1 Corinthians Chapter 9:15-27

Chapter 9 continues with Paul continuing to discuss the situation of an apostle.

15 ἐγὼ δὲ οὐ κέχρημαι οὐδενὶ τούτων. οὐκ ἔγραψα δὲ ταῦτα ἵνα οὕτως γένηται ἐν ἐμοί, καλὸν γάρ μοι μᾶλλον ἀποθανεῖν ἤ τὸ καύχημά μου οὐδεὶς κενώσει.

But I did not use any of these things. I did not write about them in order that in this way they should be in me (= ‘be mine’), for it is better for to die than (have) someone  make my glory empty (or vain).

I chose rather an unfortunate place to break, but there were no obvious topic changes, and the chapter is too long for one post. So, Paul is referring back to the end of V-14, and the ‘things’ are the rights or privileges to which one is entitled as an apostle.

Just in case we’ve lost track of where we were, the idea of what an emissary of Jesus could expect in the way of…”recompense” from the Community is a pretty significant issue. What is at stake is the potential difference between what Jesus “said” in Mark 6 vs. what Paul seems to be saying here. There may not be a contradiction; Mark relates that Jesus said that those sent out should accept what was offered. But Mark does not say that those sent out should expect to be offered. In that was we have something that seems to conflict, if not quite contradict. I bring this up because the emulation of ‘apostolic poverty’ became the root of most of the heresies of the later Middle Ages. If these earliest apostles, or emissaries, or those sent out did not exactly live in poverty, but traveled with something like a retinue, then that kind of changes the way we should interpret Jesus’ message.

The thing is, it seems to be Paul, rather than the other emissaries, who was living the more modest life. That is his boast, and he would rather die than have this point of pride taken from him. Which tells me that the other emissaries were not exactly living modestly when they were on their preaching tours.

I find it interesting that this chapter of 1 Corinthians does not get more attention from the QHJ people who are trying to track down that original message of Jesus.

15 Ego autem nullo horum usus sum. Non scripsi autem haec, ut ita fiant in me; bonum est enim mihi magis mori quam ut gloriam meam quis evacuet.

16 ἐὰν γὰρ εὐαγγελίζωμαι, οὐκ ἔστιν μοι καύχημα: ἀνάγκη γάρ μοι ἐπίκειται: οὐαὶ γάρ μοί ἐστιν ἐὰν μὴ εὐαγγελίσωμαι.

For if I am preaching the good news (lit = ‘goodnewsing’), it is not my boast. For necessity is laid upon me. For woe is to me (= ‘is mine’; dative of possession) if I do not goodnews (i.e., preach the good news).

First, we all know that what gets translated as ‘gospel’ is, literally, ‘good news’ in Greek. Or, rather, it’s ‘goodnews’, since the “good” part is a prefix, so it’s one word. So, ‘preaching the good news’ is actually the verb form of ‘good news’, so, in Greek, the ‘preaching’ part simply isn’t there. “To goodnews” is a proper verb. 

Secondly, Paul is on one of his odd little rhetorical excursions with this whole ‘boasting’ thing. He has to boast about not being a burden; since he has to preach, he can’t boast about that. Once again, we’re talking about Paul’s peculiar foibles rather than his message.

16 Nam si evangelizavero, non est mihi gloria; necessitas enim mihi incumbit. Vae enim mihi est, si non evangelizavero!

17 εἰ γὰρ ἑκὼν τοῦτο πράσσω, μισθὸν ἔχω: εἰ δὲ ἄκων, οἰκονομίαν πεπίστευμαι.

For if I do this (preach) willingly, I have my payment. If I do it unwillingly, I will have been entrusted with a dispensation. 

This is kind of an odd sentence–or thought–construction. He will be rewarded if he does it willingly, but will still get his draft notice if he does it unwillingly. I think the point is that Paul is under compulsion, in some way, to preach, whether he wants to or not. God has chosen him; it’s not Paul’s place to turn down the honour bestowed upon him to undertake this mission.

17 Si enim volens hoc ago, mercedem habeo; si autem invitus, dispensatio mihi credita est.

18 τίς οὖν μού ἐστιν ὁ μισθός; ἵνα εὐαγγελιζόμενος ἀδάπανον θήσω τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, εἰς τὸ μὴ καταχρήσασθαι τῇ ἐξουσίᾳ μου ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ.

For what is my payment? In order to be preaching the gospel unpaid I will place the gospel, so that not to be over-used as my power in the preaching the gospel. 

Wow. That’s awful. So, how about,

For what is my payment? In order to set for the gospel (properly), I will preach it without pay, so that I do not use fully (and so abuse) the power I have that is derived from preaching the good news.

Obviously, the second version has a lot more thoughts and ideas that are not expressed in the first version, but all of these thoughts are, I believe, at least latent, or implied in the Greek. At least, this is a translation that I believe is faithful to the spirit–although certainly not the letter–of the original.

As for what Paul is getting at, this is Paul at his passive-aggressive best. He is trying to bolster his position with respect to the other emissaries. That is, as he did with Apollos earlier in the letter, now he is trying to score points against the emissaries sent, most likely, by James. Paul is even attempting to go one up on Peter as well, because the latter has been lumped in with these other emissaries–rhetorically, at least–those who travel with a retinue, or who place significant demands on the community where they are preaching.

The question is, I believe, Paul’s motive for doing this. Is he just trying to find a way to set himself apart? OK, but why? We came across this attitude in Galatians and 1 Thessalonians: Paul is very defensive about his status and his role. I assume it’s because he never met the living Jesus as some of these others did, and I think he was aware, acutely and even painfully, that others belittled his message because of this. He felt like a second-class apostle, I think, because people perceived him this way. Is this why Paul is so scarce with the details of Jesus’ life? Does he downplay Jesus  the Man in order to deflect his listeners from the realization that Paul had never seen or heard Jesus when the latter was alive? Was this sort of a rhetorical sleight-of-hand, as it were? Look over here, at the Risen Christ, so that you don’t look over there at the man who was alive. 

If I am even partially correct–and I think the evidence is pretty strong that I am–this causes all sorts of problems for the history of Christian belief. How badly did Paul distort the original message of Jesus, whether wittingly or without realizing how far off-track he’d gotten? It’s no wonder the QHJ people stay far, far away from Paul.

18 Quae est ergo merces mea? Ut evangelium praedicans sine sumptu ponam evangelium, ut non abutar potestate mea in evangelio.

19 Ἐλεύθερος γὰρ ὢν ἐκ πάντων πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα, ἵνα τοὺς πλείονας κερδήσω:

For I am being free from all, so I am the slave for all, so that I will profit (0r gain) the most.

The verb here is a bit tricky. It can mean ‘to profit’, and it can mean ‘to gain’. Now, these can be synonymous, or ‘to profit’ can be a synonym for ‘to benefit’. So, he could be saying, ‘so I will benefit the most (people). Or, he could be saying that if he were writing in English, but he’s not. So the idea is that he wants to gain the most people, as in converts. In these next few verses we get Paul trying to be all things to all people, all to benefit them by showing them the means to salvation.

19 Nam cum liber essem ex omnibus, omnium me servum feci, ut plures lucri facerem.

20 καὶ ἐγενόμην τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ὡς Ἰουδαῖος, ἵνα Ἰουδαίους κερδήσω: τοῖς ὑπὸ νόμον ὡς ὑπὸ νόμον, μὴ ὢν αὐτὸς ὑπὸ νόμον, ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον κερδήσω:

And I have become to the Jews as a Jew, so that I will gain (perhaps, ‘win over) Jews. To those under the law ( I have been) as one under the law, while not being under the law, so that I will gain those under the law.

More along the same vein. Of course, by being all things to all people, we are, to some degree, starting down the path that leads, eventually, to the idea that the end justifies the means. I honestly don’t think Paul would accept that kind of morality, but he’s showing us how to get there. Sometimes–and here is a great example–I think that Paul is a bit too earnest for his own good. Words like this have caused problems in the years subsequent to their being written.

20 Et factus sum Iudaeis tamquam Iudaeus, ut Iudaeos lucrarer; his, qui sub lege sunt, quasi sub lege essem, cum ipse non essem sub lege, ut eos, qui sub lege erant, lucri facerem;

21 τοῖς ἀνόμοις ὡς ἄνομος, μὴ ὢν ἄνομος θεοῦ ἀλλ’ ἔννομος Χριστοῦ, ἵνα κερδάνω τοὺς ἀνόμους:

To those without the law, (I am) as one without the law, but not being without the law (i.e., I am not actually without a law) of God, but in the law of Christ, so that I gain (win over) those unlawed.

Of course, “unlawed” is completely uncouth, but that’s the literal Greek. “Lawless” would be technically correct, but that has a very different connotation in English. Really, here, it’s most likely just meant to refer to pagans.

21 his, qui sine lege erant, tamquam sine lege essem, cum sine lege Dei non essem, sed in lege essem Christi, ut lucri facerem eos, qui sine lege erant;

22 ἐγενόμην τοῖς ἀσθενέσιν ἀσθενής, ἵνα τοὺς ἀσθενεῖς κερδήσω: τοῖς πᾶσιν γέγονα πάντα, ἵνα πάντως τινὰς σώσω.

I have become weak (or possibly ill) for the infirm, so that I will win over the weak/ill. To all I have become all, so that I will save others by all means.

Well, here is ‘the end justifies the means’. He is so intent on his goal that he fully does not see anything potentially wrong with adopting such a…malleable attitude.

22 factus sum infirmis infirmus, ut infirmos lucri facerem; omnibus omnia factus sum, ut aliquos utique facerem salvos.

23 πάντα δὲ ποιῶ διὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, ἵνα συγκοινωνὸς αὐτοῦ γένωμαι.

I do all things on account of the good news, so that I become a sharer of it.

I don’t doubt this expression of Paul’s enthusiasm.

23 Omnia autem facio propter evangelium, ut comparticeps eius efficiar.

24 Οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἐν σταδίῳ τρέχοντες πάντες μὲν τρέχουσιν, εἷς δὲ λαμβάνει τὸ βραβεῖον; οὕτως τρέχετε ἵνα καταλάβητε.

Do you not know that those running in the stadion, all run on the one hand, but on the other (only) one takes the prize? In this way, run so that you may take it.

Thestadionwas a race of about 200 meters that was one of the feature events of any athletic contest. Years were often marked as “when Hippocrates won the stadion in the Olympic Games”.  As time went on, the ‘stadion‘ evolved into a standard length, which then evolved into a stadium such as we know it. [note: -um ending is the Latin equivalent of the -on ending in Greek, the “standard” ending for a neuter singular noun.] The thought expressed here became a commonplace in the business world about a decade ago, as a means of justifying only giving the top performer a raise: “you all competed, maybe you all broke the record, but only one of you won”. This is why I point out the danger in some of the things that Paul says.

24 Nescitis quod hi, qui in stadio currunt, omnes quidem currunt, sed unus accipit bravium? Sic currite, ut comprehendatis.

25 πᾶς δὲ ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος πάντα ἐγκρατεύεται, ἐκεῖνοι μὲν οὖν ἵνα φθαρτὸν στέφανον λάβωσιν, ἡμεῖς δὲ ἄφθαρτον.

All those who compete become master of all, on the one hand they (do) thus in order to receive a corruptible crown, but, in contrast, [ δὲ ] we are incorruptible.

“Master of all” is perhaps a bit over the top; it’s referring to athletic training and the sorts of obstacles an athlete has to overcome in order to become a champion. 

This is potentially very significant. << φθαρτὸν / ἄφθαρτον >>. The first is the base word; the second, with the <<ἄ->> (alpha) prefix is the negation. So, “corruptible/incorruptible”. It’s significant because this is among the very first (if not the first) explicit references to an incorruptible–as in, eternal–state that we’ve come across. The passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 in which we will rise into the air to meet the Christ coming on the clouds carries the implication  as it says that, afterwards, we will be with Jesus << παντοτε >>, which, I think, is better rendered as ‘always’ rather than ‘eternally’. Yes, the words overlap, but ‘always’, I think, has much more of a limited sense. “We always go to church” is very different from “We go to church for eternity” (Even if church does seem like it takes an eternity some mornings…)

So the point is, we are encountering a point–perhaps the point–in which the idea of eternal life as the reward to the faithful is truly starting to surface as an idea unto itself. 1 Thess 4 implies it; here we get another step down that path. We will have an incorruptible existence. Given the distinction of flesh and spirit that Paul mentions so frequently, and the Greek distinction between the perishable flesh and the eternal spirit, one can’t help but infer that this is what Paul means by ‘incorruptible’; he means, ‘spiritual‘. As someone who studied the Greeks, I do have a bias, but it is very important to remember that this distinction between flesh and spirit, material and immaterial, with the attendant implications of corruptible vs. eternal, was a Greek, and not a Hebrew concept. 

And to take this off solid ground and launch a flight of fancy, is it coincidental that it appears in a letter to a Community in Greece? Did this Community have an impact on Paul’s thought? Did Paul choose this metaphor because he knew it would have particular resonance for this Community? Nothing exists in a vacuum. Having studied how the same ideas combine and re-combine over centuries, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some cross-fertilization going on here, that Paul’s message was altered by its context in Corinth. I can’t prove it, but I wouldn’t be surprised. However, given that the idea would continue to develop, I think we have to consider the possibility.

25 Omnis autem, qui in agone contendit, ab omnibus se abstinet; et illi quidem, ut corruptibilem coronam accipiant, nos autem incorruptam.

26 ἐγὼ τοίνυν οὕτως τρέχω ὡς οὐκ ἀδήλως, οὕτως πυκτεύω ὡς οὐκ ἀέρα δέρων:

Therefore, I run in this way not as uncertainly, I fight this way not as one beating air, 

Full comment at the end, but ‘beating the air’ is probably best rendered, or at least thought of, as ‘shadow boxing’. The verb in the clause,’pukteneo’ is related to the Latin “pug“, both of which mean ‘fist’.  So a ‘pugilist’ is a boxer.  If you’ll recall, athletic contests, like running and boxing, were popular with the Greeks. The ancient  pentathlon included both running and boxing.  Castor and Pollux–aka The Gemini–aside from being skilled with horses, were also renowned as boxers. And the corruptible crown of the previous verse is a reference to the crown of laurels awarded to winners of athletic competitions; the original form of the Olympic gold medal. So we see another intrusion of Greek influence.

We ran across another form of this word–pugmeback in Mark. I gave this some milquetoast translation, and it was pointed out in an excellent comment that the root of the word is ‘fist’. So, I changed it to ‘belligerently’.

26 Ego igitur sic curro non quasi in incertum, sic pugno non quasi aerem verberans;

27 ἀλλὰ ὑπωπιάζω μου τὸ σῶμα καὶ δουλαγωγῶ, μή πως ἄλλοις κηρύξας αὐτὸς ἀδόκιμος γένωμαι.

But I beat upon my body and enslave it, not as one preaching to others, but myself becoming rejected.

27 sed castigo corpus meum et in servitutem redigo, ne forte, cum aliis praedicaverim, ipse reprobus efficiar.

The last clause could be rendered, ‘to show that I practice what I preach’. Or something.

The concept of beating the body in order to enslave is a continuation of the ascetic streak in Paul’s thought and practice. We have already discussed this a number of times, but we see that this is a very important theme for him.

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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 March 30, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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