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Pauline Theology

Note of the Day (Galatians 3:28, part 3)

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Galatians 3:28, continued

This is the last of three daily notes on Galatians 3:28 and the declaration that “in (Christ) there is no male and female” (v. 28c).

  1. The background and significance of the statement
  2. The logical consequences and possible interpretation(s), and
  3. Comparison with the Pauline teaching in 1 Cor 11:3ff; 14:34-35, etc

See the earlier notes on the first and second topics.

3. Comparison with the Pauline teaching in 1 Cor 11:3ff; 14:34-35, etc

There is an apparent contradiction between the ideal expressed in Gal 3:28c and the view(s) on gender distinction elsewhere in the Pauline letters (such as 1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15, and Eph 5:22-24). On the one hand, it is stated outright that there is no gender distinction (“no male and female”) for believers in Christ; on the other hand, 1 Cor 11:2ff etc teaches that essential distinctions (including a subordinate role/position for women) are to be preserved. Is Paul being inconsistent? My discussion on this topic will proceed by way of exploring several possibilities that could explain these differences and diverging points of emphasis. The order of presentation does not indicate any preference on my part, but generally moves from critical to tradition-conservative in approach.

a. Paul is inconsistent. In other words, he accepts the declaration of Gal 3:28 without reservation in the case of socio-religious distinction (Jew/Gentile), but really does not for gender distinction (male/female). His position regarding socio-economic distinction (slave/free) is perhaps more ambiguous. Yet there is no indication of any restriction on roles in the Church based on Jew/Gentile or slave/free, such as we find for male/female.

b. Paul changed his mind. This could be indicated by the fact that, in the passages parallel to Gal 3:27-28—namely, 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:9-11—there is no mention of “male and female”. According to at least one version of this view, Paul realized the implications and difficulties of Gal 3:28c and avoided including sexual/gender distinction as part of the old order that is eliminated for believers in Christ. However, all of this is based on the premise that Galatians was written well prior to 1 Corinthians, etc., enough so that it would allow Paul time to change his mind or qualify his teaching, and this is highly questionable. There is good reason to think that 1 Cor 11-14 may have been written before Galatians, and that the latter is only slightly earlier than 2 Corinthians and Romans.

A more traditional-conservative version of this overall view would allow Paul to have modified/clarified his position (or the way he expressed it) in the context of progressive revelation.

c. Gal 3:28c does not reflect Paul’s fundamental thinking on the subject. This is based on the theory that Gal 3:27-28 (and 1 Cor 12:13 / Col 3:9-11) reflects an earlier (baptismal) formula which Paul is citing and/or adapting. While the declaration regarding “Jew and Greek” generally corresponds with Paul’s theology and practical instruction, that involving “male and female” does not. There does seem to be a fundamental difference, especially in the way that Gal 3:28c echoes the creation narrative—compare this with 1 Cor 11:7-9 and 1 Tim 2:13-15, where the Genesis account (Gen 1-3) is interpreted and used to make almost the opposite point.

d. The declaration in Gal 3:28c is rhetorical and/or limited in scope. Similar in part to (b) and (c). Again, on the view that Paul is drawing upon an earlier baptismal formula, he does so for rhetorical or dramatic effect, to support his overall argument and teaching in the letter; however, the specific declaration is not meant as a fundamental doctrine.

e. Paul accepts the declaration in theory, but not in practical application. This would indicate a kind of inconsistency, perhaps, as with (a) above. Clearly Paul did not go as far as certain Gnostics and other early Christians in the ideal of eliminating sexuality and gender-based distinction from Christian identity and experience. On this, see the discussion in yesterday’s note. It is fine to speak of us all being one in Christ, but this does not remove the practical reality of differences among individual believers (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-26). The main problem is that Paul seems much more willing to declare that ethnic and religious differences (Jew/Gentile, Gal 3:28a) do not apply to roles and positions in the Church—so why not for gender differences as well (Gal 3:28c)?

f. Gal 3:28c is meant as a declaration for all believers, while the other instruction is not. This is based on the interpretive principle which subordinates instruction, related to specific issues in the local congregations of the time, to doctrines and statements which clearly apply for all believers. While this may be acceptable as a general method for us today, there is little indication that Paul drew such a distinction in his actual letters. Even if we were to theorize, for example, that he allowed customs and practices (e.g. women speaking/preaching in the congregation) which he did not personally endorse (cp. 1 Cor 11:2-16 with 1 Tim 2:11ff), he always is careful to connect his teaching with basic Gospel/Christian principles and traditions. Paul had a much narrower geographical and chronological frame of reference—the establishment and (relatively brief) life-span of congregations, between the resurrection and (imminent) return of Christ—and could readily connect the local with the universal. It is exceedingly more difficult for us to do this today, with the wide gulf in time and culture between, say, mid-1st century Corinth and early 21st century America.

g. Paul sees a distinction between essential identity and practical application. In other words, Gal 3:28 relates to the spiritual identity of believers in Christ (as a theological doctrine), while the other instruction in the letters (1 Cor 11:2-16, et al) applies to the way our Christian life is acted out in practice within an organized community. Such a conceptual division is popular among commentators and theologians, but is altogether too neat and artificial. Why should being male or female have no significance for coming to faith in Christ, but then suddenly be of great importance for our daily life and relationships in Christ? Admittedly, Paul himself, as a minister and founder of churches, had a strong practical side—his vision of the Church involved functioning local communities embedded within the society at large; yet he rarely offers practical instruction which is not closely wedded to the Gospel message and the essential identity of the believer in Christ. This is part of what makes 1 Cor 11:2-16, for example, so problematic for Christians today.

h. The apparent restrictions only apply to role and do not affect essential unity/equality. This is an especially popular view for traditional-conservative commentators today, since it allows one to affirm both (i) equality of men and women in Christ, and (ii) distinct/subordinate roles and positions in the Church. Many today (women especially) consider the logic and terminology (“complementarian”, etc) employed to be rather disingenuous—how can men and women be both (truly) equal and yet (at the same time) in a subordinate position one to the other? Some traditional-conservative interpreters would downplay the idea of subordination—especially in the sense of being secondary or inferior—yet it is hard to deny that Paul has something of this is in mind in 1 Cor 11:3-10 (cf. also 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15 and Eph 5:22-24ff), especially the manner in which he ties it to the order and hierarchy of creation (vv. 3, 7-9). One very much wishes that Paul had expounded further upon what he presents in 1 Cor 11:2-16, as I suspect it would clarify considerably his actual view of the matter—i.e. how the old order of creation has been transformed for believers in Christ.

i. The apparent restrictions represent a compromise for the sake of peace and order. This takes a simpler, pragmatic view—while Paul accepts essential equality (and unity) for male and female believers in Christ, he also wishes to maintain a certain (customary) order for the Church within the larger society, both from a social and religious point of view. Along the same lines, on the basis of Christian unity itself, believers ought to subordinate their individual rights and privileges, etc, for the good of the community. In 1 Cor 7:2-4ff he describes this in egalitarian, reciprocal terms, for men and women (husbands and wives), while in other passages (cf. above) he uses a more traditional hierarchical relationship (man/husband as head of the wife/woman).

Summary

Arguments can be offered for and against each of the nine interpretative viewpoints presented above. I will comment on them only indirectly, by looking at four key points which much be considered and addressed if one hopes to find and accurate (and satisfactory) interpretation to the overall question.

Point #1—Paul, in his other letters and instruction, retains the gender distinction with regard to ministry roles, etc, in the congregation, but does not do the same for religious-cultural (Jew/Gentile) or socio-economic (slave/free) distinctions. It is easy to charge Paul with inconsistency here, but that is a rather superficial way of looking at the matter. I believe a better, and more thoughtful, explanation lies in a consideration of several important factors:

  • At the time Paul wrote Galatians (as well as 1-2 Corinthians and Romans), only the Jew-Gentile distinction was at issue with regard to Christian identity. This was natural enough, since the distinction is fundamentally religious, and defined the community in religious terms. It was for this reason that Paul fought so hard to eliminate the distinction among believers. Our identity in Christ was not to be defined by religious and cultural factors (such as ethnicity, the observance of the Torah, participation in festivals and holy days, etc), but by our faith and (spiritual) union with Christ. On the other hand, going all the way back to the time of Jesus, men and women were accepted as believers together, with little or no distinction (cf. the discussion in Part 7). Similarly, believers from the beginning were drawn from various social classes, and, while there were doubtless questions of status and prejudice which had to be addressed in the congregations, they do not seem to have been serious or widespread enough to affect one’s basic Christian identity within the community. Thus, these social and gender distinctions could be accepted or maintained without seriously affecting a correct understanding of the believer’s religious identity.
  • Paul’s letter to Philemon is instructive, as it expresses Paul’s understanding of the socio-economic distinction (slave/free) in the Church. Onesimus was a slave, with Philemon his master, and yet both men were Christians. Thus, they were brothers and equals in Christ, while at the same time, on the wider social level, they were in the hierarchical relationship of master and slave. While this situation is foreign to us today, and rather difficult to appreciate, it allows us a window into the thought of many early Christians, such as Paul. The social distinction could be maintained right alongside of the ideal of equality among believers.
  • It was the biological-gender (male/female) distinction which was most fundamental to Christian society, centered as it was on the family unit and marriage bond. Paul’s model for the Church seems to be as a community existing within the larger society. He may have encouraged believers to remain single and unmarried (1 Cor 7), but he recognized that husbands and wives (with their children) made up, and would make up, a large segment of the congregation. Thus, there was greater reason to maintain the man/woman and husband/wife distinction.

Point #2—In the places where Paul (or the Pauline tradition) mentions the male/female distinction, it is often connected with the Creation narrative of Genesis, as I have discussed extensively in earlier notes and articles in this series. Even in Gal 3:28, the phrase “male and female” almost certainly derives from the Genesis account. While Christians today may not always appreciate (or agree with) Paul’s interpretation and use of the Creation account to establish male-female relations and roles in the Church, this dependence on the Scriptural tradition must be recognized. It also means that his view of gender relations is not merely practical or customary, but reflects an essential aspect of the human condition as established by God.

Point #3—Gender distinction and roles in the Church are not simply based on the original created order, but, rather, I believe, in Paul’s mind are supposed to reflect the new creation among believers. Admittedly, he does not discuss this in detail, and the point must be inferred from the relevant passages in his letters, but I think it is reasonably clear, especially when one examines 1 Cor 11:2-16 (cf. Part 1 and the related notes). According to Paul’s thinking (and his theology), the new creation in Christ does not abolish the old order, but transforms it. The old order is eliminated only in terms of the fallen human condition—i.e. our bondage to sin (and the Law).

Point #4—When considering the portions of the undisputed letters (i.e. 1 Cor 11:2-16 and 14:33-36) which seem to contradict Gal 3:28c, one must keep in mind the two fundamental (and interrelated) themes Paul emphasizes in 1 Corinthians:

  • That believers should fulfill in practice (that is, in the life of the Community) the ideal of unity—i.e. of our union in Christ, as the body of Christ. To this end, believers are to subordinate their individual concerns and interests to the (greater) good of the Community.
  • While the principal bond of unity is spiritual (that is, in and by the Spirit), it should be manifest in practice, and in daily life, according to a particular arrangement or order established by God. Paul makes this particular point numerous times, especially within the instruction regarding congregational life and worship in chapters 11-14. This arranged “order” is expressed and realized two ways:
    (i) horizontal—the reciprocal relation between believers, i.e. we are to subordinate ourselves to each other, as brothers and sisters, equally.
    (ii) vertical—a hierarchical chain of relation: God–Christ–Believers. Paul extends this by way of the Genesis account: God–Christ–Man–Woman.

Contrary to some the view of some commentators, Paul does not only emphasize the latter (vertical) aspect of the established order; rather, he has both aspects in view. Admittedly, Christians today often find it difficult to accept both aspects, and it is in the specific division of believers into male and female (based on the Genesis account) which is most problematic, as I have already discussed extensively in relation to 1 Tim 2:11-15 (cf. Part 5 and the notes on v. 12 and Gen 3:16). However, if we wish to be faithful students and interpreters of the Scriptures, we must grapple with the language and imagery which Paul (and the Pauline tradition) uses.

Women in the Church: Part 6 – The Pauline Letters

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Having already examined five primary passages in the Pauline letters—1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:33b-36; Gal 3:28; Rom 16:1-2ff, and 1 Tim 2:11-15—in some detail, it remains to survey other portions of the Pauline corpus which relate in some way to role of women in the Church. As a way of organizing and presenting the evidence, I have decided to divide them roughly between:

(a) Passages which emphasize the equality and/or reciprocity of the genders, and
(b) Those which indicate that women are in some sense subordinate to men, or may be restricted from fulfilling certain roles

The situation, of course, is considerably more complex than this simple division suggests; however, I believe that it genuinely reflects two aspects of Paul’s thought and teaching regarding gender roles, etc. It also happens to follow the two basic views or approaches to the subject by Christians today. A serious error of modern commentators and church leaders, etc, is that they tend (or wish) to focus on just one side of the question, to the exclusion of the other.

1. Passages which emphasize the equality and/or reciprocity of the genders

1 Thess 2:7, 11—Paul uses mother/father (female/male) imagery, applying them equally, in turn, to the role and function of apostles. Cf. also Gal 4:19, etc.

1 Corinthians 7—According to the language and (reciprocal) style Paul uses throughout this chapter, men and women (husbands and wives) have equal status—i.e. in the context of marriage, especially with regard to sexual relations. There is no emphasis whatsoever on headship/submission here.

1 Corinthians 12-13 & 14:1ff—Spiritual “gifts” (charismata) relate to all believers—note the use of pa=$ (“all”) repeatedly in 12:6, 11-13, 19, 26, 29-30; 13:2-3, 7; 14:5, 18, 23-26, 31. There is really no indication that any of the gifts or roles mentioned in these sections (with the possible exception of “apostle”, cf. below) apply only to men or are restricted for women. According to 11:2-16 (cf. Part 1) women may function as prophets, which is the second ‘highest’ gift/role after in the church after apostles (12:28ff). This means they may exercise a role that involves preaching/teaching, and 14:3 would suggest that women who prophesy also instruct/edify men in the assembly. Only 14:34-35 refers to any restriction on the participation of women in the worship meeting, but the context of this reference needs to be examined closely (cf. the discussion in Part 2). The emphasis on unity among believers (in the corporate setting) also means that all gifts/roles in the church ultimately are subordinated to the love-principle (chap. 13, cf. Gal 5:14ff).

2 Cor 11:2-3Female imagery is applied to believers as a whole, without qualification or comment. Note above on 1 Thess 2:7, and cf. Rom 7:2-3; 9:25.

Rom 12:4-8—Cf. 1 Cor 12-14, and also Eph 4:11-13. It is possible that the language “the one teaching [o( dida/skwn]”, etc., in vv. 7-8 is gender-specific, but Paul does not make a point of it. He frequently uses masculine terms and (grammatical) gender when referring to believers (men and women) generally or collectively.

Along with these passages, one should note instances where Paul makes special mention of certain women, indicating they are fellow ministers/missionaries or otherwise hold prominent/leading roles in the churches. In addition to Phoebe and the others mentioned in Romans 16 (cf. Part 4), we have:

  • Prisca and her husband Aquila (1 Cor 16:19, also Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19, and cf. Acts 18:2, 18, 26).
  • Chloe (1 Cor 1:11)—a prominent (and wealthy) person in Corinth, who may have been important in the church.
  • Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2-3).
  • Apphia (Philemon 2), specifically called “sister” in context with the “brothers” of v. 1.
  • Nympha (Col 4:15)—like Prisca, she hosts a congregation in her house, and presumably has a prominent position in the church.

When Paul refers to such women in relation to himself and other (male) ministers, he generally does so without any distinction. See especially in Rom 16:1ff and Phil 4:2-3, where terms such as “servant/minister” (dia/kono$), “co-worker” (sunergo/$), and perhaps even “apostle” (a)po/stolo$, cf. Rom 16:7), are used equally of women.

2. Passages which emphasize subordination or restriction of roles for women

Gal 1:1ff; 1 Cor 3:5ff, etc—In the vast majority of instances where Paul uses the terms dia/kono$ (“servant/minister”) or a)po/stolo$ (apostle), he applies them to men—most often himself, but also Apollos, etc. Only once is dia/kono$ used specifically of a woman (Rom 16:1-2, cf. above). Similarly, in the New Testament, the term a)po/stolo$ is only used of men, with the possible exception of the reference to Junia in Rom 16:7. This relative imbalance may simply reflect circumstances of culture and social convention at the time, rather than a rule regarding the role of women in ministry. Admittedly, the evidence for women in these leading roles is fairly slight (cf. above), but it is significant enough (especially in light of Rom 16:1-2, 7) that it should, at the very least, give one pause before denying the positions to women outright.

Gal 6:6; 1 Cor 2:15-16, etc—It is possible that masculine gender expressions such as “the one instructing”, “the one (who is) spiritual”, “he judges”, “him”, etc, in certain passages assume a gender-specific context, indicating that men are (to be) in leadership roles (cf. on Rom 12:4-8 above)

2 Cor 8:17-18ff; 9:3ff—Here the representatives sent to the congregations appear to be men, i.e. “brothers” in the stricter (gender-specific) sense. This, however, does not necessarily mean that women were forbidden from such roles. Note again Rom 16:1-2, where Phoebe, a leading figure (minister) in the churches of Cenchreae/Corinth, likely is the one carrying the letter on Paul’s behalf, and he introduces/recommends her formally to the churches of Rome.

Phil 1:1, 14—It is possible that here in v. 1 dia/kono$ (“servant/minister”), along with e)pi/skopo$ (“overseer”) refer specifically to men, though this depends somewhat on the relationship with 1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9 (cf. below). If “brothers” in verse 14 is taken in a stricter, gender-specific sense, it may assume that certain speaking/preaching roles are (to be) filled by men.

Col 3:18-19 (and Eph 5:22-24ff)—Here Paul (or the author) is referring to the marriage relationship—husband and wife—within the Christian community. The verb u(pota/ssw literally refers to being under (an arranged) order, but the passive/reflexive form often indicates obedience or even being (made) subject to a higher (ruling) authority. The wife/woman is to be “under order” (i.e. subordinate) to her husband (i.e. to his position/authority), but the same is not said of the husband/man (contrast this with the reciprocal language in 1 Cor 7); instead, it is said that he must love (and be gentle/caring toward) his wife. Much the same is stated in Eph 5:22-24ff, but the instruction has been expanded with the illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church (his Bride) in vv. 23-24, which is worth quoting:

“…(in) that the man/husband is head [kefalh/] of the woman/wife, even as the Anointed (One) {Christ} is head of the congregation [e)kklhsi/a], he (being) savior of the Body—but (then) as the congregation is set in order under [u(pota/ssetai] the Anointed (One) {Christ}, so also the women/wives to the men/husbands in all (thing)s.”

Ephesians is considered by many (critical) commentators to be pseudonymous, but, even if this were granted, the statement here would still seem to reflect genuine Pauline teaching (cf. 1 Cor 11:3ff).

The Pastoral Letters—For the difficult critical questions related to these letters—in terms of authorship, date of composition, historical background and interpretation—along with a discussion of 1 Tim 2:11-15 in particular, cf. Part 5. Of all the letters in the Pauline corpus, these (esp. 1 Timothy) provide the clearest evidence for a restriction of leading/ministerial roles in the churches. In addition to 1 Tim 2:11-15, note the following passages in particular:

  • 1 Tim 3:1-13—The context makes fairly clear that “overseers [e)pi/skopoi]” (certainly) and “servants/ministers [dia/konoi]” (probably) are to be men. The only uncertainly is in the reference to “women” in v. 11 (cf. the note on this verse).
  • 1 Tim 5:2-16, 17ff—The widows in the congregation (vv. 2-16) have a role (as female “elders”) comparable to the (male) “elders” (vv. 17-20). This also suggests a definite division/distinction, especially if it is assumes that the elders (presbu/teroi) are men, as in Tit 1:5-9. According to v. 17, preaching and teaching are generally reserved as roles for the elders.
  • 2 Tim 2:2; 3:17—Similarly, teaching is to be done by “trustworthy men” (2:2), where a)nqrwpoi (“men”) is almost certainly used in a gender-specific sense; this is likely true for the expression “man of God” in 3:17 as well.
  • Titus 1:5-9—The context makes it clear that the “elders” (presbu/teroi), especially those appointed as “overseer” (e)pi/skopo$), are understood to be men.
  • Titus 2:3-5—The role of older women (i.e. female “elders”) would seem to be limited to instruction of the younger women. Here also we have the directive, stated briefly, that wives are to be “in (proper) order under” their husbands (using the verb u)pota/ssw as in Col 3:18-19; Eph 5:22-24, cf. above).

Conclusion

The passages which most clearly (and directly) emphasize restriction of roles for women, and/or their subordination under the men of the Community, are in those letters which are commonly regarded as pseudonymous—the Pastoral letters (esp. 1 Timothy), Ephesians (and Colossians). This means that there are likely to be significant differences of opinion as to what Paul himself actually believed and taught, depending on one’s view of authorship of these letters. Similarities and parallels can be found, to some extent, in the undisputed letters (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3-9ff; 14:33b-36; Phil 1:1), but it is methodologically unsound (and unwise) to read the teaching of the Pastoral letters, for example, back into 1 Corinthians, etc, without further ado. Each passage must be examined in the context of the letter and the situation which is being addressed. Overall, the evidence from the undisputed letters would indicate that women could serve in leading roles, as ministers in the churches, with few restrictions. A somewhat different picture is presented in 1 Timothy (and perhaps in Titus). The only role which seems to be reserved for men, without question, is that of the elder (presbu/tero$) who is to function as overseer (e)pi/skopo$) of the congregation. Unfortunately, these positions are scarcely mentioned at all in the undisputed letters—presbu/tero$ (“elder”) is never used, and e)pi/skopo$ (“overseer”) only once (Phil 1:1), briefly and without further comment (but cf. Acts 14:23; 20:28). Otherwise, while the evidence is relative slight (and occasionally ambiguous), women in the ‘Pauline churches’ seem to be recognized and allowed to function as ministers in various ways, including certain roles involving preaching and teaching. However, there continue to be differing views on the subject, and so it should remain open for dispute and discussion, without prejudice.

For additional background on this subject, see the separate article on “Church Organization in the Pauline Letters“.

Women in the Church: Part 3 (Galatians 3:28)

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Galatians 3:28

The next passage to be discussed in this series is Paul’s famous statement in Gal 3:28. There is a definite tension (some would say contradiction) between the idea expressed in this verse, and Paul’s instruction elsewhere regarding the role/position of men and women in the Church. It is therefore necessary to study and explore the matter in some detail.

Historical and Literary Context

Galatians was written (by Paul) sometime in the 50’s; more precise dating has proven difficult, especially since it is not certain whether the churches he addresses are located in southern/south-central Asia Minor (modern Turkey), or in the central region. The former could have been in existence as early as the first missionary journey (cf. Acts 13:13-14:20), while the latter presumably would not have been founded until the second journey (Acts 16:6ff; 18:23). Some traditional-conservative commentators prefer an earlier date (late 40s), on the assumption that it was written prior to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and that Galatians 2 records a different meeting in Jerusalem. Most scholars, however, accept that Acts 15 and Gal 2:1-10 are separate accounts of the same basic event, and that Galatians was written after the Council. Internal evidence of style and subject matter strongly suggests that Galatians was written relatively close in time to Romans and 2 Corinthians (i.e. early-mid 50’s).

In the letter, Paul is opposing the view of certain Jewish Christians, who had maintained that Gentile (non-Jewish) believers ought to be circumcised and observe the Old Testament Law (Torah). The entire letter is written to persuade the believers in Galatia that such a religious step is not necessary—salvation and being made right (“justification”) in God’s eyes comes entirely through trust/faith in Jesus. Moreover, in Christ, our life and ethical behavior is governed/guided by the Spirit and the teaching/example of Jesus (the ‘love command’), not by observance of the Old Testament Law. We have true freedom in Christ, and are no longer in bondage to (i.e. bound/required to follow) the Law of the old Covenant. Of all the Pauline letters, Galatians has perhaps the clearest rhetorical structure: the main proposition (propositio) is stated in 2:15-16, along with a brief exposition in vv. 17-21. This restates the cause (causa) or purpose of his writing, as indicated in 1:6-7ff, and is prefaced by a narration (narratio) which illustrates the issues involved (1:122:14). The central section of the letter (chapters 34) is the probatio (“proof”), in which Paul produces arguments and illustrations in support of his point, and to convince the Galatians of the truth of it. The arguments Paul uses build upon one another—for example, in 3:6-14, he adduces an argument from Scripture (Gen 15:6, etc) to demonstrate that the covenant God made with Abraham is prior (and superior) to the introduction of the Law at Sinai, and that believers in Christ are the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. Now, in Gal 3:264:11, the argument has been refined and developed so that Paul can affirm, on the basis of Christian experience, that believers truly are the heirs of the blessings and promises to Abraham (realized in Christ).

Outline and Exegesis

Galatians 3:26-4:11 may be outlined as follows:

  • Argument: Believers are the sons/heirs of the divine blessing and promise (3:26-29)
    • Basic statement—sons/heirs through trust in Christ (v. 26)
    • Demonstration—symbolism of the Baptism ritual (vv. 27-28)
    • Conclusion—this is a fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham (v. 29)
  • Illustration (proof): The heir comes of age (in Christ) and is no longer treated like a slave (4:1-11)
    • No longer under the bondage of the Law (vv. 3-7)
    • No longer under bondage to the “elements” of the world (vv. 8-11)

The specific verse (28) under examination is part of the demonstration from Baptism, which must be understood in the context of the two statements in vv. 26 and 29:

V. 26: “For you are all sons of God through the trust [i.e. faith] in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Christ Jesus}”
V. 29: “And if you are of (the) Anointed {Christ}, then you are (the) seed of Abraham, heirs according to (the) promise [e)paggeli/a]”

The symbolism of Baptism in vv. 27-28 is introduced to illustrate/demonstrate that believers are the sons (and heirs) of God. Clearly, Paul’s use of “sons” here applies to all believers—male and female both. We could translate with inclusive language here and say “sons and daughters” or “children”, but that would distort somewhat the image he is using—that of the heir to the household, which typically would be the (eldest) son. The demonstration from Baptism has two parts:

  • V. 27—A fundamental formula indicating the believer’s new identity in Christ:
    “For as (many of) you as have been dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed {Christ}, have sunk yourselves in(to the) Anointed {Christ} [i.e. put him on as a garment]”
  • V. 28—A (three-fold) formula expressing the essential character and nature of this identity:
    • “in (Christ) there is no Yehudean {Jew} and no Greek”
    • “in (Christ) there is no slave and no free (person)”
    • “in (Christ) there is no male and female”
  • —along with the concluding formula in 28b:
    “for you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Christ Jesus}”

The statement in v. 28b is also parallel to that in v. 26:

  • “For you are all sons of God through trust in Christ Jesus”
    “For you are all one in Christ Jesus”

It is certainly not an issue of maleness (“sons”) here—the expression “sons of God” is essentially synonymous with “one”, i.e. the unity of all believers in Christ. This is what the three-fold formula in v. 28 indicates. It is possible that Paul (or an earlier baptismal tradition) is playing on an old Jewish prayer formula, whereby the male Jew gives thanks to God that he was not created as a Gentile, slave (‘brute’) or woman (t. Ber. 7:18; b. Men. 43b; cf. Bruce, p. 187). Each of these elements is significant from the standpoint of the rhetorical context of Galatians:

  • Jew/Greek—this of course is central to the overall argument of Galatians (cf. also throughout Romans): there is no longer any ethnic or religious distinction in Christ between Jew and non-Jew (Gentile)
  • Slave/Free—Paul uses slavery/freedom imagery throughout the letter (2:4; 3:22-25; 4:1-11, 21-31; 5:1, 13), emphasizing the freedom believers have in Christ and through the Spirit; here he uses the terms in their literal/legal sense: the social distinctions of slave and free person have no meaning in Christ
  • Male/Female—as indicated above, Paul has repeatedly been using the image of son/sonship, but this is purely symbolic and illustrative: in a fundamental sense, the social/biological distinction between genders is irrelevant to the identity of believers in Christ.

Interpretation of Verse 28 (Male/Female)

How precisely does Paul intend this last point to be taken? In the case of the Jew/Greek and Slave/Free distinction, it would seem that these no longer apply even within the context of the organized life and worship of the congregation. In other words, there is no apparent restriction in terms of the roles or (religious-cultural) privileges in the Church—i.e., slave and free, Jew and Gentile, could participate in the meeting or hold leadership roles equally. But, as we saw in the earlier studies on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:33b-36, this does not seem to apply as completely to the distinction of gender. Does this reflect an inconsistency in Paul’s thought and teaching? Many commentators today think so. Perhaps Paul did not fully recognize the (logical) consequences of his statement in Gal 3:28; or, on the assumption that Galatians was written prior to 1 Corinthians (and, of course, the Pastoral letters), he may have changed or qualified his approach to the matter in the later writings (cf. Betz, p. 200). Traditional-conservative commentators are more sympathetic toward Paul, but there is still some tension between the two viewpoints: (a) there is no distinction between male and female in Christ, and yet (b) there are to remain clear distinctions in how men and women participate in the body of Christ (the Church).

Interestingly, Paul makes use of language similar to that of vv. 27-28 (referring to Baptism) elsewhere in his letters, in 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11—in both passages there is no mention of the male/female aspect. Since 1 Cor 12:13 is contextually relevant to the discussion of 11:2-16 and 14:33b-36, I cite it here for comparison:

“For in one Spirit we were all dunked [i.e. baptized] into one Body—even if Jews (and) even if Greeks, even if slaves (and) even if free (person)s—and we all were made to drink of one Spirit”

This could indicate that Paul was subsequently more guarded in his language, perhaps to avoid the suggestion that gender-distinction was eliminated (i.e. could be ignored/disregarded) for Christians. Indeed, a number of so-called Gnostic traditions in early Christianity seem to have emphasized this very thing—cf. the saying of Jesus in 2 Clement 12, also the (Coptic) Gospel of Thomas log. 22; the Gospel of the Egyptians 2 (in Clem. Alex. Stromateis 3.92.2); the Gospel of Philip 78, etc (cf. Betz, pp. 195-7). While such sayings and teachings were probably meant to be understood in a spiritual/symbolic (or “mystical”) sense, as opposed to advocating a radical social transformation, they would be scandalous enough for many (proto-)orthodox believers. While it is possible that Paul wished to avoid certain extreme spiritual/gnostic implications, I believe that he actually held a rather radical view himself regarding the new religious identity which was assumed and realized by believers in Christ. This can be seen if we take seriously, not only his statements in Gal 3:27-28, but also the numerous passages which indicate that those who are in Christ are a “new creation”; cf. especially 2 Cor 5:17:

“And so if any(one) is in (the) Anointed {Christ}, he/she is a new ‘creation’ [kti/si$]: the beginning [i.e. old/earlier] (thing)s have gone along [i.e. passed away] (and) see—they have [all] become new!”

Humankind in the original creation was “male and female” (a&rsen kai\ qh=lu, Gen 1:27 LXX), the same expression Paul uses in Gal 3:28. Note that he does not say “in (Christ) there is no male and no female”, but specifically, “in (Christ) there is no male and female“, likely as a direct allusion to Gen 1:27 (cf. Bruce, p. 189). What then of the new creation? That this new identity in Christ is fundamental and must transform all aspects of human life, including gender and sexuality, seems clear—but how, and to what extent? In the earlier note on 1 Cor 11:10, I raised the possibility that this may be part of Paul’s formulation in 11:7-12; here, I further suggest the following interpretation for consideration:

  • 11:7-9: the original created order—hierarchical/vertical—man the head of woman, woman from/through man, etc
  • 11:11-12: the new (transformed) order (“new creation”)—reciprocal/horizontal—man and woman together, interconnected (and equal)

The complexity of Paul’s position is that he seeks to affirm and preserve both aspects for believers, at least within the organized (social and religious) setting of the Christian Community. Keeping this in mind may help us better understand Paul’s teaching and instruction regarding the role/position of women in the Church as expressed in his letters. I will be returning to this theme (and to Gal 3:28 specifically) in upcoming notes as part of this series. For the moment, in closing, I would state that, with regard to the apparent conflict between Gal 3:28 and the instruction involving women elsewhere in the Pauline letters, I agree wholeheartedly with F. F. Bruce, that the passages which seem to restrict the role of women “…are to be understood in relation to Gal. 3:28, and not vice versa” (Bruce, p. 190).

References marked “Bruce” above are to F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC]), Eerdmans/Paternoster Press: 1982.
Those marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians (in the Hermeneia series), ed. by Helmut Koester, Fortress Press: 1979.

Gnosis and the New Testament: Part 6 – Dualism

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In this final part of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, I will be discussing the aspect of Gnosticism that is perhaps best known to people generally—their dualistic worldview and mode of expression. In an earlier article defining and explaining the term (cf. also the main article on “Gnosticism“), I outlined the four main kinds or types of dualism:

  1. Cosmological—There are two opposing principles which control and govern the world.
  2. Metaphysical—There two contrasting (and opposing) principles which make up the structure of the universe.
  3. Anthropological—The human being is made up of two contrasting principles.
  4. Ethical—The human being chooses (and must choose) between two contrasting/opposing principles.

When we turn to the dualism that exists in early Christian thought, and in the writings of the New Testament, it is the first and last of these types which are most common and widespread. For the most part, such early Christian dualism was simply inherited from the language and imagery of the Old Testament Scriptures and subsequent Jewish writings—especially from the (later) Prophets and Wisdom tradition. In the Gospels, and the earliest strands of Christian tradition, we can isolate two areas of dualistic thought and expression:

  • The conflict between God and the Devil (Satan), which can be understood as a kind of partial or qualified cosmic (cosmological) dualism. There is a sense in which the current (fallen) order of creation has come under the control or dominion of the Devil—cf. Matt 4:1-11 (esp. verse 8); Mk 3:26ff; 4:15; Lk 13:16 etc, and pars, along with the overall context of the many healing (exorcism) miracles narrated in the Gospel (and Acts). This means that the world is controlled by evil and darkness, and is generally in conflict with, and opposed to, the ways and things of God (Mark 8:33 par). Jesus’ presence on earth reflects this sense of conflict against the forces of sin and evil, etc (cf. Lk 10:18; Heb 2:14), a struggle which is continued in the lives of believers (James 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8, etc).
  • More common is the ethical dualism such as we see in the sayings and teachings of Jesus, expressed in language and images largely inherited from Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Sayings such as Matt 6:24; 7:13-14, 17-20, 24-27 par, or the Lukan form of the Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26), as well as the contrasting figures and settings in a number of the parables (e.g., Matt 13:24-30, 36-43; 21:28-32 par; chap 25; Lk 16:19-31; 18:9-14), present two different (opposite) “paths” or examples a person may follow. Under the direct influence of Jesus’ teaching, this developed into the so-called “Two Ways” conceptual framework in early Christianity, preserved within several different lines of tradition (cf. Didache 1-16; Epistle of Barnabas 18-21). The earliest Christians, like the Qumran Community, understood their identity in light of Isa 40:3ff and apparently referred to themselves as “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). On the expressions “way of truth”, “way of God”, etc, see Acts 16:17; 18:26; 2 Pet 2:2, 15, 21. The ethical instruction in the letter of James is almost entirely dependent on the teaching of Jesus as found in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul draws upon this as well, though he also expresses the “two ways” in the traditional language of the “virtue and vice” lists from Greco-Roman (and Jewish) tradition.

Both of these aspects—cosmological and ethical—are found blended together in Jewish writings roughly contemporary with the time of Jesus, especially in the Qumran texts (the Dead Sea Scrolls). The Community represented in these texts had a strongly dualistic worldview, best expressed in the so-called Community Rule (1QS) 3:13-4:26, a section often referred to as the “treatise of the Two Spirits”. There are two Spirits at work in the world—one of Truth and one of Falsehood, of light and darkness, God and Belial. Human beings are characterized by one of these two “worlds”, ultimately choosing the follow the path of one or the other. The Elect or faithful ones, the true believers, are the “sons of light”, while those who refuse (or are unable) to join the Community remain among the “sons of darkness”. Needless to say, as has been amply documented, in spite of many differences, there is a good deal in common between early Christians and the Community of the Qumran texts.

The most pronounced dualism in the New Testament is found in the letters of Paul and the Johannine writings, respectively. As we shall see, the dualism expressed in the latter is closer both to that of the Qumran texts, and to gnostic modes of expression.

Pauline Dualism

In Paul’s letters, we see very distinctive forms of both cosmological and ethical dualism (on these in the New Testament generally, cf. above).

Cosmological

Paul has more or less inherited the Christian worldview outlined above—that there is a fundamental conflict between God and the Devil, with the current condition/order of the world being under the dominion of sin and evil. Paul’s direct references to Satan or the Devil are relatively rare; indeed, the term dia/bolo$ (i.e. devil) does not occur in the undisputed letters (only in Eph 4:27; 6:11; 1 Tim 3:6-7; 2 Tim 2:26). The transliterated Semitic title Satan[a$] (/f*C*h^, ha´´¹‰¹n, “the adversary, accuser”) is the term Paul regularly uses (Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Thess 2:9; also 1 Tim 1:20; 5:15). Though he does not often state it directly, there can be no doubt that Paul believed that the current age or “world” was wicked and corrupt, under the effective control of evil (2 Cor 4:4; Gal 1:4, also Eph 2:2; 3:10; 6:12), characterized by a definite (cosmological) structure and hierarchy (Gal 4:3, 9 [Col 2:8, 20]; Col 1:16; 2:15). For more on Paul’s understanding and use of the term “world” (ko/smo$), cf. 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 3:19; 6:2; 7:31; Gal 6:14; Rom 12:2, etc. The most distinctive Pauline teaching is that the world—and, in particular, humankind—is under the dominion of sin, in bondage to it. This theme is most prominent in Romans (3:9, 19-20; 5:12-21; 7:7-24; 8:18-22; 11:32) and Galatians (3:19-24; 4:1-3, 21ff, etc); for the relation between sin and the Law in Paul’s thought, cf. my earlier articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”. God, through Christ, has freed us from this bondage; occasionally this is expressed in terms of being delivered out of the world of sin and darkness (Col 1:13; 1 Thess 5:4-5, and note Eph 5:8). However, it is only at the end of this current Age that God will finally destroy the power of evil (Rom 16:20).

Ethical

As noted above, Paul occasionally draws upon the “two ways” tradition, usually expressing it in the “virtue/vice list” format known from Greco-Roman philosophy and also found frequently in other early Christian writings—cf. Rom 1:29-31; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-23, etc. Paul’s unique contribution is in his frequent contrast between “flesh” and “(the) Spirit”. Read carelessly, in a superficial manner, one might think that Paul is espousing a kind of metaphysical dualism, such as is known from certain Gnostic writings and teachings, whereby the good spiritual realm is contrasted with the evil material world. He is, perhaps, somewhat closer in thought to the anthropological dualism in some version of Greek ascetic philosophy. The key to Paul’s Spirit/Flesh contrast is found in a careful reading of Romans 5-7. The “flesh” (sa/rc) represents the aspect of the human soul (i.e. the human being or person) that is under bondage to the power of sin. Even after the believer in Christ is freed from this power, he/she is still prone to the old, habitual patterns of thought and behavior (i.e. the “flesh”, or the ‘impulse[s]’ of the flesh). Thus the believer must consciously allow him/herself to be guided by the (Holy) Spirit, rather than by the impulses of the flesh. In Galatians 5:19-23, Paul applies this Spirit/Flesh contrast to the “two ways” ethical tradition, describing the “works” (or “fruit”) of the flesh and the Spirit, respectively. His ethical instruction is summed up in verse 25: “If we live in/by the Spirit, we must also walk [lit. step in line] in/by the Spirit”. The Johannine idiom (cf. below) would be “walk in the light”, but it has much the same meaning.

Rather more difficult is Paul’s contrast between the Law and the Gospel, letter vs. Spirit, etc., which is perhaps best described as a kind of religious dualism, whereby the religious identity of believers in Christ (the new covenant) is contrasted with the old ethnic-religious identity of Israelites and Jews (the old covenant). Much of Paul’s writing and teaching on this point is rooted in the specific historical circumstances and background of the early Christian missionary work, but remains important for us to consider and study today. I have dealt with it extensively in the articles on Paul’s view of the Law in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

Perhaps the most dualistic portion of ethical teaching in the Pauline corpus is 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, which has many points of contact with the language and imagery of the Qumran texts. The precise relationship of this section with the surrounding material in 2 Corinthians remains a matter of considerable discussion and debate among commentators. It appears suddenly, and seems very much to interrupt the train of thought. Many scholars consider it to be an interpolation, or part of a composite document (i.e. portions of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence collected together). However, there has never been any convincing explanation as to how such a fragment came to be inserted between 2 Cor 6:13 and 7:2; nor, for that matter, as to just why Paul (as the author) would have ‘interrupted’ his address to include it as he does. It remains one of unexplained ‘mysteries’ of New Testament and Pauline studies.

Johannine Dualism

There are three main themes or motifs by which a dualistic contrast is expressed in the Gospel and letters of John. So distinctive was the dualism of the Johannine writings that an earlier generation of scholars (prior to the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls) could theorize that these writings were influenced by a primitive form of Gnosticism, or by way of similar dualistic tendencies in Greco-Roman religion and philosophy. The Qumran texts have since made abundantly clear that commentators need not look further afield for the background of this dualism than to the Old Testament Scriptures and subsequent Jewish tradition (on this, cf. above). However, in at least two of three themes discussed here, very distinctive theological (and Christological) elements have been incorporated into the mode of expression. As in the Qumran texts, there is a blending of cosmological and ethical dualism.

Light/Darkness

The first theme is the contrast between light (fw=$) and darkness (skoti/a). It is a natural contrastive pairing, and can be found in many religious and philosophical traditions, including the Old Testament Scriptures—of the numerous passages, cf. Gen 1:4ff; Job 17:12; 29:3; 30:26; 38:19; Psalm 18:28; 112:4; 139:12; Eccl 2:13; Isa 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; 58:10; Mic 7:8; Dan 2:22; Matt 4:16; Lk 1:79. This dualistic motif is quite prominent at several points in the Gospel and Letters of John, and carries a theological (and Christological) meaning. In the Prologue of the Gospel (1:4-9), the pre-existent Christ (the Word) is the Light which shines into the darkness of the world (cf. below). Jesus applies the image to himself in the discourses—he is the light, and those who come to him are in the light, while those who do not remain in darkness (3:19-21; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46). Since he is the true, eternal light which shines in the darkness of the world, Jesus identifies himself as “the light of the world” (11:10), including in two famous “I am” declarations (8:12; 9:4-5). This is related to the Johannine motif of seeing (and not seeing, i.e. blindness, cf. chap. 9), along with the idea of revelation as bringing light, causing to shine, etc. On this, see the article “Knowledge and Revelation in the Gospel of John”.

An interesting detail in the Gospel narrative is the night-time setting of the Passion scene (the Last Supper and arrest/trial of Jesus). After Satan enters Judas and he departs from the disciples, the author states simply “…and it was night” (13:30). A similar description of Peter warming himself in the cold darkness occurs in 18:18. Again, when the women come to the tomb the morning after Jesus’ death (20:1), the setting is described as “it being still dark [skoti/a]”. These are basic narrative details of the Gospel, but in the Johannine context they almost certainly carry a deeper symbolism as well.

In the First Letter, this same light/darkness contrast occurs in two key passages—1:5-7 and 2:8-11. If we count the book of Revelation among the same Johannine writings, then we may have the motif in the vision of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21, where the very glory/splendor of God and the Lamb (Christ) gives continual light and “there will not be (any) night there” (vv. 23-25).

According to a common Gnostic way of understanding, Jesus brings knowledge and awareness to believers of their (true) identity as offspring of the Divine, eternal Light. This is similar to the teaching in John, only in the Gospel the emphasis is squarely on Christ as the light—believers come to the light, walk in the light, and come to be “sons/children of light”.

Above/Below

The second dualistic theme is spatial, drawing upon the ancient cosmological pairing of heaven and earth—heaven above, earth below. This conceptual framework had already been given a theological interpretation in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, which early Christians inherited; but in the Johannine discourses of Jesus, it has an even more distinctive Christological emphasis. The fundamental dualism is: God above, the World below. Christ comes from God, from above (a&nwqen), while the world is in darkness below (ka/tw). He has come down into the world, as light shining in the darkness (cf. above), one sent by God, come to show people (believers) the way out of darkness, back to the Father. The main passages illustrating this spatial dualism are: 3:13f, 31; 6:33, 38, 50-51, 58, 62; 8:23, (28); 10:17f; (12:32ff); 20:17. Those (believers) who come to Jesus and trust in him, are also born a&nwqen (“from above”, cf. 3:3ff), and thus are, or come to be, from above, just as he is; on the other hand, those who refuse to trust in him remain below (8:23, etc).

Closely related to the spatial motif is the specific idea of Jesus descending from the Father, and ascending back to Him. This is expressed through the use of the verbs katabai/nw (“step down”) and a)nabai/nw (“step up”). This ascent/descent theme is introduced in the description of the Baptism scene (1:32-33) and again with the vision of the Son of Man promised by Jesus in 1:51. In the discourses, these verbs are used in 3:13; 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58, 62; 10:1; 20:17. The verb a)nabai/nw is common in narration, used for a person “going up” (to Jerusalem, etc), but because of the special meaning elsewhere in John, it is possible that the references to Jesus “stepping up” to Jerusalem may carry a deeper significance (cf. especially in 7:8ff). In the great Last Discourse (chaps. 13-17), Jesus expresses the idea of his going away (back to the Father), and then coming again to his disciples—cf. throughout ch. 14, 16 and again in the prayer-discourse of chap. 17. His reason for coming to his disciples is to bring them with him back to the Father (14:1-4; 17:24, etc); at the same time, in Jesus’ absence, the Spirit comes to reside in and among believers—a ‘realized’ union with God the Father, prior to the (final) ascent with Jesus at the end-time.

The World

The term ko/smo$ (kósmos), usually translated “world”, refers to the visible universe, in the sense that it is “decorated”, but also in its apparent and structured “order”. Often, in the New Testament, it would be fair to render ko/smo$ as “world order“—i.e., how things are ordered and arranged. This can have a decidedly negative connotation, as a (dualistic) term set in contrast with God (his will, ways, Kingdom, etc). On this cosmological dualism, cf. above.

In the Gospel of John, ko/smo$ (“world”) occurs 78 times, with another 24 in the Letters—the 102 combined representing more than half of all occurrences in the NT (186). There are two main aspects to its usage in the Gospel: (a) in reference to Jesus coming into the world (i.e. the Incarnation, etc), and (b) as the domain of darkness, etc, which is hostile and opposed to the Light. Both of these aspects can be seen already in the Prologue:

  • “the light shines in the darkness
    …and the darkness did not take down (hold of) it” (1:5)
  • “he was the true light coming into [ei)$] the world…he was in [e)n] the world…
    …and the world did not know him” (1:9-10)

For the specific connection between the world (ko/smo$) and the light/darkness motif, cf. 3:19ff; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46. This aspect of opposition is found throughout the Gospel, though occasionally the word is used in the more general (neutral) sense, for humankind (and, specifically, believers), cf. 3:16-17; 6:33, etc. The “world” is associated with sin in 1:29 (cf. also 16:8, etc), but more commonly we find a direct contrast between Christ and the world. Jesus comes into the world bringing judgment and to testify against it (3:19; 7:7; 8:26; 9:39; 12:31, etc., but see also 3:17; 12:47); and, because he (the Light) shines into the darkness, the world, which loves the darkness, hates him (3:19; 7:7). Even more fundamental is the idea that the “world” can have no part of Christ, since he is not “of the world” (8:23ff).

As the death of Jesus approaches in the Gospel narrative, the motif of opposition and conflict with the world becomes more prominent, even drawing upon the more traditional dualism of God vs. Satan (the “ruler” of the world). This begins with the declaration in 12:31, and runs through the Last Discourse (chaps. 13-17), in which the word ko/smo$ occurs no less than 38 times. Jesus’ closing declaration in 16:33 provides a suitable parallel to that in 12:31:

  • “Now is the judgment of this world, now the chief (ruler) of this world will be cast out” (12:31)
  • “…have courage! I have been victorious (over) the world!” (16:33)

This harkens back to 1:5 in the Prologue and the ambiguity of the verb katalamba/nw, which means literally “take down”, but which, however, can be understood in several possible ways, in the sense of: (a) “bring down, overtake, overcome”, (b) “take down, grasp [with one’s mind]”, i.e. “understand, comprehend”, or (c) with kata/ as an intensive, “take/receive fully, eagerly”, etc. The statement in 1:5 thus can mean: (a) “the darkness did not overcome it”, (b) “the darkness did not understand/recognize it”, or (c) “the darkness did not receive it”. The immediate context of the passage suggests some combination of (b) and (c), but the theme of opposition which runs through the Gospel also makes (a) a possibility.

What is true of the conflict between Christ and the world, also applies to the Spirit, and to those who follow Christ (believers). These two points are important themes in the Last Discourse—cf. 14:17; 15:18ff; 16:8, 11, 20, 33. Especially significant is the emphasis on Christian identity—that believers, like Jesus, are not “of the world”. The preposition involved is e)k, literally “out of”, which can indicate one’s origin (being from), but also that to which one belongs (being of). The birth motif (3:3ff, and frequently in 1 John) uses the concrete sense of the preposition—i.e. born out of another. This specific theme is introduced in 15:19 and then becomes a major point of emphasis in the prayer-discourse of chapter 17. I have discussed this in earlier notes, as well as in Part 5 of this series.

Jesus’ final reference to the “world”, in the dialogue with Pilate, brings together both the dualistic contrast, as well as the theme of the believer’s identity as being “of God” (and not the world):

  • 18:36: “My kingdom is not of [e)k] this world…”
  • 18:37: “…I have come into the world that I might bear witness to the truth; everyone being [i.e. who is] of [e)k] the truth hears my voice”

In Gnostic thought, there is a similar negative sense of the “world”, but typically with a more pronounced metaphysical dualism (cf. above). In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls believers “out of” the world, in a manner similar to the role of Jesus as Savior in certain Gnostic systems. There can be no mistaking, however, the Christological emphasis in John—it is not that believers are “not of the world” because they are offspring of the divine Light, but because they belong to Christ.

Gnosis and the New Testament: Part 4 – Religious Identity and Tradition

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Closely tied to a gnostic understanding of salvation (cf. Part 2) is the sense of religious identity being defined in terms of knowledge. This was discussed to some extent in Part 3, but it requires further elaboration and examination of some of the key New Testament passages. According to the gnostic (and Gnostic) viewpoint, the (elect) believer comes to know, that is, to become aware, of his/her true identity in relation to God (or the Divine). Among certain Gnostic groups we find the idea that a spark or seed of the Divine has been ‘trapped’ within the fallen material world or sin and darkness. Knowledge of salvation comes—proclaimed and revealed by the Savior (and/or his messengers)—to believers trapped so as to have been ignorant of their true identity as offspring (sons/children) of God. There is, indeed, something of this religious worldview reflected in the New Testament Scriptures, but not quite in the manner expressed by many Gnostics. It is in the Pauline and Johannine writings that we find the closest parallels. A number of the most relevant passages are summarized here:

The Pauline letters

1 Cor 2:6-16—I have discussed the entire section 1:18-2:16 in an earlier series of notes. The logic of Paul’s theology can be described this way:

  • The Gospel contains the secret, hidden wisdom of God
  • This is conveyed to the apostles and preachers of the Gospel through the Spirit
  • Those who receive/accept the Gospel receive the Spirit which is at work in them, allowing them to understand
  • The Spirit instructs and guides believers so they can discern the wisdom of God—we thus have “the mind of Christ”

From a theological standpoint, there is some question as to what extent God—specifically the Spirit—is present and at work in believers prior to hearing the Gospel and coming to faith. Given Paul’s statement in verse 11, how do people respond in faith the Gospel without the work of the Spirit? Paul typically employs the language and image of a favor (xa/ri$) or gift—i.e., the Spirit as a gift given, presumably at the time one receives the Gospel, though it may also be connected with the moment of baptism. However, the quotation in verse 9, apparently citing loosely and adapting Isa 64:4, adds an interesting dimension to this; consider the last portion of the quotation:

“…the (thing)s God prepared for the (one)s loving him”

In the context of 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, these “things” are the hidden things of God, the wisdom of God, which, according to Paul’s way of understanding it is: (1) manifest in the person of Christ, (2) revealed in the Gospel, and (3) made available to believers through the Spirit. Yet these things were prepared or made ready by God ahead of time (in the past), for those in the present who are already loving Him. This same idea is suggested in 1 Cor 8:3—”if any (one) loves God, this (person) has been known under [i.e. by] Him”. Here the sense of predestination is stronger: God has known the believer ahead of time, the perfect tense indicating past action which continues into the present. Cf. also 1 Cor 13:12.

Rom 7:7-25—Paul frequently uses language and imagery expressing the idea that God, through Christ, has delivered humankind from bondage to the power of sin (cf. above for this same idea from a Gnostic standpoint). It is described in almost cosmic terms in Rom 5:12-21, while here in 7:7-25, we see it presented from the vantage-point of the individual believer. Paul sets himself, rhetorically, in place of this representative human being, using the first person (“I”). This person could be identified with those who are “loving God” (prior to receiving the Gospel), desiring (in his spirit) to fulfill the Law of God, but unable to do so because of the power of sin residing in the “flesh” and controlling it. Uniquely Pauline is the idea that revelation—in the Law (Torah), prior to encountering the Gospel—brings a kind of preliminary saving knowledge, in that it brings knowledge (i.e. recognition, awareness) of sin. But Paul’s understanding in this regard is two-fold: (1) the Law brings (saving) knowledge, but at the same time (2) through the Law God has imprisoned all human beings (including believers) under sin (Gal 3:22-24; Rom 11:32). For more on Paul’s teaching on the Law, cf. the articles in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

Rom 8:19-25—Here we find the cosmic image of creation groaning and suffering in bondage. Again, we have the idea that God is the one who has set it under bondage (to sin and death). Admittedly, the reference in verse 20 is somewhat ambiguous, where it states that the thing formed (creation, collectively) was set under the order of (i.e. subjected to) sin and death “not willingly, but through the (one) putting it under (this) order”. Commentators debate just who “the (one)” is, but, in my view, based on the context in Romans, and other passages in Paul’s letters, it should be understood as referring to God the Father (the Creator). In certain Gnostic systems, the Creator—that is, the one who fashioned the fallen and sinful material condition—was a kind of inferior divine Being (a Demiurge). This is foreign to Paul’s thought, but the idea of God setting Creation (and humankind) under bondage to the power of sin has certain points in common with Gnostic theology. The eschatological theme in Rom 8:19-25 involves the eventual deliverance of creation from this condition of bondage, and is tied directly to the presence (and identity) of the elect believers (the “sons/offspring of God”). Indeed, this is specifically described in terms of revelation—the earnest expectation and hope of creation is to receive (from God, or from heaven) “the uncovering (a)poka/luyi$) [i.e. revelation] of the sons of God”. This could be understood in the sense that the sons of God (believers) are already present in creation, but that creation is unaware of their true identity. In verse 21, the future hope for creation is defined as being “set free from the slavery of decay, into the freedom of the honor/splendor of the offspring of God”. The implication is that all of creation will be renewed in the same way that believers in Christ are renewed—in particular, Paul has the end-time resurrection in mind (v. 23).

Col 1:12-13—As part of the great declaration in vv. 9-20, describing the person and work of Christ, the author (Paul) states that God the Father is the one

“who (has) made us able (to come) into the portion of the lot [i.e. the inheritance] of the holy ones in the light, (and) who rescued us out of the authority of darkness and made us stand together (away from there) into the kingdom of the Son of his love”

There is, in this description, language and imagery that is similar to gnostic modes of expression—the dualism of light and darkness, the idea of being rescued out of a realm of darkness, believers as “sons of light”, believers as heirs of God, the kingdom of the Son, etc. Of course, these can be found at various points throughout the New Testament, but their combination here, within two short verses, is what gives the passage a “gnostic” ring. The deliverance out of darkness is tied directly to the work of God through the person of Christ; elsewhere in Paul’s writings, it is connected more properly with the proclamation of the Gospel (2 Cor 4:4-6). The idea of believers being called out of darkness is found in 1 Pet 2:9, and goes back to Old Testament imagery, preserved within the early Gospel tradition—Matt 4:16; Lk 1:78-79, etc, and cf. 2 Pet 1:19.

Eph 5:13-14—Here, in connection with the same light/darkness dualism we find the additional idea of the soul “awaking” to its true nature. This is expressed in the quotation (possibly from an early hymn) in verse 14:

“Rise, (you) the (one) going down to sleep, and stand up out of the dead, and the Anointed (One) will shine (light) upon you!”

This line itself suggests the initial conversion of a believer—i.e., of responding to the Gospel and coming to faith. It may originally have been associated with the ritual of Baptism. However, here Paul (or the author) cites it as part of ethical instruction (exhortation) directed to believers. The context clearly has to do with abandoning sinful behavior and associations, and walking according our true nature, that is, as “offspring (i.e. children) of light”. The image of the soul waking to its true nature and identity is a common gnostic motif, though here the orientation is ethical rather than soteriological. The exhortation “walk according to the light, as you are in the light” is stated in a similar context in Galatians 5:16-25, but in terms of the Spirit: “If we live in/by the Spirit, we should also step in line (i.e. walk) in/by the Spirit”.

Other passages could be added to these mentioned here, but those above give a suitable number of representative examples from the Pauline writings.

Johannine writings

These will be discussed further in the supplemental article on knowledge and revelation in the Gospel and letters of John. Here I will simply list some of the more notable references:

In the Gospel1:9-13; 3:5-8, 18-21; 5:37-43; 6:44-47; 7:17, 28-29; 8:12, 31-38ff; 10:3-9, 14-16, 27ff; 11:25-26; 12:35-36; 14:21-24; 15:3ff, 15-16, 19; 17:6-26; 18:37

In the Letters1 John 1:5-7; 2:5-6, 19-20ff; 2:29-3:2; 3:10, 19; 4:2-6, 9-10; 5:1ff, 10-12, 18-19; 3 John 11

The strong dualism running through the Gospel and letters of John will be discussed in the last part (Part 6) of this series.

Other aspects of Christian Identity

There are other important aspects of Christian identity—that is, of the believer’s religious identity in Christ—which serve to counteract or counterbalance any gnostic tendencies, such as could be drawn from the language used in the passages cited above. Again, we are best informed about early Christian tradition and instruction in this regard from the Pauline letters. Here are some of the more notable aspects:

  • Paul’s use of the expression “in Christ” (e)n xristw=|), and the related idea of belonging to Christ, which can be called mystical and spiritual(istic), rather than gnostic. That is to say, we are united with Christ, both symbolically, and through the presence of the Spirit, and participate in the power of his death and resurrection. The expression is so common in Paul’s writings that it functions virtually as a title for believers, a religious identification. Of the many references, cf. 1 Cor 1:30; 15:18-23; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:4; 3:26-28; Rom 3:24; 6:11; 8:1f; 12:5; Phil 2:5; 3:8-12; Col 1:28; 3:1-4; Eph 2:6ff. It is rare in the New Testament outside of Paul (1 Pet 3:16; 5:10, 14, and note Heb 3:14).
  • The idea of believers as a “new creation”, may seem, on the surface, to have a gnostic tinge to it, but it can just as easily be understood in the opposite sense—believers in Christ come to be completely different than they were before. The main passages utilizing this expression, or varying forms of it, are: 2 Cor 5:16-21; Gal 6:15; Col 3:9-11ff; and Eph 2:14-18. The Johannine idea of the “new birth”, of believers born out of God, is perhaps closer to gnostic patterns of thought.
  • The symbolism of the rite of Baptism was important for Paul, in that it symbolized the believer’s identification and union with Christ, specifically in the sense of participating in his death and resurrection—cf. 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; Rom 6:3-4ff; Col 2:11-12; 3:9-11. Paul inherited the ritual motif of “putting off” the old, sinful way of life, and “putting on” the new life in Christ. The various Gnostic Christian groups seem to have retained Baptism, along with other rituals, though certainly giving to it a somewhat different meaning and significance, even as Paul may have done. He perhaps was the first to connect baptism specifically to the idea of believers sharing in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
  • The emphasis on the real, physical death (the crucifixion) of Jesus as central to the Gospel message, would separate Paul from many of the Gnostic groups known in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Gnostics, with their strong (metaphysical) dualism, especially when assuming the evil of the material condition, appear to have struggled greatly with the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross, and attempted to explain or interpret it in various ways (some less plausible than others). In 1 and 2 Corinthians, where he may be combating certain gnostic tendencies, Paul sets the message of the cross in direct contrast to the (supposed) wisdom and knowledge of the world. Cf. especially 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 and my earlier notes on this passage.
  • Likewise Paul’s teaching on the presence and role of the Spirit in (and among) believers also distinguishes his understanding of Christian identity from that of the later Gnostics. While most Gnostics emphasized the invisible and eternal world of the Divine (against the evil physical/material world), they, for the most part, do not seem to have been Spiritualists—that is, they do not define and understand their religious identity and experience predominantly in terms of the (Holy) Spirit. For Paul, on the other hand, the Spirit was fundamental to his thinking and teaching; even when referring to knowledge and revelation, he almost always qualifies and connects it in relation to the Spirit. Of the many relevant passages, cf. 1 Cor 6:19-20; 12:13ff; 2 Cor 1:21-22; 3:17-18; 5:5; 11:4; Gal 3:2-3; 5:16-26; Rom 5:5; 8:9-12; Eph 4:30.
  • In his emphasis on Christian love, Paul draws on early Gospel tradition going back to Jesus’ own words. The so-called “love command (or principle)” was fundamental to Paul, especially in his ethical teaching—cf. Rom 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 8:1ff; 12:31-14:1; 16:14; Gal 5:6, 13-14; 1 Thess 4:9; Col 3:14. In 1 Corinthians, Paul sets love against (spiritual) knowledge, arguing that love is far superior and necessary for governing all aspects of Christian behavior, especially for our relationships to others in the Community of believers.
  • Paul repeatedly mentions the suffering of believers—their endurance of hardship and persecution, etc—as an important mark of Christian identity. For Paul, it was closely tied to the idea of our participation in the death of Jesus (cf. above). The experience and endurance of suffering also served as a example to other believers, and as a witness to the Gospel. Cf. 1 Thess 2:14ff; 2 Cor 1:6f; 2:14-17; 4:7-12; 6:3-10; Gal 4:19; Phil 1:12-14ff; Col 1:24, etc. Gnostic groups also experienced persecution—including, sadly, at the hands of other “orthodox” Christians—but they would not have ascribed much importance to (physical) suffering in this life.

Some of these points can be found elsewhere in the New Testament, including the Johannine writings. However, there are several other aspects of Christian identity expressed in the Gospel, and especially, the letters of John, which are worth noting briefly:

  • The overwhelming primacy of the person of Christ. In Paul’s writings, the Christological emphasis is usually put forward in connection with: (a) the message of the Gospel, (b) the believer’s union with Christ, and/or (c) the ecclesiastical aspect of the Community of believers as the “body of Christ”, etc. In the First letter of John, on the other hand, following along the lines of the great discourses of Jesus in the Gospel, Christian identity tends to be aligned more directly with the person of the Son (Christ) himself. Ultimately, this extends to what may be properly called orthodoxy—i.e. correct belief about Christ; on this, cf. below.
  • Love in the Gospel and letters of John takes on a somewhat different sense; while continuing the tradition of the “love command/principle”, it is given a centrality to the identity of believers that is really not found anywhere else in the New Testament (Paul’s great chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians being the closest). In 1 John, the presence of love in the believer is virtually synonymous with the presence of Christ, and indicates that the believer is “out of (i.e. from) God” and has been born from Him. Cf. 1 Jn 2:5, 10, 15; 3:1, 10-18, 23; 4:7-12, 16-21; 5:1-3; 2 Jn 5-6.
  • Compared with Paul’s use of baptism symbolism, in the Gospel of John there is a different kind of imagery used to described the believers union with Christ and participation in his death, etc. It is found in the drinking/eating and water/bread symbolism in the great discourses of Jesus—Jn 4:7-24, 34; 6:22-59; 7:37-38f. If baptism is implied in the water imagery of 3:5ff, it has a different sense than in Paul. Jn 19:23 and 1 Jn 5:6-8 have water (and blood) connected more closely with the death of Christ.

One unique feature of the Gospel and letters of John is the way it establishes a correct belief about Jesus—who he is, where he came from, etc—as essential to the Christian identity. This is indicated in the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel (3:18; 8:23-24; 14:10-11; 17:3, 20-21; cf. also 20:28, 31), and takes on greater significance in the letters, where incorrect belief regarding Christ marks those who have separated from the Community and also the “spirit of antichrist”—cf. 1 Jn 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:1-5, 6-12ff; 2 Jn 7ff. For more on the Johannine writings, cf. the supplemental article in this series.

Revelation and Christian Tradition

One other topic which needs to be addressed here is the early Christian understanding of revelation in terms of tradition—that is, of (apostolic) teaching and instruction, going back to the words of Jesus, which has been preserved and transmitted to believers. Paul frequently refers to his own apostolic authority as a minister who proclaims the Gospel (as revelation) and gives instruction for the congregations under his charge. At several points, he ties his own commission and ministry to specific revelations he received from Jesus (Gal 1:12, 16; 2:2, etc; cf. also Eph 3:1-6ff). By the time of the Pastoral letters (whether or not one regards these as authentically Pauline), as also in the letters of Jude and 2 Peter, in particular, there had developed a strong sense of a collected body of Gospel witness and (apostolic) teaching which was being threatening by false and aberrant Christian ‘leaders’, and which had to be safeguarded by the faithful minister. Jude summarizes this as “the trust [i.e. faith] given along at one (time) [i.e. once] to the holy ones” (v. 3); it was to be “fought/struggled over”, i.e. the minister should contend and fight to preserve it. The clear context of 2 Pet 1:16-21 is that this tradition (lit. that which is given along, passed down) goes back to the apostles, the eye-witnesses of Jesus, including Peter himself. It is no coincidence that the Transfiguration scene is mentioned, as it is a powerful example of divine revelation—God manifesting his presence and glory in the person of Jesus.

Interestingly, this same aspect of revelation—the words of Jesus and the Divine Truth manifest therein—passed on to the apostles, etc., was an important element of Gnosticism in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Many of the (apparently) Gnostic writings, such as those preserved in the texts from Nag Hammadi, are couched as pseudepigraphic “Gospels”—that is, as teaching by Jesus, usually set after the resurrection, given to select disciples. The Gnostic texts frequently suggest that this teaching reflects special revelation to which other Christians are not privy. Clearly, it was a way to ensure that the distinctively Gnostic approach to the Gospel and interpretation of the Christian message, had apostolic authority, being connected to the eye-witnesses of Jesus, just as we see in Lk 1:2; 2 Pet 1:16ff. Other (proto-)orthodox Gospels and writings use the same (literary) method of pseudepigraphy and pseudonymity. Many critical scholars would claim that at least several of the New Testament writings (e.g., the Pastoral letters, Ephesians, 2 Peter) are also pseudonymous; the weight and quality of the evidence for these claims varies, and, in any event, remain controversial in more traditional-conservative circles. Admittedly, the emphasis on tradition is strongest in the later writings (those likely written after 60 A.D.)—the Pastorals, 2 Peter, Jude, the Lukan prologue, etc. Two verbs tend to be used to express the idea of revelation passed down from the apostles, from the first generation(s) of believers down to the next:

  • paradi/dwmi (paradídœmi, “give along”), with the derived noun para/dosi$ (parádosis). More commonly used in reference to the betrayal of Jesus (in the sense “give/hand over”), it also carries the figurative meaning of passing along teaching, instruction, etc. from parents to children, and from one generation to the next, including within a religious setting (cf. Mk 7:13; Acts 6:14). A specialized sense of this latter meaning was used in early Christianity—for use of the verb, cf. Luke 1:2; Acts 16:4; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Rom 6:17; 2 Pet 2:21; Jude 3; for the noun, 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6, and note the negative sense in Col 2:8. It continues to be used in early Christian writings (cf. 1 Clement 7:2; Diognetus 11:6; Irenaeus 3.3.3).
  • parati/qhmi (paratíth¢mi, “set/put along[side]”), with the derived noun paraqh/kh (parath¢¡k¢), used in the concrete sense of placing an object (food, etc) before someone, often in the sense of providing help or assistance; figuratively, it can used with the meaning of entrusting something (or someone) into the care of another. A specialized sense of this latter meaning developed in early Christianity. These are the words used in the Pastoral letters—1 Tim 1:18; 6:20; 2 Tim 1:12, 14; 2:2; they do not occur in the undisputed letters of Paul, certainly not in this sense (cf. 1 Cor 10:27). Cf. the separate note on 1 Tim 6:20-21.

By the later part of the 2nd century, Gnostic groups and teachings had become widespread and influential enough that Irenaeus felt the need to write his five-volume work Against Heresies, to defend his (proto-Orthodox) position as representing the true Apostolic Tradition. The interpretation and application of Scripture was employed more regularly to demonstrate this, since both “sides” could lay claim to the Apostolic heritage. However, many Gnostics proved to be quite adept and incisive as commentators of Scripture (cf. Ptolemy’s letter to Flora, preserved by Epiphanius). Since various passages in the New Testament could, conceivably, be interpreted various ways, and plausibly so, depending upon one’s expectations and presuppositions, it was difficult, at times, to rely on the Scripture itself to provide decisive proof. Origin’s massive (and unfinished) commentary on the Gospel of John was begun, in large part, as a response to the Gnostic Heracleon’s own commentary (the earliest such NT commentary known to us). The main problem, of course, was that Gnostics worked from a religious/theological worldview which was markedly different, in certain respects, from that of the proto-Orthodox; as a result, they were bound to see the same passage of Scripture in a somewhat different light.

Note of the Day – October 31 (Col 2:2-3)

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Colossians 2:2-3 (continued)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In terms of hendiadys, the translation might be:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note of the Day – October 30 (Col 2:2-3)

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Colossians 2:2-3

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

Col 2:1-3 concludes with a powerful Christological statement that uses both the noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) and the compound e)pi/gnwsi$ (epígnœsis, “knowledge upon/about”); as such, it is an important reference related to the idea of knowledge in the New Testament. It also contains the words musth/rion (“secret”) and the adjective a)po/krufo$ (from a)pokru/ptw, “hide [away] from”), which connotes the aspect of revelation tied to the verb a)pokalu/ptw (“take the cover [away] from”, “uncover”). All of this is centered in the person of Christ, making it one of the strongest Christological statements regarding knowledge and revelation in the New Testament. For more on these points, cf. Part 3 of my current series “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

In order to understand better the context of this reference, it will help to summarize the structure of Colossians, from a rhetorical and epistolary standpoint. After the opening prescript (greeting) in 1:1-2, and the exordium (introduction) of 1:3-23, we have the narratio (narration) in which the author (Paul) presents a personal, autobiographical address to his readers, emphasizing his labor and concern as a minister of the Gospel. It may be divided into two parts—a statement of his work (1:24-29), and its application for the believers of Colosse (2:1-5); the statement of 2:1-3 belongs to this latter portion. The central proposition (propositio) of the letter occurs in 2:6-7, followed by the main probatio (2:8-3:4), utilizing three arguments or illustrations meant to convince and encourage his readers. Then comes the exhortatio (3:5-4:6), with ethical and practical instruction, presented in three parts, and the final conclusion or postscript (4:7-18).

Let us consider the narratio more closely. The first part (1:24-29), describes the work of Paul as minister of the Gospel, written as a single sentence in Greek. Two themes or aspects of the Gospel ministry are brought forward:

  • Paul’s suffering for the sake of the church—”I rejoice in the sufferings over you…over his [i.e. Christ’s] body…” (vv. 24-25); the goal and purpose of this suffering and labor is two-fold:
    (1) to “fill up” (i.e. complete) the affliction which Christ experienced in the flesh (i.e. in his body), and
    (2) to “(ful)fill” the account (lo/go$) of God (i.e. the Gospel) which was given to him as a servant of Christ and of Christ’s “body” (the Church)
  • The Gospel of Christ as a secret (musth/rion) which is now being revealed by ministers such as Paul (vv. 26-29)

Note the important wording in vv. 25-27:

“…to fulfill the account of God, the secret th(at) has been hidden away from the Ages and from the (generation)s coming-to-be, but now is made to shine (forth) [e)fanerw/qh] to His holy (one)s, to whom God wished to make known [gnwri/sai] among the nations what (is) the rich(ness) of the splendor of this secret, which is—(the) Anointed in you, the (very) hope of splendor…”
On the verbs fanero/w and gnwri/zw, and the two different aspects of revelation conveyed by them, cf. Part 3 of “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

There is considerable similarity of vocabulary and phrasing here with 2:2-3, which is understandable, since in the second part of the narratio (2:1-5), Paul’s work as minister of the Gospel is applied to the believers he addresses. Here is how this portion begins:

“For I wish you (could) have seen (what a) big struggle/fight I hold over you, and (over) the (one)s in Laodicea, and as (many) as have not looked (on) my face in the flesh, (so) that their hearts might be called alongside [i.e. helped/comforted], being lifted together in love…” (2:1-2a)

Paul’s labor and suffering (i.e. his struggle) is related specifically to the believers in Colosse, Laodicea, and elsewhere in Asia Minor. Before examining 2:2-3 again a bit more closely, it will be helpful to consider the structure of the preceding exordium (1:3-23), since it establishes the key themes of the letter, and leads into the narration (cf. especially the transitus [transition] in v. 23). After the thanksgiving in vv. 3-8, the remainder of the introduction functions as a statement (and exposition) of the causa, or reason/purpose of the letter (vv. 9-23). It is comprised of two sentences in Greek, the first of which is extremely long and developed, spanning 12 verses (vv. 9-20). The theme of knowledge again is central to the purpose of the letter: “…that you might be filled (with) the (true) knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension” (v. 9b). This first sentence emphasizes the person of Christ, as the chain of (relative) pronouns and prepositional phrases makes clear in impressive fashion. This complex syntax is generally lost in translation, but it is important to be aware of how it functions. The knowledge (e)pi/gwsi$) mentioned in verse 9 is clarified in v. 10 as “the knowledge of God“, that is, of an intimate knowledge and awareness of Him. In verse 12, the character and work of God is applied more closely to believers with the use of the term “Father”, which is the reference point for the syntactical chain that follows in vv. 13ff:

  • “…to the Father…”
    • who [o%$] rescued us out of the authority of darkness and making us stand together (away from there and) into the kingdom of the Son of His love”
      • “in whom [e)n w!|] we hold the loosing from (bondage), the release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”
      • who [o%$] is the image of the invisible God…”

This chain continues on, emphasizing: (a) the Son as head/first of all creation [vv. 15b-17], (b) the head of the Church [v. 18], and finally (c) embodying the fullness of all [v. 19]. Verse 20 summarizes the saving work of Christ, which is the theme of the second sentence (vv. 21-23). When looking at the specific wording and structure of 2:2-3, there are two verses from the first sentence of the exordium which ought to be examined especially for comparison—v. 9 and 14. This I will do in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – October 25 (Phil 3:8-10)

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Philippians 3:8-10

Another important occurrence of the words gnw=si$ (“knowledge”) and ginw/skw (“know”) is Philippians 3:8-10. Verses 7-11 are central to the discussion in chapter 3, where Paul establishes an autobiographical illustration to exhort the believers in the Philippian churches to endure in the face of persecution. The harsh language he uses to describe (at least some of) his Jewish opponents in verse 2, is, we may say, regrettable. While altogether typical of the polemical style of the time, it is ultimately unnecessary for the point he is making. Nevertheless, it is in referring to Jewish (and Jewish Christian) opponents, that Paul unleashes some of his most severe rhetorical outbursts (cf. 1 Thess 2:14-16; Gal 5:7-12; 6:12-14; 2 Cor 11:1-12:13). Beginning with the issue of circumcision (v. 3), so important to the early disputes among Jewish Christians (Acts 15:1ff; 21:21; Gal 2; 5:1-12; 6:12-16; Rom 2:25-29; 4:9-12; 1 Cor 7:18-19; Col 2:11), he extends the symbolism by use of the word flesh (sa/rc), which is set in contrast with the Spirit (pneu=ma), as often in Paul’s letters (Rom 7:14; 8:3-4ff, 12-13; 1 Cor 3:1ff; 6:16-17; 15:39, 44-46; Gal 3:3; 4:29-31; 5:16-25; 6:8). In verse 4, he describes his (Jewish) religious experience, prior to his conversion, and the religious status which he achieved, as being of the flesh—”and (indeed) I am (one) holding persuasion [i.e. confidence/assurance] in the flesh [e)n sarki/]”—using the same kind of rhetorical “boasting” as he does in 1 Cor 11-12. Here, too, Paul engages in exaggeration or hyperbole:

“If any other (person) considers (himself) to have persuasion [i.e. confidence] in the flesh, I rather (have even) more: cut around [i.e. circumcised] (on the) eighth (day), coming to be (born) out of Israel, of the offspring of Benjamin, a Hebrew out of Hebrews, a Pharisee according to the Law, pursuing [i.e. persecuting] the congregation [e)kklhsi/a] (of Christ) according to (my) burning (zeal), coming to be without fault according to the justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] th(at is) in the Law” (vv. 4b-6)

He boasts of achieving a nearly perfect fulfillment of the religious “righteousness” as it was understood in the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). That this was of the flesh (and not the Spirit) is clear from that the fact that he vigorously persecuted the early Christians (cf. Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-22), fulfilling the same conflict expressed in Gal 4:29: “but just as (it was) then (that) the (one) coming to be (born) according to the flesh pursued [i.e. persecuted] the (one born) according to the Spirit, so also (it is this way) now”. This fleshly religious achievement Paul ultimately rejects or devalues in verses 7-10, utilizing the language of commerce—profit/gain (ke/rdo$) and damage/loss (zhmi/a):

“[But] the (thing)s which were profit for me, those (same thing)s through (the) Anointed {Christ} I have (since) brought out as damage(d) [i.e. regarded as loss]” (v. 7)

The word zhmi/a fundamentally means something like “disadvantage”—i.e., the religious experience and status which Paul thought was to his advantage actually is to one’s harm or disadvantage in Christ (cf. Gal 5:2-4). Again, he widens the scope of his statement, from the things related to religion to all things (pa/nta); note the parallelism:

  • “these things [tau=ta] I have brought out [h%ghmai] as damage/loss [zhmi/an] through Christ [dia\ to\n Xristo/n]” (v. 7)
  • “all things [pa/nta] I (now) bring out [h(gou=mai] to be damaged/lost [zhmi/an] through…of Christ [dia\ to\Xristou=]” (v. 8)

The last two expressions are parallel, but, perhaps, not exactly equivalent:

dia\ to\n Xristo/n (“through the Anointed”)—the perfect verbal form h%gmai (“I have brought [out]”, i.e. in my mind, “I have considered/regarded”) suggests Paul’s conversion experience, similar to the believer’s response to the Gospel message, something which took place in the past but continues on into the present. Thus I would take the expression “through Christ” as encapsulating and summarizing the Gospel message (of Christ) and its effect on the believer.

dia\ to\ u(pere/xon th=$ gnw/sew$ Xristou= )Ihsou= tou= kuri/ou mou (“through the overriding [greatness] of the knowledge of [the] Anointed Yeshua my Lord”)—the very length of this expression suggests knowledge, i.e. the believer (Paul) comes to understand the greatness of Jesus and who he is (the Anointed One and [my] Lord). For a similar genitive chain (also using the word gnw=si$, “knowledge”, cf. 2 Cor 4:6 and my note on this verse). The verb u(pere/xw literally means “holding (oneself) over”, often in the more abstract sense of something being above, i.e. excellent, superior, etc. I have tried to preserve the literal meaning of the participle here with the translation “overriding (greatness)”, but the basic idea is that the knowledge of Christ far surpasses all other things we may come to know or experience. Just what does Paul mean by the “knowledge of Christ”? He clarifies this in the remainder of verse 8 and 9, which functions virtually as an exposition of the Gospel:

  1. That he is “my Lord” (ku/rio$ mou)—for Paul, as for most Christians, this has a two-fold meaning: (a) he is Lord in the basic sense of “master, guide, teacher, etc”, and (b) he is identified with God (YHWH), the Lord (see esp. Phil 2:9-10).
  2. I have experienced the loss/damage/disadvantage of all (other) things through him—cf. verse 7; not only have all things (outside of Christ) become lost/damaged for Paul, he actually considers them to be sku/balon, a somewhat obscure word which can refer to scraps to be thrown out, food for animals, rotten food, even excrement—perhaps “garbage” is a good modern equivalent. This is a bit of rhetorical exaggeration, to be sure, but the point of it is clear.
  3. That I might gain Christ, and/or profit from him—continuing the language of profit/loss; the verb here could be understood in two different aspects: (a) gaining the blessing and benefit from knowing Christ (as a believer), and (b) gaining the experience of knowing Christ in full, at the end-time. Presumably, Paul has the latter primarily in mind.
  4. That I might be found in him—parallel to the previous phrase, drawing upon the familiar (Pauline) idiom of being “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|); according to this expression, believers are united with Christ in three aspects: (1) through the presence of the Spirit, (2) the symbolism of baptism, and (3) the communal experience of believers together (the “body of Christ”). However, it is the eschatological sense which Paul again has in mind here, perhaps drawing upon the idea expressed in Col 3:1-4.
  5. Holding the justice/righteousness of God—here we have the familiar Pauline contrast between the righteousness of God and the righteousness that comes through observing the Law. In his earlier religious experience, Paul had something of the latter, but not the former (cf. Rom 10:1-4 which well expands upon the statement here). The expression e)k qeou= specifies that true righteousness is that which comes from God (lit. out of him). It comes only by way of faith/trust (pi/sti$) in Christ, another fundamental Pauline teaching, which he expresses here two ways: “through [dia/] (the) trust” and “upon [e)pi/] the trust”.

The syntactical relation of verse 10 with the previous verses is not entirely clear. It begins with the articular infinitive tou= gnw=nai (“the knowing [of], to know”), which I prefer to view as epexegetical with verse 8a, forming an inclusive parallel:

  • “through the overriding (greatness) of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (8a)
    —”through whom…” (8b)
    —”and I…in him…through faith…” (9)
  • “the knowing (of) him…” (10a)

What follows in vv. 10-11 reflects a somewhat different sense of “knowing” Christ; if the knowledge in vv. 8-9 relates fundamentally to the message of the Gospel, that in vv. 10-11 is symbolic of the believer’s union with Christ—i.e., participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is clearly expressed at the start of v. 10: “knowing him and the power of his standing up [i.e. resurrection] (from the dead)”. The logic here is as straightforward as it is profound:

  • to know the power of his resurrection, which is experienced by:
    —sharing in his sufferings (“the common [shar]ing [koinwni/a] of his sufferings”)
    —being (con)formed to his death (“being shaped together with his death”)
  • to come into the resurrection from the dead

By sharing in the suffering and death of Christ—symbolized in baptism, and experienced throughout the Christian life with its share of trials and persecution—one has the promise of sharing in his resurrection at the end-time. This eschatological sense is parallel with the expressions in vv. 8b-9a, marked by use of the subjunctive:

  • “that I might gain Christ” (8b)
    “and might be found in him” (9a)
  • “if (some)how I might come down into the resurrection…” (11)

I have here translated the verb katanta/w (“come down [against]”) quite literally, in order to preserve the idea of participating in the death (and burial) of Jesus. It also carries the sense of coming to meet someone, or to meet/arrive at a goal, etc. The eschatological context is clear enough—the believer rises to meet Christ at the end-time (1 Thess 4:16-17; Col 3:1-4).

One final aspect of knowledge, not stated in vv. 7-11, but implied throughout the passage, is that one comes to know Christ (and God the Father) through the Spirit. The contrast between the flesh and the Spirit is central to Paul’s discussion (cf. above), though the Spirit (pneu=ma) is only mentioned directly at the start, in verse 3. That the presence of the Spirit is central, and parallel with the believer’s knowledge of Christ, I demonstrate with a chiastic outline:

  • “For we are the circumcision
    —”the (one)s doing service for God in the Spirit
    —”and speaking (out) loud [i.e. rejoicing/’boasting’] in Christ Jesus
  • “and not having been persuaded [i.e. having confidence] in (the) flesh

Note of the Day – October 23 (2 Cor 4:6)

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This is the second of a pair of daily notes dealing with Paul’s use of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in 2 Corinthians 2:14 and 4:6. Yesterday’s note discussed 2:14; today I will address 4:6. For the overall structure and context of the section 2:14-4:6, cf. the previous note.

2 Corinthians 4:6

“—(in) that (it is) God, the one saying ‘out of (the) darkness light [fw=$] shall (shine as a) beam [la/myei]’, who has shone a beam [e&lamyen] (of light) in our hearts, toward the lighting [fwtismo/$] of the knowledge of the honor/splendor of God in (the) face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

This climactic statement must be read both in terms of the section 2:14-4:6 as a whole, but also within the smaller structure of 4:1-6 (itself parallel with 2:14-17):

  • v. 1: Paul and his fellow missionaries have received this duty of service (diakoni/a) through the mercy of God, just as they were made slaves/captives of Christ through the favor (xa/ri$) of God (cf. 2:14a); note the specific use of dou=lo$ (“slave”) further in 4:5.
  • v. 2: As ministers of the Gospel they shine/manifest the truth to people everywhere (“in the sight of God”), just as they shine/manifest the scent of God’s knowledge everywhere (2:14b); here the verb fanero/w takes on more the literal sense of shining (in the darkness).
  • vv. 3-4: The Gospel gives light to those being saved, while the ones perishing remain blinded in darkness; similarly the contrast between the Gospel as pleasant fragrance (of life) to the one group, but a stench (of death) to the other (2:15)
  • v. 5 formally returns to the theme of v. 1 (and 2:14a), leading into verse 6:
    “For we did not proclaim ourselves, but Yeshua (the) Anointed (the) Lord, and ourselves as your slaves through Yeshua—”
    The word ku/rio$ is best understood as a predicate—i.e. Yeshua (the) Anointed (who is the) Lord, as (our) Lord, etc.

The specific relationship of Jesus to God the Father, implicit in verse 5, is given greater clarity in vv. 3-4; here the nature of the Gospel is stated in dramatic fashion:

“…to cast (as) a ray the light of the good message [i.e. Gospel] of the honor/splendor of (the) Anointed, who is (the) image [ei)kw/n] of God” (v. 4b)

The language Paul uses here is important for the way it brings together all the imagery of 2:14ff, before repeating it again in v. 6. The various words relating to light, as applied to the Gospel, are here stated explicitly—”the light [fwtismo/$] of the good message [eu)agge/lion]”. The Gospel itself conveys the do/ca (dóxa) of Christ. The full significance of this word (do/ca) is extremely difficult to render into English. Fundamentally, as related to God, it has the meaning “consider/regard (worthy of honor)”, “esteem, honor,” etc. However, it also connotes the nature and character of God which makes him worthy of honor. Typically it is translated flatly as “glory”; however, I tend to avoid this rendering, and, in such a context as 2 Cor 4:4 and 6, find something like “splendor” much preferable. While this splendor, honor or “weight” (i.e. the corresponding Hebrew term dobK*) is ultimately ineffable, it is often depicted or described in terms of light. Paul certainly draws upon this traditional imagery throughout 2:14-4:6, and especially in chapter 3 where he uses the episode of the shining (and veiling) of Moses’ face (Exod 34:29-35) to compare (and contrast) the Old Covenant with the New (3:7-18). The splendor (do/ca) of the Old Covenant, symbolized by the shining of Moses’ face, has passed away, eclipsed by the far greater splendor of the New Covenant in Christ. Believers, including, in particular, Paul and other ministers of the Gospel, are able to gaze upon this splendor without any veil or intermediary, through the presence of the Spirit (v. 17). This splendor is that of Christ’s face, which, in turn, is a (perfect) reflection of the face of God—described by Paul in v. 4 as the image (ei)kw/n) of God. Note the parallelism:

  • The face of Moses, along with the faces of the people (veiled)
    —The face of Christ (the veil is removed)
  • The face of believers, including ministers of the Gospel (unveiled)

This analysis will help us ourselves to see more clearly what Paul is finally stating in 4:6. He moves beyond the Exodus narrative to the very account of Creation—Gen 1:2-3 being paraphrased very loosely in Greek:

“…God, the one saying, ‘out of (the) darkness light shall (shine as a) beam'”
cp. “…darkness was over the deep…and God said, ‘Light shall come to be!'” (LXX)

The original act of creation God has now reproduced (as a ‘new creation’) for believers in Christ:

“…(he) has shone a beam (of light) into our hearts”

Both phrases use the same verb la/mpw (lámpœ), cognate with the English word lamp, from which it is derived. There is a clear parallelism of vocabulary joining the two creative acts:

  • fw=$ (“light”)
    la/myei (“shall shine”)
    e&lamyen (“he has shone”)
  • fwtismo$ (“light, lighting, [en]lightening”)

The latter word fwtismo/$ refers more properly to the act of shining light, or, perhaps, the means and/or source of light. In Christian (Pauline) conception, this source/means of light is to be identified with the Spirit, sometimes referred to as the (living) word of God, but also with the proclamation of the Gospel. Once a person receives the Gospel, it comes to abide in them as a living word through the presence and work of the Spirit; it is also the word (and Spirit) of Christ—the presence of Christ in the believer. This is powerfully summarized in the genitive chain that concludes verse 6:

“…toward the light(ing) of the knowledge of the splendor of God in the face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

The preposition pro/$ (“toward”) indicates purpose, i.e. the purpose of the proclamation of the Gospel. The four-part genitive chain represents an extremely exalted manner of description, which is found quite often in Ephesians, but rather less common in the undisputed Pauline letters. Most translations obscure this construction, but the chain of relationship it expresses is worth retaining in English:

  • the shining of light [fwtismo/$] reveals and leads to —>
    • knowledge [gnw=si$], which specifically makes known —>
      • the honor/splendor [do/ca] which belongs to, and reveals the nature/character of —>
        • God, that is, the Father (YHWH)—his splendor is manifest and expressed —>
          • in the face [pro/swpon] of the Anointed (Christ)

Ultimately, the light is identified with the “face” of Christ—that is, his presence made manifest to believers (through the Spirit). The Gospel is the means by which the elect (believers) first come to know and experience his presence.

Note of the Day – October 22 (2 Cor 2:14)

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2 Corinthians 2:14

In treating the subject of knowledge (gnw=si$, gnœsis) in the New Testament, two related verses in 2 Corinthians are especially important—2 Cor 2:14 and 4:6—expressing Paul’s view of the matter quite succinctly and effectively. These two verses happen to form an inclusio, framing the section 2:14-4:6, being the first and last sentences, respectively. This can be seen clearly by an outline of the section:

  • 2:14-17: Paul and his fellow ministers who proclaim the Gospel—the knowledge of God in Christ
    • 3:1-6: Contrast between the old covenant (on tablets of stone) and new covenant (in the heart)—the letter vs. the Spirit
      —vv. 4-6: Ministers of the New Covenant
    • 3:7-18: Contrast between the veiled face of Moses and the unveiled face of believers in the Spirit
      —vv. 12-18: Ministers of the New Covenant (par. with Moses)
  • 4:1-6: The ministry of proclaiming the Gospel—the knowledge of God in Christ

The chiastic structure of this section becomes even more obvious when comparing 2:14-17 with 4:1-6:

Thus these two verses perfectly enclose the section, and should be studied together. I begin in today’s note with 2:14. Interestingly, this verse itself has a chiastic symmetry. The opening phrase is: “To God be thanks for (his) favor… [tw=| de\ qew=| xa/ri$ tw=|…]”. The second definite article defines (and explains) the favor (xa/ri$) which God has shown. This, in the remainder of the verse, may be presented as a chiasm:

  • every time [pa/ntote, i.e. always]
    • leading us in procession [qriambeu/onti h(ma=$]
      • in Christ [e)n Xristw=|]
      • the smell of the knowledge of Him [th\n o)smh\n th=$ gnw/sew$ au)tou=]
    • shining forth [i.e. making manifest] through us [fanerou=nti di’ h(mw=n]
  • in every place [e)n panti\ to/pw=]

These elements—the words and phrases—require some closer examination. First, the expressions using forms of pa=$ (“all, every”), which occur frequently in Paul’s letters:

(a) pa/ntote, “every [pa=$] (time) when [to/te]”, “always, whenever, etc.”—27 of 41 NT occurrences
(b) e)n panti\ to/pw|, “in every [pa=$] place, in all place(s)”, “everywhere”—cf. also in 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Thess 1:8; and 1 Tim 2:8

These expressions encapsulate the completeness and universal reach of God’s action—temporal and spatial—covering every aspect of human existence. Specifically, here it relates to every aspect of the ministry of Paul and his fellow missionaries. The second pair of phrases are governed by two participles with predicate pronoun (“us”). The two verbs involved are:

  • qriambeu/w (thriambeúœ), which refers primarily to a military triumph (as by the Roman forces), and often in the specific sense of a triumphal procession following victory, in which captives and the spoils of battle would be displayed. There is some uncertainty as to the precise sense of Paul’s image here; it could be (a) that God leads Paul and other ministers in triumph, with the spread of the Gospel, etc. For similar military imagery along these lines, see e.g. 10:4-5. The other possibility is (b) that God leads Paul and the other ministers in procession as captives—i.e. they themselves have been made captive to the Gospel. Paul occasionally uses the term “slave” (dou=lo$) to refer to himself (and others) as ministers of Christ and the Gospel (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1, etc), and it is probably this latter sense that is meant in context here. The only other occurrence in the New Testament is Col 2:15, where a military victory, performed by God through the death (crucifixion) of Jesus, is properly meant.
  • fanero/w (phaneróœ), related to fw=$ (phœ¡s), “light” and the principal verbs fa/w [obs.], fai/nw (“shine [as] light”), meaning “shine forth”, often in the figurative sense of “appear, make apparent, (make) manifest”. It is found frequently in the Pauline letters (22 of 49 occurrences), and also in the Gospel and First letter of John (18 times). This verb will be discussed further in Part 3 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”, dealing with the topic of revelation.

Finally the words in the third (inner) pair of expressions:

  • “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|)—a well known expression, found frequently in Paul’s writings, and almost exclusive to him in the New Testament. Typically it refers to the general status of believers, reflecting (a) our faith/trust in Christ, and (b) our union with him, through the Spirit, and symbolized in the rite of Baptism. However, here there is the specific sense of the status of Paul and his fellow apostles and missionaries as ministers of Christ and the Gospel. God leads them in procession in Christ—which, based on the interpretation given above, could be clarified as in captivity to Christ. For something of this sense, cf. also Rom 16:3, 9; Philem 23, etc. As captives, they are specifically required to speak (i.e. proclaim the Gospel)—cf. further in verse 17, and 12:19.
  • “the smell of the knowledge of Him” (h( o)smh\ th=$ gnw/sew$ au)tou=)—a genitive chain with three terms, each of which are treated below; a parallel genitive chain, even more extended, is used at a similar point in 4:6 (cf. the next note):
    • o)smh/ (osm¢¡), “smell”, either pleasant or foul. Here a pleasing aroma or fragrance is meant, as indicated by the use of eu)wdi/a (“good scent”) in verse 15. The combination of o)smh/ and eu)wdi/a strongly suggests the fragrance of the sacrificial offerings (cf. Lev 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, etc. [LXX]). Here the “sacrifice” as such is the proclamation of the Gospel, and the role of Paul and his fellow ministers in this activity—for the parallel between Christian ministers and Moses (and the Priesthood), cf. the illustration in chapter 3. Paul plays again on the ambiguity of o)smh/ is verse 16—a good smell of life to the ones being saved (through the Gospel), but a stench of death for the ones perishing. The otherwise mixed metaphor of sight and smell indicates that the verb fanero/w is used more or less in the general sense of “appear, make manifest”.
    • gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis), “knowledge”. For Paul’s use of gnw=si$, cf. Part 1 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. The genitive construct makes clear that the smell is “the smell of knowledge“. If the sacrificial allusion is accepted (cf. above), then the orientation has shifted notably—instead of being directed toward God, the sacrifice is intended for human beings, to bring the knowledge of God to them. This is important when considering possible gnostic elements in the New Testament, and will be discussed further in that series.
    • au)tou=, “of him, his”—I have rendered the genitive relationship literally (“knowledge of him [i.e. God]”), though itself it is ambiguous; it could be subjective (God’s own knowledge) or objective (knowledge about/regarding God). Certainly the latter is meant here, though the two aspects can never be separated entirely, especially with regard to God’s (fore)knowledge of believers.

What is particularly significant about this pair of expressions is the way they must be taken to inform each other: the sacrificial “smell of the knowledge of (God)” comes about entirely “in Christ”.