1 Corinthians Chapter 4:1-8

1 Οὕτως ἡμᾶς λογιζέσθω ἄνθρωπος ὡς ὑπηρέτας Χριστοῦ καὶ οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ.

In this way let a man think us ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

First, we came across the word <<  ὑπηρέτας >> in Mark. It was used when Peter was among the servants in the outer courtyard of the High Priest’s house. Here, we can see how the word can have slightly different connotations. After all, a servant takes care of, or ministers to, the needs/wants of the master. So, the important thing to remember is that ‘minister’ here has subservient connotations. We are used to thinking of a government minister as someone who has power, to whom we must kowtow, rather than someone who would perhaps be looking after us. However, the government minister was so termed because he (it was always a ‘he’) was taking care of things for the king. That is, he was acting as a servant, doing the king’s bidding.

Second, << οἰκονόμους >>, which transliterates as << oikonomous >> the root of ‘economy’. Which means something like ‘the law of the house(hold)’. So here the oikonomous would be sort of like the butler, or the major domo (which, in Latin, is the ‘first in the house’). So, ‘steward’ is appropriate.

Now for the actual meaning of this. Note the contrast between ‘minister/servant of Christ’ vs. ‘steward/keeper of the mysteries of God’. Those have very different meanings. Servants of Christ requires, I think, no explanation, because the words are obvious and the sense is familiar. But ‘steward of the mysteries’ is a bit different. This would be the person or persons who were responsible for the cultic ritual for the mystery religions. Their role would be more of, say, gatekeeper, or the person making the arrangements, or looking after the equipment, or even perhaps the one performing the ritual. But notice that the sense is that the steward is responsible to the mystery, the act of the mystery, whereas Paul is saying that we must also be responsible to the Christ as his ministers/servants. The point is that the ritual is not an end unto itself, as it may have been in some of the mystery religions. Or, at least, Paul may have felt or thought that this was true.

1 Sic nos existimet homo ut ministros Christi et dispensatores mysteriorum Dei.

2 ὧδε λοιπὸν ζητεῖται ἐν τοῖς οἰκονόμοις ἵνα πιστός τις εὑρεθῇ.

Here the rest may be sought among the stewards, so that some faith may be found.

This is interesting. My translation differs significantly from what others have: the consensus is “that someone faithful may be found“. The problem with this is that << πιστός >> is in the nominative case, which is used as the subject of the sentence. For the consensus translation to be accurate, I would say the genitive would be more appropriate: “so that someone of faith may be found“. Either that, or ‘faith’ should be in an adjective form, like ‘pistikos‘.

And, lo and behold, that is exactly what the Latin says: “someone of faith“, << quis fidelis >> may be found. So, once again, we have a consensus translation. It’s not a serious matter, it’s not a big deal, but this is another indication that this isn’t as settled, or as black-and-white as we may want to believe. Now, of course, there may be something about Greek that makes this a perfectly legitimate construction; if so, I would ask that someone point this out, and cite, if possible, another example. And just in case, I will apologize in advance for not knowing this.

2 Hic iam quaeritur inter dispensatores, ut fidelis quis inveniatur.

3 ἐμοὶ δὲ εἰς ἐλάχιστόν ἐστιν ἵνα ὑφ’ ὑμῶν ἀνακριθῶ ἢ ὑπὸ ἀνθρωπίνης ἡμέρας: ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ ἐμαυτὸν ἀνακρίνω:

But for me it is to the least in order that by you I am judged, or by a human court (lit = ‘day’, as in ‘day of court’). But neither do I  judge myself.

This is a peculiar use of << ἡμέρας >>, which means ‘day’. Per Liddell & Scott, this use of ‘day’ is peculiar to the NT. The idea behind it is that it’s the day appointed for a trial. What is even more interesting is that the idiom is carried into Latin as well.

Now, what is going on? Once again, how do we get from Verse 1 to this? What is the progression here? We should be ministers of Christ; we have to search the ministers for someone faithful, and Paul refuses to be judged by anyone. I suppose this is about Paul not being judged as to whether he’s faithful or not, but does this not seem to be a strange thing to say? Or, maybe here’s how to put it: is it not a strange thing to say unless the person saying it is being defensive? That the person saying it seems to be feeling a bit persecuted? Or inferior? Or inadequate? So once again, Paul feels like people are picking on him, or judging him to be less…well, just less than Apollos. 

3 Mihi autem pro minimo est, ut a vobis iudicer aut ab humano die. Sed neque meipsum iudico;

4 οὐδὲν γὰρ ἐμαυτῷ σύνοιδα, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐν τούτῳ δεδικαίωμαι, ὁ δὲ ἀνακρίνων με κύριός ἐστιν.

For I know nothing in/by myself, but not in this am I justified, for the one judging me is the Lord. 

Getting the preposition correct in the first clause is difficult because no preposition is used explicitly.  I have given pretty much the same sense as the KJV, but more recent translations give this as ‘against’ myself, the idea being that Paul is not conscious of any guilt within him. The thing is, ‘myself’ is in the dative, and that’s the indirect object case: by, for, within; opposition is generally put into the accusative case, as the direct object. In this case the Latin isn’t a lot of help. The Latin follows the Greek almost word-for-word, omitting the preposition as well, and putting ‘myself’ into the dative, or possibly the ablative (the same form is used for both cases). In Latin, opposition is also rendered in the accusative. As such, I will stand by my translation, especially since the KJV agrees with me. 

[ As an aside, I’m truly coming to appreciate why the KJV is considered to be the inerrant translation. Personally, I find it somewhat annoying to read, except in small quantities. Like Luke 2:8-14. ]

Be all that as it may, it’s still defensive because Paul is so insistent that no human–meaning none of the Corinthians–shall judge him. Which means, no human will find him wanting. Only the Lord can do that. I can see him sticking out his tongue when he says this. Is it any wonder this part almost never gets read in church?

4 nihil enim mihi conscius sum, sed non in hoc iustificatus sum. Qui autem iudicat me, Dominus est!

5 ὥστε μὴ πρὸ καιροῦ τι κρίνετε, ἕως ἂν ἔλθῃ ὁ κύριος, ὃς καὶ φωτίσει τὰ κρυπτὰ τοῦ σκότους καὶ φανερώσει τὰς βουλὰς τῶν καρδιῶν: καὶ τότε ὁ ἔπαινος γενήσεται ἑκάστῳ ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ.

So that not before the (proper) season will someone judge (me–I assume?), until the one (i.e., the season) when the Lord may come, and which shall illumine those things having been hidden in the shadows, and will manifest the councils of the heart; and then the praise shall be to each from God.

That’s a bit rough, but I think it gets the point across. Here he tells us that the Lord will come–again. At that point, all secrets will be revealed; and the implication is that something is hidden because it does not reflect well on the one doing the hiding.

I’ve been reading  John Domenic Crossan’s book, The Historical Jesus: The Life Of A Mediterranean Peasant,  and he talks a lot about apocalyptic thinking. And we touched on this earlier as well. But still haven’t quite digested all of this talk about apocalypticism. I suspect I will do a post on that when I do. For the time being, suffice it to say that we have been conditioned to think that the Second Coming absolutely entails end-times, which I guess is apocalypticism. The return of the divine Christ at the right hand of God would certainly qualify as divine intervention in human affairs, and Paul’s promise that secrets will be revealed seems to threaten the secret-keepers. But how is this directed at the Romans? 

Answer, I don’t think it is, not in the least. And this is why I say I haven’t digested all of Crossan’s discussion–I don’t think he has put forth an argument yet–of what constitutes apocalyptic thinking. In his treatment, it seems to be the way a defeated people start to fantasize about sticking it to the imperial masters, turning the tables, and having God step in on your behalf. Sort of like bringing in your much bigger brother during a playground scuffle with a bully. If this is true, then where is the threat to the Romans here? I don’t see one, and this is confusing. Roman power was pretty darn overt; there was no secret to it. The counsels of the Romans, their plans, etc., were also pretty overt. What needs to be revealed? Pretty much nothing. So why does Paul mention this stuff about secrets and the counsels of the heart?

As I see it, this also seems directed more at Apollos than any external enemy. Apollos is the one who is apt to have secrets that he doesn’t want revealed. And Paul is apt to suspect him of ulterior–and nefarious–motives.

Now, I don’t have my position here fully developed, so I won’t elaborate on this yet. This sort of dire prediction that lacks any political overtones poses serious problems for Crossan and those who believe Jesus was first and foremost a preacher of an apocalypse that was politically inspired, a reaction to the Roman imperial occupation; Crossan does exactly this. Paul seems completely oblivious to any such political overtones. I will have more–probably much more–to say on this at some later point.

Perhaps the issue is that we need to define ‘apocalypse’ a bit more stringently. “Apocalypse” is often tied up with End-Times/Eschatology, largely, I think, because they are all based on divine intervention. We who have been influenced by the Apocalypse of John, the last book of the NT, see the apocalypse as being about the end times. I do not know if this was always a necessary part of the concept. There is no real reason why God could not intervene to establish his kingdom on earth. God could smite the enemy, set up his chosen people, and then maintain the idyllic situation. Although I suppose one could justifiably say that this does represent the end times/eschaton because this is the final goal of God’s creation. 

So for the moment let’s just leave it that Paul does expect his enemies to be struck down by their own evil intentions, that will be revealed. I think the thing to note is that he does not see the Romans as the primary enemy. That alone is a significant topic of discussion.

5 Itaque nolite ante tempus quidquam iudicare, quoadusque veniat Dominus, qui et illuminabit abscondita tenebrarum et manifestabit consilia cordium; et tunc laus erit unicuique a Deo.

6 Ταῦτα δέ, ἀδελφοί, μετεσχημάτισα εἰς ἐμαυτὸν καὶ Ἀπολλῶν δι’ ὑμᾶς, ἵνα ἐν ἡμῖν μάθητε τὸ Μὴ ὑπὲρ ἃ γέγραπται, ἵνα μὴ εἷς ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἑνὸς φυσιοῦσθε κατὰ τοῦ ἑτέρου.

But these things, brothers, I have transferred as in a figure within me and Apollos on account of you, so in us you may learn, “there is) nothing above (as in ‘extra’) what has been written,” so that not one over one will you be inflated above the rest.

About the Greek. First, if you look up << μετεσχημάτισα >> in the on-line Liddell and Scott, you will find this exact passage cited as an example of the usage of this word. And it will give you the definition “transfer as in a figure” that I dutifully used above, and that you will find in the KJV for this passage. More recent translations change ‘in a figure’ to ‘figuratively’, and that is probably justified. But the point is, this is, as far as I know, a unique usage of this word.  As such, it is by definition a consensus translation, since there are no other uses of this word in this sense. Now, the second classical meaning is ‘to disguise oneself’, so I can see how the word evolved from that into ‘changed figuratively’. But, once again, be aware that not everything in here is completely clear. And, btw, the Latin << transfiguravi >> does not give me the sense of ‘figuratively’, even though ‘figure’ is the root of the verb.

Both the Greek and Latin words, in their base sense, mean to ‘change shape’. That is how I took this initially, until I read what L&S had to say.

One of the big issues here is how sophisticated is this Greek? So far, this feels like it’s a notch above what we found in Galatians or 1 Thessalonians. When passages were difficult there, it seemed like they were just badly written. This passage was difficult, IMO, because it felt like better Greek. The funny thing about “better” Greek is that it can be less clear than “bad” Greek. The best example is Thucydides: a significant portion of the scholarly debate about his work consists of arguments about what he is saying, as opposed to what he means. Theoretically, the debates should be about implications, not basic meaning. 

As for meaning, what does this passage mean? We go from secrets will be revealed to Paul and Apollos being good examples so that the Corinthians are not inflated (literally, as in ‘filled with air’) and so become vain. Now, here’s a thought: perhaps Apollos–at least in Paul’s estimation–did act a bit ‘puffed up’, so Paul is attempting to bring attention to this, however indirectly. I’m not entirely sure what ‘there is nothing above or beyond scripture truly means; is it a way of saying that someone is trying to be more Catholic than the pope? I think it’s something like that.

6 Haec autem, fratres, transfiguravi in me et Apollo propter vos, ut in nobis discatis illud: “Ne supra quae scripta sunt”, ne unus pro alio inflemini adversus alterum.

7 τίς γάρ σε διακρίνει; τί δὲ ἔχεις ὃ οὐκ ἔλαβες; εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔλαβες, τί καυχᾶσαι ὡς μὴ λαβών;

For who distinguishes/separates you? What do you have which you did not accept? For if you did also accept it, why are you boasting as if you did not?

This, OTOH, is not good or bad Greek, but thinking that is not entirely clear. The first part is clear enough.It goes back to the “one over one and above the rest” in the last verse. Who will be the one deciding that one (e.g. Apollos) is better than another (like Paul)? He is not going to let this go. As for the rest of it, I don’t quite follow. What do you have that you didn’t accept? OK, guess that is more or less comprehensible. But, if you do have it, why do you boast like you didn’t? I guess this means that people (e.g. Apollos) are boasting as if they did not have a rhetorical education, when, in fact, he did.

If I’m being a dullard here and just missing the point, please let me know.

7 Quis enim te discernit? Quid autem habes, quod non accepisti? Si autem accepisti, quid gloriaris, quasi non acceperis?

8 ἤδη κεκορεσμένοι ἐστέ: ἤδη ἐπλουτήσατε: χωρὶς ἡμῶν ἐβασιλεύσατε: καὶ ὄφελόν γε ἐβασιλεύσατε, ἵνα καὶ ἡμεῖς ὑμῖν συμβασιλεύσωμεν.

Now you are satiated; now you are rich. Without us you ruled. And  would that you did reign, so that we also might reign with you.

I am honestly not sure that I follow the line of thought here. Paul is obviously indulging his other favorite pastime: flattering his audience. The part about reigning/ruling, then Paul wishing that they reigned seems almost contradictory. I’m not sure I know what else to say about this. My apologies!

8 Iam saturati estis, iam divites facti estis. Sine nobis regnastis; et utinam regnaretis, ut et nos vobiscum regnaremus.


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 28, 2013, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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