Jan 22, 2011

Weak Brothers XI

It has been shown in previous chapters that Paul never used the comparative terms "weaker" or "stronger" in I Corinthians when discussing "weak brothers." It is always "the weak." Paul is not comparing similars in alluding to "the weak" and the "the strong," but contrasting them. Likewise, Paul does not compare those who have Christian saving knowledge in lessor or greater degree, but contrasts those who have it with those who do not. Those who support the view that "the weak brothers" are Christians, members of the church at Corinth, invariably use the term "weaker" when referring to "the weak," but Paul never uses this form of the word, but always uses the term "the weak." Likewise, those who advocate the "consensus view" invariably speak as if Paul is comparing those who possess "that knowledge" (I Cor. 8: 4-6) to a full degree with who have it in an inferior degree. It is a "twisting" of the text to use the term "weaker" instead of "weak," and to make the text a comparison between two types of Christians instead of contrasting Christian monotheists with pagans.

When Paul said "there is not in everyone that knowledge," he did not mean, as the majority interpret it, "there is not in every Christian that knowledge." To so change the words of the apostle would have him affirming that "that knowledge" is not essential to being a Christian. Nor did Paul say "there is not in every Christian the same degree of knowledge about monotheism and the lordship of Christ." Paul simply says that "there is not in every man that knowledge," arguing that Christians are the ones who possess "that knowledge," and thus have been "gained" or "saved," and are the "strong" and "knowledgeable" ones, and that pagans, or polytheists, are the ones who "do not possess that knowledge," and have not been "gained" or "saved," being the "weak ones."

All Men Are Brothers

As has been stated in previous chapters, the only real argument the majority view has, in support of its contention that "the weak ones" are Christians, is that Paul refers to them as "brothers" to him and the Corinthian Christians. It has also been shown how this is not proof, because 1) the term "brother" was used by Jesus and the apostles in addressing unbelievers, and 2) the scriptures teach Christians to regard all men as their brothers.

Frequently, in the addresses of the apostles to their audiences, they say "men and brethren" (Acts 1: 16; 2: 29, 37; 7: 2; 13: 26, 38; 15: 7, 13; 22: 1; 23: 1; 28: 17). Obviously the apostles, when addressing unconverted Jews, referred to them as "brothers," yet did not mean to imply that they were Christians possessing "that knowledge."

According to Strong's Concordance, "brother" ('adelphos') has a variety of meanings. They are:

1) a brother, whether born of the same two parents or only of the same father or mother

2) having the same national ancestor, belonging to the same people, or countryman

3) any fellow or man

4) a fellow believer, united to another by the bond of affection

5) an associate in employment or office

6) brethren in Christ

Strong says that "brother" was a term sometimes used by those of the same nationality (or religious fraternity), and also to "any man," because all men are, in scripture, viewed as "brothers." This is what Paul taught in his address to the Greek polytheists of Athens.

"And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth...as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." (Acts 17: 26, 28)

All men are God's children, all brothers, for all have common parents in Adam and Eve, the latter "the mother of all living" (Gen. 3: 20). All are made from "one blood," or one bloodline.

Paul's admonition to the Hebrews to "let brotherly love continue" is applicable to all men in their relations to each other. (Heb. 13: 1) It is part of the commandment of God to "love your neighbor as yourself." Every man is neighbor and brother to every other man. God wills that men love their fellow men as neighbors and as brothers. "Brotherly love" is included in the command to love one's "neighbor." If one examines all the places in the new testament where this command is repeated and explained, the idea of brotherhood is present.

The following passages, in talking about how to treat one's "brother," show that the term "brother" is not to be confined to 1) Members of the same family (those having the same parents) or to 2) Jews (those of the same nationality) or to 3) Christians (those who are related by spiritual birth in Christ). In these passages the term "brother" is the same as "neighbor."

"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." (Matt. 5: 23, 24)

Who can limit this counsel of the Lord to Jews and Christians? Are the words of Christ not applicable to any man in his conduct to other men?

"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." (Matt. 7: 3-5)

"Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" (Matt. 8: 21)

Surely the term "brother" here cannot be limited to the Christian brotherhood, but is applicable towards all men, for all men are to be viewed as brothers. "Brotherly kindness" (II Peter 1: 7) ought to be shown towards all men, especially to the household of faith.

Dr. Nanos, under the sub-heading "Polytheists as Brothers/Sisters on Behalf of Whom Christ Died," wrote (emphasis mine):

"Standing in the way of my proposed identification of the "impaired," as well as my interpretation of other language in 1 Corinthians 8:1—11:1, is the fact that Paul refers to the impaired as adelphoi. The translators of the NRSV are certain enough that Paul means by adelphoi fellow-believers in Christ that the fact that Paul refers to them as adelphoi is masked in the text that English-only readers meet in 8:11: "So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed," although literally Paul writes: "for by what you know you are causing the impaired one to destroy him/herself, the brother/sister (adelphoi) on behalf of whom Christ died."

This is typical of translators with bias for an erroneous interpretation. They translated the Greek word for "brother" by the English word "believer." This is similar to those translators who translate the Greek word for "conscience" in a different way than they normally did in order to prop up their interpretation.

Dr. Nanos wrote further (emphasis mine):

"Throughout 1 Corinthians Paul regularly refers to Christ-believers in the kinship terminology of brotherhood (adelphoi), referring to people who are not related to each other by other familial ties, such as by birth or legal adoption. Before chapter 8 he refers to "our brother" Sosthenes (1:1), addresses and exhorts them as "brothers/sisters" (1:10, 11, 26; 2:1; 3:1; 4:6; 7:24, 29), and uses this language to differentiate between Christ-believers and others (5:11; 6:5-8; 7:12-15). This kinship language continues to be used in similar ways after chapter 8 as well: for specific Christ-believing fellowworkers: 16:11-12; (general: 16:20); in general address to the recipients of the letter: 10:1; 11:33; 12:1; 14:6, 20, 26, 39; 15:1, 31, 50, 58; 16:15; and to differentiate Christ-believers from others: 9:5 (note lit.: "sister-wife)," as well as "brothers of the Lord and Cephas" (15:6).

Such usage of fictive kinship language is common in other Pauline as well as other NT texts, just as it is common in the Tanakh and other Second Temple literature, and Greek and Roman literature too. At the same time, many of these sources use familial language to reach across group boundaries in ways not unlike it is being proposed that Paul should be read in this case.

The concept of a household or family was broader than generally conceptualized today, more extended and fluid. It could include a broad array of family members, slaves, former slaves who are now freepersons as well as their families, and other employees. There were also household-based associations, and one should not discount the dynamics associated with patron-client relationships. The Hippocratic oath bound the medical student not only to his teacher as a son, but to the teacher's sons.

Fictive kinship labels were common not only in synagogue groups, but also among polytheist friends, political allies, fellow soldiers, members of religious groups, trade guilds, and voluntary associations, which are attested in surviving epigraphs and letters. Members of the Great Mother cult regarded themselves to be family, and called each other mother and father as well as sister and brother, as did also participants in the Mithras cult, including reference to "holy brother" and "holy father," and fictive sibling language is attested for other cults."

This use of "brother" and "sister" was common in Greek society. College fraternities, in imitation of this fact, have adopted the same practice. The practice can also be seen in other fraternities, such as in the Freemasons, police organizations, and other similar groups. It can also be seen in certain political organizations and states, such as in Communist nations, where each citizen is a "comrade" or brother.

Paul's use of the term "brother" in reference to polytheists was for the purpose of encouraging the Corinthian Christians to continue to show brotherly love to their former pagan friends and family members. He would have them continue to address their unsaved pagan friends and countrymen as "brother" for the same reason he did so with his unsaved Jewish friends and countrymen.

Dr. Nanos said:

"Fictive kinship is expressed in a more general sense within virtually any group, and in many overlapping, even disparate ways, including across different group boundaries. It is a constructed and thus dynamic concept based on the perception of not only him who is born of the same parents as one’s self, but every one who is a fellow citizen or a fellow countryman.

Late in the first or early in the second century, Ignatius calls upon his addressees to pray for outsiders to the church, and to conduct themselves as "brothers/sisters (adelphoi)" to them, which is expressed not by behaving like them, but by imitating how Christ lived humbly toward his neighbor, including choosing to be wronged rather than to wrong them (Eph. 10). Although Chrysostom understood the impaired in 1 Corinthians 8—10 to be Christbelievers, he made an argument relevant to the point I am trying to make, that on socio-economic grounds the Christian in his own audience ought to regard as brother the fellow-laborer more than the elite or wealthy.

The concept of a brotherhood of humankind is not a Christian innovation, or only attested earlier among Israelites. It was at work in Alexander the Great's concept of uniting the world under his rule, and it was an important concept among philosophical groups, especially articulated by the Stoics and Cynics. Although slightly later than Paul, Epictetus appealed to the brotherhood of humankind through the shared nature of all humans, including slaves, because all were offspring of Zeus, thus citizens of the universe and sons of god (Diatr. 1.9.4-6; 1.13.4). Elsewhere he describes the Cynics to revile all whom they meet because they regard them to be parents, children, brothers, and themselves to be servants of Zeus, father to all humans (Diatr. 3.22.81-82). Marcus Aurelius upheld that all humans were kin, including the sinner, who should cooperate with one another like various parts of one body, since all had within themselves an element of the divine (2.1; 7.22; 9.22-23).

But did Paul herein employ fictive kinship language for polytheist idolaters, or can he even be imagined to conceptualize them in such affectionate terms? Is that not just how he urges his audience to think and behave, and how he lives his whole life, on behalf of "the some" he can "gain" and "save"? Are not the concerns he expresses in 10:24 made in the most general terms: "Let no one seek his own [interest], but that of the other"? Does Paul not wrap up his overall case against eating idol food in just these terms: in 11:1, to imitate his example of imitating Christ, and in 10:32-33, with the call to "become inoffensive to Jews and to Greeks and to the ekklesia of God," just as he does himself, in order to "save" "the many"?

Paul's perspective reveals a sense of fictive kinship with all humankind—"on behalf of whom Christ died." Idolaters who do not yet profess faith in Christ are to be regarded as brothers and sisters too, fellow-members of the family of humans God created and seeks to restore in Christ. That is a dimension of their identity about which the knowledgeable needed to be set straight, in view of their resistance to his earlier instruction proscribing idolatry for all Christ-believers. They have apparently failed to properly calculate the destruction such "know-it-all" behavior will bring both upon themselves, and upon their polytheist neighbors, whom they are instead to learn (to know how) to love as they do themselves.

The impaired are to be treated differently than fellow Christ-believers, those "being named" brother and sister. Rather than being judged, polytheists are to be gained by behavior consistent with the confession of Christ-faith. That involves not eating any food known to be set apart to idols. It involves not insulting the "mistaken" beliefs of the impaired, but learning how to develop speech and behavior calculated to implicitly undermine them. The knowledgeable are to relate to the impaired on terms that will communicate the "knowledge" of Christ to them, which means they must not live in a way that can be mistaken to deny their confession of the One."

Paul's message to the church, in regard to pagans, to unbelievers, to polytheists, was basically - "Fragile: Handle With Care." This is evident not only in the Corinthian epistles, but in other epistles addressed to converted pagans.

"Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men." (I Thess. 5: 14)

Paul obviously believed that "weak brothers" have weak, wounded, defiled, consciences, that recognized the reality of idol gods, but did not recognize God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and did not possess "that knowledge" that Christians have in their consciences. He also clearly believed that "weak brothers," should they die in that condition of weakness and spiritual impotency, will "perish," though loved by Christ, and though Christ died for them.

"And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" (I Cor. 8: 11)

The question then becomes - "was the weak brother who perished ever saved to begin with?" Those who believe that true Christians cannot lose their salvation are forced to either 1) interpret the "perishing" to be a temporal loss of Christian peace and joy, and not as an everlasting perishing in Hell, or 2) affirm that the "weak brothers" do not represent truly saved Christians. The latter is clearly the case as the scriptures teach that believers are saved once for all time, are eternally secure in Christ. There does not seem to be any reason why the predominant meaning of "perish" (destroy) in scripture should be dispensed with in I Cor. 8: 11. In the context of men and salvation, to "perish" is to be eternally consigned to torment. (John 3: 16, etc.)

Paul is not warning about Christians losing their salvation, or perishing, but about offending the heathen so that they never obtain salvation, and so perish. The warning concerns hindering people from being saved to begin with, not about helping Christians keep from losing their salvation.

Thus, it has been shown that the argument that "the weak ones" are Christians because Paul affectionately calls them "brother" is not cogent, especially in light of all the other things in the context that demonstrates that they are polytheists.

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