1 Corinthians 4:9-21

We continue with Paul addressing the Corinthians.

9 δοκῶ γάρ, ὁ θεὸς ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀποστόλους ἐσχάτους ἀπέδειξεν ὡς ἐπιθανατίους, ὅτι θέατρον ἐγενήθημεν τῷ κόσμῳ καὶ ἀγγέλοις καὶ ἀνθρώποις.

For I think, God displays us last apostles as sick unto death, that we have become a spectacle to the world and to the angels, and to men.

Or–

For I think, God displays those of us having been sent out last as sick unto death, that we have become a spectacle to the world and to the angels, and to men.

First, this word << ἀποστόλους >>. It transliterates as ‘apostolous’, which is clearly ‘apostles’. I touched on this word briefly in comment to 1:1, in which Paul described himself as one ‘called apostle’. I even capitalized the word ‘apostle’, which I regret, but not enough to go back and change it. The translation of this is a situation very similar to that of ‘sacred breath’ vs. ‘holy spirit’. Using ‘apostolous’ as a noun rather than as a participle changes the meaning. The shift is subtle, but it’s meaningful. As a noun, it designates something, or some thing. As participle–those having been sent out–the sense is more that of an adjective. As such, it doesn’t have the feel of a particular thing with an independent existence, or a title specific to a certain class of person. 

My first impulse were was to render this as a participle “those sent out”. However, I went and checked the usage of the word in other places in Paul and the NT. Paul uses the same formula of introduction in Romans: Paul, called apostle”. In this context, IMO, it is clearly used as a noun. Or, a better term is what the fuddy-duddy Greek grammars of the 19th century call ‘substantives’. Wonderful term. A bit broader than ‘noun’, and so it can be used to describe ‘one having been sent out’. 

Here, however, it’s much less clear. And note how the meaning changes in the two translations I have provided. Are we talking about “the last apostles”? That would be either the ones who were appointed last, or it could be that there will be no more. It’s ambiguous, I believe. OTOH, rendering this as ‘those sent out last’ is much more clearly the first sense: the latest–but not necessarily the final–to be sent out.

After a bit of waffling, I gave the translation as ‘last apostles’. Even the KJV already translates this as ‘apostles’, and all the other modern versions I generally use follow this usage. I think I (mostly) agree, if only because of the way Paul uses it elsewhere. And, incidentally, whether it’s intended as a substantive or a participle is much less clear in Mark. By Luke, it seems like the meaning has settled into that of a substantive, but the tradition is that Luke was a member of the Pauline (the Christ) tradition.

So that brings us to the next ambiguity: the last apostles (temporal reference), or final apostles (eschatological implications)? I strongly suspect that Paul means this in an eschatological sense. He is one of the final apostles, because Jesus is coming back soon.

9 Puto enim, Deus nos apostolos novissimos ostendit tamquam morti destinatos, quia spectaculum facti sumus mundo et angelis et hominibus.

10 ἡμεῖς μωροὶ διὰ Χριστόν, ὑμεῖς δὲ φρόνιμοι ἐν Χριστῷ: ἡμεῖς ἀσθενεῖς, ὑμεῖς δὲ ἰσχυροί:  ὑμεῖς ἔνδοξοι, ἡμεῖςδὲ ἄτιμοι.

For we are fools on account of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, you are strong. You are praised, we are not honored.

Presumably the ‘we’ are the apostles, and the ‘you’ is the assembly of Corinth. I’m thinking that the ‘we’ includes Apollos. In this way, Paul is doing what he did back in Chapter 2: he’s being humble in a very passive-aggressive manner. He can’t beat Apollos head-to-head, so he’s bringing them down so that they’re both on a similar level. In this way, Paul can stand on level ground with Apollos.

10 Nos stulti propter Christum, vos autem prudentes in Christo; nos infirmi, vos autem fortes; vos gloriosi, nos autem ignobiles.

11 ἄχρι τῆς ἄρτι ὥρας καὶ πεινῶμεν καὶ διψῶμεν καὶ γυμνιτεύομεν καὶ κολαφιζόμεθα καὶ ἀστατοῦμεν

Until this hour, we hungered, and we thirsted, and we were naked and we were beaten and we were homeless.

About the Greek: the verbs are actually present tense, but that is not how English works.  In Greek–and a lot of other languages, actually–the line between past and present is a bit less definite than in English. Or, at least, it’s drawn in a slightly different place.

This is sort of an extension on the ‘poor Paul’ theme. It refers back, to some extent, to the idea in Verse 8 of wishing the Corinthians were rulers, so Paul could share in the kingdom.

11 Usque in hanc horam et esurimus et sitimus et nudi sumus et colaphis caedimur et instabiles sumus

12 καὶ κοπιῶμεν ἐργαζόμενοι ταῖς ἰδίαις χερσίν: λοιδορούμενοι εὐλογοῦμεν, διωκόμενοι ἀνεχόμεθα,

And we toiled, working with our hands: being reviled, we were blessed, being persecuted we were held up (as in, sustained),

Comment deferred

12 et laboramus operantes manibus nostris; maledicti benedicimus, persecutionem passi sustinemus,

13 δυσφημούμενοι παρακαλοῦμεν: ὡς περικαθάρματα τοῦ κόσμου ἐγενήθημεν, πάντων περίψημα, ἕως ἄρτι.

being reviled we were exhorted, as we became the scum of the earth, the floor scrapings of all, until now.

Perhaps if I were to take a breath here, I would be able to see that Paul is possibly describing the status of the assemblies of Jesus. They were persecuted and hounded, and seen as the dregs of the earth.

Why?

What was it about the communities of Jesus that provoked such a strong negative reaction from others? That Jews were not fond of them makes some sense; after all, Paul was a Jew who was, or could be seen as, turning his back on other Jews, or on Jewish practice. But who else was doing the reviling?

Certainly Acts tells us that Paul was very unpopular in a lot of places, but he was most unpopular among Jews. He caused problems in Ephesus because he was disrupting the trade in tourist trinkets made by the craftsmen of that city. It suddenly strikes me as interesting that Paul does not name his persecutors. Why? There are at least two possible reasons. 1) He’s exaggerating for rhetorical purposes. This is all a ‘woe is me’ act designed to win the sympathy of his audience; or 2) the people hounding him were from the James Gang in Jerusalem. Both these ideas are probably far-fetched. He may simply not want to annoy the Romans. But why would the Romans have been persecuting the proto-Christians at this early date? The first recorded persecutions perhaps came from Nero; the problem with this is that ‘persecution’ is most likely too strong a word for what happened, and at this writing, Nero’s persecutions were limited in space and still several years in the future.

I’m not saying that he couldn’t be referring to the Romans; I’m saying that it’s not a slam-dunk case. We cannot just assume that they were the culprit. If not them, who?

As for rhetorical excess, perhaps there is a bit of that, but it’s likely exaggeration rather than stuff made up of whole cloth. So who?

Recall in Galatians that James had, at least once, sent his disciples to churches that Paul had established.  So James and Paul had, at best, a difficult relationship. I think the buffeting and blows would have been verbal rather than physical, but that fits with the whole ‘reviling’ motif. Here’s a thought: I’ve been assuming that Paul doesn’t like Apollos because the latter was formally educated. What if he was a disciple from James instead? Interesting thought, but I don’t take it too seriously given the time Paul has spent deriding worldly wisdom. In addition, Paul hasn’t gotten onto the whole issue of cutting (i.e., circumcision), nor dietary practice. So chances are Apollos was not part of the James Gang. But the James Gang could be part of the group that was bad-mouthing Paul. I have never heard that suggested, but Paul really puts out a high level of bitterness at times; perhaps this is because he felt betrayed by someone. 

13 blasphemati obsecramus; tamquam purgamenta mundi facti sumus, omnium peripsema, usque adhuc.

14 Οὐκ ἐντρέπων ὑμᾶς γράφω ταῦτα, ἀλλ’ ὡς τέκνα μου ἀγαπητὰ νουθετῶ[ν]:

I do not write these things shaming you, but as my beloved children I admonish (you):

Comment deferred

14 Non ut confundam vos, haec scribo, sed ut quasi filios meos carissimos moneam;

15 ἐὰν γὰρ μυρίους παιδαγωγοὺς ἔχητε ἐν Χριστῷ, ἀλλ’ οὐ πολλοὺς πατέρας,  ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς ἐγέννησα.

For if you have a foolish pedagogue (i.e., tutor) in Christ but  not many fathers. for in Christ Jesus through his good news I have generated (as in ‘given birth’) to you.

Paul has used the metaphor of being the parent or nursemaid in previous letters. It would be very easy to be cynical about such a metaphor, but the thing is, I believe Paul means it. Whatever I think of Paul, I do believe that he was truly sincere in his paternal feelings towards the congregations he founded. I believe he was wholly sincere in his beliefs, and in his desire to impart his belief to others in order to help them attain salvation. 

 15 nam si decem milia paedagogorum habeatis in Christo, sed non multos patres, nam in Christo Iesu per evangelium ego vos genui.

16 παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, μιμηταί μου γίνεσθε.

Thus I beseech you, be mimics of me.

This is what I mean: he believes he has found The Way, and he really and sincerely wants to help others. Now, that they should emulate him, rather than Apollos, well, that’s just what the doctor ordered. Being sincere doesn’t mean you don’t have to stand up to your rival.

16 Rogo ergo vos: imitatorcs mei estote!

17 διὰ τοῦτο ἔπεμψα ὑμῖν Τιμόθεον, ὅς ἐστίν μου τέκνον ἀγαπητὸν καὶ πιστὸν ἐν κυρίῳ, ὃς ὑμᾶς ἀναμνήσει τὰς ὁδούς μου τὰς ἐν Χριστῷ [Ἰησοῦ], καθὼς πανταχοῦ ἐν πάσῃ ἐκκλησίᾳ διδάσκω.

On account of this, I have sent you Timothy, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ (Jesus),  as I teach everywhere in all the assemblies.

Timothy, of course, is Paul’s assistant. He is the “Timothy” of the epistle of that name. 

17 Ideo misi ad vos Timotheum, qui est filius meus carissimus et fidelis in Domino, qui vos commonefaciat vias meas, quae sunt in Christo, sicut ubique in omni ecclesia doceo.

18 ὡς μὴ ἐρχομένου δέ μου πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐφυσιώθησάν τινες:

As if I were not coming to you, some of you have been puffed up.

Now he’s chastising them? Or accusing them of…vanity, I guess. Or pride. And he’s accusing them, essentially, of being naughty school children who don’t think the teacher will come back to catch them in their hi-jinks. And he’s implying that they need his guidance to maintain the proper path.

18 Tamquam non venturus sim ad vos, sic inflati sunt quidam;

19 ἐλεύσομαι δὲ ταχέως πρὸς ὑμᾶς, ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ, καὶ γνώσομαι οὐ τὸν λόγον τῶν πεφυσιωμένων ἀλλὰ τὴν δύναμιν,

I will come quickly (soon) to you, if the Lord will wish it, and I will know not the speech of those having been puffed up, but (the speech) of power, 

Comment deferred

19 veniam autem cito ad vos, si Dominus voluerit, et cognoscam non sermonem eorum, qui inflati sunt, sed virtutem;

20 οὐ γὰρ ἐν λόγῳ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλ’ ἐν δυνάμει.

For not in speech is the kingdom of God, but in power.

So he will go to them; is this a promise? Or a threat? Something of the latter, I suspect, given the scolding in V-18, and the fact that he will not be speaking like a prideful person–presumably another shot at Apollos–but in power. For the Kingdom is in the Power. 

Here, I think, we have to think back to 1 Thessalonians, when Paul bragged how he did not preach in just words, but also in the power of the spirit. So Paul is contrasting the way he will speak to them in contrast to the way that they are being addressed in Paul’s absence: not in the words of men, but in the power of God.

20 non enim in sermone est regnum Dei sed in virtute.

21 τί θέλετε; ἐν ῥάβδῳ ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς, ἢ ἐν ἀγάπῃ πνεύματί τε πραΰτητος;

21 Quid vultis? In virga veniam ad vos an in caritate et spiritu mansuetudinis?

What do you want? That I come in the stick to you, or in love and the spirit of meekness?

This goes back to the promise/threat. I believe this confirms that it was something of a threat, because now he’s threatening to come after them with a rod to give them what is so charmingly called ‘a good whupping’ in some parts of the US. 

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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 December 31, 2013, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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