Note of the Day – August 20

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[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 coo(ling), 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 useful 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.

Note of the Day – August 19

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[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.

Note of the Day – August 18

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:10]

1 Corinthians 2:12

“And (so) we did not receive the spirit of the world, but the Spirit th(at is) out of [i.e. from] God, (so) that we should see [i.e. know] the (thing)s under God given as a favor to us.”

This declaration follows upon what has been stated in vv. 10-11 (cf. the prior note). The first half of the verse continues the running contrast between God and the world—only Paul now shifts from wisdom (sofi/a) to spirit (pneu=ma):

  • “the spirit of the world” (to\ pneu=ma tou= ko/smou)
  • “the Spirit th(at is) out of [i.e. from] God” (to\ pneu=ma to\ e)k tou= qeou=)

Note the slight difference in terminology:

(1) the first phrase uses an expression with the genitive (of the world), which can either be subjective (belonging to the world) or objective (consisting of [the things of] the world)—both are possible, but the former perhaps fits the context (and the comparison) better
(2) the second phrase uses the preposition e)k (“out of, from”), indicating primarily the source of the spirit (God himself)

The “spirit of the world” builds upon “the spirit of man” in v. 11:

  • “the spirit of man” (to\ pneu=ma tou= a)nqrw/pou)—the invisible, inner aspect (“th[at is] in him”) of a human being, corresponding roughly with our concept of “soul”; the relation between the terms pneu=ma (“spirit”), yuxh/ (“soul”), and nou=$ (“mind”) in Greek thought and anthropology is complex, and Paul uses all three terms in the verses which follow.
  • “the spirit of the world” (to\ pneu=ma tou= ko/smou)—this expression is parallel to “the wisdom of the world” in 1:20 (and 3:19), with the term “world” (and “of the world”) appearing repeatedly throughout the passage (cf. 1:20-21, 27-28). The Greek ko/smo$ fundamentally refers to an (orderly) arrangement, sometimes emphasizing decorative beauty; commonly it applies to the order of creation or the world. Paul, and other New Testament writers draw upon a basic three-fold meaning for the term:
    (a) the created order, along with the powers which govern it
    (b) the human institutions, authorities, etc, which govern and dominate the operation of society, and
    (c) humankind, or human society, treated collectively
    Often in early Christian thought ko/smo$ has a decidedly negative connotation—signifying the corrupt/sinful condition of humankind (and creation at large), and especially human thought and endeavor which is opposed to God or seeks to function apart from him. The expression “spirit of man” is essentially neutral, while “spirit of the world” draws upon this negative meaning.

There are several points to consider in the second half of the verse. First, we should note the connecting particle i%na (“[so] that”), indicating purpose—we received the Spirit from God so that we might see, etc. The verb form ei)dw=men (from ei&dw, “see”) is a rare occurrence of a perfect subjunctive; there are only 10 occurrences in the New Testament (apart from several participial forms), and always with the verb ei&dw (Mark 2:10 par; 1 Cor 13:2; 14:11, etc). Rendered literally, the phrase would be “so that we might have seen…”, but this is misleading in English; the (intensive or consummative) force of the phrase is perhaps better translated, “so that we might surely/truly see…”. In Greek idiom, to “see” (esp. with the verb ei&dw) essentially means to know (i.e. perceive, recognize). And what is it that we might come to see/know?—this is expressed in the final phrase of the verse: “the (thing)s given as a favor to us under God”. The verb xari/zomai is derived from the noun xa/ri$ (“favor”) and means “give/grant/do (something) as a favor”. It is relatively frequent in the Pauline letters (16 of the 23 occurrences in the NT), though the noun xa/ri$ (typically translated “grace”, or, more accurately, “gift”) is much more common. The preposition u(po/ (“under”) means that the things given as a favor to believers are under God’s control and come through his guidance and generosity. Note the important parallel with verse 10:

  • “the deep (thing)s of God” (ta\ ba/qh tou= qeou=)
  • “the (thing)s under God” (ta\ u(po\ tou= qeou=)

In a locative sense, u(po/ indicates “beneath”, making the connection with the “deeps/depths” of God more obvious. There is no way in English to translate the plural literally without adding in a word like “thing”—”the (thing)s…”—and yet it is perhaps not entirely appropriate to the Greek idiom. We should perhaps understand the formal expression in a collective, comprehensive sense—i.e., “(all) the depths of God”, “(every)thing under God” (cf. ta\ pa/nta, “all [thing]s” in v. 10a). In terms of Paul’s thought here, it also would not be inappropriate to combine the expressions—”all the deep (thing)s under God”—to summarize what it is that God, through the Spirit, gives to us as a favor (or gift). We might outline this as follows:

This analysis also allows us to draw several additional conclusions regarding the interpretation of verse 6a (cf. the previous daily notes):

  • 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 will be possible to expand upon these points as we proceed through vv. 13-16 in the upcoming notes.

Note of the Day – August 17

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[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 Scripture 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.

Note of the Day – August 16

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:1-5]

1 Corinthians 2:6

“And (yet) we (do) speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete, and (it is) wisdom not of this Age, and not of the chief (ruler)s of this Age th(at are) being made inactive…”

This statement introduces a new section, building upon vv. 1-5 (cf. the prior note). In verse 5, Paul contrasts human/worldly wisdom (“the wisdom of men”) with the power of God; now, here in verse 6, he returns to the earlier contrast between two different kinds of wisdom. The conjunction de/, translated “and” above (first two instances), has adversative force, and could just as well be rendered “but”. In contrast with worldly wisdom:

  • Believers (and esp. Christian ministers) do speak/use wisdom, but
    • It is altogether different from the wisdom of the world and its rulers

The use of the term ai)w/n (“age”)—properly “life(time)”, but typically used in reference to a long period or span of time—reflects the eschatological emphasis and background of much Jewish (and early Christian) thought. Practically speaking, time was fundamentally divided between This Age (the present time) and the Age to Come; and, according to the widespread manner of eschatological (and apocalyptic) thinking, the current Age was seen as coming to a close, with the inauguration of the future Age being imminent, about to take place at any time. Moreover, the current Age has been steadily growing worse and more corrupt, marked by evil (and the evil powers). Paul expresses this general belief at various points in his letters (cf. Rom 8:18ff; 1 Cor 7:26, 31; Gal 1:4; and also Eph 6:12), but he adds to it a distinctive view of the current Age (that is, up to the coming of Jesus) as being in bondage under the power of sin (Rom 5:12-6:14ff; 7:7-25; 8:20-21ff; Gal 3:22ff, etc). Thus, it is not just a question of the natural limitations of human/worldly wisdom, but also (and more significantly) that this wisdom is the product of a corrupt and sinful Age (cf. Rom 1:18-32 and the brief statement in 1 Cor 1:21 [discussed in a prior note]).

It is sometimes thought that the “chief (ruler)s” (a&rxonte$) here refer to the divine/angelic powers governing the created world, largely on the basis of Eph 2:2. According to the worldview expressed by Paul (and other Jews and Christians of the time), in light of the fallen/sinful state of creation, these would be understood as demonic powers or evil spirits. However, the context of 1 Cor 2:6 makes it all but certain that Paul is referring here to human rulers and persons of prominence. The entire theme of the passage is the contrast between human and divine wisdom, and the use of the noun again in verse 8 definitely refers to human rulers—i.e. the Jewish and Roman authorities who put Jesus to death (cf. also Acts 3:13, 17; 4:26-27 [citing Ps 2:1-2], etc). The context of Romans 13:3, the only other use of a&rxwn in the (undisputed) Pauline letters, only confirms this meaning. However, in Paul’s mind, there would have been a close connection between the (human) rulers or ‘powers’ in the world and the evil (demonic) powers—they all are part of the current order of things that is bound under sin and is “passing away” (1 Cor 7:31), especially insofar as they are ignorant of the truth and opposed to the will and work of God (in Christ). This helps to explain the use of the verb katarge/w, which occurs frequently in Paul’s letters (23 of the 27 NT occurrences are in the undisputed letters)—on this verb, see my earlier note on 1:28. With the coming of Christ—his death, resurrection, and exaltation (to God’s right hand)—the current Age, the old order of things, is now coming to a close, and the “new Age” is already being realized for believers in Christ. The present participle form (katargoume/nwn) suggests that this is an ongoing process—that the rulers and prominent persons of this Age are being made inactive, of no effect (lit. made to cease working).

There is a special interpretive difficulty for the first half of this verse, involving the precise identification of the “wisdom [sofi/a]” mentioned, and, more importantly, “the ones (who are) complete [oi( telei/oi]”. Earlier, throughout 1:18-31, Paul has identified the “wisdom”—i.e. of God, in contrast to human/worldly wisdom—with the essential proclamation of the Gospel message, of the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. Here, however, the wording he uses, as well as the specific contrast with vv. 1-5, suggests that he may have something slightly different in mind. It is not possible to offer a definitive solution to the question in this note; however, I offer below a number of interpretations which have been suggested by commentators over the years. First, it is important to note the use of the adjective te/leio$, which fundamentally means “complete, finished”. Typically, translators have alternated between two renderings: (a) “perfect”, (b) “mature”—usually reserving the first for references to God, and the second for references to human beings (believers). Neither of these is satisfactory—the first being rather too abstract and (potentially) misleading, the second altogether too soft. I prefer the more fundamental translation “complete”, recognizing that the English “mature” may be the best (conventional) approximation in our idiom. For Paul’s use of the adjective in relation to believers, cf. Rom 12:2 (also applied to God); 1 Cor 14:20; Phil 3:15; Col 1:28; 4:12. The references in Colossians are somewhat close in meaning, since they deal with the idea of believers coming to be made “complete” in Christ; also of note is 1 Cor 13:10, where the “complete” comes, it would seem, along with the coming of the new Age. In conclusion, here are some of the suggested interpretations; I number them for convenience, without indicating any preference:

  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.
    —This view is suggested by a straightforward reading of the passage, as well as by the language Paul uses in 3:1-3; but it is difficult to square with his thought and teaching as a whole.
  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”.
    —The entire thrust of Paul’s argument here, as well as his teaching elsewhere in his letters, makes it hard to think that he imagines some other kind of “wisdom” separate from (or beyond) the basic Gospel message. However, if this wisdom is accessible to all believers, as certainly would be true of the basic Gospel, then why does he make the distinction of “the ones (who are) complete” here?
  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.
    —Perhaps the best evidence for this view is Paul’s letters themselves, which clearly include much which goes well beyond a simple statement or proclamation of the Gospel message. However, an examination of 3:1-3 would suggest that there is yet something more kept in reserve, not yet expressed in the letters, at least not entirely.
  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.
    —It is possible that this view is suggested by what follows in verses 9-16; but see #5 below.
  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.
    —Such a view is intriguing, if tenuous; much depends on whether the formulae of vv. 9-16 stem from Corinthian “gnostics” or Paul himself.
  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.
    —The context of chapter 2 strongly favors this view (or something like it); however, it would essentially require that the “complete” in v. 6 represents a paradoxical formulation: who are the “complete” believers? are there any?

I leave my own interpretation of verse 6a until the remainder of vv. 7-16 have been discussed (over the next few daily notes). By that point, a careful study of the passage as whole should give greater clarity to which view, or views, are more likely.

Note of the Day – August 15

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 1:29-31, esp. verse 30]

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

“…(so) that your trust should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (v. 5)

This verse concludes the first (autobiographical) statement that opens chapter 2; it has important points of contact with the prior narration (narratio) in vv. 11-17 (see esp. verse 17). I have already discussed 2:1ff as part of an earlier series of daily notes on the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament. Here we might supplement that discussion by summarizing the components of vv. 1-5:

Verse 1—Paul continues the (dualistic) contrast of 1:18ff by applying it to his own ministry of preaching the Gospel (to the Corinthians). When he came to them (“I came”, h@lqon), Paul gave/brought down as a message (i.e. “declaring, announcing”, katagge/llwn) what he calls “the secret of God” (to\ musth/rion tou= qeou=) [Note: many manuscripts have a different reading: “the witness [martu/rion] of God”]. As I have previously explained, the “secret” here is essentially synonymous with the Gospel message, centered on the death (crucifixion) and resurrection of Jesus. Earlier in 1 Cor 1:21, 23, the announcement of this message was summarized by use of the special terms kh/rugma and khru/ssw (“proclamation”, “proclaim”). Paul is careful to qualify and characterize his proclamation with a particular phrase:

“not according to (any) excellence of (my) account or wisdom”

The Greek word translated (somewhat conventionally) as “excellence” above is actually quite difficult to render literally into English in the context here. The noun u(peroxh/ (from the verb u(pere/xw) means something like “holding (oneself) over”; the only other occurrence in the New Testament is in 1 Tim 2:2, where it can be understood in the literal sense of holding a position of authority or prominence over others. The word lo/go$ (“account”) in the New Testament often has the technical meaning of the “account of God (or the Lord)”, i.e. the Gospel message; but it can also carry the more general meaning of the speech (or words) which make up an account and how it is delivered. Here we may paraphrase: “I did not come demonstrating to you any great speech or wisdom on my part”. In 1:21 he described this ironically as “the stupidity [mwri/a] of the proclamation”.

Verse 2—Paul builds upon the statement in verse 1 with, one might say, a bit of rhetorical exaggeration:

“For I judged [i.e. decided] not to see [i.e. know] any(thing) among you, if not [i.e. except for] Yeshua (the) Anointed {Jesus Christ} and this (one) put to the stake [i.e. crucified]!”

Essentially he is saying that he chose not to display any (special) knowledge on his part except for the Gospel message of the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. It is interesting to consider how far such statements by Paul are factual (strictly speaking) rather than rhetorical. If we read his letters (and even some of the speeches in Acts), it is clear that Paul was not afraid of demonstrating and utilizing many and varied aspects of “human wisdom” in order to persuade his audience of the truth. Should this be contrasted somehow with his initial work of proclaiming the Gospel, in which he perhaps stuck more simply to the traditional message (cf. the short kerygmatic statements in the sermon-speeches of Acts 213)? This seems rather unlikely, but it is worth considering, especially when we come to examine 1 Cor 2:6 (in the next note).

Verse 3—”And I, in much…came to be toward [i.e. with] you”. The ellipsis is filled out with a three-fold prepositional phrase, using three nouns:

  • “in (much) weakness”—a)sqe/neia, lit. “without strength” (cf. 1:27); here a lack of physical strength (illness?) is probably meant, though it may also indicate a lowliness of appearance or stature
  • “in (much) fear”—fo/bo$; does this reflect a natural fear in relation to public speaking, or to the work of ministry as a whole? It is unlikely that this is a traditional (religious/pious) reference to the “fear of God” (i.e. godly fear). Elsewhere Paul suggests that he may not have been a particularly impressive (public) speaker (cf. 2 Cor 10:10; 11:6, etc), and could have struggled with his own insecurities at times.
  • “in much trembling”—tro/mo$; “fear and trembling” are a traditional pair and reflect very real (and natural) human fear and insecurity.

Unlike the statements in vv. 1-2, this verse would seem to express (human) limitations and weaknesses which were largely out of Paul’s control. For a more developed excursus on this theme, cf. the moving treatment by Paul in 2 Cor 12:1-10, which has a good deal in common with his discussion in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16—note especially the statement in 2 Cor 11:30: “If it is necessary to boast, I will boast (in) the (thing)s of my weakness!”.

Verse 4—The declaration regarding Paul’s weakness in verse 3 gives added weight to the statement in verse 4 when he returns to the theme from v. 1 (and 1:17):

“And (so) my account [lo/go$] and my proclamation [kh/rugma] (was) not in persuasive account[s] of wisdom, but (rather) in (the) showing forth of (the) Spirit and Power (of God)…”

Previously, he stated the negative—that his proclamation was not based on (human) skill and wisdom; now, he adds the positive, by way of contrast:

  • Negative: not in persuasive account[s] [i.e. words] of wisdom
  • Positive: rather, in the showing forth [i.e. demonstration] of the Spirit and power (of God)

It is hard to say whether the “power (of God)” here refers to (a) the working of miracles, (b) the transformative effect of the Gospel preaching, or some combination of the two. The narratives in the book of Acts, as well as Paul’s own letters, attest both meanings and suggest that we should give them equal weight here. Certainly, the power of God is closely connected with the Spirit of God (i.e. the Holy Spirit), even as it is with Christ in 1:24.

Verse 5—This brings us to the conclusion of the statement (cf. above): “…(so) that your trust should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God”. Previously, in 1:24 (cf. also v. 30), “power” and “wisdom” were joined together in the person of Jesus, with the wisdom/power of God being contrasted with that of the world. Now, Paul separates the two terms, and contrasts human/worldly wisdom (“the wisdom of men”) with “the power of God”. An important grammatical point in the first half of the verse is the use of the aorist subjunctive with a negative particle, which typically implies prohibitive force (“should/must not…”)—”so that your trust should/must not be…” Paul took this idea very seriously in 1:17, using a similar phrasing: “so that the cross of Christ should not be emptied”. All preachers (and would-be preachers) today ought take the matter with equal seriousness, when the temptation comes to supplement and add to the Gospel with clever and appealing anecdotes, etc.

Note of the Day – August 14

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 1:27-28]

1 Corinthians 1:30

“And you are out of him [i.e. God] in (the) Anointed Yeshua, who was caused to be wisdom for us from God, (as well as) justice and holiness and loosing from (sin)…”

The argument by example running through vv. 26-28 (cf. the prior note) culminates in vv. 29-30; actually it is verse 29 which completes vv. 27-28:

“….how that [i.e. so that] all flesh should not boast in the sight of God.”

In some ways verse 30 is parallel to vv. 26-28, where the reference is to God calling and gathering out of the mass of humankind those who will come to believe in Christ. There the emphasis was on the relatively insignificant and ignoble status of believers (according to the values and ideals of the world); here, it is specifically on believers’ identity in Christ [e)n Xristw=|]:

“And you are out of [e)c, i.e. from] him in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Christ Jesus}…”

Let us consider the general parallel found in vv. 26-31:

  • Believers called out of the world—contrast with worldly position and values (vv. 27-28)
    • Human beings (“all flesh”), i.e. the world, may not boast before God (v. 29)
  • Believers come to be born from (lit. out of) God—in Christ (v. 30)
    • Only the one “in the Lord” may boast (before God) (v. 31)

Verses 29 and 31 use the verb kauxa/omai, which, like the related au)xe/w, fundamentally refers to giving a loud or bold utterance (declaration); it corresponds generally with “(to) boast” in English. This verb, along with the related nouns kau/xhma (“[a] boast”) and kauxh/si$ (“boasting”), was a favorite of Paul’s—35 of the 37 occurrences are found in the (undisputed) Pauline letters (+ Eph 2:9). It is hard, based on a superficial reading of the letters in translation, to appreciate precisely what Paul means by his use of this word-group and why it was so significant for him. Part of the problem lies in the translation “boast(ing)”. While this is perhaps the best English approximation for the kaux- word-group, it is rather misleading. In modern English, boasting almost always has a negative meaning, often referring to a pompous or arrogant and self-serving demeanor. While kauxa/omai sometimes carries this sense as well, it also has a much wider (and more general) range of meaning, as indicated above. Moreover, Paul typically has a very specific context in mind—that of human beings standing before God (at the final Judgment).

This eschatological emphasis is only one part of the Old Testament (LXX) and Jewish background of the term; two other themes had more immediate religious application: (a) the ritual/cultic aspect of humbling oneself before God (in approaching the sanctuary, etc), and (b) the ethical/moral aspect, expressed especially in Wisdom traditions, as a warning against self-glorification. The Scripture Paul cites in v. 31 (also in 2 Cor 10:17) is Jeremiah 9:24, the conclusion of a lament by the prophet in chapters 8-9 anticipating the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Jer 9:23-26 is also transitional to the warning in chapter 10 (“do not learn the way of the nations”, v. 2); verses 23-24 [Heb 22-23] may be rendered as follows:

“Thus says YHWH:
‘The wise (man) should not shout (for) himself [lL@h^t=y]] in his wisdom,
and the strong (man) not shout (for) himself in his strength,
and the wealthy (man) not shout (for) himself in his wealth;
for (only) in this should the (one) shouting (for) himself (so) shout—
(that) he gives attention (to me) and knows me:
that I am YHWH,
doing kindness, judgment [i.e. justice], and righteousness in the earth—
for in these (thing)s I feel delight’
—utterance of YHWH”

The portion in bold represents substantially what Paul cites; we may compare the Greek (LXX) version:

“but (only) in this [e)n tou/tw|] must the (one) shouting/boasting [o( kauxw/meno$] (so) shout/boast [kauxa/sqw]:
to put together [i.e. comprehend] and know that I am (the) Lord [ku/rio$]…”

Paul’s quotation is actually an abridgment, indicated by the words in italics above:

“the (one) shouting/boasting must (only) shout/boast in (the) Lord”
o( kauxw/meno$ e)n kuri/w| kauxa/sqw

The Greek imperative (and Hebrew jussive) form is somewhat difficult to render in English, usually being translated “let…(not) boast” (“the one boasting, let him boast in the Lord”). The Greek verb kauxa/omai (in the middle voice) covers much the same range of meaning as the Hebrew ll^h* (in the Hithpael/reflexive stem)—”shout/declare for oneself”, i.e. “praise oneself, boast”. The context of Jeremiah 9:23-24 is altogether fitting for Paul’s purpose in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, in several respects:

  • The contrast between worldly values and those of God himself
  • The emphasis on wisdom and understanding (note also the reference to “strength”)
  • The basic setting/background of Judgment

Interestingly, both here and in 2 Cor 10:17, Paul has omitted the portion (in the LXX) “to comprehend and understand that I am (the)…”. The first verb in the original Hebrew (lk^c*) emphasizes not so much a person’s understanding as it does giving attention and consideration to something (i.e. paying attention). In Greek, the corresponding verb (suni/hmi) literally means “set/put (things) together”, i.e. so as to comprehend and understand. Paul easily could have retained this emphasis within a Christian context; however, his condensing (and adaptation) of the verse has a significant effect:

  • It shifts the focus from religious devotion and knowledge of God to God himself (i.e. “the Lord”)
  • It allows a bit of wordplay since, from a Christian standpoint, “in the Lord [e)n kuri/w|]” can be understood as “in Christ [e)n xristw=|]”, a favorite expression of Paul’s

Returning to the eschatological orientation of Paul’s discussion, if we (temporarily) disrupt the syntax and take together verses 29-31, it results in a significant chiasm:

  • Judgment: The world (“all flesh”) unable to boast before God (v. 29)
    —Believers (born) of God (i.e. sons/children of God) in Christ (v. 30)
  • Judgment: Only those “in the Lord” may boast before God (v. 31)

This serves as an excellent, concise summary of Pauline theology and soteriology.

A final point to consider is the structure of verse 30:

  • V. 30a—Relationship of believers to God in Christ (“and you are…in Christ Jesus”)
  • V. 30b—Relationship of Christ to believers (“who was caused to be…for us”)

The passive form (e)genh/qh) of gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) is another example of the “divine passive”—i.e. “God caused him to be”. Four nouns are used to describe what Jesus has become for us; the first of these (sofi/a, “wisdom”) is given emphasis: “who was caused to be wisdom for us from God”. This is another way of saying what Paul already stated in verse 24: that Jesus Christ himself is “the power of God and the wisdom of God“. Just as the wisdom of God was personified in Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom tradition (cf. throughout Proverbs and the book of Wisdom, esp. Prov 8; Wisd 6:12-25; 7:22-8:21; 10:1ff), so now God’s wisdom is manifest and embodied in the person of Christ. It is possible that the three nouns which follow in v. 30 are parallel with the “power of God” in v. 24, perhaps in the sense of the power to effect salvation (Rom 1:16). In any case, they may be included with “wisdom” in the conceptual structure of v. 30b: “who came to be wisdom and…for us from God”. These three nouns may be noted briefly:

  • dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosy¡n¢), “justice/righteousness”—the dikaio- word-group is especially important in Paul’s thought, central to his understanding of how believers relate to God through the person and work of Christ. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, believers are “made right” (or “made/declared just”) before God, apart from any moral/religious act (i.e. observance of the Old Testament Law [Torah]), only through trust in Christ. The noun dikaiosu/nh is virtually a theme word of Romans, occurring more than 30 times in that letter alone (more than a third of all occurrences in the New Testament). Often, as here, the noun connotes (or represents) the action of God (marked by the related verb dikaio/w) as well—God has made us right/just before him in Christ.
  • a(giasmo/$ (hagiasmós), “holiness”—related to the adjective a%gio$ (“holy, sacred”), but more properly to the derived verb a(gia/zw (“make holy, treat as holy”), which sometimes denotes the idea of purification (“make pure, clease”). The noun a(giasmo/$ refers to the resultant state or condition of someone/something which has been “made holy”, but also to the process and action (i.e. by God). Most of the occurrences (8 of 10) are in the Pauline letters (cf. Rom 6:19, 21; 1 Thess 4:3-4, 7; 2 Thess 2:13). It is often translated “sanctification”, but this term has come to have such a specialized technical meaning in many systems of theology that is probably better to avoid using it in translating the NT.
  • a)polu/trwsi$ (apoly¡trœsis), “loosing from (bondage)”—this noun, from the compound verb a)polutro/w, refers to the act of “loosing” (i.e. freeing) someone from bondage, captivity, slavery, etc. The related noun lu/tron usually indicates the payment made to free such a person (i.e. “ransom, redemption [price]”). Again, 8 of the 10 occurrences of a)polu/trwsi$ in the New Testament are from the Pauline letters (Rom 3:24; 8:23; Col 1:14, etc). In Paul’s thought, the specific context is bondage to sin, from which God has freed us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Secondarily, believers are also freed from the (Old Testament) Law, being no longer bound (required) to observe it; however, this point is not emphasized much in 1 Corinthians (compared with Galatians and Romans [cf. also 2 Cor 3]).

Note of the Day – August 11

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 1:23-24]

1 Corinthians 1:27-28

“But God gathered out the dull/stupid (thing)s of the world (so) that he might bring down shame (upon) the wise, and God (also) gathered out the (thing)s without strength/power (so) that he might bring down shame (upon) the strong…”

The two-fold comparison from vv. 22-24 (cf. the previous note), involving “wisdom” and “power” continues here in vv. 27-28, but using the substantive adjective “strong” (i)sxuro/$) in place of “power” (du/nami$). It also continues the play between “wisdom” (sofi/a) and “dullness/stupidity” (mwri/a) from the earlier verses, especially as expressed in verse 25, which serves as the climax to the principal argument of vv. 18-25:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] the ‘stupid’ (thing) of God is wiser than men, and the (thing) of God without power/strength is stronger than men.”

Two parallel adjectives are used substantively (as nouns) in this paradoxical statement:

  • “dull, stupid, foolish” (mwro/$), related to the noun mwri/a elsewhere in the passage
  • “without strength, i.e. weak, powerless” (a)sqenh/$); the alpha prefix (a)-) is privative, indicating lack or being without something, attached to a base related to the noun sqe/no$ (“strength, might”), which is generally synonymous with the noun du/nami$ (“power”) and adjective i)sxuro/$ (“strong”) in context

These two adjectives relate back to the idea of the “stupidity” of the proclamation (v. 21), which has to be understood specifically as the Gospel message in terms of the death (crucifixion) of Jesus. The shameful (and agonizing) punishment of crucifixion is characterized as “stupid/foolish” and “weak” in the eyes of the world—that is, according to conventional (and natural) societal values; it is not to be admired nor an ideal to follow. Paul takes this association and generalized it in terms of God’s own nature and attributes, in comparison with that of human beings. God (YHWH, the Creator and Father) so far transcends mortal human beings, that this can only be expressed by way of paradox: the ‘stupid’ and ‘weak’ things of God are wiser and stronger than anything related to humans. This statement also reflects a reversal of values, of a sort most familiar to readers of the New Testament from the Beatitudes and parables, etc, in Jesus’ teaching (e.g., Luke 6:20-26; 7:28 par; Mark 10:31 par, etc). In other words, the sorts of things which human beings value and prize are, in a fundamental sense, different (even opposite) from the things which God values.

Paul illustrates the point of this statement in verse 25 by applying it to the circumstances of the Corinthian believers (vv. 26-29). Verse 26 indicates that the congregations in Corinth (like many/most early Christian groups) were largely, though not entirely, made up of people from the lower classes and less prestigious segments of society (including slaves). And yet God “called” (that is, chose) such persons to come to faith and become members of the body of Christ, united to Jesus (and God the Father) through the Spirit. This is reflected by the use of two terms in vv. 26ff:

  • The noun klh=si$ (“call, calling”) related to the verb kale/w (“[to] call”), and to the adjective klhto/$ (“called”) which Paul used earlier in verse 24. “Called” is parallel (and generally synonymous) with “being saved” in v. 18, and reflects a strong belief in what we would term “predestination” (or preordination)—that believers were chosen by God prior to their coming to trust in Christ. The noun e)kklhsi/a, which fundamentally refers to people being called out (of their homes, etc) to gather/assemble together, and which came to be used for the Christian congregation/assembly, also carries this connotation of the verb kale/w (at least in part).
  • The verb e)kle/gomai in vv. 26-27, which means literally “gather out”—i.e. God collected or gathered (ahead of time) out of the mass of humanity those who would believe in Christ. This is an example where a literal rendering “gathered out” is far superior to the more conventional English translation “chose”.

Paul uses four characteristics to represent those whom God has “gathered out” from the world to be his people (in Christ); they are generally defined in relation to the world (“the…[thing]s of the world”):

  1. mwro/$ (“dull”, i.e. “stupid, foolish”)—that is, “dull” not merely in the sense of “dim-witted, lacking intelligence”, but more properly in contrast with what human society considers most impressive, gifted and successful (i.e. the “brightest lights” of our society); compared with such persons, many Christians will seem quite “dull” or “dim” by comparison.
  2. a)sqenh/$ (“without strength”, i.e. “weak, powerless”)—again, this does not relate simply to physical strength or health, but also to one’s position of power and influence in society.
  3. a)genh/$—this adjective is somewhat difficult to translate literally in English; essentially it means something like “without (good/proper) birth”, i.e. persons who are not born into the higher and more prestigious families or portions of society.
  4. e)couqenhme/na —a verbal noun (participle) from e)couqene/w [cf. e)coudeno/w] (“set out as nothing”), i.e. persons whom society at large regards as nothing important, of no real significance.

For the first two characteristics, Paul sets the contrast as follows:

“God gathered out the {dull/weak} things of the world (so) that he might bring down shame [kataisxu/nh|] (upon) the {wise/strong} ones/things (of the world)”

In other words, God’s choice of the less impressive (by worldly standards) persons in society to be his people effectively brings shame to the ones who are impressive (by worldly standards) and who trust in their own position and abilities, etc. The last two characteristics (3 and 4 above) serve to summarize the entire illustration, which Paul does with a concluding phrase:

“—the (thing)s (which are) not being [mh\ o&nta] (so) that he might cause the (thing)s (which are) being [o&nta] to cease working”

This is extremely difficult to translate into English. The (aorist) participle (o&nta) of the verb of being (ei)mi) is used twice, with the contrast established by simply negating the first (mh\ o&nta, “not being”). I take Paul’s expression here as a rhetorical exaggeration—the persons so characterized by the four terms (above) effectively have no real existence (“no being”) for the world, they don’t really exist. In this instance God’s action goes beyond bringing down shame upon the powerful, etc. in society—essentially he takes away their existence! This reversal-of-fortune motif was a popular element of Jewish (wisdom) tradition, which one can find frequently in the New Testament, especially in the teachings of Jesus, and those authors (Paul, James) who carry on that tradition.

The verb katarge/w allows for no simple translation: “make (someone/something) to be without work”, “make inactive/ineffective”, “cause (something) to cease (working)”. It is a popular term for Paul—25 of the 27 occurrences in the New Testament are in the Pauline letters (including 23 in the undisputed letters); he often uses it in a specific theological context (cf. Rom 3:3, 31; 4:14; 6:6; 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7-14; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11, etc). In 1 Corinthians it also appears in 2:6; 6:13; 13:8, 10-11; 15:24, 26. The basic idea here is that what the world values ceases to have any active meaning or significance for believers in Christ, and those persons whom the world values (and who value their position in the world), have no place or existence among the people of God. There is a strong eschatological sense to v. 28b, again assuming the “reversal of fortune” motif associated with the final Judgment. This is made especially clear in vv. 29-31 which follow, and which I will be discussing (with attention given to verse 30) in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – August 10

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 1:21]

1 Corinthians 1:23-24

“…but we proclaim (the) Anointed (One) put to the stake—for the Yehudeans {Jews}, something (which) trips (them up), and for the nations [v.l. Greeks] (some)thing stupid; but for the ones called (by God), Yehudeans {Jews} and Greeks (both), (it is the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God…”

In verse 22, Paul has expanded upon the declaration of v. 21 (cf. the prior note) by introducing the distinction, frequent in his letters, between Jews and Greeks (or the “nations”, i.e. non-Jews, Gentiles):

“the Yehudeans {Jews} ask (for) a sign, and the Greeks seek (after) wisdom…”

We can see how this parallel plays out in verses 23-24:

  • Israelites/Jews
    • ask for a sign [shmei=on]
      • the proclamation of the cross is
        • something which trips (them) up [ska/ndalon]
  • Greeks/Nations
    • seek after wisdom
      • the proclamation of the cross is
        • something stupid/foolish [mwri/a]

Here the “sign” (shmei=on) for Jews probably should be understood in relation to their Messianic expectations. As in much eschatological thinking, the coming of the “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ) and the end-time Judgment by God would be marked by various signs, from the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies to various natural phenomena, as well as the appearance of certain figures in history (coinciding with specific historical events). For the use of shmei=on in this context in the New Testament, cf. Mark 13:4, 22 (par Matt 24:3, 24, 30; Lk 21:7, 11, 25); John 6:14; Rev 12:1, 3. On several occasions in the Gospels, people ask Jesus for a sign to demonstrate that he is one chosen by God (as a Prophet, etc), probably also in a specific Messianic sense—Mark 8:11-12 par; Lk 11:16, 29-30 par; 23:8; John 2:18; 6:30 [cf. verse 14]; 12:18 (for more on this subject, cf. my recent series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Often by shmei=on is meant specifically a miraculous or supernatural event. In this regard, it is interesting that Paul himself refers to a demonstration of (God’s) power as ‘proof’ of the Spirit working/speaking through him (1 Cor 1:24; 4:19-20; 2 Cor 13:3-4).

The “sign”—that Jesus, a crucified man, is actually the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ)—turns out to be a ska/ndalon for Jews, something that “trips them up” (in a figurative sense). That Jews found the identification of Jesus as the Messiah highly problematic is clear enough from the many references in the book of Acts where the apostles and other early missionaries take pains to proclaim and demonstrate this fact (from the Scriptures)—cf. Acts 2:36; 3:18, 20; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:23, and also earlier in the Lukan Gospel (Lk 24:26-27, 44-47). In Paul’s line of argument, this Jewish dynamic (sign vs. ‘stumbling-block’) is parallel to the (main) contrast between wisdom (sofi/a) and “stupidity” (mwri/a). For non-Jews (Greeks/Gentiles), unfamiliar with the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the veneration of a man put to death by crucifixion was simply absurd. Such a death, nailed to the stake (cross), was an agonizing and humiliating punishment, reserved for slaves and the lower classes, as well as for rebels and traitors against the state, and was often inflicted to make a particularly public example of such criminals. Paul, of course, was fully aware of the shameful stigma attached to crucifixion and makes powerful use of the fact, for example, in Galatians 3:10-14.

In verse 24, Paul neatly ties together both strands of his comparison:

“but for the (one)s called (by God), Jews and Greeks (both)…”

This summarizes one his most cherished theological points: that for believers in Christ, the ethnic/religious distinction of Jew vs. non-Jew has been completely eliminated. The doctrine is at the core of his letters to the Galatians and the Romans, especially; though the formula expressed in Gal 3:28, 1 Cor 12:13, and Col 2:12 (with its baptismal context) may have existed earlier. Perhaps the clearest Pauline statement to this effect is found in Ephesians 2:11-22. The second half of v. 24 also expresses a kind of union:

“…the Anointed {Christ} (is the) power of God and (the) wisdom of God”

There are two ways to consider this joining of expressions:

1. “power of God” (du/nami$ tou= qeou=) relates to the Jewish strand, while “wisdom of God” (sofi/a tou= qeou=) relates to the Greek strand. The latter point seems clear enough. And, if we understand the “sign” in v. 23 in terms of a supernatural manifestation of God in the person of the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), according to Jewish expectation, then the identification fits here as well. From a Christian standpoint the “power of God” is manifest primarily in two respects:

  • In the resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, which, in turn, relates to his death (crucifixion) in two ways:
    (a) It defeats/overcomes the power of death, preserving the life of Jesus
    (b) It makes right again (justifies/vindicates) the injustice of Jesus’ suffering and death
  • In the power of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) to effect salvation for those who trust in him. This relates to Paul’s idea of believers being “in Christ” (and Christ in the believer), with the symbolic/spiritual participation of the believer in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

2. The “power of God” and “wisdom of God” are two aspects of the Gospel message which are summed up in the person of Christ. In Romans 1:16, the Gospel (“good message”, eu)agge/lion) is called “the power of God unto salvation [du/nami$ qeou= ei)$ swthri/on]”. The essential identification of the Gospel with the wisdom of God has already been made here in 1 Corinthians, and continues as a central theme of 1:18-2:16. The terms power (du/nami$) and wisdom (sofi/a) are both associated with the Gospel in various ways in this passage.

The force of the declaration in verse 24b should not be missed—it is not the Gospel (or account/proclamation) per se which is the power and wisdom for believers, but Christ himself. This helps to explain Paul’s statement in v. 17, that to rely upon human wisdom in the communication of the Gospel (i.e. how the message is delivered) effectively risks “emptying” the content (and power) of the message—it shifts attention away from the central point of the message: the person of Jesus, who he is, and what God has done for humankind through him. And it is Jesus’ death (by crucifixion) which is the most difficult and challenging part of this message. It may be somewhat hard for us to recognize this last point today, so far removed from the historical and cultural context of crucifixion, and so familiar with the idea of Jesus’ death on the cross; but in Paul’s day, so close in time to the events, and influenced by the vital Messianic and eschatological expectations of the period, it has a very special significance. A Messiah who would be put to death (especially a death by crucifixion) was totally foreign to Jewish thought, as is clear enough from the evidence in the Gospels (and the book of Acts) and contemporary Jewish writings (I have discussed this in my series “Yeshua the Anointed”, cf. the supplemental article on the suffering and death of the Messiah). This meant that, for Christians, Jesus was (and had to be) understood as a very different kind of Savior/Redeemer figure: one who delivered people from bondage (to sin and evil) at a spiritual level, through his sacrificial and atoning death on the cross.

Note of the Day – August 9

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[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note looked at 1:18, the first statement in the section]

1 Corinthians 1:21

“For thereupon, (since) in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through the wisdom, God considered (it) good, through the ‘stupidity’ of the proclamation, to save the (one)s trusting.”

The basic contrast set in verse 18 (cf. the previous note), and strengthened by the citation of Isa 29:14 in verse 19, culminates in the rhetorical challenge in verse 20:

“…has not God made dull/stupid [e)mw/ranen] the wisdom of the world?”

The verb mwrai/nw is related to the noun mwri/a, and continues the contrast between “wisdom” (swfi/a) and “dullness, stupidity” (mwri/a).

The use of the compound particle e)peidh/ which opens verse 21 is meant to give emphasis to a particular statement or conclusion; in English, we would say something like “now then, since…”. The first half of the verse uses a delightful bit of (elliptical) wordplay which is easily lost in translation:

  • “in the wisdom of God [e)n th=| sofi/a| tou= qeou=]”
    —”the world did not know”
  • “through the wisdom, God [dia\ th=$ sofi/a$ to\n qeo/n]”

The central phrase is important—”the world did not know”, emphasizing ignorance and lack of (true) knowledge. An interesting question involves whether, or to what extent, this refers to the world’s unwillingness to know, as opposed to a natural blindness/ignorance placed on it (by God). I would suggest that both aspects are indicated by the parallel phrases which bracket the statement:

“in the wisdom of God” (e)n th=| sofi/a| tou= qeou=)
“God through the wisdom” (dia\ th=$ sofi/a$ to\n qeo/n)

However, much depends on the exact force of the second use of “the wisdom”; in context, it can be read two ways:

  • “they did not know God through th(is) wisdom [i.e. through the wisdom of God]”, or
  • “they did not know God through the(ir) wisdom [i.e. through their own human wisdom]”

Both make sense, but I feel that the first option better fits the contrast with the second half of the verse (though perhaps only slightly so). Let us examine the basic outline of the sentence:

  • in the wisdom of God
    • the world did not know God
      • through th(is) wisdom
  • God considered it good
    • to save the ones trusting
      • through the stupidity (of the proclamation)

This does not represent the syntax of the Greek so much as the logic of the statement. According to the first interpretation (above), the world was unable (and/or unwilling) to know God by way of God’s own wisdom. It is possible that this assumes or alludes to the Jewish tradition of Wisdom (that is, God’s wisdom personified) looking to find a dwelling place among human beings on earth, and finding no welcome (1 Enoch 42:2; cf. also Prov 8:31; Sirach 24:8-12, and the likely influence on John 1:10-12). Jewish (and early Christian) Wisdom traditions would have affirmed a basic sense of what we call “natural revelation”—i.e., the manifestation of God’s nature and character through the works of creation, etc. Paul, in his own way, draws upon such thinking in Romans 1:18-23 (cf. also the speech in Acts 17:22-31 [esp. verses 26-28]). The second interpretation (above) yields a somewhat different emphasis:

  • in the wisdom of God
    • the world did not know God
      • through the wisdom (of the world), i.e. their own wisdom

This is more amenable to modern ways of thinking, and, certainly Paul makes reference to the world’s unwillingness/refusal to recognize God (esp. in Rom 1:18-23ff); however, the emphasis on human responsibility, if you will, is perhaps a bit out of place here. When Paul speaks of human ignorance (being “without knowledge”) prior to the introduction of the Gospel, it tends to be in the context of what God Himself specifically has established or has allowed—cf. Acts 14:16f; 17:30; Rom 14:16. In 1 Cor 2:8, the death of Christ is attributed to human ignorance, due to the fact that God has hidden his wisdom away from them; this will but touched on in a subsequent note (cf. also Acts 3:17). The emphasis of God’s action and purpose is perhaps expressed most forcefully in Galatians 3:22, which has a structure similar to 1 Cor 1:21:

  • he (God, through the Scripture, i.e. the Law)
    • closed all things together under sin
  • so he might give the promise (“it might be given”)
    • to the ones trusting
      • through [lit. out of] trust in Jesus Christ

The phrase “he closed all things together under sin” is parallel to “the world did not know”; similarly, “trust in Jesus Christ” is parallel with “the proclamation”. However one interprets 1 Cor 1:21, priority must be given to the will and purpose of God governing these things (“in the wisdom of God” / “God considered [it] good”). Let me summarize the two main interpretations presented above:

  1. The world did not know God through the wisdom of God, so:
    He chose to save the ones trusting (in Him) through something “stupid/foolish”
    —This expresses a kind of (divine) irony
  2. The world did/could not know God through its own wisdom, so:
    He decided to save the ones trusting through something the world itself considers “stupid/foolish”
    —An example of the popular “reversal of fortune” theme, and likewise ironic in its own way

In some ways, the most striking part of this verse is Paul’s expression “the stupidity of the proclamation”—that is, the proclamation of the Gospel. In what way is this proclamation “stupid”?—in that it has at its core the message of man put to death through the disgraceful punishment of crucifixion. This is made clear by Paul in vv. 23ff, which I will be discussing in the next daily note.