Re: 1 Cor 12-14

Carl W. Conrad (
Thu, 9 Jan 1997 15:28:39 -0600

At 10:43 AM -0600 1/9/97, Mike Adams wrote:
>Hi. Remember me? The one who tossed in this can of worms for everyone's
>dining pleasure. My original question was: Were we commanded in I Cor 12:31
>to zealously seek the "greater gifts" in the context that "greater"
>referred to a hierarchical order as listed in chapter 12 verses 8-10? The
>overwhelming consensus in this forum was a resounding "NO!!!"

Well, I'm not so sure about that, although I'm more concerned about the
notion that truth or the right interpretation is decided by a majority
vote; I don't really think Ellen meant that, but I would want to underscore
that it's the cogency of an argument rather than either somebody's
authority or the opinion of a majority that is most weighty. But with
regard to this point, I am inclined to think that Paul orders the CARISMATA
PNEUMATIKA (and personally, I don't really have a notion that Paul's using
these words in a technical sense or necessarily intends his list to be
precisely inclusive of all such endowments) not so much to establish an
absolute hierarchy as to show the RELATIVE status to which he would
relegate glossolalia; while glossolalia is not by any means the sole
concern in 1 cor 12-14, it looks very large in chapter 12 and again in
chaper 14, and 13:1 and 8 attest to the fact that Paul still has it clearly
in mind there: chapter 13 is not just an interlude but the key to
understanding chapters 12 and 14, if not the whole of 1 Corinthians. I
think actually it is not glossolalia as such but the proto-gnostic attitude
exultation in a public manifestation of one's spiritual achievement (GNWSIS
is also very important in chaper 13). And IF Paul is using this hierarchic
ordering not absolutely but in order to relativize the importance of
glossolalia, then he may very well mean ZHLOUTE as an imperative directed
AWAY from glossolalia--although, as I've already indicated, I do think that
MEIZONA could refer to faith, hope, and love in chaper 13. But that's not
all ...

>However, my attention was drawn away from MEIZONA to ZHLOUTE by some
>mysterious person who posts privately and doesn't sign their messages. This
>distraction has led me and others to a very challenging and fruitful
>pursuit. (As I see the clouds of dust disappearing over the hill, and I
>hear the hoofbeats fading away, I am left wondering "Who was that masked
>As a result, I looked for an excuse to be bold, to choose to view ZHLOUTE
>in 12:31 as indicative, and I have found enough evidence that I accept it
>as MY preferred interpretation. I need not repeat all the arguments, as
>Andrew has articulated them quite clearly in his posts.
>May I add this, that in the "sandwiched chapter" we are told (AGAPH) "OU
>ZHLOI, ... OU ZHTEI TA EAUTHS..." I choose to view this as a further rebuke
>to those pursuing "greater gifts" (12:31) and evidence that we are
>commanded to pursue "spiritual things" (14:1) in the context of tenaciously
>following after love, and for the purpose of edifying the whole body.

I really do object to calling 13 a "sandwiched" chapter as if it were
something extraneous and artificially inserted beween an argument set forth
in 12 and 14 originally as one continuous one (the term is more useful to
describe Mark's deliberate intercalation of one narrative in the midst of
another), for I really do think it is a keystone to the whole sructure. But
I'm somewhat concerned about the shift from a negative sense to ZHLOW in
12:31, deliberately used again in a negative sense in 13:4, to use in a
positive sense in 14:1 where it looks so much like a backwards allusion to
12:31. I don't say that it couldn't happen, but I think that Paul's a more
careful writer than that, and particularly in this letter where his
rhetorical structuring is very evident.

>Moreover, if ZHLOUTE were perceived as indicative, then there would be no
>need to painstakingly decipher MEIZONA. "Greatest Gifts" wouldn't refer to
>any hierarchy by PAUL's standard. It would simply denote the object(s) of
>the Corinthians' obsession ...manifestation, title, function, or
>whatever... which they had chosen to pursue inordinately.
>In this light, could we not likewise define MEIZONA as that which we would
>esteem most highly, that which we would chose to fervently pursue OUTSIDE
>the context of love and mutual edification? (for instance, knowledge of
>Biblical Greek?)...ouch! tripped on my toes a bit there...

This is very plausible. It sounds like very good doctrine, at any rate,
whether or not it is the precise doctrine being expounded in our passage. I
will say that this discussion, while it has indeed been edifying, has also
undermined further my own confidence that I understand Chapters 12-14 as a
whole: what I find are several plausible hypotheses, some of which I'm
inclined to, but none of which I find wholly convincing. It has certainly
been a worthwhile discussion. I too am grateful to all who have contributed.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR