Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Fri Oct 5 03:17:13 EDT 2001

> It seems to me that in all this discussion about the context surrounding
> PNEUMATIKOS that we have ignored one essential point.  Paul begins his
> discussion with PERI DE.

This is a good point. And it is not the first time in 1 Corinthians Paul
starts his discussions of a specific topic with PERI. After a more general
introduction in the first six chapters, he starts off a new section in
chapter 7 with

This suggests that the Corinthian church had sent a letter with various
questions. Unfortunately, we don't have a copy of that letter.

A similar introduction is found in

It is not clear how many of these topics the Corinthians themselves had
raised in their letter and how many Paul addresses because he knows that
they are areas that need to be addressed.
> I think it's safe to say that we would all agree that I Corinthians is not
> exactly a book of praise for the Corinthian church's good works.  For the
> sake of brevity, and without implying anything about the accuracy of the
> information, I will provide the headings that are given in the UBS 4th for
> the book, preceding chapter 12.
> 1:1     Greeting and Thanksgiving
> 1:10   Divisions in the Church
> 1:18   Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
> 2:1     Proclaiming Christ Crucified
> 2:6     The Revelation of God's Spirit
> 3:1     Fellow Workmen for God
> 4:1     The Ministry of the Apostles
> 5:1     Judgment against Immorality
> 6:1     Going to Law before Unbelievers
> 6:12   Glorify God in Your Body
> 7:1     Problems concerning Marriage
> 7:17   The Life Which the Lord Has Assigned
> 7:25   The Unmarried and Widows
> 8:1     Food Offered to Idols
> 9:1     The Rights of an Apostle
> 10:1   Warning against Idolatry
> 10:23 Do All to the Glory of God
> 11:1   Covering the Head in Worship
> 11:17 Abuses at the Lord's Supper
> 11:23 The Institution of the Lord's Supper
> 11:27 Partaking of the Supper Unworthily
> And then we come to PERI DE TWN PNEUMATIKWN.  Paul's entire
> treatise, prior
> to chapter 12 concerns *primarily* fleshly matters, if you will.
> Divisions
> amongst the brethren, using the courts to settle disputes, misusing
> communion, living immorally or in an idolatrous manner, handling marriage
> and sex improperly, etc., etc., etc.  Now we come to chapter 12, and Paul
> makes an abrupt change of subject.  It's as if he says, "Whew!!  Now that
> we've finally gotten all that sense knowledge crap out of the way, let's
> discuss spiritual matters."

I am afraid I have to disagree here. There are several "spiritual" topics
and much spiritual vocabulary before chapter 12, for instance in 2:13-15.
And Paul does not think in a linear step-by-step way so that he could say
"Whew! we have finished that. Let us go on to the next step." He will often
hint at a problem or topic and then come back to it later in more detail. If
we squeeze his writings into a Western mould, we are likely to misunderstand
the original structural pattern.

> It seems to me that the context argues strongly for understanding
> PNEUMATIKWN to refer to spiritual matters, or things of the spirit.  The
> context is certainly not gifts.  It's a wide range of things that
> relate to
> spiritual matters as opposed to fleshy matters, which is what Paul had to
> address for 11 chapters in order to get to his goal, to discuss "higher"
> things, if you will.

The context includes the unknown questions in the letter from the
Corinthians. Did they ask specifically about CARISMATA PNEUMATIKA? Or did
they ask generally about PNEUMATIKA? Or does Paul decide to talk about this
topic because he knows it is a problem area? Maybe he received a more
specific question about speaking in tongues and wanted to set it in a wider
context of how the Spirit of God operates and is different from other
spiritual experiences they may have had.
> I think sometimes we let our theology get in the way of our Greek, and we
> fail to see with clarity what is written on the page.  Especially
> when it's
> "always been done that way".  I think Lattimore translates it as he does
> simply because he has no theological presuppositions.  He's simply
> translating Greek.  And isn't that the purpose of this list?

May I assume that the "we" here is the inclusive "we"? We all bring to any
text a number of presuppositions, theological as well as linguistic,
cultural, personal, etc. We have not defined what we mean by "spiritual
gifts" or even "spiritual matters" and I am sure we have quite different
opinions about what such words refer to. That is part of our different
There are also different philosophies involved here about what translation
and communication is. Those are complex issues and they are discussed more
fully on other lists, such as the Bible translation list. To talk about
"simply translating Greek" is too simplistic, IMO. Any translation is
governed by its own purposes, methods and intended audience.

We can say that TWN PNEUMATIKWN lexically means either spiritual things or
spiritual people. And maybe we shouldn't go further on this list.

What Paul intended to communicate to his original audience and how an active
Bible translator might translate this into another language for people who
live in a different cultural context is quite a different matter. What a
text is interpreted to mean with a minimum of presuppositions and what it
was intended to communicate are two different things.

I admit that my comments are often based on the real struggle I have to
translate the original text in a meaningful way to an audience that is
different from the originally intended audience, an audience who think in a
Western, linear way, rather than a Hebrew, circular way, an audience who
live in a culture very different from the Corinthians and therefore bring
different presuppositions to the text. That is why I personally am
interested in what a text was intended to communicate to the original
audience, given their presuppositions.

Bible translators often have a different perspective from biblical scholars,
because they have a different task. But we can still learn many things from
one another.

Iver Larsen

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