August 28: 1 Cor 2:14-15 (continued)

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16]

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

In yesterday’s note, I provided a fairly detailed study on two key words used in these verses (14-15)—the adjective yuxiko/$ (related to yuxh/) and the verb a)nakri/nw. This was necessary in order to give a proper translation and interpretation of the passage.

“And the man with a soul does not receive [i.e. accept] the (thing)s of the Spirit of God, for it is (all) stupidity [mwri/a] to him and he is not able to know (them), (in) that they are judged (carefully) with the Spirit. And the (one) with the Spirit judges all ([th]ese) things, and (yet) he is judged under no one.”

It will be helpful to offer notes on specific words and phrases as they occur in the passage:

“with a soul”—I have decided, as a practical necessity, to slant the grammar of my translation, in order to give a meaningful rendering of the adjectives yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$ (cf. the previous note). Fundamentally, Paul’s use of yuxiko/$ here (and in 15:44-46), means a human being with a soul, but not yet united to (i.e. having received) the Spirit of God. As the prior look at the usage of yuxiko/$ in James 3:15 and Jude 19 makes clear, the sense of the term as a whole is not limited to this—it also connotes a distinctly worldly, human way of thinking and acting. However, Paul captures this more negative aspect in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 by specific use of “world” (ko/smo$) and “(hu)man” (a&nqrwpo$).

“receive”—It is worth noting the difference between the verbs de/xomai (here) and lamba/nw (in v. 12), both of which can be rendered “receive”. The verb lamba/nw basically means “receive” in the sense of taking (hold) of something, while de/xomai as accepting something offered as a gift, etc. This also touches back on verse 12, where the “things of God [lit. under God]” are said to be given (by God) to us as a favor or gift. The human being without the Spirit does not (indeed, can not) receive or accept the things offered to us (believers) as a gift.

“the (thing)s of the Spirit of God”—Paul’s use of a plural substantive with the definite article (“the [thing]s…”) is an important syntactical (and thematic) element of his argument in 1:18-2:16, and especially of 2:6ff, where the emphatic “wisdom” (sofi/a), i.e. of God, is given collective (and comprehensive) expression by the plural. It begins with the Scriptural citation(s) in verse 9—”the (thing)s which” (a%)—and continues on through the passage:

    • V. 10: “all (thing)s [pa/nta]”
    • V. 10-11: “the deep (thing)s of God [ta\ ba/qh tou= qeou=]”; “the (thing)s of God [ta\ tou= qeou=]”
    • V. 12: “the (thing)s under God [ta\ u(po\ tou= qeou=] given as a favor/gift to us”
    • V. 13a: “the (thing)s which [a%] we also speak”
    • V. 13b: “spiritual (thing)s [pneumatika/]”, or better, “(thing)s of the Spirit”
    • V. 14: “the (thing)s of the Spirit of God [ta\ tou= pneu/mato$ tou= qeou=]”
    • V. 15: “all ([th]ese thing)s [{ta\} pa/nta]”

“to him it is stupidity”—The noun mwri/a (“dullness, stupidity”), along with the related adjective mwro/$ and verb mwrai/nw, is a keyword of the entire section (cf. 1:18, 20-21, 23, 25, 27, and the notes on these verses; also 3:18-19; 4:10). Previously it described the world’s view of God’s wisdom as expressed specifically in the proclamation of the Gospel (and the death of Christ); now, it represents the world’s reaction to the wisdom of God taken as a whole—”all the (deep) things of God”. Note how the comprehensive plural is here put into the singular “it is [e)stin]”; Paul may be suggesting that the human mind/soul is inclined to dismiss all of God’s wisdom at a single stroke. I have tried to capture this with a parenthesis—”it is (all) stupidity”. The pronoun is emphatic in the phrase: “to him [i.e. the human] it is stupidity”.

“he is not able to know (them)”—The verb du/namai essentially means having the power, i.e. being empowered, to do something. Paul has already established the connection between the Spirit of God and power (du/nami$) in 2:4-5 (cf. also 1:18, 24; 4:19-20). The idea of knowledge (gnw=nai [ginw/skw], “to know”) is implicit under the arching theme of wisdom (sofi/a) in the passage (cf. 2:8, 11, 16; also 3:20; 4:19). Earlier, Paul applied this to believers with the verb ei&dw (“see”, i.e. perceive, recognize, know) in 2:2, 11-12. The object of the verb “know” here has to be supplied—I identify it with the comprehensive plural (“the [thing]s…”, i.e. “them”) relating to the wisdom of God (cf. above).

“judged/judges”—Paul uses the verb a)nakri/nw three times in vv. 14-15. Understanding the prepositional component (a)na) to the verb as an intensive, I render it as “judge (something) closely”, in the basic sense of “examine closely/carefully”. Each instance of the verb here has a slightly different nuance:

    • “the things of the Spirit of God…are judged with the Spirit”—they can only be examined (and understood) spiritually, by way of the Spirit of God, through the guidance of the Spirit; this may be related to the idea of the Spirit “searching out” the (deep) things of God in vv. 10-11.
    • “the one with the Spirit judges all (these) things”—the Spirit enables the believer to examine all the things of God closely. It is possible that Paul is beginning to shift the meaning slightly, with a play on pa/nta (“all things”); there may be an allusion here to the idea of believers judging the world (“all things”), as in 6:2ff.
    • “he is judged under no one”—here it would seem that Paul is drawing on a specific judicial meaning of the verb (interrogate, etc); i.e. believers stand under the judgment of no other human being, since we are truly judged only by God before the (heavenly) tribunal at the end-time. This emphasis would seem to be confirmed by the parallel discussion in 4:1-5.

We should probably also understand a bit of word-play between a)nakri/nw and sugkri/nw in v. 13 (cf. below).

“with the Spirit”—As indicated above, I use this to render the adjective pneumatiko/$ (second instance in the translation above), but also the related adverb pneumatikw=$ (first instance above). This contrasts with the standard translation “spiritual(ly)”, which is accurate enough, but misses the comparison between the human soul and God’s Spirit. The adjective describes the person (the believer), who is characterized by the Spirit, while the adverb describes the action (judging/examining). There is almost certainly a close parallel to be drawn with the phrase in verse 13: “judging spiritual (thing)s with spiritual (word)s”. The verb sugkri/nw shares with a)nakri/nw the root verb kri/nw (“judge, examine,” etc), which is extremely wide-ranging, but usually retains something of the primitive sense (“separate, divide, sift/sort”). As believers examine the things of God (of his Spirit), by the Spirit, and begin to understand them, we are able to sift through them and bring them together, allowing us to express and communicate them to others in the body of Christ.

“all ([th]ese thing)s” ([ta\] pa/nta)—There is a textual question regarding this word. A number of important manuscripts (Ë46 A C D* al) include the definite article, while many others do not. If the article is original, it almost certainly means that Paul is referring specifically to “the (thing)s of God”, i.e. the wisdom of God in a comprehensive/collective sense (cf. above). Even if the article is secondary, it may indicate that scribes sought to make the same point clear, to avoid confusion—the word pa/nta (“all [thing]s”) being taken in a general sense. I believe that here, as in verse 10, Paul is playing on the two aspects of this word: (a) all things generally, and (b) the wisdom of God specifically. The dual meaning is more properly combined at the end of the chapter 3 (vv. 21-23), where “all things” (in creation, etc) are subsumed under Christ (the wisdom of God manifest), who is, in turn, under God (YHWH, the Father) himself.

“under no one”—The preposition u(po/ can carry an instrumental sense (“by [way of], through”), but more properly it means “under”; here specifically the reference is to believers being examined and judged (in a judicial sense) under a human authority. Only God truly has the authority to judge believers (in Christ), at the end time (cf. 4:1-5). Note an interesting kind of parallel in Paul’s use of u(po/:

The line of reasoning serves as a fittingly climax to the overall contrast of human vs. divine wisdom, etc, running through this section, and which culminates powerfully with the declaration in verse 16, to be discussed in the next daily note.

August 27: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:13]

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.