Jun 25, 2017

Be Ignorant Then!

"What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant." (I Cor. 14:36-38)

The interpretation of these verses, especially the last, are not uniformly understood and interpreted by bible students and commentators. It has been my view for many years that when Paul says - "but if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant" - that he was being sarcastic and that he was rebuking and showing impatience with a stubborn obstinate attitude.

There is some debate whether God, or his spokesmen, ever used sarcasm. I have always believed that he did and thought that this was one example of it. I have also viewed it as revealing the frustration of a teacher against the bad attitude of a student, against a mind that refuses to be taught. Let us notice what some others have said about Paul's words.

Wrote expositor Ray Stedman in his commentary (emphasis mine):

"That is clearly satire. He is recognizing that there was a tendency among some in Corinth to think that they had unique revelation, special gifts that no one else had. Paul treats this in a rather sarcastic way with this kind of language, "Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones who received it?" It almost sounds like what dear old Job said to his three comforters, "No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you," (Job 12:2 RSV). People have a tendency sometimes to assume this."

Most commentators agree with Stedman that verses 36 and 37 are satire or sarcasm. They do not agree, however, on whether verse 38 is also sarcasm. Translations vary in regard to verse 38, as we will see.

Stedman also wrote:

"...truly spiritual people always recognize the authority of the Scripture. This is very important in these days when people are claiming to be led of the Spirit, and when you point out from a passage of Scripture that what they are saying is contrary to it, they still insist on their feeling or their experience or their understanding as superior to that of the Word of God. Paul says that is not true. The Spirit of God never operates contrary to the written Word. Never! Anyone who is truly Spirit-minded and Spirit-filled will recognize the authority of the Word of God. The third thing he says to them is in Verse 38:

If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (1 Corinthians 14:38 RSV)

"Literally, "If any one be ignorant, let him be ignored." In other words, do not pay attention to him; do not needlessly exalt him or her or even get engaged in a lengthy debate about it. If they will not listen to the authority of the Word, then do not give them a platform from which to speak; just ignore them."

Stedman gives two possible translations for verse 38. One is "if any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized." The other is "if any one be ignorant, let him be ignored." For the latter part of the verse (KJV "let him be ignorant") we have these other possible translations:

NASB "he is not recognized"
NKJV "let him be ignorant"
NRSV "is not to be recognized"
TEV "pay no attention to him"
NJB "that person is not recognized himself"

Vincent's Word Studies

Let him be ignorant (ἀγνοείτω)

Let him remain ignorant. The text is doubtful. Some read ἀγνοεῖται he is not known; i.e., he is one whom God knows not.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

38. ἀγνοείτω] implying both the hopelessness of reclaiming such an one, and the little concern which his opposition gave the Apostle. The other reading, ἀγνοεῖται, gives a passable sense—‘he is ignored,’ scil. by God: cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 8:2-3; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Galatians 4:9.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

1 Corinthians 14:38. But if any man is ignorant, let him be ignorant:—‘If he will persist in his ignorance and obstinacy, let him remain so.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(38) But if any man be ignorant.—There are here two readings in the Greek, for each of which there is strong evidence. The passage may run, either, as in the English, if any man does not know this, let him not know it: then the words would mean that a person who could not recognise such an evident and simple truth must be of a perverse mind—his opposition would give the Apostle no further concern. The other reading is, if any man knows not this, he is himself not known: this would signify that any man who knows not this truth is not known of God (as in 1 Corinthians 8:2-3; 1 Corinthians 13:12).

I believe that the evidence for the KJV reading is superior. Besides the manuscript evidence (Byzantine, for example), the syntax and flow of Paul's thought weighs in its favor. In the following citations from the article "Abandonment to Ignorance" by J.R. Thomson, a commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:38 (see here), the author keys in on what Paul's words denote and connote. Said Thomson:

"There is something of indignation and something of sarcasm in his reference to those who resisted his opinions and decisions. And there is wisdom as well as an admirable display of just impatience in his language: "If any man is ignorant, let him be ignorant."

Already Paul was sarcastic in verse 36 when he says - What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?"  So it seems he is continuing his sarcasm in verse 38.

Wrote Thomson:

OPINIONATEDNESS AND IGNORANCE OFTEN GO TOGETHER. A little experience convinces us that those who cling the most tenaciously to their own opinions, their own habits, are not always men of the soundest judgment. To resist evidence and authority is no sign of soundness of mind and power of intellect. Some are obstinate because they are blind to all testimony and evidence but that which is acceptable to their own prejudices.

This is most often true of those who are in cults. They will not listen to reason or scripture that contradicts their notions, but stubbornly refuse to listen or seriously consider any counter evidence against their aberrant ideas.

Wrote Thomson:

THERE ARE THOSE WHOM NO EVIDENCE CAN CONVINCE AND NO AUTHORITY OVERAWE. If all men were candid and dispassionate, and habituated to follow the clear white light of reason, human life and human society would be very different from what they actually are. Our Lord Jesus was forbearing and patient with those who opposed themselves to him; but even he confessed that there were those who loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. Young and sanguine ministers of religion often begin their work with an inward persuasion that they have only to place the truth fairly and fully before men, in order to their conviction and conversion. But experience teaches them that it is not so; that there is a moral obduracy which is proof against all efforts.

God help us not to be so "pig headed" that we will not listen to others. Let us not be "hard shells" in our thinking!

Wrote Thomson:

IT MAY BE WISE TO ABANDON TO THEIR LOVED IGNORANCE THOSE WHO WILL NOT BE ENLIGHTENED. An affectionate and benevolent mind will be very slow to adopt such a course. And it cannot be adopted without the hope and prayer that, when ordinary and human methods have failed, it may please God to employ some methods unknown to finite wisdom, to secure the wished for result. Even the Creator himself seems to act upon the principle here exemplified, at all events for a season and a purpose: "Ephraim is joined unto idols: let him alone."

What an awful state we are in when, in our willing ignorance, we are abandoned to our errors!

Thomson continued:

THERE IS BETTER EMPLOYMENT FOR THE TIME OF CHRISTIAN LABOURERS THAN THE ENDEAVOURS TO ENLIGHTEN THE INVINCIBLY IGNORANT. There are the young, the ardent inquirers for truth, the candid and open minded, the earnest and prayerful, all anxious for more light, for lessons of truth, counsels of wisdom, encouragement, and admonition. In such directions there is abundant scope for effort, with the confidence that labour will not be in vain. Why spend years in tilling the rock or sowing the iceberg, when virgin soil awaits the plough and promises to reward the toil of the spiritual husbandman?


I know first hand the sadness of having to "give up" in my efforts to correct the stubborn cultist and the Christian who is wedded to his own ideas and who will not listen to correction.

Now let us notice these good comments on Paul's words.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

38. if any man be ignorant—wilfully; not wishing to recognize these ordinances and my apostolic authority in enjoining them. let him be ignorant—I leave him to his ignorance: it will be at his own peril; I feel it a waste of words to speak anything further to convince him. An argument likely to have weight with the Corinthians, who admired "knowledge" so much.

Pulpit Commentary

Verse 38. - Let him be ignorant. The formula seems to fall under the idiom which refuses to say anything more about a subject ("If I perish, I perish;" "What I have written, I have written;" "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still," etc.). The readings vary considerably ("He is ignored;" "He has been ignored;" "He shall be ignored;" "Let him be ignored"). These other readings would be a statement of retribution in kind - of God "sprinkling penal blindnesses on forbidden lusts." But the reading of our translation is on the whole the best supported, and means that to invincible bigotry and ignorant obstinacy St. Paul will have no more to say (Matthew 15:14; 1 Timothy 6:3-5).

In modern English, we might look at Paul's words to the stubborn as "okay, just be that way then!" Just as God is said, in regard to some stubborn souls, that he "gives them up" (Romans 1), so at times we are also forced to give up on some people and to leave them to themselves. It is a sad fact, but true nonetheless.

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