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First Corinthians

Note of the Day – April 8 (1 Cor 11:23-26, etc)

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The Words of Jesus—Institution of the Lord’s Supper

The last two daily notes have examined the Passover meal episode in the Passion Narrative. An important component of this scene is the institution of the “Lord’s Supper”—the words of Jesus over the bread and the cup. Most commentators recognize that this tradition in the Gospels is related in some way to the early Christian practice of observing the “Supper of the Lord” (1 Cor 10:16-22; 11:17-34, v. 20). It would hardly be surprising if early ritual and liturgical practice shaped, to varying degrees, the Gospel narrative at this point. But the direction and extent of the influence remains a matter of considerable debate.

It is clear that the “Last Supper” was identified as a Passover meal in the early Gospel tradition; this is certainly the case in the Synoptics (Mk 14:1, 12-16 par), though less definite in John’s Gospel (to be discussed in the next daily note). Luke brings out most prominently the Passover connection (cf. the prior note), all the more so, it would seem, if one adopts the longer, majority text of vv. 17-20 (which includes vv. 19b-20). It has been argued that here, in the longer text, Luke preserved more of the original setting of the Passover meal, such as it would have been practiced in the 1st century A.D. These details are explored by J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (Fortress Press: 1977), esp. pp. 41-88, and summarized by Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 1389-91. According to this reconstruction, the outline of the meal in Lk 22:17-20 (longer text) would be:

  • The Cup (vv. 17-18)—a single cup, to be shared, it would seem, among all the disciples together. It is it perhaps to be identified with the initial cup of blessing (qiddûš), drunk prior to the serving of the meal. Possibly it may also represent the second cup of wine following the Passover liturgy (hagg¹d¹h).
  • The Bread (v. 19)—the “unleavened bread” (maƒƒôt) served and eaten together with the Passover lamb.
  • The Cup (v. 20)—the second cup of blessing (trad. kôš šel b§r¹k¹h), following the meal.

If Luke thus preserves more of the original historical setting, then the Synoptic version in Mark-Matthew (Mk 14:22-25/Matt 26:26-29) would have to be viewed as a simplification or abridgment of the scene. While this might be appealing from a historical-critical standpoint, the situation is not quite so straightforward, at least when considering the words of institution by Jesus. There are two basic forms preserved—(1) that in Mark/Matthew, and (2) that in Luke and 1 Corinthians. In addition to the Synoptic Gospels, the tradition is preserved by Paul in 1 Cor 11:22-26, part of his instruction regarding the “Supper of the Lord” (vv. 17-34, cf. also 10:16-21). Paul introduces the tradition in v. 23:

“For I took/received along from the Lord th(at) which I also gave along to you—that the Lord Yeshua, on the night in which he was given along [i.e. betrayed], took bread…”

The first phrase does not necessarily mean that Paul received this information as a special revelation by Jesus; it may simply indicate that the tradition goes back to the words and actions of Jesus himself. As in the Gospels, Paul recorded words spoken by Jesus over the bread and the cup/wine, in turn. Let us examine the tradition regarding each of these.

1. The Bread—Mk 14:22; Matt 26:26; Luke 22:19 [MT]; 1 Cor 11:24

First, the action of Jesus as described:

  • Mark 14:22: “taking [labw\n] bread (and) giving a good account [eu)logh/sa$, i.e. blessing] (to God), he broke [e&klasen] (it) and gave [e&dwken] (it) to them and said…”
  • Matt 26:26: “taking bread and giving a good account [i.e. blessing] (to God), Yeshua broke it and, giving [dou\$] it to the learners [i.e. disciples], said…”
    [Note how close Mark and Matthew are, the differences in the latter’s version are indicated by the words in italics]
  • Luke 22:19: “taking bread (and) giving (thanks for God’s) favor [eu)xaristh/sa$], he broke (it) and gave (it) to them, saying…”
    [Luke is even closer to Mark, except for the verb eu)xariste/w instead of eu)loge/w]
  • 1 Cor 11:24: “Yeshua…took bread and, giving (thanks for God’s) favor [eu)xaristh/sa$], broke (it) and said…”

Paul agrees with Luke in use of the word eu)xariste/w (“give [thanks] for [God’s] favor”) instead of eu)loge/w (“give a good account [i.e. words of blessing] [to God]”). His version is simpler in that it omits mention of Jesus giving the broken bread to the disciples.

Now the words of Jesus:

  • Mark 14:22: “Take (it)—this is my body [tou=to/ e)stin to\ sw=ma/ mou]”
  • Matt 26:26: “Take (it and) eat—this is my body”
    [Matthew is identical to Mark, except for the addition of the command fa/gete (“eat/consume [it]”)]
  • Luke 22:19: “This is my body (be)ing given over you—do this unto my remembrance [i.e. in memory of me]”
    [The italicized portion is not in Mark/Matthew]
  • 1 Cor 11:24: “This is my body th(at is given) over you—do this unto my remembrance [i.e. in memory of me]”

Again, we see how close Paul is to Luke—nearly identical except for the participle dido/menon (“being given”), which is to be inferred. The only portion common to all four versions are the words “this is my body“—in Greek, tou=to/ e)stin to\ sw=ma/ mou, though Paul has a slightly different word order (tou=to/ mou/ e)stin to\ sw=ma).

2. The Cup—Mk 14:23-25; Matt 26:27-29; Luke 22:20 [MT]; 1 Cor 11:25

Jesus’ action and words associated with the cup are clearly parallel to those associated with the bread. First, the action:

  • Mark 14:23-24: “and taking [labw\n] (the) drinking-cup (and) giving (thanks for God’s) favor [eu)xaristh/sa$], he gave [e&dwken] (it) to them and they all drank out of it. And he said to them…”
  • Matt 26:27: “and taking (the) drinking-cup and giving (thanks for God’s) favor, he gave (it) to them saying, ‘Drink out of it all (of) you’
    [Matthew is identical to Mark, except that the reference to drinking has been made part of Jesus’ directive]
  • Luke 22:20: “and so the same (way) also (he took) the drinking-cup after th(eir) dining, saying…”
  • 1 Cor 11:25: “and so the same (way) also (he took) the drinking-cup after th(eir) dining, saying…”
    [Luke and Paul have virtually the same version, with slightly different word order]

And the words of Jesus:

  • Mark 14:24: “This is my blood of the agreement [i.e. covenant] set through [diaqh/kh] (by God), th(at) is poured out over many”
  • Matt 26:27: “This is my blood of the agreement set through (by God), th(at) is poured out around many unto [i.e. for] the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins
    [Differences between Matthew and Mark are indicated by italics]
  • Luke 22:20: “This drinking-cup is the new agreement set through (by God) in my blood, th(at is) being poured out over you”
  • 1 Cor 11:25: “This drinking-cup is the new agreement set through (by God) in my blood—do this, as often as you should drink it, unto my remembrance”

Again, the common tradition inherited by Luke and Paul is clear. Their version differs significantly from that of Mark/Matthew in one respect:

  • In Luke/Paul, the cup is identified as the “new covenant”
  • In Mark/Matthew, the blood (wine) itself is identified with the “covenant”

The reference in Mark/Matthew is more obviously to the original covenant ceremony in Exodus 24:8; in the Greek LXX the declaration reads:

“See, the blood of the agreement which the Lord set through toward you around/about all these words”
In Hebrew:
“See, the blood of the agreement which YHWH cut with you upon all these words”

In ancient Near Eastern thought and religious/cultural practice, an agreement between two parties was often established through the ritual slaughter (sacrifice) of an animal. It may involve the sprinkling or application of blood, as in the Exodus scene, where Moses throws blood upon the people (or their representatives). This action followed the reading of all the words which God had spoken to Moses, referred to collectively (in written form) as the “Book of the Agreement [i.e. Covenant]” (v. 7).

This symbolism is less direct in the Lukan/Pauline version; indeed, the emphasis has switched to the symbolic act of giving the cup, rather than the wine (i.e. blood) in it. Also the reference is now to the “New Covenant” of Jer 31:31, a passage of tremendous importance for early Christian identity, much as it also had been for the Qumran community (CD 6:19; 1QpHab 2:4ff, etc). Along with the other Synoptics, Luke has retained the expression (and image) of the blood being “poured out” (the verb e)kxe/w) “over” (u(per) people. In addition to Exod 24:8, we find this ritual/sacrificial imagery elsewhere in the Old Testament, such as Lev 17:11, where the idea of expiation and atonement for sin is present. Paul omits this aspect in 1 Cor 11:22-26. Instead, he gives emphasis to the rite of the Supper as a memorial of Jesus’ death. Luke includes this in the words over the bread (22:19), but not the cup.


If we consider all four versions, it would seem that, while 1 Corinthians may have been the earliest written (in the form we have it), it is also the version which most reflects early Christian ritual. This can be seen in the way that the Passover and sacrificial elements are missing, and by the emphasis of the Supper as a memorial. In addition, the Pauline form has a more consistent shape. The rougher contours of the Synoptic version would, I think, suggest a closer approximation to the original (Aramaic?) words of Jesus. Here, as often is the case, Mark may record the earliest form of the tradition; note the common elements highlighted in bold:

  • “Take (it)—this is my body [tou=to/ e)stin to\ sw=ma/ mou]”
  • This is my blood [tou=to/ e)stin to\ ai!ma/ mou] of the agreement/covenant, th(at) is poured out over many”

It would seem that Matthew and Luke have both adapted this core tradition in various ways (cf. above). The real problem lies with the text-critical question in Luke. The similarity between Luke and Paul here has been used as an argument in favor of the shorter text, with vv. 19b-20 (so close to 1 Cor 11:24-25), being viewed as a harmonization or interpolation. However, if vv. 19b-20 are original, then there can be no doubt that Luke and Paul have inherited a common historical tradition, however it may differ from the version in Mark/Matthew. I would argue that all four versions—that is, both primary lines of tradition (Mark/Matthew and Luke/Paul)—have adapted the original words and setting into a framework that reflects, to some degree, early Christian practice regarding the Supper. In Mark/Matthew, this is done primarily through the narrative description of Jesus’ action, and the sequence of verbs used (cf. above), especially with the key pairing of eu)loge/w and eu)xariste/w (the latter giving rise to the term “Eucharist”). In the case of Luke and Paul, it may be that Jesus’ words (in Greek translation) have been shaped to reflect the ritual context. Even so, as I noted in the prior note, Luke has clearly retained (and carefully preserved) a connection with the Passover setting of the original tradition.

References above marked “Fitzmyer, Luke” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28A (1985).

Special Note on 1 Corinthians 13:8

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In discussing the role of Prophets in the early Church, I have mentioned the difficulty in relating it to the modern Age, and thus in applying passages such as 1 Cor 11:2-16 to the Church today. If Paul accepts the idea of women functioning as prophets, delivering messages in the congregational meeting, then this would certainly seem to support the idea that women may also do so (i.e. preach) today. However, according to one line of interpretation, the spiritual gifts (xarisma/ta, charismata) documented and described in 1 Corinthians (and elsewhere in the New Testament) are part of a unique set of phenomena, limited in time (more or less) to the age of the Apostles and the initial spread of Christianity. According to this view, Paul is essentially describing a situation which no longer applies today, contrary, of course, to the core belief of Pentecostal, Charismatic and Spiritualist traditions. But if, for example, 1 Cor 11:2-16 is taken as referring specifically to women exercising a (prophetic) gift which is no longer in effect, then it would not necessarily support the general idea of women preaching or delivering messages in the church meeting today. It is thus worth examining the main verse (also in 1 Corinthians) which refers to the gift of prophecy coming to an end.

1 Corinthians 13:8

This is part of the famous Love-chapter in 1 Corinthians, 12:31b-14:1a. I have explored the setting and structure of this section in an earlier note. Here is the outline again:

  • 12:31b: Introduction to the way of love
    • 13:1-3: The superiority of love—contrast with other spiritual gifts (Current time)
      —Such gifts without (being guided by) love are of little value

      • 13:4-7: The characteristics of Love
    • 13:8-13: The superiority of love—contrast with other gifts (Eschatological/teleological–in the End)
      —All such gifts will pass away, love is one of the only things which remain
  • 14:1a: Exhortation to the way of love

Love is contrasted with the spiritual “gifts”, in the parallel statements of vv. 1-3 and 8-13—the first referring to the current time (for believers in the Church), while the second refers to the end time. Verse 8 introduced this second section:

“Love does not ever fall; but if (there are thing)s foretold [i.e. prophecies], they will cease working; if (thing)s (spoken in other) tongues, they will stop; and if (there is) knowledge, it will cease working”

Paul does not refer here to knowledge generally, but to a special kind of spiritual knowledge or revelation, granted to believers by the Spirit. This idea of knowledge (gnw=si$) is given considerable emphasis in 1 Corinthians (cf. 1:5, 21ff; 8:1-3ff; 12:8; 14:6, etc), and especially here in chapter 13. The close connection between knowledge and prophecy is important (cf. 14:6), and is indicated by the parallel structure of the verse:

  • Prophecies will cease working [katarghqh/sontai] —Speaking with (other) tongues will stop
  • Knowledge will cease working [katarghqh/setai]

It is interesting that the phenomenon of speaking in other tongues occurs in between the references to prophecy and knowledge, since ‘speaking in tongues’ (glossolalia) was the central phenomenon marking the coming of the Spirit upon believers (in Acts 2). At the same time, prophecy and knowledge reflect two (higher) aspects of the Spirit’s work among believers as they participate in the Community. Though they can be separated as distinct “gifts”, they are really two sides of the same coin. In chapter 14, prophecy and messages in tongues are mentioned as specific ways that believers (men and women) may speak and minister within the meeting; Paul clearly gives priority to prophecy—delivering a message expressing the word and will of God in the ordinary language of the people—rather than similar messages in unknown languages (tongues) which require special interpretation. The close connection between prophecy and knowledge is reiterated in verse 9:

“For we know (only) out of a part [i.e. in part], and we foretell [i.e. prophesy] out of a part…”

The phrase e)k me/rou$ (“out of a part”) means that, even through the presence and work of the Spirit, believers only have a portion—that is, the knowledge and revelation we have of God, and from Him, is partial and limited. And it is this partial understanding, made available through the gifts of the Spirit, which will “cease working”:

“…but when the (thing which is) complete should come, (then) the (thing which is only) out of a part will cease working.” (verse 10)

It is the same verb (katarge/w), used twice in v. 8, and frequently elsewhere by Paul—of the 27 occurrences in the NT, all but two are found in the Pauline letters, including 9 times in 1 Corinthians. The basic meaning of the verb is to make something stop working, have no effect, etc. Paul uses it in a variety of contexts, but the essential idea is related to something new (e.g., the new covenant in Christ) replacing that which was in effect before (the old covenant). With the presence of the new, the old “ceases working”—i.e. is no longer valid or has no effect. In the current context of 1 Cor 13, the idea is that the old way (the spiritual gifts) is no longer needed or of any use. What is it that makes the prior working of the Spirit in believers obsolete? This is stated in v. 10a, and is the interpretive crux of the passage:

“when the (thing which is) complete should come”

Because of the importance of this clause, it will be helpful to look at each word in detail.

o%tan (“when[ever]”)—this is a combination of the temporal particle o%te (“when”) and the conditional a&n, indicating possibility or uncertainty, etc (“if, perhaps”). The simple o%te is used twice in verse 11 as part of the illustration of human development, marking two points in time—”when I was an infant” and “when I became a man”. This should be understood parallel to the use of the related to/te (“then”, i.e. at that time) in verse 12. The conditional o%tan here in verse 10 indicates some degree of uncertainty—i.e. whenever this should take place.

de/ (“but”)—a simple joining particle (conjunction), “and”, but which sometimes is used in a contrastive or adversative sense (“but”). Here Paul uses it to contrast v. 10a with the earlier statement in v. 9, as well as what follows in 10b. The point of contrast is between e)k me/rou$ (“[out] of a part”) and te/leio$ (“complete”).

e&lqh| (“[it] should come”)—this is an aorist subjunctive form of the verb e&rxomai (“come, go”), and is used here to indicate a specific point (in time) when something should take place, that is, when it will come. The subjunctive is related to the particle a&n embedded in the temporal o%tan (“when[ever]”, cf. above). Paul has no doubt this will occur, there is only some uncertainty just when it will take place.

to\ te/leion (“the [thing which is] complete”)—this adjective (te/leio$) is related to the noun te/lo$ and refers fundamentally to something being (or becoming) complete. It can be used in three different basic senses: (a) for the end of something, (b) for something which is full, perfect, whole, etc, and (c) for coming to fullness, maturity, etc. Paul uses the term in all three senses at various points in his letters. When applied to human beings (believers) it is often the third aspect (c) which is meant, as in 1 Cor 2:6 and 14:20 (the only other occurrences of the adjective in 1 Corinthians). The illustration of human growth and development in 13:11 might suggest that this is also the meaning of te/leio$ here—i.e. as believers come to greater maturity and understanding, there will increasingly be less need to rely upon the various spiritual gifts. There is no doubt that a number of the Corinthian believers were unduly enamored by the gifts of (spiritual) knowledge, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and so forth, which is the very reason why Paul was inspired to pen 12:31b-14:1a, to emphasize the priority (and superiority) of Christian love over all other manifestations (gifts) of the Spirit.

However, I do not believe that the adjective te/leio$ can be limited to only this sense. While it may relate to the idea of believers coming to completeness in Christ, it is primarily used in the more general (temporal) sense of something which is to come (in the future). This is the only occurrence in the New Testament of the neuter form te/leion, used as a substantive with the definite article—to\ te/leion, “the (thing which is) complete”. This should be compared with the plural substantive in 1 Cor 2:16: toi=$ telei/oi$, “[in] the (one)s (who are) complete”. In 13:11, Paul does not refer to “the (one)” [i.e. the believer], but to “the (thing)”—something which is going to happen or will appear. What is this “thing” which will come at some point in the future? The only answer Paul gives in the immediate context is found in verse 12, as he describes the transforming moment when we (believers) “will see face to(ward) face”. There can be little doubt that Paul’s orientation here is eschatological—that he has the end time (te/lo$) in mind, the completion of all things, which will follow upon the return of Christ, the resurrection, and the final Judgment. It is God himself we will see, face to face, far more perfectly than Moses did, through our union with Christ (2 Cor 3:7-18). We will know Him fully and intimately, even as we are known by Him. This is already experienced by believers through the course of our lives (2 Cor 3:18), as we grow in faith, wisdom and knowledge, but will only be realized completely at the end.

Given this basic outlook by Paul, it is unlikely that he envisioned a time, prior to the end, when the spiritual gifts would cease—least of all prophecy, which he regarded as one of the highest gifts. The situation is complicated by the fact that Paul, like most (if not all) believers of the time, more or less had an imminent expectation of the end-time—that the return of Christ and the final Judgement would soon take place, presumably in his/their own lifetime. In approaching Paul’s letters from our standpoint today, we are forced to factor in an intervening 2,000 or more years between his teaching and the end (which is yet to come). Still, if we are to give an accurate portrayal of what Paul said and wrote, we must recognize what his perspective was on the matter. It seems reasonably clear that he felt that the current working of the Spirit (the charismata, etc), and his instruction to believers regarding its manifestation, would be valid until the coming of the end, when we would experience and know God (and Christ), as well as each other, in new and perfect way.

Note of the Day – Thanksgiving (1 Cor 1:4-9)

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1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Most of Paul’s letters contain, in the introductory section (exordium), a component of thanksgiving, in which he refers to his giving thanks (to God) for the believers to whom he is writing. The introduction, or exordium, follows the initial greeting (salutation), which almost always blends into a blessing formula (i.e., “grace and peace”)—1 Corinthians provides a good example of this format:

“(The) favor [xa/ri$] (of God) be with you, and peace [ei)rh/nh] from God our Father and (our) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed {Jesus Christ}.” (1 Cor 1:3)

More than a simple wish, such blessings serve as a compact theological statement. The same may be said of the thanksgiving which follows in 1:4-9. There are two aspects of the thanksgiving which should be noted:

  1. Rhetorical—A common rhetorical device in the exordium (introduction) of the speech or letter was the so-called captatio benevolentiae (“capture of good-will”), through which the speaker/writer seeks to gain the audience’s attention and interest with complimentary words, or by offering praise. Paul often couches this praise in the context of his offering prayer to God.
  2. Theological/Spiritual—On the one hand, the thanksgiving genuinely reflects Paul’s care and concern for the believers in the regions where he had worked as a missionary, and for the churches he had helped to found. At the same time, his thanksgiving formulae also contain a seminal theological statement that unfolds out in a long sentence, with a distinct Christological (and often eschatological) emphasis. From a rhetorical standpoint, this focuses his audience’s attention squarely on their religious identity in Christ.

The thanksgiving begins with verse 4:

“I offer good words (of thanks) to my God always about you, upon [i.e. for] the favor of God th(at) was given to you in (the) Anointed Yeshua…”

The initial verb here is eu)xariste/w (eucharistéœ), “give/offer good (words of) favor”, or, more specifically, to offer words of thanks or gratitude for a favor which was shown. Paul repeats and spells out this favor (xa/ri$, cháris) precisely: “…the favor [xa/ri$] of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus”. The Christological emphasis could not be more clear—the favor (or “grace”) lies squarely in the person and (saving) work of Christ. In verses 5-7, the emphasis shifts to the Corinthian believers (in Christ):

“…in all (thing)s you are made wealthy in him [e)n au)tw=|] , in all (spoken) account(s) [lo/go$] and in all knowledge [gnw=si$]” (v. 5)

If verse 5 emphasizes the believer’s identity in Christ, verse 6 focuses on the other side of this identity, of Christ in the believer:

“even as the witness of (the) Anointed was made firm [i.e. confirmed] in you [e)n u(mi=n]” (v. 6)

Again, in verse 7, Paul cleverly positions his praise of the Corinthians in relation to Christ—in particular, the expected appearance of Jesus at the end-time:

“so that you are not to be left behind, not in any favor granted [xa/risma] (by God), looking out to receive from (God) the uncovering of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed” (v. 7)

This “uncovering” (a)poka/luyi$, lit. “taking the cover away from”) of Christ, refers specifically to his (impending) future appearance, as in 2 Thess 1:7, etc. The favors granted (xari/smata, charísmata) to the Corinthians—that is, their distinct spiritual “gifts”—along with their inspired words and (spiritual) knowledge (v. 5), come to be an important point of emphasis in Paul’s teaching throughout the letter (on the charismata, cf. especially chapters 12-14). Verses 4-8 comprise a single sentence in Greek, which closes on a strong eschatological note:

“who also will make you firm until (the) completion, without (anything) calling you in (to account) on the day of our Lord Yeshua [(the) Anointed].” (v. 8)

There is likely a dual-sense of the word te/lo$ (“completion”) here, referring to (a) the end of the current Age, and (b) the believer being made ‘perfect’ and complete. Note the elliptical outline of this clause:

  • (Jesus Christ) who
    —will make/keep you firm (i.e. stable, sure, strong) until…
  • the day of Jesus Christ

A second, shorter sentence in verse 9 summarizes and concludes the thanksgiving:

“Trust(worthy is) God, through whom you were called into (the) common-bond [i.e. community] of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord.”

Again, the emphasis is squarely on the believers’ identity in Christ, here defined in terms of being called by God.

After the thanksgiving, Paul turns to the main proposition (propositio) of the letter and his reason (causa) for writing. This is outlined in verse 10-17, with the propositio of verse 10 emphasizing the need for unity among believers, in the light of apparent divisions (and divisiveness) in the congregations. This lack of unity at Corinth had been reported to him by “the (people) of Chloe”, which could refer to the people of Chloe’s household, or to the house-church led by Chloe (meeting in her house, etc). In either case, she was clearly a prominent women in the Corinthian church. Her name is literally “Green” (Xloh/), presumably in the sense of “fresh, tender”, i.e., young and beautiful. It is worth noting her name here in light of the current series Women in the Church which I am presenting on this site. The next article (Part 4) of this series will focus on Romans 16:1-2ff, which features another prominent woman of Corinth—Phoebe, minister (dia/kono$, diákonos) in the Corinthian port town of Cenchreae.

Women in the Church: Part 2 (1 Corinthians 14:33b-36)

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1 Corinthians 14:33b-36

Historical & Literary Context

For an overview, see Part 1 (on 1 Cor 11:2-16). In chapter 14 Paul gives practical instruction regarding the use of believers’ spiritual “gifts” (charismata, cf. chaps. 12-13) in the worship-meeting. Indeed, we have here some of the earliest detail on how worship-meetings were organized in the New Testament period. While it is possible that the information in 1 Corinthians reflects some measure of local or regional development, there was doubtless much in common with meetings as they were held throughout the early Christian world. It clearly was what we would call a charismatic worship setting—i.e., with believers participating (speaking, etc) as the Spirit prompted them, and according to their spiritual gifting (cf. 12:4-11).

In verses 1-25, Paul deals specifically with the practice (and gift) of speaking in tongues (i.e. foreign/strange language). It would seem that some congregations in Corinth were giving undue or exaggerated importance to this phenomenon, with utterances being offered without any corresponding interpretation. Paul gives instruction with regard to this, and contrasts the practice in general with the giving of a prophetic message (in the ordinary language of the congregation); clearly he would prefer that the Corinthians’ meetings be characterized more by prophecy than by messages in a foreign language.

As noted in Part 1, in this early Christian context, ‘prophecy’ (or ‘prophesying’ [profhteu/w]) refers to an inspired utterance or (short) message in which the word and will of God was communicated to the congregation. According to 11:2-16, men and women both could preach or deliver such messages, as long as it was done within certain specific religious custom (and associated dress-code). Here in verses 26-33a, Paul urges especially that those who actively participate (taking a leading/speaking role) in the worship-meeting do so in an orderly, respectful manner. In particular, no more than two or three persons should give a prophetic message, each in turn (v. 29, 31). The speaker would be standing, while the others in the congregation were sitting. A person seated may be prompted to respond to the speaker’s message; if so, then the speaker should yield (in an appropriate way) to that person, so that a fresh revelation may be added and shared with the Community (v. 30). According to Paul, this also was a way to test and regulate the “spirit” in which a prophet spoke—i.e., by the willingness to yield and recognize another believer’s insight (v. 32). All of this is rather foreign to us today, though there are perhaps loose parallels in some of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, as well as in the traditional Quaker meeting. However, it is important to understand the religious context; otherwise, an interpretation of the verses which follow (vv. 33-36ff) is sure to be severely flawed.

On the text of 14:33b-36—A number of commentators have felt that verses 34-35 may be an interpolation, i.e. something added to the original text by an early scribe or editor, either from another letter of Paul (even another Corinthian letter) or as non-Pauline material. The textual basis for this view is that, in several manuscripts and other witnesses (D F G 88* d g Ambrosiaster etc), verse 34-35 appear in a different location (after v. 40). Such ‘floating’ text in the manuscript tradition is often indicative of a secondary addition. However, no manuscript or version is without these verses; and the textual variant most likely is the result of the feeling, by one or more scribes, that vv. 34-35 fit better following verse 40. Indeed, vv 33b-36 as a whole seem to be somewhat out of place, disrupting the flow of the passage—note how verse 37ff follows smoothly after v. 33b—though many other abrupt digressions can be found throughout Paul’s letters, and could just as well be viewed as a mark of authenticity. It is understandable that many modern commentators might regret Paul’s words and the language he uses in vv. 34-35, and wish that they were not part of the original letter.

Exegetical Notes

Here I will limit comment to several key words and phrases, in verses 34-35 especially, as it will help to focus the interpretive questions related to the passage. Earlier commentators had taken v. 33b (“As in all the congregations [e)kklhsiai] of the holy ones [i.e. saints]”) with vv. 26-33a, but it is probably better understood as introducing what follows. The phrase has a similar place (and purpose) as in the concluding statement of 11:2-16—Paul is referring to the common practice and custom of churches everywhere as a way of persuading the Corinthians to accept his instruction.

Verses 34-35:

ai( gunai=ke$ (“the women”)—as I discussed in Part 1, gunh/ (“woman”) can also mean “wife”, just as a)nh/r (“man”) can mean “husband”; even more so than in 11:2-16, Paul seems to have married women in mind here. The phrase “in the congregations [e)kklhsiai]” probably carries the specific meaning of the assembly or worship-gathering.

siga/twsan (“[they] must be silent”)—the verb siga/w has the basic meaning ‘be/keep silent, still, quiet”, sometimes with the sense of keeping something hidden or secret. Paul uses it earlier in vv. 28, 30, and this is instructive for understanding its meaning here:

  • V. 28—If a speaker wishes to give an utterance/message in a foreign language (“tongues”), but there is no one to interpret it, he ought to hold back the message and remain silent.
  • V. 30—If a revelation has been given to a person sitting (and hearing a prophetic message), and that person wishes to speak, the earlier speaker ought to yield (“be silent”) and let the revelation be heard.

e)pitre/petai (“[it] is turned [over] upon”)—the full phrase being “it is not turned over to them to speak”, which could mean either: (a) “it is not permitted for them to speak” or (b) “it is not their time/turn to speak”.

lalei=n (“to speak”)—What is the precise meaning of the verb here? The main possibilities are: (a) any sort of speaking during the meeting, (b) speaking a prophecy, (c) responding to the prophecy (v. 30), (d) speaking to her husband about what was said, or (e) inappropriate talk (chatter, etc). Based on the context, I would say that only (c) and (d) are viable options (cf. below).

u(potasse/sqwsan (“[they] must be under order”)—The verb u(pota/ssw means “put/place under an arranged order”, i.e. “put in order”. The passive/reflexive form often denotes obedience, sometimes with the harsher sense of submitting or being subject to a higher authority. Unfortunately, this more forceful (negative) connotation has been read into the context here, with the idea of the woman (or wife) being subject to the man (or husband), sometimes informed by a traditional interpretation of Gen 3:16b. A better approach is to look at other occurrences of the verb in Paul’s letters which involve a similar (or relevant) context. I would point to Romans 8:7 where Paul effectively exhorts human beings (believers) to place themselves under God’s Law (cf. also Rom 10:3, and note parallel language in Rom 13:1, 5). He also uses the verb in the context of the (hierarchical) chain which reflects the order God has established for the universe (1 Cor 15:27-28; Phil 3:21)—all things are subordinated under Christ’s authority, with Christ under God (the Father). Paul clearly includes man and woman (spec. husband and wife) as part of this (vertical) chain of relation (1 Cor 11:3, and cf. Col 3:18; Eph 5:21-24, where u(pota/ssw is used). Ultimately, one must turn to the immediate context of v. 32

“the spirits of (the) prophets are under the order [u(pota/ssetai] of (the) prophets”

by which he means the the impulse/desire to speak must function within the proper order of things in the worship-meeting, specifically in terms of when/how a prophet or (inspired) speaker should participate in turn (cf. above).

o( no/mo$ (“the Law”)—”even as the Law says”, i.e. the Old Testament Law, as expressed primarily in written form in Genesis–Deuteronomy. Does Paul have a specific Scripture in mind? That is hard to say. It is unlikely that he is referring to Gen 3:16b (cf. above), though possibly he has the Creation narrative (Gen 1-2) in view (cf. 1 Cor 11:7ff, and the discussion in Part 1). The context of the order of worship could apply to virtually anything in the (Levitical) code governing religious ritual. Note a similar combination of the “the Law (of God)” and the verb u(pota/ssw in Romans 8:7. As I have argued elsewhere, the expression “Law of God” in Paul’s letters means something more than the Old Testament (written) Law, being synonymous with the will of God.

maqei=n qe/lousin (“they wish to learn”)—”and if they wish to learn something”, i.e. regarding what has been said, the prophetic message in the meeting. For the sense of manqa/nw (“learn”), cf. its use in verse 31.

e)perwta/twsan (“they must ask/inquire upon”)—the verb often implies a serious questioning or interrogation, i.e., seeking to gain information. Paul states that the women must question “their own men/husbands” about the matter, in the house (i.e., privately, at home).

ai)sxro/n (“shame/disgrace[ful]”)—Paul’s words here, taken out of context, sound especially harsh to modern ears: “for it is (a) disgrace for women to speak in (the) congregation(al meeting) [e)n e)kklhsi/a|]”. His use of ai)sxro/$ (“shame, disgrace”), like that in 11:4-6, is related to the idea of something which violates and mars the proper order of things (established by God).

The statement in verse 36 sums up not only vv. 33ff, but entire discussion in chapter 14. The thrust of Paul’s rhetoric here is to make the Corinthians recognize that their worship-meetings ought to conform to Christian practice and custom in general. This tone continues through vv. 37-40, culminating with his final, definitive instruction: “All things must come to be well-formed [eu)sxhmo/nw$] and (done) according to order [kata\ ta/cin]”—in conventional English we might say, “all things must be done in a proper and orderly manner”.


Sadly, verses 34-35 have been taken out of context and used to support the idea that women should not speak at all in the worship-meeting, or that they are not permitted to participate as public speakers/preachers in the meeting. Such a (general) view is indicated by Tertullian already in the late-2nd/early-3rd century (On Baptism, 17.3), and has persisted, in various forms, down to the present day. I would maintain, however, that it is not warranted by the context of chapter 14, and is flatly contradicted by 11:2-16. Based on the exegesis and analysis offered above, I suggest the following interpretation:

  • Verse 34 relates specifically back to the discussion in vv. 26-33a, especially the issue in v. 30—i.e., of those seated in the congregation who may be inspired to respond to the prophetic message, or to offer a fresh revelation in turn. Paul seems to be limiting this aspect of the worship-meeting to men. While women may function as speakers/preachers, giving a (prophetic) message, it is a different matter for those seated in the congregation. Possibly this instruction should be construed even more narrowly, to the wives seated with their husbands.
  • Verse 35 shifts the discussion to a slightly different situation—where a wife wants to know more about the (prophetic) message that was spoken. In such instances, she should wait and discuss it with her husband at home. It is not certain whether, or to what extent, this instruction relates to unmarried women in the congregation. Some commentators have suggested that Paul has in mind wives questioning the (prophetic) message of their own husband, but that seems to be reading a bit too much into the passage.

Paul probably includes both of these situations under the declaration in 35b, though the emphasis may be on the latter. As indicated above, the language of this statement sounds quite harsh (with the use of “shame/disgrace”), but the force and place of it, in context, should not be misconstrued.

It is extremely difficult to apply 1 Cor 14:34-35 to the worship-setting in our churches today, since it requires a high degree of religious-cultural translation, which is perilous and unwise to attempt. It is better to spend one’s effort and energy grappling with just what Paul is trying to emphasize for believers regarding the relationship between men and women, as expressed in the corporate/community worship setting. How far should gender-distinction be preserved? How should husbands and wives relate in the worship setting? What about the distinction between ‘gifted’ minister and ‘ordinary’ congregant? Who should or should not be actively speaking/participating in the meeting, and where/when/how should they do so? Are there other aspects of the modern community worship experience which more seriously threaten proper order and custom than those which Paul addresses in Corinth?

Note of the Day – November 17 (1 Cor 11:10)

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1 Corinthians 11:10 (continued)

As a follow-up to the previous day’s note (on 1 Cor 11:10), I thought it worth exploring a bit further the key expression e)cousi/an e&xein (“to hold authority”). The verb e&xw is often translated “(to) have”, but more properly means “(to) hold“, that is, to hold in one’s possession or control. The noun e)cousi/a (exousía) is derived from the verb e&cesti[n] (éxesti[n])—the preposition e)c (“out of”) + the verb of being ei)mi. It indicates that which is, or comes, from a particular person or source. It generally refers to the ability for a person to do something, often in the specific sense of something which is permitted or allowed. The English word “authority” offers as good a translation as any.

The noun e)cousi/a occurs fairly frequently (just over 100 times) in the New Testament, including 27 times in the Pauline letters. When we consider the used of the word in verse 1 Cor 11:10, it is stated that the woman ought to hold the e)cousi/a upon her head, through (or because of) the order of creation as now realized in Christ (“in the Lord”, v. 11). But just what is this e)cousi/a (“ability, authority, power” etc)? The best guide to meaning, in addition to the immediate context, is the use of e)cousi/a elsewhere in the (undisputed) letters of Paul. Of the 27 instances of the word in the Pauline writings, 12 occur in 1 and 2 Corinthians, including several instances with the same verb e&xw (“hold, have”):

  • 1 Cor 7:37—to a man having/holding his will or (sexual) desire under his (own) control
  • 1 Cor 9:4-6—to the apostles having/holding the right to be given food and drink (i.e. not to have to earn a living through other labor), to have a wife, etc; cf. also vv. 12, 18, and 2 Thess 3:9.
  • Cf. Rom 9:21—illustration of the potter (God) having/holding the right (and power) to shape the clay as he wishes

These other instances of e)cousi/a with e&xw in 1 Corinthians (and 2 Thess 3:9) relate generally to the idea of having the (personal) right or ability to do something, but that one’s own will or desire is subordinated to the good of the Community (as also in 1 Cor 8:9). The other instances of e)cousi/a are:

If we turn to the rest of the New Testament writings, e)cousi/a with the verb e&xw (i.e. “hold authority”) is found in several other places:

  • Mark 1:22 par, where it is said by those observing Jesus that he taught “as (one) holding authority”, in contrast to the other Jewish teachers of the Law.
  • Mark 2:10 par—Jesus declares that “the Son of Man holds (the) authority to release [i.e. forgive] sins”. Here too there is a contrast (conflict) with the Jewish teachers and leaders (vv. 7ff). According to Matt 9:8, it is God who gives/grants this authority.
  • Mk 3:15—Jesus grants to his disciples, i.e. allows them, “to hold (the) authority” to cast out daimons (evil spirits causing disease, madness, etc); it is the same kind of authority/ability which Jesus had exhibited in his miracles.
  • Matt 8:9—here it is used by the centurion who requests Jesus to heal his servant; he states, “I am a man under authority, holding (authority over the) soldiers under me”. Cp. Acts 9:14.
  • John 10:18—in a foreshadowing of his upcoming death (and resurrection), Jesus declares that “no ones takes it [i.e. my soul/life] (away) from me, but I set it (down) from myself; I hold authority to set it (down), and I hold authority to take it (up) again—this is the charge (placed) on (me) I received (from) alongside my Father”. Cf. the same idea expressed in 19:10-11 (addressed to Pilate).
  • Heb 13:10—drawing upon the Old Testament sacrificial and ritual imagery, the author states that believers have (lit. hold) an altar from which “the ones performing service in the Tent [i.e. Tabernacle/Temple] do not hold (the) authority to eat”. In other words, believers are allowed to partake (spiritually) in the holiest things of God through the person and work of Christ.
  • Rev 9:3, etc—the idiom occurs frequently in the book of Revelation, indicating how the Angels (and other messengers of God) were given authority to perform certain miraculous actions at the end-time. In Rev 20:6 a different idea is expressed—that the “second death” (that is, death/punishment following the Last Judgment) “holds no authority” over believers.

Two basic observations may be gleaned from all these passages: (1) the idiom refers to ability/authority a person has in his/her own personal control, and (2) that it has been given/granted by someone higher. The chain of authority is clear and simple: God —> Christ —> the believer. Upon returning to 1 Cor 11:10, we can see how this applies. First, the woman holds the authority herself; it is not held by another (the man), but genuinely by her. There is no sense that this ministering authority is given to her by the man; however, it does reflect the chain of authority expressed in 1 Cor 11:3. This is the second key point, and is why, for Paul, the use of the head covering is so important (however obscure it may seem to us today)—it allows the woman to exercise her authority within the context of the established order of creation. Even though the church embodies the new creation in Christ, it still reflects the original created order, fundamental aspects of which ought to be maintained. And yet, the use of the verb e&xw in v. 10 strongly indicates that the emphasis is truly on something that the woman holds (a right, power, ability, etc) in her own person. In my view, the emphasis is not on the authority of the man/husband over the woman. Her gifting to speak comes from the Spirit, but it must be exercised within the order established by God.

Note of the Day – November 16 (1 Cor 11:10)

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1 Corinthians 1:10

Today’s note is a supplement to the discussion of 1 Cor 11:2-16 in the current series on Women in the Church (Part 1). This verse has been one of the most difficult to interpret of the entire letter, largely due to the way Paul brings together several key words and phrases in such a short and concise statement. The last phrase has been especially problematic. Here is the verse in the original Greek, along with a literal (glossed) translation:

dia\ tou=to o)fei/lei h( gunh\ e)cousi/an e&xein e)pi\ th=$ kefalh=$ dia\ tou=$ a&ggelou/$
“Through [i.e. because of] this the woman ought to hold (the) authority upon her head, through [i.e. because of] the (heavenly) Messengers”

Each element of the verse will be examined:

dia\ tou=to (“through this”)—the preposition dia/ (“through”) expresses the reason or purpose, i.e. “because of this, for this reason”. It refers back to Paul’s line of argument in vv. 7-9.

o)fei/lei h( gunh/ (“the woman ought”)—the verb o)fei/lw refers to an obligation or debt, i.e. something one owes, but is often used in the general sense “ought (to do something)”. As I discussed in Part 1, gunh/ (“woman”) can mean specifically “wife”, just as a)nh/r (“man”) can mean “husband”. Probably Paul assumes the marriage relationship throughout the passage, though he does not limit the man-woman relationship strictly to this. Here the definite article (“the woman”) should be understood as referring to the woman who is acting in the role of speaker/prophet in the worship meeting, not necessarily to women in general.

e)cousi/an e&xein (“to hold [the] authority”)—the noun e)cousi/a is rather difficult to translate literally into English; it has the basic meaning of ability, i.e. the ability coming from a person to do something, though occasionally in the sense of a right or permission granted by a higher power. The verb e&xw can mean “to have”, generally, but more concretely “to hold“. The expression in context is, “to hold authority upon the head [e)pi\ th=$ kefalh=$]”—i.e., by way of the symbolic head-covering. There has been considerable debate regarding the precise meaning and force of e)cousi/a here; the word has been interpreted a number of different ways, each of which affects the understanding of the overall context of Paul’s statement:

  • To be under the authority of the man (i.e. sign of submission/subordination), according to the hierarchical chain of relation in vv. 3, 7 (cf. also Eph 4:22-24); possibly meaning specifically “under the authority of her husband”.
  • To have (protective) power against the Angels (cf. below), where the head-covering has a kind of ritual/magic purpose.
  • To have the power/protection (of the Angels)
  • To have the authority to speak in the worship meeting; or, perhaps, more precisely
  • To have the authority to speak as a prophet, etc.
  • To be under the control/authority of God’s created order
  • To have authority/control of her own head (or person), i.e. personal autonomy

In several versions (Bohairic Coptic, etc) and writings of the Church Fathers (Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc), much of the interpretive difficulty has been eliminated by reading “covering, veil” (ka/lumma) instead of e)cousi/a. Several scholars have suggested that this gloss indicates that e)cousi/a may reflect the underlying Aramaic hynwflv (for a veil or headcovering) since the root flv can also mean “have power (over)” (cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 37 ff [citing G. Kittel]).

dia\ tou\$ a&ggelou$ (“through the Messengers”)—the preposition dia/ (“through”) is parallel to its use in the first phrase (cf. above). The “Messengers” certainly refer to heavenly Messengers or “Angels”; however, the reference appears so abruptly, apparently unrelated to the overall context of vv. 2-16, that it has caused commentators considerable difficulty over the years. The most commonly accepted interpretations are:

  • It is a reference to the Jewish tradition (Gen 6:1-4, etc) of the Angels who lusted after human women—the covering hides the woman from the sight of lustful Angels (and/or men)
  • It refers to ‘guardian’ Angels who protect the women, the head-covering being a (magical) symbol of this protection against evil (including the lust of men)
  • Just as the Angels (in heaven) are pure and holy, so should the women (who participate in the worship service) be pure, as symbolized by wearing the head-covering
  • It indicates that Angels observe (cf. 1 Cor 4:9) and/or participate in the worship meeting, so everything ought to be done decently and in order
  • The Angels are guardians of the created order, which is reflected by the gender-distinction and use of the head-covering

In my view, based on the context of the passage (esp. vv. 7-12), only the last interpretation is likely to be correct. This can be demonstrated, I think, rather clearly, when one observes the chiastic structure of vv. 7-12 as a whole. First, consider the precise parallelism of verse 10:

  • “through this” (dia\ tou=to)—i.e. through (or because of) the order of creation established by God (vv. 7-9)
    —”the woman ought to hold (the) authority upon the head”
  • “through the Messengers” (dia\ tou\$ a&ggelou$), i.e. the Angels as guardians of the created order (implied)

Now note the structure of vv. 7-12 (with the statement of v. 10 at the center):

I leave open the possibility that the Angels may represent the new created order (in Christ), which is parallel to (but not identical with) the original order of Creation. In several places in his letters, Paul refers to believers in Christ as a “new creation”—2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; also Rom 8:19-23; Col 3:10 (Eph 4:24), and cf. Eph 2:15. Moreover, a “new age” has come in Christ, with the old having passed away (2 Cor 3:6ff; 5:17, etc). One is reminded of Jesus’ teaching regarding life for the righteous (believers) in heaven, where the sexual distinctions no longer have the same meaning—they will be like the Angels (Mark 12:25 par; Lk 20:36). It is possible that Paul understood believers to have something of this ‘Angelic’ status, in Christ and through the Spirit, even in this life (cf. 1 Cor 6:3; 13:1). In Galatians 3:28 (to be discussed in Part 3 of this series), Paul seems to declare that sexual differences no longer have any fundamental meaning for believers in Christ. Yet clearly, he did not teach that gender distinctions should be abolished in practice, either in the organized Community or in society at large, just as he did not call for the abolition of slavery (as a social institution). However, I do think it likely that he viewed the corporate worship of believers (the body of Christ) as reflecting a new order of creation—that is, the (old) created order transformed and perfected through union with Christ and the work of the Spirit.

A proper understanding of the statement in verse 10 demands that we devote a little more attention to the specific expression e)cousi/an e&xein (“to hold authority”), as it is central (cf. above) to an interpretation of the passage as a whole. This will be done in the next daily note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, “A Feature of Qumran Angelology and the Angels of 1 Cor. 11:10” as reprinted in Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds. J. Murphy O’Connor and James H. Charlesworth (Crossroad Publishing Company: 1968, 1990), pp. 31-47. Originally presented in the journal New Testament Studies 4 (1957-58), pp. 48-58.

Women in the Church: Part 1 (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

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1 Corinthians 11:2-16

As I indicated in the Introduction, proper interpretation of a Scripture passage requires first a careful study of its original historical and literary context. Trying to interpret a passage out of context, would be like taking a brick out of a wall and then trying to assign specific meaning to the brick, whereas the individual brick really only has meaning in the context of its place in the wall. I begin with the historical and literary context, then follow with a number of key exegetical notes on the passage, before concluding with a summary interpretation.

Historical Context

First Corinthians was written by Paul sometime between 53 and 57 A.D., from Ephesus, to the believers in Corinth—that is, the congregations (house-churches) in the city taken together. Paul’s initial ministry work in Corinth took place c. 50-52 A.D. (Acts 18:1-17), just several years earlier, so these would have been very young churches. There had certainly been some correspondence prior to the writing of 1 Corinthians, including a previous letter by Paul (cf. 1 Cor 5:9-11). Much of Paul’s purpose in writing was to promote and encourage unity among believers; he deals with numerous practical questions and issues related to Church life, which may be divided into two categories: (1) problems which have come to his attention, and (2) questions addressed to him by the churches (cf. 1 Cor 7:1, etc)—the latter seem to be in focus throughout much of the second half of the letter, from chapter 7 on. Many of the questions and issues deal specifically with the organized, corporate worship of the congregations; as such, 1 Corinthians provides perhaps the earliest detail on worship-meetings in the New Testament period.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine the precise background to the matter Paul addresses in 1 Cor 11:2-16. Clearly it relates to the dress, or attire, of the men and women who take an active, leading (speaking) role in the worship-meeting; in particular, the covering of one’s head (and hair) is at issue. There is ample archeological and literary evidence indicating the use of head-coverings—by both men and women—during Roman religious ritual (cf. Witherington, pp. 232-9). The head-covering was used specifically by the person(s) who took an active role in the proceedings, i.e. presenting the sacrificial offering, delivering prophecy, divination, etc. (cf. Livy 10.7.10; Varro On the Latin Language 5.29.130; Juvenal, Satires 6.390ff; Witherington, p. 230f). There is some evidence for women performing religious ritual with their head/hair uncovered in the Dionysian and other ‘mystery’ cults (cf. especially the Andania Mysteries inscription, in Dittenberger, Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum II [1917] no. 736, 4); there is also the traditional depiction of the Pythian priestess (oracle) at Delphi. It was customary, in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish world, for married women to be veiled or with headdress, especially when seen in public, as a simple matter of decency and decorum. These are just some of the factors which may play a part in Paul’s discussion.

Literary Context

Study of Paul’s letters has benefited tremendously in recent decades by the application of rhetorical analysis—that is, the use of Greco-Roman (and Jewish) techniques of rhetoric, both in the structuring of the letter (i.e. epistolary form), and in the way different sorts of arguments and illustrations are utilized. The basic proposition (propositio) of 1 Corinthians can be found in 1:10—a call for unity among the believers and churches in Corinth—which also serves to express the main cause, or purpose, for which Paul writes. This is expounded initially in the personal narration (narratio) which follows in vv. 11-17, the last statement of which effectively centers the basis for unity in the Gospel and the cross of Christ (v. 17), rather than in the various factions and other influences at work in the churches (vv. 11-16). In terms of classical rhetoric, the main body of the letter is called the probatio (“proof, proving”), in which the author, by various means, gives the reasons in support of his point, and seeks to persuade his audience to accept it. The body of 1 Corinthians can be divided into two main sections: (a) 1:184:21, which addresses the divisions in the churches directly, and (b) 5:116:12, which deals specifically with various issues which threaten unity and proper Christian conduct/attitudes within the churches. 1 Cor 11:2-16 belongs to this latter group, specifically among those questions or issues related to organized corporate worship. The rhetorical context—i.e. the theme of unity—is clear in the short transitional section (10:31-11:1) which leads into this passage. An important subsidiary theme is that of believers’ willingness to subordinate the exercise of the (individual) freedom they have in Christ for the good of the Community (the body of Christ) as a whole.

Exegetical Notes

Verse 2—The introductory praise Paul offers in this verse (e)painw=, “I give praise upon [you]”) is a rhetorical device known as captatio benevolentae (“capture of good will”), which the speaker hopes will cultivate a favorable response from his audience. Here it also serves a specific technique for moral/ethical suasion—i.e. ‘I hope that you will, in fact, (continue to) think and act this way’.

ta\$ parado/sei$ kate/xete (“you hold down [i.e. hold firm to] the things given along”)—this is the thrust of Paul’s statement, that the Corinthians will continue to accept and live out in practice the instruction they have received. The word para/dosi$ (parádosis), from the verb paradi/dwmi (paradídœmi, “give along”), is an important term in early Christianity, referring to the authoritative teaching (and example) given down from the apostles and their companions (i.e. the first Christian missionaries) to a new generation of believers. This “tradition” covers virtually every aspect of Christian life in the early Church. In a period before the widespread use of Christian Scripture, apostles such as Paul, and his fellow-missionaries, personally—through oral and written communication—served as a fundamental source of religious authority for the various congregations which were established during their ministry. Paul urges them to continue following his example and instruction, even in difficult matters such as he is addressing—”even as I gave (them) along to you, (I hope you will) hold firm to these things (I have) given along”.

Verse 3—Paul lays the groundwork for his position with an illustrative formula, summarizing the Christian community in a relational (and hierarchical) chain: God—Christ—Man—Woman.

qe/lw de\ u(ma=$ ei)de/nai (“But I wish [i.e. want] you to see [i.e. know]…”)—this introduces Paul’s instruction, what he specifically here wants them to understand.

a)ndro/$gunaiko/$ (“of man…of woman”)—the nouns a)nh/r and gunh/ (“man” and “woman”) can also mean “husband” and “wife”, so it can be difficult to determine if Paul is speaking about the sexes in general, or if he has the marriage relationship specifically in mind. Does he assume, for example, that the woman participating (prophesying) in the worship-meeting is married? This would seem to have some bearing on his argument regarding head-covering.

kefalh/ (“head”)—the force and meaning of this word here in 1 Cor 11:3ff has been much discussed and disputed by commentators in recent decades (cf. Thistleton, pp. 811-22 for a detailed summary). It has the fundamental meaning of “head”, in a literal (physical) or figurative sense. According to the latter, it may denote (1) a position of leadership or high rank (“first, foremost”), (2) a position of authority under which another is subject, or (3) the power under which another acts or comes to be. The question is complicated by the fact that Paul makes the man-woman relationship parallel with the relationship between God and Christ. If the woman is subordinate/subject to man, then, by implication, so is Christ to God; the full chain of verse 3 is formulated: “the head of woman is man, the head of man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God”.

Verses 4-5—Paul states his position in these two verses, regarding how men and women, respectively, who actively participate in the worship-meeting, should treat their head (kefalh/). Note the wordplay with verse 3—here the “head” is taken literally. It is important to note that Paul is referring to those who take an active, leading role (i.e. speaking) in the meeting, summarized by the two verbs proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”, i.e. pray) and profhteu/w (“foretell, tell before”). The prefixed element (preposition) pro/ (“before”) can be understood as either “tell something beforehand, i.e. foretell” or “tell something before (i.e. in front of) others”. The New Testament usually has the former meaning, especially when referring to the Old Testament Prophets announcing the future (regarding Christ); however the latter meaning better fits the corresponding Hebrew abn, as a spokesperson or representative of God before the people. In the context of early Christian life and worship, Paul clearly also has this broader meaning in mind, especially as prophecy (or prophesying) is regarded as the second greatest of all the “gifts” (charismata) of the Spirit (second only to apostleship), cf. 1 Cor 12:28ff; 14:1ff (also Rom 12:6). According to chapter 14, the uttering of ‘prophecy’ was central to the worship-meeting, similar to, and (it would seem) characterized as, both revelation and teaching. It refers primarily to the communication/presentation of the word of God—as such, it holds a comparable place to preaching and the traditional sermon of later times. In 14:26-31, Paul indicates that it was common practice for multiple persons to deliver a prophetic message at a meeting, though he recommends no more than two or three, in turn.

kata\ kefalh=$ e&xwn (“having/holding down [upon the] head”)—this refers to some kind of covering upon the head; it is not clear if Paul has something specific in mind, he seems to be speaking generally (i.e. anything upon the head).

kataisxu/nei th\n kefalh\n au)tou= (“he brings down shame/disgrace [upon] his head”)—Paul bluntly states that a man who prays/prophesies with something on his head disgraces/dishonors his head. The play on words (from v. 3) could mean that he dishonors Christ (his “head”) as well.

a)katalu/ptw| th=| kefalh=| (“without a cover[ing] down [upon] the head”)—for a woman who prays/prophesies, the situation is opposite: doing so without a covering on her head brings disgrace to her head. Again, according to verse 3, this could be taken to mean that she also dishonors the man (i.e. her husband, her “head”), and, by extension, Christ.

Verse 6—At the end of v. 5, Paul introduces a comparison between the shame of a woman prophesying ‘uncovered’ and that of a woman whose head/hair has been shaved off (i.e. cut by a razor, cura/w). In verse 6, he uses the parallel verb kei/rw (“shear”), which can be used of sheep, but also in the context of the Nazirite vow. Paul doubtless is indulging in a bit of rhetorical exaggeration here: he is trying to emphasize that this is no trivial matter; in his view, within the cultural-religious context of the Christian worship-meeting of the time, a woman participating in this way without head-covering, was shameful and scandalous. It must be admitted that the precise force of Paul’s argument is lost for us today.

Verses 7-9—Paul draws upon the Creation account in Genesis, establishing two arguments from Scripture: (1) Man is the image of God (v. 7, Gen 1:26-27), and (2) the woman (Eve) came out of man and was produced to be his companion (not the other way around) (vv. 8-9, Gen 2:18-23). In fairness, it should be said that neither of these arguments seems particularly compelling for us today; the first, indeed, is actually somewhat problematic. The original context of Gen 1:26-27 makes clear that “Man” (<d*a*) is best understood as (hu)mankind—male and female together—and yet here Paul seems to read <d*a* as “the man” (Adam), i.e. the male. There are, I think, two ways to interpret Paul’s specific wording in verse 7:

  • The man is the image and glory of God, while the woman is the (image and) glory of the man
  • Man (male and female) is the image (and glory) of God—the woman is (also) the glory of the man

The first interpretation indicates a strict subordination, in which it is hard to avoid the idea that the woman’s status/position is somehow subordinate to the man’s. The second view is less obviously offensive to modern-day sensibilities.

do/ca (“esteem, honor”, i.e. “glory”)—this word is typically translated as “glory”, but this can be somewhat misleading; often “honor, esteem, dignity, etc” is closer to the fundamental meaning. It is used to render the Hebrew bodK*, literally “weight”, but also in the sense of “dignity, honor”, and is likewise translated “glory” frequently in English. The Genesis account (Gen 1:26-27) to which Paul alludes makes no mention of “glory”, but Paul has added this as a kind of interpretive gloss, it would seem, to make it more fitting to the man-woman relationship in his argument. It would be rather strange (and inappropriate) to speak of woman as the image (ei)kw/n) of the man; he has deftly substituted in “glory/honor/esteem” (do/ca) instead. Paul does not use the kind of reciprocal language as in 1 Cor 7:2-4 etc—he does not say “…and man is the glory of woman”. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Paul specifically has in mind the marriage relationship. Even so, in what sense is the woman (or wife) the glory/honor of the man? This must be answered in light of the conceptual framework of 11:3 (cf. above).

Verse 10—The statement is central to verses 7-9 and 11-12, both of which refer to the created order. This is key to a correct interpretation of this difficult sentence.

e)cousi/an e&xein (“to hold authority”)—the noun e)cousi/a is rather difficult to translate literally into English; it has the basic meaning of ability, i.e. the ability coming from a person to do something, though occasionally in the sense of a right or permission granted by a higher power. The verb e&xw can mean “to have”, generally, but more concretely “to hold“. The expression in context is, “to hold authority upon the head [e)pi\ th=$ kefalh=$]”—i.e., by way of the symbolic head-covering.

dia\ tou\$ a&ggelou$ (“through the Messengers”)—the preposition dia/ (“through”) is usually understood in terms of reason or purpose (i.e. “because of”). The word a&ggelo$ (ángelos) most likely refers to a heavenly Messenger (i.e. Angel), as commonly in the New Testament and other Jewish writings of the period. This seemingly ambiguous phrase will be discussed in detail (along with verse 10 as a whole) in a separate note.

Verses 11-12—Paul returns to the theme of vv. 7-9, that of man and woman (husband and wife) in the created order of things—but instead of a hierarchical (vertical) relationship emphasizing subordination, we find a reciprocal and complementary (horizontal) relationship emphasizing interconnection. Both aspects of the relationship ultimately stem from God (vv. 7, 12b), and are to be understood within the context of Christian unity—”in the Lord” (e)n kuri/w|). For more on the relation to vv. 7-9, cf. the note on verse 10.

Verses 13-15—here is a further argument from nature (fu/si$) and custom, parallel to the argument from Scripture in vv. 7-9ff. Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to ‘judge for themselves’ is a rhetorical device—i.e. “surely you yourselves must realize…”—placing the argument in the context of reason and common sense. It is possible to be thrown by Paul’s syntax, but the argument in vv. 14-15 is quite simple: it is natural for a woman to have long hair, and a man to have shorter hair => it goes against nature (and is thus shameful) for a man’s hair to be long and woman’s to be short. A head-covering and long hair each serve, in their own way, as a peribo/laion—lit. something “cast around” one’s head (i.e. a mantle or hood). Long hair comes to a woman by nature, the head-covering by way of custom and ritual symbolism.

Verse 16—Paul finally appeals specifically to Christian custom and tradition. The word sunh/qeia refers to something (Christians) habitually do together, i.e. common custom. According to Paul, the custom of women praying publicly or preaching/prophesying in the worship meeting with their head covered (and the reverse for men), was something that all “the congregations [e)kklhsi/ai] of God” observe.

filo/neiko$ (“fond of quarrels”)—this adjective refers to someone who “loves a quarrel”; the element nei=ko$ connotes strife or fighting with a desire to gain victory. In English idiom we might paraphrase as “one who loves a fight and always wants to have it his/her own way”. Paul’s exact phrase here is, “if any(one) thinks/seems [dokei=] to be fond of quarrelling…” He appears to be anticipating some opposition to his instruction; it may also simply be a rhetorical device—i.e. even if you do not accept my arguments, realize that you are going against the accepted practice and custom of Churches everywhere.


In many ways early Christian life and worship represented something entirely new. In the Jewish Synagogue tradition, women were segregated from men and limited to private (silent) prayer during the worship meeting. This was not so in the early Christian Community, in which men and women, from the beginning it would seem, worshiped together side-by-side essentially as equals (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:1-4, 17-18). On the other hand, there was a tradition of women oracles and officiants of the religious ritual in the Greco-Roman (pagan) world. It is possible that Paul (along with other early missionaries) was attempting to navigate a middle way between these two competing religious-cultural approaches. Women could take an active, leading role, together with men, in the worship meeting, but only insofar as they worked within the proper order of things. This would seem to involve an established (and customary, cf. verse 16) dress code, whereby the women who spoke (praying publicly or prophesying) were expected to do so with their heads covered. Paul offers a number of arguments in support of this custom; it is not clear to what extent these are unique to Paul or reflect earlier traditional teaching. His arguments center around the relationship between men and women according to the order created/established by God. Most likely Paul (and others) felt that the (ritual) dress-code related to the worship-meeting expressed a specific Christian understanding—i.e. how men and women now relate to one another in the Community of Christ, which reflects a new created order. It is possible that some in Corinth felt that the new order (freedom in the Spirit) meant that one could ignore religious-cultural custom and convention. Paul responds to similar ideas throughout the letter (cf. especially in chaps. 8-10).

By way of summary, the following points of interpretation may be noted:

  • Women were allowed to take an active (speaking) role in the worship meeting. This included “prophesying” which, in the early Christian context, meant an inspired utterance, a communication of God’s word and will to the Community. It was central to the worship meeting (14:26-33), considered as among the ‘greatest’ of spiritual “gifts” (12:28-31; 13:8; 14:1ff; Rom 12:6ff), and may be seen as holding a place at least comparable to the traditional preaching of a sermon. There may be some similarity with words of “prophecy” in modern-day Pentecostal/Charismatic worship; but a closer parallel is perhaps found in the traditional Quaker service.
  • Women who filled this leading role were to do so with their head covered, while men performed with their head uncovered. The importance of this head-covering was three-fold:
    (1) It followed custom and decorum for women, both in the context of Greco-Roman (and Jewish) society, as well as their participation in religious ritual. There would thus be no cause for scandal when outside observers witnessed Christian worship.
    (2) It preserved a distinction between genders, which, if abolished in practice (and done so carelessly), could likewise bring shame and disgrace on the Community.
    (3) It was a symbolic reflection of the created order (as established by God), which likewise ought to be maintained within the Community.
  • The head-covering also symbolized the authority/ability of the woman to perform her (ritual) role (as prophet, etc) in the worship-meeting. It indicated that she (and the Community as a whole) recognized both: (a) her unique gifting (as a prophet, etc), and (b) the order established by God.

Application of Paul’s instruction in a modern-day (Western) setting is extremely difficult, since the overall cultural-religious context is so very different. Head-covering (and related dress codes) no longer have anything like the same meaning for us today. At one time it was customary for women to wear hats (and sometimes veils) when attending Church services, largely as a matter of pious routine, under the influence of 1 Cor 11:2-16; but this has been almost universally abandoned today. Much more important is the question of the active role of women (as speakers/preachers) in the worship meeting, as well as that of gender distinction—to what extent (and in what manner) should this distinction be preserved and symbolized in corporate worship? Central to Paul’s argument is the relationship between man and woman in the order of creation, which should continue to be reflected even in the “new creation” of the Christian Community (cf. the note on v. 10). Admittedly, Paul’s specific use and interpretation of the Creation narratives of Gen 1:26-27 and 2:18-23 is somewhat problematic for us today; yet it ought not to be simply brushed aside. Perhaps most significant of all is the entire issue of gender distinction for believers in Christ, especially in light of Paul’s famous statement in Galatians 3:28. However, before addressing this verse, it is necessary to examine the other main passage in 1 Corinthians dealing with the role of women in the worship-meeting (1 Cor 14:33b-36), which I will do in the next part of this series.

References marked “Thistelton” above are to Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC]), Eerdmans: 2000, esp. pp. 800-48. A good compendium of modern scholarship (up through 2000), with extensive bibliographic notes.
Those marked “Witherington” above are to Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, Eerdmans: 1995. Cf. also his Women in the Earliest Churches, (Cambridge: 1988).

Note of the Day – October 18 (1 Cor 13:12)

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1 Corinthians 13:12

Chapter 13 (12:31b-14:1a) in 1 Corinthians contains several occurrences of the verb ginw/skw (“know”) and the related noun gnw=si$ (“knowledge”), and is instructive for demonstrating a distinctly Christian orientation regarding knowledge which, especially as found in Paul’s letters to believers, serves to counteract certain gnostic (or Gnostic) tendencies. It follows upon the discussion in chapters 8-12, and serves as a fitting climax, with poetic and hymnic qualities, beauty and power, which have made it justly famous. Indeed, it is a veritable hymn to Love—that is, love according to the Christian ideal and teaching—which has as its basic theme the superiority of love over all spiritual gifts (including knowledge) and other Christian actions or virtues. Spiritual gifts are dealt with comprehensively in chapter 12, while knowledge is addressed in the discussion of chaps. 8-10 (on the question of food that had been consecrated in a pagan religious setting). Verses 1-3 of chapter 8 formulate the basic instruction which Paul restates in chapter 13:

“And about the (food)s slaughtered (as offering)s to images, we have seen [i.e. known] that ‘we all hold knowledge’. Knowledge blows up [i.e. inflates], but love builds up—if any(one) considers (himself) to have known any(thing), he does not (yet) know as it is necessary (for him) to know; but if any(one) loves God, this (person) is known under [i.e. by] Him.”

The priority (and superiority) of love is clearly stated, and is expressed, in practical terms, through the remainder of chaps. 8-10 and on into 11-12. The importance of love as a guiding principle for Christian thought and behavior takes on special significance in Paul’s letters in light of his teaching regarding the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). For believers in Christ, the Law no longer has the same binding authority it previously had for Israelites and Jews; in its place, Christians are now to be guided primarily by two different sources: (1) the presence of the Holy Spirit, and (2) the example (and teaching) of Jesus. It was Jesus himself who first formulated the so-called “love command” or love-principle (Mark 12:28-34 par; John 13:34-35, etc) and gave it prominence for the Christian community. Paul builds upon this in his letters—Rom 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; Gal 5:6, 13-14; Phil 1:9; Col 2:2; 3:14; 1 Thess 3:12; 4:9; cf. also Eph 4:15-16; 5:2; 1 Tim 1:5; and is likewise found elsewhere throughout the New Testament and early Christian writings (e.g., James 2:8; 1 Pet 1:22; 4:8; 1 John 2:7-11, etc).

Before preceding to an examination of 1 Cor 13:12 itself, it will be helpful to view it within in the structure of 12:31b-14:1a:

  • 12:31b: Introduction to the way of love
    • 13:1-3: The superiority of love—contrast with other spiritual gifts (Current time)
      —Such gifts without (being guided by) love are of little value

      • 13:4-7: The characteristics of Love
    • 13:8-13: The superiority of love—contrast with other gifts (Eschatological/teleological–in the End)
      —All such gifts will pass away, love is one of the only things which remain
  • 14:1a: Exhortation to the way of love

The references to knowledge are found in the two sections (13:1-3, 8-13) which describe the contrast between love and the other gifts. Indeed, there are two parallel points of contrast between love and knowledge (cf. 8:1-3):

  • 13:2—”if…I (can) see [i.e. know] all the secrets and (hold) all knowledge…but I do not hold love, (then) I am nothing”
  • 13:8b-9ff: “…and if (there is) knowledge, it will cease working. For we know (only) out of a part…but when th(at which is) complete [te/leio$] comes, th(at which is only) out of a part will cease working…”

It is important to note that Paul does not refer here to profane or ‘ordinary’ human knowledge, nor to some kind of false or ‘pseudo’ knowledge. The context clearly indicates that he is referring to special knowledge granted to believers through the presence and work of the Spirit (i.e. as a spiritual gift). In both references knowledge (gw=nsi$) is connected closely with prophecy—that is, a message communicated to believers by God through the Spirit. Even this sort of special (prophetic) knowledge must be guided by love, and, eventually, will cease working. There is considerable interpretive debate as to just when, or in what circumstances, Paul envisions such knowledge to cease. Those who believe that the spiritual gifts experienced by the Pauline churches, along with the miracles performed by the apostles, etc., were a temporary phenomenon limited to the early Church, might claim that they have already ceased. However, this is not what Paul has in mind; almost certainly his thinking is eschatological—prophetic knowledge and revelation will cease with the end of the present Age. From the early Christian standpoint, the end of this Age is marked by the sudden return of Christ to earth and the final Judgment by God, along with the resurrection/transformation of believers (ch. 15) and their entry into eternal life. Along with this, however, Christians also held a “realized” eschatology—believers in the present, through the Spirit, experience something of the reality of what waits for us in the end. This mode of belief informs Christian (ethical) instruction—we are to live and act according to the ideals which will be realized fully in the Age to Come.

This brings us to verse 12, and the reference to knowledge in 12b, which follows two brief illustrations given by Paul that expound upon his declaration in vv. 8-10:

  • The growth and development of a human being (v. 11)—the adult ceases to think and act the way he/she did as a child; partly this takes place by conscious choice (“I ceased working [i.e. doing] the infant[ile] things”), which serves as a implicit exhortation to believers.
  • The mirror (v. 12a)—ancient mirrors were normally made of metal, tending to be not nearly so clear as modern day glass-mirrors; moreover, they required polishing, which again suggests the ethical/spiritual intent and ‘work’ required by believers.

The first illustration emphasizes the temporary nature of knowledge, that it passes away; the second emphasizes it limitation, i.e. it is only partial and incomplete. The limitation is intrinsic to the created, material human nature. Even the believer who possesses the Spirit cannot always see clearly, all the more when one is still under the influence of sin and the flesh. Only at the end, the completion (te/lo$) of things, will we be able to see things clearly. Here sight and knowledge are joined as metaphors, as they often are in the Greek of the New Testament; this is expressed neatly in verse 12:

“For now we look through a (glass one) gazes into [i.e. a mirror], in(to) (an) obscure (image), but then (clearly,) face toward face; now I know (only) out of a part, but then I will know (completely), even as I was known (completely).”

There is here a dual contrast between now (a&rti) and then (to/te):

  • Now
    —We look into an obscure (i.e. cloudy, unclear) mirror
    —I know only incompletely, in part
  • Then
    —We see clearly, as if seeing another person face-to-face
    —I know completely

The same expression e)k me/rou$ (“out of a part”, i.e. partly, in part) to indicate the (human, natural) limitations for believers in the present Age, was used previously in vv. 9-10. The main difference in verse 12, in my view, is that Paul has moved from the work of the Spirit (the spiritual ‘gifts’), to the presence of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that one is able to see and know God, but in the present time our experience of the Spirit, is, due to our very nature, necessarily imperfectly realized and often mysterious. Note how, in the language Paul uses, the verse itself seems to gain greater clarity: “we look…I know”. Even more striking is the symmetry of what is to come (note the alliteration):

pro/swpon pro\$ pro/swpon
prosœpon pros prosœpon
“face toward face”
lit. “toward-the-eye toward toward-the-eye”
i.e., “eye to eye”

In terms of the mirror illustration, we would be seeing our own face clearly; but Paul’s application assumes something deeper—it is God’s face we see, our own ‘face’ being transformed into His likeness (that of Christ), as he expresses memorably in 2 Cor 3:18. And so we come to the beautiful and simple symmetry of language that closes the verse:

e)pignw/somai kaqw\$ kai/ e)pegnw/sqhn
epignœsomai kathœs kai epegnœsth¢n
“I will know even as I was (also) known”

Again the phrase is highly alliterative, with symmetry marked at two levels:

  • I will know (e)pignw/somai)
    —even as (kaqw$)
    —also/indeed (kai)
  • I was known (e)pegnw/sqhn)

Two forms of the same verb separated by two particles in tandem, create a comparative join. The sense of “knowledge” here has changed slightly—instead of knowledge as a prophetic/revelatory gift from God (through the Spirit), it now refers more directly to knowledge of God Himself. It is a different verb as well; instead of ginw/skw (“know”) it is the compound verb e)piginw/skw (with the prefixed preposition/particle e)pi). This verb generally refers to gaining knowledge about something (or someone), but often carries the nuance of recognition, acknowledgement, understanding. It can also have an intensive meaning, i.e. to know something (or someone) thoroughly, completely, intimately, etc.; and this latter sense is in view here—”I will know (completely)”. The passive form (“I was [completely] known”) should be read as a so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum), where God is the implied subject. Believers as “known” by God assumes the basic idea of election—of our being chosen beforehand, according to the will and consideration of God. This will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming article. It is possible, though not certain (or even necessary), that the aorist form of the verb used here specifically indicates election or predestination—i.e., as action which took place at a specific time in the past (before our coming to faith). At any rate, we have here in 13:12b, two fundamental aspects of knowledge in the New Testament—believers’ knowledge of God and His knowledge of us. This dual aspect will be explored further in the remaining article of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

Note of the Day – August 27

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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 6. 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.