May 10: Isaiah 11:2; 28:6

Isaiah 11:2; 28:6

When we turn to the Prophetic books of the Old Testament, we find a significant number of references to the Spirit (j^Wr) of God. These occur throughout the writings, but are concentrated especially in the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel. They indicate a development of earlier lines of tradition, regarding the association of the divine spirit with leadership roles in ancient Israel—namely, that of the prophet (ayb!n`) and the king.

In previous notes, we examined the role of the spirit of God in the legitimate establishment and exercise of kingship. Going back to the time of Moses and Joshua, through the period of the Judges, and then with the first Israelite kings (Saul and David), there was a clear principle of spirit-inspired charismatic leadership. The spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH would come upon the person, enabling him/her to function effectively as ruler. The presence of the divine spirit was manifest primarily two ways: (1) giving the person the wisdom and discernment by which to lead, and (2) enabling strength and skill for battle, etc. The former was emphasized, for example, in the case of Joshua (Deut 34:9, cf. Num 27:18), while the latter was stressed repeatedly in the Judges narratives. In the David-Saul traditions of Samuel, the connection was primarily between the spirit and the manifestation of an ecstatic prophetic experience (1 Sam 10:6, 11; 11:6; 16:13ff; 18:10; 19:20-24; cp. Num 11:17-29).

By the 8th century B.C., with the establishment of a hereditary monarchy, the older tradition of charismatic leadership more or less disappeared. However, the idea of the spirit of God coming upon the ruler continued, built into the very imagery of the anointing of the king. Thus, for example, we find repeatedly in the Prophets language to the effect that the Spirit of God is “poured out”, i.e. like water or oil. In particular, there are numerous passages which indicate that the anointing of a leader (king or ayb!n`) is in mind. This imagery occurs in numerous passages in the book of Isaiah, both in the first half (chaps. 1-39), as well as the second (so-called Deutero-Isaiah, chaps. 40-66).

Isaiah 11:2

Study of the book of Isaiah is complicated by composite nature of the material, and by the rather clear evidence that the book was composed in stages, over a considerable length of time. Even in the first half of the book (chaps. 2-39), which is much more clearly connected with the life and times of the prophet Isaiah himself, there is considerable debate regarding the date and provenance of the oracles, etc. For example, chapters 2-12 comprise a definite division; within this portion, chapters 5-10 unquestionably derive from the later half of the 8th century B.C. (c. 740-701), while much of 6:1-9:6[7] can be dated even more narrowly, to the time of the Assyrian crisis in the north and the Syro-Ephraemite war (735-732). The surrounding material in chaps. 2-4 and 11-12 is more difficult to date, with some evidence that it may have been composed a century or so later, though perhaps drawing upon authentic Isaian oracles, set in the context of the Babylonian conquest and exilic (or post-exilic) period. I have discussed this to some extent in recent Saturday Series studies on the book of Isaiah, and will not go over the matter any further here. Such critical theories are, by their nature, rather speculative and subjective, relying on limited evidence from within the text itself.

If Isa 11:1-10 is an authentic Isaian oracle, then it would date from the final decades of the 8th century, much like the rest of the material in chaps. 5-10. In 8:23-9:6 [9:1-7], the promise of a time of peace and prosperity (and restoration) for the people of the northern Kingdom is tied to the coming of a new king from the line of David in Judah (vv. 5-6 [6-7]). Many critical commentators would identify the original historical context of this passage as the accession/coronation of Hezekiah (715 B.C.?). In any case, the “birth” of the king (as in Psalm 2:7) almost certainly refers to the time of his coronation, and reflects the language and ritual symbolism of the ceremonies performed on such occasions. On the significance and background of the divine titles in vv. 5-6 [6-7], cf. my earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”.

The same sort of language and imagery occurs in Isaiah 11:1-10, and likewise refers to the rise of a new king from the line of David. An 8th century setting may well have Hezekiah in mind, but, at the very least, would refer to a king coming after (or in place of ) Ahaz. Even if the oracle has a later period in view (Babylonian/Exilic/post-Exilic), the basic hope remains the same; not surprisingly, this came to be a key Messianic passage in later Jewish thought, though it appears to have been adopted less readily by early Christians.

The “golden age” that is ushered in with this king’s rule echoes the language in 2:2-4 (cf. Mic 4:1-4), and illustrates the clear (and intentional) parallelism between chaps. 2-4 and 11-12. The king as a descendant of David is alluded to in the opening lines (v. 1): “And a branch will go forth from the trunk of Yishay {Jesse}, and a green shoot from his roots will bear (forth)”. By alluding to the origins of David, the implication is that the new king will recapture the greatness and character of David himself. This is indicated by the emphasis on the special spirit (j^Wr) that will come upon him (cp. this for David in 1 Sam 16:13, following his anointing by Samuel). This is given four-fold expression in verse 2:

“And (the) spirit of YHWH will rest upon him,
(the) spirit of wisdom and discernment,
(the) spirit of counsel and strength,
(the) spirit of knowledge and fear of YHWH.”

The emphasis is on wisdom and knowledge, rather than strength and prowess in battle, etc (in spite of the mention of hr*Wbg+, “strength, greatness, vigor”, in line three, with it possible allusion to military victory). That wisdom and discernment come from the spirit of God is attested, as a general principle, in Job 32:8 etc. The gifted leader was specially endowed with such qualities (e.g., Joshua in Deut 34:9, cf. above), a sign of divine inspiration, and so it is attributed to the new/ideal king here.

Isaiah 28:6

The same basic idea is expressed in Isa 28:6, at the conclusion of a brief oracle, contrasting the failed leadership of the northern Kingdom (which faced judgment in the form of the Assyrian invasions) with the promise of faithful leadership, under the Davidic king, in Judah. It is the presence of YHWH which will offer hope and salvation, even to the survivors of the destruction in the north, and this divine presence (marked by God’s spirit [j^Wr]) will extend to the faithful ruler of the people:

“In that day YHWH of (the heavenly) armies will be
as an encircling (wreath) of splendor and a surrounding (crown) of beauty for the remainder of His people,
and as a spirit [j^Wr] of (right) judgment for (the one) sitting upon the (seat of) judgment,
and as strength [hr*Wbg+] for (the one)s returning battle (at) the gate.” (vv. 5-6)

The two aspects of leadership (cf. above) are clearly delineated in verse 6:

    • “spirit of judgment/justice”, i.e. requiring wisdom and discernment, and
    • “strength” (hr*Wbg+, as in 11:2 [line 3] above)—that is, the vigor of the young warrior in battle; specifically the king leads his warriors to victory in the battle.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study on the references to the Spirit of God in Isaiah, including an examination of several key passages from so-called Deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 40-66).

April 28: Genesis 41:38

Genesis 41:38, etc

In the previous note, we saw how the spirit/breath (j^Wr) of God, more than simply giving life to human beings, is also the source for the wisdom and understanding within the person. This wisdom is available to all, as part of the way humankind was created (by God), though many people do not hear or listen to its voice. At the same time, certain people are uniquely or specially gifted with certain kinds of wisdom and ability. In the ancient world, such gifted individuals were seen as possessing a special divine presence or “spirit” (our term genius reflects its origins in the ancient concept of an indwelling deity). Israelite and Old Testament tradition followed this ancient way of thinking, ascribing the special talent and insight of certain individuals to the spirit of God (El-Yahweh).

There are a number of such references in the Old Testament Scriptures, beginning with the Pentateuch. Regardless of when the final form of the books were actually composed, there is no reason to doubt that these references reflect genuine historical tradition and the most ancient way of thinking (i.e. going back to the time of the Patriarchs).

Genesis 41:38

In response to Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, and the prospect of an impending famine-crisis, the decision was made to appoint a special overseer to manage the crisis (vv. 33ff). It was to be a man discerning (/obn`, i.e. possessing discernment) and wise (<k*j*). The Pharaoh realized that there was no one better qualified than Joseph, as he declares in verse 38:

“Can there be found (anyone) like this man [i.e. Joseph], wh(o has the) spirit [j^Wr] of (the) Mightiest [<yh!ýa$] in him?”

Joseph’s ability to know the meaning of Pharaoh’s dream was proof of his wisdom/discernment (v. 39). The main point here, however, is that such wisdom is an indication of God’s spirit at work in Joseph, much as Elihu declared that the wisdom/understanding available to human beings has its source in the spirit/breath of God (Job 32:8, cf. the previous note).

I have translated <yh!ýa$ above in accordance with the basic usage in Scripture. However, it is worth pointing out here that it is a plural form, which, as a substantive, would literally mean something like “mighty (one)s”, more or less equivalent to the simpler plural <yl!a@. There has always been some difficulty explaining the use of this plural in a monotheistic setting, to refer to the one God (El-Yahweh). In my view, the best explanation is that the word serves as an intensive plural—i.e., “mightiest (one)”—and so I typically translate in these notes and articles (as opposed to blandly rendering it as “God”). Yet, if we accept the authenticity of tradition recorded here, it is possible that the Egyptian Pharaoh would have had a true plural in mind (i.e. Mighty Ones, “gods”). The parallel in Dan 5:14, where Belshazzar makes a similar statement regarding Daniel (in Aramaic), would tend to confirm this: “I have heard about you that (the) spirit [j^Wr] of the Mighty Ones [/yh!l*a$, i.e. “gods”] (is) in you”.

For more on the meaning and significance of the related titles la@ (‘El) and <yh!ýa$ (‘Elohim), cf. my earlier articles indicated by the links here.

Exodus 31:3; 35:31

Such special wisdom and knowledge can be demonstrated in other ways, and these no less reflect the working of God’s j^Wr. It can apply to persons with considerable gifts and talents in areas of art and science, for example. We see this expressed in the case of Bezalel, a craftsman and artisan, who was appointed (along with at least one other man) to design the Tent-shrine (Tabernacle) and its furnishings (Exodus 31:1ff). The divine source of this ability is clearly stated in verse 3:

“And I have filled him (with the) spirit [j^Wr] of (the) Mightiest—with wisdom, and with discernment, and with knowledge, and with all (the) work [hK*al*m=] (he is to do)”

The common word hK*al*m= is a bit difficult to translate in English. It means something like “business”, i.e. the work a person is expected to do. Sometimes the word connotes the skill or ability required to perform such duties. The first three terms—wisdom, discernment, knowledge—show one side of this ability, while hK*al*m= signifies the working out of it in practice, in the actual business of his craft. Interestingly, it is YHWH who is speaking, and yet the expression “spirit of the Mightiest [i.e. of God]” is still used (rather that “my Spirit”), indicating how fundamental it was to the idea involved.

This same declaration regarding Bezalel is repeated, this time by Moses, in 35:31:

“And He [i.e. YHWH] (has) filled him (with the) spirit [j^Wr] of the Mightiest…”

In using the word inspiration, we tend to think strictly in terms of the composition of the Scriptures, or in the related sense of inspired prophecy (within the context of Scripture). However, these passages we have examined thus far demonstrate that the concept of divine inspiration cannot—and should not—be limited in this way. In the next daily note, we will turn to the idea of the “prophet” —that is, the ayb!n`, one who serves a position of leadership, a spokesperson for God in relation to His people.

January 3: John 1:12-13, 14

John 1:12-13, 14

The prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) is probably the most famous and distinctive exposition of the divine pre-existence of Jesus, and of his identity as the Son of God, anywhere in the New Testament. This familiarity belies the complexity of the passage, both from a literary and theological standpoint. Most commentators have note the poetic, hymnic character of the prologue (most of it), and many consider it to have been a Jewish-Christian hymn which the author adapted. If so, then the substance of the prologue pre-dates the Johannine Gospel itself, which is generally regarded as the latest of the four Gospels (c. 90 A.D.), though containing many earlier traditions.

The prologue differs from the Gospel proper in a number of ways, with the poetic verses (and strophes) distinguished from the several prose statements (by the Gospel writer). The main additions by the author would seem to be the two statements regarding John the Baptist (vv. 6-9, 15), which function as comments, likely in response to adherents of the Baptist who viewed him as the Messiah, etc, instead of Jesus. Nowhere in the Gospel tradition is there such a pronounced contrast between John and Jesus (1:19-34; 3:22-30ff), with the Gospel declaring the superiority of Jesus in no uncertain terms.

Verses 13 and 17-18 are probably also explanatory statements by the Gospel writer that have been added to the earlier hymn; these statements enhance the theological and Christological dimension of the poem. If, indeed, the bulk of the prologue represents a pre-existing hymn, or poem, it would seem to reflect Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom traditions that have been applied to the person of Jesus Christ. In this regard, it is similar in style and tone with two other Christological ‘hymns’ in the New Testament—Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4 (cf. the previous note)—and may have been written at about the same time (c. 60-70). In his now-classic Commentary on the Gospel of John, Raymond E. Brown, following the work of earlier scholars, divides the poetic prologue into four parts or strophes (pp. 3-4), which I have further annotated here:

    • Strophe 1 (vv. 1-2)—Pre-existence: The Son (as the Word) with God in eternity
    • Strophe 2 (vv. 3-5)—Creation by the Word of God, which is also the Light
    • Strophe 3 (vv. 10-12a)—Response of humankind to the Word/Light
    • Strophe 4 (vv. 14, 16)—The presence of the incarnate Word with humankind (believers)

According to this sequence, the third strophe (vv. 10-12a) describes the entry of the Word (lo/go$) into the world (ko/smo$). While this alludes to the incarnation of Christ, it is not limited to that historical phenomenon. Rather, the orientation is wider, reflecting traditions regarding the presence of God’s Wisdom in the world; in particular, verses 10-11 draw upon the theme of Wisdom seeking a place among human beings on earth and finding none (cf. 1 Enoch 42:2). Since Jesus is the eternal Word/Wisdom of God, this traditional language and imagery is entirely appropriate:

“He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, and (yet) the world did not know him. Unto his own (thing)s he came, and his own (people) did not receive him alongside.” (vv. 10-11)

Only a few (the wise) accept Wisdom, even as only the righteous few accept the Word of God. Within the Johannine writings, this is understood in terms of what we would call election—that is, there are those who belong to God, chosen by Him, and it is they who are able to accept the Truth. Those who belong to God the Father, and who accept His truth, will be drawn to Jesus the Son, and will accept him (cf. 3:20-21; 18:37, etc). This theology underlies the statement in v. 12a:

“But as (many) as received him, he gave to them the e)cousi/a to become offspring of God”

The Word gives to the elect (i.e. those who receive him) the ability to become the offspring, or children, of God. Again, this is only realized within the Gospel context of the ministry of Jesus and the presence/work of the Spirit. The noun e)cousi/a, difficult to translate in English, refers (literally) to something which comes out of a person’s being, i.e., something one is able to do. To give e)cousi/a thus means giving someone the ability to do something, often in the sense of authority given by a superior to one who is subordinate. Verse 12b-13, which may represent an explanatory comment by the Gospel writer, expounds the idea of believers as the children (or offspring, te/kna, lit. those produced) of God:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name, the (one)s who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of God, came to be (born).”

This is a uniquely Johannine way of describing believers (“the ones trusting”), using the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”). In the First Letter, the verb occurs 10 times, always (with just one exception) in the special sense of believers being born out of God; especially important is the articular (perfect) participle, used to define the identity of the believer— “the (one) having come to be born out of God” (3:9; 5:1, 4, 18). Only with the aorist participle in 5:1 is it used of Jesus, as the one born out of God (i.e., the Son); that peculiar usage is presumably meant to emphasize Jesus’ Sonship as the basis for our own (as children of God). The main Gospel passage expressing this is Jn 3:3-8, where the verb occurs 8 times. Here, coming to be born “out of God” (e)k tou= qeou=) is defined two-fold as being born “from above” (a&nwqen, v. 3) and “out of the Spirit” (e)k tou= pneu/mato$, vv. 6, 8). Being born “out of the Spirit” is contrasted with an ordinary human birth (“out of water”); there is a similar (three-fold) contrast with being born “out of God” in 1:13:

    • “not out of blood [pl. bloods]” —in the Semitic idiom, the plural usually refers to “acts of blood(shed)”, but here it may indicate the more general physiological idea of “actions involving (the) blood” (i.e., menstruation, etc)
    • “not out of the will of the flesh” —the will of the flesh signifies primarily the sexual drive
    • “not out of the will of man” —i.e., the intention and activity of the parent(s)

These three, taken together, refer to the ordinary (physical/biological) birth of human beings; this is very different from the spiritual birth of believers as sons/children of God. Interestingly, the only time in the Gospel when the verb genna/w is used of Jesus (in 18:37) it generally refers to his birth as human being; this is also the sense of what follows in 1:14 (using the related verb gi/nomai):

“And the Word came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh and put down (his) tent among us, and we looked (closely) at his splendor—(the) splendor as (the) only (one) coming to be [monogenh/$] (from) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth.”

This is the climactic moment of the Prologue (the poem), describing the incarnation of the eternal Word, i.e. his birth as a human being. This birth is implied by the specific wording, especially the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), from which also the compound adjective monogenh/$ is essentially derived. The adjective is notoriously difficult to translate in English; literally, it means “only (one) coming to be”, and, while it can refer to an only child, it more properly denotes something like “one of a kind”. Here, it refers to the incarnate Word (Jesus) as the unique Son (ui(o/$) of God. Indeed, in the Johannine writings, ui(o/$ is never used of believers; it is reserved for the one Son (Jesus), and, instead, the plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used when referring to believers as the sons/children of God.

The Johannine Prologue, especially with the concluding verses 14-18, represents the pinnacle of the expression of early Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God, blending the doctrines of divine pre-existence and incarnation together in the most powerful way, within the matrix of Jewish Wisdom tradition (cp. 1:14 with Sirach 24:8ff). It is also most remarkable how the Gospel writer, in developing and expounding his traditional material, combines the idea of believers as the sons/children of God with that of Jesus as the unique Son. This is very much a Johannine emphasis (in both the Gospel and Letters), but one also shared by Paul (in his Letters), indicating that it was a part of a natural development in early Christian thought. It is this that we will explore further in the next note—how early Christians understood believers in Christ to be born as “sons of God”.

* * * * * * *

The reference to the birth of believers in 1:12-13 was apparently confusing, and/or problematic, for many readers and copyists. Some early witnesses (primarily Latin) read the singular in v. 13 instead of the plural, beginning with the relative pronoun (o%$) and including the form of the verb genna/w; thus vv. 12b-13 would be translated as follows:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name, the (one) who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man, but out of God, came to be (born).”

The entire relative clause would then refer back to the subject of “his name”, rather than to “the ones trusting”, that is, to the birth of Jesus, rather than the spiritual birth of believers. The distinction was not lost on Tertullian, who accepted the singular as original, and accused Gnostics of altering the text to eliminate the idea of Jesus’ miraculous birth, replacing it with their own ‘spiritual’ birth (as gnostics), cf. On the Flesh of Christ 19. Tertullian, however, is almost certainly mistaken on this textual point, the reading with the singular being instead an example of an “orthodox corruption” (cf. B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture [Oxford: 1993], pp. 26-27). To be sure, it is understandable how the variant reading might come to be reasonably well-establish, offering as it does support for the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, and perhaps, at the same time, reflecting a certain unease among the orthodox regarding the identification of believers as the sons/children of God. I have discussed this in more detail in earlier notes.

August 31 (2): 1 Corinthians 2:6ff

Today’s note concludes this series of daily notes on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16. For those just coming to this study, or who are interested in reading the prior posts, it began with the note for August 16. Of special interest in the study is the interpretation of Paul’s statement in 2:6a:

“And (yet) we (do) speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete…”

There have been longstanding questions regarding the precise identity of both this “wisdom” (sofi/a) and the ones who are “complete” (te/leio$). In a prior note, I outlined some of the more common suggestions offered by commentators; here they are listed again for reference, with no priority indicated by the numbering:

    1. The basic Gospel message (wisdom) is given to all believers, but a more advanced (esoteric?) Christian wisdom (teaching, etc) is offered for those who are “complete”—mature and committed in the faith sufficiently to receive it.
    2. Paul is simply making a rhetorical contrast. There is only one wisdom—that of the person of Christ and his death/resurrection. The “complete” believers are able to recognize this and do not need to seek after any other “wisdom”.
    3. He is distinguishing between the Gospel proclamation and the teaching/instruction, etc., which builds upon the basic message, interpreting and applying it for believers as they grow in faith. For the “complete” this includes a wide range of “wisdom”—ways of thinking/reasoning, use of argument, illustration, allegory/parable, (creative) interpretations of Scripture, etc.
    4. Paul himself evinces certain gnostic/mystic tendencies whereby there are envisioned levels or layers in the Gospel—i.e. the basic proclamation and belief regarding the person and work of Christ—as in the Scriptures, the deepest of which involve the most profound expressions of God’s wisdom. Only the “complete” are able to realize this, and to be able to communicate something of it to the wider community.
    5. Paul is responding to gnostic/mystic tendencies among believers in Corinth. Here, as a kind of rhetorical approach, he is drawing upon their own thinking and sensibilities, trying to bring their focus back to the centrality of the Gospel and a proper understanding of the work of the Spirit. As such, the apparent distinctions he makes are somewhat artificial, perhaps running parallel to the (actual) divisions among the Corinthians themselves.
    6. The wisdom for the “complete” reflects a deep understanding of, and participation in, the work of the Spirit. Believers who are completely guided by the Spirit need no other instruction. Paul is essentially expounding this thought in vv. 9-16, only to make (painfully) clear to the Corinthians how far they still are from the ideal.

In the notes on the passage, running through 3:1-3, I have indicated certain conclusions which may be drawn from the text, that help clarify what Paul means here in 2:6. I list these as bullet points:

    • The wisdom spoken to the “complete” comes by way of the Spirit. No other source of “wisdom” is possible.
    • The revelation of the (secret) wisdom of God is fundamentally tied to the proclamation of the Gospel.
    • The hidden wisdom of God relates to the very depths (the deepest parts) of God’s own being.
    • The “wisdom” is not limited to the Gospel message, but ought to be understood more comprehensively as “all the (deep) things under God”.
    • It is dependent upon our having received the (Holy) Spirit
    • Through the Spirit we are able to know and experience this wisdom
    • It is “taught” by the Spirit to believers, and is to be communicated (“spoken”) to others in turn.
    • The ones who are “complete” essentially = the ones who “have the Spirit”
    • The ones who are “complete” are defined, in a negative sense by the opposite—those who think and act in a “fleshly” manner are “incomplete”.

I would summarize these points, in light of our study of the passage as a whole, as follows—first, regarding the wisdom, I isolate three primary aspects:

    • It is based on the proclamation of the Gospel, i.e. of the person and work of Christ
    • It includes all that the Spirit communicates to believers, which they receive as a gift to be shared/communicated to others
    • It extends to the working and guidance of the Spirit (= the “mind of God/Christ”) in all things

With regard to those who are complete, this can be defined even more simply:

    • They are those believers who consistently think and act under the guidance of the Spirit; this must be distinguished on two levels:
      • The reality of having/holding the Spirit (in us)
      • The ideal of living out this identity—i.e., “walking in/by the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16, 18, 25)

The very fact that Paul, like Jesus himself, exhorts believers to be “complete”, means that it is not automatically realized through faith in Christ and receiving the Spirit; rather, it reflects a process of growth and development which, in most instances, will take place over a lifetime. This, however, does not change the force and urgency of the exhortation. Jesus’ own exhortation (Matt 5:48) to his followers essentially takes the form of a promise—if you live according to the teaching (i.e. in 5:21-47, etc), “you will be complete [te/leio$], as your heavenly Father is complete”. In Gal 5:16ff, Paul expounds upon this idea, now in a decidedly Christian sense, with the force of an imperative; note the sequence of phrases, with its central (conditional) premise:

    • “Walk about in the Spirit…” (v. 16)
      —”If you are led in the Spirit…” (v. 18)
      —”If (indeed) we live by the Spirit…” (v. 25a)
    • “We should step in line in the Spirit” (v. 25b)

The statement in Gal 5:16 reflects the very issue Paul is dealing with in 1 Corinthians, and the lament he expresses in 1 Cor 3:1-3:

“Walk about in the Spirit, and you should not complete [tele/shte, related to te/leio$] the impulse of the flesh
“We speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete… “
“And (yet) I was not able to speak to you as (one)s (who are) of the Spirit, but as (one)s (who are) of the flesh

Is it possible that Paul, in some sense, does have a more precise and sharp division in mind, i.e. between the “complete” and the ‘incomplete’—two distinct groups or categories of believers? While this would seem to contradict much of his own argument in 1:18ff, it is conceivable that he is playing off of the very “divisions” which exist among the Corinthians. Certainly, it has been suggested from the distinction he makes in 3:2 between “milk” (ga/la) and “(solid) food” (brw=ma)—the Corinthians are behaving as immature “infants” (v. 1), and cannot be treated (i.e. spoken to) as mature adults. There are several possibilities for understanding this distinction:

    • “Milk” is the simple Gospel message, while the solid “Food” represents deeper (Christian) teaching and instruction
    • The difference is between the basic ‘facts’ of the Gospel, and its deeper meaning
    • Similarly, it is between the Gospel message and how it is (effectively) applied and lived out by believers in the Christian Community
    • It rather reflects a difference in the way believers respond—as immature infants or mature adults
    • It is simply a rhetorical image, drawn from the idea of the Corinthians as “infants”, and should not be pressed further

Something may be said for each of these interpretations, except perhaps the first. Insofar as it reflects a substantive distinction in Paul’s mind, the third and fourth best fit the overall context of the passage.

Finally, I would like to bring out a particular point of emphasis that is sometimes overlooked in this passage. When Paul speaks of the wisdom of God in terms of “the (deep) things” of God, he couches this within the general expression “all things” (pa/nta). In my view, this should be understood in an absolute comprehensive sense. Note how this is framed conceptually in chapters 2 & 3:

The wisdom of God encompasses “all things”, as Paul makes clear in 3:21-23, where he establishes a (hierarchical) chain of relationship, presented in reverse order—”all things” (pa/nta), he says:

belong to you (pl., believers), and you in turn
belong to Christ, who in turn
belongs to God the Father

If we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit and the mind of God/Christ, then we are free to study and examine all things (cf. 2:10, 15), and this itself becomes an integral expression of the “wisdom of God” which we speak.

August 29: 1 Corinthians 2:16

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous note dealt with 2:14-15]

1 Corinthians 2:16

Today’s note examines the concluding verse of the section, which brings together the strands of the contrastive argument into a rhetorically charged Scripture citation followed by a decisive (positive) declaration. The first part of the verse contains a quotation from Isaiah 40:13, an abridgment of the LXX version:

“Who knew the mind of the Lord, th(e one) who will bring (things) together (to instruct) him?”

The verb sumbiba/zw means “bring (or put) together” sometimes in the (logical) sense of bringing things together for the purpose of instruction. The LXX also uses the related noun su/mboulo$, which typically refers to a person who gives instruction (or counsel, advice, etc). Conventionally, the LXX would be translated:

Who knew the mind of the Lord, and who became His instructor/advisor that will instruct/advise Him?”
ti/$ e&gnw nou=n kuri/ou kai\ ti/$ au)tou= su/mboulo$ e)ge/neto o^$ sumbiba=| au)to/n;

The portion cited by Paul (with only slight variation) is indicated by italics and bold above. The taunting rhetorical question is centered in the idea of the greatness of God (YHWH the Creator) and the insignificance of (created) human beings by comparison. Paul retains the thrust of this rhetoric and applies the question to his own line of argument comparing worldy/human wisdom with the wisdom of God. The ‘abridged’ citation is, in certain formal respects, closer to the tone and feel of the original Hebrew; the Masoretic text (MT) reads:

“Who has measured the spirit of YHWH and (is) a man of his counsel/plan [i.e. his counselor] (who) causes him to know?”

An English translation tends to obscure the relatively simple, 3:3 poetic rhythm of the Hebrew:

hwhy j^WrÁta# /K@T!Áym!
WDu#yd!oy otx*u& vya!w+

Each line involves a related concept:

(a) “measuring” the spirit of YHWH—on the meaning and context of the verb /kt, cf. below.
(b) functioning as a counsellor/advisor (lit. “man of his counsel”) who instructs/advises YHWH (“causes him to know”)

The first (a) essentially implies probing and estimating the depths of God’s own “spirit” (j^Wr rûaµ), much as Paul describes the Spirit (pneu=ma) doing in 1 Cor 2:10. No human being is capable of comprehending the depths (“deep things”) of God. The second (b) touches on the idea that a human being might serve as God’s counselor or advisor; but, of course, God, who knows all things, cannot be informed about anything by a mortal being. The LXX renders Hebrew j^Wr (“spirit/breath”) with nou=$ (“mind”). More often, it is translated by pneu=ma, which corresponds closely to the Hebrew term; however, the use of nou=$ in Greek offers a distinctive interpretation of the verse. It is useful to consider the basic meaning of this word.

Greek nou=$ (or no/o$) fundamentally refers to sensual perception or recognition (i.e. by the senses), but eventually the act of perception came to dominate the meaning, along with the inner/inward faculties of a human being to enable recognition of something—primarily as intellectual faculty (i.e. “mind”), though often there may be an emotional or (deeper) “spiritual” component involved. In addition to an internal faculty (or ability), nou=$ also came to refer to an attitude (or disposition, etc), as well as the result of one’s ability (knowledge, understanding, insight, etc). Generally, this corresponds to the English word “mind”, which can be used, more or less accurately (and consistently) to translate nou=$. It is the third of three primary Greek terms used to describe the invisible, inner aspect of the human person—yuxh/ (“soul”), pneu=ma (“spirit”), nou=$ (“mind”). The first two have already been used by Paul in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 (cf. the prior notes), and now he introduces the third. Actually, the word was already used in the main proposition (propositio) of the letter in 1:10, a verse that is worth citing here:

“And (so) I call you alongside, brothers, through the name of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, that you should all give the same account and (that) there should not be (any) tears [i.e. divisions] in you, but (that) you should be joined (completely) in the same mind and in the same (way of) knowing.”

The emphasis is clear: in contrast to the divisions among the Corinthians, there should be a unity of mind for believers in Christ. Paul uses a dual formula to express this:

    • “in the self(same) mind” (e)n tw=| au)tw=| noi+/)
    • “in the self(same) knowing” (e)n th=| au)th=| gnw/mh|)

The word gnw/mh (related to the verb ginw/skw, “[to] know”) more properly refers to a way or manner of knowing; there is no English word which corresponds precisely, and it is translated variously as “opinion, judgment, decision”, etc. As will become even more clear when one looks at what follows in 3:1ff, the divisions (“rips/tears”) in Corinth are the result of believers thinking and acting in a human manner (i.e. through worldly/human ‘wisdom’) rather than according to the “mind” (wisdom) of God and Christ. This is the very point Paul makes in the second half of verse 16:

“…and (yet) we (do) hold the mind of (the) Anointed [i.e. of Christ]”

The reading xristou= (“of [the] Anointed”) is found in a number of key MSS (Ë46 a A C Y al), and probably should be considered original; however, many other witnesses read kuri/ou (“of [the] Lord”), matching the earlier citation of Isa 40:13. For early Christians, of course, the word ku/rio$ (“lord”, i.e. “the Lord”) had a double-meaning—it can refer to God the Father (YHWH) or to Jesus Christ, almost interchangeably:

“the mind of Christ” –> “the mind of the Lord (Jesus)” –> “the mind of the Lord (YHWH)”

The pronoun “we” (h(mei=$) is in emphatic position—”and (yet) we (do) hold the mind of Christ”. As often in Paul’s letters, there is some ambiguity as to just whom “we” refers. This is rather important for a correct interpretation of this verse (and the passage as a whole), and will be discussed briefly in the next daily note.

The two rhetorical questions of Isa 40:12-13:

Verses 12 and 13 each pose a question beginning with the interrogative particle ym! (“who”). The first (v. 12) asks who has “measured” out the various elements and aspects of the created world. The answer is as obvious as it is unstated: God (YHWH) alone—no other being, let alone a mere human being. The question itself is asked by way of a series of verbal phrases, governed by four verbs, each of which indicates some form of measuring:

    • dd^m*—stretching (a line, etc) to measure out—the waters (<y]m^) in the hollow (lu^v)) of His hand
    • /k^T*—regulating or fitting (according to a standard [measure])—the heavens (<y]m^v*) with the spread/span (tr#z#) of His hand
    • lWK—containing (i.e. filling/fitting a measuring-vessel)—the dust of the earth in a mere vyl!v* (“third part”?), a (small) unit of measure
    • lq^v*—weighing out—the mountains and the hills in a pair of scales or balances (cl#P#//z@am))

The second question (v. 13) asks who, besides YHWH, could know even how any of this is done, let alone offer YHWH any advice or instruction in such matters. The verb /k^T* is repeated, indicating the impossibility of “measuring” the Spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH, in the basic sense, it would seem, of “fitting” or “setting” a standard of measure. There is no way of doing this when one is dealing with the Spirit/Wisdom/Mind of God. The LXX understands the verb in intellectual terms—of a (human) being’s ability (or rather, inability) to comprehend (“know”) the Mind (nou=$) of God—which is quite appropriate for Paul’s theme of wisdom in 1 Corinthians.

“Gnosis” in the NT: Col 2:2-3 (continued)

Colossians 2:2-3 (continued)

In the previous study, I explored the context and setting of Col 2:2-3 in the letter, examining the structure, language and imagery being employed. Today, I will look more closely at these specific verses.

“…being lifted [i.e. brought/joined] together in love and into all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind), into the (full) knowledge about the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One), in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away.”

As I discussed previously, the language used here echoes and repeats that of the exordium (introduction), especially in the first sentence (spanning vv. 9-20), which is sometimes referred to as the “Christ hymn” of Colossians. Let us begin by comparing 2:2-3 with 1:9.

Col 1:9 opens with an expression of Paul’s wish (and prayer) for the Colossians, and similarly in 2:1:

    • “Through this [i.e. for this reason] we…do not cease speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying]…over you” (1:9)
    • “For I wish you (could) have seen [i.e. could know]…” (2:1)

His wish is expressed through the subjunctive, involving the word “fill, fullness”:

    • “that [i%na] you might be filled [plhrwqh=te]…” (1:9)
    • “that [i%na] their [i.e. your] hearts might be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted]…into…the full [plhro-]…” (2:2)

In 2:2, he uses the word plhrofori/a, which is somewhat difficult to translate. Literally, it indicates something which is carried or brought out fully, often in the sense of something being demonstrated convincingly; it thus connotes the idea of confidence or assurance i.e., that something is true or will be accomplished, etc. This “fullness” Paul wishes for the Colossians is defined and qualified with prepositional phrases and genitive chains using the key words gnw=si$/e)pi/gnwsi$ (“knowledge”), su/nesi$ (‘comprehension’) and sofi/a (“wisdom”).

    • “{filled} (with) the knowledge [e)pi/gnwsi$] of His will in all wisdom [sofi/a] and spiritual comprehension [su/nesi$]” (1:9)
    • “{into…full} understanding [su/nesi$], into knowledge [e)pi/gwsi$] of the secret of God—(the) Anointed (One)” (2:2)
      “in whom are all the treasures of wisdom [sofi/a] and knowledge [gnw=si$] hidden away” (2:3)

The word su/nesi$, which I here translate as “comprehension” and “understanding”, literally means the putting together of things, i.e. in the mind. In 2:2 the use of this noun together with plhrofori/a (cf. above), functions as a kind of hendiadys (two words for a single concept). They form a genitive chain modifying the noun plou=to$ (“rich[ness], riches, wealth”)—plou=to$ th=$ plhrofori/a$ th=$ sune/sew$. My attempt to capture something of the literal meaning (cf. the translation at the top of this note) is:

“(the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind)”

As always, the parentheses indicate glosses which make the translation more readable. From the standpoint of the Greek syntax, a better rendering would be:

“(the) rich(ness) of the full conviction and understanding (given to us)”

In terms of hendiadys, the translation might be:

“(the) rich(ness) of the full understanding (we have)”

I would suggest that each of these translations captures aspects of what the author (Paul) is genuinely saying. Another important point of syntax in 2:2 is the use of parallel prepositional phrases governed by ei)$ (“into/unto”), indicating the goal for believers as they are “lifted/joined together in love”:

    • “into [ei)$] all (the) rich(ness) of th(at which) is fully carried (out and) put together (in the mind)”
    • “into [ei)$] (true/complete) knowledge of the secret of God”

These two phrases are parallel and apposite (placed side-by-side), the second explaining the first—that which is fully brought together in the mind of believers is the knowledge of the secret of God. This begins with the hearing of the Gospel, but continues through the Christian life, through the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned here in 2:2-3, but it may be inferred from the wording of 1:9 where the comprehension/understanding (su/nesi$) is characterized as pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual, of the Spirit”). In 2:2 (as in 1:9-10) the word translated “knowledge” is e)pi/gnwsi$ rather than the simpler gnw=si$ (which is used in 2:3). The compound form often signifies a more thorough, complete, or intimate knowledge about something (or someone). It can also carry the sense of recognition or acknowledgment. The distinction and range of meaning can be difficult to translate effectively in English without losing the etymological connection.

Of special importance is the expression “secret [musth/rion] of God”. Often in Paul’s letters this secret is identified with the Gospel; here, however, it is more properly identified with Christ himself. The syntax and word order caused some difficulty for scribes copying Colossians, as there are a number of variant readings at this point among the manuscripts, which attempt to clarify the (presumed) meaning. Along with most commentators and textual critics, I assume the reading of Ë46 B as original. The words “God” and “Christ” follow after each other, both in the genitive case (qeou= xristou=). There being no punctuation in the earliest manuscripts, the syntax was somewhat ambiguous; we can approximate this in English translation as “the secret of God of Christ”. The word xristou= (“of [the] Anointed”, “of Christ”) is best understood as being apposite the expression “of the secret of God”, with “Christ” related to “the secret” rather than “God”. In other words, Christ is the secret, hidden away from the ages and generations past, but now revealed through the proclamation of the Gospel (1:26-27). Verse 3 provides an interesting parallel use of the verb a)pokrup/tw (“hide [away] from”)—while Christ is the secret hidden away, at the same time, God has hidden away in him “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. The parallel expressions in vv. 2 and 3 are clear enough:

    • “all [pa=$] the riches [sing.]…of understanding…knowledge of the secret” (v. 2)
    • “all [pa/nte$] the treasures [plur.] of wisdom and knowledge hidden away” (v. 3)

For another parallel to the syntax of verse 3, we must turn again to the exordium (introduction), to 1:14, where the Son (Christ) is described with the following phrase: “…in whom we hold the loosing from (bondage), the release of sins”. Note the formal similarity:

    • “in whom [e)n w!|] we hold [e&xomen]…” (1:14)
    • “in whom [e)n w!|] are [ei)sin]…” (2:3)

If we press the parallel further, it is possible to tie the verses together conceptually. In other words, the things that are in Christ are those things which we have/hold in him (and vice versa). This would mean that the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” can, and perhaps should, be identified with the saving work of Christ referenced in 1:14, which is again described by two phrases set in tandem:

    • “loosing from (bondage)” (a)polu/trwsi$)
    • “release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins” (a&fesi$ tw=n a(martiw=n)

This association would tend to negate any sort of markedly gnostic interpretation of the Christian message, by connecting knowledge with the sacrificial death of Christ. Though this particular soteriological aspect is not brought out in Colossians until the main portion of the letter (see vv. 8-15), it is central to Paul’s own understanding of the Gospel. One need only consult the discussion and line of argument in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 to find this expressed most vividly—that it is in the Gospel as the “word of the cross” that God’s wisdom is most perfectly conveyed, destroying the empty and inferior “wisdom” and “knowledge” of the world.

August 26: 1 Corinthians 2:13

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:12]

1 Corinthians 2:13

“…which we also speak not in words taught of [i.e. by] (hu)man wisdom, but in (words) taught of [i.e. by] (the) Spirit, judging spiritual (thing)s together with/by spiritual (word)s.”

It must be emphasized that this verse, along with much that follows in vv. 14-15, is difficult to translate accurately into English, for a variety of reasons. Here, especially, translation and interpretation go hand-in-hand. To begin with, verse 13 builds upon (and concludes) the declaration in v. 12 (cf. the prior note). The relative pronoun form a% (“which”) refers back to the concluding expression of v. 12: “the (thing)s under God given as a favor to us”. In the note on v. 12, I pointed out the parallel between this expression and “the deep (thing)s of God”, and connected both to the “wisdom of God” mentioned previously—and especially at the beginning of verse 6. This is confirmed by Paul’s language here at the start of v. 13:

    • “we speak (the) wisdom [of God]” (vv. 6-7)
    • “which (thing)s we also [kai/] speak” (v. 13)

The particle kai/ should be regarded as significant here, since it may be intended to draw a distinction between what it is that “we” speak in vv. 6-7 and 13, respectively. There are two ways to place the emphasis:

    • “these things also we speak“—as it is have been given to us to know them, so also we speak/declare them
    • “these things also we speak”—not only the Gospel do we proclaim, but all the deep things of God given to us by the Spirit

Most commentators opt for the first reading, according to the immediate context of vv. 12-13; however, the overall flow and structure of Paul’s argument in vv. 6-16 perhaps favors the second. More important to the meaning of the verse is the continuation of the comparison/contrast between worldly/human wisdom and the wisdom of God. Here Paul formulates this with a specific expression: “in words of… [e)nlo/goi$]”. I have regularly been translating lo/go$ as “account” (i.e. oral, in speech); but here it is perhaps better to revert to a more conventional translation which emphasizes the elements or components of the account (i.e. the words). Earlier, in 1:17 and 2:1ff, Paul uses lo/go$ in the sense of the manner or style of speech used (in proclaiming the Gospel); here he seems to be referring to the actual content (the words) that a person speaks. The contrast he establishes is as follows:

    • “in words taught of [i.e. by] (hu)man wisdom” (e)n didaktoi=$ a)nqrwpi/nh$ sofi/a$ lo/goi$)
    • “in (word)s taught of [i.e. by] (the) Spirit” (e)n didaktoi=$ pneu/mato$ [lo/goi$])
      Note: I include lo/goi$ in square brackets as implied, to fill out the comparison, though it is not in the text

The contrast is explicit—”not [ou)k] in… but (rather) [a)ll’] in…” Especially significant too is the use of the adjective didakto/$ (“[being] taught”, sometimes in the sense “able to be taught”, “teachable”), rare in both the New Testament and the LXX. The only other NT occurrence is in the discourse of Jesus in John 6:45, citing Isa 54:13, part of an eschatological prophecy where it is stated that the descendants of God’s people (“your sons/children”) “…will all (be) taught [didaktou\$] by God”. This same reference is certainly in the background in 1 Thess 4:9, where Paul uses the unique compound form qeodi/dakto$ (“taught by God”). This passage is helpful for an understanding of Paul’s thought here:

“And about the fondness for (the) brother(s) [i.e. fellow believers] you hold no occasion [i.e. there is no need] (for me) to write to you, for you (your)selves are taught by God [qeodi/daktoi] unto the loving of (each) other [i.e. to love one another].”

If we ask how believers are “taught by God”, apart from Paul’s written instruction, there are several possibilities:

    • The common preaching and tradition(s) which have been received (including the sayings/teachings of Jesus, etc)
    • The common witness and teaching of the believers together, in community
    • The (internal) testimony and guidance of the Spirit

Probably it is the last of these that Paul has primarily in mind, though not necessarily to the exclusion of the others. For a similar mode of thinking expressed in Johannine tradition, cf. 1 John 2:7-8, 21, 24; 3:10ff; 4:7-8ff, and the important passages in the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel. Here, in 1 Cor 2:13, it is clear that Paul is referring to the work of the Spirit. That the Spirit would give (“teach”) believers (and, especially, Christian ministers/missionaries) the words to say was already a prominent feature of the sayings of Jesus in Gospel tradition (Mark 13:11 par, etc), depicted as being fulfilled with the first preachers of the Gospel in the book of Acts (2:4ff; 4:8, 29ff; 6:10, etc). However, the underlying thought should not be limited to the (uniquely) inspired preaching of the apostles, but to all believers. Paul’s use of “we” in this regard will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming note (on 1 Cor 2:16).

Particularly difficult to translate is the verb sugkri/nw in the last phrase of verse 13. A standard literal rendering would be “judge together” or “judge [i.e. compare] (one thing) with (another)”. However, in the case of this verb, it is sometimes better to retain the more primitive meaning of selecting and bringing/joining (things) together. Paul’s phrase here is richly compact—pneumatikoi=$ pneumatika\ sugkri/nonte$. He (literally) joins together two plural forms of the adjective pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual”), one masculine, the other neuter. The first is in the dative case, but without any preposition specified, indicating a rendering something like “spiritual (thing)s with/by spiritual (one)s”. However, given the expression e)nlo/goi$ (“in words of…”) earlier in the verse, it is probably best to read this into the context here as well. I would thus suggest the following basic translation:

“bringing together spiritual (thing)s in spiritual (word)s”

I take this to mean that the “spiritual things” are given expression—and communicated to other believers—through “spiritual words”, i.e. words given/taught to a person by the Spirit. The “spiritual (thing)s [pneumatika]” almost certainly refer to “the deep (thing)s of God” and “the (thing)s under God” in vv. 10 and 12, respectively. The Spirit “searches out” these things and reveals or imparts them to believers. This is especially so in the case of ministers—those gifted to prophesy and teach, etc—but, according to the view expressed throughout chapters 12-14, in particular, all believers have (or should have) gifts provided by the Spirit which they can (and ought to) impart to others. This allows us to draw yet another conclusion regarding the “wisdom” mentioned in verse 6a: it is “taught” by the Spirit to believers, and is to be communicated (“spoken”) to others in turn. It is also worth noting that all throughout the discussion in verses 9-13, there is no real indication that this “wisdom” is limited to the proclamation of the death/resurrection of Jesus. We should perhaps keep an eye ahead to Paul’s discussion of the “spiritual (thing)s” in chapters 12-14.

Tomorrow’s note will examine verses 14-15.

“Gnosis” in the NT: Romans 11:33

This note will briefly examine Paul’s use of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in Romans 11:33.

Romans 11:33

This verse begins the doxology (vv. 33-36) that concludes the famous section of Romans spanning chapters 9-11. I have discussed the theme and structure of this section in an earlier article, along with a special note on Rom 11:26 in context. This analysis may be summarized in the following outline:

The opening verses of each section, with their personal and moving tone, lead into a presentation of arguments. The main issue at hand is how the Israelite/Jewish people relate to the new Christian identity.

Romans 9

9:1-5—Paul’s personal address: Israel (“they are Israelites…”, vv. 4-5)
9:6-13—Argument: Not all Israel is the true Israel.
9:14-33—Exposition: Three arguments, each beginning with a rhetorical question:

    • Vv. 14-18—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]?…”
    • Vv. 19-29—”You will therefore declare to me [e)rei=$ moi ou@n]…?”
    • Vv. 30-33—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]?…”

Romans 10

10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)
10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.
10:14-21—Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:

    • The proclamation of the Gospel (vv. 14-15)
    • Israel’s response to the Gospel—not all have faith (vv. 16-17)
    • Evidence of this in the Scriptures (vv. 18-21)

Romans 11

11:1-12—Paul’s address (and argument): The People of God (“His people”, vv. 1ff)
11:13-32—Exposition: A Two-fold address to Gentile believers:

    • Vv. 13-24—Illustration of the olive tree and its branches
    • Vv. 25-32—Discourse on the (eschatological) salvation of Israel

11:33-36—Doxology on the wisdom and knowledge of God

An important theme running through these chapters is the election of the people of God, which takes place according to God’s own sovereign but mysterious will. This is one aspect of knowledge (i.e. God’s knowledge of his People, etc) here in this section, and it is emphasized in chapters 9 and 11. The second aspect—the people’s knowledge of God and his truth, the promises made, etc.—is addressed primarily in chapter 10, and expounded again in the second half of chap. 11. Note the structure in this regard:

    • Chap. 9: God’s knowledge of his people (Israel)—their election
      • Chap. 10: The people’s knowledge of God, in two respects:
        (a) The failure of many Israelites to accept the revelation in Jesus and the Gospel message (cf. vv. 2-4)
        (b) The acceptance of the Gospel, on the other hand, by many non-Israelites (Gentiles) (vv. 18-21)
    • Chap. 11: God’s knowledge of his people (the true Israel, all Israel)—the election of Jews and Gentiles both

For many of the non-Jewish Christians in Paul’s audience—as for many today—the main difficulty lay in the idea that Israelites and Jews would eventually accept Christ, though they may refuse (or be unable) to do so at the present. Though some had ‘fallen away’, a large percentage, presumably, in Paul’s mind, would (soon) respond to the Gospel, as the end drew near. This point is made reasonably clear in verses 11-16, followed by his famous illustration of the olive tree, in which Jews and Gentiles both come to be “grafted in” to the holy tree of the People of God—the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ, being a principal theme of the entire letter, is given dramatic and climactic expression here. In verses 25-32 Paul powerfully states again two great points:

    • Israelites and Jews, collectively, will come to faith, and the current “hardening” of their hearts and minds will be removed
    • They will be united (in Christ) with the Gentile believers who have come to faith before them

This two-fold dynamic is expressed in the declaration: “and so all Israel will be saved” (v. 26). Paul refers to this as a secret (musth/rion), which he is making known to believers in his letter; and there can be no doubt that he also has this in mind when he opens the concluding doxology in v. 33:

“O the deep(ness) of the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God!—how unsearchable (are) his judgments, and (how) untrackable (are) his ways!”

A citation of Isaiah 40:13 follows in vv. 34-35; it is a passage which Paul also quotes in 1 Cor 2:16 (cf. my note on this verse), specifically as part of his argument contrasting human wisdom with the wisdom of God. As Paul uses the Scripture, it is meant to show how far the “mind of God” surpasses and transcends our limited human understanding. In 1 Corinthians, the quotation is followed by the positive statement which applies to believers, somewhat paradoxically: “and (yet) we (do) hold the mind of Christ“. This last point is not emphasized in Romans, except perhaps implicitly, based on Paul’s line of discussion in the prior chapters, as well as in the basic idea that the “secret(s)” of God, hidden away from the world, are now made known to believers through: (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the presence and work of the Spirit.

For the purpose of this series of articles, Romans 11:33 is especially instructive, within the context of Rom 9-11, in that it ties together several significant themes which will be discussed in some detail as we proceed:

    • The connection between the knowledge of God and salvation
    • That the (secret) will and knowledge of God is revealed, at least in part, to believers, and
    • That the knowledge of God is closely connected with the idea of the predestined/predetermined election of believers (i.e the people of God)

August 24: 1 Corinthians 2:10

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:6]

1 Corinthians 2:10

“And (yet) to us God has uncovered (this) through the Spirit—for the Spirit searches out all (thing)s, and (even) the deep(est thing)s of God.”

The statement in verse 10 is the culmination of the line of argument in vv. 6ff. It may be helpful to outline the thematic (and logical) development:

  • There is a wisdom spoken to the believers who are “complete”—it is different from the wisdom of this Age and its rulers/leaders (who have no effect for believers and will be without power in the Age to Come) [v. 6]
    • instead (“but/rather”, a)lla), this wisdom (of God) is spoken in a secret hidden away from the world [v. 7a]
      • which [h%n] God established (“marked out”) before the beginning of this Age, for the honor/glory of believers [v. 7b], and
      • which [h%n] none of the rulers/leaders of this Age knew (or understood) [v. 8]
        —demonstrated by the fact that they put Jesus Christ (“the Lord of honor/glory”) to death
        • instead (“but/rather”, a)lla), this secret was prepared beforehand, only to be revealed for “those who love God” [v. 9, citing Scripture]
          • and (de) God has revealed this to us (believers) through the Spirit [v. 10]

The thrust of this argument is clear: the wisdom of God has been kept secret, hidden away from the world, and is only revealed now to believers through the Spirit. The emphasis on the Spirit (of God) here is vital to Paul’s discussion. With regard to a correct interpretation of verse 6a (cf. the previous note), it is possible to make at least one firm conclusion—the wisdom spoken to the “complete” comes by way of the Spirit. No other source of “wisdom” is possible. Based on the context of vv. 6ff, we may assume that apostles and ministers (such as Paul), are the immediate (proximate) source, as chosen/inspired preachers and teachers, to communicate this wisdom. The wording in v. 6 (“we speak…”) is slightly ambiguous—it could refer to (a) Paul primarily, (b) Paul and his fellow ministers, or (c) believers generally. Probably the first person plural should be understood as inclusive of all three points of reference, in the order given here: Paul (founding Apostle)–Ministers–Believers.

It is significant that the work of the Spirit essentially reverses the process established by God—the (secret) wisdom is, first:

    • hidden from [a)pokekrumme/nhn] the world [v. 7], and then
    • the cover is removed from [a)peka/luyen] it [v. 10], revealing it to believers

The first verb (a)pokru/ptw, “hide [away] from”) is a passive perfect (participle) form, indicating action which began at a point (in time) and the force or effect of which continues into the present. It is an example of the “divine passive”, with God as the one performing the action (unstated). As a participle it modifies the noun “wisdom” (sofi/a), emphasizing its character as hidden/secret wisdom; this is especially clear from the precise Greek syntax and word order:

    • wisdom of God
      —in (a) secret
    • hidden from (the world)

The second verb (a)pokalu/ptw, “take/remove the cover from”, i.e. “uncover”) is a simple aorist indicative form with God as the subject. The aorist would suggest a past action performed by God (through the Spirit); there are several possibilities for a specific point of reference here:

    • The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus
    • The preaching/communication of the Gospel
    • The receipt of the Spirit by believers (associated with the baptism ritual)
    • Post-conversion work/manifestation of the Spirit to believers

The second of these—the proclamation of the Gospel (by Paul and his fellow ministers)—best fits the context. This allows us to draw a second conclusion regarding the interpretation of v. 6a: the revelation of the (secret) wisdom of God is fundamentally tied to the proclamation of the Gospel. However, I believe we will gain additional insight by a careful consideration of the last half of verse 10, which describes more generally the work of the Spirit:

“…for the Spirit searches out all (thing)s, and (even) the deep(est thing)s of God”

Two phrases are combined, the second of which builds on the first:

    • “for the Spirit searches out [e)rauna=|] all things [pa/nta]
      • even the deep things [ta\ ba/qh] of God

The essential activity of the Spirit is described by the verb e)reuna/w, which means to search out (or after) something. The searching of God’s Spirit is all-powerful and all-inclusive—it searches out all things. The second phrase narrows this to “the deep things” of God. The idea is that the Spirit, in its searching, travels (steps) all the way to the “depths” of God himself, in a manner (somewhat) similar to the functioning of the human “spirit” (v. 11). By inference, we may draw a third conclusion in relation to verse 6a: the hidden wisdom of God relates to the very depths (the deepest parts) of God’s own being. It is an extraordinary thought (and claim) that the Spirit might communicate to believers the deepest wisdom of God himself. Perhaps this suggests something of what Paul means when he states that such wisdom is spoken to “the ones (who are) complete” (in this regard, see esp. the famous words of Jesus in Matt 5:48). For a more immediate exposition (and explanation), in the context of this passage, we now turn to verse 12, to be discussed in the next daily note.

Commentators have had difficulty identifying the Scripture Paul cites in verse 9. The citation formula (“as it has been written”) clearly indicates that he regards it as coming from the Scriptures, yet it does not quite correspond with anything in the books of the Old Testament as they have come down to us. There are two possibilities:

  1. He freely quotes or alludes to parts of a number of passages, combining them in a creative fashion. Perhaps the most likely passages would be Isa 52:15; 64:4; 65:17; Jer 3:16; Sirach 1:10. New Testament authors frequently cite or allude to the Scriptures very loosely, adapting them freely—either from memory, or intentionally in order to fit the circumstances in which they are writing.
  2. Paul is quoting from a book otherwise unknown or lost to us today. Origen (Commentary on Matthew 5:29) states that it comes from an “Apocalypse of Elijah”, but it is impossible to verify this one way or the other. It is also found in the Ascension of Isaiah 8:11, but that work has been heavily Christianized and probably is simply citing 1 Cor 2:9.

The first option is much more likely; probably Isaiah 64:4 is most directly in Paul’s mind.