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 ( 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.


“Not Many of You are of Noble Birth: Wealth, Status and 1 Cor. 1:26”

I find ancient economics and social-science fascinating, especially regarding the potential for Pauline theology. Here is a short post on how God's economy works with Paul's brief statement regarding the status of his church in Corinth. Thanks, and forgive my future indulgences in this topics. I'm sure there will be many of them, provided I can further study this subject on the doctoral level.

God willing, at least.

Now onto the short show!

26 Βλέπετε γὰρ τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα, οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί, οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς·

“For you see your situation, brothers and sisters, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many of high or noble status or birth.” (NRQT).

Other translations of 1 Cor. 1:26—

“Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class.” (CEB)

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:[a] not many of you were wise by human standards,[b] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” (NRSV)

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (NIV).

The Common English Bible (CEB) translates the noun κλῆσιν as “situation.” While interpretive in some sense, I think this actually reflects the original intent of the noun, rather than “calling.”

Paul uses the various tense of the verb καλέω later in 1 Cor. 7:20-23 to describe a situation a slave is born into, or partakes in. So, “situation” makes good sense and I changed my translation accordingly. Just a note on that.

The adjective εὐγενεῖς ("noble birth," "high-class") in other tense appears two other times in the New Testament, one in Luke 19:12 and another in Acts 17:11. In Luke 19, the adjective is used to describe someone born and going to take a βασιλείαν (“Kingdom”). This person is of clearly noble birth, of high rank, and of wealth in order to go to χώραν μακρὰν (“a far off place”). In Acts 17:11 the adjective describes Jewish noblemen (and women, in v.12). Thus, the term likely denotes social status of a high caliber. Most of us in the United States would be considered "εὐγενεῖς."

So Paul is likely writing to people who are not like the man in Luke 19 or the Jewish men and women in Acts 17. This is confirmed by Paul’s own comment on their status as seen by others: they are μωρὰ (“foolish”), as seen from people of a higher social-class (v.25). God sets the one’s lacking in social status aside for himself in the following verses in order to be καταισχύνῃ  (“dishonored”), which suggests social shaming, among other things.

The poor being uplifted or shown preference instead of the obvious wealthy is indeed a slander to the ancient mind. That likely makes up most of the people within the small house church in Corinth.

People of ignoble birth, of low status, likely slaves as well (1 Cor. 7:20-23). The letter addresses both sides of an apparent conflict, as some are taking the other’s to court (ch6), engaging in egregious sexual immorality without remorse or recourse (ch5), dividing over the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), and fighting over who has the gifts of tongues (ch12-14).

The entire letter seems to presuppose this tension or conflict between classes, genders (11:2-16: 14:34-35, though I believe the latter is an interpolation), and even slaves in the aforementioned 7:20-23.

For Paul, the poor are given something in Christ:

ἐξ αὐτοῦ δὲ ὑμεῖς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὃς ἐγενήθη σοφία ἡμῖν ⸃ ἀπὸ θεοῦ, δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις

“But from [God], you are in Messiah Jesus, who became wisdom to us from God, both righteousness and sanctification and liberation.” (NRQT)

The Messiah is spoken of as θεοῦ δύναμιν καὶ θεοῦ σοφίαν (“God’s power and God’s wisdom”).

Christ is the wisdom of God, on behalf of those of ignoble birth, of low social status, and especially for those who are dishonored, marginal, and forgotten. In this Messiah, there is liberation, as this Messiah is not just for the rich and the powerful, but for those without power.

Those are identified as τὸ ἀσθενὲς τοῦ θεοῦ (“the weakness of God”) is seen in the same grammatical pattern as τὸ μωρὸν τοῦ θεοῦ in v.25: article + nominative adjective + article + genitive (divine) noun. The weakness of God is manifest in the community, suggesting identification and participation. God, it seems, is powerful enough to identify with the poor, the destitute, and not of high or noble status or birth.

Just some thoughts on the economy of God.


All that Glitters: A Brief Reflection on Wealth in 1 Tim. 6:17

Τοῖς πλουσίοις ἐν τῷ νῦν αἰῶνι παράγγελλε μὴ ὑψηλοφρονεῖν μηδὲ ἠλπικέναι ἐπὶ πλούτου ἀδηλότητι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ θεῷ τῷ παρέχοντι ἡμῖν πάντα πλουσίως εἰς ἀπόλαυσιν

“To the rich ones in the present age, command them to not be prideful nor to hope upon the uncertainty of riches, but upon God who is presenting to us all things richly for enjoyment.” 1 Tim. 6:17.

I’ve been attempting to write a future Ph.D dissertation proposal, and came across this text in 1 Timothy and it stuck with me. My wife and I are having some financial turbulence and living paycheck to paycheck is always a rough ride. However, in thinking about this text within the pericope in chapter 6, it seems that a disparity between rich and poor is percolating behind the scenes.

See for example:

·      (V.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.”

·      (V.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.”

Paul’s concern for the poor has been well documented, especially in recent works by David Downs and Bruce Longenecker. As the articular dative adjective πλουσίοις suggests, the author is directly addressing members of the congregation, this being the wealthy ones. While the poor could indeed own slaves, the context seems to suggest that these rich ones are slave owners (c.f. 6:1-2). Leaving aside the thorny issue of slavery in Paul, the direct address, followed by the imperative παράγγελλε, suggests a possible counter to the brief commentary on slaves in vv.1-2.

The interplay between the adjective and the nouns for “riches” is curious, as the materiality of wealthy is devalued by the author—serving as a “temporal” reality (ἀδηλότητι). Material possession, it is suggested, is limited to this world.

For those of us in turbulent times (as I suspect most of us are), this text bothers me. Not in a negative way per se, but it got under my skin pretty good. What about those who do not have wealth or sustainment?

Well, the answer seemingly lies in v.18, where the rich are enjoined to be “generous” (εὐμεταδότους) with the poor. The futurism mentality of the author shines through here, as this is a rhetorical maneuver to make it ‘appropriate’ for the wealthy to be generous. They give now, so that their futures are bound to eternal life. The poor are thus dependent upon the mandated generosity of the wealthy, which may have interesting implications. Something to chew on, perhaps.

The church, early on, was marked by generosity and the sharing of possessions; here, it seems, it took a little longer for them to get the hang of it. This brings me great comfort that many women and men in the early church were not unlike many of us today (just read the news, hint hint). The statement "into ruin and destruction" (v.9) is surprising. The use of εἰς ὄλεθρον καὶ ἀπώλειαν suggests both a present actuality (poverty resulting in material destruction and even death) and also perhaps eschatological destruction (due to disregard of the body or exploitation therein). In the times I've wondered what it would be like to be rich and have millions of dollars, this text now makes me reconsider those fantasies.

Plus my chances of winning the lotto are like 1 in 2,048,086,421 or something.

While that may not put a comma in my bank account, it does remind me that the poor will always be among us, and that even in our current state, generosity is the name of the game.

There is much more that could be said, but I will leave it there. Just some brief thoughts, nothing more.


Glorify God with your Body

I’ve been working on a potential Ph.D dissertation proposal (don’t worry, it isn’t about hell!), and have comes across some interesting language in 1 Cor. 6:20.

ἠγοράσθητε γὰρ τιμῆς· δοξάσατε δὴ τὸν θεὸν ἐν τῷ σώματι ὑμῶν

“For/because you have been purchased at a price; now glorify God with your body" (NRQT).

This concluding statement comes at the finale of chapter 6, which has been concerned with infighting amongst believers. Concerned to emphasize the goodness of the human person (or “body”), Paul assertsin v.19 that the human body is a ναὸς (“temple”), which establishes a high view of the human person. This human person may give worship (that is what happens at the temple or shrine), and she is also a model for how to interact with God, and suggests further that being σῶμα is a good thing. This is why the human person is still called σῶμα in the resurrected state (c.f. 1 Cor. 25:35-57). The physicality of the body is never fully removed, but the physicality is transformed and restored.

Paul does not draw a dualistic distinction between the “matter” and the “non-matter.” Rather, he uses the natural or concrete images of ναὸς and σῶμα to illustrate God’s good creation.

Verse 20, then, stresses the necessity of holiness of bodily integrity. This verb ἠγοράσθητε is used throughout the New Testament (mostly in the Synoptic Gospels), but finds its use in three instances in Paul. The first is obvious here in 6:20. However, there is a curious use in 7:23 and also in 7:30. In 1 Cor. 7:23, Paul uses an imperative middle verb (γίνεσθε) to argue against slaves to no longer return to slavery and are likely to told to take freedom in 7:21). They were bought with the same τιμῆς or price or cost; “therefore do not become slaves of people!” The human person, in all of her physical totality, is not worthy of slavery, especially in God's eyes.

"argue against slaves to no longer return" and "likely to told to take freedom")

The use of ἀγοράζοντες in 7:30 refers to not “buying” possessions because of Paul’s view of the immanent return of Christ (that is a dissertation or ten right there).  

Thus, the human person has been purchased at a great price (likely, the resurrection of Christ that liberates us from bondage), and as a result, we glorify God with our bodies. Of course, we cannot glorify God in a spiritual manner (to utilize that adjective seems almost disconcerting in light of the economic language here), but we can worship and sing and offer thanksgiving.

We have been purchased from the slavery of Death; therefore, we participate in God’s new economy of glorifying him with all that we truly are: now and forever.


She Makes Him Holy: Participation, SOMA & Authority in 1 Cor. 7:2-16

This post largely consists of a paper I wrote here at Fuller, though with minor modifications. I submit it here because I think the overall ideas are interesting.

Because of Paul’s participation language in Galatians 3, Romans 16, and the first six chapters of 1 Corinthians, it not surprising that he continues this trend in 1 Cor. 7:1-16, especially as it relates to reciprocity and σώμα. For example, Paul says that because of “sexual immoralities” (πορνείας) each husband should have his “own” (ἴδιον) wife. The additional inclusion of the phrase “and each woman her own husband” (v.2) suggests that Paul is issuing an imperative that both genders should have[1] their own spouse.[2] The speaking of each spouse having ownership of the other forms the basis of the mutuality in v.3, where Paul asserts “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” The use of “likewise” (ὁμοίως) indicates that the wife is expected to fulfill these duties in the same manner as her husband, creating a foundation for reciprocity. Together, they participate mutually in sexual intimacy. Paul’s statement is broad and he perhaps is attempting to balance the hierarchy of the ancient model of marriage where a man could exercise sexual dominion over his wife.[3]

Furthermore, Paul’s remarkable statement in v.4 is a further explanation of mutuality:  “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” The reason Paul may be speaking to the husband first in v.3 and 4 may be rhetorical: in confidently asserting what the husband would affirm about his hierarchical relationship with his wife, Paul then absolutely undermines the husband’s expectation when he offers to the wife the same virtue and authority.[4] In short, the husband would be expecting to hear such affirming language in their patriarchal culture, and the shock of Paul’s rhetorical reversal and parallelism[5] would not have been lost on Paul’s shocked first-century readers. Paul’s reciprocal use of “exercise authority” (ἐξουσιάζει)[6] in reference to the other’s body is revolutionary: one’s own body (ἰδίου σώματος) denotes one’s whole and complete person.[7] The totality of a human being is subject to the other, grounded in mutual submission with the other. This means that sex is not merely about sex: sex is about the concern for the mind, heart, and welfare of one’s spouse as well as sexual gratification and pleasure.[8] Verses 3 and 4 are significant because there is no functional difference at play; the body of one is subject in mutual participation with the other. Paul’s phrase in v.5, “do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time” also affirms mutuality as each spouse is commanded not to withhold from the other except by “agreement” (συμφώνου). The glorifying of another person’s body is of the upmost importance to Paul, for he writes previously, “the body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (6:14). We are to glorify God with our σώματι—that is—all that we are as human beings (6:20). Husband and wife are one σώμα (Gen. 2:24). Thus, there is to be no gendered preeminence in marriage if both spouses are subjected to one another’s σώμα in Christ.[9] Paul’s mutual theology of marital participation continues in v.6-11.


Inspired by how husband and wife relate mutually, Paul goes on to state v.2-5 as a concession, and asserts his own preference for singleness (v.7-9). However, mutuality continues to thrive, as reconciliation between estranged married partners is preferred (v.10-11) and it is possible that wives and husbands shared the same legal freedom. Perkins suggests “Paul’s ‘not be separated’ reflects the Jewish law that limited divorce to husbands (Deut. 24:1), though first-century Jewish women seem to have enjoyed the same freedom to divorce as their gentile counterparts.”[10] Paul affirms the wife’s right to divorce (ἀφιέτω, using the same imperative verb for husbands) in v.13, though he urges both husbands and wives not to utilize that right.[11] The mutual interdependence of male and female is indeed unambiguous, and here “Paul empowers the woman in the relationship as she is called to exercise her will in the matter. In contrast, there is no greater responsibility or burden directed to the man.”[12]


All of Paul’s previous language of participation and mutuality now culminates in v.12-16. In this text Paul offers his own advice to the believing party in a mixed marriage by stating in v.12-13: “If any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.” The parallelism is explicit and not controversial: one ought not divorce the unbelieving other spouse, should he or she continue to live with them. What Paul says next in v.14 is extraordinary, controversial and deserves significant attention: “For the unbelieving husband is made holy [ἡγίασται] through [ἐν] his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy [ἡγίασται] through [ἐν] her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy [ἅγια].” Various translations of v.14 translate ἐν as “through” or “by.” This use of is ἐν confirmed by Stanley E. Porter who believes the preposition includes “[a] label a relationship by which (normally) a thing (and occasionally a person) brings about or enters into an action with respect to something else.”[13] The phrase “ἐν τῇ γυναικὶ” is defined by Rogers Jr. and Rogers III as “in the wife; that is, through the close tie with her.”[14] The unbelieving partner is—perhaps unwittingly—participating in the life of the believing partner, whether husband or wife. The implication of this is that mutual submission is enjoined within Paul’s own theological framework, as husband and wife together in Christ “yield” the “exercising of authority” to one another. This illustrates the powerful agency of the wife in affecting her unbelieving husband through relational commitment. In essence, the wife makes her husband “ἡγίασται,” and visa versa. Husband and wife are free to exercise authority and influence over the unbelieving other, which completely diminishes claims that “women are to honor and men are to embrace the special responsibility that God has given men in the spiritual leadership in the home and in the believing community.”[15] Not only is this language contextually unwarranted, it is theologically nonsensical when considering Paul’s language here. The agency assumed on the part of Paul regarding wives and husbands equalizes the other’s ability to make the other “holy,” thus illustrating mutuality and equality in the Christian marriage relationship.

The meaning of ἡγίασται is debated in v14. There is a fascinating chain in 1 Cor. 6:11, where a string of aorist verbs (ἀπελούσασθε, ἡγιάσθητε, ἐδικαιώθητε) describing former sinners are concluded with the phrase “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). This close use of ἡγιάσθητε may be vital for our understanding of ἡγίασται in v.14. Stanley Porter observes that ἡγίασται (“is sanctified”) likely suggests “the ethical side of ‘sanctification’ is probably to the fore, in which Paul is saying that the marital relationship in which these mixed partners are involved, perhaps even by its ongoing maintenance, is made morally pure by the believing partner being in it.”[16] The husband and the wife exercise agency over the other and this would include spiritual authority as well. Both have an equal mandate to ἡγίασται the other, and gender does not reduce the ability of the women to make her husband holy.[17] Included in this agency is the family unit, as even children are now “holy” because of the believing member. Paul uses the possessive plural pronoun (ὑμῶν) to indicate that both husband and wife are in view regarding the holiness of their children (τέκνα, a neuter that could show Paul’s mindfulness towards sons and daughters), further illustrating mutuality.

V.15 showcases Paul’s inclusion of both genders in the case of the unbelieving spouse not responding and in turn separating from the believing spouse: if this happens, “the brother (ἀδελφὸς) or the sister (ἀδελφὴ) is not bound.” The significance of v.15 is that the deserted partner is not bound. This assumes that women could also divorce the believing husband, thus confirming equal legal rights mentioned above and may illustrate Paul’s sensitivity to the plight of both genders in the case of abandonment. It empowers the abandoned spouse by asserting that they are not bound (οὐ δεδούλωται). Paul is saying that one is not a slave because of their abandonment. Margaret MacDonald insightfully points out, “1 Cor. 7.12-16 offers insight both into the initiative of women, and into the suffering they probably endured.”[18]

V.16 begins with a vocative γύναι, addressing the wife before the husband. This follows Paul’s standard of often addressing the so-called “subordinate party first,”[19] which seems to run counter to the various Haustafeln in the ancient world. Paul says to the wife “you might save (σώσεις) your husband.” BDAG 982-983 suggests that σῴζω in this verse refers to “persons who are mediators of divine salvation.” This runs counter to the belief that only a husband is the spiritual authority or influence in a marriage. The syntax of v.16 is symmetrical in applying this to husbands and wives: both can σώσεις the other and Garland contends that the idiom τί οἶδας ought to be taken positively, not fatalistically.[20] Paul is speaking positively about the effect the believing spouse may have upon the unbelieving other. The future active indicative verb σώσεις occurs three times in the Pauline corpus: twice here and once in 1Timothy 4:16, where it refers to those who “will be saved” (σώσεις).

Contextually, the soteriological affirmation for wives to “sanctify” their husbands is Paul’s affirmation of wives’ participation in bringing their unbelieving husbands to Christ. It seems clear that a husband and wife in a mixed marriage would influence the other to be “in Christ,” and that there would be no discrimination between genders as to who spiritually affects the other. Christ models for wives the sense by which they draw others into Christ and that there is no spiritual superiority within marriage: mixed or otherwise. In Christian marriage, spiritual influence and authority are not gendered, but mutually complementary and exceedingly beneficial for those who pursue mutual submission in Christ. I know it has worked wonders for myself, and I cannot imagine being a husband who did not submit to my wife.


[1] ἐχέτω (active imperative verb) is applied to both husbands and wives in v.2.

[2] Marion L. Soards, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 141. He writes, “this particular teaching [in v.2] about sexual relationships in marriage focuses on the rights of each partner in the marriage.”

[3] This is especially true if the ancient wife were married in her mid teens. C.f. Polaski, A Feminist Introduction to Paul, 34-35.

[4] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997), writes: “Here Paul articulates a view of marriage that stands as a challenge to views ancient and modern alike. The marriage partner are neither placed in a hierarchical relation with one over the other nor set apart as autonomous units each doing what he or she pleases.” 116.

[5] There is an articular parallelism in v.4: the affirmations of the one who has authority are exactly parallel in Greek.

[6] BDAG 353-354: “to have the right of control, to have the right/power.” This “right/power in 1 Cor. 7:4 is negated (οὐκ) by Paul as something integral to the spouse.

[7] BDAG 982: “body of a human being or animal.”

[8] To limit this text only to matters of sex is to minimize the complexities of God-ordained human intimate interactions. Sex cannot, stated candidly, be limited only to the bedroom. Sexual intimacy is about personality, character, and agency: all of which require something more than merely sexual intercourse. To limit this text in such a was is to fundamentally misunderstanding God’s gift of sex to us.

[9] Philip Payne notes the various other gendered parallelisms throughout 1 Cor. 7:1-40. Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 105-108.

[10] Pheme Perkins, First Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 109.

[11] Hays, 1 Corinthians, pointed this out. 120.

[12] Ronald W. Pierce, “First Corinthians 7: Paul’s Neglected Treatise on Gender,” Priscilla Papers 23.3, 2009, 10.

[13] Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd Ed (Sheffield, UK; Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 98-99. He notes that ἐν includes the concepts of “instrument, agent, cause, means, or manner.”

[14] Cleon L. Rogers JR and Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 362.

[15] Bruce A. Ware, “Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 90.

[16] Stanley E. Porter, “Holiness, Sanctification” in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald Hawthorne and Ralph Martin (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1993), 401.

[17] Some could point to Eph. 5:25-29 as an example of a husband having some sort of spiritual leadership or authority. However, Paul counterbalances that notion here and does not prioritize either gender in the salvific process. The marriage relationship in Eph. 5:21-33 is counterbalanced by v.21 and the rest of the epistle's emphasis on ecclesiastical and somatic unity.

[18] Margaret MacDonald, “Virgins, Widows, and Wives: The Women of 1 Corinthians 7,” in A Feminist Companion to Paul (ed. Amy-Jill Levine and Marianne Blickenstaff; Cleveland: T&T Clark, 2004), 153.

[19] In the New Testament household codes, the “subordinate” wives were addressed first; Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-19. Whether by Paul or by a Pauline school, this appears to be consistent within the Pauline corpus.

[20] David Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 294.

Christ, The Totality of God

I was reflecting this morning about Paul’s Christology (which is a massive debate in Pauline studies at the moment), and I recalled a brief exposition I gave about Colossians 1-2 and two with my wife at a Bible study.

She preached on the so-called “Christ-hymn” in Colossians 1:15-20, and afterward we discussed with the church the nature of Christ’s divinity according to Colossians.

In verse 19, we have this: ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι— “For in him the fullness [of God] was delighted to dwell.” (NRQT).

In a similar passage in 2:9 we have similar language being applied to Christ.

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ κατοικεῖ πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος σωματικῶς—“For in him dwells all of the totality of Deity bodily.” (NRQT).

In both texts we have the language of “fullness” and “dwelling,” including the hapax legomena θεότητος (a feminine noun). The noun πλήρωμα occurs in the same form in both instances, and it is lexically defined as “fullness, sum total, and completion.” It is used over a dozen times throughout the New Testament—most often in Paul’s writings. This word is applied both to God the Father (Eph. 3:19) and to the Messiah (Eph. 4:13), and it suggests that Paul is not concerned with applying the term equally to both persons.

The use of σωματικῶς in 2:9 is a frame or description of the articular τῆς θεότητος, intending to describe the indescribable. In some sense, perhaps this is an echo of Col. 1:15:

ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου—“Who [that is, Christ] is the image of the unseen God.” (NRQT).

Christ, then is both the sum total or totality of deity in bodily form, represented and enshrined as flesh—as σωματικῶς—for all to see. The beauty of σωματικῶς is that you can see it, and Christ was indeed imaged and seen. He is the εἰκὼν of God (c.f. 2 Cor. 4:4), embodying God to us and for us.

So what does this mean?

This means that Christ was a human person, subjected to the same foibles, pains, and oppression that all people face. It means that Christ willfully entered this sphere of Death’s dominion, illuminated by God’s deity, representing God to us.

Christ, then, is the enfleshment of God before us. If you want to know what the unseen God is like, what he does, and what he thinks, look to Christ—the one who is the εἰκὼν, the representative, the totality of God in bodily form. Without Christ, we have no way to conceive of God.

Hence, the miracle and necessity of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He became σωματικῶς to show us τῆς θεότητος in order for us to participate as an εἰκὼν of God. The tangibility of Christ means that the material world is good, and that God is concerned to redeem it—not leave it to die.


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:

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

The Image of Dust: A Brief Reflection on 1 Cor. 15

Thinking about death is always an exercise in futility, pondering the inevitable and the unstoppable. It always makes for a good time at the dinner table.


In 1 Corinthians 15:46-49 Paul, after using a seed analogy throughout the first few verses in this pericope, focuses on the contrastive aspect of Christ and Adam. Adam, here, is likely typological in some sense, functioning as an antitype of Christ.

Adam’s origins, however, are under dispute and the debate about the existence of a ‘historical’ Adam are raging—at least in certain parts of the evangelical fold. However, Paul uses εἰκών (“image”) seems to specify a type of ‘material similarity’—which is specifically, in the genitive tense, χοϊκοῦ. An εἰκών represents something unseen (c.f. Col. 1:15-20) and is also a disjunction between the conceptual and the purely material. Christ, in a sense, is the revelation of God. As it says, he is God's fullness (Col. 2:9).

However, human beings are defined as χοϊκοῦ (“dust, earth”), as bearing that specific image in our present state. Human life, presently defined, is marked by pain, dust, and toil. It was then, and any glance on the evening news reveals that this painful aorist aspect is still ongoing.

In short, we are dust.

As a physicalist (or monist, I suppose) this is nothing new. Being in Adam's image means that we lack anything remotely like God: immortality.

Bearing the image of Adam, we share in mortality, in sin, and ultimately are subject to Death. That is what happens to material things, they breathe, bleed, and die. Then there is nothing.

Paul’s own historical context was not immune to this, and any pleasure was fleeting and likely immoral by Paul’s own moral standards. Ancient economics dictated that people were left to fend for themselves, to die in the streets, alone and barren.

Paul’s subsequent language regarding “immortality” (ἀθανασίαν) is a remarkable claim, especially to the poor and destitute. The totality of the populace likely lived in strict poverty, and any sort of religious cult likely included a high entrance fee.

God, it seems, is willing to offer ἀθανασίαν to the poor and the oppressed. The interplay between verbs (ἐφορέσαμεν; φορέσομεν) in v.49 is clear: a present and ongoing reality versus a future hope is something that we bear, and will bear through participation in Christ.

To God, we are not merely dust.

In the eschaton, we will be defined as being “fully human.”

That is Paul’s greatest hope, and one that I deeply share. Resurrection of the body is the direct counter to the totality of the human experience, and means that one is not alone in the universe, and one is not discarded by God.

Sounds good to me.


Is it by "Grace" You are being Saved? Some Fragmented Thoughts on Ephesians

In John Barclay’s new book Paul and the Gift, he explores the dynamics of “grace” (χάρις) within Romans and Galatians. He argues “against modern notions of ‘altruism,’ we found that benefits were generally intended to foster mutuality, by creating or maintaining social bonds. This expectation of reciprocity, with its (non-legal) obligations, created cyclical patterns of gift-and-return, even where there were large differentials in power between givers and recipients.”[1]

In Ephesians, there are two key texts that are often used to support the argument of “grace.” These are Ephesians 2:5 and 2:8. The Greek word χάρις is usually—if not always—translated as “grace,” and this is often seen as something “freely given” or bestowed with no strings attached. Since the Reformation, Ephesians 2:1-10 has played a large and somewhat helpful role for defining certain doctrines. However, I want to suggest an alternative reading based on my own research and the research done by John Barclay.

So, here are the two texts in question:

2:5 – καὶ ὄντας ἡμᾶς νεκροὺς τοῖς παραπτώμασιν συνεζωοποίησεν τῷ Χριστῷ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι

“And we being dead by the offenses are made alive by means of Christ—by grace you are being liberated” (NRQT).

2:8 – τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως. καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον

“For in grace you are being liberated through faithfulness; and this not from you, [rather it is] God’s offering gift” (NRQT).

Now there is much to say, and I don’t want this to turn into a term paper, so I will limit myself to three observations.

First, the phrases are identical: χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι – singular feminine noun in the dative + plural verb + plural middle participle. There is a debate amongst Greek grammarians about middle versus passive tenses. For instance, if a participle is in the middle voice, it has the action of the actor in mind. Ex: humble yourselves. If it is passive, then it referring to an external action being placed upon the actor. Ex: you are being humbled. The problem lies in the fact that σεσῳσμένοι in both verses is technically middle/passive. So which option works best? The arguments most often boil down to context. I suggest that the entire pericope is bracketed by two specific verbs from the περιπατέω word group (they mean “walk” or “live,” in the sense of conducting yourselves ethically). Both are in the aorist tense, suggesting active conduct on the part of the Gentiles being addressed. So the entire framework seems to assume a sort of participation. God exhorts people, elects people, adopts people, and their participation is required. Thus, σεσῳσμένοι likely includes an active component that is contextually necessary.

Second, because of Barclay’s current conclusions regarding χάρις, it seems that it is best to read these two verses as follows.

2:5 – “And we being dead by the offenses are made alive by means of Christ—by the gift you are being liberated” (NRQT).

2:8 – “For in the gift you are being liberated through faithfulness; and this not from you, [rather it is] God’s offering gift” (NRQT).

This works well for two reasons. First it seems to be a better historical fit, especially in light of the mutuality inherent in the concept of “gift-giving.” Second, 2:8 concludes with a verb less clause: θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον, and δῶρον is actually the specific word for “gift” or “offering gift.” So 2:8 begins with χάρις and ends with δῶρον, and while these terms are clearly not synonymous, they do reflect well together the concept of an “offering gift.” Thus, the use of τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ in 4:7 (“the gift of Christ” or “Christ’s gift”) is coordinate with the idea of “gift giving” and helps us reconsider “grace.” The “gift” of God is the principle point of theological focus for Gentiles in Ephesians.

Third and finally, the genitival phrase διὰ πίστεως in 2:8 includes an active component as well. The preposition διὰ can be variously translated as “through” or “by means of.” So here, since πίστεως is an active noun likely referring to “faithfulness” (as it flows nicely with the bracketed language about περιπατέω: see above), this genitival phrase flows nicely with the rest of the verse: καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον. God offers the gift of Christ, and Christ actively offers himself in the same reciprocal manner, in order to illustrate what God is doing for the Gentiles. The reciprocal nature of our “faithfulness” and God’s “gift” illustrates the dance humanity is invited to participate within.

In summation, much more could be said about this, but allow me a few concluding thoughts.

First, χάρις is not free. It costs God something, and it is a gift that demands human participation διὰ πίστεως. All things "cost" something, especially if the "gift" is given to those who are not wealthy or are socially maligned. It costs God's "honor," even though God does not appear to care much for his own glory sometimes. God gives χάρις to all people regardless of their social status, their gender, or their ethnicity. However, this χάρις is not without 'strings' or 'demands' or 'obligations.' There is no discrimination, but there is a high demand for participation and reciprocity. 

Second, Christ stands at the center of action, as agent, as Messiah, as Liberator, and as Son of God. Thus, the origination of the gift resides in God and not in us. However, the demand for “imitation” (5:1-2) and mutual responses reveals a God who desires a human response to his offering. The "gift of Christ" did not originate with us, and this illustrates that we are to participate within this "gift." God, as wealthy, can afford to give the "gift" to all.

Third and ultimately, God’s offering gift of Christ to Gentiles reveals a God who can restore people from the dead, even those who were lost and forgotten among us. We respond to God’s gift, and this gift is not “free” – it cost Christ his own honor, it cost him his body, and ultimately it cost him his life. Our life, then, is to yield ourselves and act with Christ.

Is it by "grace" you are being saved? No. It is because of God's in Christ's offering gift that we are being saved, and it is in Christ that we reciprocate God's gift through imitation (4:25-5:2). Christ's faithfulness is our imitation. Thankfully, we may have life in his name if we imitate Christ and participate in God’s plan for the restoration of the world.

We "live" and "walk" by faithfulness, by the Gift, by Christ.


*post script*

I had some twitter friends and colleagues (April and Thomas) offer some helpful push back. Particularly of the phrases οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν ("not from you" - 2:8) and οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων ("not from works" - 2:9). I offer some thoughts that the originational aspect of "gift" lies with God, and is not from us. God as 'wealthy' gives Christ to the poor, and these verses do not exclude human participation but rather point to the source of the gift: God and Christ. Just in case this was not clear, and I thank the Revs. April and Thomas for their thoughts again. This reveals, of course, that Ephesians is Theo-centric and there is much mystery to be explored!

[1] John M.G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 562.


The Christ Gift: A (Brief) Exegesis of Ephesians 4:7

Ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

“And each one of us has been given favor according to the content of the gift of Christ” (NRQT).

The language of “gift” in Paul has recently undergone a major overhaul in light of John Barclay’s book, Paul and the Gift. While Barclay’s work centers on χάρις, here I think the use of the genitive construction τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ nicely fulfills Barclay’s proposal: χάρις is better rendered as "gift."

V.7 is the concluding statement of vv.1-7 that comprises a pericope or block of text. Beginning with παρακαλῶ, Paul exhorts his Gentile audience to live into their calling (4:1), and goes on to utilize a (possible) baptismal formula or creed that stresses unity within a corporate community by the repeated use of εἷς (“one”). Paul’s conclusion stems from all urging a community of mutualism and care in one body, and this is “according to the content of the gift of Christ.”

The issue with genitive phrase τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ is whether or not Christ is ‘possessive.’ Is Christ the actual gift given by God, or rather is the gift belonging to Christ, which in turn is given to us? Most translations and commentators render the phrase is the normal sense, “gift of Christ.” For my part, I think it could go either way, especially in light of 5:2 where Christ “hands himself over” (παρέδωκεν) or in the previous phrase in 4:23 where God “granted” (ἐχαρίσατο) to us in Christ. There are many other verses to explore, but the point is that Christ is both object and active agent in Ephesians and there does not appear to be any attempt by Paul to systematize this imagery.

How, then, does this work? I suspect both are true in various respects. Christ is given to us (4:32), and Christ as Messiah and Lord is the one who actively came for us (Phil. 2:6-8). This articular δωρεᾶς harkens back Psalm 68:18 (LXX) where God is the one who ascends the mountain and gives gifts. However, Christ is the one here to seemingly gives gifts, which also include people within the church (c.f. 4:11-12). Thus, I suspect this δωρεᾶς is Christologically oriented and Christ functions as the one who ascends and descends. In the LXX the word for gift is δόματα, a similar word to the one under consideration.

Thus, one could say that Christ is the one who gives gifts, including himself, to the people of God. He does this as the Incarnate Lord, the suffering servant, and as the victor over sin and death.

Most of all, he does this because the Messiah “loved us” (ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς: the aorist tense does not refer to a once and for all act, but to an ongoing state that has no fixed stoppage). Christ’s love and gift are linked together, and we are all called to participate in this “gift.” This 'Christ Gift' includes sacrifice and love as its currency, and for those who are bankrupt, this is indeed good news.


Liberation and Adoption of Gentiles in Ephesians 1

In many evangelical theological circles, Ephesians 1:3-14 is the vestibule (to use Douglas Campbell's word from The Deliverance of God - you can tell what I'm reading!) of the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. For my own money, the Arminian rendering of this text makes most sense[1] but that lies outside of my direct interest for this blog post.

I see the larger picture in Ephesians 1 as being about God’s character, and this leads Paul to describe the election of a people in Christ by using familial and economic imagery to convey this point. The audience of Ephesians is not primarily Jews, and is largely centered on Gentile converts or those who are interested in Israel’s God (c.f. (2:1-22; 3:1-12; 4:17-23).

I will attempt to convey my reflections in two points.

1. God as Father

God is spoken of as father quite prominently in Ephesians 1, specifically in 1:3. Paul’s invoking of the “father” imagery is stark, as a father in the ancient world had the power of adoption or expulsion but was also the one who gave the inheritance to his sons and daughters. God the Father, as such, is wealthy enough to give an inheritance to the Gentiles and has adopted them through Christ (v.4). The use of υἱοθεσίαν signifies, again, the removal from one sphere and placement within another. Adoption, then, is economic, liberative, and familial. The father desires to give gifts (χάριτος: some translate this as ‘grace,’ but I think ‘gift’ works better here) to the Gentiles, and has enough for all who participate in Christ’s liberative act of redemption. To that,w e turn next.

2. Christ as Liberator

My main reflection on this point centers on 1:7, where Paul writes ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν διὰ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτοῦ: “In [or by] whom we have liberation through his blood” (NRQT). The parallel in Colossians 1:14 also uses ἀπολύτρωσιν as well, where Christ’s blood (i.e. ‘death’) is involved in some sort of manner. Perhaps Paul has in mind substitution, but the idea of “slavery” is found in the Old Testament where liberation results in the setting free of an individual or a people (see the Exodus). Thus, the concept of “ransom” seems more likely in Ephesians 1:7: being liberated from a previous sphere of influence by Christ.

Paul’s use of liberation (usually translated as “redemption”) is an odd term, as it only occurs 10 times in the New Testament. For Paul, it is a term that conveys the notion of being “set free” or “ransomed” from a previous state. In Romans 3:24, Paul speaks about the “righteousness/ righteousness” that comes διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (“through the liberation by Christ Jesus”). Liberation in Paul is seen in Christological and Pneumetological terms, where Christ and/or the Holy Spirit are active in creation for the sake of Gentiles. In Ephesians 1, it is in Christ we have liberation, and in 1:14, it is the “release” of our inheritance that is conducted through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our down payment, based on the work God does in and by Christ for the sake of non-Jews.

God, in Christ, has something for those who previously did not worship him as God.

Jesus is spoken about as Χριστός in Ephesians 1:3-14 quite prominently, which suggests the motif of “kingship” and does not remove Jesus from the Messianic sphere. Jesus is still king, the one who liberates the Gentiles from their former sphere of sin and death and subjection.

To outsiders - then and now - this is true gospel: Christ, through the Father, is the benevolent King who liberates us from our former domain of Sin and oppression and Death, the one calling us sons and daughters. In this new realm of Christ’s kingdom, we participate fully as equal members of Christ’s body.

Final Thought.

In this Messiah, we are sons and daughters, brought together by a wealthy father that desires all people to be in his family. Being ‘predefined’ beforehand by God’s grace, to actively live into our calling. God’s gift of Christ, then, is not limited but is for all people—Jew and Gentile, Christian and not.

Is God not the God of all people?


[1] See Brian Abasciano, “Clearing up Misconceptions about Corporate Election,” Ashland Theological Journal 2009.