Paul thru Mediterranean Eyes– A Review Part Four

On pp. 79-80, Bailey addresses one of the more controversial phrases in all of 1 Corinthians— 1 Cor. 1.30. He translates it “Christ Jesus who became wisdom for us from God (that is, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption), therefore it is written…..” While it is certainly true that the Greek phrase te kai can mean ‘that is’, providing an explanation for what has come before, it is also used in other ways. The sentence actually predicates wisdom of one subject (Jesus), and righteousness, sanctification, and redemption of another, the converts. It reads literally in the Greek “But you are from God in Christ (who was made wisdom for us by God) righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” Paul elsewhere does not equate wisdom with salvation and he does not do so here either. He has already called the Corinthians the sanctified ones and this is just a further elaboration of what they have received from God in Christ—namely righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. This is not about imputed righteousness any more than it is about imputed sanctification or redemption. It’s about imparted righteousness, sanctification and redemption. These are the salvific gifts of God to his people. Think about it for a moment— Christ had no need of being sanctified, and he is not sanctified in our place, the Holy Spirit works sanctification in us. It is we who need to be and have been redeemed by Christ. Christ is the redeemer, not redemption for us or in our place. What Paul does do is draw on the Jewish sapiential tradition and present Christ as the Wisdom of God come to earth, prefigured in Proverbs 8-9 and elsewhere.

From pp. 80-85 we begin to get a glimpse of how Bailey’s attempt to make 1 Corinthians a more generic discourse bears fruit. For example, he argues that ‘not many wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many of noble birth’ does not refer specifically to the social situation in Corinth (for if it did, it would be a shaming devise), but rather it is a general comment that there are not many of these sorts of high and mighty folks in the whole Greco-Roman world from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond! But this will not do, since 1 Cor. 1.26 begins “for consider your calling brothers (a direct address to the Corinthians) that not many wise….”. Now a verb has to be inserted in the mix, but notice that the previous verb is in the second person involving ‘you considering your calling’. It is thus right to assume that the rest of the sentence means ‘not many of you (are) wise…. And this of course is what most commentators conclude. Paul is indeed using deflating rhetorical devices to bring the Corinthians back down to earth. What or whom then is Paul referring to when he mentions the foolish, the weak, and the low? Presumably he is referring to Christ’s ambassadors like himself who proclaim Christ and him crucified at great personal cost. Bailey, by contrast has to treat the ‘consider your call’ as a dangling phrase, that somehow must be made to refer to everyone in Christ. But this is clearly not how it would have been heard in Corinth when this discourse was read out. It would have been heard as Paul pointing his finger at the Corinthians, and making clear to them that their boasting was foolish considering especially their social make-up. The audience was mostly not graduates of Athen U.!

Bailey rightly points out that some parts of this first argument reflect high oral and aural polish. He rightly points to the assonance and alliteration and end rhyme in 1 Cor. 1.23. Paul is writing as he would have spoken were he there, and he wants his words to take a form that will comport with and persuade the audience. There is nothing, contra Bailey, particularly ‘Semitic’ about having two lines of Greek text which have the same number of syllables as well as end rhyme and alliteration. This is a common rhetorical device of capable speakers, and the fact that we can find in both the OT in Hebrew and in Greek texts is no shock. Paul did not have to rely on a quotient of Jewish listeners to help the Gentiles appreciate this sort of rhetorical polish.

Here it will be worth pointing out something I am certainly not disputing. I am not in any doubt that Paul was deeply influenced, both at the level of idea, and at the level of imagery, and even at the level of phrasing, sometimes quoting the text, by Isaiah, particularly the so-called Servant Songs of second Isaiah. Indeed a very fine detailed study by Ross Wagner entitled Heralds of the Good News shows just how much this is the case for the apostle to the Gentiles. Bailey’s various attempts in this book, some more successful than others, to show Paul’s indebtedness to Isaiah in one way or another, including in his rhetoric, is commendable and convincing in some places. And to his credit, he sees places where for instance 1 Cor. 1.17-2.2 diverge from Isaiah 50.5-11. (see p.92). Of course Paul does not use Isaiah as a transcript for what he will say. He knows, for example, there is no reference at all to crucifixion in Isaiah 50-55. Suffering, yes. Torment, yes. No crucifixion referred to. The point I would make about the use of Isaiah by Paul is that Paul’s discourse is understandable by itself. It does not require the audience have a prior knowledge of Isaiah. It would be helpful if some of the audience did have such knowledge and could share, but it was not absolutely necessary. Paul is his own person, an independent thinker, and he makes whatever sources he uses his own. 1 Corinthians is no different from his other letters in this regard.

It will come as something of a shock to those who think Greek oratory has little to do with 1 Corinthians that on pp. 93-101, Bailey finds deliberate echoes of Pericles famous funeral oration for the Athenians who died battling the Spartans and saying the city from them. Bailey wants to see what Paul says about the cross in 1.27-2.2 as echoing in some respects Pericles’ oration. Of course he recognizes the differences as well. Like Paul is exalting not a war hero but a crucified man. While there is some merit to this argument, there are problems as well. In the first place, Paul does not think Jesus is still dead. And the form of his discourse here is not like, for example 1 Thessalonians, which definitely is a form of funeral oratory, consoling the audience after various Christians had been martyred in Thessalonike. So there are some definite limits to the merits of Bailey’s comparison here. Do we really have an encomium to the dead Christ here? Not really. Christ is a once dead but now risen and alive again hero. This changes the nature of Paul’s rhetoric here.

But it is worth quoting some of Bailey’s helpful conclusions of what we should deduce from Paul’s first argument: “Paul does not intend any form of anti-intellectualism. He does not mean [in this passage] that he is rejecting the method of appealing to the Greek mind through its own literary sources such as he pioneered in Athens. He does not mean a rejection of rhetoric with its careful attention to precision, balance, clarity, and indeed beauty (As noted, his call is not an excuse for sloppy sermon preparation)” (p. 99). Just so. One could have wished them that Bailey had done far more probing of the Greek rhetorical tradition in this book to better understand 1 Corinthians. This is a significant oversight.
One of the mysteries about Bailey’s analysis is sometimes calls things homilies which are way too short, by either ancient or modern standards, to be called homilies. They are more like sub-points in an argument. So for example on p. 102 he refers to 1 Cor. 2.3-10a and 2.10b-16 as two homilies. Now the analysis of early Jewish and Christian homilies is not as advanced as it ought to be, but the discussion (which can be found in my Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians in the Introduction) has gone far enough to show— these two little sections of 1 Corinthians do not deserve to be labeled as homilies ( and Bailey’s use of the term cameo is not much more helpful).

One thing that is puzzling about this book, so far, is while the press on the book touts how it brings insights to us from the Arabic and Syriac and Coptic traditions on 1 Corinthians, with only one or two small passing examples as exceptions through the first fourth of the book, these insights are nowhere in sight. Bailey is basically only interacting with the OT and a few Greek resources.

One of the contributions of this book is that it highlights the various places where we can find an implicit, or in some cases even explicit, Trinitarianism. The Father, Son, and Spirit work together for the salvation of humanity. This seems especially clear in places like 1 Cor. 2.7-10— God the Father has a plan, the Lord of glory being crucified is part of the plan, the Spirit reveals the plan to humanity. Sometimes Bailey over does it though. On pp. 115-16 he tries to equate Paul’s phrase ‘the thoughts of God’ with Christ, God’s Word. He further equates the two with ‘the deep things of God’. This does not work. In the first place Paul doesn’t use the phrase Word of God to either identify or characterize Christ. He uses the term Wisdom. Paul is simply drawing an analogy between God’s thoughts and our human thoughts.

Bailey (p. 110) discusses what Paul means by glory, and here he probably goes awry. Paul is not talking about wisdom granted to us. ‘Our glory’ refers to the glorification of saved humans, restored in the image of Christ, which until now humans have fallen short of due to sin (see Romans— ‘we have all sinned and fallen short…..’). In other words, Paul is not shy about predicating glory of humans, in a positive, not pejorative sense. While everything may be ‘to the doxa of God’ in Paul’s theology, not everything is about the doxa that only God has. God, as it turns out wants us to be partakers of his glory—his holy, sanctified, righteous presence and nature. This is likely what the author of 2 Peter has in mind as well when he says we may be partakers of the divine nature, by which he is referring to God’s moral attributes.
At various junctures along the way, Bailey uses the term Gnostic (capital G—see p. 114). He shows no cognizance of the fact that there was no Gnostic movement in Paul’s day, and no Gnostic Christians either. Properly speaking this offshoot of Christianity begins in the second century A.D. So Paul is not opposing Gnostics in 1 Corinthians. The older views of W. Schmithals have long since been discredited.

It is interesting as well that Bailey insists that the spiritual being referred to in this passage is not a spiritual Christian who has insight into spiritual things, but rather The Spiritual One, namely the Holy Spirit. This seems unlikely in view of the structure of the passage. 1 Cor. 2.15 parallels the ‘we have the mind of God’ with the mention of the ‘spiritual one’ which is surely more likely a reference to a Christian, especially in light of the later discussion in 1 Corinthians about the ‘psuchikos’ person as opposed to the spiritual person. The believer has received the Holy Spirit, which allows him to understand the thoughts, the mind of God about the matters Paul is discussing.

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