Summary 1 Corinthians Chapter 2

So what’s this one all about? As with most of the chapters of Paul, there is no single, unifying theme. This is a function, IMO, of the essentially ad hoc nature of all the epistles. We have to keep in mind, but it’s so easy to forget, that these are letters. They are not epistles, but standard-issue, garden-variety letters. They were written in the real world by a real person, sent, and meant to be read on the other end. This is not a doctoral thesis, or an essay for a class. Those of us old enough to remember writing real honest-to-goodness letters will remember how scattered a letter could be, a stream-of-conscious brain dump.

Now, Paul’s letters are not personal, sent to keep in touch with old friends, but purposeful. The idea was to address certain issues that had come to Paul’s attention. As such, he had specific topics to address, but these are not unitary documents, or monographs. As such, it would be surprising, I think, if the various chapters had unitary themes. But there are two main themes and a couple of what I’m calling ‘hanging implications’; these are statements that throw off a huge amount of theological significance that is simply left there without further comment. There is no attempt by Paul to work these out. In fact, they are off-hand comments, the implications of which Paul was perhaps not even aware. and that he’d almost certainly not thought-through in any meaningful way. In some ways, these sorts of statements are the most interesting, because they give away thoughts in an unfiltered, un-spun (to use the current political analogy) manner.

The first theme is Paul talking about his weakness, his fear and trembling, and the distinction between worldly and spiritual knowledge. The two are connected. Paul came to the Corinthians wary and nervous because he was versed in spiritual knowledge, but he fears the Corinthians would be expecting to hear worldly wisdom: fancy, polished rhetoric, big words, fluent delivery. IOW, an orator in the best Greek tradition. Paul had, and was, none of those things. Instead, Paul possessed spiritual knowledge. I mentioned this at the time, but what I suspect this meant was that he had the conviction of a true believer. He could persuade, but not through his oratory, but because people believed him because he was so obviously sincere in his beliefs, and so obvious in his faith. It’s hard to tell from this distance whether Paul was being honest, or somewhat disingenuous about his frailty and his lack of sophistication. This could well have been a bit of a shtick with, or for, him. One thing he doesn’t strike me as is shy. He was a true believer that had the conviction of his convictions, and he did not shrink from sharing them.

The other theme concerns the idea of the secrets or mysteries of God. This is a good test case for a Freudian-style analysis. Do we take Paul at face value? Or do we read more into this, possibly more than Paul intended? Sometimes words just mean what they mean. As I said, the idea of a ‘mystery’ (the term is simply transliterated from Greek) in a cult, or a religion was really very commonplace among pagans of the time. So-called ‘Mystery Religions’ were a dime a dozen in Greek cities of any size at all. Even the ‘established’ pagan beliefs included mystery cults, and then there were all the imported varieties, like the mysteries of Magna Mater and Isis. So when Paul talks about secrets and mysteries, this could easily be what he means.

This sort of goes with my idea of Jesus, and Christianity being the product of a cross-fertilization of Judaism with elements of Greek thought. For example, the ‘siblinghood’ (to coin a phrase?) of humanity was a tenet of the Stoics. This also become incorporated into what became Christianity; was this a direct borrow, or a situation where both schools of thought drinking from the same fountain? As far as I know, Judaism did not participate in mystery cult rites. The problem with this question about secrets and mysteries, of course, is that we know what came after Paul. We know about the development of Gnostic beliefs with Marcion; so how far back do we read this tendency? Did it start with Paul?

Actually, my sense is that Paul bumped up against the ideas of mysteries, and he included them in his preaching, but I don’t think he himself went beyond the common understanding of the term as it was used in his lifetime. This is subject to revision as we get deeper into the epistle; we may find more about secrets and such, but so far I don’t think we’ve seen enough to warrant us seeing Paul as a proto-Gnostic. The idea does not get sufficiently developed to read too much into the words at this point. More may be revealed.

Finally, we get the ‘hanging implications’. The first concerned an implied distinction between the Christ and God; the second implies the need for prevenient grace. As for the first, it should not be surprising that Paul did not see the Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity. Such a view of the Christ, at this point, is wholly anachronistic. We have said, and others before us have said, that Paul had almost no interest in Jesus. This is one big reason why the  QHJ people are compelled to look for Jesus in the gospels: there is not much to go on in Paul. Given this, it is impossible that Paul understood the human Jesus as in any way divine, and certainly not in any sense that we would agree with. Jesus became divine when he rose from the dead; at least, that’s one standard interpretation of Pauline doctrine. As a result, it’s easy to see how Mark maybe translated this into Jesus being ‘adopted’ by God when he was baptized. It’s not so different from what Paul (apparently) believed, or taught; Mark just moves the date of the adoption back a few years. So for Paul to toss off the distinction so casually, I think, should not surprise us. This is how he saw Jesus/the Christ and God.

The other such implication is perhaps the earliest basis for the idea of prevenient grace. Humans in their natural state are not spiritual. More, they have no element of spirituality in them. And yet, spirituality is necessary if one is going to live the life that the Christ intended us to live. In Galatians 6:8, Paul told us that it is by way of the spirit (not The Spirit) that we will attain eternal life. So how do we become spiritual, that we may attain this life? Paul does not say. Perhaps this explanation will come later. We shall see.,


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 December 7, 2013, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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