1 Corinthians Chapter 2:1-8

Chapter 2 begins. The next two posts should be fairly short, which may be a welcome relief after the last two.

1 Κἀγὼ ἐλθὼν πρὸς ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, ἦλθον οὐ καθ’ ὑπεροχὴν λόγου ἢ σοφίας καταγγέλλων ὑμῖν τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θεοῦ.

And I coming among among you, brothers,  I came not according to authoritative words or preaching in wisdom to you the mystery of God.

This echoes a sentiment in Galatians; Paul is being humble, but the question is, compared to whom? “Authoritative” words sounds, to me, like a reference to members of the Jerusalem Assembly, to people who could state that they had known Jesus, or that they were representing people who had known Jesus. Paul has this tone of defensiveness in a lot of his writing. He seems, IMO, to have a decided inferiority complex. This, I suspect, came from his competition with the James Gang.

“The mystery of God”. Not the “kingdom of God”. Does that matter? I tend to think it doesn’t, but I’m open to arguments to the contrary. A quick aside: there is nothing particularly sinister, or even mysterious about the Greek word << μυστήριον >> (mysterion). It simply refers to a part of the rite, or the ritual, that was only revealed to the initiated. “Mystery Religions” were plentiful at the time, all with their own peculiar secret, most of which have been lost because the secrets were reasonably well-kept.

So what do we think the ‘mystery’ was? Not to be a spoil-sport, but this could simply refer to the eucharistic meal, which would qualify as a ‘mystery’ in the ancient sense of the word since it was reserved for the initiated. Of course, it could be more significant than that, but it’s not necessary that it be so. 

1 Et ego, cum venissem ad vos, fratres, veni non per sublimitatem sermonis aut sapientiae annuntians vobis mysterium Dei.

2 οὐ γὰρ ἔκρινά τι εἰδέναι ἐν ὑμῖν εἰ μὴ  Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν καὶ τοῦτον ἐσταυρωμένον.

For I did not judge (= ‘decide’) to know anything among you other than Jesus Christ, and him having been crucified.

About the Greek: in order to smooth this into something resembling English, all of my crib translations render this as:

                      …For I determined/decided not to know anything among you…

If you think about mine vs. the crib translations, they come to the same thing. Sort of, anyway. It’s just the beauty of translating.

As for the meaning, or the intent, once again, Paul is doing a bit of a two-step to get around both the strictures of Jewish Law and the rigor of Greek philosophy. He’s not going to try to present a case based on Talmud, or present a logical argument. He’s simply going to talk about the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ, because that’s all there is, and that’s all that’s necessary.

2 Non enim iudicavi scire me aliquid inter vos nisi Iesum Christum et hunc crucifixum.

3 κἀγὼ ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ καὶ ἐν φόβῳ καὶ ἐντρόμῳ πολλῷ ἐγενόμην πρὸς ὑμᾶς,

And I in weakness and in a great fear and (great) trembling was among you,

The humility again. “Fear and Trembling”. This is the title of a book by Kierkegaard. In a sense, this sort of gives the lie to Paul’s protestations of ‘weakness’. A lot of his sort of throw-off lines (through a glass and darkly) have become fixtures in the imagery of English (can’t speak to other languages).

OK, humility. That’s all very fine and good, but what does this imply? It would seem to imply that his competitors preaching the other gospel(s) perhaps do come in with a case based on the Talmud, or an argument that would impress Socrates. Perhaps Apollos was a philosopher. At this point, it’s hard to say, but Paul tends to protest too much, which makes me think that he was up against something, and that he tried to turn his weaknesses into a strength.

 3 Et ego in infirmitate et timore et tremore multo fui apud vos,

4 καὶ ὁ λόγος μου καὶ τὸ κήρυγμά μου οὐκ ἐν πειθοῖ[ς] σοφίας [λόγοις] ἀλλ’ ἐν ἀποδείξει πνεύματος καὶ δυνάμεως,

And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive (words) of wisdom, but in the manifesting of the spirit and power.

This sort of reminds me of the question on a job interview: “what is your biggest weakness?”. The clever applicant knows how to “admit” to a weakness that, lo! turns out to be a strength! This repeats what he said in 1 Thess 1:5, when Paul tells us (brags?) how he preached in power and the sacred breath. Here he repeats the boast (?), but sort of qualifies it with his “weakness”. His lack of sophistication and rhetorical polish is more than made up for by the power of the message, and perhaps the force of Paul’s delivery. Perhaps we should consider Paul to be charismatic? The sort who can carry a crowd, but perhaps also the sort who, when he is not in front of them, those who heard the message maybe lose some of the sense of power that Paul put forth, so the erstwhile audience starts to wonder what the bid deal was? Why had he seemed so persuasive? Or, Paul may have been one of those terribly earnest people who wear their heart on their sleeve, and they seem to be so eager to persuade you that you sort of go along for the moment, only to reconsider after some reflection. This might explain why his assemblies were ripe for persuasion by the ‘other gospels’.  Paul, of course, won out in the end. His works became canonical, rather than those of Apollos (assuming, for the sake of argument, that Apollos wrote anything). And maybe it’s because of phrases like “fear and trembling” and “through a glass darkly”. Paul belonged to the winning side; his side wrote the histories.

4 et sermo meus et praedicatio mea non in persuasibilibus sapientiae verbis sed in ostensione Spiritus et virtutis,

5 ἵνα ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν μὴ ᾖ ἐν σοφίᾳ ἀνθρώπων ἀλλ’ ἐν δυνάμει θεοῦ.

So that your faith may not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Again, Paul has used this distinction before, this time in Galatians. There, the good news was not revealed to him by mere humans (meaning Peter, and especially James), but directly from God through the Christ. In informal logic, this would be called the ‘appeal to authority’; maybe Paul can’t convince you with his arguments, so he’ll claim that his words came from a higher source.

Getting back to the comment on V-4 about Paul’s earnestness, I think it should be–and very likely was–very obvious that Paul truly believed what he was saying. That his belief was consuming, thorough, and all-inclusive, wholly devoid of doubt. This, I think, likely came through to his listeners. And this is, indeed, a powerful attribute in a speaker, especially when describing faith. As such, it is easy to see how Paul and his listeners would attribute this to the power of God, flowing strongly, with Paul as its conduit.

This also, I think, explains why Paul is so dismissive of logic and argument and pretty words. To him, the message is so absolute that any attempts to “pretty it up” amount to obfuscation, and Paul would recoil from this in horror.  

5 ut fides vestra non sit in sapientia hominum sed in virtute Dei.

6 Σοφίαν δὲ λαλοῦμεν ἐν τοῖς τελείοις, σοφίαν δὲ οὐ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου οὐδὲ τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτουτῶν καταργουμένων:

We speak wisdom among those completed (perfected), but not the wisdom of this age, or the wisdom of the rulers of this age that is being destroyed;

Just a reminder, that the Greek is “final” or “the end”, but this is in the sense of “completed” and so, “perfected”. So wisdom is spoken with the perfect, but a special kind of wisdom. It’s the wisdom of the true believers, those for whom the message is so strong and so pure that the simple message becomes the essence of wisdom. This is, at the root, anti-intellectual, because it’s a wisdom of faith. Martin Luther would understand this, and speak this language 1,500 years later. 

“Rulers of this age” became part of the Gnostic tradition. The archons (rulers) were part of the heavenly host that the Gnostics were so fond of that they created dozens of different denizens of the other world. I have no idea if this is a term that Paul coined, or if he assimilated it from the general milieu about him. Was he the author of the idea? Or just a participant? “Gnosticm” as it has come to be defined did not fully exist during Paul’s lifetime, based on the sources we have available to us. It seems to have been a phenomenon of the Second Century, with Marcion coming in as the first full-fledged Gnostic, or proto-Gnostic. I should note: Marcion rejected most of the canonical NT; but he did believe retain the works of Paul in his revised canon.

6 Sapientiam autem loquimur inter perfectos, sapientiam vero non huius saeculi neque principum huius saeculi, qui destruuntur,

7 ἀλλὰ λαλοῦμεν θεοῦ σοφίαν ἐν μυστηρίῳ, τὴν ἀποκεκρυμμένην, ἣν προώρισεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων εἰς δόξαν ἡμῶν:

( continuing from V-6) rather, we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery (a secret), the one which has been hidden away, the one God pre-ordained from before the age towards our glory,

Well, the idea of a secret wisdom should help explain my last comment, about Marcion, the Gnostic who accepted Paul as canonical. Now, given the nature of ‘mystery’ religions, this need not mean ‘secret’ to the extent we might take it today. In addition, this theme of ‘mysteries’, or ‘things having been hidden’ are not common in Paul, nor in the NT as a whole. As such, I’m not entirely sure we should make too much of this, especially if we bear in mind the way ‘mystery’ was generally used in the Ancient World.

7 sed loquimur Dei sapientiam in mysterio, quae abscondita est, quam praedestinavit Deus ante saecula in gloriam nostram,

8 ἣν οὐδεὶς τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου ἔγνωκεν, εἰ γὰρ ἔγνωσαν, οὐκ ἂν τὸν κύριον τῆς δόξης ἐσταύρωσαν.

(cont’d from previous verse) which none of the rulers of this age have recognized, for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the lord of glory.

So the ‘mystery’ apparently is the knowledge that Jesus was the Christ. The rulers of this age were not aware of that, which is why they crucified him. Now, if they had known Jesus’ identity, and had not crucified him, what would that have done to God’s plan? Would Jesus still have become the Christ? That may be a semi-facetious question, but OTOH, it really isn’t. The Christ became the Redeemer who redeemed our pawn ticket, and so he became the ransom. Interestingly, though, we have not come across the idea of Jesus as the sacrifice. Not yet.

8 quam nemo principum huius saeculi cognovit; si enim cognovissent, numquam Dominum gloriae crucifixissent.


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 27, 2013, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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