Agonizomai: 1 Cor 2:9-13 - Preaching, Parsing and Power - Part 1

Friday, March 14, 2008

1 Cor 2:9-13 - Preaching, Parsing and Power - Part 1

9-13 But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"—10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

Paul is quoting the OT here. {Isa 64:4} It may seem strange to some - especially when one agrees with those who desire every effort to be made in translating and interpreting according to sound hermeneutical and exegetical principles - that the early saints (and indeed Christ Himself) seemed to quote the Old Testament (the Holy Writings) in what sometimes appeared to be a rather haphazard or inexact way. To which I will say two things; first - that they more often than not used the Septuagint, rather than the Hebrew scriptures, because Greek was the more universal language; second - they were often making application of the sense of a passage rather than trying to render the literal grammar.

In other words, they were not parsing grammar, but giving spiritual lessons. Each has its place. There is a vital need to understand the Bible as near as possible to what the original author both said and meant. But the danger in this is that teaching and preaching can be turned into grammar lessons that focus on the words, rather than the lesson contained in them. Balance is always needed. This is why we have both dynamic equivalency and more literal translations. One captures more idiomatically the idea that the translators think the original author was trying to convey. The other simply conveys the original author’s words and leaves it to the reader to prayerfully inquire as to the meaning.

As an example of the need for the original language I offer the most well known verse in the Bible:
For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. {Joh 3:16}
Many people incorrectly use it as a proof text for the universal atonement. They take "whoever" and give it a universalistic inflection as proof of the libertarian free will of man. Now, I do believe that the gospel should be universally preached in such a way that all people hear the good news and are exhorted to repentance and faith. And I do believe that all who believe are saved. But the passage in the original Greek actually says this:

For so loved God the world that His Son, the only begotten, He gave, so that all who are believing (all the believing ones) on Him may not perish but may have life eternal. {Joh 3:16}
And this does not carry the implication that some infer of "whoever wills" or "whosoever will" at all. It is a simple statement that all who believe are saved - and this fact is both incontrovertible and is the proper inference to be drawn from this particular verse. Such things can be important when trying to understand the way that God works in salvation.

On the other hand, parsing Greek text to those who hear John 3:16 as rank unbelievers - or to babes in the faith - is not always likely to excite their interest or to edify them. An undue and inappropriate emphasis on minutiae can quite ruin the main message and might even hinder the Holy Spirit - especially if the one teaching/preaching/witnessing has a wrong motive for showing his "knowledge." If it puffs him up, if it puts him between people and the Lord Jesus Christ, if it clouds the message rather than clarifying it then there is a problem.

If we compare the present verse (1Cor 2:9) with the Septuagint to which it refers, the main departure seems to be this;
Paul uses the words "for those that love Him"
The Masoretic text says "for him that waiteth for Him"
The Septuagint text says “for them that wait for mercy”
But any difference has little effect on the meaning in this case because waiting for His mercy is simply a subset of loving Him. Those that wait upon the Lord are those that love Him. Those that do not love Him do not consider themselves to need His mercy. And so - for those troubled by this particular variation a little study and some thought yields that there is no substantive change that would affect the thrust of Paul’s argument.

And Paul’s argument is that there are wonderful things stored up for those that belong to God. They were stored up just as much for OT believers as they are for we who are in the gospel age. But we in the gospel age have a greater revelation than they did. We have clarity. We have seen the denouement. We have, in a very real sense, had the finale made clear and the means laid bare. And I mean not just the facts because these facts are available to millions who do not believe, and have been known to millions more who died rejecting their implication.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans


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