Posted by: mattcolvin | August 13, 2011

Covenant Objectivity Part 1: “Self-Examination” (sic) in Corinth


A recurring problem in modern Biblical interpretation is the assumption that we know what Greek words mean. I would like to explore some of these terms. In the coming week, I will explore the concept of “conscience” (συνειδησις). But let me start with the following article exploding the introspective idea of “self-examination” and showing that it means something quite different. (I first wrote this for Tim Gallant’s Paedocommunion.com site.)

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A frequent objection against the practice of having young children participate in the Lord’s Supper is that they are unable to perform the action which Paul enjoins in 1 Corinthians 11:28, “let a man examine himself”, in Greek, “dokimazeto anthropos heauton.” Why are they unable? George Knight III claims: “Paul gives no specific guidelines for this action of examining oneself.” He believes, however, that “the only guidance that we can ascertain is the meaning of the verb ‘examine.'” Knight’s interpretation of this verb is that “Every person individually is to look into his own being (emphasis mine – MC) to determine if he or she is taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner” (“1 Cor. 11:17-34: The Lord’s Supper” in The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons, ed. E. Calvin Beisner, p. 287)

In what follows, I aim to show that Knight is wrong about all these points. First, I want to argue, as a point of Greek lexicography, that he is mistaken about the meaning of the verb “dokimazo”, and therefore also about the guidance which he derives from it. I believe it is a mistake to say that Paul gives no guidelines for how “dokimazo” is to be performed: rather, the context makes clear what the Christians in Corinth were to do. As an example of such contextually supplied content for the test of “dokimazo”, I argue on exegetical grounds that Paul’s use of the same verb in 2 Cor. 13, which is often urged as a corroborating introspective instance, is in fact demonstrably objective, and consists in the performance of actions understood from the context.

First, lexicography. “Dokimazo” does not mean “to look into one’s own being”. I can turn up no such usage in either the LSJ nor the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. All the instances I can unearth are unequivocally objective and outward. Demosthenes 18.266 says “I am being examined for a crown,” and then talks about how he is judicially innocent of all crimes. This is not introspective. Again, in Plato’s Laws, 759D, some officers called “Expounders” are being examined. The scrutiny in question, the test indicated by “dokimazo”, is “to see that a man is healthy and legitimate, reared in a family whose moral standards could hardly be higher, and that he himself and his father and mother have lived unpolluted by homicide and all such offences against heaven.” In other words, it is again objective, not a matter of “looking into one’s being.” Again, in Thucydides 6.53, we see criminal informers being tested; in this case, “dokimazo” indicates a double-checking of the facts of their reports. Or in Xenophon, Memorabilia VI.1, we find talk of testing friends, where the test involves asking whether a person is “master of his appetites, not under the dominion, that is, of his belly, not addicted to the wine-cup or to lechery or sleep or idleness” and whether he is a debtor or quarrelsome.

But I cannot find a single occurrence of the word where it might mean “look into a man’s being.” On the face of things, it seems impossible that in 1 Cor. 11, the fact that a reflexive pronoun is the object should suddenly mean that introspection is the means by which “dokimazeto seauton” is accomplished. Paul himself uses the verb as the culmination of a series of expressions denoting public and objective revelation in 1 Cor. 3:13: ‘The work of each one will become manifest, for the day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test (“dokimasei”) each one’s work, [to prove] what kind it is. Indeed, a survey of the uses of the word in Greek literature lends great plausibility to the suggestion of the OPC Majority report on paedocommunion, Tim Gallant’s book Feed My Lambs, and various other sources, that the test in view in 1 Cor. 11 is whether one is living in love and unity with one’s fellow believers. This would be, again, objectively knowable and would seem to involve no introspection — in short, a requirement that babies do not even have the ability to break yet.

Knight and other credocommunionists seem not to feel the weight of this lexical argument, however. They believe that an introspective meaning for “dokimazo” can be adduced from the pages of Scripture itself. 2 Cor. 13:5 is the passage they cite as corroboration for their reading of “dokimazo” in 1 Cor. 11:28. It reads:

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test (δοκιμάζετε)yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disqualified (ἀδόκιμοι).

“See?” the credocommunionist says. “You have to see whether you’re in the faith, by checking whether Christ is in you. That’s introspection!” The most persuasive way to overthrow this introspectionist understanding of the verse is to show that it does not even fit the context of 2 Cor. 12-13, let alone 1 Cor. 11. The verse is part of a larger argument of a particularly poignant and elegant character — and this argument of Paul’s is only comprehensible if δοκιμάζω and its cognates have reference to objective matters mentioned in the immediate context, and not to introspection. In what follows, I will analyze 2 Cor. 13.

First, the general scene. We may begin by noting that 2 Cor. was written by Paul at a time when his credentials as an apostle were under attack by enemies in Corinth who were promoting false doctrines of hyper-spirituality and consequent antinomianism. This is the letter in which Paul is driven to his “insane” boasting about his service to Christ. The apostle is heartbroken. He loves the Corinthians, and hates having to discipline them and make them sorrowful (2 Cor. 2:1-2). But he is nonetheless motivated by a fierce and jealous love for them: he wants them, not their possessions (2 Cor. 12:14). He is heartbroken because his love for them is not reciprocated. They question the genuineness of his apostolic authority, so that he has to assert it.

These are the two parties to the quarrel: Paul on the one hand, with aspersions cast on the legitimacy of his office; and the Corinthians on the other, who have made their much-vaunted spiritual nature look very dubious by their evil deeds. Both of these parties are potential objects of testing. Both are fit objects for our little verb δοκιμάζω. And that is precisely what Paul plans to do.

In the course of putting paid to the “super-apostles” who were undermining his work, Paul makes the telling observation — itself sufficient to undermine any introspective notion of δοκιμάζω — that “this one is not δόκιμος, who commends himself, but he whom the Lord commends.” (10:18)

But the real testing comes at the end of the letter. In 12:20-13:1, we are told explicitly that during his impending third visit to Corinth, both Paul and the Corinthians are about to be tested as to whether they are in Christ, or whether they are disqualified. For the Corinthians, the test involves whether Paul shall find them “not as I wish” — with “contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults.” He is afraid that “many who have sinned before have not repented of the lewdness which they have practiced.” At this point, readers rightly recall the man who had his father’s wife, and the Corinthians’ “puffed-up” boasting about such behaviour, which they thought “spiritual”.

For Paul, however, the test involves proof of his authority, which the Corinthians doubt. They are under the influence of false teachers, who have put it about that Paul only writes impressive- sounding letters, and that no one should be scared of him. He’s all bluster. In response to this, Paul threatens to use his apostolic power, the power of Christ. He has done so before (12:11-12), and now he warns (13:2) that “if I come to you again, I will not spare you…” Why not? “…since you seek proof of Christ speaking in me” (ἐπεὶ δοκιμὴν ζητεῖτε τοῦ ἐν ἐμοὶ λαλοῦντος Χριστοῦ). Note well: the word “proof” is δοκιμή, close cognate with δοκιμάζω. Paul knows perfectly well that he is an apostle. But his consciousness of it is neither here nor there, because it is not proof. What matters is that the Corinthians be convinced of Paul’s authority, by the demonstration of the power of God. The assumption is that if he spares them — if he does not administer consequences by the power delegated to him by Christ — then the Corinthians will not accept his apostleship. He will not spare them. He will use his power. And this will constitute his δοκιμή; it will show that he is δόκιμος. Thus he says (13:6), “But I trust you will know that we are not ἀδόκιμοι.

What about the Corinthians? Paul’s fear is that he will find them “not as I wish.” But that is not his hope. His hope is that they will clean up their act, and that he will not be forced to apply his power against them. Thus, following immediately after the threat of punishment, the next sentence is set off with δέ: “But (δὲ) I pray to God that you not do any evil thing.”

There follows a clause that has always puzzled me, but which is now clear in light of the bilateral testing Paul has in view. Why does he pray that they not do any wrong? — “not so that we may appear δόκιμοι, but so that you may do what is good, and we may be as though ἀδόκιμοι.” Paul wants to arrive in Corinth and find the Corinthians so thoroughly reformed in their behaviour, that he will not have to produce proof (δοκιμή) of his authority. Indeed, he goes on to say that if he finds them better, he will not be able to use his power: “For we are not able to do anything against the truth, but on behalf of the truth.”

Thus Paul’s desire is that the Corinthians should be δόκιμοι by their abandonment of the gross sins he listed in 12:20-21, even if it means, as it must, that he will appear disqualified (ἀδόκιμος) by not displaying his power. Thus, “we are glad when we are weak and you are strong.” (13:9)

Paul concludes his exhortation by stating, “Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.”

In all this, introspection plays no part. When Paul urges the Corinthians to “δοκιμάζετε” themselves, he means “correct your behaviour in such a way that you pass the test when I come to see you.” As for Paul, in his preferred outcome, he will be “as ἀδόκιμος”, because he will have made no visible, objective display of the “sharpness” of his apostolic power. Both tests are about one party displaying something that the other party can observe.

When the same hermeneutical procedure is applied to 1 Cor. 11:28 — as it has been by Gallant, Leithart, and many other paedocommunionist exegetes — the results are unsurprising: fractiousness, strife, class-divisions, and greedy behavior at the table are the objective matters about which Paul speaks in the immediate context; introspection is not at all in view, and it would in any case do nothing by itself to correct the problems Paul wants corrected.

The same outward and objective meaning is evident in Titus 1:16, where Paul speaks of the proverbial and characteristic wickedness of Cretans, warning Titus not to appoint the wrong sort of man as a pastor. He says, “They profess to know god, but they deny him by their works (τοῖς ἔργοις), since they are repugnant and disobedient and disqualified (ἀδόκιμοι) for every good work (πρὸς πᾶν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν).” The construction “for every good work” is odd — one would not normally speak of good works as something for which one had to pass a test (before being allowed to do them?). But the phrase is clarified in Titus 3:1, where Paul tells Titus to “remind them [sc. Jesus’ “own special people”, from 2:14] to submit themselves to rulers and authorities, to obey authority, and to be ready (ἑτοίμους εἶναι) for every good work (πρὸς πᾶν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν — same words as in 1:16). Thus δόκιμος (disqualified) is contrasted with ἑτοίμους (ready). Both are based on a past “track record.” Paul wants pastors to be men of proven and established eagerness in doing good; if they have shown the opposite, they are disqualified.


Responses

  1. […] Some very helpful observations on the non-introspective character of conscience […]

  2. […] the God we worship demands that we come to his feast with our children as well. 2. By attempting to overthrow the regnant assumptions about what “let a man examine himself” means in 1 Corinthians 11. (Also here.) 3. From […]

  3. […] argued elsewhere that δοκιμάζω in this connection means, not examining, but meeting an objective standard or […]


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