Sunday, April 23, 2017

Matt Slick and JD Hall Debate: Exegesis of 1 Cor. 1:4-9: A Response to Matt Slick



I am a tab bit late to the game on the Matt Slick, JD Hall debate on the charismatic gifts. To be honest, I had no idea that Matt Slick believed that the gifts were still in operation in the church today. At any rate, during the debate Matt had with JD, Matt seemed to come back again and again to 1 Cor. 1:7. For some reason, Matt thinks this text does something significant to support his position. In this post we shall take a look at this text to see if it does anything to support Matt Slick’s view that the charismatic gifts, or as JD would call them, the apostolic sign gifts are operating in the church today.

Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthian Church for very specific reasons. This makes the letter an occasion epistle. Paul had received both reports about the behavior of the church as well as some questions that needed to be addressed. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians while he was in Ephesus, some time before Pentecost, probably early 55. Paul had first preached the gospel in Corinth during his second missionary journey. The event is recorded in Acts 18.

Ancient Greece was divided into two Roman provinces: Macedonia, the capital of which was Thessalonica, and Achaia, the capital of which was Corinth. Corinth was a mere 50 miles from Athens. However, it was viewed as a crass antithesis to that intellectual center. The center had been by freed slaves only around 44 BCE. The city was strategically located on the Peloponnesian Peninsula. It benefited from the trade routes the passed through it and had a thriving economy during New Testament times. Corinth was proud of its diversity and tolerance. However, this cultural mindset earn it a reputation for throughout the Roman empire, the phrase “to act like a Corinthian” came to be Roman slang for engaging in sexual promiscuity.

It was to the church located in this particular city that Paul had occasion to write the letter that has come to be known as 1 Corinthians. There is no indication in any of the New Testament letters that any other community had as many problems or as much chaos as the Corinthian church had. There were carnal divisions, heresies over issues as basic as the resurrection, abuse of spiritual gifts, serious error in how the Lord’s Table was being administered, and gross immorality that exceeded that of the pagan culture. Corinth was a problem church if it was anything. This alone should give anyone serious pause before selecting Corinth as their model community for what a church ought to be. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Leon Morris divides 1 Corinthians into 8 sections: Introduction, Division, Moral Laxity, Marriage, Meat offered to Idols, Disorder in Public Worship, The Resurrection, Conclusion. The section with which this post is concerned falls within the introduction. The introduction is best broken down into two sections: The Greeting (1-3) and Thanksgiving (4-9). The verse that Slick built is debate around, seemingly anyways, is v. 7. The question then is this: is Matt Slick’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1:7 based on sound exegesis? That is the question this post seeks to answer.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Before entering the text, a little more should be said about the genre of New Testament letters.  Osborne notes, “The major point of hermeneutical significance is that the Epistles contain both occasional and supracultural elements. For our purposes here, we must be aware that many elements in the Epistles do not directly provide paradigms for the Christian life today.”[1] A good example of this is Romans 14 and the claim that there is in it a general principle known as the weaker brother principle. Close exegetical scrutiny, however, reveals that this is simply not the case at all. There are numerous other examples, such as issues related to Christians eating meat that had been offered to idols in the very epistle with which this post is concerned. This is an important component of New Testament exegesis that must always be kept in mind during the interpretive process.

The context of this passage then begins with the greeting in vv. 1-3 and continues through v. 9. We see the obvious marker in v. 10: Parakalo de umas. This places our specific text, vv. 4-9 within the introduction. After his greeting, Paul tells the Corinthians how thankful he is to God on their behalf: I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus. Eucharisto to theo, literally I am continually thankful, offering thanks to God! Paul’s expression of thanksgiving is a customary present which indicates habitual action. Note also should be made that Paul uses the personal pronoun mou. He is continually giving thanks to his God! This makes the expression more personal in nature. Paul continually thanks his God because of that grace of God that had been given the Corinthians in Christ Jesus.

Verse 5 continues, “that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.” “That” is rendered from the Greek hoti. It is better to think of this clause as in apposition to v. 4, rendering “that” as “because” or “namely that.” The flow looks like this: because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, namely that, in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge. This indicates more specifically that grace of God that was given to the Corinthians. The Corinthians had been enriched in speech and knowledge. Paul mentions this again in 2 Cor. 8:7 where he says they excel in speech, knowledge, and faith. Speech and knowledge are gifts of grace from God specifically given to the body in order that the body may benefit.

Verse 6, even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you. This verse is a comparative subordinate clause. It begins with the adverbial, comparative conjunction, kathos. This is a type of adverbial clause that expresses a comparison between the subordinate and the main clause. It could be used in this case to indicate the extent of the enrichment, the reason why they were enriched, or finally, that their enrichment was evidence that the testimony of Christ was confirmed among them. I think Thiselton is correct in “that it denotes, not measure (just as) but how being enriched relates to its cause in the impact of the gospel on the readers.”[2] The genitive is qualitative. Christ is the focus of witness, and God through the Spirit brings home the truth of this witness as their Christian experience develops and as the Christian community lives out its lifestyle and grows. Others respond, and thereby further confirmation of the witness to Christ occurs. The whole experience is no longer confined to a small group of individuals who may be similar in stature, mind-set, or culture, but the truth is cross-referenced among a widening and diversifying community in which the Holy Spirit is transparently at work. In this sense in multi-cultural, pluralist Corinth, each new experience of God and each new convert confirms as valid this witness to Christ.[3] The testimony of Christ is the testimony about Christ, the Son of the Living God, that is, nothing short of the gospel. This testimony about Christ, or the gospel, has been confirmed in the Corinthian believers. We see Paul refer to this again in 2:1 which no doubt has given rise to the variant in this verse. There Paul calls it to musterion tou theou, the testimony of God. Clearly Paul is talking about his preaching of the gospel of Christ. A few manuscripts have theou (B* F G 81 et al) while the majority (P46 א A C B F et al) read christou. The latter is clearly preferred. The NET renders the clause, “just as” the testimony of Christ has been confirmed among you.

Verse 7 continues; so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a resultative subordinate clause that expresses the result of the main verbal action. If we locate that action in v. 4, then this clause should be read with v. 4 as follows: I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus… with the result that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Another point should be made here and that is simply this, the word hystereisthai is a passive infinitive. The Corinthians played no part in their lacking or not lacking in any gift of grace. If we map diagram the text according to the discourse or flow, it would look like this up to this point:
A      I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus
a.     that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge
                                               i.     even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you
b.     with the result that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ
Bullets (a) and (b), or v 5 and v 7 are sub-bullets under v 4 while v 6 is a sub-bullet to v 5. The flow helps the reader the ground of Paul’s thanksgiving.

Verse 8, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is technically a continuative relative clause. It connects the idea that follows with the chain that has just preceded it. The personal pronoun hos likely refers to Christ since God is so far back (v. 4). It is God who will confirm or establish the Corinthians to the end, blameless! One hears the words, he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6) The Corinthians are reminded that it is the work of God that confirmed the testimony of Christ among them and now that this same God will confirm them in the faith until the day of Jesus Christ. This is what Paul is indeed that for which Paul is continually thankful to God. This is the grace of God that has been poured out on the Corinthians with the result that they are not lacking any gift of grace!

Verse 9 sums this up, God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul reminds the Corinthians that God is faithful. How could the Corinthians come behind in any gift of grace? They had received the grace of God, had been enriched in all speech and knowledge, had the testimony about Christ confirmed among them, had been confirmed blameless to the end, and all of this was due to the grace and faithfulness of God alone!

A      I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus
a.     that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge
                                               i.     even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you
b.     with the result that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ
B      Who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ/
C      God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

We now return to Matt Slick’s interpretation of 1 Cor. 1:7. Matt Slick considers 1 Cor. 1:7 to be absolute proof that the apostolic gifts continue to the present day. Slick says he bases his argument on exegesis and nothing more. Well, as one exegetes this text it becomes clear that there is nothing in 1 Cor. 1:7 that would support such a narrow interpretation. Paul is simply saying that the Corinthians are not lacking in any gift of grace. This potential lack does not necessarily refer to the lack of special gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14, because there Paul indicates that each Christian is not to exercise every gift (1 Cor. 12:27-31). Rather he seems to be referring more generally to God’s grace actively counteracting the sins and faults so prevalent in the Corinthian congregation.[4] Slick insists that this text refers to the special gifts mentioned in chapters 12-14. Exegetically, Slick’s interpretation is weak at best. Most commentators do not see any exegetical warrant for narrowing Paul’s use of the word charismata to mean the special gifts mentioned later in the book since Paul uses the same term elsewhere when he is clearly not referring to those particular gifts. Romans 12 clearly encompasses more than just these gifts and Romans 6:23 has a much broader view of God’s gift of grace in view.

The problem is far worse than just a lack of exegetical warrant for Slick’s interpretation. There is also a logical problem with Slick’s position. You see, Slick believes that the Church is lacking in these gifts, if the cessationatist position is correct and therefore, this is a contradiction of 1 Cor. 1:7. But such a state is impossible given the nature of the charismata. Even if Slick is right about 1.7 being more narrow in nature than almost all commentators believe, his use of this text fails to contribute anything substantive to his position.

1 Corinthians 1:7 views God as the one who does all the work necessary to ensure that the Corinthian believers are not lacking in any gift of grace. If one were to listen to Slick’s argument, they would be left with the distinct impression that this is something the individual controls. However, such a view can nowhere be supported by the biblical text. The text in question clearly places God in the position of sovereignly ensuring that the individual/church does not lack any gift of grace. Assuming for the sake of argument that Slick is correct, and that the reference to the charismata belongs to 1 Cor. 12-14, one should examine that text to see if it is indeed the responsibility of the Church to make sure that it does not lack in any gift of grace. When we look at 1 Corinthians 12:7 we begin to get a glimpse into how these gifts come into the local body at Corinth: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. The word given, didotai, is in the passive voice indicating that the recipient of the gift is passive. And at the end of this pericope, in v. 11, Paul writes, All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. Clearly, the administration of the chariamata that Slick speaks about is entirely, from beginning to end, under the specific adminstration of God the Holy Spirit. God gifts men according to God’s purpose. An individual cannot will God into giving him a gift if this is not already within God’s plan. The Church cannot “do something” not to come behind in these gifts of grace. Paul calls these particular gifts he phonerosis tou pneumatos, the manifestations of the Spirit. These gifts are peculiar in that they are open disclosures of the Holy Spirit by way of speech, thought, and by way of acts or miraculous. None of the other gifts mentioned in the New Testament are said to be manifestations or disclosures of the Spirit.

This being said, the logical problem comes back into view once we understand just exactly how these gifts functioned and who the administrator over them was at that time. Since God is the one who dispenses the gifts to whomever he wills, Slick’s argument that the church could lack a gift of grace is moot. The reason it is moot is that a church can only lack gifts that are available to it at the time but that it does not possess. This leaves Slick with a position that is logically classified as begging the question. If J.D. Hall is correct, and I am highly confident that he is, and these particular phainoic gifts are no longer being dispensed by God, then it necessarily follows that the modern church cannot be said to be lacking in a gift that God is no longer giving. The question we are asking is if God is still gifting men in this way in the modern church. To travel back into the NT and presuppose that all those gifts were available and practiced by them at that time and should be practiced by us in our time is an unproven assumption on the part of Slick. And 1 Cor. 1:7 does absolutely nothing to save his position or even contribute anything interesting to the argument.

Slick may want to say that the gifts are being dispensed today and that the Pentecostals and Charismatics are engaging in genuine movements of God. But that is not an exegetical argument. It is an argument from experience, just like his prophetic experience. After all, he is the one who wants to make this an exegetical argument. Slick’s position may be something like, we have the gifts in our possession but we just are operating in them. This is again begging the question. I do not see the gift of tongues like I read about it exegetically in the NT. And I was a Pentecostal for over 15 years. I lived and breathed it. Slick has nothing on me where experiencing the Pentecostal life is concerned. I am both experienced and educated in that life. I also have to note that there is a high correlation of heresy associated with those whom, according to Slick and other continuationists, are not lacking in any gift of grace. That is a phenomenon I would be interested in hearing someone like Slick explain. I understand it is outside the exegetical and logical arguments one way or another. But it is an interesting fact that someone on that side needs to explain logically and exegetically.

Finally, Slick’s appeal to his experience in the PCA and to his two prophetic experiences were tactics that he would have been better off leaving outside the conversation. I respect Matt Slick a great deal. I am a fellow presuppositionalist. I appreciate his contributions in apologetics. But that he was hurt by a presbytery in the PCA has nothing to do with this discussion. Either he has let that go, embraced God’s sovereignty in his life or he is bitterly hanging onto it. But it has no place in the discussion. If you can’t control your emotions, then don’t have the conversation. In terms of the other experiences, they were just that, his own experiences. And what we heard were not Matt Slick’s experiences, but his own interpretation of those experiences. When a man attempts to use his credibility one area to bully others into accepting his experiences in another area, there is a danger that rather than gain credibility for the experience, he will lose it elsewhere. And that is what happened in this discussion with J.D. Hall. Matt attempted to bully J.D. into accepting his experience or publicly questioning his credibility. It was an uncharitable dilemma for Matt to employ and he should apologize to JD for doing it if he has not done so already. A proper response is to place Matt’s credibility in apologetics and his experience aside and recognize that what we are dealing with in one case anyways is a 30 year old memory and interpretation of an individual experience. Sorry Matt, but I cannot become a continuationist based on your subjective interpretation of a memory of an experience you had 30 years ago. I couldn’t do that if you had the experience yesterday.

In the end, this argument about the ‘phainoic’ gifts of the Holy Spirit is not merely exegetical in nature. It is empirical. It requires a two-step process. First, exegetically examine these phenomena as they occurred in the NT. Once we understand what each gift looked like when practiced in NT times, then we can compare that with what we see taking place today and ask: is this that? And I think if we honestly approach this issue in that way, we are likely to conclude with a negative response.




[1] Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ©2006), 317.

[2] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 94.
[3] Ibid., 94–95.
[4] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor's Bible Commentary Romans-Galatians, Volume 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 190.

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