‘Wisdom’ And ‘Knowledge’ In Corinthians -- By: E. Earle Ellis

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 25:1 (NA 1974)
Article: ‘Wisdom’ And ‘Knowledge’ In Corinthians
Author: E. Earle Ellis


‘Wisdom’ And ‘Knowledge’ In Corinthians

E. Earle Ellis

The Tyndale New Testament Lecture 1973*

* Delivered at Tyndale House, Cambridge, 9 July 1973. It is dedicated to Professor W. G. Kümmel on his seventieth birthday.

To explain the concepts of wisdom (σοφία) and knowledge (γνῶσις) in I Corinthians two general approaches have received considerable scholarly support. One derives St Paul’s usage from a nonmythological understanding of the concepts in the Old Testament and later Judaism. The other discerns the influence of mythological origins that may or may not have been mediated through Judaism. The latter view owes its importance in the present century to the ‘comparative religions’ studies of W. Bousset (1907)1 and R. Reitzenstein (1910).2 It was applied most influentially to New Testament studies by Professor R. Bultmann3 who, with reference to Corinthians,4 argued that Paul opposed a movement of Gnostic pneumatics and in the process was himself influenced by Gnostic mythological ideas. This orientation supplied the framework for the interpretation of other early Christian literature by Bultmann’s pupils5 and, in the present generation, again for the interpretation of 1 Corinthians by Professors Schmithals and Wilckens.6

While these two writers make useful and significant contributions,7 their basic thesis represents an elaboration of Bultmann’s ideas. The thesis has encountered two critical questions. (1) Is there sufficient evidence in I Corinthians to classify the recipients or their mentors as ‘opponents’ and, thereby, to interpret Paul’s teachings in terms of an adversary theology, i.e. a theology incorporating ideas of his opponents that are modified and redirected against them? From 2 Corinthians 10–13, Philippians 1 and 3; Galatians 1–2; 5; Romans 16:17f.; Titus 1:10–16 one may observe Paul’s response to opponents...

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