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.


Anonymous said...

You are making incredible statements on this issue, and, if I might add, posting an embarrassing use of resources. I’d like to cite one but know I have little interest in exchanging with you over this subject. Readers are welcome to make up their own mind. In the present post, you write:

“In the commentary of Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown, the authors refer to that great Greek scholar, Henry "Dean" Alford, who affirmed that "the 'weak' are not Christians at all, for these have been already 'won'; butthose outside the Church, who are yet "without strength" to believe (Ro 5:6)." Alford saw how I Cor. 9: 22settled the matter about who are "the weak." He no doubt also saw how "the weak" are described in Paul's epistles as being non-Christian. There are no doubt other commentators who have advocated this view of Alford, and of the author, but it is clearly the minority view among the leading commentators”

Sorry to say, you completely misread JFB’s citation of Alford and would have not mistakenly posted what you’ve written had you taken the time to look at Alford yourself. Alford’s words on 1 Cor. 9:22 are as follows:

“The [ἀσθενής, that is, weak] here can hardly be the weak Christians of ch. viii. and Rom. xiv., who were already won, but as in ref.,those who had not strength to believe and receive the Gospel.”

What you quoted from JFB was a paraphrase of Alford not a quote from Alford. Again had you checked Alford, you would see Alford is suggesting the very opposite from what you’re suggesting here, Stephen. And, even JFB go on to explain Alford’s words. They themselves speak of “inexperienced” and “weak” Christians contra to your own view. Here’s their full comment on the relevant portion of 1 Cor. 9:22 in full:

22. gain the weak—that is, establish, instead of being a stumbling-block to inexperienced Christians (1Co 8:7) Ro 14:1, “Weak in the faith.” Alford thinks 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 (Ro 5:6). But when “weak” Christians are by the condescending love of stronger brethren kept from falling from faith, they are well said to be “gained” or won”

For Alford, 1 Cor. 9:22 *is* referring to the unsaved as JFB indicates. That’s what he means by “these”—these weak whom Paul was attempting to win in 1 Cor. 9:22 were not in the church. However, he contrasts “these” who are “without strength” (which JFB supply the Scriptural reference to Rom 5.6 which was not Alford’s reference) in 1 Cor. 9:22 with those in 1 Cor 8 and Rom 14 who *were* Christians, one class of whom Alford explicitly dubs as “weak Christians.”

Alford further writes of those “weak” and “strong” in Rom 14 as, “Here the Apostle has in view two Christians, both living by faith, and by faith doing acts pleasing to God: and he reminds them that whatever they do out of harmony with this great principle of their spiritual lives belongs to the category of sin…”.

So, not only “that great Greek scholar, Henry “Dean” Alford” turns out to be a foe not a friend of your view, Stephen, but also JFB as well. And, I challenge any reader to read Alford for themselves to test my point.

The fundamental flaw is simple: you’re attempting to forge all usages of “weak” into the same linguistic mold, hardly a suitable hermeneutic for biblical revelation, Stephen. Turn’s out Alford’s (and JFB) interpretation is virtually the same as the others I cited, including those your dissed in the beginning.

And, since you remain confident that “no doubt other commentators” have advocated your view mistakenly attributed to Alford, I suggest you either produce the “minority view” or simply concede while you still believe you are correct, you can find no scholars who agree with you.

With that, I am…

P.S. I had links for the quotes but the html would not log...

Toyin O. said...

Insightful, thanks for sharing.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Peter:

The citation from JBF was a fair citation. Are you saying that JBF misquoted or misinterpreted Alford? Also, what Alford believes about the "weak" of Romans 14 is a different issue as to who he believes is the weak of I Corinthians.

Also, it matters not whether another commentator is found who holds the view I am upholding. The question is, how has my argumentation and analysis been faulty?



Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Peter:

One other point. Alford agrees that the "weak" of I Cor. 9: 22 represents the unsaved. This is not something other commentators are willing to do. Since you show that Alford made the "weak" of chapter eight to be different from the "weak" of chapter nine, all you show is that he is not following context. There is no reason to affirm that the "weak" of chapter nine is different from the "weak" of chapter eight.

Also, as I have said, "weak" is a term for the unsaved per Rom. 5: 6.

What the majority of commentators say is not the standard for judging truth. If you are so sure I have erred in my analysis and argumentation, then kindly show how I am misinterpreting scripture. You have not offered one single scriptural argument on this discussion, but have only argued that it was not the common view of commentators.



Bruce Oyen said...

Stephen, you wrote: "In the commentary of Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown, the authors refer to that great 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 (Ro 5:6)." Alford saw how I Cor. 9: 22 settled the matter about who are "the weak." He no doubt also saw how "the weak" are described in Paul's epistles as being non-Christian."
My question is, where in JF&B do I find this info, and where in Alford? I have the full set of JF&B and Alford's commentary for English readers. So, I want to look this up myself.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Bruce:

When I first began researching this, I could not find Alford's full works on the net.

However, the citation from JFB commentary is taken from

and gives Alford's view concerning the weak of I Cor. 9: 22.

Peter has shown that though Alford held the view that the weak of I Cor. 9: 22 are different from the weak of I Cor. 8, the weak of the latter being saved Christians and the weak of the former those who have never been saved.

I will be revising these chapters after I have completed the work and will edit my remarks about Alford.