1 Corinthians Chapter 12:1-11

So we start Chapter 12.

1 Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν, ἀδελφοί, οὐ θέλω ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν.

Regarding spiritual things, brothers, I do not wish you to ignore them.

Given the Greek attitude that spiritual things were of a higher order of existence than earthly things, this injunction would not be out of place for a pagan Greek.

This just occurs to me: Would a Jew talk about “spiritual” things? To contrast with the concerns of humans, would a Jew not have been more like to talk about “holy” things? Given my lack of background in Hebrew, I can’t look to see what the underlying Hebrew word might be, so I really am in no position to judge this. Nor do I know enough about Jewish beliefs of the time to consider it from that perspective. One interesting question to ask here would be: what was Paul’s native tongue? If it was Greek, then I may not be too far off the mark, here. Based on what I know, I’m not sure there is enough evidence to say whether–or not–Paul was a native speaker of Greek. We can say he probably was/wasn’t based on what we know about Tarsus, but we probably can’t be certain. But I could be wrong about that.

So, if I’m saying that Paul was a native speaker of Greek, am I just being a Classicist, who sees pagan influence lurking behind every shrubbery and metaphor?

1 De spiritalibus autem, fra tres, nolo vos ignorare.

2 Οἴδατε ὅτι ὅτε ἔθνη ἦτε πρὸς τὰ εἴδωλα τὰ ἄφωνα ὡς ἂν ἤγεσθε ἀπαγόμενοι.

You know that when you were pagans, you were going to mute idols, as you were led.

So,  we are talking, at least primarily, about a (formerly) pagan audience. So my comment, or question, regarding the “spiritual things” of the previous verse would have resonated with those raised in the Greek world of thought. We all know that many of the later Patristic thinkers were well-versed in Plato, and that they adapted the NT to the Platonic worldview. However, perhaps it started earlier, even here with Paul. He was a Diaspora Jew, raised in Tarsus, and versed in Greek to some degree; did this background initiate the transition to Hellenistic philosophy already at this early date?

2 Scitis quoniam, cum gentes essetis, ad simulacra muta, prout ducebamini, euntes.

3 διὸ γνωρίζω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ λαλῶν λέγει, Ἀνάθεμα Ἰησοῦς, καὶ οὐδεὶς δύναται εἰπεῖν, Κύριος Ἰησοῦς, εἰ μὴ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ.

Therefore, I make it known to you that no one speaking in the spirit of God says, “Damn Jesus!” and no is able to say, “Lord Jesus,” if not (unless) in the holy spirit.

But first, if we are “in the spirit”, is that the same thing as the spirit being in us? The latter is ‘in-spiration’, the spirit ‘breathing in’ to us. That seems different from the idea of being ‘in the spirit’, in which we are the actor rather than the receptacle. Is there a difference? Seems like it; but, even if we agree that there is a difference, is this a distinction that makes a difference? IOW, is the end result the same? Probably. The point here is, I think, that Paul did not pay a lot of attention to the sorts of analogies, or metaphors, or the figurative speech he used. This caused no end of problems for later commentators, and those thinkers trying to work out the implications of the words of the Bible as they exist.

This is the sort of thing that will make the later discussions/debates/arguments about grace so compelling and so difficult. One can extrapolate all sorts of stuff from this passage. If no one ‘in the spirit’ can curse Jesus, does this mean that humans cannot resist the spirit of God? Can grace be resisted? If we are in the state of grace because God has so…graciously and gratuitously granted this favour, can we still commit sin? Some say yes, otherwise there is no free will. Some say no, based on passages like this.

Now, there is, of course, more to it than this; nothing is so simple as I’ve put it, but this does, I think, give us some indication of why the later arguments were so thorny. And those of you who know Scripture better than I do (which is probably a lot of you), will understand the apparent contradictions that exist throughout the NT. As I have said, Paul himself seems to come down on both sides of the argument about salvation by faith vs. salvation by works within Romans.

3 Ideo notum vobis facio quod nemo in Spiritu Dei loquens dicit: “ Anathema Iesus! ”; et nemo potest dicere: “ Dominus Iesus ”, nisi in Spiritu Sancto.

4 Διαιρέσεις δὲ χαρισμάτων εἰσίν, τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα:

For there are differences of gifts, even from the same spirit.

A bit of a non sequitur from the previous verse, but there you go. Perhaps ‘change of topic’ is a better description.

4 Divisiones vero gratiarum sunt, idem autem Spiritus;

5 καὶ διαιρέσεις διακονιῶν εἰσιν, καὶ ὁ αὐτὸς κύριος:

And there are differences of ministries, also from the same Lord.

This is the beginning of a very famous part of this epistle, and I think it’s a great example of why Paul was so successful. And I think this is a reason why the message that Paul spread was, ultimately, so successful. I’m tempted to say that this appreciation and valuing of different gifts represents a the concept of inclusion, but the passage about women covering their heads should tell us that seeing anything too modern is anachronistic. Be that as it may, it is a message that does broaden the range of acceptance: one no longer has to be wealthy or well-born, or have a talent for rhetoric (which was highly prized at the time; see the discussion about Apollos in chapters 2&3, etc.) to be valued in the Community.  It’s very definitely a huge step forward in a very class-conscious society.

5 et divisiones ministrationum sunt, idem autem Dominus;

6 καὶ διαιρέσεις ἐνεργημάτων εἰσίν, ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς θεός, ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν.

And there are differences of activities, also from the same God, the one performing all in everything.

The translation of that last clause is a bit clumsy, but I hope the meaning is across. Note that he has used the << δὲ>> in the second clause of the last two verses to connect all three of them together. This shows the many ways this connective particle can be used. And he repeats the root of <<ἐνεργημάτων>> as the verb in that last clause, once again making a rhetorical linkage. Rather a nifty piece of Greek, and very clear.

6 et divisiones operationum sunt, idem vero Deus, qui operatur omnia in omnibus.

7 ἑκάστῳ  δὲδίδοται ἡ φανέρωσις τοῦ πνεύματος πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον.

For to each is given the manifestation of the spirit towards (the) profit.

My translation is pretty much literal. The four English translations I use all add something like, ‘the profit of all’, or ‘the common benefit’, or something such; the Vulgate below, OTOH, sticks with the Greek and does not elaborate. Now, I agree with the English translations, but I want it to be very clear that they have added something that is simply not (explicitly) in the original. Even the KJV does this. Now, of course the case can be made that the ‘for everyone’ is implicit in the Greek, and I wouldn’t particularly object. But, again, just to be clear, it is not in the Greek.

And another point: the word that I have rendered as “manifestation” is used in this only by Paul. He used it twice, once here, and again in 2 Cor 4:2. But note that the Vulgate pointed us in that direction by rendering it as <<manifestatio>>. Again, I’m not saying the translation is wrong; it is well within the parameters of the root word (which, at base, means ‘appearance’), but let’s just be aware that what we have is, essentially, a consensus translation of the word. It’s what seems to make the most sense, so we’ve all agreed that this is what the word means.

7 Unicuique autem datur manifestatio Spiritus ad utilitatem.

8 ᾧ μὲν γὰρ διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος δίδοται λόγος σοφίας, ἄλλῳ δὲ λόγος γνώσεως κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα,

For, on the one hand, to one via the spirit is given the reasoning of wisdom, but to another the reasoning of knowing according to the same spirit.

Note << λόγος σοφίας…λόγος γνώσεως >>. The word <<λόγος>> (logos) is repeated twice. In the Vulgate and the KJV and some later English translations, it’s rendered as “the word of wisdom…word of knowing”. Don’t know about you, but I’m not entirely sure what that means. Now, “word” is the base meaning of “logos”, but here, I think, it’s too literal (I also think the same thing about John 1:1). Some of the more modern translations render this as ‘the utterance of wisdom…’; however, to be honest, I’m entirely sure what that means, either. How about ‘the reasoning of wisdom…’? Doesn’t that sort of get at it a little more effectively? The word logos has an enormous range of meanings; it’s the -ology root on the-ology, ge-ology, anthrop-ology & c. As such, ‘word’ in English cannot begin even to imply the range of possible meanings carried by the Greek here. As such, over-translating this as ‘word’ is a disservice to the underlying meaning of the original by severely limiting the range of the semantic field.

8 Alii quidem per Spiritum datur sermo sapientiae, alii autem sermo scientiae secundum eundem Spiritum,

9 ἑτέρῳ πίστις ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ πνεύματι, ἄλλῳ δὲ χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων ἐν τῷ ἑνὶ πνεύματι,

To the other faith in the same spirit, but to another the gift of healing in the one spirit,

Comment deferred

9 alteri fides in eodem Spiritu, alii donationes sanitatum in uno Spiritu,

10 ἄλλῳ δὲ ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων, ἄλλῳ [δὲ] προφητεία, ἄλλῳ [δὲ]διακρίσεις πνευμάτων, ἑτέρῳ γένη γλωσσῶν, ἄλλῳ δὲ ἑρμηνεία γλωσσῶν:

But to another the actions of power, to another prophecy, to another determination of  spirits,

“Determination of spirits” would be the ability to judge between them. This is usually rendered as ‘discernment’, and I don’t disagree, but I think this grinds the root of the word into nothingness.

More importantly, what this means is the ability to tell a good spirit from a bad spirit. The later church was convinced that the pagan gods were demons. Note, they did not say the pagan gods did not exist; they existed to be sure. Rather, they were agents of evil, and not of good. They could perform suspensions of the natural order; when done by Jesus, these are miracles; when done by a priest of Zeus, they were wonders. Hence, Josephus calling Jesus a wonder-worker was not exactly, or not entirely a compliment. 

[ The word Josephus uses is (transliterated) ‘paradox’. At it’s base, it means, pretty much literally, something contrary to expectation. The word Mark used for Jesus’ acts, invariably translated as ‘miracle’, is  (again transliterated), ‘dunamis’, which is ‘power’. Part of this is because our ‘miracle’ comes through the Latin ‘miraculum’. This word is actually closer in meaning to the original Greek ‘paradox’ than it is to our word for ‘miracle’. That is, like “baptism”, it has been invested with a singular meaning. In English, a ‘miracle’ has to be a good thing; that’s part of the a priori understanding of the word. Such was not at all the case with the original Greek, nor the translation into Latin. In short, there is nothing in Greek or Latin that catches the sense of the modern English word ‘miracle’. ]

10 alii operationes virtutum, alii prophetatio, alii discretio spirituum, alii genera linguarum, alii interpretatio linguarum;

11 πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἐνεργεῖ τὸ ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα, διαιροῦν ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ καθὼς βούλεται.

But all these actions (are) the same and in the same spirit, divided to each individually as it wills.

11 haec autem omnia operatur unus et idem Spiritus, dividens singulis prout vult.

The subject of the final verb is pretty clearly ‘the same spirit’. For once, it’s even actually in the nominative case. As such, I believe that the proper pronoun for the final clause should be ‘it’; the KJV, however, chooses ‘he’. I find this confusing, because that seems like it should refer back to those to whom the gifts are divided, but this is obviously open to interpretation.

So just to reiterate: it is very interesting, and very forward-thinking that Paul recognises that different talents are, or can be, equally valid and equally useful. This was not a terribly common attitude when these words were written,  and it’s this kind of inclusiveness that, I think, constituted a large part of the appeal of Paul’s message.

Now, recall that we talked about inclusiveness in our examination of Mark. There were a number of passages that seemed to portray Jesus’ message as one of inclusiveness: when he ate with the tax collectors, for example. But it never quite seemed that this theme really ever took off, or was truly developed, or that it ever really got that much attention. Was that a sort of half-hearted, or half-remembered reprise of Paul’s message of inclusiveness that we are running across here? This is something that really needs to be considered once again when we read Matthew. How prominent is this theme in the second gospel?


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 May 18, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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