1 Corinthians Chapter 1:18-31

This will conclude Chapter 1. It’s a bit of a long stretch, but there’s no real natural break, so it was a question of one section that’s too long, or two that are two short.

18 Ὁ λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν.

For the account of the cross to those being destroyed is foolishness, but to those being saved, us, it is the power of God.

Here we are, less than a chapter in, and already we need to quibble over translations. Did that even happen a handful of times in Mark? I don’t think so. First, << λόγος >>. This is an incredibly complex word because the range of possible definitions is enormous. At root, it’s simple, “word”. As in, “In the beginning was the Word” << Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος >>, which is the metaphysical opening of John’s gospel. But it means so much more than that, and any time it’s encountered, we have to stop and really, really think about this. The KJV, interestingly, chose “preaching”, which is truly a stretch, IMO. It’s legitimate, but “preach” has connotations that are not usually in the Greek. The NASB and ESV went the safest root, and used “word”. While this is obviously consistent with John 1:1, “the word of the cross” is borderline meaningless in English, I think. Well, not exactly meaningless, but something of an odd concept. The NIV went with “message”, which isn’t that far from my choice of ‘account’. 

It always, always bears to remember that << λόγος >> is the root for “-ology”, as in bi-ology, psych-ology, & c. It’s also the root of “logic”. And Aristotle didn’t say a human is a rational animal; Aristotle spoke Greek. He said man was a “zoon logon echein“. This is probably best translated as “living creature with reason (as in, rational capacity). So I always get a bit…well, I harrumph a bit when I see this rendered as “word”, except in places where that’s what it obviously means. Here, I don’t think that’s what it means. The Latin ‘verbum‘ is a much narrower concept. At root, it means ‘word’, but it can also mean conversation, discourse, & c., so it covers that part of the spectrum of “logos“. Now, I have the distinct impression that St Jerome’s choice of “verbum” to translate “logos” in John 1:1 is how it ended up as “in the beginning was the word“, rather than “organizing principle”, which I would prefer. Now, yes, Erasmus and all the Reformation translators of the NT went back to the Greek, but they were all educated in Latin. Seeing “verbum“, they fell into the base meaning and we got “word”. Luther, for example, gave his congregation “das Wort“, which, of course, is the root for “word” in English.

Second, we have “save” << σῳζο->> . Now we saw this in Mark. But, I hope you will recall that the usage was different in the first half of the gospel (Chapters 1-7) than it was in the second half. In the first half, it referred to “saving one’s physical life”. In the second, it became “saved” as in, “the opposite of damned”. So that it seems to mean “saved” in the second sense of the word, saved in regard to eternity, or…something. Remember the scenario of 1 Thessalonians: those followers of Jesus who are strong in their faith will be lifted into the heavens to join Jesus who is coming down on a cloud. This, IMO, supports my contention that the second half of Mark’s gospel, the “Christ” story, derives in some way from the Pauline tradition rather than the Wonder-Worker tradition.

But the concept of ‘being saved’ has not really occurred all that often in Paul yet; at least in the two other epistles that we have read. It has been used once, in 1 Thessalonians, so it’s truly difficult to say with confidence what the concept means. I would assume that it’s connected with the idea of being lifted up to heaven, but this is nowhere stated explicitly. This is why so much of what we believe is the constructions and inferences of later generations.

Finally, the idea of ‘foolishness’. We’ll pick this up in the next verse.

 18 Verbum enim crucis pereuntibus quidem stultitia est; his autem, qui salvi fiunt, id est nobis, virtus Dei est.

19 γέγραπται γάρ, Ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν, καὶ τὴν σύνεσιν τῶν συνετῶν ἀθετήσω’.

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set as naught the intelligence of the intelligent.”

First, sorry about “set as naught” but that’s the first definition in Liddell and Scott, and I couldn’t resist. But in this instance, the archaic feel, I think helps clarify. Or rather, the meaning of the phrase is so powerful that it overcomes the problem of the archaic language.

 Second, this is a quote from Isaiah. It’s one of those sections where God is angry because he is worshiped with empty words, so he’s going to take retribution. This idea of the wise being foolish is rather peculiar to Paul. It’s interesting to speculate what it is in his background that makes him take this tack. Is it because he was a Pharisee, who was presumably held to be wise because he was so knowledgeable in Scripture? And now that he sees faith, rather than knowledge, as the key to salvation, the idea of being wise seems sort of ridiculous? Or, at least, pointless? Or is this a shot at cultural Greeks, for whom wisdom, and the love of wisdom (philo-sophia) was held in such high esteem that he found it ridiculous or vain? 

Both? Neither? It’s difficult for me to say at this point, but something to consider. Perhaps it will provide some insight into Paul’s other beliefs, or into the way Paul views the world.

19 Scriptum est enim: “ Perdam sapientiam sapientium / et prudentiam prudentium reprobabo”.

20 ποῦ σοφός; ποῦ γραμματεύς; ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου; οὐχὶ ἐμώρανεν ὁ θεὸς τὴν σοφίαν τοῦ κόσμου;

For where is wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the one disputing of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

(Greek note: << συζητητὴς >> is unique to Paul.  It’s formed from a word that means ‘to dispute’, with some legal/debating sort of sense. As such, I think that he’s trying to get across the sense of something like what we would consider an attorney. )

The anti-wisdom continues. This anti-wisdom is a thread that has run through most of Christian history. It’s not always been predominate; quite the opposite. In fact, the resurrection of this attitude was one of the death blows to the Mediaeval Scholastic world-view, leading ultimately to the Reformation.

20 Ubi sapiens? Ubi scriba? Ubi conquisitor huius saeculi? Nonne stultam fecit Deus sapientiam huius mundi?

21 ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω ὁ κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν, εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας.

For, since in the wisdom of God, the world does not know through the wisdom of God,  God is pleased through foolishness of the announcement (preaching) to save those believing. 

I think that’s clear? The idea is that, God in his wisdom chose not to allow (?) the world to understand things according to God’s wisdom. Rather, because the announcement he made (what is being preached) is so foolish, only those believing will be saved.

Now, here we get a clear distinction for the faith/wisdom-knowledge dichotomy that still runs like a red line through Christian belief. And, since faith has been given precedence, this has often led to an attitude that is actively anti-science, or anti-learning. It was present at the beginning, too, when Christians debated the vanity of learning the Classical authors, with a significant proportion actively proposed to the idea. It is still with us. I don’t want to go all judgemental, so I’ll leave it at that.

But again the idea of being saved, without actually telling us what this means. But I think that ‘saved’ here, again should be taken in the sense of eternal, rather than temporal, life.

21 Nam quia in Dei sapientia non cognovit mundus per sapientiam Deum, placuit Deo per stultitiam praedicationis salvos facere credentes.

22 ἐπειδὴ καὶ Ἰουδαῖοι σημεῖα αἰτοῦσιν καὶ Ελληνες σοφίαν ζητοῦσιν,

And since the Jews ask for a sign, and the Hellenes (Greeks) seek wisdom,

Comment deferred

22 Quoniam et Iudaei signa petunt, et Graeci sapientiam quaerunt,

23  ἡμεῖς δὲ κηρύσσομεν Χριστὸν ἐσταυρωμένον, Ἰουδαίοις μὲν σκάνδαλον ἔθνεσιν δὲ μωρίαν,

While we are announcing (preaching) Christ crucified, the Jews on the one hand are scandalized stumble on this, while on the other hand the Gentiles think we’re morons,

(Greek note: I essentially transliterated ‘scandalized’. However, in checking the crib translations, they all rendered this as ‘stumbling block’, which is the real meaning of the word. So I bowed to the better translated and altered mine.)

(Greek note: a rare instance of the full << μὲν…δὲ >> construction, so I translated as such. It’s such an elegant formation; I wish there was something equivalent in English. The hand/hand thing is cumbersome.  Also, <<μωρίαν>> is the root of the English word ‘moron’.)

This is why I asked the question about whom Paul had in mind when he introduced the anti-wisdom theme back in V-19. Here he clearly has the Greeks seeking after wisdom–vainly, as Paul would see it–in mind. 

23 nos autem praedicamus Christum crucifixum, Iudaeis quidem scandalum, gentibus autem stultitiam;

24 αὐτοῖς δὲ τοῖς κλητοῖς, Ἰουδαίοις τε καὶ Ελλησιν, Χριστὸν θεοῦ δύναμιν καὶ θεοῦ σοφίαν:

but to those so called, Jews and Greeks, Christ (is?) the power of God and the wisdom of God.

To be honest, not entirely sure what this means. 

KJV: But unto them which are called,both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

NASB: but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

“Christ” and “wisdom” are in the accusative case; we might imagine and accusative + infinitive, but there’s no infinitive. No verb at all. As you can see, the KJV and the NASB (and ESV & NIV) really can’t do anything with it, either.  What am I missing? I’ve looked at this a couple of times, over a couple of days, but…nothing.

24 ipsis autem vocatis, Iudaeis atque Graecis, Christum Dei virtutem et Dei sapientiam;

25 ὅτι τὸ μωρὸν τοῦ θεοῦ σοφώτερον τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐστίν, καὶ τὸ ἀσθενὲς τοῦ θεοῦ ἰσχυρότερον τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

That the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom than (that) of men, and the weakness of of God is stronger than (that) of men.

Don’t think this requires much comment. It’s basically the sort of abasement of lowly humans before the might and majesty of God that’s been going on as long as humans have been aware of God.

25 quia quod stultum est Dei, sapientius est hominibus, et, quod infirmum est Dei, fortius est hominibus.

26 Βλέπετε γὰρ τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα, οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί, οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς:

For look at your calling, brothers, that not many are wise about material things, not many are  powerful, not many are well-born.

This is interesting.Here we have a statement from Paul that the members of the congregation are, essentially, of the lower classes: not wise, not powerful, not high-born. This fits nicely with the injunctions of the (later) gospels about how the poor and the meek will inherit the kingdom. Now the assumption has always been that Jesus taught this; but given the temporal precedence of this letter, I now suddenly wonder if the preaching about being poor and meek is not something that, far from tracing back to Jesus, was an after-the-fact addition to the message, an after-the-fact validation of the sort that had gathered in Jesus’ name. More, let’s remember some of what we said about James, and the latter’s injunction to Paul (as reported in Galatians) that Paul should/must ‘remember the poor’ (Gal 2:10). Remember, we did not encounter all that much about the poor in Mark, and especially not in the first half of the gospel. There was the rich young man in Mark 10, and the eye of the needle, but not much else. Why not? Perhaps because that was not Jesus’ message? That the command to poverty was something that developed later?

I’m truly beginning to believe that Mark did write somewhere other than Judea, or even the Eastern Mediterranean. I am truly getting the feel that Mark had access to these two different traditions, and he did his best to combine them, but that he did not quite grasp what the situation on the ground was, and how the two different traditions interacted–or didn’t. Mark’s narrative has the feel of a translation by someone who’s not quite fluent in the language. And I don’t mean Greek or Aramaic, but the language as spoken by Jesus’ followers at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, in Judea, or Syria, or the environs.

26 Videte enim vocationem vestram, fratres; quia non multi sapientes secundum carnem, non multi potentes, non multi nobiles;

27 ἀλλὰ τὰ μωρὰ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεὸς ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τοὺς σοφούς, καὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεὸς ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τὰ ἰσχυρά,

Rather the foolishness of the world God chose in order that he might shame the wise, and the weakness of the world God chose in order to shame the powerful.

First, I think “powerful” doesn’t mean Herculean strength; I believe it’s political or social power, the sort that would be enjoyed and wielded by those well-born. Perhaps that’s obvious, but it wasn’t necessarily so to me.

Actually, what this sounds like is the message in the beginning of the second half in which Jesus says the last shall be first, and the leader must be the servant of all. It ties in nicely with the injunctions in the opening chapters of the second half to become like a child, who was neither wise nor powerful. But again, is Paul making this point because Jesus made it? Or did “Jesus” later make the point to explain why the ecclesiae were composed of the sort of people that assembled in Jesus name?

Remember: almost nowhere does Paul recount anything that Jesus said before the crucifixion. Is Paul doing that here? Given the rest of Paul’s message, that seems like it might be unlikely. Since the Jesus communities became groups of the lower classes, maybe the message that Jesus intended it to be this way was projected backwards by later writers. Because let’s remember that the full-throated message of Christianity really begins with Matthew, who probably was writing in the environs of the Holy Land. The writing of Matthew’s gospel has traditionally been located in Antioch, or Syria. IOW, much closer to the site of Jesus’ life, and it was written close to a generation after Mark. During the interim, perhaps the identity of the proto-Christian (if not full-blown Christian) community had become more pronounced.

Speculation, to be sure, but it seems to fit the facts of the texts that we have, does it not?

27 sed, quae stulta sunt mundi, elegit Deus, ut confundat sapientes, et infirma mundi elegit Deus, ut confundat fortia,

28 καὶ τὰ ἀγενῆ τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὰ ἐξουθενημένα ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός, τὰ μὴ ὄντα, ἵνα τὰ ὄντα καταργήσῃ,

And the non-well-born-ness (sic) of the world and the contemptableness God chose, the things not being (powerful/well-born), in order that he might make useless/destroy the things being like that (i.e., powerful, well-born)

Boy, that was a bit convoluted, but it’s pretty much word-for-word with the Greek. Trust me, it’s much more elegant in Greek. This is a quite nice turn of phrase. This brings us back to the discussion about whether Paul wrote his own Greek, or if he dictated and had a secretary (an amanuensis) sort of clean it up and polish it. So far, the Greek seems a bit more shiny than it did in Galatians, so that’s entirely possible. Or, maybe Paul has just gotten better at it. 

28 et ignobilia mundi et contemptibilia elegit Deus, quae non sunt, ut ea, quae sunt, destrueret,

29 ὅπως μὴ καυχήσηται πᾶσα σὰρξ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ.

So that all flesh (=everyone; here, best translated as ‘no one’) may not boast in front of God. 

The idea of boasting before God seems a bit strange; I suppose we should think of the Pharisee in Luke’s story, praying ostentatiously in the front of the church. When we get to that, will I remember to connect back to this cite? Let’s hope so.

The thing is, we have to remember that humility was more or less a Christian invention. Achilles, and the Greeks in general, boasting about one’s prowess was not only expected, but seen as exemplary behaviour. I am not certain if the same held true for Hebraic culture, if the Pharisee was the norm, or the reductio ad absurdum.

29 ut non glorietur omnis caro in conspectu Dei.

30 ἐξ αὐτοῦ δὲ ὑμεῖς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὃς ἐγενήθη σοφία ἡμῖν ἀπὸ θεοῦ, δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις,

By him (antecedent = God, V-29) you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom for you from God, (and became) the justification, and holiness and ransom 

Comment at the end…

30 Ex ipso autem vos estis in Christo Iesu, qui factus est sapientia nobis a Deo et iustitia et sanctificatio et redemptio,

 31 ἵνα καθὼς γέγραπται, Ὁ καυχώμενος ἐν κυρίῳ καυχάσθω. So that, as it is written, “Let the one bragging brag in the Lord”.

31 ut quemadmodum scriptum est: / “ Qui gloriatur, in Domino glorietur ”.

First, the quote in V-31 is from Jeremiah 9:23-24. I guess we are here seeing the beginnings of Christian humility, wherein humans are not to pride themselves in any accomplishments because, in the final analysis, it’s all about what God has granted us. This idea was not, IMO, very well developed in Mark. The only real references to it came when Jesus said that we have to become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven, or when he said that the first shall be last, or when he told the disciples that the one who would be the greatest had to be the servant of all. And even these are not really quite the same thing as what Paul is saying here. However, that is, I think, picking nits; the idea is that of being humble, and there are a number of ways this can be approached. And what I consider being humble, may not seem so to someone else. After all, being child-like may not seem as humbling as being the servant of all.

One more thing about the humility theme. Once again, it’s something that does not show up in the first seven chapters. This theme makes its appearance in Chapter 9, and runs through Chapter 12. This is the second, half, what I am saying is the “Christ half”, vs. the Wonder-worker half of Chapters 1-7. It will be interesting to see how many of Paul’s themes show up in that first half.

Finally, the last word of V-30: << ἀπολύτρωσις >>. Note that the Latin is << redemptio >>. All four of my crib translations render this as ‘redemption”, which is obviously a direct borrowing of the Latin. For the Christian, this is a very significant word. But what did Paul mean by it? First, let’s note that this word is used once in Luke, twice in Romans, and here; later it will show up in Ephesians, Colossians, and Hebrews, a total of nine times. As such, it’s hard to argue that this is a central theme of the NT. Even John does not use the word. For Christians, the meaning is obvious, and it’s more or less synonymous with “salvation” or “saviour”.  It is very important to remember, however, that, in its Greek form, and especially in Latin, the base sense of the word is to redeem, as we redeem an item from a pawn shop. That is, we pay money to get something back.

Part of the meaning in both Greek and Latin is “ransom”. Now, it bears to remember that capturing people in combat and then selling them back to their own side was a very prominent and lucrative business in the ancient world, and continued to be in the Middle Ages. We, of course, most associate the word with the ransom (which is really just a form of redemption) paid to kidnappers. The thing is, these all pretty much describe what Christians mean by ‘redemption’. At least, this is very close to the way the word is used in the Roman Rite, the one with which I’m most familiar.

Now, it is very important to realize that this is the first use of this word by (proto-) Christians. Paul also expressed a very similar idea in Gal 3:13, when he talked about Jesus buying our freedom from the curse of the law. These two usages taken together provide a sense that Paul is creating an interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’ death. Or, it can be said that he is creating the meaning of Jesus’ death, the meaning that will become the orthodox interpretation of the central tenet of Christian belief.

IOW, this is a very big step in the development of Christian theology.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on November 16, 2013, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. BIBLE TRANSLATIONS

    The thought process of some Christians is puzzling to say the least. Why do some believers in Christ question that God has the power to guide men to translate Bibles that are inerrant, trustworthy, accurate, faultless, reliable, infallible.

    Some of the same Christians who believe the following miracles of the Bible, doubt that God can produce an inerrant translation of the Bible.

    They believe that Aaron’s staff became a serpent. (Exodus 7:10-12) However they do not believe that translations of the Bible are trustworthy.

    They believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead. (John 21:14) However they do not agree that Bible translations are inerrant.

    They believe that the dead man Elisha stood up on his feet. (2 Kings 13:20-21) However they doubt that Bible translations are infallible.

    They believe Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. (John 11:37-44) However they do not affirm that Bible translations are reliable.

    They believe that God turned Lots wife into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26) However they are not convince that God has given us a translation of the Bible that is accurate.

    Even those who state that the King James translation is the only accurate translation, believe that Mark 16:16 does mean what is says: They say “Has been baptized shall be saved” actually means, “Has already been saved before they were baptized.” They assert that Acts 2:38 actually means “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because your sins have already been forgiven.” They really do not trust the KJV either.

    Ninety-nine percent of the Bible translations are accurate, trustworthy, inerrant translations of God’s word.

    A few of my favorites are New American Standard Bible, King James Version, New King James Version, English Standard Version, and New International Version. There are also many other reliable translations.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Steve. Sorry it took so long to put up. And thanks for the follow.

    I follow your points, and you are correct: if God can do all the things we are told that happened in the Bible, then an inerrant translation can certainly be accomplished.

    However my purpose here is a bit different. I’m reading and commenting on this as an historian, rather than as a believer, or a non-believer.

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