Saturday, December 6, 2008

Who Is “We”?

Who Is “We”?

In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul writes in the singular - “I”, “me”, and “my”, and he is writing autobiog­raphically about himself; then from 2:6 to 2:16E he changes to the use of the plural: “we”, “us”, “our”. To whom is he referring? Who is “we”? For who it is that Paul means when he writes “we” in this chapter is an important consideration.

Is he referring to himself here, using the “royal plural”? This is unlikely in view of his prior use of the singular, to which he returns once more in 3:1. Then is he referring to himself and his fellow apostles (“exclusive we”), or to himself and his readers (“inclusive we”)?

At times one finds Christians today applying the words of this passage directly to themselves and their fellow-Christians as if what Paul says is referring to and directed to all believers. Which would imply that what Paul wrote here referred to the Corinthians. (There is no basis for interpreting Paul’s words to apply to Christians generally today but not to the Corinthians.) Further reflection upon the passage should show that this is most certainly not the case.

Is he saying of the Corinthians in 2:16, “You have the mind of Christ”, when in the very next verse (3:1) he tells them that he can’t address them as spiritual, and when he then proceeds throughout the rest of this Epistle to correct their thinking (and their practice) in relation to one error after another? Nor is it the Corinthians who impart wisdom, a secret and hidden wisdom of God (2:6-7); nor has God revealed to the Corinthians God’s secret truths (2:8); nor is it the Corinthians who are taught by the Spirit the very words in which to impart truths revealed by God through the Spirit (2:12-13).

The context of this passage is Paul’s response to the factions at Corinth calling themselves after the names of Paul, Apollos, and Peter (1:12). First he sets out the gospel which “we preach” (1:21 and 22) - he is showing that they are not “competitors” with each other in the church, but united in the message preached. The same thing is seen in 3:4-9a, where Paul emphasizes that he and Apollos (who had both ministered in Corinth) had differing roles “as the Lord assigned to each” (3:5), but are “God’s fellow workers” (3:9a). To the Corinthians, in contrast, he says, “You are God’s field, God’s building.”

What Paul says here (2:13) is highly significant. When he imparts “this” (i.e. the matters which he has just mentioned in 2:12, which had been revealed through the Spirit - 2:10 - and which he had earlier referred to in 2:6-7), he does not do so “in words taught by human wisdom”. This is to emphasize afresh the point that he had made earlier (see 2:4): “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom”. Rather, he spoke “in words taught by the Spirit”.

Paul is the one who has received the specific calling of God for the apostolic ministry of imparting spiritual truth to win people to faith and then to instruct them in the faith (to which ministry he alludes a few verses further on, in 3:5-6, and many times elsewhere in his writings).

Notice that 2:13 is a claim by Paul to be inspired by the Spirit in what he is teaching, and that this claim extends to the very words in which this teaching is framed. It is a claim to verbal inspiration.

What is said here by Paul to the Corinthians in reference to his teaching would apply to this letter written to them and also to the other Epistles of his which we have in the New Testament - there would be no valid grounds for reducing the scope of its applicability to its immediate Corinthian context, for the way in which he speaks shows that he is speaking more widely.

Note moreover the significance in this verse in particular of the plural “we”. What Paul says here of himself he is saying also of the others whom the Holy Spirit has chosen similarly to receive the revelation of God’s truth and teach it.

This is elucidated in further detail in Ephesians 2:20-3:12: those upon whom the church is built are the “apostles and prophets” (2:20) for “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:4-5).

In particular, Paul is now telling his readers that the apost­les and their associates are imparting to them (the Corinthians) the truths taught by the Spirit, in words given by the Spirit (2:13). Things unimagined hitherto, that God has pre­pared for those who love him, have now been revealed to “us” (i.e., to the holy apostles and prophets) through the Spirit, and these things in turn are taught by them to the church (2:9-10).

The Corinthians received these things orally; and these truths revealed through the Spirit have been written down under the Spirit’s guidance, and we now have them available to us: this teaching is now embodied in the New Testament. In the New Testament sense and use of the word “prophet” (as will be further elucidated in discussing chapter 14), the non-apostolic New Testament writers can be recognized as being New Testament prophets. The scope of 2:13 (and indeed of this whole section of the Epistle) may legitimately be taken to include in its span all the other writers of the New Testament.

In view of Paul’s obvious knowledge of the life and ministry of Jesus, it is possible that he knows, and has in mind, the promise that Jesus gave in John 14:26 and 16:13: “But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things. ... When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

In any case, the teaching of Paul here and the teaching of these passages in John’s Gospel are all in accord in stating explicitly the role of the Holy Spirit in teaching God’s truth to the apostles after the Ascension. This is directly connected in John 15:26-27 with the apostles’ ministry of testifying to Christ.

It is clear then that in 2:6-16 Paul is referring to the calling and ministry God has given, through the Spirit, to his chosen apostles and their associates. Thus he is not referring to all Christians, but just to himself and his fellow-apostles and the New Testament writers. These men impart the things given to them by God in words taught by the Spirit.

Can Christians in general (and Christians today) say, “We have the mind of Christ”? There is no basis for thinking of some kind of revelation direct to us today: God has given his revelation of divine truth through his holy apostles and prophets, and it is recorded as Scripture, and it is complete. And as for the “natural person” (a person on their own apart from the working of God’s Spirit): No - these things are spiritually discerned (2:14). It remains true, as the Lord said through Isaiah (55:8-9), “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

But God has revealed himself in Scripture. To the extent that the Spirit fills us (so that we become a “spiritual person”, 2:15), and that we become immersed in the teaching of Scripture, and develop a “Christian world view”, to that extent can it be true of us that we now have the mind of Christ.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)



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