1 Kings 21:13; Prov 16:27), °¹¼¹m b®liyya±al (Prov 6:12); also “daughter [ba¾] of Beliyya’al” in 1 Sam 1:16. In Hebrew, the word ben (“son”) is often used in the sense of a person belonging to a particular group or category, i.e. possessing a set of certain characteristics in common, and so it must be understood in these instances. It refers to a Beliyya’al-like person, someone who “belongs” to Beliyya’al, with evidence (by his/her attitudes and behavior) of similar characteristics. The context of the passages cited above makes clear that a “son/man of Beliyya’al” essentially refers to a person who violates and disrupts the order of things—either in a specific social (or religious) setting, or within society at large. This relates more to the idea of hostility, chaos, and confusion (i.e. disorder), rather than the more direct association with Death in the (older?) poetic references mentioned above.

It is hard to say whether, in the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, the word b®liyya±al is used in an abstract sense, or as a proper noun (i.e. personal name). Both are possible, though the parallel with Death/Sheol in Psalm 18:5, etc, suggests that an ancient (mythological) personification of death (and the grave) informs the usage. This figurative association would naturally extend to encompass the idea of chaos, confusion, and destruction—all related to the realm of death and “non-existence”, i.e. the primal condition of the universe (as a dark, formless mass [see Gen 1:2 etc]) prior to the establishment of the created order by God. At the same time, b®liyya±al is clearly synonymous with the more abstract concepts of “evil” (r¹±), “wickedness” (reša±) and “trouble” (°¹wen), especially in the Wisdom writings (Prov 6:12; 16:27; 19:28; Job 34:18). Most likely, this is a secondary development, from the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, and the characteristic of a such a person as a wicked trouble-maker (see the generalized usage, where the expression is implied, in 2 Sam 23:6; Nahum 1:11; 2:1 [1:15]). A wicked/evil thought, expressed by d¹»¹r b®liyya±al (Deut 15:9; Psalm 101:3 [?]), may involve wordplay with an older poetic expression “deadly (poison) [dbr] of Beliyya’al” (Ps 41:9, cf. above).

We do not encounter the word/name Beliyya’al again until the first centuries B.C., when it appears in a number of surviving Jewish texts of the period. (e.g., Jubilees 1:20). Already in Greek texts (and translations) of the time, the variant spelling Belíar (instead of Belíal) is attested as a transliteration of the Hebrew word. Most notably, b®liyya±al occurs frequently in the Qumran texts, where it is used to refer to an evil figure opposed to God, personifying (and governing) the darkness and wickedness of the current (evil) Age. As such, the name is more or less synonymous (though not necessarily equivalent) with “(the) Sa‰an” or “Devil” (diabólos in Greek). This is a significant development from the earlier Hebrew expression “son(s) of Beliyya’al”. Now, those who ‘belong’ to Beliyya’al are defined in a most pronounced dualistic sense as the “sons of darkness”, opposed to God and the “sons of light” (i.e. the Qumran Community); and the wicked “sons of darkness” will be destroyed (along with Beliyya’al) by God’s end-time Judgment that is about to be ushered in. Not surprisingly, Beliyya’al features prominently in the War Scroll (1QM 1:1, 5, 13; 13:2, 4-5, 11); for other passages, I would note: the Community Rule [1QS] 1:18; 2:4-5, 19; the Damascus Document [CD/QD] 4:13ff; 5:18-19; 12:2; the Florilegium [4Q174] col. i. 8f and Testimonia [4Q175] 23.

There is even a closer parallel with 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 to be found in the so-called Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a collection of Jewish pseudepigraphic writings, inspired by Genesis 49. The underlying material and tradition is Jewish, but there are signs of subsequent Christian editing and adaptation as well. The name Beliyya’al occurs frequently in the Testaments—Greek form regularly Belíar, as in 2 Cor 6:15—nearly 30 times: Asher 1:8; 3:2; Benjamin 3:3, 5, 8; 6:1, 7; 7:1-2; Dan 1:7; 4:7; 5:1, 10-11; Issachar 6:1; 7:7; Joseph 7:4; 20:2; Judah 25:3; Levi 3:3; 18:12; 19:2; Naphtali 2:6; 3:2; Reuben 4:8, 11; 6:4; Simeon 5:3; Zebulun 9:8. There is also here a dualistic contrast between the Law of God and the “works of Beliar”, with an exhortation throughout for people to shun and flee (i.e. separate from) this wickedness of Beliar, especially in light of the Judgment about to come upon the world. The exhortation in Test. Levi 19:1-2 is perhaps the closest in form and substance to 2 Cor 6:14ff:

“…choose for yourselves light or darkness, the Law of the Lord or the works of Belial!”

As noted above, in the Septuagint, the Hebrew word b®liyya±al is always translated, rather than transliterated, using a number of different Greek words, such as: loimós (“pest[ilence]”), paránomos (one who “[step]s alongside [i.e. violates] the law”), aseb¢¡s (“without [proper] reverence”), anomía (“without law, lawless[ness]”), hamartœlós (“erring, sinful”), and áphrœn (“without [good] sense”). Especially in the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, the word b®liyya±al indicates a violation or disruption of order in society, and thus suggests a semantic range reasonably close to anomía (“without law, lawlessness”) in Greek. As such, Belíal (or Belíar) is a fitting parallel to anomía in 2 Cor 6:14-15. It is possible that Paul has the Hebrew idiom in mind in 2 Thessalonians 2 (vv. 3, 8), when he uses the expressions “the lawless (one)” (ho ánomos), “the man of lawlessness” (ho ánthrœpos t¢s anomías), and “the son of ruin/destruction” (ho huiós t¢s apœleías); if so, he translates b®liyya±al for his Greek audience rather than using a transliterated form.

The Idea of Ritual Purity

In my view, the question of Pauline authorship of 6:14-7:1 ultimately hinges on the motif of ritual purity in the section, how it applied to believers, and whether (or not) this accords with Paul’s thought as expressed elsewhere in his letters. As it happens, 1 and 2 Corinthians are the most relevant writings, since they are by far the longest and most extensive letters written by Paul, to congregations with whom he was intimately familiar, and which address many practical ethical issues facing believers as they conduct their lives (and govern their congregations) within the wider Greco-Roman society. I will be discussing this aspect of 6:14-7:1 in considerable detail in the next Saturday Series study on the passage; here I will only summarize the evidence briefly, before turning to the Qumran texts.

As far as the regulations in the Torah relating to ritual purity, Paul’s view on the matter seems quite clear (for detailed studies on this, cf. my series “Paul’s View of the Law”). Believers are free from the Law, and the Torah regulations are no longer binding; this is as true of the various purity laws not mentioned by Paul as it is of circumcision and dietary laws (which he does discuss). His relationship with the apostolic “decree” from the Jerusalem Council is uncertain at best, since he never once refers to it in his letters, and may have been unaware of it at the time(s) of writing (despite the notice in Acts 16:4 [compare 21:25]). More important would be examples in his letters where Paul uses ideas or language related to ritual purity, applying it (figuratively) to believers. I would note the following:

    • Rom 6:12-13, 19—there is perhaps a faint allusion to the purity of sacrificial offerings (i.e. service at the altar) in the idea of believers presenting themselves before (vb paríst¢mi, lit. “[make] stand alongside”) God (cf. also the quasi-ritual context of the image in 2 Cor 11:2); it is noteworthy that v. 19 contains the same juxtaposition of dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness”) and anomía (“lawlessness”) that we find in 2 Cor 6:14 (see below).
    • 1 Cor 5:6-8—Passover imagery (esp. that of unleavened bread) is applied to believers, exhorting them not to associate with persons engaged in sexual immorality (vv. 1-2, 9-13f); the main difference with 2 Cor 6:14ff is that here it directed specifically against believers engaged in sinful behavior and not non-believers.
    • 1 Cor 6:19—the bodies of believers are identified (symbolically) with the Temple, which had to be kept ceremonially pure (a primary concern of the Torah purity laws); here we find perhaps the closest example of ritual purity meant to symbolize believers separating themselves from the immorality of the surrounding society (vv. 9ff, 13-18).
    • 1 Cor 10:6-13—the application of the Golden Calf episode (Exod 32; note the implicit context of ceremonial purity in 19:10-15) to the very matter addressed in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, namely, believers separating from the idolatrous culture around them (vv. 7-8, 14ff).

When we consider the situation in the Qumran texts, there is naturally a much greater emphasis on holiness in terms of ritual purity, since (a) the Community’s religious identity was based on strict observance of the Torah (including the purity regulations), and (b) it also identified itself with the Priestly line (“sons of Zadok”), including many priests who has separated from the ruling priesthood and Temple establishment, which itself was viewed as impure and corrupt. The very idea of the Community involved separation from the surrounding society—both the Greco-Roman world and other Israelites (“sons of darkness”, dominated by Belial [see above])—to join with the “sons of light”. This was a real separation, into a communalistic, sectarian organization, much moreso than was the case with early Christian congregations (though the initial Jerusalem community was perhaps closer to this model). The so-called “Community Rule” document (1QS) is perhaps the best source for the religious self-identity of the Qumran Community—e.g., 5:1f, 6, 13-20; 8:5ff; 9:5f, 8-9. Cf. also the Damascus Document [CD] 6:14-18; 12:19-20, and many other passages.

Dualism

For a definition and explanation of the term “dualism”, see my recent article on the subject. There is an especially strong dualistic outlook in 6:14-7:1, which, indeed, is central to the idea of separation within the religious-thematic framework of ritual purity (see the discussion above). This dualistic “separation” is expressed several ways, corresponding to the (poetic) parallelism of the passage:

    • Believer vs. Non-believer—pístos  vs. ápistos (lit. “trusting” and “without trust”) [v. 14a, 15b]
    • Dikaiosýn¢ vs. Anomía (“righteousness/justice” vs. “lawlessness”) [v. 14b]
    • Light (fœ¡s) vs. Darkness (skótos) [v. 14c]
    • Christ vs. Belial [v. 15a]
    • Shrine of God vs. (Pagan) Images [v. 16a]
    • Clean [implied] vs. Unclean (akáthartos) [v. 17a]
    • Stain/soiling (moslysmós) vs. Purity, i.e. holiness (hagiosýn¢) [7:1]

To be sure, Paul himself frequently makes use of a dualistic mode of expression in his letters; indeed certain of these contrasts (e.g. light/darkness) are practically universal in religious/ethical teaching (cf. 1 Thess 5:5; Rom 13:12, etc). However, it is the especially strong dualistic imagery here, informed by the idea of (ritual) purity, and aimed at religious-cultural separation, that many commentators feel is foreign to Paul’s thought in his letters.

In particular, the noun dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness, justice”), used frequently by Paul in the specific theological sense (and context) of human beings being justified (lit. “made right”) before God through the work of Jesus, here seems to have a rather different emphasis. In 6:14 it is used in the more conventional religious sense, so it would seem, of right behavior, i.e. in contrast with “lawlessness” (anomía, lit. being “without law”). While this latter word could refer specifically to the Torah, it often denoted generally the violation of social and religious standards, i.e. “sin, iniquity, immorality”, but could also connote flagrant opposition to religion and God himself. The noun occurs 6 other times in the Pauline letters (Rom 4:7 [citation]; 6:19 [twice]; 2 Thess 2:3, 7; also Tit 2:14), with the related adjective ánomos 6 times (1 Cor 9:21 [4 times]; 2 Thess 2:8; also 1 Tim 1:9), and the adverb anómœs twice (in Rom 2:12). Paul alternates between using these words in the literal sense of “without (the) Law [i.e. Gentiles without the Torah]”, and the general sense of “wickedness, etc”. The only other instance where Paul directly contrasts anomía (“lawlessness”) with dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness”) is Romans 6:19, an exhortation (for believers) that is reasonably close to the line of thought in 2 Cor 6:14ff (see above).

Some commentators, however, would find even closer parallels in the Qumran texts, especially the key sectarian writings that establish most clearly the Community’s religious identity. This was touched on above, in the section on ritual purity; however, it is worth noting the pervasive dualism with which this was expressed. While light vs. darkness is a common religious motif, for the Qumran Community it was absolutely a way of defining themselves—as “sons of light” vs. “sons of darkness”. All the other nations, as well as the wicked/unfaithful in Israel, belonged to the darkness (and under the domain of Belial, see above), while only the Community, the faithful ones, belonged to the light. Evidence of their belonging to the light was their strict adherence to the Torah, and to the inspired teaching/guidance of the Community. Of many passages, cf. 1QS [Community Rule] 1:9-11; 2:16-17; 3:3, 13, 19-20ff; 1QM [War Scroll] 1:1, 3, 9ff; 13:5-6, 9; 4QFlor [4Q174] col. i. 9.

This same dualism was expressed, naturally enough, by a contrast between “righteousness” (ƒ®d¹qâ  hdqx) and “iniquity” (±¹wel  lwu = “lawlessness”), as Paul does in Rom 6:19 etc; however, for the Qumran Community (and contrary to Paul), this was defined more precisely along the lines of (ritual) purity employed in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (cf. above). Again, many passages could be cited, among which I would note: 1QS 1:4-5; 5:1-4; 1QH [Hymns] VI [XIV]. 15-16; IX [I]. 26-27. It was adherence to the Law (Torah) and the Community’s teaching, etc, that constituted “righteousness”, demonstrating that a person was, indeed, “righteous”. And central to much of the Torah, and the Community, was the idea of separation—that is, religious separation (i.e. from non-believers, what is unclean, etc)—so clearly emphasized in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1. The extent to which this is in accord (or not) with Paul’s own thought and teaching continues to be debated. I will be discussing the matter further in the next Saturday Series study.

Conclusion

To the evidence above, one might add that, according to some commentators, the manner of citing Scripture passages in 2 Cor 6:16-18 better fits the catena-format used at Qumran than Paul’s own style (a debatable point, to be sure). Also, while the Scriptural citations and allusions are not utilized elsewhere by Paul, we do find them in the Qumran texts—2 Sam 7:14 in 4QFlor i.11, and Ezek 20:34 (perhaps) in 1QM 1:2-3. These are minor points compared with the three areas discussed above, and even those, in and of themselves, are not especially strong arguments against Pauline authorship, with the possible exception of the use of the name Belial. It is the cumulative effect of the evidence that convinces many critical commentators. The parallels between 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 and the Qumran texts have even led some to declare that the former is “a Christian exhortation in the Essene [i.e., Qumran] tradition” or “a Christian reworking of an Essene paragraph” (cf. Furnish, p. 377, citing J. Gnilka and J. A. Fitzmyer). Few commentators today would go that far, the tendency now being to downplay considerably the idea of any direct influence on the New Testament from Qumran. Instead, most New Testament scholars today would speak in terms of the wider Jewish milieu, that both Qumran and early Christian Communities inherited many similar ideas, techniques, modes of interpretation, etc, within the Judaism of the period, and that this accounts for most, if not all, of the evident parallels.

The use of the name Belial remains perhaps the most notable ‘non-Pauline’ feature discussed above; its frequent occurrence in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D., and, in particular, the usage in the (Christianized) Jewish material of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, offers us a window on the kind of Jewish-Christian homiletic we see in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1. However, based on this evidence alone, one cannot simply exclude Pauline authorship of the section, though, at the very least, it does increase the likelihood that Paul may have made use of pre-existing (Jewish-Christian) material in his letter.

References above marked “Furnish” are to Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, Anchor Bible [AB] Vo. 32A (1984).
“Gnilka” refers to the study by J. Gnilka, “2 Cor 6:14-7:1 in the light of the Qumran texts and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” in Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by J. Murphy O’Connor and James H. Charlesworth (Geoffrey Chapman Ltd.: 1968); originally published in Neutestamentliche Aufsätze, Festschrift J. Schmid (1963).