“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.


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. http://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ashland_theological_journal/41-1_059.pdf