Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thiselton on Human Spirit

The other day I was reading in Thiselton’s magisterial commentary his thoughts on 1 Corinthians 2:11 which reads:

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts  of God except the Spirit of God. (ESV)

Before addressing what the verse does say, Thiselton cautions against what it does not say by distancing Paul from a dichotomous view of man (sum parts of man = body + soul (= spirit)) and a trichotomous view of man (sum parts of man = body + soul + spirit (soul does not equal spirit)).  He comments:

A superficial reading out of context would suggest that Paul adopts two uncharacteristic standpoints: (i) that he accepts a dualist-Platonic view of human nature as spirit within a human body … and (ii) that he argues on the basis of a natural correspondence between human spirit/human person, and divine Spirit/God, as if spirit, pneuma, embodied a natural continuity between the two instantiations of the terms….

But Paul uses spatial language of the human person to indicate modes or aspects of being.  The spirit is within not in the sense of location, but in the sense of partly hidden stances  of which an outsider or another human person may be unaware unless the person concerned chooses to reveal them by word, gesture, or action.  The point of analogy does  not turn on human spirit within/divine spirit within, but on the possession of an exclusive initiative to reveal one’s thoughts, counsels, stance, attitudes, intentions, or whatever else is “within” in the sense of hidden from the public domain, not in the sense of location.

To insist upon this, as indeed we do, is not to impose modern psychology onto Paul.  Indeed, it is the very reverse.  It rescues our understanding of Paul from an uncritical embeddedness in a Graeco-Roman tradition which was alien to Paul’s OT roots and worldview … The human spirit is not a “God-related principle of self-consciousness within man which could be directed by the divine spirit to moral activity in opposition to the flesh” (Jewett, Paul’s Anthropological Terms, 167). Jewett comments: “This conception so dominated exegesis in the latter part of the last century that even scholars who stood in opposition to the liberal theology accepted it…. ‘Spirit’ was not a philosophic category providing continuity between God and man.”

This has obvious implications for reading Genesis 1:27 and being made Imago Dei, Romans 7, Hebrews 4:12,  and resurrection theology texts like Philippians 1:23.  Paul will get into this again in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-9.

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