[b-greek] Re: What To Do With PNEUMATIKOS

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Thu Oct 04 2001 - 07:45:51 EDT

I find myself in agreement with very much of this but I have problems with
some of it and have a couple (probably useless) suggestions. While I am
somewhat hesitant here inasmuch as I am bringing background considerations
into this, I don't think any of what I do bring in is alien or irrelevant
to the question of "what to do with PNEUMATIKOS."

At 10:49 PM +0200 10/3/01, Iver Larsen wrote:
>My problem with "spiritual things" is that it is too broad. But I can see
>that "spiritual gifts" may be too narrow, at least as the phrase is normally
>used and understood in English. I also like the suggestion by Russell that
>it refers to "the Spirit's work". I would be happy with something like "how
>the Spirit operates". On the other hand, Paul is correcting the misuse of
>spiritual gifts among the Corinthians more so than he seems to correct any
>misuse of ministry or powerful deeds. So, if I had to choose only between
>"spiritual gifts" and "spiritual matters" I would go for the first. But
>maybe there is a middle position that is better.

Neuter plural substantives like this are difficult. The difficulty here is
a bit akin to that of the discussion of TA DAIMONIA in Plato's Apology,
where Socrates is musing over the paradox that his accuser is
simultaneously claiming that he (Socrates) is an atheist AND that he
(Socrates) is introducing into Athenian culture KAINA DAIMONIA. How,
Socrates asks, can one be a total atheist if one believes in some sort of

I would almost suggest for TA PNEUMATIKA "the phenomenology of the
Spirit"--if the title hadn't already been taken; I do like "how the Spirit
operates" better than "the Spirit's work", but I halfway wonder (if that's
possible!) whether "spirituality" might do. The problem is: in the
religious circles I've moved in and attempted to communicate over the years
the word "spirituality" has meant many different things to many different
people--and of course the same is true about these chapters 12-14 of 1

I've wondered also whether Paul wasn't trying, in these chapters, to "make
a statement" about appropriate and inappropriate varieties of Christian
mysticism --or how "Christian" mysticism must differ from "pagan"
mysticism. And that suggests that another (playful?) equivalent of TA
PNEUMATIKA might be "the varieties of Christian and non-Christian religious
experience." It has seemed to me that, as Paul in Galatians endeavors to
distinguish "Christian" faith and practice from a "legalistic pietism," so
in 1 Cor he's endeavoring to distinguish "Christian" faith and practice
from the faith and practice of a Greek mystery cult. One of the recurrent
leitmotifs in the letter is activity or practices that OIKODOMEI, for which
I prefer the English version "build(s) community." The beliefs and
practices that Paul objects to in this letter have to do with behavior that
fosters fundamentally private religious experience and divides believers
from each other in their quests for a better relationship with God. So it
seems to me that the question of 1 Cor 12-14 is "what is authentic and what
is inauthentic spirituality?"

>When we talk about context, we should keep in mind that the immediate
>context carries more weight than the wider context. Therefore, 12:2-11 carry
>more weight than chapter 13 which is an important side issue about
>underlying motivation for spiritual ministry and the mature use of the
>spiritual gifts. You have kept this in mind, but not everyone does.
>Another thing we need to keep in mind is that Paul often uses Hebrew
>rhetorical structure which is circular. Verses 1-3 is the first circle, 4-6
>is the second circle, (note the DE in v. 1, 4 and 7) and the third, large
>circle is probably 12:7-14:40. It is normal for the first circle to
>introduce one or more topics that will be dealt with in later circles in
>more detail.
>V. 2 compares their former state as pagans, when they were carried away to
>worship idols that could not speak. This may contrast to the fact that the
>spirits of prophets are subject to prophets (14:32). It is one of the major
>differences between pagan spiritual frenzy and true prophetic inspiration,
>that prophetic inspiration from the Holy Spirit is a gentle voice. It never
>carries me away against my will. It has absolutely nothing to do with
>ecstasy. I need to decide in my Spirit whether what I sense is truly the
>voice of God and then I need to decide how and when to bring that
>inspiration out in words. And I can stop at any time when I speak a word of
>prophecy. (I use "I" because I speak from experience here, not theory.)
>There may also be a contrast between the mute idols and a God who speaks by
>the Spirit. So v. 2 is a contrastive background for much of what is being
>said later.

I find somewhat problematic the claim here that "the Holy Spirit is a
gentle voice--it never carries me away against my will." It's the "NEVER"
that disturbs me: I think Jeremiah might have questioned this proposition
and I rather think that Paul too might claim that his experience of the
Holy Spirit has on occasion been coercive. Whether or not one might feel in
retrospect that one has been guided toward one's authentic selfhood by the
experience, the experience itself may be wrenching and something other than

Nor am I quite so confident that the difference between pagan spiritual
frenzy and true prophetic inspiration is all that clear-cut. Saul was told
by Samuel that he would meet a band of prophets and "become another man"
and would prophesy, and afterwards there was the saying, "Is Saul also
among the prophets?"--which may have meant that people thought he was at
least a little bit looney. And it seems to me that Paul's whole discussion
of GLWSSOLALIA is at least partly a matter of whether non-believers
observing believers engaging in the practice might wonder whether the
believers are "a little bit looney."

So when Paul refers to "being carried away with respect to idols that
cannot speak," he really wants to call attention BOTH to how pagan
"spirituality" and Christian "spirituality" differ from each other AND how
they may share in enthusiastic/ecstatic religious experience.

>V. 3 contrasts and describes a message that is claimed to come from God as
>either positive or negative, for or against. It is probably a typical Hebrew
>exaggeration. "Cursing Jesus" stands for words that condemn and tear down
>the body of Christ. "Acknowledging Jesus as Lord" stands for words that
>build up the body of Christ, based on a servant attitude. Much of chapter 14
>talks about the purpose of spiritual gifts, which is to build up and not
>tear down. One of the main problems Paul is addressing in chap. 14 is that
>improper use of tongues does not build up the body of Christ.

Here I am in full agreement. IF it may be difficult to differentiate the
nature of the pagan and Christian experience of enthusiasm/ecstasy,
nevertheless the differentiation is clear with respect to its CONSEQUENCES:
I think that verse 3 is really pointing toward a proto-Gnostic denial of
the "fleshliness" of the historical Jesus--toward the same question and
implications dealt with in chapter 15: did Jesus really die and was he
raised? does the historical Jesus really matter? or only the heavenly
Christ? If Jesus is Lord, then it is the Jesus of history who died and was
raised and is Lord; but if Jesus is cursed, then there is no salvific
import to the career of the historical Jesus. I agree with Iver about the
relationship of 12:3 to chapter 14 but I think it relates also to chapter

I really don't want to carry this discussion far afield into the numerous
implicit tangential questions it could lead into. It is more important how
we understand TA PNEUMATIKA than how we TRANSLATE the phrase (at least so
far as the discussion in B-Greek is concerned). "Spirituality"? "How the
Spirit works/operates"? "Manifestation of the Spirit"? (and my quibble:
it's FANERWSIS TOU PNEUMATOS, not TOU PNEUMATOU) "Varieties of Religious
Experience and how to make the best use of them"? "Mysticism: Positives and
Negatives"? I suspect that a consensus on how rightly to understand TA
PNEUMATIKA and how to interpret chapters 12-14 of 1 Cor may not very
readily be reached.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad@ioa.com
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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