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Note of the Day – August 21

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

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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