5 Pentecost

From the 1662 BCP (4 Trinity):

O God, the protector of all that trust thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so surpass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake our Lord. Amen.


1 Cor 3.1–4

Paul’s language about the mature and spiritual which appeared in 1 Cor 2.6 comes more clearly into play in 1 Cor 3.1–4. However, he has a slightly different bifurcation in these verses. The topic to which he turns is the relationship between spiritual (πνευματικοί) and fleshly (σάρκινοι/σαρκικοί). Paul is frustrated that he must speak to them “like infants in Christ,” like  those who are still immature (1 Cor 3.1; cf. 1 Cor 2.6).

It is unlikely that there is any great semantic difference between σάρκινος (1 Cor 3.1) and σαρκικός (1 Cor 3.3). Both have something to do with a disposition that is closely related to the flesh (σάρξ). The question of how to translate these adjectives in 1 Cor 3.1–4 is a more difficult matter. The translators of the KJV stayed with a Latin derivative and opted for “carnal.” The ESV more closely shows the derivative of the Greek adjectival endings when it translates “of the flesh.” The NIV is slightly more paraphrastic in its choice of “worldly,” perhaps also demonstrating sensitivity to the fact that the English word “fleshly” often has sensual connotations in contemporary usage. With the advantage of having space to explain his translation choice, Thiselton translates the adjective differently at each appearance and is thus able to be more precise in each context (1 Corinthians [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2000], 286). He translates “people moved by entirely human drives” (1 Cor 3.1), “unspiritual” (1 Cor 3.3a), and “centered on yourselves” (1 Cor 3.3b). In each case the translation seems to fit the context more exactly than any single word choice is able to do.

Perhaps the more significant matter is the relationship between these fleshly people and the natural (ψυχικός) people who were in view in 1 Cor 2.14. These words gain their semantic value in 1 Cor 2.6–3.4 by their interaction with each other in a single field that is contrasted with people who are “spiritual.” In the space of these few verses, each successive move from “natural” (ψυχικός) to “fleshly” (σάρκινος), and again to “fleshly” (σαρκικός) heightens the negative contrast with those who are spiritual. Thus Thiselton proposes that “natural” is more or less a neutral term denoting an unrenewed nature. “Fleshly” is a descriptive term referring to a person who appears to be motivated only by human drives in 1 Cor 3.1. In 1 Cor 3.3, “fleshly” carries an “evaluative sense” such that the person is defined by their lack of the Spirit and their pursuit of life by their own power (Thiselton, 293; see also his extended discussion on pp. 288–291). It is important to note that these are contextual definitions based on Paul’s usage in 1 Cor 2.14–3.3 rather than broader dictionary definitions.

The question to be asked after this brief look at the important words in this passage is how do we understand what Paul says in these verses. Paul’s complaint to the Corinthians that he cannot give them solid food because they are infantile is a marked contrasted with what seems to be the Corinthian self-perception that they are seeking a more elevated wisdom. That Paul says they are only able to handle milk would likely be a shameful comment for the Corinthians to hear. But Paul is also lowering himself in these verses. He depicts himself as a wet nurse in 1 Cor 3.2. Significantly, he depicts himself as a wet nurse in large part due to the Corinthians’ inability to handle solid food. Yet this surprising depiction of Paul fits well with the surprise of the cross. In the cross, shame effects redemption. Similarly, Paul’s self-depiction as wet nurse is the way in which he intends to teach. The infantile Corinthian problems with division over major personalities in the church (problems that still plague the church!) leave one with the question, “Can such a church grow up into maturity?”

It is to this question that Paul turns in 1 Cor 3.5–17.

4 Pentecost

From the 1662 BCP (3 Trinity):

O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may by thy mighty aid be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

The disagreement between Peter and Paul that is recorded in Gal 2.11–14 is well-known among students of early Christianity. Peter and Paul were long viewed as founders of Jewish and Gentile Christianity, respectively. To this passage we might add the factions recorded in 1 Cor 1.10–12 and the difficulties in Paul’s letters 2 Pet 3.15–16 as evidence.  The story goes that the differences between the two were only resolved in the second century by a sort of early Catholic harmony. However, the differences remained among certain fringe groups along the edges of Christianity, such as the author of the Pseudo-Clementines (Peter) and Marcion (Paul).

However, it is important to remember that there are other memories of Peter and Paul in early Christianity. In the analysis of the problem in Corinth (ca. 40 years after 1 Cor), 1 Clem. 5.4–7 attributes both Peter and Paul’s death to envy (ζῆλος) and looks to both as examples of endurance. Although 1 Clem. gives more attention to Paul, both Peter and Paul are viewed together as exemplars.

A similar phenomenon is apparent in Ign. Rom. 4.3 where Ignatius clarifies that his requests are not commands as Peter and Paul might give. “They were apostles, I am a convict. They were free men, but I am a slave even now.” Peter and Paul are remembered together as men who suffered for the name of Jesus.

Moreover, there is another story told about Peter’s conflict in early Christian writings. In the early third century, Hippolytus (or Pseudo-Hippolytus) recounts the story of Simon Magus using magic to entice his followers (Hippolytus, Ref. 6.15). His disciples were sent dreams by demons and finally erected statues of Simon and Helena in Rome, a story which Justin had already recounted in the middle of the second century (1 Apol. 26, 56). But Simon Magus was not without conflict from another Simon who is not so named in Hippolytus’ later retelling of the story.

This Simon, deceiving many in Samaria by his sorceries, was reproved by the Apostles, and was laid under a curse, as it has been written in the Acts. But he afterwards abjured the faith, and attempted these (aforesaid practices). And journeying as far as Rome, he fell in with the Apostles; and to him, deceiving many by his sorceries, Peter offered repeated opposition. (Hippolytus, Ref. 6.15 in Ante-Nicene Fathers).

According to Hippolytus, Simon Magus instructed his disciples to bury him alive. He planned to rise from the dead three days later, but of course Hippolytus wastes no time in pointing out that this did not occur “for he was not the Christ.” Yet the conflict which Hippolytus describes lies between Peter and Simon Magus rather than Peter and Paul.

While I don’t know of too many who still divide the early Christian world into Jewish and Gentile Christianity, it is always helpful to recall how many different ways people were remembered.

Notable Lectures

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to hear Darrin Belousek and Jonathan Boston lecture through the Theology Department’s Centre for Theology and Public Issues at the University of Otago.

Darrin Belousek’s paper gave some answers to the question “What is Just?” by examining justice in classical philosophy, the Old Testament, the parables of Jesus, and the cross in the Pauline epistles. He concluded with some brief reflections on the need for generous and redemptive justice practices by the church today including debt forgiveness, fair wages, and restorative discipline involving both victims and offenders. Belousek has a larger study entitled Atonement, Justice, and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church in which he works this out in more detail.

Jonathan Boston gave two lectures. The first was a broad lecture discussing the need to govern with the future in mind despite the tendency for democracies to be biased in favor of the present. The second lecture was a more detailed examination of child poverty in New Zealand. The lecture covered myths about the issue of child poverty that sounded strangely familiar to beliefs about poverty in the U.S., such as, “There is no real poverty in NZ/USA,” “Many who are poor deserve to be poor,” and “We can’t really do anything about poverty.” Although the statistics were particular to child poverty in New Zealand, the thought behind the lecture may be helpful across Western democracies. Links to the powerpoint of his lectures are available at the Centre’s webpage (the lectures were on 12 June 2014), and links to other lectures and publications are available here.

Collectively, the three lectures were a very good example of the impact which Christian theology should have on how the church discusses and acts in the world.

3 Pentecost

From the 1662 BCP (2 Trinity):

O Lord, who never failest to help and govern them whom thou dost bring up in thy stedfast fear and love: Keep us, we beseech thee, under the protection of thy good providence and make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rachel Marie Stone and Fairy Tales

Rachel Marie Stone has a nice piece at Her-meneutics on Richard Dawkins’ belief that it is “pernicious” to introduce children to fairy tales. Dawkins’ comments were given at Cheltenham Science Festival, and the story appeared in The Telegraph. Although Dawkins’ clarified his position soon after, Stone’s piece is quite a helpful reflection on the place of fairy tales.

I can follow Dawkins insofar as he advocates the need for teaching critical thinking at a young age, but I have a feeling that what we mean by critical thinking may be two different things. If critical thinking refers to weighing evidence and constructively attempting to solve problems, this is an important thing to teach early and cultivate throughout one’s life. It helps one to trace the flow of an argument and find weaknesses in poorer ones. I do not think many people have much of a problem with teaching this way of thinking to anyone, particularly if we limit our discussion to the Western way of reflecting.

If critical thinking refers to compiling evidence in such a way that one doubts the existence of almost anything that is not immediately sensible, which is what Dawkins repeatedly comes dangerously close to if he does not simply state it, I take this to be far more problematic. Stone’s piece helps to show that it is just here that fairy tales can be most helpful because they lead us to reflect on deeply human questions.

Personally, I find myself having to be careful to say that the first definition of critical thinking is not a poor way of thinking and may be something which I do not cultivate enough. However, the way of thinking that involves imagination and belief in other possible worlds is too often demeaned and demeaned unfairly. The reflection by Stone is timely and follows in the shoes of C. S. Lewis, whom she quotes. Ultimately we must bring these ways of thinking (i.e. the critical and the imaginative) together as part of a holistic human enterprise. Yet for those who spend our time in the humanities departments of universities where preferential treatment is routinely given to the sciences in laughably unbalanced ways, it is nice to hear again the importance of story and imagination for self-understanding.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.