Paul’s Religious Mind Revisited, Part 1

I want to compare and contrast Paul’s teaching in his letter to the Corinthians to Jesus’ letter To the angel of the church in Thyatira[1] under the rubrics: “Paul’s Regime” and “Jesus’ Regime.”

Paul’s Regime

Jesus’ Regime

It is actually reported that sexual immorality (πορνεία) exists among you (ὑμῖν; plural), the kind of immorality (πορνεία) that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with (ἔχειν, a form of ἔχω) his father’s wife.

1 Corinthians 5:1 (NET)

But I have (ἔχω) this against you (σοῦ, a form of σύ; singular): You tolerate (ἀφεῖς, a form of ἀφίημι) that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and by her teaching deceives my servants to commit sexual immorality (πορνεῦσαι, a form of πορνεύω) and to eat food sacrificed to idols (εἰδωλόθυτα, a form of εἰδωλόθυτον).

Revelation 2:20 (NET)

I have given her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality (πορνείας, a form of πορνεία).

Revelation 2:21 (NET)

Experiencing these as two distinct regimes is new for me.  As long as I assumed that Jesus’ spoke to the second person plural the two passages seemed virtually identical.  And without doubt I love and respect Paul.  He led me to Jesus, helped me to see Him in a different light.  Apart from Paul’s writing in the New Testament I may never have learned to trust Jesus.  I’ve tried to imagine that the man Paul wrote about had kidnapped his father’s wife, kept her against her will, raped her repeatedly and refused to release her.  But that’s as much, or more, to ask of ἔχειν than the idea that he was pimping her for cultic purposes.

The man who had his father’s wife compares to Jezebel, who by her teaching deceives [Jesus’] servants to commit sexual immorality, as a man who walks into a congregation with a loaded gun compares to an active shooter.  Jesus gave Jezebel time to repent.  Paul didn’t say anything about time to repent, though I’m hard-pressed to determine what form the man’s repentance might have taken.

When I believed that πορνεία meant pre-marital sex[2] repentance seemed fairly straightforward: The man should dump the woman, go to college, get a high-paying job, return home, settle down and marry a nice girl—one who wouldn’t cohabit with her husband’s son.  That changed as I began to take the law (Exodus 22:16, 17, Deuteronomy 22:28-30) more seriously,[3] as a way to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He] sent.[4]  Of course, the woman in this case was or had been married to the man’s father.  By law both should have been condemned to death (Leviticus 20:10, 11).

Paul’s Regime

Jesus’ Regime

And you (ὑμεῖς, a form of ὑμείς) are proud (πεφυσιωμένοι, a form of φυσιόω)!  Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed (ἀρθῇ, a form of αἴρω) the one who did this from among you (ὑμῶν)?

1 Corinthians 5:2 (NET)

Look!  I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery (μοιχεύοντας, a form of μοιχεύω) with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds.

Revelation 2:22 (NET)

Paul addressed everyone (ὑμεῖς is second person plural) in the church at Corinth except the man who had his father’s wife, accusing them of being proud.  Of the seven occurrences of forms of φυσιόω in the New Testament, six are found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  (It is at least his second letter.)  Pride or arrogance was a consistent theme in his mind as he wrote.

Paul claimed I became your father (ἐγέννησα, a form of γεννάω) in Christ Jesus through the gospel.[5]  Actually he wrote, For though you may have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers (πατέρας, a form of πατήρ) ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς ἐγέννησα (literally, “for in Christ Jesus through the Gospel I gave birth to [KJV: have begotten] you”).  The NET translators shaded the arrogance of that statement a bit.  But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers, Jesus taught his disciples.  And call no one your ‘father’ (πατέρα, another form of πατήρ) on earth, for you have one Father (πατὴρ, another form of πατήρ), who is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ.[6]

The grandiose claim that the Corinthian believers were born of Paul (John 1:13 NIV ἐγεννήθησαν is another form of γεννάω) was out of character with Paul’s own teaching earlier in the same letter (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7 NET):

I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow.  So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth.

I have applied these things to myself and Apollos, Paul wrote, because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn “not to go beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up (φυσιοῦσθε, another form of φυσιόω) in favor of the one against the other.  For who concedes you any superiority?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you received it, why do you boast (καυχᾶσαι, a form of καυχάομαι) as though you did not?[7]  Of course, then he wrote (1 Corinthians 4:18-20 NET):

Some have become arrogant (ἐφυσιώθησαν, another form of φυσιόω), as if I were not coming to you.  But I will come to you soon, if the Lord is willing, and I will find out not only the talk of these arrogant (πεφυσιωμένων, another form of φυσιόω) people, but also their power.  For the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but with power.

Though God’s power (δυνάμει, a form of δύναμις) would clearly be the truth of his final declaration, in context it doesn’t seem to be the power Paul had in mind.  What do you want? he continued as if the following choice would be made by the Corinthians rather than by Paul himself.  Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline (ράβδῳ, a form of ῥάβδος) or with love (ἀγάπῃ) and a spirit of gentleness (πραΰτητος, a form of πραΰτης)?[8]  (While I assume that Paul’s threat to return to Corinth to beat the arrogant with a stick was bluster, it is heartwarming to find such punishment distinguished from love in the New Testament.)  In the very same letter Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 8:1b-3 NET):

Knowledge puffs up (φυσιοῖ, another form of φυσιόω), but love (ἀγάπη) builds up.  If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know.  But if someone loves (ἀγαπᾷ, a form of ἀγαπάω) God, he is known (ἔγνωσται, a form of γινώσκω) by God.

And (1 Corinthians 13:4-13 NET):

Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious.  Love does not brag, it is not puffed up (φυσιοῦται, another form of φυσιόω).  It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful.  It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.  But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside.  For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

Paul formed his conclusion that the Corinthians were proud (πεφυσιωμένοι, a form of φυσιόω), not by direct observation and interaction with them but, by hearsay[9] and by the fact that they had not removed the one who did this from among [them].  Paul had asked rhetorically, Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you?  The Greek word translated deeply sorrowful is ἐπενθήσατε (a form of πενθέω).

I am afraid, Paul wrote, that when I come again, my God may humiliate me before you, and I will grieve (πενθήσω, another form of πενθέω) for many of those who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality (πορνείᾳ), and licentiousness that they have practiced.[10]  Truly, love is not glad about injustice;[11] it does not rejoice in iniquity.[12]  Grieve, mourn (πενθήσατε, another form of πενθέω), and weep, James wrote.  Turn your laughter into mourning (πένθος) and your joy into despair.  Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.[13]  But I can’t help wondering if this mourning wasn’t more cultural than divinely inspired.

Granted, Jesus said: Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn (πενθήσετε, another form of πενθέω) and weep;[14] and, The wedding guests cannot mourn (πενθεῖν, another form of πενθέω) while the bridegroom is with them, can they?[15]  He also said, Blessed are those who mourn (πενθοῦντες, another form of πενθέω), for they will be comforted.[16]  But I still remember the contrast between Ezra and Malachi:



While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself to the ground before the temple of God, a very large crowd of Israelites – men, women, and children alike – gathered around him.  The people wept loudly.  Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, from the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the local peoples.  Nonetheless, there is still hope for Israel in this regard.  Therefore let us enact a covenant with our God to send away all these women and their offspring, in keeping with your counsel, my lord, and that of those who respect the commandments of our God.  And let it be done according to the law.”

Ezra 10:1-3 (NET)

You also do this: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears as you weep and groan, because he no longer pays any attention to the offering nor accepts it favorably from you.  Yet you ask, “Why?”  The Lord is testifying against you on behalf of the wife you married when you were young, to whom you have become unfaithful even though she is your companion and wife by law.  No one who has even a small portion of the Spirit in him does this.  What did our ancestor do when seeking a child from God?  Be attentive, then, to your own spirit, for one should not be disloyal to the wife he took in his youth.  “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and the one who is guilty of violence,” says the Lord who rules over all.  “Pay attention to your conscience, and do not be unfaithful.”

Malachi 2:13-16 (NET)

As Jesus’ disciples mourned his death (or perhaps their own loss) they didn’t believe his comfort when it came to them in the form of a woman: Early on the first day of the week, after he arose, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons.  She went out and told those who were with him, while they were mourning (πενθοῦσι, another form of πενθέω) and weeping.  And when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.[17]  So to the first part of Paul’s rhetorical question I can only give a qualified yes.

The Greek word translated removed in the second part of Paul’s rhetorical question was ἀρθῇ (a form of αἴρω).  “Take this man away (αἶρε, another form of αἴρω)!  Release Barabbas for us![18] an angry mob before Pilate rejected Jesus.  “Away (αἶρε, another form of αἴρω) with him!”[19] a mob in Jerusalem rejected Paul.  A crowd listening patiently to Paul’s defense turned ugly when he said that the Lord said to him, Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.[20]  Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Away (αἶρε, another form of αἴρω) with this man from the earth!  For he should not be allowed to live!”[21]

Here again I can’t help wondering if Paul’s reaction wasn’t more cultural than divinely inspired.  But calling it cultural isn’t entirely accurate.  Paul’s reaction was precisely correct for a time under law when yehôvâh was present among his people in a way unknown since the garden of Eden, before He gave his life as an atonement for sin.  Consider Achan (Joshua 7) as a case in point.

Exile for the man who had his father’s wife (and the woman along with him, presumably) would be considered more merciful than death, but Jesus’ parable persuades me to reject the second part of Paul’s rhetorical question—Shouldn’t you have…removed the one who did this from among you?  When Jesus’ slaves asked if they should uproot the weeds planted by the enemy He said, No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest.[22]  This is not to say that I know whether the man who had his father’s wife was a weed planted by the enemy or a sinning saint.  It is to say, if this is Jesus’ attitude toward uprooting weeds planted by the enemy I dare not risk uprooting a sinning saint.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’m reading too much into Jesus’ parable.  Let’s say that I’m wrong about the angel of the church in Thyatira, that he was a human being rather than a higher order being.  Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that Paul as an apostle had the authority and God-given wisdom to recognize a weed and uproot it.  Did he have the authority to turn the church of Jesus Christ in Corinth (and any who hear him today) from the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control of the Holy Spirit, and transform them into a paranoid police force?  Rather than knowing no law against loving our neighbor as well as our enemies, does every infraction of any law call us to dam up the fruit of the Holy Spirit?  Must we judge one another constantly lest we be proud for loving one another excessively?  I admit I sat silently through a sermon declaring that, Do not judge so that you will not be judged,[23] meant that we should judge and be judged.[24]

Hear Jesus’ regime by contrast: Look!  I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness.  That is Jezebel, the one who by her teaching deceives my servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.[25]  Secondly, He is throwing those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds.  But there is not one word to the rest of the church in Thyatira about being proud because they had not removed Jezebel and her followers from their midst.  The criticismBut I have this against you—was laid directly on the angel of the church in Thyatira, whether human or a higher order being. Yes, the letter to the angel of the church in Thyatira was to be read by all the churches, but its content was directed with surgical precision.

To be fair the only reason I have the audacity to make this kind of critique of Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 5 is Paul’s extended treatise on love in his later writing to believers in Rome.  Therefore we must not pass judgment (κρίνωμεν, a form of κρίνω) on one another, but rather determine (κρίνατε, another form of κρίνω) never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister.[26]  Actually, Paul described love this way: Μηκέτι οὖν ἀλλήλους κρίνωμεν[27] (literally, “no longer then one another judge”).

Paul’s Religious Mind Revisited – Part 2

Back to Paul’s Religious Mind Revisited, Part 7

[1] Revelation 2:18a (NET)

[2] An article by Bromleigh McCleneghan, “Sex and the single Christian: Why celibacy isn’t the only option,” was interesting bait for an unsuspecting moralist.  Obviously single people can have sex.  That’s how they become married people in God’s sight.  The rest is ceremony, celebration and government paperwork.  If anyone actually believed that religious leaders knew magical rites that could transmogrify illicit sex into holy matrimony those religious leaders would be compelled by law to perform those rites equally for all in a pluralistic society.  The only thing single people cannot do is fool God into thinking they are not guilty of adultery if they have sex with somebody different tomorrow night, simply because they have not signed government paperwork or had a ceremony or celebrated.

[3] Condemnation or Judgment? – Part 12, Ezra and Divorce

[4] John 17:3b (NET)

[5] 1 Corinthians 4:15b (NET)

[6] Matthew 23:8-10 (NET)

[7] 1 Corinthians 4:6, 7 (NET)

[8] 1 Corinthians 4:21 (NET)

[9] My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. (1 Corinthians 1:11 NIV)

[10] 2 Corinthians 12:21 (NET)

[11] 1 Corinthians 13:6a (NET)

[12] 1 Corinthians 13:6a (NKJV)

[13] James 4:9, 10 (NET)

[14] Luke 6:25b (NET)

[15] Mathew 9:15a (NET)

[16] Matthew 5:4 (NET)

[17] Mark 16:9-11 (NET)

[18] Luke 23:18b (NET)

[19] Acts 21:36b (NET)

[20] Acts 22:21b (NET)

[21] Acts 22:22b (NET)

[22] Matthew 13:29, 30a (NET)

[23] Matthew 7:1 (NET)

[24] This point of view is surprisingly common.   I found the following paraphrase online: “If you don’t want your life to be scrutinized, then don’t judge others.  If you can stand the scrutiny then go ahead.”  I will freely admit to needing as much grace as possible.  There are other voices online.

[25] Revelation 2:20b (NET)

[26] Romans 14:13 (NET)

[27] Romans 14:13a