The Power In Paul’s Teaching (1 Cor 4:9-20) -- By: William David Spencer

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 32:1 (Mar 1989)
Article: The Power In Paul’s Teaching (1 Cor 4:9-20)
Author: William David Spencer


The Power In Paul’s Teaching (1 Cor 4:9-20)

William David Spencer*

“But as to my not having come to you, some are arrogant; but I will come quickly to you, if the Lord wills, and I will know not the talk of the ones being arrogant but the power, for not in word is the reign of God but in power. What do you wish? With a rod shall I come to you? Or in love and with a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor 4:18–21).

The pivotal word in understanding the significance of 1 Corinthians 4 seems to be dynamis, “power.” Paul contrasts “talk” with “power,” a power he will test in his opponents, a power in which is the reign of God. But when commentators have sought to explain exactly what “power” means in this passage, they have fallen out with a myriad of differing explanations.

In contrast to the variety of traditional explanations I will show that the immediate context suggests that power in 1 Cor 4:19 is Paul sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

I. Alternative Interpretations

C. K. Barrett sees the phrase “the power of the kingdom of God” in an eschatological sense and referring to the Holy Spirit:

The Kingdom of God is an expression much less common in Paul than in the Synoptic gospels … It is always an eschatological concept (though sometimes brought forward into the present), and the power with which it works is the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom xiv.17), by which God’s purpose is put into effect and the future anticipated in the present. In contrast, eloquence (logos) is often though not always the human art of speech.1

* William Spencer is adjunct professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

John Calvin suggests that the power of God’s kingdom is a matter of words—empowered, inspired words. According to Calvin, “the word of the Kingdom of God is for anyone to have skill to prate eloquently, while he has nothing but empty tinkling:… while the power of which Paul here speaks is like the soul.” This inward majesty

shows itself, when a minister strives by means of power rather than of speech—that is, when he does not place confidence in his own intellect, or eloquence, but, furnished with spiritual armour, consisting of zeal for maintaining the Lord’s honour—eage...

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