Dec 31, 2010

Weak Brethren IV

In the previous chapters it was shown how "the weak" are they who are unsaved, or non-Christian, while "the strong" are they who are saved, or Christian. Likewise, "the wise" are the saved and "the unwise" are the unsaved. Likewise, Christians are the truly elect, and non-Christians are the non-elect. Christians are rich and high born, while non-Christians are poor and low born. This was evident from the words of Paul in I Cor. 9: 22 as well as from other statements of Paul in the Corinthian epistles, as was shown in the previous chapters. These terms were not used to distinguish between two types of Christians but to distinguish between Christians and non-Christians.

It has been shown that "the weak" denoted the class of non-Christians, particularly pagans or polytheists, and that "the strong" denoted the class of Christians, those who "believe in one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, from whom are all things," as Paul affirms in the preface of this section of his epistle. It was shown how the terms wise, strong, noble, rich, are terms applied to people by both God and the heathen world, and God and the world each having a different standard, and each identifying opposing classes of people. That is, the ones that God designates as wise, strong, noble, and rich, are the ones that the world designates as foolish, weak, ignoble, and poor. It is the very thing described in the prophecy of Isaiah, where it is said:

"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5: 20 KJV)

It was also shown, in the previous chapters, how the very term "weak," in the original Greek, was more appropriate an adjective for the non-Christian than for the Christian, and in scripture was a term coupled with adjectives describing lost people. It would seem that the burden of proof is on the majority side of commentators to show how "weak" is not the common term, in scripture, for the one who is not a Christian. Further, if applying the term "weak" to immature Christians, in I Corinthians chapter eight, is the exception, then the burden of proof is on the advocates of the majority view to give contextual reasons for its being an exception to the rule. If the context is examined, however, it will become obvious that it cannot be shown that the "weak" brothers are viewed by Paul as being Christian.

In this epistle, Paul at times speaks strictly to the members of the church at Corinth, but, at other times, speaks generally to the entire community in Corinth, which was composed mainly by religious peoples, nearly all pagan or polytheists, or to the whole of mankind. This is true with all epistles addressed to churches. It is important therefore, in a verse by verse analysis of those sections of scripture, which deal with the "weak" and "strong" brothers (I Corinthians chapters 8-11 and Romans 14), that a person be careful to note the direct addresses given to particular audiences. It is also important to discover who Paul had in mind when he referred to that class of people called "weak," and who he had in mind when he referred to that class which he called "strong." What other descriptions does he give of each class? In this chapter a verse by verse analysis of I Corinthians chapter eight will commence.

"Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “we all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God." (I Cor. 8: 1-3)

It is important to identify who is designated by the various highlighted pronouns used by Paul in these initial words and in the whole of the chapter. What class of people is designated by these pronouns? Do all the pronouns designate only Christian members of the church at Corinth, or do they designate others? Do the pronouns ever refer to the world at large, or to all men?

The topic addressed by Paul concerned aspects of idolatry which the church had inquired about in its letter to Paul. It concerned the interaction of Greek Christians in Corinth with their pagan neighbors, or brothers. These first adult Greek converts to the gospel in Corinth were once pagans themselves. They had once embraced the pantheon of gods then worshipped by their Greek and Roman neighbors but had now become monotheists and believers in the lordship of Jesus Christ. They had come to believe that all the idols and gods of their pagan religion were not real beings, but only false imaginary gods. They had "turned" from polytheism to Christian monotheism like those in Thessalonica. They all had "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." (II Thess. 1: 9)

It is important to understand the former way of life for most of these pagan converts in Corinth to fully understand and appreciate the way Paul phrases many of his questions and statements in this chapter, how he addresses various audiences. This Corinthian pagan culture will be more fully examined as particular verses of this chapter are examined and when the question is addressed as to how Paul could call the non-Christian pagans in Corinth "brother." Those commentators who affirm that the "weak brother" is a Christian do so on the basis that the word "brother" is used in reference to them, and this is really their only argument of any weight. It will be shown, however, that this is insufficient evidence for affirming that "the weak brother" is in fact a saved man, or a Christian, especially in light of other things said about this person in the contexts, either of I Corinthians 8-11 or Romans 14.

It is important for us to determine who is meant by "we" and "all" in the opening verses of this chapter. Doubtless it includes Paul the writer. Who else is included? Only the members of the church in Corinth? When he says "we know that all possess knowledge," does he mean only Christians know this fact, or that only Christians possess knowledge? Is it "we Christians" or "we humans"? Is it "all Christians" or "all men"? Surely he means to say, as in common vernacular, "everybody knows that."

Paul thus begins his discussion of the Christian in his relationship to a pagan environment. He begins with discussion of "knowledge," a subject, like "wisdom," of great importance to Greek philosophy and religion. Greek and pagan philosophy and religion involved all the basic elements of gnosticism, ideas about the nature and fruits of knowledge (or epistemology) and enlightenment. Paul begins this chapter by a reference to general human knowledge, that knowledge which all humans possess. He then makes a judgment about this common knowledge. By itself, it "puffs up," inflates the ego, produces pride and arrogance. This was stated in order to combat the idea that knowledge alone was sufficient to successful life, both here and hereafter, and the idea that it was the chief virtue, and the only way to salvation and elect status. This is true of knowledge in general, among all men, and not what is only true among Christians. Paul is thus affirming these basic premises of his epistemology: 1) There is general human knowledge in the world, and 2) knowledge by itself produces pride (and by implication, a downfall and destruction). Knowledge alone will not save any man. The idea that man's salvation from his state of suffering and death is to be found in human "science" or "knowledge" is still prevalent today.

Paul, in his writings to the Corinthian church, as in his letter to Timothy, warned about a "science falsely so called" (I Tim. 6: 20). Just as there is a false wisdom, the wisdom of the evil world, there is a false knowledge or science. It is false in substance, in theory, in design, and in practice.

Paul says "charity builds up," an obvious play on words against the words "knowledge puffs up." Charity, or divine love in action, builds, but knowledge by itself destroys. Knowledge must be joined with charity for knowledge to be of any benefit to a man. Knowledge without love is ruinous.

"Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know."

Who is meant by the pronouns "those who" and "they"? Christians at Corinth only? Or, only Christians in general? Or, "those people in general"? Clearly the latter. What Paul says is true of every man. Paul does not here speak in the plural first person, as before in verse one, but in the plural third person. This is further evidence that he is speaking of the general thinking of men, of common human knowledge.

"Think" is from the Greek word "dokeō" and may be translated as "are of the opinion," or "supposes," or "assumes," or "judges." "Know" is from the Greek word "eidō" and means to "perceive," "discern," "discover," and includes the idea of having "special insight" into some aspect of knowledge. We may thus translate Paul's words as follows:

"Those people in the world, Christian or non-Christian, who are of the opinion that they have special insight into particular, special, higher knowledge, or science..."

The pronoun "something" is singular, or particular.

Of these claimers to special knowledge, a knowledge lacking love, Paul says that "they do not yet know as they ought to know." "Know" here, in both instances, is from "ginosko," and not from "eido." The use of these two different words, instead of the same word, is significant.

The Greek word "ginosko" (gnosis) respects general knowledge. To "know" something in the sense of "ginosko" was to "realize," or "recognize," a fact, or truth, with the added idea of spontaneously accepting or approving it. On the other hand,"eido," describes superior knowledge and insight.

Thus, Paul is saying "those who think they have superior insight into a particular area of knowledge do not recognize that they do not recognize," or "are ignorant of the fact that they are ignorant." Paul is affirming that the principal part of knowledge is to know that one is ignorant, that he does not have the explanation of all things. Paul, in these words, implies an irony. The "know-it-alls" do not know the basic truth underlying all real knowledge. This fundamental truth about human ignorance is what really enlightened people "ought to know," first of all, if they were really illuminated souls.

"But if any man love God, the same is known of him.” (Verses 3)

Is “any man” (any one) equivalent to “anyone in the world,” or “anyone in the church”? Surely the former is meant.

“As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many), BUT to US there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (Verses 4-6)

Who is meant by the “we” in the verse? What is it that those designated by the “we” know? Would any member of the Corinthian church not know that the “idol is nothing”? Who believes that there are “lords many,” and “gods many,” saints or pagans? Who is being contrasted when Paul says “but unto us”? Is it not a contrast between Pagans and Christians? Is it not also a contrast between “weak” and “strong”? Are the “weak” not identified with those who believe in paganism? Are the “strong” not those who believe in “one God, the Father”? Are not the “strong” those who believe in “one Lord Jesus Christ”? Who is the “we” in “we by him”? Paul is not contrasting two groups of Christians in the Corinthian assembly, as if one part believed the Christian creed and one part did not. Had this been the meaning of the apostle, he would have said "but to some of us Christians" rather than "but to us Christians," referring to what is universal among Christians.

Clearly Paul is contrasting Christians with non-Christians. He defines Christians by what they believe, by their creed, by their Theology and Christology. A convert to the Christian religion embraces monotheism and rejects polytheism. He believes that Jesus Christ is Lord of lords, and King of kings, the only begotten Son of God, that he was God in the flesh by a miraculous incarnation, Emmanuel, and that "all things were created by him and for him." (Col. 1: 16) Those who do not accept this creed, do not believe in God the Father and Christ the Lord, are not Christians.

The church at Corinth no doubt had some Jewish and Roman members, and some of various ethnic sects and tribes, but were nevertheless mostly made up of Greeks. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city due to its sea trade. It is safe to say that nearly all the members of the church at Corinth had formerly been religious people before their conversions to Christ, most likely the polytheism of the Greeks. Many of the errors that Paul confronts in his epistles to Corinth were Greek in origin and nature. Paul fought the mixture of Greek philosophy and religion with the religion of Christians.

In the next chapter there will be a continuation of a verse by verse analysis of I Corinthians chapter eight.

Piricilli on I Cor. 4: 7

Arminian theologian, Robert Piricilli, wrote (emphasis mine):

"Paul gives reason why pride is unjustified (v. 7). In essence, the reason is that God gives to men anything they have, and therefore no one has any grounds for self-glorying. Paul makes this point by asking three rhetorical questions, each leading to the next. The first one, "Who makes you different (from anyone else)?" might be answered in either of two ways: "No one makes you difference, in that you are all basically the same"; or "God is the one who makes one different from another." Some commentators assume one, some the other; I am more inclined to the latter.

Certainly that is the implication of the second question: No one has anything that he did not receive (implied: from God). Any talents or gifts that men have must be traced, ultimately, to God as their source. So what if one person has a native intelligence that others do not possess? He certainly did not get it for himself. All the more with spiritual gifts: each one is a manifestation of the grace of God (back to 1: 4-7 again; cf. 12: 11).

The third question obviously follows: then if every good thing a person has is something received (from God), how can he possibly justify glorying (boasting) as though he took it by his own doing? Answer: he cannot. And Paul's point has now become very clear. At first he had been speaking of himself and Apollos as simply doing what God gave them to do in His service. Now he means for the Corinthians to see that this applies to them, too. They have no right to glory in Paul or Apollos; neither do they have any right to glory in themselves. They are nothing more or less than God has made of them--even though what God makes of a man depends, in part, on how man develops or utilizes the capacities God gives him."

Randall House Bible Commentary By Robert E. Picirilli (pg. 54)

See here

According to Peter Lumpkins, I was misinterpreting I Cor. 4: 7 when I applied it to everything. I guess he would condemn Piricilli also? And condemn him for violating the context as he did me?

Dec 29, 2010

Weak Brethren III

In the first chapter of I Corinthians Paul begins to address the dichotomy of weak versus strong. In it Paul is correcting the Corinthians regarding their concepts concerning power, wisdom, and noble birth, concepts that had their roots in Greek and Roman philosophy. The Greeks judged one as a member of the ruling, elite, or power class, based upon these standards. Paul opposes these standards and establishes better ones. According to Paul it was a man's relationship to Christ, his knowledge and faith, that revealed whether he was weak or strong, wise or foolish, noble or ignoble. It was therefore the Christian who was the truly wise and strong, the one of high birth.

Christians are The Wise

There are lots of contrasts in Paul's Corinthian epistles, such as weak versus strong, wise versus fool, high birth versus low birth, free man versus slave, worldly versus heavenly, carnal versus spiritual, eternal versus temporal, visible versus invisible, etc. One contrast that is most frequent in all the epistles of the apostles is between those who are heavenly wise versus those who are carnally wise, the apostles affirming that Christians are the wise and non-Christians are the unwise. Wisdom came with salvation. A saved man was a wise or enlightened man. He received and understood knowledge that saved him.

The Greeks placed a high value on wisdom. They prided themselves on their intellectual acumen. But, Paul shows that the wisdom of the Greeks, the wisdom of the "world," is not the same as the wisdom of God. The worldly wise man is judged by God as being foolish and, conversely, the truly wise man, the one in Christ, is judged by the world as being foolish. Paul speaks of those who are "wise after the flesh" (1: 26), of "the wisdom of the world" (1: 20 21), over against those who are wise through the Spirit (2: 10-14).

"We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised." (I Cor. 4: 10)

Paul here uses sarcasm, of common usage among the Greek elite, as a way for Paul to "feed them out of their own spoons." Sarcasm involves irony and Paul found it ironic that some of these Corinthian believers, in applying Greek and worldly standards, would judge Paul to be weak and foolish, and themselves strong and wise. But it was Paul who was the truly wise and strong and the worldlings, or non-Christians, who were the weak, the base, the foolish, the despised, and the dishonorable. How God sees and judges things quite differently from the world, however.

"For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." (II Cor. 10: 12)

Paul, in these words from his second epistle to the Corinthians, continues his attack upon the worldly criteria in use among the pagan, non-Christian world, in distinguishing between wise and foolish, between strong and weak. The Greeks, like the world in general, used a human standard in judging character and status. It is a false standard, however, and contrary to the divine standard. Jesus himself had warned of this worldly standard, saying -

"And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." (Luke 16: 15)

The standard that the world of depraved men use to distinguish between themselves is like a false weight and measure. What the world highly esteems, God despises. What God despises the world honors. The one whom the world calls wise, strong, and noble, is the one who is foolish, weak, and ignoble in the eyes of God. Jesus and his apostles directed men to a better standard for measuring and marking good character, and for revealing a man's standing with God. Notice these words of James.

"Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." (James 3: 13-17)

Will the real wise man please stand up? God and the world point to different kinds of people in designating who is "wise" and "endued with knowledge." The Greeks, like the Romans and the world in general, point to those who are rich, to those of noble birth, to the well educated, to those with power and influence, when giving an example of the "wise." This kind of worldly wisdom, according to the apostle James, is connected with pride, while true heavenly wisdom is connected with "meekness" and humility. Worldly wisdom begets jealousy and envy too, which then produces strife and division among men. Worldly wise men boast of their abilities and achievements. Heavenly wise men, however, follow Paul's dictum, as given to the Romans.

"Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits." (Romans 12: 16)

The worldly wise man exercises his thoughts in "high things," believing that he is superior to most other men, that he is a man of high estate and elite status. But, he is deceived. It is the Christian, however, the one who has been taught by God and his grace, who practices condescension of mind, who sees himself as he really is, and who is not pretentious.

Worldly wisdom is "earthly, sensual, and devilish." It originates in Hell, not in Heaven. Worldly wisdom is corrupt, but heavenly wisdom is "pure." Worldly wisdom is hard and arrogant, but heavenly wisdom is "easy" and "gentle." Worldly wisdom is implacable, but heavenly wisdom placates. Worldly wisdom is merciless, but heavenly wisdom is "full of mercy." The effects of worldly wisdom are: destructive competitiveness, selfishness, uncooperativeness, uncharitableness, partiality and prejudice, and hypocrisy and conceit.

Christians and The Strong

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God...But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (I Cor. 1: 18, 24)

Those who are "saved" and "called" own Christ and his gospel as the power and wisdom of God. Those who believe the good news about the person and work of Christ are they who are now strong in Christ, and are no longer weak. On the other hand, the person who does not believe in Christ and the gospel are they who are weak, without strength.

As was noted in chapter one, the Greek word translated "weak" in the Corinthian epistles denotes what is sick, unhealthy, impotent, or "without strength." In Romans 5: 6 Paul wrote: "For when we were yet without strength (weak - asthenes), in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Clearly the apostle connects the lost, unsaved, or "ungodly" man, with the one who is "weak," or "without strength." This is further evidence that the class of people designated by the apostles as "weak" are those who are unbelievers, or unsaved.

In chapter two Paul wrote:

"And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (I Cor. 2: 4, 5)

Here Paul attacks the Sophist ideas about power and wisdom. The Sophists taught men how to succeed in the world, affirming that worldly success ought to be the chief aim of every man. The Sophists emphasized rhetoric and oratory as a means for achieving success. Truth was not a paramount concern to the Sophists. Debating skills were not for the purpose of arriving at truth but for success in acquiring power. According to Greek Sophistic thinking a man was judged as weak or strong depending upon his communication skills.

In these words of Paul there is again a discussion of "power." The "power of God" is contrasted with the power of men. Whatever power the non-Christian may possess is not real power, not divine power.

"But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." (I Cor. 4: 19, 20)

In these words of Paul there is further evidence of how Paul viewed "power," and how he identified those who are the real strong ones. Those in the kingdom of God are they who are the powerful, the strong. They have abilities and authority with God that those powerful in the world do not have. When the Lord first appeared to Paul and commissioned him to preach his gospel, he told Paul that it was in order that he might "open the eyes" of those who were lost in their sins, and "to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God..." (Acts 26: 18) The unenlightened non-Christian is one who is under and controlled by the power of Satan, and of the world, but the Christian is who has been "turned" away from such power to the "power of God" and the power of his word and kingdom.

In the above words the apostle continues his attack upon that criterion that judges men as weak or strong based upon their "speech." Paul sees human rhetoric as a false criteria. They who are strong in the eyes of God are not they who talk well, but those who change lives by the preaching of the gospel.

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." (II Cor. 4: 7)

Again, Paul continues to talk about "power" and the "powerful." Those who are strong are not strong because of physical ability but because they possess a "treasure," which is Christ and his gospel through the Holy Spirit. He also contrasts divine and human power by saying that divine power is "of God" while human power is "of us."

"For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." (II Cor. 10: 10)

Again, the debate between Paul and the Greek mind about "power" is alluded to in these words. Paul was "weak" in body, and to the Greeks this was another standard for judging between the weak and the strong, in addition to rhetorical skills.

"Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you." (II Cor. 13: 3)

Paul, in these words, continues his contrast between the weak and the strong. He also continues to use a different standard for judging strength.

"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (II Cor. 12: 9)

Paul, in these words, continues discussing the concept of weak versus strong, and the criteria for judging it. The Greeks saw no good in weakness, but Paul saw good in it. The Greeks would never "glory" or boast in their infirmities, but the Christian boasts in them because they give opportunity for the "power of Christ" to be manifested.

"For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you." (II Cor. 13: 4)

The weakness of Christ lay in his humanity. Christ was subject to various human weaknesses though he was the very power of God. Not only are Christians "weak in him," but are also strong in Christ.

"I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one." (I John 2: 14)

These are the words of the apostle John and he calls those who have the word of God abiding in them, or Christians, "strong." He further identifies those who are "strong" with those who "overcome."

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (II Tim. 1: 7)

These words of Paul to Timothy further demonstrate how the apostles viewed the Christian as being the strong one, the one who has a strong spirit.

"That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." (Eph. 3: 16)

"Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness." (Col. 1: 11)

These words of Paul further identify the Christian as the "strong." He is the one "strengthen with might" and this not in the outer man, but "in the inner man." The Christian is not weak, but "strengthened with all might."

The Strength of the Christian

A Christian is one who has been both enlightened and empowered. The power of Christians is in the person of Jesus Christ, who is "the power of God." (I Cor. 1: 24) Before Christ enters a person, he is impotent, sick, and foolish, but when Christ enters, that person is made wise, or enlightened. He receives knowledge about God and divine things. He is also empowered in being given various powers and graces, and multiple abilities and gifts. The seed of all future fruit is sown in the heart and soul of that person. The areas of the Christian's strength lies in the following areas.

First, the Christian is strong in nature, for he has become a "partaker of the divine nature." (II Peter 1: 4) He is not strong in his human nature, or in body, but in his divine nature, or in his spirit and mind. He is spiritually healthy, having innate ability.

Second, he is strong in wisdom and knowledge, because he has been taught the secrets of wisdom, the revelation of the gospel.

Third, he is strong in conscience, as he shows in I Corinthians chapter 8, having a conscience that has been purged of pride and guilt.

Fourth, he is strong in spirit/mind. He has a mind and purpose that is destined to overcome and endure. He is resolute and is given courage.

Fifth, he is strong in inheritance, in riches and titles.

Christians and The High Born

Christians are the real nobles, the truly "high born." They are begotten of God, members of the family of God. The world may see the Christian as persons of "low estate," but God sees them as persons of high estate.

"Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity." (Psa. 62: 9)

The "men of high degree" in the world are "a lie," a falsehood, for they are not, in the eyes of God, what they claim to be. It is Christians who God judges as noble men, men of high birth.

"Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever." (Psa. 106: 33)

Lost men are in a "low estate," though they may possess much of earthly wisdom, power, and wealth. Saved men, on the other hand, are men of high estate, even though their worldly status may be low.

"Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off." (Psa. 138: 6)

These words of David are similar to those of Paul in chapter one. God has chosen the weak things of the world, not the strong of the world.

"Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away." (James 1: 9, 10)

The Christian, though by worldly standards is a man of "low degree," is really a man of high degree. God has exalted him to high status. Mary confessed the same, saying - "He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree." (Luke 1: 52) Mary recognized that she was, by worldly standards, of the lower class, saying - "For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." (Luke 1: 48)

Christians and The Rich

"Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you." (I Cor. 4: 8)

This is probably a further use of sarcasm and irony by the apostle. Paul, like Jesus and the other apostles, often contrasted between the riches of the world and the riches of God and heaven. Christians are rich, although not by worldly standards.

"As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." (II Cor. 6: 10)

How did Paul make people "rich"? Clearly it was not in worldly riches, but in heavenly riches, being rich in faith and good works, and rich in inheritance.

"For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." (II Cor. 8: 9)

Christians are the truly wealthy. They have a glorious inheritance. They are enriched in the quality of their lives, though they be poor in this world.

"Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy. That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate." (I Tim. 6: 17, 18)

Here Paul contrasts the riches of God with the riches of the world. The riches of the world are "uncertain" and produce highmindedness in those who possess them.

"Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?" (James 2: 5, 6)

The poor of this world would never be viewed as "elect" or "elite" by the Greeks or world in general. It was contrary to their standard.

"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see." (Rev. 3: 17, 18)

If one desires to be rich towards God, then he is shown the way. Christians are rich though they be poor in this world for the present.

In conclusion it is the Christian who is the truly wise, strong, rich, and noble person. These terms are used to distinguish between Christian and non-Christian and not to distinguish between two different types of Christians.

Dec 27, 2010

Weak Brethren II

From the preceding chapter it was shown that the "weak brother" of I Cor. 8 was not a Christian, or "saved" person, based upon the words of Paul in the next chapter, where he says that he "became weak that I might gain (save) the weak." (9: 22) Obviously then, "the weak" is not a description of "saved" or "gained" people, or of Christians, but of unsaved people, or non-Christians. This fact is not only clear from 9: 22, but also from other things stated in the context of chapters 8-11, the three chapters that are connected with this subject.

"The Weak" vs. "The Strong"

The Greek word for "weak" is "asthenēs" and means weak, infirm, feeble, impotent. In the AV it is translated as weak (12), sick (6), weakness (2), weaker (1), weak things (1), impotent (1), more feeble (1), without strength (1). "The weak" refers to a class of people who are spiritually sick and impotent. They are contrasted with another class who are "the strong." Paul implies this opposite class in chapters 8-11 and specifically labels them as such in Romans 15: 1, where he sets "the weak" over against "the strong," and claims that he and the Roman Christians were members of the class of "the strong." The strong are the saved or gained class, those who are no longer spiritually weak or impotent, but spiritually healthy and potent. Saved people (Christians) are "the strong" and lost people are "the weak." Further, "the weak" are described as those who do not have Christian knowledge, while those who are not weak are those who have Christian "knowledge." Thus, it is a distinction of "weak" versus "strong," of the "haves" and the "have nots."

The idea of "the weak" versus "the strong" has a long tradition. Among the Greeks there was this categorizing of persons into these two classes. A person was judged as either weak or strong. If one was viewed as strong, either by natural abilities or acquired skills, he would then enjoy superior rights and privileges over the weak. The Greeks had other criteria at hand in their judgment of men as either weak or strong. What was the ancestry or bloodline of the person? Was he of "high birth" (noble birth)? Of what social and economic class were his parents? What titles are connected with the family name? Was the person born into peasantry or slavery?

One sees some of this criteria in Paul's epistle to the Corinthians. In chapter one he says "not many mighty, not many noble (of high birth) are called." The mighty, or the strong, according to Greek thinking, were they who were of high or noble birth, who had power, economically, socially, civilly, and politically. They were the "elite," or the "elect." They were the heads of society, while the weak were the tails. The strong were destined to rule over the weak, to gain the victory.

Paul uses this ancient division of men into two classes of weak and strong to describe Christians and non-Christians. He shows, however, that the Greek or worldly division is false, being based upon false criteria. Paul shows that the divine criteria, however, for labeling one either weak or strong, is different than that of the Graeco Roman world. There are similarities, but there are contrasts as well.

Men of various philosophical and religious traditions have had other dichotomies whereby men were distinguished. The children of light (day) versus the children of darkness (night) is an old one. The wise versus the foolish has also been another of long standing. Strong versus weak is but one of several of these ancient classes.

The Greeks, like the Romans and other civilizations, placed a great value on "power." A man was great depending upon the amount of power he possessed. Power, of course, has its variety. There is physical power, political power, economic power, mental power, etc. Power involved influence and control and was one of the "keys" to success.

The Sophist philosophy was strong in ancient Greece and Rome. It was strong in Corinth too.

"In Roman society rank was a prized possession. It determined one's behaviour, relationships and legal privileges. All people belonged to one of two classes: the honestiores or the humiliores, the high or the low. The former was made up of the nobility - senators, equestrians and, away from Rome itself, decurions. These were men who, together with their womenfolk, were esteemed for their dignitas and often possessed great power and fortune. The humiliores - plebs, freedmen and slaves - lacked dignitas and were held in no honour by the nobility. Since rank was hereditary, movement from one class to the other was virtually impossible." (Power Through Weakness: Paul's Understanding of the Christian Ministry in 2 Corinthians" by Timothy B Savage, page 20) See here

In first Corinthians chapter one Paul addresses the Sophistic criteria for judging between the "wise" and "foolish," between the "strong" (powerful) and the "weak."

"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." (26-31)

"Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (vs. 24)

This is Paul's criteria for who is wise and strong versus who is foolish and weak. Does a man have Christ? If yes, then he has wisdom and power and is himself wise and strong. He is so in the eyes of God, although not so in the eyes of the Greek and Roman world, or world at large. If a man, therefore, is judged as wise and strong by the Greek (worldly) standard, then those who have Christ (Christians) are foolish and weak. Paul attacks the worldly standard and focuses on three standards, power, wisdom, birth status (nobility).

To the world the Christian is weak. Christians are weak-minded and weak because they extol pacifism, mercy, forgiveness, meekness, humility, lowliness of mind, etc., and because they do not prize ambition, pride (hubris), financial success, social status, etc. Christianity is also viewed as antagonistic to manliness and courage and is a belief system that leads to low self esteem and lack of success.

All this was true of the Corinthians. The first adult converts to Christ in Corinth had a lot of philosophical and theological "baggage" from which to divorce themselves. Paul was sent by God to these Greek converts to help them get rid of this baggage. In order to do this, he begins by taking up Greek concepts about wisdom, power, nobility, and elect status. In the next chapter, these ideas will be enlarged upon as the context of the first epistle to the Corinthians is more particularly investigated.

But, clearly, in this paradigm of "two classes," sometimes designated as wise verses foolish, or strong versus weak, or high born versus low born, Paul makes use of this paradigm, though he advocates a different criteria. Who does Paul think is wise and strong? Is it not the Christian who is in Christ? Does Paul not think that those who are not Christians are the ones who are foolish and weak? So, this is further evidence that Paul is not describing two kinds of saved people, two kinds of Christians, but of the two kinds of people in the world, the saved and the lost. The weak need to be saved and won (gained) to Christ. The strong are they who have been saved and won.

Dec 26, 2010

Augustine on I Cor. 4: 7

Chapter 7 [III.]— Augustine Confesses that He Had Formerly Been in Error Concerning the Grace of God.

"It was not thus that that pious and humble teacher thought— I speak of the most blessed Cyprian— when he said that we must boast in nothing, since nothing is our own. And in order to show this, he appealed to the apostle as a witness, where he said, For what have you that you have not received? And if you have received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? 1 Corinthians 4:7. And it was chiefly by this testimony that I myself also was convinced when I was in a similar error, thinking that faith whereby we believe in God is not God's gift, but that it is in us from ourselves, and that by it we obtain the gifts of God, whereby we may live temperately and righteously and piously in this world. For I did not think that faith was preceded by God's grace, so that by its means would be given to us what we might profitably ask, except that we could not believe if the proclamation of the truth did not precede; but that we should consent when the gospel was preached to us I thought was our own doing, and came to us from ourselves. And this my error is sufficiently indicated in some small works of mine written before my episcopate.

In the solution of this question I laboured indeed on behalf of the free choice of the human will, but God's grace overcame, and I could only reach that point where the apostle is perceived to have said with the most evident truth, 'For who makes you to differ? And what have you that you have not received? Now, if you have received it, why do you glory as if you received it not?' 1 Corinthians 4:7. And this the martyr Cyprian was also desirous of setting forth when he compressed the whole of it in that title: 'That we must boast in nothing, since nothing is our own.' This is why I previously said that it was chiefly by this apostolic testimony that I myself had been convinced, when I thought otherwise concerning this matter; and this God revealed to me as I sought to solve this question when I was writing, as I said, to the Bishop Simplicianus. This testimony, therefore, of the apostle, when for the sake of repressing man's conceit he said, For what have you which you have not received? 1 Corinthians 4:7 does not allow any believer to say, I have faith which I received not. All the arrogance of this answer is absolutely repressed by these apostolic words. Moreover, it cannot even be said, Although I have not a perfected faith, yet I have its beginning, whereby I first of all believed in Christ. Because here also is answered: But what have you that you have not received? Now, if you have received it, why do you glory as if you received it not?

Chapter 9 [V.]— The Purpose of the Apostle in These Words.

The notion, however, which they entertain, that these words, 'What have you that you have not received?' cannot be said of this faith, because it has remained in the same nature, although corrupted, which at first was endowed with health and perfection, is perceived to have no force for the purpose that they desire if it be considered why the apostle said these words. For he was concerned that no one should glory in man, because dissensions had sprung up among the Corinthian Christians, so that every one was saying, I, indeed, am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, and another, I am of Cephas; 1 Corinthians 1:12 and thence he went on to say: God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong things; and God has chosen the ignoble things of the world, and contemptible things, and those things which are not, to make of no account things which are; that no flesh should glory before God. 1 Corinthians 1:27. Here the intention of the apostle is of a certainty sufficiently plain against the pride of man, that no one should glory in man; and thus, no one should glory in himself. Finally, when he had said that no flesh should glory before God, in order to show in what man ought to glory, he immediately added, But it is of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who is made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:30 Thence that intention of his progressed, till afterwards rebuking them he says, For you are yet carnal; for whereas there are among you envying and contention, are you not carnal, and walk according to man? For while one says I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, are you not men? What, then, is Apollos, and what Paul? Ministers by whom you believed; and to every one as the Lord has given. I have planted, and Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. Therefore, neither is he that plants anything, nor he that waters, but God that gives the increase. Do you not see that the sole purpose of the apostle is that man may be humbled, and God alone exalted? Since in all those things, indeed, which are planted and watered, he says that not even are the planter and the waterer anything, but God who gives the increase: and the very fact, also, that one plants and another waters he attributes not to themselves, but to God, when he says, To every one as the Lord has given; I have planted, Apollos watered. Hence, therefore, persisting in the same intention he comes to the point of saying, Therefore let no man glory in man, 1 Corinthians 3:21 for he had already said, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. After these and some other matters which are associated therewith, that same intention of his is carried on in the words: And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes, that you might learn in us that no one of you should be puffed up for one against another above that which is written. For who makes you to differ? And what have you which you have not received? Now, if you have received it, why do you glory as if you received it not? 1 Corinthians 4:6

Chapter 10.— It is God's Grace Which Specially Distinguishes One Man from Another.

In this the apostle's most evident intention, in which he speaks against human pride, so that none should glory in man but in God, it is too absurd, as I think, to suppose God's natural gifts, whether man's entire and perfected nature itself as it was bestowed on him in his first state, or the remains, whatever they may be, of his degraded nature. For is it by such gifts as these, which are common to all men, that men are distinguished from men? But here he first said, For who makes you to differ? and then added, And what have you that you have not received? Because a man, puffed up against another, might say, My faith makes me to differ, or My righteousness, or anything else of the kind. In reply to such notions, the good teacher says, But what have you that you have not received? And from whom but from Him who makes you to differ from another, on whom He bestowed not what He bestowed on you? Now if, says he, you have received it, why do you glory as if you received it not? Is he concerned, I ask, about anything else save that he who glories should glory in the Lord? But nothing is so opposed to this feeling as for any one to glory concerning his own merits in such a way as if he himself had made them for himself, and not the grace of God—a grace, however, which makes the good to differ from the wicked, and is not common to the good and the wicked. Let the grace, therefore, whereby we are living and reasonable creatures, and are distinguished from cattle, be attributed to nature; let that grace also by which, among men themselves, the handsome are made to differ from the ill-formed, or the intelligent from the stupid, or anything of that kind, be ascribed to nature. But he whom the apostle was rebuking did not puff himself up as contrasted with cattle, nor as contrasted with any other man, in respect of any natural endowment which might be found even in the worst of men. But he ascribed to himself, and not to God, some good gift which pertained to a holy life, and was puffed up therewith when he deserved to hear the rebuke, Who has made you to differ? And what have you that you received not? For though the capacity to have faith is of nature, is it also of nature to have it? For all men have not faith, 2 Thessalonians 3:2 although all men have the capacity to have faith. But the apostle does not say, And what have you capacity to have, the capacity to have which you received not? but he says, And what have you which you received not? Accordingly, the capacity to have faith, as the capacity to have love, belongs to men's nature; but to have faith, even as to have love, belongs to the grace of believers. That nature, therefore, in which is given to us the capacity of having faith, does not distinguish man from man, but faith itself makes the believer to differ from the unbeliever. And thus, when it is said, For who makes you to differ? And what have you that you received not? if any one dare to say, I have faith of myself, I did not, therefore, receive it, he directly contradicts this most manifest truth—not because it is not in the choice of man's will to believe or not to believe, but because in the elect the will is prepared by the Lord. Thus, moreover, the passage, For who makes you to differ? And what have you that you received not? refers to that very faith which is in the will of man."

Commentaries on I Cor. 4; 7

"For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" (I Cor. 4: 7)

Charles Hodge

"It is here assumed that every thing, whether natural or gracious, by which one man is favorably distinguished from another, is due to God; and being thus due to him and not to the possessor, is a cause of gratitude, but not of self-complacency or of self-applause. This is true even of those things which are acquired by great self-denial and exertion."

Notice that Hodge does not limit "what you have" to a certain category of persons or gifts. He applies it broadly as I did in my discussion with Peter Lumpkins.

Matthew Henry

"We have no reason to be proud; all we have, or are, or do, that is good, is owing to the free and rich grace of God. A sinner snatched from destruction by sovereign grace alone, must be very absurd and inconsistent, if proud of the free gifts of God."

Matthew Henry saw "what you have" very broadly also, as universalistic language, a thing Peter Lumpkins refused to do in the passage.

Dec 23, 2010

Weak Brethren I

Are the "weak brothers" mentioned in I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 a reference to immature, yet saved Christians, or to unsaved non-Christians? Undoubtedly, the majority interpretation has historically argued that the "weak brothers" are Christians, although still retaining "scruples" regarding paganism or polytheism. In this treatis reasons will be presented for rejecting the majority interpretation and for accepting the proposition that the "weak" are not Christians at all, or monotheists, but pagan polytheists. It will be shown that there is no reason, contextually, for identifying "the weak ones" with Christians and believers.

Gaining The Weak

"To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." (I Cor. 9: 22)

How anyone can read this passage and affirm that the "weak" are saved people is incredible. Paul says that the weak are they who have not been "gained" or "saved." This verse alone ought to put interpreters on the right track for identifying who is meant by the "weak."

Now, one can, of course, follow the commentators, who avow that the "weak" are saved Christian people. But, accepting the majority view of commentators is not a reliable criterion for establishing truth. Oftentimes, the minority holds the correct view.

In the commentary of Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown, the authors refer to Greek scholar, Henry "Dean" Alford, who affirmed that "the 'weak' are not Christians at all, for these have been already 'won'; but those outside the Church, who are yet "without strength" to believe (Rom. 5:6)."

Alford, like some other commentators, was willing to affirm that the "weak" of I Cor. 9: 22 were lost people, or non-Christian, yet inconsistently affirmed that the "weak" of I Corinthians chapter eight were Christian. Such commentators do not see "the weak" of chapter nine as being the same as "the weak" of chapter eight. There is no contextual reason, however, for differentiating "the weak" of each chapter.

Some commentators are more consistent and affirm that "the weak" of chapter nine is the same group as "the weak" of chapter eight, and that in both cases, reference is to those Christians who are not yet fully established in Christian monotheism or in the singular lordship of Christ. These commentators do not believe that the "gaining" of the weak is a reference to the initial conversion or salvation of the weak, but to a post salvation "gaining" of them, a gaining or saving of them to further or confirmed knowledge. They are "saved" from their doubts, or from their "scruples."

John Gill, in his commentary, states that "the weak" are "weak Christians, who were weak in faith, and had not such clear knowledge of Gospel liberty," and then says that the "gaining" of the weak referred to "promoting their edification and welfare," a keeping them from "falling from" or "deserting the faith of the Gospel." Thus, "gaining" the "weak" is not a reference to conversion, or to an initial "saving" of the weak, according to Gill. However, when Paul speaks of "gaining" the Jews, or lawless Gentiles, Gill thinks there is a reference to the conversion and initial salvation of these groups. This is inconsistent and contradictory. Paul does not equivocate on the significance of "gaining" or "saving" in the passage.

"For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." (19-22)

All these terms denote lost people, people who are not Christian, who are not believers in Jesus. The terms are 1) "men" and "all men" who have not been "gained" and, 2) "the Jews" who have not been "gained" and, 3) "those under the law" who have not been "gained," and, 4) "the weak" who have not been "gained." To affirm that the term "the weak" represents saved people, while the other terms represent unsaved people, is gross misinterpretation. To affirm that the "gaining" of Jews, lawless ones, yea, of all men, denotes initial conversion and salvation, but the "gaining" of the "weak" is not so, but a post conversion gaining, is gross misinterpretation.

The Impotent

The Greek word for "weak" is "asthenes" and means "weak, infirm, feeble." It is sometimes translated as "impotent." In Romans 5: 6 it is translated (KJV) as "without strength" and is applied to those who are "ungodly," to unsaved "sinners." This is further evidence that the class of people denoted by the term "the weak" is not the class of Christians.

One modern commentator, Dr. Mark Nanos, has written against the traditional view. Published in 2008, Dr. Nanos wrote "The Polytheist Identity of the 'Weak,' And Paul's Strategy to 'Gain' Them: A New Reading of 1 Corinthians 8:1—11:1." Dr. Nanos takes the same view as this treatise. His writing is available on the internet here

Wrote Dr. Nanos (emphasis mine):

"When it comes to identifying those Paul describes as asthenes in 1 Corinthians 8— usually translated "weak"— there are many interpretations on offer. But when it comes to the question of their identity as Christbelievers, there is only one. That they are Christbelievers is apparently so obvious that interpreters often proceed without discussion. However, I propose that the consensus is likely mistaken, that the asthenes are "polytheists" who do not believe in the message of good in Jesus Christ that Paul proclaims, and in which his recipients believe. From Paul's perspective, the Corinthians need to recognize that the adelphos are also adelphoi (brothers/sisters) on behalf of whom Christ died. They should thus be sincerely concerned with the harmful impact that their proposed eating of idol food as if merely ordinary food would have upon these 'unbelievers.'"

Dr. Nanos prefers the term "impaired" for the Greek word "asthenes." He does not wholly favor using the term "pagan" in reference to them. He writes:

"I will employ the translation "impaired" to refer to the asthenes. Impaired highlights that they are being objectified by Paul (if not already by his audience as well) to be unable to function in the way that he expects of those with properly working sensibilities, lacking the proper sense of what is true about the divine.

The term "polytheist" is adopted to denote those who are neither Jews nor Christ-believers, even though some Greco-Roman philosophers might not be helpfully described as polytheists either, but continued reference to them as "non-Christ-believing-non-Jews," or something similar, is cumbersome.

"Greeks" is misleading, since most Jews and Christ-believers are likely also Greeks in Corinth, and a similar problem applies to using Romans; "idolaters" could be confusing, because many interpreters understand the Corinthians to be Christ-believers who are still in some sense idolaters; "pagan" is anachronistic, although it could have also been adopted, with similar caveats."

In this treatise the term "pagan" has been selected as best for describing the class of "weak ones," but the term "polytheist" is also used. It is agreed that this class represents, as Dr. Nanos said, "non-Christ-believing-non-Jews."

Under the sub-heading "The Prevailing Views for the Identity of the Impaired," Dr. Nanos wrote:

"The 'impaired' are generally perceived to be Christ-believers insecure about the implications of their newly found faith. They are unable to eat food dedicated to idols as if religiously meaningless, having been 'until now accustomed to eating idol food as if [sanctified] to idols' (8:7). If they were to see the knowledgeable ones 'reclining at an idol's temple,' they might 'be strengthened to eat food sacrificed to idols' (8:10), against their own sense of what is right, which has not yet adjusted to Christ-believing ideals.

The consensus view that the impaired ones are specifically Christ-believers appears to be based on several factors. Although often not discussed, the primary reason is probably that Paul refers to the impaired ones as adelphoi/ (brothers/sisters) of his 'knowledgeable' audience, who have the ability to trip up and thus harm the impaired if they continue to eat idol food in their presence. Also, Paul refers to Christ having died on behalf of the impaired brothers/sisters, so that sinning against them is sinning against Christ (8:11-12)."

In opposition to the "consensus view," the view of the majority of interpreters, Dr. Nanos then wrote in favor of the view that "the weak ones" were not Christians under the sub-heading "A New Proposal: The Impaired as non-Christ-believing Polytheists."

He wrote:

"In spite of several reasons to identify the impaired ones to be Christ-believers, which have been discussed, the consensus view is nevertheless far from certain, and I do not think that it is probable. I am neither convinced that from Paul's perspective the impaired ones are insecure in their faith, specifically, that they are troubled by eating idol food, nor that he fears they will revert to idolatry if the knowledgeable behave against their sensibilities. Rather, I propose that the impaired are polytheist idolaters with whom the Christ-believers in Corinth interact, even those to whom they are proclaiming the gospel message. The impaired are not resistant to eating idol food; rather, the impaired have always eaten idol food as an act of religious significance. After all, is it not more logical to suppose that Christ-believers "know" the truth about idols now, by definition, being Christ-believers? In what sense have they become Christ-believers if not by confessing the truth of the One, thus turning from the truth they had supposed before about idols and other gods and lords?"

Dr. Nanos speaks about one of the dangers of the majority view when he indicates that the majority view is forced to redefine what it means to be a Christian. Non-Christians are "by definition" those who do not know the truth about idols, do not know that there is one God and one Lord. Doubtless this consequence has been felt by those holding the "consensus view." On one internet web site, where this issue was being discussed, the writer said:

"...some of those who do not recognize there is only one God were weak Christians. Am I missing something or is this saying some of these early Christians still believed the gods behind the idols were real? Did they just agree that Jehovah was the supreme God? Could polytheists be Christians as long as they did not honor those other “gods”? Help me out on this one."

In response to this query, a commenter wrote:

"Isn’t Paul teaching the Christians here to be patient with these new and weak brethren as they would be taught out of their polytheism?"

These bible students, though following the "consensus view," nevertheless realized the implications of it. They saw that the consensus view forced them to affirm that one could still hold to polytheistic beliefs and be called Christian. Yet, they were reluctant to do so. Why? Is it not because, "by definition," a "Christian" is one who has wholly rejected polytheism?

Another commenter said:

"Good thoughts on necessary inference! I had not thought of this passage as an example of it before now.

To me, the lack of knowledge that some brethren in Corinth had is defined in vs. 7 – they “eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience being weak is defiled.” Those pagans who were converted had been taught that the idol is nothing, and acceptance of this point was a key part in their conversion to Christ. Consider Paul’s Mars Hill sermon, which must have been preached in Corinth as well. He taught that they, “ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man,” and then commanded repentance (Acts 17:29-30). So the fact that “polytheism is false” was known even to the new converts."

See here

Again, it is obvious to those who have been taught, and even embraced the majority view, that the "consensus view" presents theological problems. On the one hand, the scriptures define a Christian as one who has come to certain knowledge about the falsity of idols and polytheism, yet the consensus view regarding "the weak ones" forces one to deny this defining aspect of what it means to be Christian.

On another internet web site, Richard Oster ("1 Corinthians") says (emphasis mine):

"By his statement here that not everyone knows this, Paul is making it explicit that not all the believers in the church of God at Corinth totally accepted the Christian monotheistic position that he and certain other believers embraced.

While it may sound surprising at first to hear Paul acknowledging that there are believers in Corinth who do not embrace monotheism fully, this should really come as no surprise to the modern interpreter. As has been pointed out before, many of those Christians at Corinth who received this letter had been Christians for less than forty-eight months. It is not surprising, therefore, that certain ones from a pagan idolatrous background would in some cases continue to have pagan polytheistic baggage with them in their Christian walk.

It is indeed "surprising" that any Christian bible commentator or teacher should affirm that a person could be a "believer" or "Christian" and yet still retain convictions regarding polytheism. The writer then attempts to dispel this surprising phenomenon by affirming that it really ought not to be surprising after all. Oster thinks that it was to be expected that new converts from paganism would not be fully convinced of Christian monotheism.

Oster then says:

"Some modern (Western World) interpreters find it hard to conceive that certain believers could truly still be having difficulty with tensions concerning idols and monotheistic convictions."

Not only should "modern interpreters" of the "Western World" seem reluctant, or "find it hard" to think of Christians as "still having difficulty concerning idols and monotheistic convictions," but so should every bible believer. There is no scripture anywhere that would define a believer or a Christian as someone who only half-heartedly believes in one God and one Lord Jesus Christ.

Oster writes:

"Gordon Fee, likewise, does not want any of these weak Corinthian believers to still embrace polytheism. To be certain, Paul is not accusing these believers of being guilty of blatant and cavalier idolatry. Nevertheless, since the issues discussed in this chapter are in terms of what individual believers "know" or "do not know," it does seem to be the case that this issue of monotheism versus polytheism is at the center."

Obviously those who accept the "consensus view" perceive the difficulties with affirming that the "weak ones" are Christians. It seems the problem lies in students of the word relying too heavily on what the majority of commentators believe.

Oster then writes:

"Their defilement is a result of the fact that they do not with full spiritual conviction possess monotheistic loyalty to the one God. Consequently, because of their lack of a robust monotheism and because they are still partially caught in the web of polytheism, their conscience is defiled."

One wonders how any bible student could affirm that a person can be a Christian who lacks "full spiritual conviction" regarding the fact that there is "one God, the Father," and "one Lord, Jesus Christ." But, this position is the consequence of erroneously identifying "the weak ones" with born again Christians. See Oster's writing here

Dr. Nanos, conversely, was correct to write:

"I thus suggest that the impaired are not insecure in their faith, they do not share faith in Christ with the knowledgeable. They are not troubled by eating idol food, that is what they do and have always done as a matter of course, "until now." Thus Paul's concern is not that the impaired will revert to idolatry, but that they will never turn away from it. If they witness that even Christ-believers, who otherwise deny their convictions, nevertheless still eat idol food, they will continue to sense that idolatry is right, leading to their self-destruction, when it should be the role of the knowledgeable to live in such a way as to prevent that outcome."

One should have solid grounds for taking the minority view on any biblical subject. This treatuse will offer strong reasons why the popular interpretation is false, the view that identifies "the weak ones" as inferior Christians, or semi converts, and "the strong" as mature Christians, or the full converts.

Dec 21, 2010

Lumpkins I Cor. 4: 7

Peter Lumpkins has written an entire diatribe against my use of I Cor. 4:7 in the context of salvation. See here

Peter and I have had a couple battles over the Calvinist/Arminian debate. The first concerned whether Baptists of Southern Baptist heritage believed in "original sin," that all are born into the world in a condemned state because of the sin of Adam. Peter claimed that a denial of original sin was characteristic of that heritage. He cited John Smyth, a leader of the General Baptists, as proof. But, this was no proof at all, for the General Baptists were a separate group from those Baptists who founded the SBC. Those Baptists endorsed the London and Philadelphia confessions and these confessions uphold the doctrine of original sin, and affirm that all men are born slaves to sin. I was surprised to see a SBC pastor deny such fundamental Bible and Baptist beliefs.

The latest controversy came as a result of my comments on Peter's post regarding Billy Birch's Arminian apologetic regarding whether Arminianism takes away from God all the glory and credit for salvation. Peter and Billy say that they give all the glory and credit to God for their salvation and that their Arminian soteriology does the same. I was glad for their confession and do not affirm that they claim credit for their salvation, but that their doctrine, when fairly analyzed, does in fact deny to God all the credit and gives some of it to the creature.

Billy gave the illustration of people who are trapped in a burning house and who are offered the opportunity of being saved by fire rescue personel. Billy claimed that those who responded to the offer of salvation could claim no credit for being saved, even though they were saved, in part at least, because they responded to the offer of rescue, while others were lost in the fire because they refused the offer. Billy and Peter claimed that the one rescued could not, would not, claim any credit for their being rescued. Those who responded to the offer of salvation could not thank anyone for their salvation but would give all thanks to the one who offered to, and who did in fact, rescue them. Yet, whether any in such a situation do or don't accept any praise or thanks, is besides the point. The question is - can they legitimately take any credit to themselves for the rescue? I affirm that they can, and sometimes do.

If the two classes of persons address each other about why they were saved or lost, can the persons rescued not say to those burned - "it is to your fault that you were not saved and it is to our credit that we are saved"? How can all the credit be given to the rescuer if the ultimate outcome depends upon the choice of those in danger? Indeed, the one choosing to be rescued must, to some degree, thank himself for having enough sense to make the right decision. In the end, what made the ultimate "difference" between those who perished and those who were rescued? It can't be the rescuer, for he offered the same salvation to both classes. Can the ones who chose to be rescued give thanks to the rescuer for their good sense and right decision? No. The decision itself was not due to the efforts of the rescuer but to the good sense of those rescued.

Peter and I exchanged comments on I Cor. 4: 7 until Peter cut off our discussion by saying he was done with commenting further. But, he chose instead to write a separate posting on the passage with the idea of demonstrating a classic case of Calvinistic "eisegeses." It is that posting that I want to reply to in this writing.

Peter wrote:

"On my last piece, one commenter quoted Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4:7 as indicative of the Apostle arguing that this gracious “system or paradigm of conversion” eliminates all boasting or crediting oneself with being saved. He further noted that Paul says that those who reject the idea that they are different because of God's gift to them are ones who have grounds for boasting."

I stand by those statements. Anyone who reads the passage honestly will see that Paul says that "boasting" (bragging) is impossible to one who is superior due to the gift and work of God alone. Paul implies that boasting is possible in cases where one is superior because of his own abilities, in those areas where God did not make the difference by his gift. In other words, if God gave you what you have, you are different because of that gift, and you can only thank God for that difference. For Peter to limit this paradigm about boasting to those who are saved, is an error. For Peter to limit this paradigm to only the supernatural gifts of the Spirit is also an error. Peter seems to think that this verse has no bearing upon the boasting that Christians may do relative to any special gifts or abilities they have naturally, or apart from the supernatural ones mentioned in the epistle. Is this correct? Is Paul only condemning boasting of Christians in relation to other Christians, or all boasting, of any man?

Peter then wrote:

"I offered some contextual matters necessary to understand Paul’s rhetorical questions he asked the Corinthians.

In the end, however, context was ignored. Instead I was perceived as an “Arminian” who was “fighting” the proper application of 1 Corinthians 4:7 to salvation and “limiting” Paul’s “universalistic language” by demonstrating a “reluctance to apply the verse to all men as respecting all the gifts they receive in life.”

The contextual observations by Peter are not denied by me, as Peter insinuates. But, I believe Peter fails to see the larger context, leaving out other contextual considerations. He implies that Paul is not at all concerned about any boasting that pertains to salvation, but this is clearly false. Notice these words of Paul from the first chapter.

"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth (boasts or brags), let him glory in the Lord." (I Cor. 1: 26-31)

Notice how "boasting" is here connected with the subject of salvation. Yet, Peter claims that Paul is not talking about salvation boasting in I Cor. 4: 7, claiming that it is all out of context! Clearly, context is not ignored, as Peter falsely claimed. Further, if one looks at the context of I Cor. chapter one, he will see what kinds of things the Corinthians were boasting in. They boasted of their superior wisdom and power, of their superior birth status as Corinthian Greeks. This was part of their Greek heritage. The Greeks were a proud boastful people. They had Sophists in Corinth, people who boasted of their rhetorical and oratorical abilities, things that did not relate to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit or to the saints of God alone. Peter wants to exclude the words of Paul, in I Cor. 4: 7, as having anything to do with boasting about natural abilites or gifts, as though the boasting of the Corinthians did not include these things.

Elsewhere in Paul's epistles, we see him repeat his comments about boasting as it pertains to salvation. In Ephesians 2: 9 Paul says - "Not of works, lest any man should boast." Why could they not boast? Because salvation is "the gift of God." They could not boast in anything in which God is the giver or reason for the saving difference.

Also the passage above, in talking about boasting, says God acts a certain way in order thatn "no flesh should glory in his presence." "No flesh" takes in more than just Christian boasting.

When Paul asks - "what do you have (possess) that you did not receive (as a gift from God)? - he is not limiting the question to things they possess in the area of spiritual gifts, nor is he limiting his antidote against boasting to only Christians. The words of Paul may aptly be addressed to any creature who is boasting. If Paul wanted to limit the context of his censure of boasting to only that boasting about spiritual gifts which only Christians possess, then he would have limited his language, saying - "what do you have as Christians." Is Paul excluding boasting that Christians do regarding their natural gifts and abilities? Peter would have to say yes, that Paul is saying nothing about such boasting in I Cor. 4: 7. It is universalistic language. "What you have" does not exclude anything they have, either as mere men or as Christians. He reminds the Corinthians about his theology which affirms that no human being can boast about anything for God is the one who distinguishes men by the gifts he gives to them. Paul taught the same as others in this regard.

John the Baptist said - "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven." (John 3: 27) I even cited this verse to Peter to demonstrate that Paul was affirming the same principle in I Cor. 4: 7. Peter did not see the relationship between the Baptist's and Paul's statements. However, in his diatribe, he does acknowledge the truth that all the good things a man possesses are his by God's sovereign gift and cites another verse to prove it (James 1: 17). He is willing to admit that John 3: 27 and James 1: 17 affirm that people are different because of God's gifts to them, but simply refuses to allow that Paul is saying the same thing in I Cor. 4: 7. Paul said, in Acts 17: 25 - "he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things."

Peter then wrote:

"I want to make two observations of unequal length. First, the short one. I do not think a better example exists than the exchange I had on 1 Corinthians 4:7 which visibly illustrates how strict Calvinism too often allows theology to drive the exegesis of Scripture. Indeed it’s troubling when someone can take a verse like 1 Corinthians 4:7 and conclude, as did the commenter, God’s sovereign will makes the difference between two people who hear the gospel when no such thing is so much as implied in the words of the Apostle."

In response I say, in similar language to that used by Peter, that "I do not think a better example exists which illustrates how strict Arminians refuse to see the broad implications of Paul's questions." Why is Peter even denying the proposition, that in salvation, God is the one who ultimately "makes the difference"? Only a strict Arminian would find fault with someone who avers that God makes the difference in salvation. Clearly, by his diatribe, Peter does not want to affirm that God is the one who makes the difference in why one is saved and another is not. He wants to avow that God gets all the credit for him being different, for him being a believer, but then argues against that doctrine which gives him all the credit. "The legs of the lame are not equal."

I Cor. 4: 7 is also similar to these words of God.

"But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." (Exo. 11: 7)

This "difference" that God made between the Israelites and the Egyptians does not concern salvation? Could the Israelites boast for being Israelites and not being Egyptians?

Peter then wrote:

"Second, I want to offer a brief exposition of 1 Corinthians 4:7 and in doing so demonstrate how some strict Calvinists do not deal with the text of Scripture at key junctures in their theology. Rather they bring unwarranted baggage to the text and read the text in light of their a priori notions about what must be."

But, as has been seen thus far, Peter has not shown how I Cor. 4: 7 is limited to a particular kind of boasting which only Christians, with supernatural gifts, may be guilty of. Peter charges me with some harsh things, in these words, but they are unfounded and I appeal to the Lord and his people to judge between us.

Peter wrote:

"Before we actually look at Paul’s words, I want to be clear about the issue with which I am concerned. I am not denying all good things come from God. James is clear about this: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). Nor am I denying, as the commenter put it, “all men as respecting all the gifts they receive in life” should give all glory to God. Indeed whether or not they acknowledge it, all persons—including the unbelieving world---are blessed alike with heaven’s rain (Matt 5:45). Nor is the issue whether people may boast in their salvation."

Then what is the issue? He is agreeing with all I said but simply believes I used the wrong text? Is that what is irritating him so much? I think his loud rejection of the implications of I Cor. 4: 7 is very revealing. If Paul believes that all gifts come from God, and that men cannot therefore boast in anything, then why would he not remind the Corinthians of this general principle and then apply it to their particular case? Peter would have to deny that Paul is applying a general principle to the case at hand.

Peter wrote:

"Nor is it necessarily of concern to me—at this juncture--if the Bible teaches God’s sovereign election as the distinguishing mark which separates believer and reprobate."

It was of concern, however, to the apostle Paul, who addressed sovereign election in I Cor. chapter one. Peter, being the Arminian that he is, would of course deny that God's sovereign election is "the distinguishing mark which separates believer and reprobate." He believes that sinners distinguish themselves by their election of God. Here we have the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinists owe their faith to God's election and Arminians owe their election by God to their faith.

Peter wrote:

"As one may easily see, the various translations bring out the fact that Paul had in mind to squelch the Corinthians’ nasty habit of making distinctions between one man and another—in this case between Paul and Apollos—thus establishing a party spirit, the very issue the Apostle insisted was a problem (1:10-12)."

Peter's failure here is in not seeing that Paul is condemning any and all kinds of boasting, and not just a limited kind of boasting. As I have already shown, the Corinthians, being Greeks, were in the habit of boasting, even before they became Christians. They did not boast simply about their spiritual gifts, but also about their natural abilities.

Peter wrote;

"What must be clear at this point in the context is, the very notion for which some strict Calvinists contend—i.e, that Paul was arguing for a salvific distinction between elect and reprobate persons in 1 Cor. 4:7—is not only absent in the context leading up to verse 7, but the Calvinistic notion seems to be explicitly contradicted by the Apostle!"

What is clear about the context is that Paul is contending against any and all boasting that Christians, or any man, may do. If Peter wanted to use a word from scripture against the boasting of non-Christians, what word and argumentation would he use? Would he not ask the unsaved man - "what do you have that you did not receive as a gift from God? So, why do you boast?" As I have shown, Paul included salvation in regards to boasting, as I have shown, from chapter one.

How is the "Calvinistic notion" "explicitly contradicted by the Apostle"? Peter never showed us this! Is Paul denying that saving differences are also due to the gifting of God?

Peter wrote:

"This leads to suggesting two possible interpretations of the rhetorical questions. David Garland explains:

The first question lends itself to two possible answers. It may be interpreted negatively as referring to their presumption: “Who in the world sees anything special in you?” (Moffatt 1938: 48); “Who concedes you any superiority?” (P. Marshall 1987: 205); “Who made you so special?” (Kuck 1992a: 215). The question can also be interpreted positively. They are special, but they forget that it was God who makes them special: Who differentiates you? Who defines you?” (David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament, 136)"

I do not believe the translation of Paul's words can be interpreted as sarcasm. I believe rather that he is asking them questions that he knows they have acknowledged the answers to. God made them different, God made them special, God defined them. But, defined them, in what respect? Not in the sense of salvation? Not as Christians? If faith is what defines them, then God must have been the one who gave them faith. If God did not give them faith, then he did not define them, but they defined themselves!

Peter wrote:

"Commentators are divided over precisely what Paul may have meant.

Craig Blomberg opts for the “negative” view taking the sense that Paul was questioning them concerning their arrogant belief in superiority over other believers (Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, p.90)."

Whether or not commentators are divided over the precise meaning of Paul is immaterial. We do not need the commentators or scholarly opinion to know what Paul is saying. Why would anyone want to limit Paul's injunction against boasting to only Christians against other Christians? Does Peter believe that the boasting of the Greek Christians in Corinth had no relation to pagan Greeks? In I Cor. 8 Paul deals with the superiority of "strong" brethren in Corinth against the "weak." In this chapter the "strong" are the Christians and the "weak" are pagans. Paul attacks the boasting of the strong (Christians) against the weak (pagans).

Peter wrote:

"In Augustine's debates with Pelagius, he repeatedly cited 1 Cor. 4:7 as demonstrating nothing good existed in depraved man and hence, God distinguishes His sovereign elect through the good gifts He effacaciously bestowes. For Augustine, irresistible grace and sovereign election were the warp and woof of this passage."

Peter's statement about Augustine taking the same view of the passage as myself is very interesting in light of the fact that Peter at first insinuated that I was giving forth a novel interpretation of the passage, one that he says is rarely used in the debate between Calvinists and Arminians.

Peter wrote:

"However, for Barrett and Blomberg, the text only bears “broadly theological inferences,” hardly a hook upon which to hang one's theological cloak."

I also agree, as I said in my exchange with Peter, that I Cor. 4: 7 states a "broad" theological principle and that Paul applies it to a particular case. What I don't agree with, however, is the idea that we cannot "hang one's theological cloak" upon broad theological principles. Does Peter not hang things upon broad theological principles?

Peter wrote:

"From only a brief look at 1 Corinthians 4:7, it seems several conclusions are in order. First, to make this verse into a “paradigm” of conversion when the Apostle is not dealing with conversion is wrong-headed at best and irresponsible at worst."

The "broad principle" in the passage is what? That no one can boast in anything because God is the one who makes men different by the distribution of gifts. How can we divorce this broad principle from salvation? Why would Peter want to divorce this principle from salvation? The paradigm is applicable to conversion and the fact that Peter denies its applicability to salvation is very revealing about the nature and thinking of Arminianism. Why is Peter rejecting the idea of God making the difference being applicable to salvation?

Peter wrote:

"Second, the Apostle Paul is not promoting distinctions among persons but encouraging Christians to deny them since comparing one’s giftedness with another can only lead to jealousy."

This is false. The Greeks, as Paul knew, were a boastful people. Also, Paul was not only concerned about the Christian audience at Corinth, but of the pagan audience also. I have already shown how Paul cautioned them about boasting about things unrelated to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

Peter wrote:

"Third, Paul is dealing with a practical church matter not election, not predestination, not efficacious calling, and not irresistible grace. To bring these notions to the text mocks the author’s original intent making historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture into an unnecessary activity. In fact, it stands as the worst kind of “proof-texting” imaginable, the kind of “proof-texting” conservative Christians have deplored within sectarian “Christian” groups for centuries."

Did not Paul deal with election and salvation, in the context of boasting, in chapter one? One is not bringing election and efficacious calling into the passage, but is seeing them implied in the language, and if a person was not biased against God making the difference, in conversion, he would see it.

Peter wrote:

"Fifth, 1 Corinthians 4:7 doesn’t mention a single word which necessarily implies any notion particular to strict Calvinism. In fact, the entire verse is made up of questions, questions which no answer is explicitly given. One must supply the answers. Strict Calvinists maintain they have “the “biblical answer” when no answer is given by the Apostle."

Unbelievable! Peter is saying that there are no biblical answers to Paul's questions? He does not know that Paul expects specific answers? When Paul asks - "who made you different from another" - he expects them to not to know what to say? Does he not know that they will affirm, as he taught them, that God was the one who made them to differ? When Paul asks - "what do you have that you did not receive?" - he did not expect them to say "nothing"?

Peter wrote:

"Seventh, 1 Corinthians 4:7 says exactly nothing about faith being a specifically endowed gift from God."

Yes, and I could say that John 3: 27 or James 1: 17 says nothing specific about faith. But, who would exclude faith? No one but an Arminian! If all the good one has is the gift of God, how can faith be excluded?

Peter wrote:

"Faith is not mentioned in the verse nor implied in the questions. Yet some strict Calvinists insist since Paul employs “universalistic language” in this verse,

As we have seen, Paul is not concerned with arguing for common grace. Rather he specifically addresses believers in this verse. Nor does he mention faith. Yet strict Calvinists nonetheless say Paul implies it.

Put another way, if Paul meant to imply “all men as respecting all the gifts they receive in life,” and he specifically had faith in mind, is he not implying all men receive faith?"

Paul's language is just as universalistic as John 3: 27 and James 1: 17. Paul's principle applies to Christians and non-Christians. The same rhetoricals may be asked of both classes.