The book of I Corinthians is, from first to last, a book about making sound judgements: the price and evidence of folly, the standards of wisdom, and what wisdom requires of us. It is uniquely relevant to the Christian classical school.
Two passages stood out to me this morning as I was contemplating what it means to be spiritual (pneumatikos). One, 14:37, can be translated like this: “If someone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that what I write is the instructions of the Lord.”
The other, 11:16, can be translated like this: “If someone has a reputation for being contentious, we have no such habit.”
The reason these passages stood out to me is that in the original they have the same opening: ei de tis dokei. The challenge is in that word dokei. If it is transitive, it means “thinks,” and then needs an object. But if it is intransitive, it means something like “seems, appears,” or “has a reputation.”
Because of the pattern of the two passages and because of the themes of the “book” of I Corinthians, I’m convinced that Paul intends the passages to echo each other and to be translated the same way. For this reason, I would translate both of them “If someone has a reputation…”, not “if someone thinks…”
“If someone has a reputation for being spiritual, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the instructions of the Lord.”
“If someone has a reputation for being contentious, we have no such habit, nor do the churches of God.”
Why belabor the point? Because I Corinthians is about reputations and the quest to appear wise and spiritual. In chapter 3, Paul had to rebuke the Corinthians, especially their leadership, because of their divisiveness. They thought they were pretty wise. Instead they were contentious (1:11). They were tempted by the “wisdom of the world” (1:17-29), but it only made them infants in Christ (3:1).
In 3:18 he writes, “If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool.” Yes, it’s the same phrase: ei tis dokei (de is missing, but that is just a conjunction). I would translate it this way:
“If anyone among you has a reputation for being wise in this age, let him become a fool” (moros genestho – we get our word “moron” from moros).
Now we have three reputations:
- for being wise in this age
- for being contentious
- for being a prophet or spiritual
I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual (pnuematikos) but as to carnal (sarkinois*), as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal.
He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.