bible blog 1294

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

KIEV SEES RUSSIANS AS NAZIS

"The colours of the invader" - altered Russian flag in Kiev

“The colours of the invader” – altered Russian flag in Kiev

1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

Good News Translation (GNT)

14 Whoever does not have the Spirit cannot receive the gifts that come from God’s Spirit. Such a person really does not understand them, and they seem to be nonsense, because their value can be judged only on a spiritual basis. 15 Whoever has the Spirit, however, is able to judge the value of everything, but no one is able to judge him. 16 As the scripture says,

“Who knows the mind of the Lord?
Who is able to give him advice?”

We, however, have the mind of Christ.

Servants of God

3 As a matter of fact, my friends, I could not talk to you as I talk to people who have the Spirit; I had to talk to you as though you belonged to this world, as children in the Christian faith. I had to feed you milk, not solid food, because you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready for it, because you still live as the people of this world live. When there is jealousy among you and you quarrel with one another, doesn’t this prove that you belong to this world, living by its standards? When one of you says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos”—aren’t you acting like worldly people?

After all, who is Apollos? And who is Paul? We are simply God’s servants, by whom you were led to believe. Each one of us does the work which the Lord gave him to do: I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plant, but it was God who made the plant grow. The one who plants and the one who waters really do not matter. It is God who matters, because he makes the plant grow. There is no difference between the one who plants and the one who waters; God will reward each one according to the work each has done. For we are partners working together for God, and you are God’s field.

You are also God’s building. 10 Using the gift that God gave me, I did the work of an expert builder and laid the foundation, and someone else is building on it. But each of you must be careful how you build. 11 For God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid. 12 Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw. 13 And the quality of each person’s work will be seen when the Day of Christ exposes it. For on that Day fire will reveal everyone’s work; the fire will test it and show its real quality. 14 If what was built on the foundation survives the fire, the builder will receive a reward. 15 But if your work is burnt up, then you will lose it; but you yourself will be saved, as if you had escaped through the fire.

seeds

seeds

The above is not a great translation of this passage but it’s maybe the best available. In  truth, the original is difficult, not only in its theological terms but also because Paul uses male nouns and pronouns when he means “anyone”. There are two technical words. The first, “psychikos,”  means “alive and breathing”, ” alive as a creature”; Paul uses it in contrast to the life of the Spirit which may justify the translation of 2: 14 above, “those who are not spiritual”. “Psychikos” however is a neutral word compared with the second group of terms, “sarx, sarkikos, and kata sarka” meaning “flesh, fleshly and at the level of flesh.”  “Flesh” for Paul is not only what human beings share with animals but also, “flesh turned in upon itself, excluding the Spirit”. This translation uses “worldly” and “belonging to the world” which are reasonable  but perhaps hint that Paul views the world as negative, which is not the case. 

We could interpret Paul’s use of “psychikos” and “kata sarka” by reference to to the Adam and Eve story. Adam is “psychikos”, a living soul, but he excludes God from his life to gain power through knowledge, asserting his life against the life of God, thus acting “kata sarka”, exhibiting what John Knox called “the pridefulness of dust.” Paul means that the whole person acts as if it were only flesh and blood.

It’s easy to get confused because the attitudes which Paul criticises as “of the flesh” seem to modern eyes matters of mind, judgement and group dynamics rather than anything to do with bodies. People were splitting into cliques according to their choice of favourite missionary. For Paul this is an exclusion of the divine Spirit whose essence is “koinonia”, that is, “shared life”, life shared with God and the whole community of believers. The rich powers of humanity are put to the service of “mere flesh and blood” satisfactions.

A”spiritual” understanding of the faith community will see it as a field in which a divine seed has been planted and watered by apostles; or as a building whose foundation is Jesus Messiah. The apostles are masons and decorators who build on that foundation. Seeds and buildings are gospel metaphors used by Jesus to describe “God’s kingdom” as growing from tiny beginnings or based on obedience to teaching. Paul says that those who “have the mind of Messiah” recognise that their church is not a club but rather the growth of God’s truth or the building of God’s house. The function of apostles as gardeners or builders is important but they have no special status and are not to be reverenced as cult heroes.foundation_slab_diagram

Paul was not promoting the growth of a religious community within a society defined by race, culture or nation; but rather an international community of equal men and women under God. Unlike the prophet Mohammed (peace upon him) however, he did not propose the replacement of civil government by religious law, but rather saw a role for the civil administration in restraining evil and rewarding good. His thinking about the church, therefore is his contribution to the literature on ideal human community. He should be read along with Plato, Mill and Marx.

 

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