Did Isaac abuse Ishmael? Exploring Paul's Interpretation of Genesis 21:9 in Galatians 4:29


In light of various sinful patterns and movements (#MeToo, #ChurchToo) that have been illuminated in the church, I felt it might be appropriate to offer a paper I wrote for my Galatians class at Fuller.

Nestled in the center of Paul's retelling of the story of Hagar and Sarah in Gal 4:21-31 lies a lingering question (among many!) with which all commentators continue to grapple: how did Ishmael "persecute" Isaac, and what is the relevance of the differing verbs in Gen 21:9 (παίζοντα: LXX) and Paul's interpolation of ἐδίωκε in 4:29? Perhaps Douglas Moo best represents the persistent speculation amongst commentators when he writes that the LXX rendering of παίζοντα μετὰ Ισαακ in Gen 21:9 "could be construed as a form of persecution…" and "[this verse] is the basis for Paul's claim about persecution."[1] Other commentators concur with Moo's perspective in some sense,[2] but most modern commentators seem to be in basic agreement that Ishmael did not persecute Isaac in the original Genesis narrative.[3] This paper will pursue three independent strands of argumentation that will be synthesized: first, I will survey the use of the verb παίζω in the LXX and in the relevant Second Temple literature, beginning with a lexical survey. Second, I will investigate how Paul interprets the event by his uses of διώκω within the context of Galatians (1:13, 23; 5:11; 6:12), specifically the text under question (4:29): what is the relationship between both verbs? Third and finally, I will offer a provisional thematic re-reading of Galatians with the intent of showing the consistency of my research. Thus, the language of "persecution" in Galatians is not contextually different from Gen 21:9, but reflects something closer to a "rhetorical tease" and Paul's own application of the verb under question.[4]


Due to the fact that the verb παίζω occurs only once in the New Testament (1 Cor 10:7, which is a citation of Exo 32:6 LXX), great care must be exercised if one is to fully understand the semantic scope of the verb. Various lexicons have offered glosses and there are significant overlapping definitions:

50.8 παίζω engage in an activity for the sake of amusement and/or recreation – "to play." ἐκάθισεν ὁ λαὸς φαγεῖν καὶ πεῖν, καὶ ἀνέστησαν παίζειν "the people sat down to eat and drink and got up to play" 1 Cor 10.7.[5]

παίζω play, amuse oneself, dance 1 Cor 10:7.[6]

παίζω, Dor. παίσδω: f. παιξοῦμαι and παίξομαι: aor. i ἔπαισα: pf. πέπαικα, later πέπαιχα:—Pass., pf. πέπαισμαι, later πέπαιγμαι: (παῖς):-properly, to play like a child, to sport, play, Od., Hdt., etc.

2. to dance, Od., Pind.:-so in Med., Hes.

3. to play [a game], σφαίρῃ π. to play at ball, Od.; also, π. σφαῖραν Plut.

4. to play (on an instrument), h. Hom.

II. to sport, play, jest, joke, Hdt., Xen., etc.; π. πρός τινα to make sport of one, mock him, Eur.; π. εἴς τι to jest upon a thing, Plat.: the part. παίζων is used absol. in jest, jestingly, Id.:-Pass., ὁ λόγος πέπαισται is jocularly told, Hdt.; ταῦτα πεπαίσθω ὑμῖν enough of jest, Plat.

2. c. acc. to play with, Anth., Luc.[7]

20329 παίζω as giving way to hilarity play, amuse oneself; as idolatrous worship dance, carry on in boisterous revelry (1C 10.7).[8]

A brief review of these resources offers multiple nuances within ancient literature, especially as it relates to the ambiguous context of Gen 21:9 LXX and Paul's own citation of the verse. Does παίζοντα μετὰ Ισαακ refer to Ishmael simply "playing" with his friend, an innocuous and innocent affair? Is there a sinister subtlety of violence involved, in the sense that Moo has inferred? Is there a more troublesome aspect involving violence, sex or sexual abuse as suggested by the secondary interpretive gloss in Louw & Nida[9] and Paul's sole use of the same verb in 1 Cor 10:7? For instance, Paul's clarifying comments in v.8 explicitly evoke sexual immorality: "neither should we commit sexual immorality (μηδὲ πορνεύωμεν), just as some of them committed sexual immorality (ἐπόρνευσαν) [my translation]" show that this verb can be used in a context of sexual depravity,[10] although the verb's principal meaning is not concerned with being a euphemism for sexual (mis)conduct: all words are conditioned and defined by their context, as well as by the broader corpus of relevant literature. 


The LXX utilizes the verb about 21 times, and there are several different categories where παίζω is used in the Greek Old Testament. The placement of each instance should not be seen as concretized, but as a potential location as there is some significant overlap with many individual citations.[11] I have deliberately excluded Gen 21:9 from categorization until the end of this section, where I will offer a suggestion about its placement, and a subsequent reading of Galatians with my placement in mind.

1.     Sexual (Mis) Conduct / Idolatry/ Revelry[12]

The Greek text of Gen 26:8b speaks of Isaac "playing" (παίζοντα) with Rebecca. This verse shares the same syntactical structure as Gen 21:9b:[13]

      Gen 26:8b: παίζοντα μετὰ Ρεβεκκας τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ

      Gen 21:9b: παίζοντα μετὰ Ισαακ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς[14]

This near exact linguistic parallel suggests a coordinate meaning for παίζοντα, which contextually in Gen 26:8 likely refers to some sort of sexual intimacy: Abimelech sees Isaac and Rebecca engaged in some sort of activity that reveals to him that they are not merely brother and sister.[15] The text is not as forthright as we might like,[16] but because the text emphasizes her beauty (v.7: ὡραία) and Abimelech's implied desire to "lie with" (v.10, κοιμάω)[17] Rebecca, the most likely explanation is that the participle is used within a subtle sexual context. Similarly in Exo 32:6, the infinitive is used in reference to the people of Israel: ὁ λαὸς φαγεῖν καὶ πιεῖν καὶ ἀνέστησαν παίζειν: "the people ate and drank and rose up to play." Contextually, the focus is on a "festival" (v.5, ἑορτή) suggests revelry and excessiveness, but not necessarily sexual depravity.[18]

2.     Military and War, Judgment and Violence

Multiple uses of παίζω occur in the context of warfare and violent judgment, sometimes from God. In 1 Sam 13:4, the author notes that "all Israel heard" that Saul had "played" (πεπαικεν: perfect active) with an enemy garrison: contextually, this most likely refers to violent destruction (see also 13:3). Likewise, in 2 Kings 9:15 we have the aorist form of ἔπαισαν in a related context of "making war" (v.15, πολεμεῖν), suggesting that ἔπαισαν is being used in a battle context and thus carries violent connotations.[19] Isa 3:15-16 begins with God's response to the "humiliation of the poor" (v.15b, πτωχῶν καταισχύνετε), which sets the stage for the explanatory Ἀνθ (taking it as causal: "because"). V.16 then speaks of God's exacting judgment against an entire city for oppressing the poor, and specific phrase ποσὶν ἅμα παίζουσαι ("[dancing] together [with] their feet") likely refers to a "pompous attitude" (v.16, ὑψηλῷ).[20] As a counter to God's judgment in Jer 14:19 the prophet responds with, "Why have you played with us?" (ἵνα τί ἔπαισας ἡμᾶς). The use of ἔπαισας may denote 'toying with,' but the context seems to be far more violent (see the image of violence [μαχαίρας, "sword;" λιμοῦ "famine"]) and the text reflects God's violent retribution against Jerusalem, his "vehement affliction" of his sinful people. In Jer 30:14, God smites Israel: "For I have played you with a plague[21] of the enemy " (ὅτι πληγὴν ἐχθροῦ ἔπαισά σε). In the context of God's judgment, this verb most likely refers to God not innocently 'rejoicing' with Israel, but harshly judging them.[22]

3.     Being Toyed With/ Mocking

In Judg 16:25 Samson is "ordered" (καλέσατε)[23] before the entire assembly—who are engaged in revelry[24]—and is forced to "perform before [them]" (καὶ παιξάτω ἐνώπιον ἡμῶν). This citation certainly carries connotations of "mockery" and the idea of being "toyed" with (ἐνέπαιζον: "mocked, ridiculed"). 2 Sam 2:14-15 concerns an event where Abner and the others force the "boys to play" (παιξάτωσαν: imperative) before them. The boys are then slain, reflecting both a military conquest and the element of being "toyed with,"[25] as a superior torments a subordinate or God "toys" with a beast.[26] An additional sinister element might be found in Prov 26:19, where in a poetic flourish, the people lying in wait to betray the righteous man is caught and they say, "I acted playfully!" The use of παίζων (active participle) in the context of "betrayal" (φωραθῶσιν) suggests a mocking and deflective response at being caught in the act. Jer 15:17 captures a response of the prophet against God: "I did not sit in their Sanhedrin playing" (οὐκ ἐκάθισα ἐν συνεδρίῳ αὐτῶν παιζόντων): this citation is used sarcastically, in the sense of wasting time—in some sense, the prophet is mocking both himself and God for assuming such things.

4.     Innocent Playing and Dancing/ Worship

This section includes most of the undisputed examples. In 2 Sam 6:5,[27] 6:21 and 1 Chron 13:8[28] and 15:29[29] the verb refers to David (and sometimes the Sons of Israel) "dancing" before the Lord in a context of worship and celebration. In response to God "showing mercy" (ἐλεήσω) in Jer 30:18-19, the people of Israel rejoice and the celebration of singing and playfulness (παιζόντων) will return after the judgment, and this is captured beautifully in Jer 31:4 where God rebuilds Israel whom he has been judging, and the synagogue will be celebrating and "playing" (παιζόντων) as the judgment has ceased and reconciliation has commenced. Finally, in Zech 8:8 God predicts a time of peace for Israel, and an image used is the "playing" (παιζόντων) of boys and girls in the streets, without fear or malice in their hearts: the author puts forth a penultimate and picturesque vision of boys and girls playing together, without contempt or mockery or revelry. Innocence thrives and shalom has been achieved. In Jewish literature outside of the LXX, we have two uses of the verb. In both instances (1 Esdras 5:3; Sirach 32:12) the verb is used in a similar context of worship and merriment, although Sirach 32:12 includes an admonition to "not sin" which may suggest the possibility of revelry and put Sirach in category 1, but this is by no means explicit.

In summation, the evidence of the LXX and Jewish literature is variegated and subtle, often employing multiple ideas within a single text; hence the intentional overlapping of the stated categories. However, it seems reasonable to exclude section 4 from consideration in interpreting Gen 21:9, while including sections 1, 2 and 3 for this reason: Sarah's visceral response in 21:10 does not seem warranted if Ishmael simply "play[ed] or "jest[ed]" with Isaac.[30] Category 3 is possible because of the rabbinic and targumic history of interpretation,[31] but it seems less likely because the verb μυκτηρίζω (c.f. Gal 6:7, "to mock") does not seem to be used in the LXX to refer to disinheritance and the question about "mocking" raises more questions than it answers. However, given Sarah's deeply hostile response to this "playing" in the LXX (which Paul approvingly cites in Gal 4:30), it seems likely that the most historically plausible explanation includes some sort of violent (perhaps sexual) misconduct, as disinheritance for sexual sin is a chief issue for early Judaism and especially for Paul—hence Sarah's hostile response. For instance, "disinheritance" is commonly a result of sexual immorality (c.f. 1 Cor 6:9-10; Eph 5:5-6). However, this is not to suggest that sexual sins are an exclusive category worthy of disinheritance, but that they are involved in the wide range of general sins (c.f. Sirach 9:6 and perhaps Psa 72:27 and Pro 29:3 LXX). Similarly, categories 1 explains the syntactical parallel in Gen 26:8[32] to 21:9 and suggests a correspondence with sexual conduct and violence given the preponderance of evidence within category 2; however, the primacy of category 1 and 2 appear to be tentatively and thematically appropriate because of Sarah's response,[33] the Jewish evidence for sexual sin resulting in disinheritance, and the explicit parallel in Gen 26:8. How this impacts Paul's use of the Ishmael and Isaac narrative in Galatians, especially in chapter 4, will be explored below, but only after we explore Paul's interpretation.


The Old Testament was Paul's Bible.[34] Regarding the coherence of the relationship between the Hebrew and Greek text, J. Ross Wagner astutely notes the following: "the Septuagint, as a whole, renders the Hebrew in a fairly conservative manner."[35] Thus, any modern attempt to grapple with the significance of Paul's citation of Gen 21:10 must account for his interpretative use of ἐδίωκε ("persecute") in Gal 4:29. This has lead many commentators to express puzzlement over Paul's seemingly arbitrary use of the Ishmael/Isaac event. Philip Esler concurs with most commentators when he writes, "in relation to Gal. 4:29, however, one looks in vain in the Old Testament for any indication that Ishmael persecuted Isaac…"[36] Brigitte Kahl puts the dilemma forth as "the term persecute in Gal 4:29 differs from Gen 21:9 where Ishmael "plays" with Isaac."[37] Is there a coordinate meaning between ἐδίωκε and παίζοντα? Semantically and lexically, this cannot be, so the question must be answered thematically, even theologically. However, as has been shown above, there are good indications that cast doubt on the first part of Ensler's largely representative comments. For instance, given the close proximity of the verb and Paul's citation (a mere nine words apart in the LXX text) as well as the syntactical parallel in Gen 26:8 and the preponderance of LXX evidence suggesting some sort of inchoate violence, the logical connection seems quite strong: παίζοντα thus most probably forms the basis for Paul's use of ἐδίωκε, and "playing" most probably carries a negative and even violent connotation in the original context of Genesis and Paul's exploits this in his argument in 4:21-31. Thus, while Moo was correct to draw attention to the verb in Gen 21:9 (see above), his generic application does not help explain the visceral reaction of both Sarah and Paul, and he misses the potential identification of Paul with Sarah and Isaac.

Therefore, as Paul re-imagines and interprets the actions of Ishmael,[38] one can see several lines of theological reasoning being teased out. If Ishmael was (sexually?) abusing Isaac in Gen 21:9, then Paul intentionally sided with the victim in this historical circumstance, and in the new apocalyptic landscape, he also sides with the "persecuted" in Galatia. Additionally, Paul's ethical alignment with Sarah and Isaac and against Hagar and Ishmael takes on a different moral dimension: any sort of oppression (whether sexual or not) is immediately labeled as "persecution," and the rhetorical power of this line of argumentation being applied to the "teachers" is something they would surely find rhetorically offensive—hence, perhaps his point in using it.[39] This may also suggest that Paul is running counter to the dominant interpretation of Ishmael in his typological use, or is at least zeroing in on a specific neglected aspect. Therefore, Paul's seemingly harsh citation of Gen 21:10 places him as a type of rhetorical punctiliar mother figure,[40] casting away an oppressive force with her authority.[41] Read in this hypothetical light, Paul can be seen as taking the side of the abused in his epistle to the Galatians, siding with the gentiles over and against the 'teachers.' This may also indicate a moral alignment with gentiles in Gal 3:26-29 as "sons" and "heirs of God; their inclusion means no person, regardless of a presupposed social hierarchy, is excluded from God's invitation to 'sonship' and the "altered" status of being 'one in Christ'[42] (perhaps specifically also with slaves and women in Gal 3:28)[43] and especially table fellowship with Gentiles in 2:11-14. Paul re-casts the Genesis narrative in terms of violent/sexual dynamics that even his Jewish interlocutors would have found disquieting, especially since he equates them with being among the abusive, troubled, disinherited sons of Hagar and Ishmael, specifically as analogical punctiliar types.[44] As Asano has astutely noted, "the application of [Gal 4:29] is denouncement and exclusion of the circumcisors as unauthentic descendents,"[45] or as people acting in a coordinate matter with the historical abusive Ishmael.


While certainly not explicitly violent or sexual in his own context, Paul's interpretive use of ἐδίωκε in 4:29 helps elucidate what he thinks παίζοντα means in Gen 21:9. This "playing" takes on a negative connotation, which Paul asserts as "persecution." This is to be compared to Paul's own "persecution" of the church in 1:13 and 1:23 in terms of "destructive power" (πορθέω),[46] of a person exacting violence over others (4 Macc 11:4). Specifically, the reference of "destroying" used in 4 Macc 11:4 suggests a correlation with Paul's violent authoritarianism against the fledgling Jesus movement/s in Acts, a history he clearly repudiates in Gal 1:13 and 1:23 (see also Phil 3:6), and the subsequent "persecution" he receives via oppressive forces (2 Cor 4:9; 12:10). The additional language of "persecution" in Galatians refers to Paul being "persecuted" in some ambiguous sense (5:11, διώκομαι), and to the 'teachers' "not wanting to be persecuted" (6:12, μὴ διώκωνται). To be fair, Paul never directly says that the Galatians are being "persecuted" by the 'teachers,' only "compelled" (Gal 2:3, ἠναγκάσθη) and "disturbed" (Gal 1:7; 5:10)—thus the Genesis citation suggests oppressive compulsion and abuse that can, in turn, be interpreted as "persecution," drawing a direct literary link between them. This may also suggest that the 'teachers' were on the ecclesiological inside, according to Paul—rather than being cast out from the church, the mere fact of their association as potentially being persecuted for their faith is an aspect that Paul assumes—perhaps grudgingly. In other words, Paul's insinuation of the 'teachers' saying "I do not want to be persecuted" assumes that one is already involved within a specific organization, although they may not remain in the organization due to the encroaching oppression.

Paul's use of ἀνάθεμα in Gal 1:8-9 in relation to his "gospel" may be a rhetorical hyperbolic condemnation, but it may also suggest that Paul may be of two minds on the ecclesiological nature of the 'teachers.' It also may function as a rhetorical wake-up call for a Jewish-Christian mind, as the Old Testament image of being "accursed" is often used in a context of violent destruction of Gentiles from YHWH (c.f. Num 21:3 LXX). In other words, these "teachers" are included within the sphere of the church, which suggests—perhaps—that Paul's language is intended for their instruction, not their destruction.

Before his own experience of the Christ-event Paul was, in essence, functioning as a type of Ishmael, "persecuting" and "destroying" the powerless.[47] Thus, Paul's confrontation of Peter in 2:11-14 explicitly reveals a shift in power and the dissolution of force and "coercion to live like a Jew [i.e. another ethnic person]" (2:14, ἀναγκάζεις Ἰουδαΐζειν) with the subsequent inclusion of both Jew and Gentile are "sons" (υἱοί: 2:20, 3:7, 26; 4:6-7) under the familial promise made to Abraham. Therefore, Jesus is the penultimate "son" who was "born from a woman" (Gal 4:4) and is the One who liberates people from "the present wicked age" (1:4, ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος πονηροῦ), an age now dominated by Christological mutuality and "bearing one another's burdens" (Gal 5:13, 6:2). Violence has no currency in Christ's kingdom. Thus, we now participate in a new life as a liberated family under the Spirit. Hence, for Paul, we are children of the oppressed (Isaac and Sarah), not the oppressor (Hagar and Ishmael).[48]


Interpreting Paul's own interpretation of παίζοντα reveals a great subtlety: it helps the reader clarify the seemingly harsh responses of both Sarah and Paul toward both Ishmael and the 'teachers,' especially in light of Second Temple Jewish views of sexual ethics and inheritance rights. While tentative, we have seen that while there are significant linguistic nuances to the verb παίζω in the LXX, Paul's own understanding likely refers to violence and/or sexual misconduct –i.e. abuse (c.f. 1 Cor 10:7-8), strongly suggesting a repudiation of violence, especially as it relates to the church. We have also seen that this verb performs a dual function in his discourse: Paul's interpretation of the ancient Ishmae/Isaac event is proleptic,[49] impacting his own application of the citation of Sarah's disinheritance of Ishmael and Hagar, and consequentially of the 'teachers.'[50] The context of Paul's citation is thus consistent with his application because his use is both true then and immediately related to a situation in Paul's present, even if it lacks the same specific context. Paul's imagination of the Ishmael narrative brims with dynamic possibilities.[51] Thus, the interpretive ground is fertile for a potential reframing of the totality of Galatians in light of this stated hypothesis, especially with the abused and oppressed at the interpretive forefront of the narrative discourse as those most in need of the liberating freedom found in Christ according to the power of the Spirit.



[1] Douglas J. Moo, Galatians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 310.

[2] Moo cites James D.G. Dunn, 1993a, 256 as agreeing with him, as well as "most commentators." Moo, Galatians, 310.

[3] C.f. Martinus C. de Boers, Galatians: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 306-307, 306. He states the issue very succinctly: "The Genesis account does not indicate that Ishmael persecuted Isaac." J. Louis Martyn, Galatians (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 444 passim. F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 223-224. Philip F. Ensler, Galatians: New Testament Readings (New York: Routledge, 1998), 214. Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (Word: Dallas, 1990), 217. Longenecker also includes various targumic and rabbinic literature for post-Pauline interpretations of the Ishmael/Isaac story.

[4] The phrase bears repeating that I am offering this as a "provisional" reading, and only as such.

[5] Johannes E. Louw and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. 2 vols. 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies), 1989. BibleWorks, v.10. Louw-Nida offers the following clarifying gloss: "the specific reference of παίζω in 1 Cor 10.7 is probably to dancing, but some scholars interpret παίζω in this context as a euphemism for sex."

[6] Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick W. Danker. 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). BibleWorks. v.10.  

[7] Henry George Liddel, and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon: With a Revised Supplement. Edited by Sir Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie. 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996). BibleWorks, v.10.  

[8] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, Baker's Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), BibleWorks, v.10.

[9] See n.5.

[10] The citation of Exo 32:6 LXX passim is intriguing, as the sin does not seem to be explicitly about sexual sinfulness. YHWH speaks of Moses' people being involved in "lawlessness" (ἠνόμησεν) in v.7 and "commit[ing] transgressions" (παρέβησαν) in v.8. Certainly, "lawlessness" and "transgressions" does not exclude sexual sin (see perhaps Isa 57:3 LXX), but the context is concerned principally with idolatry.

[11] To categorize these citations according to 'negative' or 'positive' uses appears overly narrow, and does not account for narrative or genre nuances. A word may be negative, but to whom exactly? The perspectival nature of Greek is a force to be considered here, hence my caution.

[12] Due to idolatry and sexual immorality often being corresponding phenomena in the Biblical literature, it seems appropriate to place them together in this singular category, albeit with the noted caveat that they can be distinguished from another.

[13] They also share the same root (εἴδω—21:9, ἰδοῦσα; 26:8, εἶδεν) for a person "seeing" or "witnessing" the actions of another.

[14] Specifically: active participle + preposition + genitive singular proper noun + definite article + genitive singular common noun + personal pronoun. The differing genders of the singular common nouns, definite articles, and personal pronouns are the only divergent grammatical aspects, which suggests literary overlap.

[15] Jewish literature roundly condemned incest: c.f. Psalms of Solomon 8:7-10, Pseudo-Phocylides 182 and Jubilees 33:10-20. See also Lev 18:6-18. Paul's own worldview seems to fit with the broader Jewish perspective on incest (1 Cor 5:1-5) and other perceived sexual sins (Rom 1:26-27).

[16] To be fair, there are other options: perhaps they were indeed 'playing' or 'dancing' and Abimelech simply deduced that they were more than brothers and sister. However, it seems more likely that Isaac and Rebecca were engaging in 'married activity' that is common to married couples. 

[17] While this verb is most often used to refer to literally "lying down" (Gen 19:4) it seems like it can also be used as a euphemism for sexual activity (c.f. Gen 19:32-34; 30:16); if this is the case, then my argument may be strengthened by the similar use of παίζοντα in Gen 26:8.

[18] The idiomatic use of "eat and drink" throughout the LXX normally refers to that: the consumption of food and drink. It does not appear to include revelry except for this context. Paul's own interpretation of Exo 32:6 clearly includes sexual immorality, but the Exodus text itself is unclear.

[19] To press in further, the immediate context of Gen 21:9 does not have any contextual markers indicating that this was a generic 'violent' event as if an instance of sexual misconduct would not perhaps be violent.

[20] This citation may also have some overlapping characteristics with section 1: perhaps revelry is additionally involved as the following verses speak of specific (festive?) jewelry and attire.

[21] The semantic nuances of the singular noun πληγή seem elusive: I rendered it as 'plague' via the lexicons, but I am not at all confident in my understanding of the noun here.

[22] This citation may also belong in section 3 below, for while the context is about judgment and violence, the notion of being "toyed with" is also possible.

[23] Samson is not beckoned or merely 'called;' the imperative form of καλέω is used so "ordered" seems contextually appropriate, especially to a captive humiliated judge of Israel.

[24] V.15a: "and when their hearts had become merry." (καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἠγαθύνθη ἡ καρδία αὐτῶν), which may suggest revelry and debauchery.

[25] The "boys" are called παιδάρια, suggesting that they are younger than Abner and Joab; the context most probably includes a power dynamic, but it is unlikely that rape or sexual misconduct is in view. Bruce notes that Jewish reception history of this verse likely denotes "bloodshed." Galatians, 224.

[26] Job 41:5 speaks of God "toying" (παίξῃ) with Leviathan, displaying God's sovereign power over a mythic beast.

[27] David and the Sons of Israel "were playing before the Lord" (παίζοντες ἐνώπιον κυρίου). The author uses the same participial form as Gen 21:9.

[28] Here the author, instead of saying David was playing "before" the Lord, has ἐναντίον, which may add a subtle hint of perspectival hostility from God's perspective.

[29] Perspectivally, Michal is the one who sees David "dancing" and playing" (ὀρχούμενον, παίζοντα), and this fills her wholeheartedly with contempt (ἐξουδένωσεν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ αὐτῆς). I suspect this is in reference to the display of the King before all people, and the reception of his "playing" is seen as negative by her; the author is less forthcoming about his or her own perspective.

[30] Per Martyn's designation, which seems fairly unlikely given the evidence of the LXX. See Galatians, 444.

[31] C.f. Martyn, Galatians, 444 n.155.

[32] See n.13. However, the marital relationship between Isaac and Rebecca is not equivalent to two same-sex youths, so this parallel is not as thematically precise as I would hope. Nevertheless, the sexual nature of Gen 26:8 provides some basis for my tentative proposal because of the precise parallelism.

[33] The LXX uses ἐκβάλλω for Sarah's command, a verb that has strong connotations (c.f. Gen 3:24), especially as it relates as a consequence to violence (c.f. Gen 4:14).

[34] C.f. Moisés Silva, "Old Testament in Paul" in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid; Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993), 630-642. For a specific and imaginative reference, see Richard B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul and Interpreter of Israel's Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).

[35] J. Ross Wagner, "The Septuagint and the 'Search for the Christian Bible,'" in Scripture's Doctrine and Theology's Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics (ed. Markus Bockmuehl and Alan J. Torrance; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 5-28, 21.

[36] Ensler, Galatians, 214. See also John Calvin who writes, "Moses says that…Ishmael ridiculed his brother Isaac" and this is affirmed by the use of the participle. John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. Translated by T.H.L. Parker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 89.

[37] Brigitte Kahl, "Hagar's Babylonian Captivity: A Roman Re-Imagining of Galatians 4:21-31," Interpretation 68.3 (2014), 257-269, 269 n.40. Kahl's interpretation is fascinating and deserves far more interaction than I can offer.

[38] This would not be a reinterpretation, as Paul likely viewed the original historical event in a violent and/or sexual manner. This would also most likely not be an allegory but perhaps an analogy. Contra Michael B. Cover, "Now and Above; Then and Now: Platonizing and Apocalyptic Polarities in Paul's Eschatology" in Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, The Gospel, and Ethics in Paul's Letter (ed. Mark W. Elliott, Scott J. Hafemann, N.T. Wright, and John Frederick; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 220-238, 224 who views Paul's use as an allegory; this seems to be too broad a category—Paul seems to be drawing a contemporary comparison, hence 'analogy' seems like a more appropriate fit, one that fits well with 'typology.'

[39] This may also be a cause for division between the "teachers" and the general assembly, where the "teachers" are caught in the rhetorical cross hairs, and the assembly is viewed as "free."

[40] As Beverley Gaventa and Susan Eastman have persuasively noted, this is not uncommon for Paul. C.f. Gaventa, Our Mother Saint Paul (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007) and Susan G. Eastman, Recovering Paul's Mother Tongue: Language and Theology in Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007). See also the incisive work by Margaret Aymer on this point: "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Mother Paul Revisited" in Mother Goose, Mother Jones, Mommie Dearest: Biblical Mothers and Their Children (ed. Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan and Tina Pippin; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009), 187-198.

[41] Paul's imaginative interpretation, if I am correct, leaves a multitude of questions lingering about the status of Hagar, who was able to give Abraham a son when Sarah was unable to do so. Status symbols and cultural markers are far more deeply embedded in the narrative, and perhaps Paul saw something we have missed.

[42] "What is altered," according to John Barclay, "…is the evaluative freight carried by these labels, the encoded distinctions of superiority and inferiority." Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2015), 396-397, 397.

[43] For instance, Paul consistently advocates for women (1 Cor 11:5; Rom 16:1-16; Phil 4:2-3) and slaves (The Epistle to Philemon; perhaps 1 Cor 7:21) elsewhere, so this adds some support for my contention. C.f. both John Jefferson Davis, "Some Reflections on Galatians 3:28, Sexual Roles, and Biblical Hermeneutics," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19.3 (1976): 201-208 and Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle's Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 166-172 for this crucial issue of women's equality in the church via Gal 3:28. See also Barclay's applicable comment in n.43.

[44] Contra Ben Witherington III, who sees Gen 21:8-14 as being "at most" about "Ishmael playing with Isaac." While Witherington does mention the "metaphorical" nature of the verb in question, he seems to mistakenly downplay the context of Genesis 21. See Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on St Paul's Letter to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 337-338.

[45] Atsuhiro Asano, Community-Identity Constructiojn in Galatians: Exegetical, Social-Anthropological and Socio-Historical Studies (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 177.

[46] Sexual depravity can, of course, take on a corrupting influence: c.f the imagery in Col 3:5 and Eph 5:5.

[47] C.f. Acts 8:1-3. The word διωγμός can be used in a violent context (2 Macc 12:23).

[48] This is where Brigitte Kahl's incisive article can begin to shed additional light. See n.37.

[49] Martyn, Galatians, 436 states that Paul's typology is not "timeless." It might be more helpful to say that Paul's use of the Ishmael/Isaac event is timely and in this way timeless. Typology and analogy are not separate interpretive spheres, as Martyn seems to suggest.

[50] This may also help reframe the perspective of the 'teachers' without downplaying their potentially abusive tactics or removing Paul's deep concern over their enforced Torah observance on Gentiles.

[51] For a work that explores this, see Bruce W. Longenecker, ed., Narrative Dynamics in Paul: A Critical Assessment (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002).

The "Ifs" of the Resurrection: Particles and Hope in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19


My friend Graham Ware posted something on Facebook about 1 Corinthians 15 and the language of the "ifs." So this post is inspired by his comment and I wanted to give him that shout out.

Almost every verse in vv.12-19 begins with the particle εἰ (ei, "if"): only v.15 and v.18 are excluded from this. The significance of these particles is that they are rhetorically conditional. Paul is offering the idea of a possible counter fact: "what if" X happened or did not happen?

12 Εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς κηρύσσεται ὅτι ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγήγερται…

"But if Christ is proclaimed that he has been raised from the dead…"

13 εἰ δὲ ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται·

"But if there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised."

14 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς οὐκ ἐγήγερται, κενὸν⸀ἄρα τὸ κήρυγμα ἡμῶν, κενὴ καὶ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν,

"But if Christ is not raised, then our preaching is empty and our faith is empty."

15 εὑρισκόμεθα δὲ καὶ ψευδομάρτυρες τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι ἐμαρτυρήσαμεν κατὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ὅτι ἤγειρεν τὸν Χριστόν, ὃν οὐκ ἤγειρεν εἴπερ ἄρα νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται.

"And we are even found to be bearing false witness against God, for we testified concerning God that he raised the Messiah, whom he did not raise, if indeed the dead are not raised"

16 εἰ γὰρ νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται·

"For if the dead are not raised, nor has Christ not been raised."

17 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς οὐκ ἐγήγερται, ματαία ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν, ἔτι ἐστὲ ἐν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν.

"And if Christ is not raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins."

18 ἄρα καὶ οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ ἀπώλοντο.

"Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have utterly perished."

19 εἰ ἐν τῇ ζωῇ ταύτῃ ἐν Χριστῷ ἠλπικότες ἐσμὲν μόνον, ἐλεεινότεροι πάντων ἀνθρώπων ἐσμέν.

"If in Christ we have hope this life only, we are people to be utterly pitied."

The Christian faith is predicated upon the historical fact of Jesus' bodily resurrection from the dead. Paul's use of these six conditional particles should cause us to stop and tremble at these thoughts. "If Christ is not raised…" should force us to reflect upon the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus, and his subsequent vindication as Lord and Messiah.

Now, in the days before Easter, we live in these "ifs," hoping in the blessed hope of the resurrection. If indeed Christ was not raised on that one day, then those of us who are "in Christ" will perish utterly, dust back to dust, life into darkness.

May it never be.

But let it sit and linger with us, that Christ himself sat where we sit, and took upon himself the full enfleshment of the human race, for our future glory, for our life itself.

As Paul says in Colossians, our lives are hidden "in Christ" (Col 3:1-4), and he is our treasure chest, the one who locks us away with him for the hope of glory.

But now, as the early Christian men and women did, we wait. And we sit in the dust of the earth, awaiting the God of the Living to beckon us home.

There are no more "ifs," only "whens." So we wait. And we hope.


Nick's Presentation at the Rethinking Hell Conference

It has been a wild few weeks. In between a car accident and other insane little life events, I traveled to Dallas-Fort Worth with some friends to help out and to deliver a paper presentation Graham Ware (a great friend of mine) and I co-wrote on "atonement in Romans."

Here is the youtube video to view on Youtube if you prefer.

I hope you enjoy this! Thank you for all of your prayers during this rather turbulent time!


"Being Born in Human Likeness:" Incarnation, Rectification and Apocalyptic Hope


After a long year of struggle and personal difficulty (including the loss of two family members; an uncle and an aunt), I have begun to think a lot about the human body. Seeing death up close is an odd experience, especially in the sense of being near to someone who is dear to you. The smell of skin becoming cold, the hiss of oxygen entering lungs, the tang of cold sweat in the air. Whether a funeral or a deathbed, I have come to see again the cold and cruel pattern of the world. Life is fleeting, distant, and calculated in its finitude.

"For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin."

While the incarnation of the Son is not fundamentally about death, death itself is concerned with the incarnation. For those among us who are pastors, or indeed human, we see such things in our daily lives – whether on the news or on the road. Death and violence are staples of the human diet and there is something fundamentally enslaving about this notion. It is a crippling fear, something the author of the Hebrews asserts:

 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.

The incarnation, even in all of its glory, is a punctiliar act that recognizes the obvious thing among us: death and life are antinomies that propel and cripple us, pushing and pressing us onto the deathbed alongside our families and friends and even our enemies. The incarnation forces us to consider the ugly realities of this present evil age, and then we are forced to ask—along with a multitude of the dead—"how long, O Lord?"

The Psalmist writes, " My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long?" (6:3). It is as if the Psalmist recognizes the lack of God's action, demanding to know what the Sovereign creator of the universe is on about.

The incarnation, therefore, is concerned with the realities of our present word, and speaks power into every instance of our existence.

God has not been silent in his world, nor has he ignored the plight of his people. As God remembered the faithful prayers of Hannah (1 Samuel 1) and his covenant to Abraham (Exodus 2:24; 6:5), so too has he remembered the images and instances of injustice and death in our world.

The incarnation is not an event divorced from history, nor is the incarnation a severance of God's dealings with history. Rather the incarnation is the apocalyptic and punctiliar event that illustrates God's action in a world that has not been abandoned

But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:7-8).

In reflecting upon the incarnation, we return to this idea of the crippling power of the terror of death. In becoming human (ἄνθρωπος), the Son has not excluded anyone from his witness nor excluded anyone from his love. In becoming human, the Son has included all people within the reality he imbibed. We look to the glory of the Son and see the fullness of God in bodily form, inviting us into reconciliation with God (2 Cor 5).

"We have seen his glory."

Thus, while we grieve and struggle, we also remember in this dark time that God has not hid himself from our sins or our trials. God-in-Christ has entered our world as King and liberator, dedicated to our bodies by becoming like us in every way. The Son did not hide himself from our presence and seeks our liberation as embodied beings, he himself just like us.

"What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people."

And thus we pray, and hope, that all shall be well. Until then, we live in the immanent shadow of anticipation, living our lives with faith and hope, serving one another in love and joy, awaiting the coming of our great God and Savior.

Until then, we hope.


Learning in the Pastoral Epistles: Deception, Verbs and Wives in 1 Timothy 2

Paul & Thecla

No debate in evangelicalism has produced as much strife and heat as the debate on the ordination of women.[1] In the broad debate, much has been written concerning the infinitive αὐθεντέω,[2] the conjunction οὐδὲ in relation of "to teach" and "to control/assume authority,"[3] and the context of the Ephesian heresy.[4] What has not been sufficiently explored is Paul's only imperative in the pericope (μανθανέτω: 2:11) in relation to the broader materials in the Pastoral Epistles, in Paul's wider corpus, and even the LXX. This study will present evidence for Paul's inclusion of women as those worthy of being taught in the Pastoral Epistles, the wider Pauline corpus, and Paul's own Bible, the LXX in order to show that μανθανέτω is a contextually positive verb that illustrates Paul's inclusion of women in the learning of correct church doctrine.[5] This evidence, in turn, can best be explained as Paul's corrective to false teaching and vv.12-15 are to be understood in light of the imperative—wives[6] are to learn so that they may be included as the one's who will then be permitted to teach (διδασκαλία). More importantly, the Pastoral Epistles include the largest cluster of the verb; hence, this is an important term and deserves careful analysis.[7] Before that, I want to stress the limited nature of this study: entire dissertations have been written on specific phrases and even words within 1 Timothy 2:9-15, so I cannot possibly cover every angle or nuance within the passage. Secondly, I am assuming several disputable points of debate: I believe Paul is most likely the author of the Pastoral Epistles, and I believe the context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 concerns a household rather than a church service, so this section mostly likely refers to husbands and wives (per Cynthia Westfall of McMaster Divinity College in her book Paul and Gender), and not men and women generally.

1. μανθάνω: A Lexical Survey

Before we can determine the nuances of the verb under question, we must survey the lexical data. Given the abundance of occurrences of the verb in the relevant literature we are in a good place to determine the nuances and nature of the imperative verb as opposed to a hapax legomena (c.f. αὐθεντέω; 1 Tim 2:12). If we are able to determine an appropriate understanding of the verb under exploration, the rest of the passage may indeed fall in line:

·      Friberg 17746: from a basic meaning learn, i.e. of directing one's mind to something and producing an external effect

·      Louw & Nida: 27.12 μανθάνω: to acquire information as the result of instruction, whether in an informal or formal context - 'to learn, to be instructed, to be taught

·      Liddel-Scott: 27160  μανθάνω:-to learn, esp. by inquiry; and in aor. to have learnt, i.e. to understand, know.

·      Danker: 4080  μανθάνω ‘acquire knowledge’, learn – a. through instruction or receipt of information– b. through example or experience

The wide range of sources from these lexicons strongly suggest that the verb is often used with a context of a learner and a teacher, with the additional elements of expanding the cognitive aspect of the learner with the intent on 'understanding.' The purpose being, then, for the human person to grow in understanding of the knowledge she is being given. Knowledge, then, leads to righteous living or a reorientation of the self. Stanley Porter, in his Idioms of the Greek New Testament, states that "the imperative form is normally used to direct someone's action…[and] any permissive sense [of the second and third person singular and plural] is a phenomenon of English translation, not Greek."[8] Paul's use of the singular in 1 Tim 2:11 fits with Porter's helpful description. In summation, the issue of women learning in the Pastoral Epistles can help us discover the expectation of Paul in the church in Ephesus, and determine the character of the prohibition, with implications for the modern debate over the ordination of women to Christian ministry.

2. Μανθάνω in the LXX[9]

In the Greek version of the Old Testament, we have a sufficient supply of the verb μανθάνω to determine the semantic range of 1 Timothy 2:11. In Exodus 2:4, Moses' mother, after putting her baby in the basket, stood "far off" (μακρόθεν) in order "to learn" or "discover" (μαθεῖν) what would happen to Moses. The infinitive here refers to the anticipation of witnessing an indefinite event, waiting to know what would happen to her baby in the tumultuous current of the river. God in Deuteronomy 4:10 orders an assembly to brought before him and he says, "and let them [Israel] all listen to my words, so that they may learn (μάθωσιν) to respect me all of the days that they live upon the land, and also their sons whom they should have taught (διδάξωσιν)." The use of υἱοὺς ("sons") should be taken in a gender-inclusive manner, as all are "sons of God" in Galatians 3:26-29 and Romans 8:14. The purpose of learning is so that the children may be instructed in the right things of God. One expects the living tradition of Israel's stories to be perpetuated by those who were being taught (διδάξωσιν). The language of learning and teaching follows logically, as the ones who learn can then, consequently, teach the others in the ways of the Lord. The gender distinctions of "teaching" and "learning" are not in view in Deuteronomy. Deut 5:1 also speaks of Moses calling "all Israel" (πάντα Ισραηλ) together and telling them that "they will learn" (μαθήσεσθε) the "ordinances of God," which implies subsequent obedience: at least, one would hope. The people of Israel are to "learn to respect the Lord" (μαθης φοβεισθαι κυριον) in Deut 14:23, 17:19, 31:12-13: the conceptual framework of "learning" in these four canonical verses confirms the idea of a person—or group of people—growing to understand a foreign concept, and with this learning comes the expectation of participating with a renewed understanding of said concept. Thus, the people of Israel—without reference to gender—are called to learn and participate in God's commandments. Israel is forbidden "to learn" or "understand" (οὐ μαθήσῃ) the "abominations" of other "nations" (ἐθνῶν) in Deut 18:9—which suggests that Israel is not to participate in the community of heresy and false teaching, which leads to utter destruction.

In 1 Chron 25:8, there is a direct contrast between the "perfected" or "learned one" (τελείων) and the "one learning" (μανθανόντων), offering a distinction between two people who are educated and uneducated, which suggests a necessary imputing of wisdom or experience to the other with the hope of increasing knowledge and therefore ethical praxis. The use of the infinitive μαθεῖν in Ester 4:5 is directly relevant: Ester (who is reported to be a woman!) orders Hathach to go and "to learn" what he can about Mordecai: as it turns out, women can tell men to learn as well![10] Ps 106:35 references Israel "learning" (ἔμαθον) amongst the nations, and living as they do, committing idolatry (v.36). The verb here refers to active participation and cognitive awareness of the people of God by partaking in a great evil, learning what it is to serve mammon over God. "Learning" (μεμαθηκέναι) the "judgments of God's righteousness"(τὰ κρίματα τῆς δικαιοσύνης) is not a reference to subjection, but of a person "worshipping God" (ἐξομολογήσομαί) when he or she grows to "learn" what God commands and desires (Ps 119:7, 71, 73). "Learning" in Ps 119 is always in reference to active participation, of knowing and praising God rightly. Prov 17:16, in reference to fools, speaks of them "learning to fall into evil" (μαθειν). Evil in this verse is a deadly force, and the people are excluded from "learning" the mind of God, excluded from wisdom. The LXX rendering of Prov 22:25 speaks of avoiding the angry ones (v.24), and not "learning" (μάθῃς) the lifestyle of the wicked. In each use, the gender of the person is not in view, and all people are encouraged to pursue God, or not encouraged if they are pursuing evil!


The beginning of Isaiah 1:17 is a prophetic injunction "to learn" (μάθετε) "to do what is good" (καλὸν ποιεῖν). In the midst of Isaiah's prophetic discourse on the "days to come" (2:2), the people of Israel will "not learn to wage war" (2:4: μὴ μάθωσιν ἔτι πολεμεῖν). The eschatological prophecy is focused on the concept of utter peace as a future reality of God's kingdom, and this requires Israel to forsake the wages of death and war. In the midst of the Assyrian invasion, Israel is "not learning" (μὴ μαθεῖν) the Law, and many have been taken away already (8:15). Isaiah 26:9-10 includes two dual uses of the verb in relation to "righteousness" (v.9: δικαιοσύνην μάθετε; v.10: μὴ μάθῃ δικαιοσύνην), and the first pairing includes "learning righteousness," and the "wicked ones not learning righteousness." In this pairing, the righteous ones are consciously aware of God's judgments, but the wicked ones have not learned righteousness, and "do not see the glory of the Lord." The prophet speaks in Isaiah 28:19 for the recipients to "learn to understand!" (μάθετε ἀκούειν). The infinitive "to hear" or "to understanding" complements the imperative "learn," and the interplay between the concepts of "understanding" and "learning" suggest a continuity between these cognates: "learn so that you will understand" or "comprehend." Isaiah 29:24 contains two uses of the future verb "will learn" (μαθήσονται), though both are used in different ways. First, the "grumbling ones will learn to obey"  (ὑπακούειν) and the "murmuring ones will learn to speak peace" (μαθήσονται λαλεῖν εἰρήνην).[11]

Isaiah 47:12 is focused upon the humiliation of Babylon. In mocking the great city, Isaiah speaks about "sorcery, which you learned from youth" (ἐμάνθανες). Far from being a positive force, Isaiah sees this "learning" as a great and humiliating evil, a force that corrupts and enslaves. Similarly in Jer 9:5 the prophet cries out about "no one is speaking the truth" (ἀλήθειαν οὐ μὴ λαλήσωσιν) and as a result the people "have taught their tongues to speak lies" (μεμάθηκεν ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτῶν λαλεῖν ψευδῆ). The 'teaching' of the self to engage in falsehoods reveals a mind clouded by the Spirit of lies, and not the Spirit of God, who demands that the people "not learn" (μὴ μανθάνετε) the "ways of the nations." The imperative here follows Stanley Porter's description: this is not a Divine permissive, but a Divine command for Israel to remain separate from the nations. In a prophetic proclamation, God speaks of having mercy if the people "learn" the ways of His people (μαθόντες μάθωσιν τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ λαοῦ μου). Jer 13:23 speaks of a person changing their ways, even those who have been taught to do evil (μεμαθηκότες). Both uses of μανθάνω in Ezekiel 19:3 and 19:6 refer to a lion "learning" to catch his victims. The final usage in the LXX centers on Micah 4:3 where the prophet asserts "no longer will they learn to wage war" (καὶ οὐκέτι μὴ μάθωσιν πολεμεῖν). Violence is a pastime that must be unlearned, especially as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount, which suggests non-violence is a major hermeneutical continuum in Scripture.[12]

In summation, "learning" is a deeply malleable concept in the Greek Old Testament. Sometimes the verb under consideration is paired with "teach" (Deut 4:10) and "speaking" (perhaps Ps 119; Isaiah 29:24; Jer 9:5). In almost every instance the verb is used in a pietistic context: "learning" is a causal action that has an intended result. In the instances where it is not, it refers to a lion hunting, or a negative injunction for a person to not "learn" something evil (i.e. a prohibition of negative behavior), likely with the knowledge that the person will then fall into sin. In no explicit instance is a woman prohibited from learning something positive or ethically necessary, and all of Israel is enjoined to "learn" and pursue holiness in light of God's commands. Because of this, the Old Testament, like the New Testament, views women as agents of genuine cognitive virtue, capable of learning and freely acting in response to God's commands, with no condemnation of their gender or prohibition of their ability to teach and influence others in the ways of godliness.[13]

3. Μανθάνω in Second Temple Judaism

2 Maccabees 7:2 centers on the brutal torture and eventual butchering of Jewish martyrs. One of the brothers cries out: "what do you all expect to learn (μανθάνειν) by questioning us? For we are prepared to die instead of transgressing the laws of the fathers!" The author's use of the infinitive here is rhetorical, suggesting that the king now knew exactly what the Jewish men were prepared to endure. Similarly in 4 Macc 1:17 the author writes "This, in turn, is discipline by the law, by which we learn (μανθάνομεν) divine matters in a holy manner and human affairs to our advantage." Contextually the use of the verb with παιδεία ("discipline, education") strongly suggests that this learning has a practical outcome: the ignorant or the unlearned or the child even has the moral necessity to grow in knowledge in relation to "divine matters." Finally, perhaps the most relevant passage in relation to 1 Tim 2:11 is Sirach 18:19:

πρὶν ἢ λαλῆσαι μάνθανε καὶ πρὸ ἀρρωστίας θεραπεύου

"Before you speak, you must learn and before you become ill, take care of yourself."

Sirach 18:19 appears axiomatic for any understanding of 1 Tim 2:11, given the close proximity of composition and the nature of 'learning' that appears consistent with the overall thrust of the LXX. The author of Sirach appears to be addressing a situation that has strong parallels, especially since Sirach is a work all about ethical conduct and was written some time before the Pastoral Epistles, an issue that many modern commentators on the Pastoral Epistles have missed.[14] The parallels between these two verses will be explored below in some detail.

Finally, a major purveyor of this term is Philo of Alexandria, who appears to use the verbal form over 140 times, according to Bibleworks.[15] Since an entire survey of Philo would require multiple dissertations, I am forced to limit myself to some key examples. In Legum allegoriarum 1:94 we have Philo writing, "just as the perfect grammarian or perfect musician has need of no instruction in the matters which belong to his art, but the man whose theories on such subjects are imperfect stands in need of certain rules, as it were, which contain in themselves commands and prohibitions, and he who is only learning the art requires instruction [i.e. "teaching"]" (τῷ δὲ ἄρτι μανθάνοντι διδασκαλίας). The person who is exercising a gift of "teaching" is excluded from the realm of learning, by implication of their being a teacher.[16] The use of μανθάνον in Legum allegoriarum 3:135 concerns the gifting of "knowledge" and how a person endures hardships: Philo writes, "Also, what is imperfect is inferior to that which is perfect (τοῦ τελείου), and that which learns (τὸ μανθάνον) anything to that which has knowledge spontaneously and naturally." Perfection in relation to knowledge is something that must be learned. In De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini 1:7 we have a dual use of "learning," which is seen in terms of "perfection" (ἐτελειώθησαν), the full maturation of an individual's mind: "As many, therefore, as through instruction and learning (μαθήσει καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ)..." and this is followed by Philo's use of the language of "comprehension" (ἀκοῆς) and in regards to Moses' people who have [or 'are'] "learned/ing" (μανθανόντων) guidance. Similarly to the stories in the Old Testament, the entire group of people are in the process of gaining knowledge and experience. The necessity of learning in Quod deterius potiori insidiari 1:12 centers on the stability of the person as the recipient of knowledge: "for the opinions of those who have only lately begun to learn (τῶν ἄρτι μανθάνειν) are unstable and without any firm foundation." This correlates nicely with Sirach's ethical admonition to "learn" before one speaks,[17] revealing a potential Jewish axiomatic tradition.[18] Having briefly surveyed the wide swath of ancient literature, we are now in a place to determine how Paul uses this verb.[19]

4. Paul's use of Μανθάνω outside of the Pastoral Epistles

Rom 16:17 speaks of Paul's urging the church to follow the "teaching" (διδαχὴν) that they previously "learned" (ἐμάθετε). While the context is not as dire at the heretical situation in 1 Timothy one can see a potential allusion to the Protevangelium in Gen 3:16 in Rom 16:20 and 1 Tim 2:15, if one adopts the "Childbirth" reading on v.15 (which I do).[20] Second, the use of the verb "fully deceived" (ἐξαπατῶσι; Rom 16:18) directly lines up with the deception of Eve in 1 Tim 2:14 and Adam in Rom 7:11. If you want to know more on Eve and 1 Timothy, head over to Allison Quient's paper presentation later! So Rom 16:17-20 suggests a similar heretical situation to that of the Pastoral Epistles, and given the close proximity to the numerous women mentioned earlier in chapter 16 (Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, passim), it is not difficult to imagine that they would be included in the "learning" and participation of important church "teachings," especially as recipients of Romans. Paul uses the subjunctive to admonish the Corinthians to "learn" (μάθητε) not to go beyond the Scriptures in 1 Cor 4:6, suggesting a coordinate meaning with the Prophets in the Old Testament (see above: Deut 18:9). Likewise, in 14:31[21] the entire church is told that prophecy is for the mutual benefit of all people, "so that all would learn" (ἵνα πάντες μανθάνωσιν).[22] The use of the verb here refers to teleological understanding by the power of the Holy Spirit, who gives forth the "teaching" (διδαχὴν: v.26) that "each" has received. 

Paul's remaining five uses of the verb are used in a wide array of contexts. The first use of the infinitive (μαθεῖν) in Gal 3:2 is clearly sarcastic, referring to Paul's interrogation of the Galatian church into telling him about the source of their knowledge of Christ. The aorist in Eph 4:20 (ἐμάθετε) is clarified as "hearing" (ἠκούσατε: v.21) which most probably refers to orthopraxic understanding and cognitive participation. Equally, the dual use in Phil 4:9 (ἐμάθετε) and 4:11 (ἔμαθον) are in a context of "obtaining and understanding" (παρελάβετε καὶ ἠκούσατε)[23] what is good and righteous (4:8). As we have seen, "understanding" is often used by Paul to clarify his intent: this is not a mere acquisition of knowledge, but an entire lifestyle[24] oriented towards God and holiness.[25] Paul's final use is found in Col 1:7, where he addresses the church concerning what they "learned" (ἐμάθετε) from a fellow co-worker of Paul. As has been seen above, Paul uses "understanding" (ἠκούσατε) in v.6 to preempt what he means by "learning" in v.7: this suggests a deep emotional, lexical and intellectual reservoir in Paul's mind, which we will now explore in the Pastoral Epistles. Learning of the things of God always leads to active participation in God's church. Learning is not static.

5a. Compare & Contrast, Learning & Teaching: The Necessity of 1 Tim 1:20


In considering the context of the ancient heresy in Ephesus, we know that the main perpetrators of this were most likely two men named in 1 Tim 1:20: Hymenaeus and Alexander. These two men (although perhaps there were more)[26] "have been fully handed over" (παρέδωκα) to Satan: a fate born out of "blasphemy" (βλασφημεῖν).[27] Their rather harsh expulsion from the church greatly contrasts with Paul's imperatival address to women in 2:11, suggesting deference to the deceived versus the deceivers; the victims versus the charlatans. The purpose clause in 1:20 also confirms the disciplinary nature of their exclusion, and elucidates a potential connection to the "teaching," as it uses the subjunctive παιδευθῶσι ("to provide instruction, with the intent of forming proper habits of behavior - 'to teach, to instruct, to train, teaching, instruction.'")[28] as per Louw-Nida and other Lexicons.[29] This forms a symmetrical relationship between a prohibition or expulsion and the resultant learning of the person. Scholarly attempts to overly-reconstruct or downplay the role of women in leading the heresy are unnecessary when we consider that Paul has likely already ousted his two main opponents, and is now dealing with the aftermath: the wives of Ephesus—whom he has not kicked out of the church or handed over to Satan, by the way. That's slightly important. You don't see much on that. Thus, we are now in a place to determine the nature of the "learning" in the Pastoral Epistles with new focus.

5b. Learning in the Pastoral Epistles: Deception and the Solution

In 1 Tim 5:4, we have another imperative: μανθανέτωσαν πρῶτον, and this time it is used in reference to the authority of a widowed mother over her children. The children must "learn first" what it means to be respectable in God's household. Similarly, in 5:13, we have a negative view of younger widows "learning idleness" (μανθάνουσιν ἀργαὶ) and other traits that are not respectable in the household—a use that is confirmed by our survey of the LXX. 2 Tim 3:7 seems to describe the women who are "always learning" or being "taught" by the false teachers, although this seems somewhat unclear[30] and 3:14 reminds Timothy to remain conscious of what he has previously "learned" (ἔμαθες) and who he obtained (λαβὼν) it from: perhaps Paul, or perhaps Timothy's grandmother Lois and mother Eunice in 2 Tim 1:5. This assumes that learned women were teaching with authority in households: after all, there is no one more authoritative than one's mother and especially one's grandmother, as I will testify.[31] Finally, Titus 3:14 is similar to the Old Testament injunctions for people to "learn" (μανθανέτωσαν) "good works," suggesting perhaps an economic sphere where poverty is met and charity is learned.

Therefore, we arrive at 1 Tim 2:11. If we begin with previous material, the axiomatic exhortation in Sirach 18:19 becomes quite relevant here. The purpose of the wives learning before they speak is confirmed by Paul's use of the prepositional phrase ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ ("in quietness") with "all obedience." Cynthia Westfall has provided us with a major hermeneutical clue in her book Paul and Gender. She writes: "a command to submit does not constitute a reversed mandate for the other to subjugate."[32] Paul's command for the women to learn directly follows the path set by Sirach 18:19: before the women are to speak and teach, they are to learn in quietness. Teaching is not a masculine virtue, as the entire body has the potential for the gift of teaching in Rom 12:1-8,[33] especially as it relates to being "wise" (σωφρονεῖν: Rom 12:3; 1 Tim 2:9, 15; 3:2). Wisdom and a teaching ability require a desire to learn the things of God, given to us by God. In essence, Paul's injunction here is entirely in line with the language of the gifts of God elsewhere in his discourses on the Spirit (1 Cor 12; Rom 12; Eph 4). The positive injunction helps clarify the nature of the Creation narrative in 1 Tim 2:13-14 as a historical situation where a deceived person acted in a manner that had incredibly destructive consequences.

In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, complementarian William Mounce—who I will be using as representative—writes the following:

"the text [1 Tim 2:11] does not say that women should learn so that they can teach. Spencer asserts, 'if anyone is taught, eventually they will teach,' but this contradicts chap. 3, which sees authoritative instruction…as the prerogatives of the elders." He cites Deuteronomy 31:12, cites Craig Keener concerning the "learning leading to obedience" and concludes, "the authoritative act of teaching, the proclamation of the gospel truth and the refutation of error, is the responsibility not of any person who has learned but of the leadership (1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:2)."[34]

There is many critical responses one could make this line of argumentation,[35] but Mounce's favorable citation of Douglas Moo deserves the most attention. He writes, citing Moo: "All Jewish men were encouraged to study the law: did they all become rabbis?"[36] This is asking the wrong question: an injunction for all people to learn and to grow, but an injunction that simultaneously restricts a group of people from teaching because of their gender is absent in the LXX, and in the citation that Mounce cites. Ester tells a man to go and learn in Ester 4:5, and Deut 4:10 uses the verb in relation to people teaching their children, and even speaking (Is 29:24). One would expect more precision from the biblical writers on this point, if Mounce were correct: for instance, we might expect Paul or Moses or the Prophets to say, "everyone should learn in quietness, but only men are to learn with intent to teach." Scripture never says such things. Finally, Mounce's assertion about male leadership in 1 Tim 3:2 as negating the inference of "learning so that they may teach" is unsubstantiated.[37] An indefinite pronoun is different from a masculine pronoun.[38] The indefinite pronoun τις ("anyone, whoever;" 1 Tim 3:2) is unexplained by Mounce, and he assumes that an elder is to be a man. The lack of a masculine pronoun remains, and Mounce offers no reason for us to assume his interpretation with him. Thus, the best explanation of the women being told to learn in 1 Tim 2:11 is so that they will become educated, and will not fall into deception like Eve (1 Tim 2:13-14).[39] Learning has a causal outcome in any instance, and the force of "learning" before "speaking" or "teaching" is a basic axiomatic component of human life. Paul's command for the women to learn removes their present deception, and emphasizes their "mental soundness" (σωφροσύνης: v.15) in opposition to their (Eve's) deception.[40] The present tense of ἐπιτρέπω ("I am not permitting") in v.12 fits well with the imperative μανθανέτω in v.11. Rather than v.12 restricting the meaning of v.11, ἐπιτρέπω is functioning as a present reality of the deceived women—hence the present tense: while they learn, they are not permitted to be a controlling authoritarian with their husbands.[41]

Since Alexander and Hymenaeus were excluded from the church, and their return is conditioned on their own "instruction," one can safely assume that if Alexander and Hymenaeus repent and return with humbleness and a sound mind that they would perhaps be admitted back into the church, and in time, given positions of teaching power. Perhaps. However, if the wives learn humbly and participate in the attributes of faithfulness, love, and holiness with the soundness of mind that should characterize all people, they will be saved and, perhaps, find themselves among the "faithful one's who are able to teach" (1 Tim 3:2: διδακτικόν). Indeed, in 2 Tim 2:2—a text Mounce cited earlier as excluding women from eldership—perhaps some of the women were already at work there, teaching with learned authority (πιστοῖς ἀνθρώποις οἵτινες ἱκανοὶ ἔσονται καὶ ἑτέρους διδάξαι). The NRSV captures the Greek well: "and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people [not exclusively men] who will be able to teach others as well." Given that Paul is quite capable of using specific gendered terms to refer to men (as he does in 1 Tim 2:8, for instance), one is forced to ask why he uses a more generic anthropological term in 2 Tim 2:2. It seems best to conclude that Paul does not have men exclusively in mind as teachers in every capacity, and that women must be included in this sphere of teaching as a result of their learning. Thus, the best reason for their "learning" is for their positive influence in the community, whether through teaching or preaching, and not their subservience or ontological exclusion from exercising the gifts God has given them. Discipleship in a community of mutual deference and love is principal to Paul's ethics, and the Pastoral Epistles are no exception to this principle.

6. Conclusion

In summation, I offer three preliminary observations that, I hope, will help us solve this debate in evangelicalism. First, in demanding that the wives learn in 2:11, Paul is affirming their cognitive capacity to receive Christian tradition, as he did with Timothy and Eunice and Lois. We see Paul's same assumption of virtue in 1 Cor 7. In that entire chapter, neither husband nor wife has preeminence over the other nor are they to "deprive one another" sexually, and we see mutual submission being the guiding principle in Ephesians 5:21 for what follows there. By stating these things, Paul is affirming both the sexual agency of wives, and the necessity of women as agents of virtue. Thus, Paul is consistent in how he treats husbands and wives. Second, Paul's treatment of men and women regarding deception reveals that neither gender carries with it an ontology that renders them more easily deceived: indeed Paul tells the entire church in Corinth to not be deceived (1 Cor 3:18; c.f. 2 Cor 11:3; 2 Thess 2:3).

Deception is an unfortunate human trait, but fortunately it does not affect one gender more than the other—according to Paul. Third and finally, Paul assumes the participatory necessity of women in the body of Christ. Whether a Junia, a Phoebe, a Deborah, a Lydia, a Euodia, or the unnamed woman in the Gospels who anointed Jesus, God has anointed gifted women with the distinct capacity to learn, to grow, to mature, and to teach with authority. Indeed, I would not be here if I had not studied under learned women. Our greatest challenge in evangelicalism is to provide places where the gifts of God manifest themselves in our sisters, for the glory of all people for the purpose of teaching and instructing us all in righteousness. Places where they can learn, and teach, and participate fully in Christ's mission of reconciliation.

We evangelicals cannot say to women, we have no need of you, because Paul certainly didn't.


A form of this article was read at the Canadian-American Theological Association conference in New York, 2017. If you notice certain colloquialisms or misspellings, please forgive them.

[1] For a survey of the relevant literature see Jamin Hübner, "A New Case for Female Elders: A Reformed-Evangelical Approach" (Th.D. dtss., The University of South Africa, 2013), 22-105.

[2] C.f. Westfall, Paul and Gender, 290-293 and her "The Meaning of αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12," Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 10 (2014): 138-173; Jamin Hübner, "Revisiting αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12: What do the Extant Data Really Show?" Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 5.1 (2015), 41-71; Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 361-397.

[3] Payne, Man and Woman, 337-361; Andreas Köstenberger, "A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12," in Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Third edition: ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner: Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 117-162.

[4] S.M. Baugh, "A Foreign World: Ephesus in the First Century," in Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Third edition: ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner: Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 25-64.

[5] The similar use of the verb in 1 Cor 14:34-35 may be set aside for the purposes of this paper, given it's textual instability. Payne, Man and Woman, 217-267 and "Vaticanus Distigme-obelos Symbols Marking Added Text, Including 1 Corinthians 14.34-35," New Testament Studies 63 (2017): 604-625—my thanks to Dr. Payne for sending me his important article. See also Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 699-709 and Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 245-249.

[6] For the argument that Paul is addressing a husband and wife relationship, see Westfall. It can be argued that the majority of Paul's uses of γυνή refer to a husband/wife relationship (1 Cor 7:1-40; 1 Cor 5:1; 9:5; 14:34-35, if original, which I doubt; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19) or to a woman in a generic fashion (Gal 4:4; perhaps 1 Cor 11:2-16). It seems more likely that Paul is being specific rather than exclusive in 1 Tim 2:9-15, but one cannot be dogmatic on this point.

[7] The noun μαθητής does not occur in the Pastoral Epistles, and so it will be excluded from our study. The noun also does not seem to occur in the LXX either, although there is a wealth of uses in the Synoptic Gospels.

[8] Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 1994), 53, 55.

[9] All translations of the LXX are my own unless noted otherwise.

[10] One wonders if this one example is decisive in determining the 'gender' of certain prohibitions or admonitions in Scripture. Was Hathach forgoing his 'male headship' in obeying Ester? Was Ester subverting Hathach's 'male headship' by ordering him to do something?

[11] Similarly, Isaiah 32:4 uses the exact same phrase: μαθήσονται λαλεῖν εἰρήνην.

[12] C.f. Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (New York: Harper One, 1996), 317-347.

[13] One is forced to ask, if Paul believed that women were more easily deceived than men, then why women were included in these injunctions throughout the Old Testament. A more easily deceived person, if such a person exists in an ontological sense at all, requires an entire different code of ethics, and we find no such code in Holy Scripture.

[14] In order: Raymond F. Collins, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 68-70; George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 139-140; Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 199. The others include Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, vol. 1 (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 226; Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 212-216; Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 47; Aida Besançon Spencer, 1 Timothy (Eugene: Cascade, 2013), 58-59; I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (London: T&T Clark, 1999), 452-454. Similarly, the major complementarian works noted above (edited by Köstenberger and Schreiner) and the egalitarian works (Payne, Keener) do not mention or cite this text.

[15] Given the complexities of Philo's Greek, I happily concede that I am indebted to Yonge's translation, even if I correct him or continue to be mystified by his translation.

[16] Similarly in Legum allegoriarum 3:122, Philo continues: "no doubt, a man who said this might speak clearly and distinctly, but he would not be speaking truly, but by such assertions he would be implanting wickedness in language. But when he joins both distinctness and truth, then he makes his language profitable to him who is seeking [i.e. learning: μανθάνοντι] information…" The fundamental nature of this argument is bound up with the assumption that the pursuit of the logos (τὸν λόγον) is to be desired and that it is attainable.

[17] The Reverend Graham Ware pointed this out to me in an earlier draft of this work, so I credit him here with this insight. De posteritate Caini 1:131, 138, 140, 150; Quis rerum divinarum heres sit 1:102; 121; De congressu eruditionis gratia 1:69-70, 122, 126.

[18] Finally, De posteritate Caini 1:140 speaks of a woman being a potential teacher, even serving her student: " For "she made haste," he says, "and took down the pitcher on her arm." Her alacrity to serve the man was displayed by her making haste, and such alacrity is seated in the mind, beyond which envy is cast away. But by the expression, "taking down the pitcher on her arm," we see intimated the prompt and eager attention [lit. "The one learning by the teacher:" τὸν μανθάνοντα τοῦ διδάσκοντος] of the teacher to the pupil." This text may reveal Philo's ease with women (as a human being or as a typological referent) exercising some sort of "teaching" (διδάσκω) role, although this is not entirely clear. Judith Gundry-Volf has shown that Philo exhibits what is clearly the ancient patriarchal standard. C.f. Judith Gundry-Volf, "Paul on Women and Gender: A Comparison with Early Jewish Views," in The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul's Conversion on his Life, Thought, and Ministry (ed. Richard N. Longenecker: Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1997), 184-212, 195-200.

[19] The Synoptic Gospels include four uses of this verb, and all of them are in the imperative form. In Matt 9:13, after Jesus has characteristically eaten with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees challenge him on his ethical conduct. He responds with the imperative μάθετε,[19] which illustrates a demand (not a permission) to go inform themselves about God's desire for mercy and not sacrifice. Similarly, in Matt 11:29, in Christ's prayer to the Father includes the use of the imperative μάθετε in reference to the "taking" of Christ's yoke upon themselves: this is something that the cities must learn from Jesus. The nuances of this imperative likely refer to an offering of rest as well as a command for them to respond and take what is freely offered to them. It also may indicate Jesus' identification of himself with Torah.[19] In the apocalyptic discourse of Mark 13:28 (par. Matt 24:32), Jesus commands his listeners to "learn from the parable of the fig tree" (Ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν), reinforcing the idea of Isa 1:17, where Israel is commanded to "learn to do good!" The two uses of the verb in the Gospel of John refer first to instruction by God (6:45a) by his prophets and the subsequent learning (μαθὼν) that results in a person "coming to Jesus" (6:45b).[19] Similarly, the Jewish people remark with amazement at Jesus' learnedness (μεμαθηκώς) and teaching ability (7:15). The Book of Acts records a saying of a centurion who observes that he rescued Paul on the basis of "learning" (μαθὼν) of his Greco-Roman citizenry. Each of the Gospel uses of this verb refers to a person obtaining revelation or information they previously lacked, and in correlation to this is the notion of "understanding." In one of the most important Christological texts in the New Testament, Jesus is said to have "learned" (ἔμαθεν) "obedience from what he suffered" (Heb 5:8). The Eternal Son experienced the depths of the human experience, defined subsequently as "suffering"—a previously unknown state or condition.

[20] C.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 417-442.

[21] As mentioned above, 14:34-35 has been tabled due to its textual indeterminism.

[22] I believe the use of ἵνα confirms the purpose of the admonition: so that all would be able to grasp, comprehend, and subsequently participate.

[23] The full force of the verbs should be felt: the recipients are not passive about what they received, but they accepted it, lived it out, and are currently living it as Paul writes to them. Thus, they are active agents, active recipients of the gift of Christ.

[24] Or as Paul calls it in 4:11, "self-sufficiency:" αὐτάρκης.

[25] The use of "thinking" in Philippians confirms this: c.f. the consistent use of φρονέω: 1:7, 2:2, 5; 3:15, 4:2, 10. I am indebted to Dr. Love Sechrest at Fuller Theological Seminary for pointing this out to me.

[26] The continued presence of heresy in the Pastoral Epistles may attest to this, but it is an unknown. Perhaps Paul has to deal with the lingering effects of heresy as well as the victims of the heretical teaching.

[27] The large cluster of this word group in the Pastoral Epistles strongly confirms the lingering impact made by these two men (c.f. 1 Tim 6:1, which uses "teaching;" Titus 2:5; 3:2.

[28] While one can safely say that being handed over to Satan is indeed a harsh act, the positive injunction that they learn mitigates the harshness.

[29] Johannes E. Louw and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. 2 vols. 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies), 1989. BibleWorks, v.10. See Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick W. Danker. 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). BibleWorks. v.10.

[30] Given Paul's positive emphasis on women learning elsewhere, one is forced to ask if there is a contextual reason for this displacement, or if the verb refers to the false teachers. Also, the reference to two named men as example of dissent against Moses in v.8 may suggest that the referent is the deceptive men, not the deceived women. Perhaps it refers to both the deceived and the deceivers (3:13: πλανῶντες καὶ πλανώμενοι). However, this is a subsidiary point and I raise it only as such.

[31] The active emphasis of the verb stresses something Timothy "obtained" from his grandmother and mother, that is, "genuine faithfulness" (ἀνυποκρίτου πίστεως).

[32] Westfall, Paul and Gender, 76.

[33] Rom 12:7 uses διδάσκων in reference to a person (or people) who have been given the gift—gender is not mentioned as a prerequisite of a person's call to teach or preach. See Westfall's incisive analysis in Paul and Gender, 208-219.

[34] William D. Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 118.

[35] First, the issue of "obedience" is irrelevant, as v.11 makes clear that the women are to learn in a quiet spirit, but this does not tell us what or why they are to learn. Mounce has not asked the correct question at this point. Spencer, while she may or may not be correct, offers a reasonable inference, while Mounce offers a negation that still leaves the question unanswered. What and why are the women to learn? Second, Mounce's interpretation of this verse is fundamentally unpersuasive regarding apologetics, theological discourse, teaching (c.f. Rom 12 above) and the gifts of the Spirit. In writing that the proclamation of the gospel is for men, one is forced to ask if Paul should have removed the women entirely from the equation as Apostles and Deacons (Rom 16), and fellow co-workers (Phil 4:2-3), and if Jesus made an error in appearing to women who "announced" (ἀπαγγέλλω) the good news of Christ's resurrection (Luke 24:10). One is also forced to wonder, based on Mounce's interpretation, if there is a place for women in any aspect of church life or academia.

[36] Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, 118.

[37] One is also forced to ask if this list if intended to be an eternal case for us, given that women—perspectivally at that time—were unable to be elders because of their lack of learning. Thus, the questions are not answered and we are left wondering if the presupposition of male headship is still in play.

[38] See Payne, Man and Woman, 445-449.

[39] Paul's imperative of v.11 demands that any eternal prohibition of women exercising what they are told to learn be immediately suspect; hence, he cannot be logically consistent in demanding that the women actively exercise their cognitive virtue in learning proper church doctrine and then eternal prohibit them from the implications of their doing so.

[40] Paul's application of this noun to himself in Acts 26:25 removes the possibility that women were mentally deficient, unless one is will to place Paul himself in such a category.

[41] While I am not entirely sold on the translation "assuming authority over" (c.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 361-399), the negative connotations of the word αὐθεντέω are to be taken with the utmost seriousness. For instance, why would Paul prohibit a positive exercise of learned teaching? It seems quite clear that one only prohibits a person from doing something if that person believes it to be a negative event. Hence, the issue of "controlling" a husband seems more preferable as a contextual gloss, but the matter is difficult to settle—but the point is clear: control over another person is antithetical to the Gospel, and that is what Paul appears to be prohibiting.

The "Headship" of the Apocalyptic Son: Exploring Paul's use of κεφαλή in Col 2:8-23


"It is widely understood by linguists, lexicographers, and philosophers that words do not have one and only one meaning; they have several meanings, some of them quite distinct. Words have a variety of denotations (things they represent) as well as connotations (implied or associated meanings)."[1] This is demonstrably true given the vast ocean of literature surrounding the Greek word κεφαλή, especially as it relates to the evangelical debate about women's ordination. I will argue that Paul's primary emphasis in his use of the term κεφαλή is best understood in terms of "source" or "originating power." In order to illustrate this point, I will survey Paul's "prepositional" Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 as an interpretive lynchpin for the rest of the passage, as it is directly related to Paul's discourse in 2:8-23. Then, once this has all been established, I will build upon this foundation by exploring Paul's use of the noun κεφαλή within Col 2:8-23.[2]

1. Paul's Prepositional Christology: A Brief Analysis of Col 1:13-20

Col 1:15-20 is considered the highlight of Paul's epistle, especially as it relates to any analysis of Paul's prepositional Christology. Chief among my analysis is Paul's use of the preposition ἐν[3] ("in, on, among")[4] throughout Colossians 1:13-20. Paul's use of the preposition often corresponds to a spatial or participatory element: brothers and sisters are ἐν Χριστῷ (1:2), that is, within the sphere or locale of Christ, who represents a positional nexus in a way similar to those who live within a city (c.f. ἐν Κολοσσαῖς 1:2a). Similar to this is Christ being described as the 'object' of faith (ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ: 1:4), where it is the realm of Christ that is emphasized.[5] However, in 1:14 we have a potential shift of usage (ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν), where the preposition does not emphasize the locality of Christ, but the activity of God in Christ. The verb ἔχομεν[6] (1:14) speaks of something achieved or gained in terms of active agency, as God is the one who "liberates"[7] (1:13a) us from bondage and transfers us into Christ's Kingdom.

This does not exclude the locative nature of Christ, but liberation is enacted by the action of God in Christ, so there is potentially a dual meaning at play in Paul's rhetoric here.[8] Redemption, whether from Egypt or Rome is a God-in-Christ act. As Porter has already noted, "temporal location can and often does imply the idea of accompaniment, control, agency, cause and even means (price)."[9]

Crucial to a notion of Christ's self-agency is how one understands the preposition ἐν in 1.16; whatever conclusions one derives from this verse will have an impact on one's exegetical conceptualization of how Paul uses κεφαλή in 2:10 and 2:19. The text reads as follows: First, I will survey Paul's "prepositional" Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 as an interpretive lynchpin for the rest of the passage, as it is directly related to Paul's discourse in 2:8-23. Then, once this has all been established, I will build upon this foundation by exploring Paul's use of the term κεφαλή within Col 2:8-23

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι[10]· τὰ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται·

"For by him all things were created in the heavens and on the earth, seen and unseen, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or sovereignties: all things have been created through him and for him" (AT).

Paul uses the preposition ἐν twice in this verse, with one clear case of it being used in a spatial manner, i.e. "in" or "among the heavens" (ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς) and "over" (ἐπὶ) the "earth." That much is clear. However, whether ἐν αὐτῷ is exclusively instrumental or locative is debated. The reticence of the instrumentality argument concerns Paul's concluding use of διά, which could be seen as redundant,[11] and for some the "locative…is preferable."[12] Two points may be said in response to this. First, in the dominant usage of Paul's "in Christ" language, the Son is seen as the direct object of the person's faith/fullness (c.f. 1:2 and elsewhere);[13] however, in 1:16a, there is no such referent. Christ is πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως (1:15b), the "firstborn." God is not the one who is active; rather it is Christ in 1:15b, suggesting a continual agency on the part of Christ, and cannot be limited to locality—without the action of the preexistent Son, creation is not created (δι᾽ αὐτοῦ: 1:16b). Agency is required for creation, a point that is bookended in 1:16b. Robert Wilson, following Peake, concurs: "it is probably safest to say that the act of creation depended causally on the Son."[14]

Thus, it seems best to see Christ as the Son who "creates" whatever is in heaven and on the earth: this would include thrones, dominions, rulers, and sovereignties—human and demonic.[15] Christ—as King, Creator, and Lord[16]—is best seen in 1:16 as a principal actor on the stage of creation, and this includes his role in creating the Powers and his own locative presence as being directly involved in God's plan. Christ, therefore, is the locative agent by which the Powers come into being as "created" beings.[17] The question now turns to the relationship between Christ, the Powers and the Church in 2:8-23 and how we are to interpret Paul's language of "headship."

2a. Lexical Perspectives on Kephalē

Despite the fact that a majority of the evangelical gender debate has centered on what has been called the "battle of the lexicons,"[18] one can quickly notice that all of the major English lexicons offer the primary gloss in terms of physiology and not primarily on authority relationships. For instance:

BDAG 3675:

head – a. as anatomical term Mt 5:36; 10:30; 27:39; Mk 6:24f, 27f; Lk 7:38; J 13:9; Ac 21:24; Ro 12:20; 1 Cor 11:4f; 12:21; Rv 1:14 and oft. in Rv. – b. in transf. sense of a, as architectural extremity Mt 21:42 and par. – c. in transf. sense of a, as directing agent within a ranking system 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 1:22; 5:23; Col 1:18. – d. in ref. to political significance Ac 16:12 v.l. 

Friberg 15975:

κεφαλή, ῆς, ἡ head; (1) literally, of a human or animal head (MT 6.17); (2) figuratively; (a) metaphorically, of Christ as the head of which the church is the body (EP 1.22); (b) of persons, designating first or superior rank[19] head (1C 11.3); (c) of things uppermost part, extremity, end point; of buildings keystone, capstone (MT 21.42); (d) leading city, capital (AC 16.12)

Liddel-Scott-Jones 24124 Abridged:

the head of man or beast, Hom., etc.; κατὰ κεφαλῆς, Ep. κὰκ κεφαλῆς, over the head, Id.; κὰκκεφαλήν on the head, Il.:- ἐς πόδας ἐκ κεφαλῆς from head to foot, Ib.:- ἐπὶ κεφαλήν head foremost, head downwards, headlong, Hdt., Plat., etc.

2. the head, put for the whole person, Hom.; ἶσον ἐμῇ κεφαλῇ like myself, Il.; φίλη κ., Lat. carum caput, Ib.: in bad sense, ὦ κακαὶ κεφαλαί Hdt.; ὦ μιαρὰ κ. Ar.

3. the head, i.e. the life, παρθέμενοι κεφαλάς setting their heads on the cast, Od.:-in imprecations, ἐς κεφαλὴν τρέποιτ᾽ ἐμοί on my head be it! Ar., etc.

II. generally, κ. σκορόδου a head of garlic, Id.: the top or brim of a vessel, Theocr.: the coping of a wall, Xen.:-in pl. the head or source of a river, Hdt.

III. metaph., like κεφάλαιον, the crown, completion of a thing, Plat.

Louw-Nida 8.10:

κεφαλή, ῆς f - 'head.' θέλω ἵνα ἐξαυτῆς δῳσ μοι ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ 'I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist on a plate' Mk 6.25. In some languages it may be necessary to distinguish clearly between the head which is still a part of a body and a severed head. It is this latter meaning which is obviously involved in Mk 6.25 .In rendering 1 Cor 11.4, πᾶς ἀνὴρ προσευχόμενος ἢ προφητεύων κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων 'any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered,' it may be important to indicate that the covering is not one which is designed to cover the entire head including the face, but only the top of the head. The same applies, of course, to 1 Cor 11.5 and 7.

In each instance, the lexicon is prone to interpreting the various occurrences of κεφαλή, with little justification as to the various interpretive placements. While one cannot dismiss glosses out of hand, a proper methodology ought to focus on the individual occurrences within a specific corpus before turning to the various lexicons.[20] Lexicons are summaries of data that cannot replace commentaries or monographs on specific subjects.[21] Context decides the meaning of a particular lexeme, and now we turn to that specific and vexatious word: κεφαλή.

2b. Kephalē and the Necessity of Contextual Distinctives in Paul

The Greek word κεφαλή occurs 67 times in the New Testament, with a majority of occurrences coming in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (37 times)[22] and the Book of Revelation (16 times).[23] Paul uses the noun a mere 13 times in his surviving epistles.  Some of these instances clearly fall under the physiological category[24] (c.f. Rom 12:20: τοῦτο γὰρ ποιῶν ἄνθρακας πυρὸς σωρεύσεις ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ)[25] with no specific denotation or connotation of 'authority' or 'source.' It must be said that there are at least two separate categories for "head" in Paul when he uses the term in a metaphorical or mixed (metaphor and literal) manner. One category concerns conduct within the ekklesia (Rom 12:20; 1 Cor 11:2-16, 12:21; Col 2:19; Eph 4:15-16, 5:23), and the other category concerns Christ's relationship with the Powers (Eph 1:22; Col 2:10). While there is some blurring between these categories given the household nature of the ancient church,[26] interpreters ought to exercise caution in assuming and consequently conflating the two categories together. Christ's relationship to the Church is different than his relationship to the various Sovereignties—one is reconciled to God, the other is ultimately destroyed (1 Cor 15:24-28)

2c. Kephalē and the Discourse of Col 2:8-23

The epistolary context of Col 2:8-23 shows a great deal of continued linguistic correspondence with Col 1:15-20. What defines κεφαλὴ in the pericope that follows is determined by authorial application and by the epistolary context of Colossians, and not by a narrow lexical category.[27]

Col 2:10

The use of ἐν αὐτῷ occurs significantly in both chapters (1:14, 16, 17, 19; 2:9, 10) in Paul's Christology of creation, where Christ's actions as creator are stressed, and 1:15, 18 and 2:10a have similar syntax:

1:15: ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ

1:18: αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ

2:10b: ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ[28]

The correspondence language between the Christ-Hymn, Christ's role as Creator, and Paul's language of the Powers in 2:10 strongly suggests a thematic and linguistic relationship.[29]

καὶ ἐστὲ ἐν αὐτῷ πεπληρωμένοι, ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας: ("and you have been filled in/by him, who is the head of all rule and authority"). For Wayne Grudem, this verse "emphasizes that Christ is the authority over[30] not only the church, but over all rulers and authorities, over all powers in the universe."[31] To be the "head" is to be in authority over the powers. Cervin argues

The notion of authority may be present [in Col 2:10], but so are prominence and preeminence. Again, the question is which notion, if any, is primary? It is unlikely that "source" is applicable in this context because that would make Christ the source of "every ruler and authority" and that does not make much sense in this context.[32]

Proponents of κεφαλή as meaning generally "source" like Philip Payne suggest, "the meaning 'top or crown' fits" Col 2:10 better than 'source.'"[33] However, both Grudem, Cervin and Payne miss a crucial element: Paul specifically speaks of Christ being the "creator" (ἐκτίσθη; ἔκτισται) in Col 1:16 and Paul specifically includes the various Sovereignties and Empires as created entities:[34] indeed, 1:16a begins with the aorist ἐκτίσθη and bookends with v.16b with the perfect ἔκτισται, showing that Christ bookends the creation of the totality of the hostile powers (τὰ πάντα …εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι… τὰ πάντα), who are subsequently reconciled to God (vv.19-20).[35] "Source," seen as the preexistent Son's power to create even the hostile Powers that have enslaved humanity (1:13), shows his own preeminence over them as a subsidiary—not primary—meaning.[36]

The primary connotation for this lexeme, therefore, not "authority" or "top/crown," but "source" or "origination" in terms of Christ being the agent of creation. Christ, as Creator, is preeminent over the Sovereignties by nature of being their Creator. However, Joseph Fitzmyer claims, "those who have claimed than[37] "source" is the meaning intended by Paul have offered no other argument than their claim that kephalē would not have meant "ruler, leader, one having authority over" in Paul's day."[38] As one can see, Fitzmyer is simply mistaken: I have offered contextual and theological reasons for seeing Paul's intended use in terms of "originator" or "source" without once appealing to the paucity of evidence that kephalē might mean "authority over"[39]—it certainly might.[40] Given Christ's role as "creator" in 1:16 in relation to the Sovereignties, the best understanding of 2:10 should be seen primarily in terms of "source" or "origination" and not in terms of "rulership."[41]

Col 2:18-19

καὶ οὐ κρατῶν τὴν κεφαλήν, ἐξ οὗ πᾶν τὸ σῶμα διὰ τῶν ἁφῶν καὶ συνδέσμων ἐπιχορηγούμενον καὶ συμβιβαζόμενον αὔξει τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ θεοῦ: "and not holding onto the head, from which the entire body—through the ligaments and sinews being supplied and instructed together—grows in the growth of God." Wayne Grudem asserts: "the idea of allegiance to Christ instead of to angels makes the mention of Christ as “authority over” the church an appropriate one in this context. Especially when we realize that the image of head involves not just authority but leadership, direction, guidance, and control, then the following idea of the whole body being knit together and growing together is appropriate."[42] However, this interpretation is most unlikely for two reasons. First, the preposition ἐξ, which is used in both a locative and instrumental sense, suggests "source" or "movement" from τὴν κεφαλήν to the rest of the body.[43] The life of the body and the production of its faculties are derived exclusively from its head—Christ. Hence, Christ is the cause of the Body in the first place (c.f. 1:17-18), so we have a 'head-body' image here. Second, the somatic imagery used in Col 1:6 and 1:10[44] forces us to prefer the organic nature of τὴν κεφαλήν instead of the "ruling" component.[45] Given the explicit language of growth and somatic imagery at play, we have the additional language of avoiding the cosmic elements of bodily abuse (2:20-23), where Christ is not present.

Grudem writes, "whether the idea of “nourishing” carries an image of food that is transported through the mouth (a part of the head) to the rest of the body is not made clear here."[46] It is worth noting, however, that Paul does speak about the Colossian church "eating" and "drinking" in 2:16 and 2:21, where the church is not to worry about being judged for their feasting habits.[47] In summation of this point, the intra-participatory nature of Paul's somatic image is fully in line with his thought elsewhere (1 Cor 12:12-27) and suggests a united harmony between Christ and his Body; the focus in Col 2:19 is not on the authority relationship between Christ and the Body in any explicit manner, despite Grudem's claims.[48] Rather, Paul's focus is on Christ as the preeminent creator and sustainer of our lives, the one who takes a hold of our very lives (3:3), so that we in the Son who will be apocalyptically manifested (3:4), the only hope of our future glory (1:27).


Paul's prepositional Christology is both locative and instrumental, revealing a complex and intricate relationship between God and the Powers. In our study, we have seen that—in Colossians—Christ is the agent of creation, the preexistent creator who has been manifested in glory for us. As a consequence, Christ's active and locative relationship with the Sovereignties reveals two facets of the Christian life. First, Christ is preeminent over creation for the benefit of the church, as our protector; in stripping the Sovereignties of their power, God in Christ has triumphed over all evil and death, nailing such tyrants to the cross. Second, Christ's relationship to his Body—the Church—is one of generosity, where God-in-Christ relates to us not as a sovereign, but as a beloved father (Col 1:2). As the source of our existence, and as the sustainer and holder of our lives, where a new humanity can grow, thrive and flourish in the Kingdom of God's beloved Son (Col 3:10-11).


[1] Richard S. Cervin, "On the Significance of Kephalē ("Head"): A Study of the Abuse of One Greek Word," Priscilla Papers 30.2 (2016): 8-20, 8.

[2] Since the noun under question does not occur in the Colossian Haustafel, my arguments are independent of the debate concerning the ordination of women—although it must be said that I am in support of the ordination of women. For the various understandings of κεφαλὴ in the literature, perhaps representative is Anthony Thisleton's First Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 812-822 ["preeminence"]. Other helpful—and diverse—works include Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 117-137 ["source"]; Joseph Fitzmyer, "Kephalē in I Corinthians 11:3," Interpretation 47 (1993): 52-59 [mixed, leans toward "authority" or "ruler"]; Fred D. Layman, "Male Headship in Paul's Thought," Wesleyan Theological Journal 15.1 (1980): 46-76 [broadly "source"]; Wayne Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples," Trinity Journal 6.1 (1985): 38-59 ["authority over" or "ruler"] and Andrew Perriman, "The Head of a Woman: The Meaning of κεφαλὴ in 1 Cor. 11:3," Journal of Theological Studies 45.2 (1994): 602-622 ["preeminent"]. For a major survey of the literature until 2008, see Alan F. Johnson, "A Review of the Scholarly Debate on the Meaning of "Head" (κεφαλὴ) in Paul's Writings," Ashland Theological Journal (2009): 35-57, who leans toward "preeminence."

[3] BDAG 2196 states: "generally functioning as marker of position within, but used to govern numerous other categories, such as means, agency, cause, and associated aspects." Stanley E. Porter notes the following concerning agency and ἐν: "the label 'instrumental' is given to a range of metaphorical extensions of the locative sense of ἐν. Temporal location can and often does imply the idea of accompaniment, control, agency, cause and even means (price)." See Idioms of the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.: Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 158. If am I understanding Porter correctly, the notion of realm/locality is not to be entirely removed from the actions of a particular agent.

[4] While there is a textual variant concerning Κολοσσαῖς, the earliest disruptive witness is Codex Claromontanus in the 6th century; Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Vaticanus support the standard reading.

[5] Murray J. Harris, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 16, believes this phrase refers to the "realm" of the faith exercised by the Colossians.

[6] The present tense-form ἔχω most likely refers to an achieved and enduring consequence of a previous act: the liberation and transference of a people from one state to another in v.13.

[7] Liberation is from slavery and bondage (Ex 6:6 LXX: καὶ ῥύσομαι ὑμᾶς ἐκ τῆς δουλείας καὶ λυτρώσομαι ὑμᾶς ἐν βραχίονι ὑψηλῷ καὶ κρίσει μεγάλῃ), a people group leaving an oppressive empire for the Kingdom of God. This is where my final paper for MMT at Fuller is centered.

[8] The dual activity of God and Christ here (God liberates, and Christ gives us ἀπολύτρωσιν or "redemption") suggests a high view of Christ's work and appears to assume a form of preexistence—a view that is largely evident in the Christ-Hymn to come.

[9] Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 158.

[10] A very late scribe interpolated εἴτε δυνάμεις after εἴτε ἐξουσίαι. The sole evidence for this reading comes from 14th c., "a paper ms. of Acts, General Epistles and 1 Peter-Hebrews, located at St. Catherine’s Monastery, classified as an Aland category II text." Per Bibleworks Apparatus. The significance of this variant is that a scribe sought to include a universal element of the various powers and sovereignties in the cosmos, and the lack of δυνάμεις by Paul was intended to expand upon Paul's cosmological statement.

[11] James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 91 n.20. This seems to downplay the nuances of both prepositions. See Porter, Idioms, 156-159 and 148-151 for a discussion on the differences.

[12] Harris, Colossians & Philemon, 44.

[13] C.f. 2 Cor 5:17: ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις: "if anyone is in Christ, new creation." This verse and grammatical sequence suggest a clear locative element to the "in Christ" motif, in a way that is distinct from Paul's own language in Col 1:16a.

[14] Robert McL. Wilson, Colossians and Philemon (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 137-138.

[15] Marva J. Dawn, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), esp. ch1.

[16]  There are numerous terms and images used by Paul to describe the Cosmic Christ. The inference of 1:13 is that Jesus is God's Son and the present King over the kingdom of God (τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ); Christ is "Lord" (κύριος: 1:3, 10; 2:6; 3:13, 17-4:1, 7, 17), and Messiah (Χριστός). Jesus is also described as "the hope of glory" (ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης: 1:27b), and as "creator" (v.16; ἐκτίσθη, ἔκτισται) and "beginning" (ἀρχή:v.18), which stresses his creative causal power. Christ is also called the "head" (κεφαλὴ) of his own "body" defined epexegetically as the "church" (τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας), twice in relation to his own σῶμα (1:18; 2:19). Finally, but not exhaustively, Christ is "revealed" or "made manifest" to us (ἐφανερώθη: 1:26; 3:4; 4:4) as God's final bodily incarnational manifestation.

[17] The middle ἐκτίσθη probably stresses the actual creation of the universe, which suggests both locality and agency on the part of the preexistent Son.

[18] A phrase coined by Christianity Today, January 16, 1987. Cited by John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (4th ed: Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 357 n.45.

[19] Friberg's conflation of "first" and "superior" in relation is unhelpful, as both terms convey distinct meanings. For instance, one could say, "I hit my head first and then I fell down." A notion of "superiority" is absent from the context, and so Friberg's non-descript gloss is unhelpful for those who rely solely on lexicons to determine theology. It is also worth noting that "first" is not the same as "superior." Temporality does not equate to a value judgment, which Friberg seems to infer.

[20] For instance, Friberg's gloss "as directing agent within a ranking system" is misleading, as arguably several of the occurrences are within a political context (c.f. Eph 1:22 and the "Powers").

[21] A lexeme also does not necessarily derive a meaning simply from its philology either: rather, context is the decisive factor in determining a preferential gloss over and against others.

[22] Matt 5:36; 6:17; 8:20; 10:30; 14:8, 11: 21:42; 26:7; 27:29; 27:30, 37, 39. Mark 6:24-28; 12:10; 14:3; 15:19, 29. Luke 7:38, 46; 9:58; 12:7; 20:17; 21:18, 28. John 13:9; 19:2, 30; 20:7, 12. Acts 4:11; 18:6, 18; 21:24; 27:34. See also the language of Jesus in reference to the "cornerstone" (Matt 21:42 par Mark 12:10/ Luke 20:17 and Acts 4:11)

[23] Rev 1:14; 4:4; 9:7, 17, 19; 10:1; 12:1, 3; 13:1, 3; 14:14; 17:3, 7, 9; 18:19; 19:12. We see a mix of apocalyptic metaphorical imagery here, but no specific instance of a person being directly referred to as "authority" or "ruler."

[24] As Cervin states rather dryly: "What then does kephalē mean? The answer is easy: the literal head." "On the Significance," 18.

[25] Paul's direct citation of Prov 25:22 LXX reveals that this lexeme is not concerned with 'head' as a metaphor, but rather in a physiological sense. See also 1 Cor 12:21: ἢ πάλιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῖς ποσίν: Χρείαν ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔχω, where the function of the lexeme is for the physiological aspect to be given primacy as it relates to the various parts of the "body" are interdependent.

[26] C.f. Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald with Janet H. Tulloch, A Woman's Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006) and Lynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009).

[27] This is not to say that Plutarch or Philo is irrelevant to this conversation; rather it is to say Paul is permitted to use an admittedly polysemous word in any way he wants to.

[28] Specifically 1:15 and 2:10b: relative pronoun + εἰμί + object in the nominative.

[29] C.f. also the close relationship between "fullness" (πλήρωμα; πληρόω) in 1:19 and 2:9-10.

[30] Paul does not include a spatial preposition like ὑπέρ here, so the addition of "over" in Grudem's gloss is misleading. Paul's only specific uses of a spatial preposition in reference to κεφαλή is in 1 Cor 11:10 (διὰ τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς), which refers to a woman's authority to prophesy and not to her subordination (c.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 181-187; Westfall, Paul and Gender, 35-36), and in Eph 1:22, where Christ is exalted "over" the Powers for the sake of the church (καὶ αὐτὸν ἔδωκεν κεφαλὴν ὑπὲρ πάντα τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ: taking the dative in terms of benefit: τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ as "to the church"). Harris makes the same mistake as Grudem. Murray J. Harris, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 100.

[31] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?," 57. It is worth noting that while Grudem emphatically states his thoughts on this verse, he does not provide any specific reason as to why we must favor his gloss within this specific verse—what may be obvious to him is not immediately obvious to other interpreters. In light of Christ's role as creator, it seems unlikely that "ruler" is a lexeme of primacy.

[32] Cervin, "On the Significance," 18.

[33] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 128 n.72.

[34] A point also noted by Marianne Meye Thompson, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 54.

[35] Paul's similar use of bookended prepositional phrases confirms that Christ is the active agent of creation: "by him" (ἐν αὐτῷ) and "through him" (δι᾽ αὐτοῦ). Paul's theology of Christ and creation, it seems, is prepositional rather than propositional. See James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 91.

[36] This brings up a lingering question that Paul does not answer: if Christ is the creator of the Powers, what does this say about theodicy and instances of severe evil in our world that are beyond our control?

[37] This is how they original spelled the word.

[38] Fitzmyer, "Kephalē in I Corinthians 11:3," 59.

[39] Indeed, I have never asserted anything that would lead a proponent of the "authority" reading to think otherwise, nor have I seen any such scholar do so. Fitzmyer does not offer a footnote to elucidate his claim, so one is left wondering exactly who Fitzmyer has in mind.

[40] C.f. perhaps Ephesians 5:22-24, but even within the concept of marital hierarchy, one seems mutual submission in v.21 as a guiding light that illuminates the rest of the passage. C.f. Cynthia Long Westfall, "This is a Great Metaphor!" Reciprocity in the Ephesians Household Code," in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Context for the New Testament, ed. Stanley E. Porter and Andrew Pitts (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 561-598.

[41] Even if one wanted to see some sort of preeminence or prominence (per Perriman and Cervin), and I admit this is possible, 'rulership' is a highly limited word to understand Paul's contextual uses of the noun under dispute.

[42] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?" 58.

[43] Porter, Idioms, 154-156. Specifically, "if something is the origin or source of something, it may often be possible to say that it is the instrument, cause or agent by which something comes about." 155.

[44] καρποφορούμενον καὶ αὐξανόμενον, 1:6; καρποφοροῦντες καὶ αὐξανόμενοι, 1:10.

[45] For instance, Col 1:10 speaks of us "walking/living in a manner worthy of God" (περιπατῆσαι ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου), showing a relationship where God in Christ is the source of our ethical lives, and we grow through the work of God in Christ.

[46] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?" 58.

[47] Dunn, Colossians and Philemon, 173.

[48] The language of subordination or hierarchy is not immediately present in the relationship between Christ and the Body, so Grudem has assumed a narrow lexical range without sufficient justification. There is also a forced and selective hermeneutic at play here: Grudem accepts that Paul was not a patriarchalist—as was the standard in the ancient world, so even in Grudem's complementarian schema, Paul has changed the nature of marital hierarchy to where the headship of the husband "must be exercised in love, in gentleness, and with consideration for one's wife above one's self." P.57. This is an arbitrary hermeneutic that gives preference to an area where Paul developed his thought above the ancient world, but refuses to allow Paul to nuance his own lexical framework.

Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender, and Salvation

“But she will be saved (σωθήσεται) by the childbirth (τς τεκνογονίαςτς) [of Christ Jesus], if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. The saying is trustworthy.” --1 Timothy 2:15-3:1a


Soon I will be giving two presentations based on a longer 35-page paper titled Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender, and Salvation where I will argue that Eve may be viewed as a type of Christ (similar to how Adam is a type in Rom 5 & 1 Cor 15) in 1 Timothy 2:13-3:1a. The conferences I will be participating in are: The Duke Graduate Conference in Theology (September 29-30, 2017) and The Interdisciplinary Theology Conference (October 20-21, 2017) arranged by CATA--like ETS--but better. :)

Below is a taste of my upcoming presentations. Enjoy~

Scholarly interaction with the position of Eve in relation to Christology has tended to relegate Eve to an absent, subordinate or implicit position from the standpoint of the typological significance of Adam.[1] For example, Benjamin Dunning describes Paul’s typology as one that tethers together two men, Adam to Christ.[2] The result is a question framed with the assumption of the presence of only a particularly male representation of salvation with an inadvertent question mark when it comes to where a female body fits in the scheme of salvation.[3] That is, the discussion is approached from the standpoint of the assumed presence of Adam and the “problem” of Eve’s placement as a representation of humanity as whole.[4] It is my contention that the difficulty of whether a male Christ can represent humanity is an artificial difficulty conceived with a lens that from the start erases “Eve” (i.e. women)[5] and then either mourns or celebrates her absence.

            It is time to approach Christology and gender from a fresh perspective yet without ignoring the historical exclusion of women on the basis of biblical, primarily Pauline, texts. For this reason, I will be delving into the discussion of how Eve figures Christologically, and may subsequently transfigure our notions of the embodiment of salvation. The question of where “Eve” figures in the theological world both reflects the inner world of worship and has the power to transfigure how one relates to the world as a whole. I will be arguing that far from her being absent—or merely present as an absence—Eve is a type[6] of Christ whose existence serves to undermine the prevailing notion of male domination in the Christological representation of embodied humanity. I will accomplish my thesis by first offering a change in lenses from an emphasis on both historical reconstruction and patriarchy as the frame for understanding Eve’s place in salvation, to the utilization of varied gendered language in the Pauline text to exemplify embodied faith, and how this undermines various gender hierarchies that may be perceived. This thesis will also involve considering the “correspondence” language of the Genesis text, to which Paul appeals, and how early Christian writers used gender language to describe the struggle of faith, embodied existence and future hope. The point here is to provide a plausibility lens or starting point from which to be able to conceive of an Eve Christology and open the doors to re-imagine the place of Eve in our theological world.

Second, I will attempt to launch a uniquely Eve Christology. Far from being absent or implicit, it will be argued that 1 Timothy 2:13-3:1a with 2 Corinthians 11:3 offer Eve as a type to Christ (comparable to Adam-Christ typology) and representation of humanity. I will work out how the text understands Christ as a representative of humanity and lastly, briefly wrestle with whether Christ ‘as male’ reinforces gendered power structures or serves to diffuse them. Does the idea that a woman is merely a deformed man who must “become male” to enter into salvation best capture the figures of Adam and Christ presented by these Pauline writings? 

Switching Lenses

How one approaches and/or experiences the larger question of gender in the Christian world will shape what is noticed or goes unnoticed in the Pauline corpus. Does one approach Paul with “a distinctly ancient logic of sexual difference, one that conceptualizes this difference, not in terms of an ontological and incommensurable binary, but rather on a single sliding scale, oriented towards maleness and deeply rooted in variables of status?”[7] Or, does one approach the question of gender and representation from the vantage point of only or primarily passages considered exclusionary making them universally applicable only to women? Does the mention of Adam as a type of Christ in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 suddenly indicate a logical universal such as only Adam or only a men can represent humanity?

It is not my desire to contend there is never the assumption of male priority in the background of the Pauline texts or to argue that everything fits neatly or perfectly into a modern feminist scheme. However, I would like to offer the following interpretive possibility: There exists a unity in diversity in Christ that relativizes power structures which allow for men, in a metaphorical sense, to become women in the context of these structures and women to become men in relation to gendered power structures. This lens which will be used as a starting point for approaching the position of Eve in relation to Christ comes out of the following brief points: 1) gender correspondence language in Genesis, 2) a sampling of Paul’s use of feminine and masculine language in regards to himself and spiritual growth of believer toward their telos in Christ, and 3) how some early Christians used gendered language to describe themselves in relation to Christ.

...the rest will be available at the two upcoming conferences! :)

[1]C.f. Benjamin H. Dunning, Specters of Paul: Sexual Difference in Early Christian Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosopher's Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

[2] Benjamin H. Dunning, "Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosopher’s Paul," n.p. [cited June 8, 2017]. Harvard Divinity School. Online: https://hds.harvard.edu/news/2014/10/16/video-christ-without-adam. October 16, 2014: 10-minute mark.

[3] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (Cross Roads: New York, 1983).

[4] C.f. the influence of Mary Daly: "Exclusively masculine symbolism for God, for the notion of divine 'incarnation' in human nature, and for the human relationship to God reinforces sexual hierarchy" in Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (Boston: Deacon Press, 1973), 4. 

[5] From henceforth I will be using Eve as shorthand for women in general in the spirit of her typological significance. Gradually, I will expand this type to encompass humanity in general.

[6]In this article I will be using type in a comparative sense. For example, Eve from the Genesis narrative can be a type of Christ as a representative but not directly in terms of imitation. However, as we will see, Eve can also function as an antitype in the sense that as a representative of women in particular and humanity in general “she” can fulfill her vocation of being formed in the image of Christ connected to the divine telos of humanity. I believe this future looking sense is present in Eve being “pregnant” with the Christ child in 1 Timothy 2:15.

[7] Dunning, Christ without Adam, 18. C.f. Gaventa, Our Mother Saint Paul, loc 654.

Sex, Sin, and Inheritance in Paul: Personal Reflections

Initially, I was going to limit this blog post exclusively to the New Testament. But, at the risk of sounding like a one-string banjo, I decided to include only Paul. Sorry to those who really want my thoughts on Hebrews!

Onward and onward.

In the Modern world, sex can largely be described as a type of currency, or even as a type of reality. Pornography is rampant and one needn't search too hard to find it. Personally, having struggled with that for most of my life (including now), it is never hard to find. So sex and sin are often linked together. Of course, this does not begin to describe the New Testament's positive view of sex (c.f. 1 Cor 7:1-16), but it does suggest that a good and holy thing can be corrupted and marred by external influences and forces. Just a note.

So, in Paul (I have to start with my boy Paul!) we have the Greek word πόρνος (pornos). This word is largely defined and understood to concern sexual sinners, regardless of gender or age. One could say this noun describes a "sexually immoral person."

We do not have this word used as often in the New Testament as we would think, but it does occur in some interesting contexts. A large concentration of the noun occurs in 1 Corinthians 5-6 where Paul is discussing the issue of the man who is "having" (ἔχειν) his father's wife. This sort of sexual sin (πορνεία) is not even known amongst the Gentiles (5:1), which suggests that this sort of sexual deviancy was being applauded by the Corinthian church and was particularly debaucherous. Richard Hays states that, "here in 1 Corinthians 5…Paul simply assumes the reality of corporate responsibility."[1] In other words, everyone in the fledgling Corinthian church is responsible for this man's sin.

Continuing on in 1 Corinthians 6:9 (the train of thought is not broken from the sexual issues in 1 Corinthians 5), Paul speaks of the following people "not inheriting" (οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν: negated future verb) the "Kingdom of God." The list itself is disputed regarding exactly the 'types' of people therein, but suffice to say, sexual sin as a rampant aspect of the early church and the broader first century society makes this sort of language quite appropriate today. The language includes an element of exploitation in 1 Corinthians 5, as the woman likely did not have authority over her own body – an aspect Paul quickly remedies in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 (ἡ γυνὴ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει ἀλλὰ ὁ ἀνήρ· ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ ἀνὴρ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει ἀλλὰ ἡ γυνή—neither spouse has a claim of supremacy over the flesh and mind of the other). This sort of radical egalitarianism includes the negation of sexual privilege and of rape and of a husband demanding or "having" the body of his wife. Rather, Paul's vision of marital egalitarianism shines through despite the sexual sin in Corinth.

Paul's other use of "inheritance" language is in Ephesians 5:4-5. Personally, I am now persuaded that Paul wrote Ephesians so I shall carry on as if there is not debate about this subject (there is). The text reads as follows:

5:5 – τοῦτο γὰρ ἴστε γινώσκοντες ὅτι πᾶς πόρνος ἢ ἀκάθαρτος ἢ πλεονέκτης, ὅ ἐστιν εἰδωλολάτρης, οὐκ ἔχει κληρονομίαν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ

My translation –  "for I want you to be aware of this, that every sexually immoral person, [every] unclean person, [every] greedy person,[2] who is an idolater: he or she does not possess an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."

An issue of fascination for me is the genitive use of τοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ. It seems that, if one adopts a Granville Sharp's rule, then Paul is rather explicit in calling Jesus 'God' here. But, that aside, the ethical issues remain. In Ephesians, sexual sin is not particularly highlighted, although inheritance is (c.f. Eph 1:14, 18). In both instances, it most likely refers to the present down payment of God's gift of Christ to the "saints." So the language is not quite about soteriology, but it concerns the inclusion of the people of God as the transitory nature of "liberation" (ἀπολύτρωσιν: 1:14) implies. That is, God has a storehouse of wealth for his people that he desires to bestow upon them, and to live in a righteous manner means that one is and will continue to be a recipient of such a gift.

Paul's final word on this subject occurs in the Pastoral Epistles, where πόρνοις in the plural occurs alongside "slave-traders" and other vices. In other words, acting in a sexually immoral manner puts one on the same category as a slave-trader and as a person who exploits others. If one wants to consider a modern example, the slave trade and human trafficking provide a particularly vivid example of how we exploit and pervert one another. A vice list is not intended to be exhausted, but illustrative of the intricate power of exploitation that occurs when people have forsaken God and one another.

In short, Paul's condemnation of sexual immorality does not prioritize the individual, but also the victim. His stark rebuttal of sexual exploitation in Cor 7:1-16 is a strong condemnation of sexual exploitation and rape between spouses, and forces us to consider the implications of sexual sin in our own lives.

So I will go first.

Beginning when I was around 6 or 7, I had my first experience with pornography as a neighbor's house. My parents were unaware and I was quite good and hiding this sort of sin. It was not until I was 22(ish) and met a really pretty and intelligent woman who I would later marry did I actually stop and consider my sexual sin. Until that point, it had become a daily if not hourly event.

It still haunts me to this day, and affects how I interact with women. I still struggle daily and will likely struggle for the rest of my life because of how I chose to act throughout that decade. This sort of unrepentant sin does not affect just me: it affects how I relate to my wife and could cause a lot of problems within my relationship with her. In order to maintain a sense of accountability, I have forced myself to confess each failure to her. Thankfully, she is always forgiving and always encouraging. Personally, I've had to really forsake certain elements of what I have seen and grow up with in order to have a healthy and God-glorifying relationship with her. For the better!

So sexual sin, for those of us who are πόρνοις (myself included), salvation and redemption are never far from our grasp. God has offered his love to all of us and has provided a way out of our sinful desires (c.f. 1 John 2:2). God's love, a love that demands so much, calls us out of exploitation and depravity, and into a world that is not guided by the 'Self,' but by the Spirit.

So, condemn Sin. Condemn it for what it is. Never stop doing so. But never equate the Sin with the Person. A person, once they are made aware like I was, wants nothing to do with Sin and must be reminded daily to forsake his desires and pursue the Cross of Christ.

It will take a lifetime, or perhaps an eternity, but it is worth it. The inheritance of God is a down payment for our failures, our history, and our desires, and nothing short of the gift of God in Christ can help us forsake such sins. God did not come only for those who were perfect, he came for those who are sick (Mark 2:17; parallel Matthew 9:12-13 and Luke 5:31-32).

Pray for me, yourself, and all of us πόρνοις. God has not forsaken us, even when we fall, and we must be firmly gracious to those who do fall. That's the lame thing about the gift of Christ: He is more than being just for you, and for me.

While we were still sinners…


[1] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 82.

[2] The "all" (πᾶς) is implied by the initial use, carrying over to the next personal categories.

The Incorruptible God: Corruption, Mortality and the Triumph of Paul's Eschatology

Only in Paul's epistles do we have the Greek word ἀφθαρσία (aftharsia). Many believe it refers to 'immortality' and has been translated as such in numerous Bible translations. However, there is reason to expand the semantic range of this word to include concepts of "imperishability" or "incorruptibility." I will walk through several of Paul's epistles, and we will see that this word has an eschatological flavor—not because of the word itself per se, but because of how Paul uses the word.

I will translate the following Pauline texts, with some commentary on why I chose to render certain terms in the way I do, and then I will explain the significance of the word in Paul's narrative. Finally, I will attempt a synthesis on why this word is important and what it means for Christians today.

Also, Merry Christmas.

Rom 2:7 τοῖς μὲν καθ᾽ ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν ζητοῦσιν ζωὴν αἰώνιον·

"And those who persevere by good work, seeking glory and honor and incorruptibility, will gain life eternal"

The noun ὑπομονὴν refers to 'perseverance,' especially within certain Pauline contexts. For instance, 2 Thessalonians 1:4 refers to those enduring διωγμοῖς ("persecution") and θλίψεσιν ("oppression"). Paul elsewhere tells the church to "pursue" (δίωκε) good things in 1 Timothy 6:11—among these attributes is ὑπομονήν. The conjunction καὶ linking δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν suggests these attributes are a unit, or at least are meant to be taken as a single concept. Glory and honor are comparable to incorruptibility, and if one seeks after these things, there is "life eternal."

Immortality, while a likely facet of incorruptibility, is too narrow here. Rather, glory and honor suggest a kind of virtue that lacks corruptibility, especially of the human (Gentile) person not identified by the sins of Romans 1:18-32. 

1Cor 15:42 Οὕτως καὶ ἡ ἀνάστασις τῶν νεκρῶν. σπείρεται ἐν φθορᾷ, ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ·

"In this same way also the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption."

Most of the uses of our noun in question occur in the discourse of 1 Corinthians 15.

The verbal linkage is fairly obvious with the contrast: both verbs (singular third person middle) refer to an object via the preposition ἐν ("in," "by," "among"). The contrast is highlighted by the comparative noun φθορᾷ, which in other contexts refers to slavery (Romans 8:21) and general depravity and destructive tendencies (Colossians 2:22). Paul seems to imply that the human person—the body—is born into a world of depravity and subjection by foreign powers (Death and Sin being two sides of that coin: c.f. 15:26), and instead of the person in Christ being raised again into corruption and death, she is raised instead to incorruptibility. Mortality, driven by the kingship of Death, is what is sown naturally according to the known rules of the world.

However, for Paul, to be raised by Christ is to participate in his incorruptible body: where glory and honor and an inability to be subjected to Death's reign.

We will see a further Pauline contrast in 15:50 and 53.

1Cor 15:50, 53, 54 Τοῦτο δέ φημι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομῆσαι οὐ δύναται, οὐδὲ ἡ φθορὰ τὴν ἀφθαρσίαν κληρονομεῖ…δεῖ γὰρ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσασθαι ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσασθαι ἀθανασίαν. ὅταν δὲ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ ⸃ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀθανασίαν, τότε γενήσεται ὁ λόγος ὁ γεγραμμένος· Κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος.

"But this I say, my brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood is unable to inherit the Kingdom of God, not can corruption inherit incorruption…for it is necessary for this corruption to put on incorruptibility and this Mortal to put on immortality, but whenever this corruption should have put on incorruptibility, and this Mortal should have put on incorruptibility, then this word that has been written will come to pass: Death has been devoured in victory."

Whole monographs could be written on this particular section, and I believe it is a concretized exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:26, where Death is utterly annihilated. However, some exposition is needed. The contrastive nature of φθορά and ἀφθαρσία confirms Paul's distinction between a present reality (φθορά) guided by the dictatorship of Death, and Paul's hope in ἀφθαρσία, where Death cannot exercise rule over any Mortal.

Paul uses similar words that are complementary, but they are not synonymous. He uses ἀθανασίαν which does refer to immortality (literally 'not dying'), which displays an affinity with his chosen vocabulary. The corruptible Mortal must be clothed in both incorruptibility and immortality, in order that both concepts may abolish Death. One can be immortal, and still sin, at least in theory. However, to be incorruptible suggests that the future eschatological age is a place where all of those in Christ are in a state of 'not dying' and also in a state of being unable to be corrupted by Sin and Death.

No longer does Death reign, nor will Death have any presence in God's Kingdom. Rather, the mortal person, she is enveloped by Christ in the power of the Spirit, where Death has no sting.

Eph 6:24 ἡ χάρις μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἀγαπώντων τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ.

"Favor be with all of the one's who are loving our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruptibility."

Paul ends his exhortation to the church with battle imagery earlier in chapter 6. Paul, here, is capitalizing on said imagery and exhorting the believers to remain incorruptible. Instead of referring in a blanket sense to immortality, Paul desires that they live a life "loving" God and the Messiah. This is characterized by εἰρήνη ("peace") in 6:23, and suggests that warfare, spiritual or literal, should not characterize the believer's identity: for these things corrupt, but faithfulness to God is incorruptible.

2Ti 1:10 φανερωθεῖσαν δὲ νῦν διὰ τῆς ἐπιφανείας τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ⸃, καταργήσαντος μὲν τὸν θάνατον φωτίσαντος δὲ ζωὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου,

"And made manifest now through the appearance of our Savior Jesus Christ, the one indeed annihilating Death, and having illuminated life and incorruptibility through the Gospel."

The theophany of the Messiah signals something interesting. Life and incorruptibility are connected (same case ending) and suggest, in already similar fashion, that Paul is playing these terms together in a complementary way. To have the life of Christ is to have incorruptibility. Death being utterly annihilated, removed from the cosmos, suggests that now life and incorruptibility may reign. Only once Death has been destroyed can these two things thrive. This suggests a coordinate meaning with 1 Corinthians 15, where Death/Mortality/Corruption are first destroyed, so that Life/Immortality/Incorruptibly may reign supreme in the Kingdom of God and Christ.

Tit 2:7 περὶ πάντα σεαυτὸν παρεχόμενος τύπον καλῶν ἔργων, ἐν τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ ἀφθορίαν, σεμνότητα,

"In all things making yourself a model of good works by teaching, incorruptibility, dignity."

In a short word, this pericope is concerned with how one lives as a minority within a world of oppression. By living in a manner worthy of the name of Christ, one must live by these three nouns (though one is not limited by them). I translate the preposition ἐν as "by" because I think the active agency on the part of the recipients of Titus are enjoined to live a certain way: hence, make yourself a model "by" doing these three things.

Immortality, unlike elsewhere, is not in view in most of Paul's uses of ἀφθαρσία. Rather, the noun in question refers to the conduct and character of one's witness to the world: not being guided by corruption or falsity, but rather through the incorruptibility of Christ.

In short, the term ἀφθαρσία, while it may denote a concept of immortality, is far more concerned with the character of how one lives, and what one inherits. Incorruptibility refers to something given by God eschatologically, it must be sought after (Romans 2:7), and Death and depravity are the chief opponents to this ἀφθαρσία. Death, with its reign of decay and slavery, cannot co-exist with ἀφθαρσία. Only one may win, and one might say, one already has.

Thus, ἀφθαρσία has an ethical component that cannot be ignored or dismissed. Eschatology, at least in Pauline perspective, is about ethics and the life of hope lived for future anticipation.

Merry Christmas again.


What Christmas is all about: Paul, ἀπολύτρωσις and the Grinch

I was baking dark chocolate chip peanut butter cookies (sprinkled with sea salt) and had a thought. Well. I had many thoughts, but the one I wanted to write down and share was this:

What did Paul say about Christmas?

Obviously, this is rather dumb, but roll with me for another paragraph or two.

Paul has been called many things throughout Church history. Thomas Jefferson believed he "corrupted" the doctrines of Jesus. In short, many think Jesus is Cindy Lou Who and Paul is the Grinch, except Paul's heart never grew.

Paul obviously did not have a doctrine of Christmas, nor would he likely be down with American Christmas—not that there is anything wrong with that. Rather, I'm curious about how Paul approached something similar to how we celebrate Christmas. In celebrating the birth of the Messiah of Israel, I harken back to two Pauline texts:

Ephesians 4:30: καὶ μὴ λυπεῖτε τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον τοῦ θεοῦ, ἐν ᾧ ἐσφραγίσθητε εἰς ἡμέραν ἀπολυτρώσεως—"and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you have been sealed for the Day of Liberation."                                                                                 

Galatians 4:4: ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου, ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ, γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον—"but when the fullness of time came, God sent his son, born from a woman, born under the law."

Monographs have been written exploring these two texts, but taken together on the eve of Christmas Eve, they convey a powerful Pauline truth: the day of Liberation (ἀπολύτρωσις), the Day of being set free from Sin and Death has been inaugurated. These powers have been capsized. The birth of Christ codifies the hope of liberation, and Christmas is one small part of that. That is worth remembering.

Paul, far from being a Grinch during the holiday season, gives us cause to rejoice, to laugh, and to consider our own status as being "bought back" from the Powers of Sin and Death. This makes sense of Galatians 4:5 where the aorist verb ἐξαγοράσῃ is used to speak about us being bought back from the law and from being enslaved. Everything, for Paul, was about liberation.

Plus, Paul was totally down with wine. How could he be a Grinch after that?

Christmas, then, is liberation from the sins of the world. This is actualized in the birth of the Messiah, and our hope of resurrection.

So. Yeah, this was kinda silly, but I was thinking a lot about it, and I suspect Paul has a lot more to say about Christmas than I can offer in this blog post.

Blessings and Merry Christmas!


Why Romans 7:7-25 is not about You: Paul, Adam, and "Speech-in-Character"

When I was doing a bunch of exegetical work in Romans, I came across Ben Witherington's commentary and read his comments concerning the perplexing language Paul uses in chapter 7. I had always been bothered by the language of 7:7-25 because it seemed quite unPauline and I saw it adopted by pastors in order to experience what a famous scholar said "the introspective conscience of the West" (Stendhal). Instead of Romans 7 being about this modern introspection, Paul was doing something completely different. Believing I had discovered something new (always a bad thing to assume in the work of New Testament scholarship, but hey), I ran to my wife and explained it to her.

A minute later, she nodded and said something to the effect of, "yeah, when I was in undergrad I randomly read a book on ancient rhetoric and Romans 7 fit that. Yup. Its Adam."

So, in order to briefly argue my point, I am going to offer several reasons why I think Paul is using prosopopoeia ("speech-in-character") in Romans 7:14-25. This post is not exhaustive, of course, but it seems to be the best option out of many. Others have proposed Israel as the voice, humanity as a whole, Jews as a whole, Gentiles as a whole, and other Christians who struggle with sin. I suspect it is none of these.

Stanley Stowers (Toward a Rereading of Romans, 16-21 specifically) explains προσωποποιία as "a rhetorical literary technique in which the speaker or writer produces speech that represents not himself or herself but another person or type of character" (pp.16-17). Stowers argues that Romans 2:1-5, 3:1-9, 3:31-4:2 and 7:7-8:2 are best read as προσωποποιία. He also notes that προσωποποιία is often in the first person singular (p.20).

Witherington (hereafter BW3: Paul's Letter to the Romans, 180) states ""Since the important work of W.G. Kümmel on Romans 7, it has become a common, perhaps even majority, opinion in some NT circles that the 'I' of Romans 7 is autobiographical." Given how Paul speaks about the law in Galatians 2:11-14 and Philippians 3:1-11, it seems safe to say he did (or more accurately, "does") not have a major problem with the Jewish law. BW3 rightly then says that this does not tell us "who" the voice of Romans 7 is.

Instead of autobiography, BW3 offers us Adam in Romans 7.

Regarding typology and sequence, one needs to offer some sort of lens or person in which they can speak. The last person Paul has talked about is Adam in Romans 5:12-21—this of course assumes that Paul is not speaking of the inner turmoil of Jesus in Romans 7! For instance, Jesus had the Law—Adam did not. Adam was "separate" (χωρὶς) from the Law (singular: νόμου) in 7:9. However, Adam did have a singular commandment, and it was not the Mosaic Law.

Adam did not know about lust or sin before the Fall (7:7), and because of the primordial couple's sin, Sin came to life (ἀνέζησεν: 7:9)

Second, Sin is personified here as it was in 5:12-21. For instance, ἡ ἁμαρτία ("Sin") is active in "accomplishing" something in Adam (κατειργάσατο) in 7:8 and this Sin kills in 7:11 (ἀπέκτεινεν). It is unlikely that this could be referring to Israel or to Paul or even to the believers, but it makes sense under an Adamic paradigm. The reason why it most probably does not refer to the believer is the comment in 8:1: Οὐδὲν ἄρα νῦν κατάκριμα τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ("Now then there is no condemnation to the ones in Christ Jesus").

If one adopts the Adamic reading as opposed to the other readings (which are legion), then one may find themselves identifying with Adam. The purpose of προσωποποιία is for the audience to find themselves in a specific line of dialogue or monologue, to understand the deep contrast between life and death that characterizes Adam and Christ.

7:24: τίς με ῥύσεται ἐκ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου ("Who shall rescue me from this body of Death?") Adam's introduction of Death gave birth to the human condition of Sin. We are born into sin, although whether or not we are guilty of Adam's sin is a concept not apparent in Romans 5-7.

Paul is not speaking about the person's inability to follow the Law, or about your sin, or my sin, or your mother's sin, or anything like that. He is using Adam as a rhetorical device to assert that a former state is now undone. Because one is in Christ, condemnation is now a relic. Having been rescued from the Adamic state of Death and Sin and utter destruction, we now have life in Christ and in the Spirit (c.f. Romans 8:1-11). Adam is the contrast to the new life that we have in Christ.

Christ is bigger than Adam, and Paul's use of προσωποποιία showcases his remarkable rhetoric and his incisive analysis of the ones apart from Christ, destined for death and slavery, and the ἐλευθερόω ("liberation") by Christ from the law of sin and Death (Romans 8:2). Instead of those formerly in Adam being condemned, Sin itself is condemned (κατέκρινε: 8:3) as we walk now in the "Spirit" (πνεῦμα).

Read Romans 7:7-25 with Adamic eyes and see for yourself. There are other options, but given the context and nature of ancient rhetoric, Adam seems to be the best exemplar of Paul's language.

More could be said, but check out BW3 commentary or his long blog post based on a paper he gave in 2013 which covers this ground is more detail. He has me convinced!


The Conundrum of Christ's Faithfulness: A Brief Introduction of the "Πίστις Χριστοῦ" Debate and its Implications

In the often contentious world of Pauline studies, one of the major debates that has been raging concerns a specific grammatical phrase: Πίστις Χριστοῦ ("the faith of Christ" or "faith in Christ"). Πίστις is the normative Pauline word for 'faith' or 'trust.' Χριστοῦ is the genitive form of Christ, or "Messiah." So when you see either term used hereafter, that is what they mean.

There are generally two options for Pauline interpreters:

  • The objective genitive: "faith in Christ."

  • The subjective genitive: "the faith of Christ."

What is curious about this entire debate is that it transcends the so-called New Perspective/Old Perspective divide and also transcends the Reformed/Arminian debate as well. For example, James D.G. Dunn (objective) and N.T. Wright (subjective) disagree with one another on this, and both also differ on their traditions. Dunn is a Methodist and Wright is a Calvinist. So this debate is not about one's soteriology or traditions per se.

So this is a debate I recently came into contact with during a Directed Study with Tommy Givens. Both Banning and Chad also are swimming in it, and this is due to our reading John Barclay who briefly covers the debate.

Many Pauline texts are involved in this. Some of these texts are more debated than others, specifically the texts in Romans and Galatians. I suspect this is mostly due to Romans and Galatians being given undue priority in the study of Paul, but that's my own snarky hang up.

Here are the main representative texts:

  • Romans 3:22—" διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ"

  • Galatians 2:16—"διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ"

  • Galatians 3:22—"ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ"

  • Galatians 3:26—"διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ"

  • Philippians 3:9—"διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ"

In all of these examples, we have a specific preposition: διὰ ("through," or "by means of") and ἐκ ("from," or "by") that precedes the genitive nouns, clarifying the nouns. In two instances we have an additional preposition ἐν ("in," or "by" sometimes). In each instance, the debate comes down to intricate grammatical arguments that sometimes fail to see the forest for the trees. In any sense, as I look over these various papers and presentations, I am left with a thought:

Why is this significant? Why have entire books been written on this particular phrase?

Much of the debate boils down to the particular emphasis of the noun πίστεως. Whose faith is Paul usually concerned with? Sometimes it is Christ's faith (Rom. 3:22; Phil. 3:9) and other times Paul clarifies after with our faith (Gal. 2:20). He does this specifically in Colossians 1:4 ("ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ: having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus"). Christ is the lens or matrix by which faith is given, but the participatory nature of faith requires our partaking of Christ's faith.

So with many issues in Paul, it is not an 'either/or.' Christ's faith is sometimes emphasized but an emphasis on Christ's faith does not negate or obliterate the faith of believers. Neither does a person's faith in Christ render faith 'anthropocentric,' as Christ is the one in whom we believe.

What is at stake?

What is as stake is how Paul emphasizes one and the other, and how we too should emphasize either option, not to the exclusion of both but in balance. For my money, I lean toward the subjective genitive for most of these texts, but I also believe one must exercise the gift of faith, and any emphasis to the exclusion of either option simply leaves one divorced from the richness of Paul's language. The human person is freed to participate in Christ, and if Paul chooses to emphasize our participation, so be it.

For a helpful book that goes over this debate, see Bird and Sprinkle.


To be with Christ: The Intermediate State and Phil. 1:21-24

In many theological circles, the doctrine of the intermediate state is often a key theological locus. For many or most evangelical Christians, the intermediate state is a comfort, drawn upon inferences from key Scriptural texts. It is not my interest to dissuade Christians from affirming this doctrine, or taking solace in it. Rather, my twofold goal is to challenge Christians to stay true to the text, and to show why I think Philippians 1:21-24 is insufficient as support for the doctrine of the intermediate state.

To lay my cards out on the table, I do not presently believe in such an intermediate state. My view of the human person does not require an intermediate state, and my view of the resurrection of the body does not either. There is of course debate about this doctrine, and I will not solve it at all in one blog post. But allow me to address a specific text in Paul that is often utilized to support the idea.

The text reads as follows:

Phil. 1:21-24: ἐμοὶ γὰρ τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος. 22 εἰ δὲ τὸ ζῆν ἐν σαρκί, τοῦτό μοι καρπὸς ἔργου— καὶ τί αἱρήσομαι οὐ γνωρίζω· 23 συνέχομαι δὲ ἐκ τῶν δύο, τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι, πολλῷ γὰρ μᾶλλον κρεῖσσον, 24 τὸ δὲ ἐπιμένειν ⸀ ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἀναγκαιότερον δι᾽ ὑμᾶς.

My translation: “For me, to live—Christ; and to die—profit. But if to live in the body, this to me is fruitful work, and what I choose to take up I do not know. I am confined by the two, having the desire to die and be with Christ, for rather this is nobler. And to stay in the body is more important for you.”

I tried to be a bit wooden with my translation, but that is never entirely doable. But I hope the passage makes sense the way I rendered it.

As representative of the dualist perspective, I will engage with John Piper’s website, as I am too tired to grab Wayne Grudem off the shelf. The article on Desiring God was written by Matt Perman and may be accessed here (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-do-you-believe-about-the-intermediate-state). John Piper is a prominent neo-fundamentalist pastor, and I suspect his website is influential for those interested in this topic. However, since Matt Perman is the actual author of this piece, I will be referring to him in my response.

Perman writes:

First, Paul spoke of having the desire "to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better" (Philippians 1:23). Notice first of all that Paul speaks of death as a departure (from the body) not into temporary nothingness or unconsciousness but to be with Christ. If we are with Christ once we have died, then we continue existing.

I think Perman makes several leaps in logic here. First of all, the infinitive ἀναλῦσαι (“to depart”) here just means, “to die.” It’s a metaphor meaning ‘death.’ Paul is likely writing from prison here, and the threat of death immanent. He has death on the mind, so to speak. For Perman to assert, “If we are with Christ once we have died, then we continue existing” seems to go beyond the text. There are questions Paul does not answer that Perman seems to presume an answer for. For instance:

  • Does Paul believe in an immortal soul that can survive bodily death? Unlikely.
  • Does Paul believe in the resurrection of the body? Yes. Cf. 1 Cor. 15. Why then the need for an intermediate state?

To be with Christ is a relational term, and Christ is already raised in Paul’s mind. In other texts, Paul talks about the immediacy of the resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-52), but this begs a question: perspectivally, did Paul believe he would be literally raised in an instant? Unlikely. More likely, he would remain dead until resurrection (that’s why it is called resurrection), but for him, time is but a “twinkling of an eye.” To die with Christ, then is both relational and soteriological.

The preposition σύν (“with”) occurs in conjunction with Christ elsewhere in Paul (Rom. 6:8 and in Col. 2:20 and 3:3-4). In Rom. 6:8, it refers to the death of the person with Christ (soteriology) and her resurrection. The death of the believer means she has participated in Christ’s life, and her resurrection is secured because of his resurrection. In Col. 2:20, ἀπεθάνετε σὺν Χριστῷ (“dying with Christ”) is also a relational term, as in being bound to Christ in death as opposed to the “elements of the world.” In 3:3-4, the life of the believer is “hidden” (κέκρυπται) with Christ and in God (σὺν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐν τῷ θεῷ). Col. 3:4 sums this up quite powerfully:

Col. 3:4: ὅταν ὁ Χριστὸς φανερωθῇ, ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν, τότε καὶ ὑμεῖς σὺν αὐτῷ φανερωθήσεσθε ἐν δόξῃ.

My translation: “whenever Christ [the Messiah] may be manifest in our lives, then also you will be manifested in glory with him.”

Paul’s basic premise is sound: to die with Christ is to participate in his life and example, in imitating the dying Messiah so that we may have eternal life in his name. For Perman to make it about continuing to exist seems to contradict the witness of Paul elsewhere, and here especially.

He writes:

Second, notice that Paul speaks of this state as "very much better" than the present state. It would be hard to say such a thing of a state of complete unconsciousness.”

This seems tenuous. Eternal life, in resurrection, is surely preferable to death. The intimacy of Christ, the fullness of his life, and the vindication of Paul’s witness remain forlorn and forsaken without resurrection. To remain dead in light of his own life and sufferings, Paul undoubtedly thought resurrection with Christ was better! To be raised is vindication (cf. Dan. 12:2-3), not abandonment.

Particularly when we consider that Paul's passion was to know Christ, it would seem that the reason the state beyond death is better than this present life is because we are with Christ and know it. If we were suddenly unconscious at death until the resurrection, wouldn't it be better to remain in this life because at least then we would have conscious fellowship with Christ?

He writes:

…notice again that [Paul] speaks of this state as his preference, which indicates (as in Philippians 1:23) that we not only continue existing between death and the resurrection, but that we are aware of our existence.

Nowhere in Paul do we have any language about “existing” between death and resurrection. As has been shown already, this looks to be a fallacious line of argumentation. Of course, resurrection is Paul’s preference! He lived and suffering and ultimately died for Christ. “Awareness” seems more like a modernistic ideal than a New Testament reality.

In essence, Paul in Philippians 1:21-24 is speaking relationally, with an eye toward future resurrection (c.f. 3:10-11). The language about being “in the body” is likely an idiomatic phrase about being alive. For instance, Rom. 8:3 uses a similar syntactical phrase κατέκρινε τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐν τῇ σαρκί (“condemned sin in the body”), that is, Jesus’ living mortal body being crucified and killed, and thus condemning sin. Elsewhere, 2 Cor. 4:11b reads as follows:

2 Cor. 4:11: ἵνα καὶ ἡ ζωὴ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ φανερωθῇ ἐν τῇ θνητῇ σαρκὶ ἡμῶν

My translation: “so that also the life of Jesus should be manifested in our mortal bodies.”

The idea of “in the flesh/body” is not to promote a dualistic and tripartite view of the human person (that we are composed of body, soul and/or spirit). Rather, the relational idiom denotes the idea of being alive (or formerly alive). “In the body” is an idiomatic way of simply stating the obvious: you are alive, in the most basic sense of the phrase.

Paul’s language here is about participation in God’s mission in the world, not about a conscious intermediate state. If one desires to argue for such a concept, one is on far better ground in the realm of philosophy and theology rather than this text. I am mildly open to the concept of an intermediate state on philosophical grounds (although I do find it to be unnecessary and not in harmony with the witness of the New Testament), but I cannot endorse such an idea from this chief proof text.


Why the Resurrection is better than going to Heaven: Sermon Notes

 "Resurrection"  ©  Allison M. Quient

"Resurrection" © Allison M. Quient

Philippians 3:17-4:1. The text (my translation):

Join in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and likewise take note of those who already live according to the example you have in us, for I have told you often about the many who live, but now I say this even while weeping, that the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is utter destruction; their God is the belly; and their “glory” is their shame; these are the people concerned about earthly matters.  For us, however, exists citizenship in the heavens, and from these heavens we anticipate a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ will transform our subjugated body, for our body will be conformed to his glorious body according to his power, who is being able to subject everything to himself. So, my beloved brothers and sisters whom I long for, my joy and my crown, persevere in this way in the Lord, beloved!

In the ancient world, life sucked. It really did. The majority of people were in extreme poverty, and this directly affected the marginalized groups within urban settings like women, who often died young or in childbirth. In a setting of rival religious viewpoints, how is Paul to communicate to this fledgling church in Philippi? How does he communicate the authority of Christ when Caesar is Lord? How do the various social hierarchies and dynamics affect slaves, women, Gentiles and Jews in such a small and volatile setting?

Because I cannot hope to answer all of these questions directly or fully, I have two main points that I want to stress as we walk through God’s word tonight. The first is the nature of “somatic ethics,” or how we live as bodies, as both a community and as individuals. Ethics of this sort include sex, food, power and the nature of what it means to be a human being in the ancient world.

The second is more controversial and will likely get me in trouble, but I’m already preaching and it is bad manners to take the mic away from an honored guest. The controversial point is that, for Paul, resurrection is better than heaven.

Rival religious groups or people in Philippi were dominant, as were religions in the ancient world. When Paul speaks of these rival groups, perhaps even movements within the church, he is filled with weeping. The “enemies of the cross of Christ” are concerned like most people: they desire money, prestige, sex, power, and social status, all of the things we all kinda want but shouldn’t desire. Paul characterizes them as people entirely devoted to themselves and their own pleasure: their “bellies” are overflowing as the many grow sick in the streets, and they pursue “earthly things,” that is, things that are not of God. We can see this in our own lives, desiring things that are not good for us: pornography, drugs, better clothes, better phones (hopefully the kind that don’t explode if you are a Samsung user like myself), better cars, anything to keep from thinking about the deep things of God.

Don’t worry if you see yourself in there: that just means you are in good company with me and everyone else.

For Paul, the eschaton—the end of all things—was immanent. He was waiting, like we are, for the return of Christ. Instead of participating in Christ and in the church, their pleasure becomes their “god.” Pleasure in the ancient world, much like today, was not about the autonomous freedom of a person to seek pleasure apart from another person. Pleasure was taken, bought, or stolen. It was about power, greed, and avarice: in that sense, the ancient world looked a lot like Game of Thrones. We see this in numerous places throughout the New Testament, where people in power abused those who were not in power.

For Paul, the eschatological end for such people was utter destruction in v.19. The end result of a life lived in sin apart from Christ was annihilation, a shameful eternal death that is hardly glorious. The word for “destruction” appears throughout the New Testament: for instance, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew to:

”Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

We see this similar mindset, albeit with an economic focus, in 1 Timothy 6:6-10, where the author says:

“ Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

It seems that the “enemies of the cross” in Philippi are cut from the same cloth as these people in Ephesus, in 1 Timothy 6. In our text tonight, we have people who have embodied the very lifestyle that God hates. So when Paul evokes the “destiny” of those who are leading wicked lives, Paul is being a bit sarcastic by saying, “their glory is their shame.” The shame of a life lived in utter selfishness, apart from the participatory suffering of God’s people. Hardly glorious, hardly worth remembering. As Paul says in Romans 6:23: “the wages of sin is death.” Death is the payout for a life lived in rebellion, in Sin.

We do not let our lives be defined by “our pleasures.” Rather, Christ defines us. Thus, our ethical framework is that we treat our bodies as a temple, as something noble and good. What we do with our lives, our actions, our deeds, matters deeply to God. He gave you life, and he wants you to live a life that does not destroy his image (c.f. Gen. 1:26-27); whether male or female, you image God. That is why what you do and how you live matters.

This leads us nicely into Paul’s second point, where he draws a specific contrast between those whose destiny is destruction. Rather than being citizens of Caesar’s Republic, our citizenship is defined by Christ, by the cosmic realm. We are not citizens of earth, that is, we do not belong to the reign of Death or the reign of Caesar. To be earthly is to be mortal, under subjection. To be a “citizen” affords a person with certain rights: that is, as citizens of heaven, we have a specific claim or right:

That right is resurrection.

Christ’s return signifies that our bodies, our subjected, broken bodies will be “conformed.” The Greek word σύμμορφον is a compound word: the prefix σύν means “with” (among other things) and the word μορφή (“form”): literally, “formed with.” This same word (though it is not a compound word) is used in Philippians 2:6 to describe the preexistent Christ as being “in the form of God.” That σῶμα (“body”) is to be transformed means the totality of the human person is to be formed by Christ: mind, heart, skin, everything. All that you are will be transformed, not left unburied in shame and contempt, or left in the corrosive grasp of Death.

We aren't going to be like Casper the Ghost in New Creation.

Christ is not coming back as Casper the Ghost.

Like it says in Romans 8:29 “being conformed to the image of his son.” As opposed to “glory” being shame, like in v.18, rather glory here describes the body of Christ in his true form, as the eternal Son of God. He came from Heaven, relinquished his authority to life a life marked by slavery and death, but he also comes as savior, as deliverer, to rescue people from suffering and that evil, narcissistic tyrant, Death. His resurrection is liberation.

His resurrection is our liberation, gang.

Liberation from what?

What does resurrection mean?

It means that death is destroyed.

Death is a significant force in Paul. In Romans 5, he speaks of Death having “reigned,” describing it like one would a king, like how one would describe Caesar. If Christ is not risen, what? We’re dead and gone. We’re like those earthly ones, whose destiny is utter destruction. Our gods might as well be our belly. What good is there? Porn, adultery, sexism. What good is there?



Christ is risen.

The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate triumph of God over the forces of evil that prey upon you, upon me, upon us. Resurrection is not about going to heaven when you die. Resurrection is about God saying “no” to Death and to Evil.

Resurrection is God’s way of saying, “I freaking love you,” and I will not abandon you to Death. This magisterial love of Christ then pushes us to say, like Paul did:

“Persevere!” “Christ is risen!”

This is good news! The best news! God loves you, and wants you to participate in resurrection life: a life lived in service, as brothers and sisters, ministers and pastors and priests. Be holy! Be righteous! Be gracious when people fail, so basically be gracious always. The greatest sign of God’s love is that he raised Jesus from the dead, and you can be like Jesus in his resurrection. Love triumphs over sin, over evil, over Death.

There is hope! There is hope for those of us who suffer now, and will suffer in the future. For the woman who is oppressed by sexism in the church, there is hope. For the man who struggles with his sexuality, there is hope. For the person who is the chief of sinners, there is hope.

Paul believed that Christ’s coming was the end of death, of pain, of suffering. He believed that our resurrection was better than heaven, because the resurrection is the final triumph of God. Death has been utterly and completely destroyed, and we wait in anticipation of the coming Son of God.

Heaven hath no joy like a resurrecting God, and that is why our resurrection is better than going to heaven. There are not ghosts in New Creation.

There be dragons – there be resurrection, brothers and sisters. Now go live it, and go love those who most desperately need it.



o   3:17-19: Paul begins this section with an imperative to be like him, and to observe the conduct of those already in the assembly. He has already argued against “adversarial ones” (1:28), and has stressed ethical unity (2:5-11). With tears in his eyes, he says the trajectory of the “enemies of the cross of Christ” is utter destruction.

§  Somatic ethics—ethics of how one lives, eats, etc.—are important to Paul here. For example, somatic ethics are stressed by Paul to treat our bodies like a temple (1 Cor. 3).

§  While it is not entirely obvious that the people of Philippi are suffering, suffering is surely a probable outcome.

o   3:20-21: In drawing a contrast between those concerned with earthly things, Paul asserts that the believers in Philippi are already citizens of the heavens. The word “savior” (σωτῆρα) means “deliverer” or “one who rescues.” Paul tells the readers to “anticipate” the coming Christ

§  Eschatology is the study of the “end” of all things: heaven, hell, new creation.

·      Paul stresses what one does as a human being—as an embodied person—matters to Christ. Because Christ is not going to discard your body like a plastic wrapper from a snicker’s bar.

·      Jesus thinks the body is good. Our bodies will be like Christ’s: glorious, immortal, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

o   4:1: Paul exhorts his brothers and sisters to be steadfast and persevere despite suffering, for we hope for the resurrection. Death was a tyrant until Christ was raised from the dead: now, death has no sting (1 Cor. 15:55).

o   Conclusion: Paul believed that Christ’s coming was the end of death, of pain, of suffering. He believed that our resurrection was better than heaven, because the resurrection is the final triumph of God.

§  How then should we live in light of the defeat of Death?

Paul's Language of Destruction and the Modern Problem of Hell


This is both a difficult and an easy post to write. The reason it is difficult is because I am talking about Washington D.C., as in, a place I have never been and a place I have no desire to travel to. Joke.

The reason it is easy to write a post like this is because of the nature and use of the language used in the Pauline canon. A quick note regarding sources, only one use of the term under discussion occurs in the so-called ‘Deutero-Pauline’ canon[1] (maybe a post on that is forthcoming, now that I think about it) and that is in 2 Thessalonians (which I take to be Pauline). So the sources I draw from are almost exclusively from the widely accepted Pauline texts.

This is preliminary personal work for a Directed Study I am putting together with some colleagues under the guidance of one Dr. Tommy Givens here at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Paul’s chief vocabulary surrounding the ‘final fate’ of the wicked[2] can be fairly and uncontroversially summarized as follows:

·      ἀπόλλυμι (“destroy, kill, cause violence”) (Rom. 2:12; 1 Cor. 1:18; 10:10)

·      θάνατος (“death”), which is a ἐχθρὸς (“enemy”) (c.f. 1 Cor. 15:26)

·      ὄλεθρος (“destruction”) (c.f. 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Cor. 5:5)

·      ἀπώλεια (“destruction, death”) (c.f. Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 6:9[3])

·      φθορά (“ruin, corruption, destruction”) (c.f. Gal 6:8; Col. 2:22; Rom. 8:21; 1 Cor. 15:42, 50)

·      φθείρω (“to destroy, corrupt”) (c.f. 1 Cor. 3:17).

I could list more words and instances of each word, especially from the Synoptic Gospels,[4] but you get the point. There is no mention in Paul of a final conscious state where they are inflicted with torment, nor where they are kept alive in a state of sadness or pain. Under our modern conception of what we popularly call “hell,” we can safely say Paul did not believe in that.

What Paul did believe in, however, is far more personal, intimate, and realistic. So let us explore the first word ἀπόλλυμι in Paul. This will be a little technical, but I hope it will also beneficial to you. I won’t translate every single use of the term or even the entire verse, but only the one’s I find most helpful.

Rom. 2:12

Ὅσοι γὰρ ἀνόμως ἥμαρτον, ἀνόμως καὶ ἀπολοῦνται· καὶ ὅσοι ἐν νόμῳ ἥμαρτον, διὰ νόμου κριθήσονται·                                                                                                            

“For everyone who sins apart from the law, apart from the law they will perish. And everyone who sins in the law will be judged through the law.” (NRQT).

I think an important point that must be made is that many modern Christians too quickly insert the adjective “spiritual” in front of any use of ‘death’ or ‘perishing’ (and I used to count myself amongst those who used this term). Paul is not conceiving of some sort of ‘spiritual’ judgment, for that is simply not historically viable. Here, the use of the future verb ἀπολοῦνται is a reference to a hypothetical person (in the middle tense) of both being destroyed and destroying themselves. “Perishing” is a real concept for people who believe they are bodies, and the problem of death in an ancient culture is real. To “perish” in a Hebraic sense was to go into the ground, to return to dust, to return to “Adam.”

Rom. 14:15.

εἰ γὰρ διὰ βρῶμα ὁ ἀδελφός σου λυπεῖται, οὐκέτι κατὰ ἀγάπην περιπατεῖς. μὴ τῷ βρώματί σου ἐκεῖνον ἀπόλλυε ὑπὲρ οὗ Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν.

The imperative form of the verb is linked to Christ, who ἀποθνήσκω (“died”). This was not a spiritual death, unless one is intent on discounting Nicene Orthodoxy. Rather, Christ died in the fullest sense we can mean. Death, itself, claimed him as its own. The use of ἀπόλλυε serves to remind believers not to cause the “death” or “destruction” of the person for whom Christ died. In a real context of not causing a brother or sister to stumble, Paul has to remind people that what they do with their body (this being in the case of eating things which are ‘unclean’). Believers, in a true and tragic sense, can often be a source of destruction for one another. Ask a burnt out pastor if she feels ‘destroyed’ or ‘distraught’ if she has been the source of ‘stumbling’ or being the one who caused another to ‘stumble.’

1 Cor. 1:18-19.

Ὁ λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν. γέγραπται γάρ· Ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν, καὶ τὴν σύνεσιν τῶν συνετῶν ἀθετήσω.

"For the message/word of the cross is folly to those who are being destroyed/perishing. but to the ones being liberated [the cross] is the power of God. For it is written, 'I destroy the wisdom of the wise ones, and the understanding of the experts I reject." (NRQT).

These verses are within a larger commentary (or even assault) on the wisdom of the wise (or the elite, even, possibly because of economic stratification). The λόγος of the cross is silly to those in a state of ἀπολλυμένοις. The middle voice is often thought of as being entirely passive; however, this is not always the case and is likely too narrow. Rather, here, Paul is assuming that people without Christ are in a state of decay, ruin, destruction, and oppression. The cross, as a means of killing Christ, is also the greatest means of resurrection power: that is, life itself. To those in a state of “perishing” or “being destroyed” and “destroying themselves,” this is a meager offering and could even be seen as a cold and calloused bribe: attempting to make someone feel good before they die, or even be viewed as a “charlatan,” attempting to steal or take advantage of them.

Subsequently, the second use of the term refers to the “decimation” of the elitist wisdom offered, and God is putting that wisdom out like a cup over a candle.

 1 Cor. 8:11.

ἀπόλλυται γὰρ ὁ ἀσθενῶν ἐν τῇ σῇ γνώσει, ὁ ἀδελφὸς δι᾽ ὃν Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν.

"And the weak one shall perish because of your knowledge, [this is] for whom Christ died." (NRQT).

This verse is in reference to the perishing of “weak one, brother,” for whom Christ died. As we saw in Rom. 14:15, this is again a context of causing another to stumble. This “perishing” is a very real threat, especially regarding exclusion from the sole community of Christ in Corinth or even within this same community. This similar type of threat may be found in 1 Cor. 5:5 where the exclusion of the incestuous man is likely to lead to his destruction—i.e. his physical death. The contrast between Christ’s own atoning death for the “weak” is highlighted in contrasting the one who is perishing due to the Corinthian elitist hierarchy versus Christ’s own death on behalf of that same weak man.

Thus, this verse is stressing the imperative of Christ-likeness.

1Cor 10:9-10

μηδὲ ἐκπειράζωμεν τὸν Χριστόν, καθώς τινες αὐτῶν ἐπείρασαν, καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν ὄφεων ἀπώλλυντο. μηδὲ γογγύζετε, καθάπερ τινὲς αὐτῶν ἐγόγγυσαν, καὶ ἀπώλοντο ὑπὸ τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ.

"Neither should we test Christ, just as those who tested [him], and were killed by serpents. Do not grumble, just as some of them grumbled once, and were slain by the annihilator/ destroyer."

Paul is offering a commentary (midrash, even) on the story of Israel in the desert. The Israelites who tested Christ[5] were “killed” by the serpents, rendering them – well – dead. Paul uses the imperfect tense to stress the finality of their own death as well as stressing the ancient image: testing YHWH lead to them being destroyed—killed—by serpents. The idea that this word again refers to “spiritual” death is simply not a necessary conclusion one should consider. These people died.

The second use of refers again to the perished ones, but this time they were killed by τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ. This phrase is difficult to translate, but I follow David Instone-Brewer and think “the annihilator” is sufficient. This refers to an utterly destructive force or entity that renders destruction upon a person or a people or a nation. The imagery of death, destruction, even cataclysmic judgment is at the heart of this verse. Death is the ultimate punishment for sin in the Hebrew Bible, and Paul does not seem to move beyond that notion. In the light of Christ as the source of life for those who participate in Him, this notion is stressed far more strongly by Paul.

1Cor 15:18

ἄρα καὶ οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ ἀπώλοντο.

"And then those who have fallen asleep in Christ [have] perished."

This is a relatively simple verse: if Christ did not die (or was not raised!), then those who died in Christ have ultimately perished. There is nothing else for them. Paul does not extrapolate this into a modern systematic outlook of an intermediate state followed by a disembodied existence of bliss. Rather, Christ is bliss if he is raised, and if people do not have the risen Messiah—they are still dead and in the ground.

The natural order, it seems, is controlled and dominated by a foreign imperialistic power: this power is θάνατος and if Christ is not risen, θάνατος reigns. θάνατος is King.

But Christ is risen, then θάνατος is not King anymore. Death as the final destination of the totality of the human person is undone, it is finished, it is annihilated and put out of existence entirely.

2Cor 2:15

ὅτι Χριστοῦ εὐωδία ἐσμὲν τῷ θεῷ ἐν τοῖς σῳζομένοις καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις,

“Because we are the aroma of Christ to God among the ones being liberated, and among the ones being destroyed.” (NRQT).

The sacrificial imagery of our own existence as somatic creature is tinted by the middle participles σῳζομένοις and ἀπολλυμένοις: these two sides are intentionally drawn: Christ is life, all else is death. The liberation offered in Christ is the flipside of the idea of “being destroyed” or “perishing.” The offer of Christ is that of intentionally countering the imperial order of θάνατος. This verse seems to presuppose two sets of people by the direct syntactical parallels:

  • ἐν τοῖς σῳζομένοις
  • καὶ
  • ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις

Preposition + dative plural article + dative middle participle.

This grammatical parallelism supports the contention of two distinction groups highlighted by the order of θάνατος and the order of Χριστοῦ. To be in Christ, or part of Christ’s people, is to place oneself outside of θάνατος’ dominion and sovereignty.

2Cor 4:3, 9

εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔστιν κεκαλυμμένον τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν, ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις ἐστὶν κεκαλυμμένον,

"And if our gospel is being covered, it is being covered among those who are being destroyed." (NRQT).

We have the exact middle participle being employed here as in 2 Cor. 2:15, even the same exact grammatical usage. The image is difficult to communicate in English, but it seems that a “veil” is what Paul utilizes and this applies to those who are also “perishing.” Those who cannot see this are both “veiled” and “veiling themselves” as the middle suggests.

διωκόμενοι ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐγκαταλειπόμενοι, καταβαλλόμενοι ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἀπολλύμενοι,

"[We are] persecuted but not forsaken; beaten down but not destroyed." (NRQT).

This is a fascinating rhetorical phrase by Paul, all of which is syntactically identical. You have very similar phrasing, suggesting a specific type of speech making. The usages are contrastive, showing dissimilarity and continuity. We are X, but not Y. We are “struck down” but not “destroyed” or “killed.” This language of ἀπολλύμενοι refers likely to external imperial forces, that is, political forces rather than θάνατος. Thus, one can sense martyrdom within Paul’s contextual usage, and it is likely he is focused on the idea of witness and testimony, especially as using their bodies for Christ.

2Th 2:10

καὶ ἐν πάσῃ ἀπάτῃ ἀδικίας τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις, ἀνθ᾽ ὧν τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας οὐκ ἐδέξαντο εἰς τὸ σωθῆναι αὐτούς·

"And in every deception of unrighteousness [are] the ones being destroyed, because they do not receive the love of truth for their liberation." (NRQT).

The final term is used within a context of persecution, similar to 2 Cor. 4. Paul seems to use the middle participle ἀπολλυμένοις in the sense of a final and doomed assault on those in Christ by those lack the attributes of the Spirit. The final phase of eschatological destruction is the last attempt to rage against the people of God, and this includes political and imperial powers as the one’s who rage. This likely has echoes of God versus Nations in the Hebrew Bible.

In any sense, the use of the term refers to their final death, and not their ‘spiritual’ or ‘existential’ death but to their final and irrevocable destruction. The crucified God who is also the returning King amplifies the paradoxical idea of an oppressive regal force assaulting the minority of Christ-followers in the first century; in the end, this King returns for the oppressed and destroys the oppressors.


Much more could be said about this language and debate, but I think the case is pretty clear: Paul’s use of destruction language does not comport well with the modern vision of Hell we find being taught in the evangelical world. Rather, we see that Paul’s vision is the God of Life being raised from the dead and returning for an oppressed people who are under siege by the order of Death.

Much of this can revolve around how Christians treat one another, and our ability to not cause one another to stumble. In other senses, it is about treating our bodies as things that will be liberated, not escaped from.

In another sense, Paul’s vision offers us a way to view the death of loved ones. We may view death as in the process of being destroyed, and as the final enemy God is working to overthrow. We groan for the liberation of our bodies and for the salvation found in Christ, and Paul’s idea of the final fate shows that “hell” is indeed far more personal, intimate, and realistic: the conquering of Death can only be found in the one who conquered Death.

Thus, I fail to see any notion of an eternal conscious existence of pain and/or misery in Paul’s vocabulary, thought or theology.


[1] That is, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles. However, there is considerable debate regarding the first two and less debate about the Pauline status of the second two. Most critical scholars do not believe Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles.

[2] I prefer the language of “those not in Christ” but I will use the phrase “wicked” simply to keep things simple.

[3] See footnote 1 for the comment about the status of the Pastoral Epistles. I’m withholding my own thoughts on their authorship for now.

[4] For a helpful survey of apollumi in the Synoptic Gospels, see Glenn Peoples: http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/10/the-meaning-of-apollumi-in-the-synoptic-gospels/

[5] This may be a nod to preexistence, but not likely.