This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

by
Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday



Thursday, March 27, 2008

Installments of Reworked Segments of an Essay on 1 Corinthians 9:27 (1)

On Easter Morning I completed and submitted a requested essay on 1 Corinthians 9:27. The request came because of my part in writing The Race Set Before Us. I intend to offer a few blog installments that derive from my essay. I have not yet determined how many installments there will post. Eventually, I may have opportunity to post a link to the essay. We shall see.

The passage I address in my essay is 1 Corinthians 9:23-27. I connect verse 23 with verses 24-27 in order to preserve the coherence of Paul’s concern with spiritually benefitting from the gospel he preaches.

And I do all things on account of the gospel, in order that I might be a fellow partaker of it. Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize. Run in such a manner that you might win. And everyone who competes in the arena engages in rigorous self-discipline in all things. Therefore they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we do it for an imperishable one. Therefore, I run in such a manner as not to be aimless; I box in such a manner as not to punch the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, lest after I have preached to others, I myself should be a reprobate (1 Cor 9:23-27).

Interpretations of the passage diverge in two opposite but shortsighted directions based upon a preemptive question that biases responses. Does Paul fear that he might not persevere in salvation but perish and be lost in perdition in the end? This question dominates discussions of the passage, whether the response given is affirmative or negative. Interpretations focus upon the meaning and use of adokimos (ἀδόκιμος) in 9:27. Does adokimos refer to eternal perishing? If so, how? If not, then to what does it refer? Expositors who answer with the negative tend to fasten upon another question: Is Paul simply afraid that he might lose a reward that has nothing to do with salvation itself?

A more basic and more foundational question needs to be posed and answered. This question tends to get pushed aside and ignored in favor of the simplistic and reductionistic question that dominates. The question that we should ask concerning Paul’s passage is: What is the function that Paul assigns his athletic imagery in 1 Corinthians 9:23-27? This is the question that guided the exegetical and theological work that Tom Schreiner and I did on warnings and admonitions in The Race Set Before Us. It is the question that should constrain us first before we yield to the popular and simplistic question that I mention above.

Before we pose the fundamental question concerning 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 and offer the interpretation that persuades me that best explains Paul’s passage, however, I will identify other interpretations, that are guided by the popular simplistic question, and I will critically engage them.

Subsequent entries will address the Loss of Eternal Salvation View and then variations on what I call Extra-Salvation Loss Views. Critique of the former will be briefer than that of the latter. I will address three variations on Extra-Salvation Loss Views: (1) Loss of Eternal Rewards View; (2) Loss of Testimony for the Gospel View; and (3) Loss of Divine Approval of Apostleship View.

6 comments:

Running said...

Please comment on your view of 1 Corinthians 3:14,15, where Paul distinguishes a reward from salvation. What is the reward in this text? Is the reward something that is merited?

A. B. Caneday said...

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.


Before I respond to your question, I have a question for you. On what basis in the text do you believe that Paul distinguishes the reward from salvation?

As to your second question, I would like to ask you another question. Did you read my essay on 1 Corinthians 9:27, “'Lest after preaching to others I become disqualified' Grace and Warning in Paul’s Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:23-27"? If you read my essay, then you will find the answer to your question about merit along with explanations that support my answer to your question. Once you have read the essay, then we can talk about it, if you would like.

A. B. Caneday said...

Running posted the following note here, I think by mistake. I think Running meant to post it as a comment here. So, for continuity's sake, I am posting it here for Running.

________________

Running said...
According to 1 Corinthians 3:14-15, God’s workers receive a reward according to the quality of their work on the Day of Judgment, provided their work stands the test. If a worker’s work is burned up due to inferior quality, he himself is still saved, although he suffers loss. The work is building the church. 1 Corinthians 3:17 moves beyond the issue of inferior quality work to destroying the church, and the loss to the worker there is eternal life. To me the passage makes a distinction between the salvation of the worker and his reward.

I look forward to your comments.

4/26/08 10:51 PM

A. B. Caneday said...

Running has asked,

Please comment on your view of 1 Corinthians 3:14,15, where Paul distinguishes a reward from salvation. What is the reward in this text?

Also, in a later note, Running said,

According to 1 Corinthians 3:14-15, God’s workers receive a reward according to the quality of their work on the Day of Judgment, provided their work stands the test. If a worker’s work is burned up due to inferior quality, he himself is still saved, although he suffers loss. The work is building the church. 1 Corinthians 3:17 moves beyond the issue of inferior quality work to destroying the church, and the loss to the worker there is eternal life. To me the passage makes a distinction between the salvation of the worker and his reward.

Let's consider the passage.

1 Corinthians 3:11-17

11 θεμέλιον γὰρ ἄλλον οὐδεὶς δύναται θεῖναι παρὰ τὸν κείμενον ὅς ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός 12 εἰ δέ τις ἐποικοδομεῖ ἐπὶ τὸν θεμέλιον χρυσόν ἄργυρον λίθους τιμίους ξύλα χόρτον καλάμην 13 ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον φανερὸν γενήσεται ἡ γὰρ ἡμέρα δηλώσει ὅτι ἐν πυρὶ ἀποκαλύπτεται καὶ ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον ὁποῖόν ἐστιν τὸ πῦρ αὐτὸ δοκιμάσει 14 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον μενεῖ ὃ ἐποικοδόμησεν μισθὸν λήμψεται 15 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον κατακαήσεται ζημιωθήσεται αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός

16 οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ναὸς θεοῦ ἐστε καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν 17 εἴ τις τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φθείρει φθερεῖ τοῦτον ὁ θεός ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς

I agree with Running that the passage is about how ministers of the gospel build the church of Jesus Christ. The passage is not about how each individual Christian lives one's life as is popularly preached and taught.

Paul's architectural imagery gives the gold, silver, precious gems, wood, hay, and straw symbolic significance as representative of the individuals the ministers incorporate into the edifice called the church. The distinctive nature and arrangement of these reinforces this observation. Observe the arrangment of the six items. The order descends in value but ascends in combustibility. The Day of Judgment will disclose the quality of each minister's work.

Paul makes two statements concerning the consequence of judgment. First, "If anyone's work which he has built on the foundation endures, he will receive a reward." Second, Paul says, "If anyone's work is consumed, he will suffer loss, and he himself will be saved but in the same manner, as through fire."

I find that no English translation adequately translates verse 15. All ignore οὕτως δὲ. Thus, translations treat Paul's statement as a promise of salvation despite shoddy workmanship. I am not so convinced that this is the proper understanding of the passage. It seems to me that Paul's words more likely speak of how the minister himself will be saved, if he is going to be saved. If he is going to be saved, he will be saved in the same manner as his work, namely through fire.

In other words, Paul is not promising salvation despite shoddy workmanship. Rather, Paul is speaking of the manner by which the worker will be saved; he will be saved by passing through the same fire to test his own quality whether he will be consumed like his work is consumed.

Paul's expressions in 1 Corinthians 3:15 are akin to his comments concerning women in 1 Timothy 2:15, where he writes, σωθήσεται δὲ διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας ἐὰν μείνωσιν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ καὶ ἁγιασμῷ μετὰ σωφροσύνης. "But she will be saved through the bearing of children, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control." Paul is not issuing a promise that woman will be saved no matter what she does. He is not even issuing a promise that woman will be saved if she happily accepts her God-appointed role for bearing children. Bearing children is her God-appointed pathway, but persevering in faith and love and holiness with self-control is indispensable if she would be saved in the Last Day.

Therefore, I am not so convinced that Paul has distinguished "reward" (3:14) from "being saved" (3:15). I think that a case can be made that the "reward" of which Paul speaks in 3:14 is to be "saved" (3:15).

I am not inclined to concur that 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 "moves beyond the issue of inferior quality work to destroying the church," as Runner has stated. It seems to me that it does not introduce a new idea; rather, it seems to me that it expands on and explains what Paul has already stated in 3:11-15. Verse 15 speaks of a minister whose work (i.e., the people he incorporates into the church) is utterly consumed, ruined, destroy, which is the very point to which Paul returns in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. Thus, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 emphatically reinforces the point Paul makes in 3:11-15 by explaining the symbolism of the architectural imagery. He explains by asking the question in 3:16, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwellsamong you?" Then he explains the gravity of the test on the Day by expressing it as a supposition: "If anyone ruins God's temple, God will ruin him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple."

Running said...

Thank you for your insights. I consider 1 Corinthians 3:11-17 to be one of the strongest passages which may distinguish rewards from salvation. Although I have consulted many commentaries on this passage (Fee, Carson, Garland, Blomberg, etc.), I do not recall any that affirm, or even mention, your translation of the οὕτως δὲ construction in 3:15. Can you point me to any journal articles or resources that support your translation?

A. B. Caneday said...

Running asks, Can you point me to any journal articles or resources that support your translation?

No, I cannot. Translations simply ignore οὕτως δὲ in 1 Corinthians 3:15. Likewise, commentators ignore the construction. This is the problem. No one that I have read actually addresses the construction. Such is the powerful influence of the King James Version of 1611. It is difficult, at many points throughout the Bible, for modern translators to escape the magnetic pull of the KJV's translation. First Corinthians 3:15 is one of those passages.