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F R O M GRACE T O SIN:

NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S L E T T E R S

by

M. WINGER
New York

Abstract nouns"love," for example, or "faith"present an interesting


problem in understanding language, in the New Testament as else
where. Typically, abstract nouns are closely related to other ways of
expressing the same (or a similar) meaning, usually with a verb or an
adjective cognate to the abstract noun: for example, "love" is related
to "loving," or "to love," "faith" to "faithful," or "to believe" or "to
trust." But is the meaning the same, or only similar? Does using an
abstract noun say, or imply, something which is not said, or implied,
by using the cognate verb? Is a noun a name for some kind of thing,
while a verb is not? And if it is, what kind of thing is that?
Described in this way, abstract nouns present a general problem,
but not necessarily one with a general solution. What is true of "faith"
might not be true of "love," or of "sin," and moreover, one person's
conception or use of any of these terms might differ from another's.
I intend here to focus on one writerPauland on several such terms,
including those just mentioned. First, some preliminary examples will
illustrate the issues.
Thus, we speak of "faith""I have faith," or "he has lost his faith"
but often the noun can easily be replaced by a verb. Instead of "I
have faith that she will return," I can say, "I believe that she will
1
return" (or, if that is too weak, "I firmly believe . . ,"). If there is a
difference between these sentences, it is subde. We would not say, "I
have faith that she will return, but I don't firmly believe that she will,"
or "I firmly believe she will return, but I have no faith that she will."

1
In this case adjusting the noun and the verb so that their meanings correspond is
complicated in English, where the two are not cognate; in Greek, in contrast, the noun
is and the verb . But we should be able to handle the adjustment, choos
ing as necessary among "believe," "firmly believe," "trust," "am confident," or similar
expressions. It is certainly not the case that verbs are generally either stronger or weaker
than nouns; whatever the difference, it is something other than this.

Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 1999 Novum Testamentum XLI, 2


146 M. WINGER

Evidently, then, one of these two statements is true if and only if the
other one is: they are semantically equivalent. Similarly, for "I have
faith in him" we might substitute "I trust him," or perhaps, more elab
orately, "I believe that he will do what is right"; the particular con
text would guide us. So it seems that the expressions "faith that" and
"faith in" may be translated into expressions in which the noun "faith"
2
is replaced by the verb "to believe," or "to trust."
Does it follow that faith, at least, is an abstract noun which says
nothing that is not said by its cognate verb? Not necessarily. As always
in understanding language, meaning is not a function of particular
words by themselves, but of the statements in which the words are
used.3 Analyzing statements of the kind "I have faith in " and
"I have faith that " does not necessarily tell us what "faith"
will mean in a different kind of statement; moreover, even in these
sentences "faith" could have one sense with "John" in the blank, and
a different sense with "God." One must proceed cautiously. Further,
an equivalence between expressions with nouns and ones with verbs
cuts both ways: if we could replace the noun with the verb, could we
not equally replace the verb with the noun? Why then should one
have priority? And if the noun and verb forms can be used in exactly
equivalent ways, why do both forms exist?
We have merely scratched the surface here; the meaning of faith is
a very large topic, and even when we put quotation marks about "faith"
to indicate that we only want to define the term, not to explicate every
theological issue related to it, this line between the meaning of the
term and the meaning of statements in which the term is used is (as
we have just indicated) indistinct at the very best. In fact one major

2
It is an interesting feature of English that, besides "faith," we have the separate
noun "belief," which can often be used in nearly the same ways ("it's my belief she'll
return," "I have faith she'll return"), moreover, to have faith generally implies having
a belief, and m that case the faith and the belief might be said to ha\ e the same con
tent (that she will return) Nevertheless "belief" differs from "faith" on just the point
we are discussing We may think of faith as an attribute or quality of a person, but
not so with belief I think it likely that this difference reflects the special sense which
"faith" has acquired m Christian theology, and may thus be traced back to Paul, and
to Paul's use of Whether it accurately reflects that usage is another question
3
A classic expression of this doctrine is Gottiob Frege's injunction "never to ask for
the meaning of a word m isolation, but only m the context of a proposition" (The
Foundations of Arithmetic, trans J L Austin, revised ed [Oxford Blackwell, 1980] , orig
inally published as Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik [Breslau, 1884]) See also W V Quine,
Theories and Things (Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press, 1981) 3, tracing "the
view of sentences as primary in semantics, and of names or other words as dependent
on sentences for their meaning," to Bentham
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 147

theological treatment of faith shows us how it may matter whether


"faith" is a noun or a verb. For Thomas Aquinas, faith is a virtue,
and virtues are habits or dispositions.4 How could this be expressed
without using the noun? We might speak of "believing habitually," but
can we understand "habitually" without referring to a habit? And it
is just this habit which, for Aquinas, constitutes "faith"; so what we
forced out the front door has had to be re-admitted through the back.
For Aquinas, the abstract noun "faith" {fides) does name something
which the verbs "trust" and "believe" do not naturally refer to. This
is equally true of the abstract nouns "hope" (spes) and "love" (cantas),
which Aquinas treats in the same way as "faith"; for Aquinas, all three
are virtues, and hence habits, and dispositions.5
At the same time, however, it does not follow that because one uses
a noun rather than a verb one necessarily invokes somethinglike a
habitwhich suits a noun and not a verb. Not everyone is a Thomist.
The choice between noun and verb might be arbitrary sometimes, or
even usually; so far we have only said that it need not be.
Other terms raise other issues. Paul's use of "love," especially in
1 Cor. 13, is sometimes taken to suggest some thing different from a
habit. Thus Ceslaus Spicq has written:
Agape [love] is a spintual entity a power (dynamis) of divine origin and a par-
ticipation in the forces of the world to come Moreover, it is autonomous
so active, spontaneous, personal and powerful that one hesitates to call it a thing 6

Spicq adds that, based on 1 Cor. 13, "Peter Lombard was not so far
from the truth when he identified charity with the Holy Spirit itself,"
a suggestion apparendy endorsed by Victor Paul Furnish (a believer's
life is "empowered by the Holy Spirit, poured into his heart as love")
and Hans Dieter Betz ("when the Christian receives the Spirit of the
Son of God ([Gal.] 4:6) he also receives the divine power of love").7
But if love is a power, then the term has evidently lost the abstract
quality which we began by assuming, and become concretealthough
just what sort of concrete entity it is, and what relation this entity

4
Summa Theologiae MI, Q, 62, Art 3, Q, 55, Art 1, Q, 49, Art 3
5
One of Aqumas's principal texts is 1 Cor 13 13, "Now there remain faith, hope,
love, these three " Id, I-II, Q, 62, Arts 3, 4
6
Ceslaus Spicq, Agape in the Mew Testament (3 vols , St Louis/London Herder, 1963-66)
2 174
7
Id, Victor Paul Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul (Nashville Abingdon, 1968) 238
(citing Rom 5 5), Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians (Philadelphia Fortress, 1979) 264 (on
Gal 5 6)
148 M. WINGER

bears to "love" as that term is otherwise used, are open questions to


which we shall have to return.
Sin presents a similar issue. According to Rom. 5:21 and 6:12, 14,
sin "rules" (, ), or at least it did before Christ came.
Many have taken this to mean that "sin" in these passages identifies
a cosmic power: a concrete entity, like "love" on the interpretation we
8
have just noted. "Sin" seems to offer at least three distinct possibilities:
it might be used (1) of some specific action (not to identify the act but
to characterize itas in "stealing is a sin," equivalent to "stealing is
sinful");9 or (2) of a general state, defined perhaps as separation from
God; 10 or (3) of a concrete force or power.11 In the first of these cases
the use of a noun could be regarded as incidental; like an adjective,
"sin" in this sense refers not to some particular thing, but rather to a
quality common to many particular things. In both the second and
third cases there is something particular called "sin," but its nature
differs; while we might class a state (like a habit) as abstract, a cosmic
power seems concrete.

Basic Considerations

I propose to show that the common features of abstract nouns pro


vide useful avenues to the interpretation of passages containing such
words. The first step is a more detailed account of abstractions, and
here there are various paths we could take, some of them ancient and
arduous. We could call our abstract terms "universals," and join the
debate, especially prominent in medieval times, over whether (and in
what sense) universals exist.12 This recondite subject I will leave to one

8
See Ernst Kasemann, "On Paul's Anthropology," in Perspectives on Paul, (Philadelphia
Fortress, 1971) 1-31, 27, Martmus C de Boer, The Defeat of Death (Sheffield J S O T
Press, 1988) 160-169
9
2 Cor 11 7 "Did I commit a sin in abasing myself'1" = "Was it sinful to abase
myself?" (In ancient Greek LSJ records the apparendy adjectival form only
once Lampe cites uses of in the fourth century C E )
10 ?
Perhaps Rom 6 1, "Shall we continue in sin "
11
Perhaps Rom 6 12, "Let not sin therefore reign "
12
A rough measure of one's taste for philosophy might be found in whether one
sees any interest (or even any sense) in this dispute The reader may try this test by
examining Manlyn McCord Adams, "Universals in the early fourteenth century," ch 20
of Kretzmann et al, eds , The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy (Cambndge
Cambridge University Press, 1982) 411-39 For a modern comment see F Strawson,
"Universals," in Entity and Identity (Oxford Oxford University Press, 1997) 52-63, main
taining (p 59, emphasis in the original) that "universals, if they exist at all, do not
exist m nature [but] are incorrigibly abstract, objects, if objects at all, of thought alone "
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAULS LETTERS 149

side, however, the distinction between universal and particular terms


suggests several helpful points In a useful modern form this distinction
is tn-partite, there are (1) particulars, consisting of "proper names, as
well as pronouns and phrases which identify a definite person or thing",
(2) sortal universals, typically common nouns, "which serve to group indi-
viduals into classes", and (3) characterizing universals, typically abstract
nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, "which refer to qualities, states,
actions, etc "13 One implication of this scheme is that grammatical func-
tion is not the issueespecially for characterizing universals, which
might be identified by any of four parts of speech This matches the way
we saw that "faith," "faithful" and "to trust" can express more-or-less the
same thoughts, that is, the noun "faith" may be used to identify a char-
acteristic of someone (being faithful, or trusting, or acting faithfully)
A second implication is that the same word can fall into different
classifications, according to its use When "love" or "sin" refers to some
particular force or power, then it is a particular, even though in another
place it is a universal Likewise, in specific statements nouns and other
universals will be found within "phrases which identify a definite person
or thing "
The importance of attending precisely to specific usage also emerges
in another distinction, that between object and concept, for the same
term can on one occasion be used to designate an object and on
another as part of a concept 14 This distinction may be illustrated with
concrete objects, an object is some particular thing, while a concept is
anything one can assert about an object The model is a simple declar-
ative sentence of the form "z is X," where a, the grammatical subject,
names an object, and the predicate " is X" marks a concept
Thus, "Man O ' War is a horse" we might have supposed that "a
horse" is an object, but the point of this analysis is that "a horse"
identifies no particular object, but rather a kind of objectand here
the words "kind of" indicate that we are talking about a concept
Thus, the concept in this sentence is the incomplete expression "
is a horse," which means " is warm-blooded, giving birth to
live young, hoofed," etc in other words, the concept is that of having

(Strawson's position seems substantially the same as that of John Duns Scotus as Adams
describes it in her essay, 413)
13
John Lyons, Introduction to Theoretical ^guistics (Cambndge Cambndge University
Press, 1968) 337-38 Note that some abstract nouns are sortais for example, idea, num
ber, and, to recur to Aquinas's discussion of virtues, habit
14
See G Frege, " O n Concept and Object," in Collected Papers on Mathematics, Logic
and Philosophy (Oxford Blackwell, 1984) 182-94
150 M. WINGER

the characteristics which define "horse" and distinguish horses from


15
other things. According to this analysis, "love" represents an object
in "Love is a many-splendored thing" (or at least it might), but in "I
do it all for love," "love" is part of the concept " does for
love," which we could paraphrase, " does because he
16
loves [someone][something]." Again, it is a matter of how the term
is used.
A useful way of putting this is to ask what the term identifiesor,
to use a term of art frequently employed, to what does the term refer?
The second formulation makes use of a distinction between a term's
reference, which is what it points to, and its sense, which describes the
way in which the term refers. The point of this distinction is that terms
with different senses can have the same reference; this distinction was
defined by Frege, who also supplied the classic illustration: both "the
Morning Star" and "the Evening Star" refer to the identical physical
object Venus, but by means of different senses (something like "the
bright star seen near the sun in the morning/evening"). 17 An example
from Paul is the use of both and to refer to the words
of scripture (compare Gal. 3:8 with 4:21).
Like most referring expressions, "the Morning Star" is a phrase;
individual terms, such as "star," do not usually refer (unless, in a par
ticular context such as Paul's letter to the Galatians, they abbreviate
some identifying phrase). Context is generally critical; as we have already
noted, meaning is a function of statements rather than individual words.
In the sentence "I have faith in John," the word "faith" by itself does
not refer to anything, but as part of the referring expression "faith in
John" it refers to a belief that John is, or will do, something indicated
in the broader context. To say that the same belief might have been
conveyed by a different expression is nothing surprisingthere are

15
Besides a one-place predicate like " is a horse" there are two-place rela
tions like " hit " and " is taller than ," as well as more com
plicated forms All of these are concepts Strictly speaking, grammatical subjects should
not be identified with objects, if they were, "horses" would become an object m "Horses
are mammals," but the meaning of this sentence is rather, "Whatever is a horse is a
mammal", the concept "horse" is put under the concept "mammal " No object has
been identified See Frege, "On Concept and Object," 187 Once again, grammar is
not controlling
Ib
"Love" would also represent an object in "Love makes me do all I do" (concept
" makes do "), which resembles "I do it all for love," but does not
necessarily mean the same thing
17
G Frege, " O n Sense and Meaning," in Collected Papers, 157-77 (In this translation
"meaning" is used for what I, following most wnters in English, have called "reference ")
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 151

alternative ways of saying anything we might wish to say. (I am defer-


ring discussion of what the differences between the alternatives may
mean until we get to specific cases.)
Several other points will assist us when we examine the texts. One
is the fact that some terms have contraries while others do not; for
"faithful" there is the contrary "faithless," but there is no "not-Paul"
contrary to Paul.18 Let us say that terms of the first kind refer to qual-
ities and those of the second to substances, without trying to resolve
whether qualities are the same as universals or concepts, and substances
the same as particulars or objects; but whatever the vocabulary, this
is another distinction which will be useful in analyzing what our terms
are used to refer to. (Henceforth I will use "quality" in this technical
sense of something which admits a contrary.)
Next, some terms incorporate a criterion of identity which is essen-
tial to the term's use. For example, I do not understand what "Hudson
River" means unless I realize that this expression does not refer only
to the stretch of water between Manhattan and New Jersey; I must
also know (at least in principlemy grasp of actual geography might
be weak) how to determine whether some other stretch of water is also
the Hudson River. If I know these things I know the criterion of iden-
tity for the Hudsona criterion which, moreover, is not peculiar to
the Hudson, but applies to any river. This is typical for criteria of
identity; they apply to classes of things. Recalling a term we used ear-
lier, criteria of identity apply to sortal universals.19
Criteria of identity exist for abstractions as well as physical objects
like rivers; for instance, our ability to identify "blue" wherever we
encounter the term depends on our understanding that it refers to a
color, not to a shape, or size, or texture, or some other aspect of the
various concrete objects which are blue. On the other hand, there is
no criterion of identity for qualitative terms like "tall" or "heavy,"
which may apply to physical objects of otherwise entirely diverse kinds.20

18
The idea is scarcely coherent, but, since "faithless" is true of whatever "faithful"
is false of, "not-Paul" should lack whatever qualities Paul has
19
On entena of identity, see generally M Dummett, Frege Philosophy of Language (2d
e d , Cambndge Harvard University Press, 1981) 73-80
20
Although the presence or absence of a cntenon of identity has (like other points
I have touched on) been invoked to establish or deny that certain words refer to things,
this, as I have already said, is not the kind of conclusion I want to draw Whether or
not a term is associated with a cntenon of identity is rather a distinction which (like
the other points I have touched on) will help to clanfy what Paul refers to, on the var-
ious and specific occasions when he employs the abstract terms we are investigating
152 M. WINGER

One final general observation is important: meaning exists at differ


ent levels. If I say, "Love whopped me over the head," I am certainly
presenting love as a concrete object; but how seriously should this
be taken? There is some metaphor here, although which elements are
metaphorical ("whopped," "over the head," "love") is unclear. As usual,
we would need context to sort this out, and in context we might find
other rhetorical figures besides metaphor. I might mean that I fell in
love (itself a metaphor); I might mean that love (my love for some par
ticular person? my tendency to infatuation?) turned out badly for me.
I might be speaking ironically.
These possibilities will sometimes need to be considered in examin
ing particular texts.

Paul

I have already referred to several abstract nouns appearing in Paul's


letters: , , . There are a number of others, especially
those listed in Table I. With each of these nouns I give the cognate
verbs, adjectives and adverbs also found in Paul's letters. The number
of times each word appears in the Nestle-Aland26 text of the seven
undisputed letters is given in parentheses. Other nouns could be added
to this table, including the various fruits of flesh and spirit listed in
Gal. 5:19-23, but the table already gives more than I will cover here.

Table I: Abstract nouns in Paul,


with cognate terms

Noun Verb Adjective/ adverb


47 18 19
22 1 3
1
1
60 14 6
2
50 25 10
25 15
26 51
7
45 4
91 41 9
19 15
66 11
14
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 153

Let us begin at the end of Table I, with , "grace"a key theo


logical term. But what is "grace"? Our question is more linguistic than
theological; as with other abstract nouns, we would like to know if
"grace" refers to some one thing, or is perhaps an attribute, being gra
cious, or is a way of describing various things which are done gra
ciously. The cognate verb is , which Paul uses eleven times;
usually this is defined as "give freely" or "give graciously or cheerfully."21
Nearly half of the time Paul uses in the nominative case which,
according to the distinction we have noted between object and concept,
implies that is an object. But on examination these nominatives
suggest something else. They break down into (1) five cases of
"of God," with six more that apparently refer to the of God; 22
(2) six cases of (with slight variations) "of our lord Jesus Christ"
(all with the appended phrase "[be] with you"); 23 (3) seven cases of
"from God our father and the lord Jesus Christ" (all with "to
you"); 24 and (4) six cases of "to God." 2 5 Working through these
groups in reverse order, "to God" is an idiom meaning "thanks
to God," equivalent to the adjectival "I am thankful," or "let us be
thankful," in each case for something God has done. This has the con
trary "I am/let us not (be) thankful," indicating that Paul is speaking
of a quality. There is no criterion of identity here; the question, "Are
the thanks you gave God today the same as the ones you gave yes
terday?" would reflect a misunderstanding. In this case charac
terizes an attitudeto God, as it happens, although that depends on
the appended dative .
"to you from God" (and so forth) is also an idiom with the
26
dative, part of Paul's standard salutation. The sense is "may God our
father and the lord Jesus Christ be favorable to you"; here too there
is a contrary ("unfavorable"), and, since the immediate contexts do not

21
Respectively, BAGD s 1, LSJ s II LSJ also offers (sv I) a slightly broader
sense, usay or do something agreeable to a person
22
Expressly "of God," Rom 5 15, 1 Cor 15 10 (3x), 2 Cor 12 9, imphcidy "of
God," Rom 5 20, 21, 6 1, 116 (2x), 2 Cor 4 15
23
Rom 16 20, 1 Cor 16 23, and, with vanous additions, 2 Cor 13 13, Gal 6 18,
Phil 4 23, Phlm 25
24
Rom 1 7, 1 Cor 1 3, 2 Cor 1 2, Gal 1 3, Phil 1 2, 1 Thess 1 1, Phlm 3 (In
1 Thess 1 1 the "from" phrase, omitted from many early manuscripts, was probably
added by scribes to match Paul's other letters )
25
Rom 6 17, 7 25, 1 Cor 15 57, 2 Cor 2 14, 8 16, 9 15
26
It also appears m the Deutero-Pauhne letters, Eph 1 2, Col 1 2, 2 Thess 1 2
The Pastorals have nearly the same form
154 M. WINGER

refer to any particular way in which this favor might be manifested,


27
there is apparendy no criterion of identity for this . Similarly,
"of our lord Jesus Christ be with you" is part of a standard clos
ing, with no apparent distinction in meaning from the salutation.
The suspicion that in these general formulae does not refer
to any particular thing is confirmed by our first class, "of God,"
as well as by a number of passages with in an oblique case, for
these expressions are applied to a variety of different things: in Rom.
5:15, 20 and 21, to the gift (, ) of Christ's obedience; in
1 Cor. 15:10, to that by which Paul is an apostle; in Rom. 1:5, to the
success of Paul's mission. In other passages where the is not said
to be of God or Jesus, the term is used for the collection for Jerusalem
(1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:1, 4, 6) and for a visit from Paul (2 Cor. 1:15).
Even a standard phrase, "given to me [us]," varies in its refer
ence: to Paul's authority in Rom. 12:3; to the various gifts of prophecy,
service, teaching, exhortation, generosity, zeal and cheerfulness in Rom.
12:6-8; to Paul's ministry in Rom. 15:15; to the Corinthians' enrichment
"in all discourse and knowledge" in 1 Cor. 1:4; to Paul's founding of
the Corinthian mission in 1 Cor. 3:10; and to his Gentile mission in
Gal. 2:9. Together these passages suggest that itself is a general
term for gift, encompassing various specific gifts identified m context 2 8
In principle, anything could be a gift. This adjectival sense of is
especially clear in Rom. 4:4 and 16, in the opposition between
and , "as a gift" and "as an obligation";
expresses the contrary to . The same idea in a different vocabu
lary underlies Gal. 2:21, "I do not nullify the gift () of God; for
if justification came through law, then Christ died for nothing"; here
the contrast is between justification by Christ's gift of himself (2:20)
and justification by law, probably meaning God's gift of the law; for
Paul's denial that he nullifies God's suggests that those whom he
opposed in Galatia used to refer to the law. If so, then we have
another referent here for .
But perhaps a few passages suggest something elsefor instance in
Romans 5 and 6, where we hear that "reigns through righteous-

2/
Unless, that is, the expression is a term of art with a reference which need not
be specified These passages, however, do not suggest such a reference
28
Note that Paul uses the formula (see n 25) in connection with gifts
of God, it is for such gifts that Paul and his readers are grateful Nevertheless, the
dative in this phrase seems to rule out the use of to refer directly to God's
actions
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 155

ness resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our lord" (5:21),
and that "you are not under law but under " (6:14, 15). In these
passages not only becomes suddenly a concrete object, but, as
29
Fitzmyer observes, it is personified. To say this, however, does not
answer but frame our question: if here refers to an object or a
person, what object or person is that? If we work back from 5:21 to
see what is meantor better, if we begin at 5:1 or 4:1 and work
forwardthe impression of concreteness fades. In 4:4 and 16, as we
have just noted, the adverbial phrase means "as a gift"; the
noun is part of an adverbial expression describing a quality, which
might in principle be ascribed to anything, and in Romans 4 it is
attributed to inheriting the world, according to the promise made to
Abraham: the world is a , a gift.30 In 5:2, "this in which
we stand," the noun is used to refer to this state of inheriting the
world, but the use is figurative, a kind of metonymyas we might use
"gift" to refer to something given, but still meaning the specific thing
in question, and not some general state or quality of Giftness or
Gifthood. Then in 5:15-19 (with three other terms meaning "gift,"
, and ) is connected to the "righteous act" and
"obedience" of Christ. In 5:21, then, the attribution of ruling power
to can be taken for a reference to Christ, while the term itself,
invoking the thought of chapter 4, suggests the state in which humans
stand thanks to Christ; the ambiguity is inherent in the figurative speech,
and precludes a literal reading. Finally, "under " in 6:14 and 15
continues the image of ruling from 5:21. 31 Thus here, as else
where, marks a quality shared by many things, and not, itself,
a thing.
With this understanding we may contrast Bultmann's declaration
that in Rom. 5:20-21 "the meaning of 'grace' approaches actual iden
32
tity with that of 'spirit'. . . ," Probably this would be better expressed
(using our terminology) by saying that Paul uses to refer to the
spirit; but even with this modification, the statement confuses what

29
J. A. Fitzmyer, Romans (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1993) 422, 447.
30
Or perhaps this is too imprecise. According to G.K. Barrett (A Commentary on the
Epistle to the Romans [New York: Harper & Row, 1957] 95; emphasis in the original)
refers to "God's plan," which "was m a d e to rest upon faith on man's
side in order that on God's it might be a matter of grace." Paul's syntax leaves
the exact reference in some doubt, but the sense of the phrase does not depend on
this.
31
We will return to Rom. 4 and 5 when we take up "sin."
32
Theology of the New Testament (New York: Scribner's, 1951) 1.290.
156 M. W I N G E R

Paul wrote with what he might have written. It may be that the spirit
rules in the fashion Paul ascribes to , and equally that the spirit
could be spoken of as a gift, using either or some other term;
but this is not what Paul says in Rom. 5:20-21.
Another contrast is with Conzelmann's interpretation of in the
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.33 Noting that may refer
to different things, Conzelmann identifies the principal referent in Paul
as "salvation," usually as an "event," but sometimes as a "state." 34 I
have no quarrel with this approach, provided it is understood that
while refers to something, this something is not identical to
itself; that salvation is a gift does not make these two terms inter
changeable. But in another paragraph Conzelmann speaks of "the
power of grace," and refers eleven times to grace as "it," without speak
ing of "salvation" at all.35 According to the analysis of as refer
ring to salvation we should be able to replace each "it" with "salvation,"
yielding (for example), "Salvation is not just superior to sin and its
result, death," and "Salvation makes generosity possible."36 Thus restated,
both sentences seem to have the same truth value as they would with
"grace," but the first has become so banal that I doubt Conzelmann
actually had it in mind when he wrote what he wrote. At the least,
his paragraph on "the power of grace" runs the risk of creating a dis
tinct entity out of something better understoodon Conzelmann's
analysis as well as oursin a different way.
The argument here also offers a useful modification to Hendrikus
Boers' recent analysis of . 37 Boers argues that in Galatians and
Romans has "a certain technical status" originated by Paul
that is, as "the defining characteristic of " and as "the power
under which the believer lives"; at the same time Boers acknowledges
that " did not become a technical term in a systematic sense,"
leaving one in some doubt as to what the "technical status" amounts
38
to. I think Boers tries too hard to press into itself meanings
which depend on the context in which the term is used. When a term
is used predicatively, as I maintain Paul uses , it can be employed

33
. D.2, T D N T 9.393-96 (1974).
34
Id., 393, 394-95.
35
Id., 394-95.
36
Id.
37
. Boers, "' and in Paul's Thought," CBQ59 (1997) 693-713.
38
Id, 709, 707, 708, 709. Boers adds (710), "Indeed, one has trouble defining the
specific meaning of in Galatians and Romans."
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 157

in the expression of various meanings, including novel ones; but these


meanings depend on what the predicate is applied to, and do not
inhere in the predicate itself.

is the most common of the terms listed in Table I, appearing


91 times in Paul. It is generally agreed that, with rare exceptions, Paul
uses to refer to the action of the verb : roughly, believ
ing or trusting in either God or Jesus. 39 This is illustrated by Rom.
4:5, referring to the of someone (specifically, Abraham) who does
not work but trusts () God, and by the references to the
of those to whom Paul writes as "toward God" (1 Thess. 1:8),
or "toward the Lord Jesus" (Phlm. 5); taking these also as specifying,
like Rom. 4:5, that here means "to trust" God, or Jesus, it is
only a small step to understanding Paul's thirteen other references to
"your " in the same way (Rom. 1:8, 12; 1 Cor. 2:5; 15:14, 17;
2 Cor. 1:24; 10:15; Phil. 2:17; 1 Thess. 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 10). Likewise, in
Rom. 4:9, 14 Paul uses absolute for the same sense of trusting
God specified by 4:5. Thus we can take as a way of referring
to the act or state of trusting in God, so that the noun could be sys
tematically eliminated without loss of meaning. Understood in this
way, also has a contrary, "distrust," of which verb, noun and
adjective forms are all found in Paul. 40
is not to be thought of apart from the persons who have it
as though belief could exist without believers. Sometimes Paul speaks
of as though it were impersonal, but such passages should not
be taken too literally. Thus, the reference in Gal. 1:23 to "destroying"
is shown by the parallel expression in 1:13 to be equivalent to
"destroying the church"; perhaps stands by a kind of metonymy
for the church, or perhaps the link is more substantial, suggesting that

39
This is so whether refers to faith in Jesus or of Jesus, if the latter,
then Jesus' trust in God is meant The exceptions to the general rule involve a distinct
sense of , as in Rom 3 3, where refers to God's faithfulness,
here the noun stands for an adjective rather than a verb It has a contrary, as Paul
explains, contrasting God's with the of others Gal 5 22, listing
among the fruits of the spirit, may also employ the sense "faithfulness" (so NRSV, NAB),
or perhaps "trustfulness" (so NJB), the context does not tell us, except that the other
spiritual fruit are general and abstract in character
40
, Rom 3 3, , Rom 3 3, 4 20, 11 20, 23, , 1 Cor 6 6, 7 12,
13, 14 (2x), 15, 10 27, 14 22 (2x), 23, 24, 2 Cor 4 4, 6 14, 15
158 M. WINGER

if members of the church should cease to trust God they would aban
don the church; but in neither case is there apart from the
41
believers who trust God. Likewise, the "coming" of in Gal. 3:23
and 25 refers to the coming of a time when people trusted or believed,
as the close of the immediately preceding verse shows: ". . . in order
that the promise might be given, based on in [or: of] Jesus
42
Christ, to those who believe ( )."
Over all, strikes one as a much more specific term than .
Anything might be a gift; the same might be said of in its sense
of faithfulness (necessarily limited to humans and perhaps a few animal
species), but the far more common sense of trusting or believing is nar
rower, requiring a particular kind of object as well as a particular kind
of subject. As we have noted, in Paul this object is almost always God
(or Jesus), and we could perhaps define it more specifically: for instance,
as trusting that God will keep certain promises.
Still, is a quality, having a contrary. The noun can be elim
inated (as I have done in the preceding paragraph) in favor of its cog
nate verb, or sometimes adjective. It is a characterizing universal and
not a particular; even though Paul uses the term for faith with a par
ticular object, rather than faith in general, specification of this sort does
not render a universal into a particular; it merely distinguishes one
universal from another. It is still the case that , thus defined,
"can be instanced, or instantiated, by a number of different particular
things." 43 Thus Paul may have such a belief or attitude, and so may
the Roman Christians, and you, and I, just as different things may be
tall, or heavy, or blue.
Earlier I distinguished between "tall" and "blue," on the ground
that colors have a criterion of identity, but "tall" does not. is a
more difficult case. On the one hand, when Paul speaks of the
which a number of different people have (as in ) he means

41
Likewise with the other verb of 1 23, "to proclaim good news " Although at two
other points m Paul's letters this takes a direct object (God's son in Gal 1 16 and
"your faith and love" in 1 Thess 3 6), in each of these cases we must supply some
linking term the good news concerning God's son, or of your faith and love, or the like,
that is, what is directly proclaimed is not "Christ" or "faith and love," or, here, "faith,"
but newssome statementabout these subjects The three passages where the verb
takes the pleonastic object "good news" ( , 1 Cor 15 1, 2 Cor 11 7, Gal
111) reflect this
42
Whether means "in" or "of" Jesus, either way it is
personal to someone
43
S Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford Oxford University Press,
1994) s "universals "
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 159

that all have of the same kinda belief or trust in the same
person or same thing, more or less. On the other hand, we can also
make distinctions, just as with any term referring to something a person
does or is: my trusting in God is something I do, yours is something
you do; to say "I have faith" means something different than saying
"you have faith"we are not just declaring "faith exists," and then
affirming that I and you and others are each related to this one faith.
As we have already noted, there is no apart from the individual
persons who have .
What about Aquinas's thesis, that faith is a disposition or habit
not merely something in which one engages from time to time, but
an attribute of one's character? I doubt that Paul's letters allow a clear
verdict on this question, although perhaps it could be said (as with
other ideas of Christian theology) that Thomas's conception is a devel
opment of Paul's.
There remains the question of why Paul uses if he means
nothing that he could not express with . Probably this ques
tion has no general answer; but if we examine particular passages in
Paul's letters we find that while could usually have been used
in place of , the substitution would involve other changes as well.
In Rom. 1:8, "that your faith is proclaimed" might be changed to
"that proclaims that you believe"but then Paul would have to
specify who makes this proclamation, and the sentence would acquire
a detail unnecessary to Paul's point. In 1 Cor. 15:14, "your faith is
vain" might be changed to "that you believe is vain," but the Greek
is ambiguous and could also mean "it is vain
to believe you." Another alternative would be "you believe vainly,"
, but here too there is an ambiguity, for the adverb
could refer to the manner of one's belief rather than to its point-
lessness. Or perhaps or , "you believe for
nothingness" or "for nothing," would serve. I am not prepared to say
what nuances these expressions might have had which would have
44
made them inferior for Paul's purposes; but we know from our own
language that subtle distinctions lie behind the choice of expressions,
and that the sensitive exploitation of these distinctions is one of the
marks separating memorable prose from the pedestrian. According to
Frege, such distinctions need not touch the sense of what is said; that

44
Was (which I have not found) unacceptable? Did Paul prefer the -
stem to ? Did he want to avoid the tense (or mood) which a finite verb must
carry?
160 M. W I N G E R

is, they need not affect whether what one says is true or false: "In
other words, we must not fail to recognize that the same sense, the
same thought, may be variously expressed; thus the difference does not
here concern the sense, but only the apprehension, shading or colour
45
ing of the thought, and is irrelevant for logic."
What we have said so far about "faith" suggests that while the dis
tinction between a noun and its cognate verb need not entail any dis
tinction in sense, there may nevertheless be a distinction of sense
between particular phrases employing nouns and others employing
verbs. Such phrases may also be distinguished according to "shading
or colouring" rather than sense, and when they are it is not surprising
that we, for whom Hellenistic Greek is a dead language preserved in
only a handful of writings, may be unable to identify distinctions that
would have been felt by those who used the language. This difficulty
does not imply that Paul's choice of over
was (on the one hand) arbitrary, nor (on the other hand) does
it mean that the noun represents some distinct object to which
the verb could not readily refer.
We may take as an example an idea which is often associated in
English with the expression "your faith": that faith is something which
(in some sense) you possess. Likewise in Greek, could con
vey possession, for the genitive of possession is an established use of
the genitive case; but this interpretation is acceptable only if is
something which can be possessed, which is just the question. This is
not the only possible sense of with a noun; very often in such
cases is the subjective genitive which identifies the performer of
an action represented by the noun, as in (to use examples only from
Paul) , "your rational worship" (Rom. 12:1);
... , "your obedience" (Rom. 16:19; cf. 2 Cor. 7:15; 10:6);
, "your boast" (1 Cor. 5:6; Phil. 1:26; cf. 2 Cor. 1:14);
, "your sharing" (Phil. 1:5), and ,
"your prayer" (Phil. 1:19). All of these parallel the understanding I
have suggested for in Paul's letters.46

45
"Concept and Object," 185 n 7 One may wonder how sharply one should sep
arate distinctions in "sense" from distinctions in "colouring" (perhaps these are matters
of degree rather than kind), but certainly in some cases it is very difficult to distinguish
senses
4b
The genitive is also often used to identify the object of an action, as in
, "remembrance of you" (Rom 1 9, cf Phil 1 3), , "your calling"
(1 Cor 1 26), and , "testing of you" (Gal 4 14) This lies behind
the interpretation of as "faith m Christ," but it is not a plausible under
standing of the more common (in Paul, 13x vs 7x)
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 161

It is true that even where a concept is not part of the sense of an


expression, as possession is not part of the sense of , it may
be part of the "shading or colouring" of the expression; the idea that
"your faith" is yours may lurk in the background, although it cannot
be shown to be a proposition Paul would maintain, and in fact is extra
neous to the points Paul makes when he uses this expression. Here is
a difficulty with "colouring"; it may be in the eye of the beholder, the
writer may not intend it or even be aware of ita difficulty added to
the other, already noted, that we have no good way of judging the
shadings of Hellenistic Greek anyway, and certainly cannot do so based
on the shadings which an English rendering has for us.
I turn now to a word which, as I noted earlier in this essay, pre
sents different issues.

'

Here is another term prominent in Paul, indeed a cornerstone of what


the New Testament has to say about life in the church: , "love."
Paul is unusual among New Testament writers in his preference for
this noun over the cognate verb : he uses the noun 47 times
and the verb 18, while elsewhere in the New Testament the noun is
found 69 times, the verb 125.47 Nevertheless Paul's use of the verb is
instructive, for the verb is precise at points where the noun may be
vague. In Greek as in English, "to love" is transitive and ordinarily
has an explicit object as well as an explicit subject. Paul uses it eight
times with both a human subject and object, seven times with God or
Christ as the subject and a human object, and three times with a
48
human subject and God or Christ as the object. In Rom. 13:8, 9
and Gal. 5:14 Paul invokes the command to love one's neighbor as
oneself, the New Testament's chief text on love.
The noun "love" ordinarily has neither subject nor object, but usu
ally the context indicates bothas in Rom. 13:10 ("love does no
wrong"), where we know from 13:9 that love for neighbors is meant,
or 2 Cor. 13:13, where Paul refers to God's love for the Corinthians.
Sometimes, however, the context is ambiguous, and in this case one

47
The record of usage suggests that the noun developed after the verb, and so from
it. Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, s.v.; LSJ, s.v.
48
Human subject and object: Rom. 13:8a, b, 9; 2 Cor. 11:11, 12:15a, b; Gal. 5:14;
1 Thess. 4:9. God or Christ as subject, human object: Rom. 8:37; 9:13, 25a, b; 2 Cor.
9:7; Gal. 2:20; 1 Thess. 1:4. Human subject, God or Christ as object: Rom. 8:28;
1 Cor. 2:9; 8:3.
162 M. WINGER

must choose among the possibilities; thus Rom. 5:5 ("the love of God
was poured into our hearts") was long taken to refer to human love
for God, but now is generally interpreted in just the reverse way. In
other cases one may conclude that multiple subjects and objects are
intendedthat in Phil. 2:1, for example ("if there is any. . . consola
tion of love"), "consolation of love" refers both to God's love for the
Philippians, and to their love for one another. If so, we may also be
inclined to think that Paul refers to a love which transcends any par
ticular subject or object. But Paul is not speaking of love with no sub
ject or objectan incoherent idea. To refer to two distinct cases in a
single phrase is not to confuse them; it does not mean that Paul treats
one love (say, one's for neighbor) as a simple corollary of another (say,
one's for God). 49
Let us examine some of the difficult cases, noting as we pass some
which are not so difficult. 1 Cor. 13 belongs in this latter category;
although this chapter is sometimes taken as an illustration of love
objectified, that is overly literal. Verses 1, 2, and 3 ("though I speak
with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love . . .") are
plain: to have love means to love, and while the object of this love is
not specified, this entire letter is addressed to how the Corinthians
should behave to each other; certainly love for one another is meant
here. 50 Verses 4 through 7 ("love is patient. . .") now personify love;
but what is said of love refers to the one who loves; it is that person
who is patient, kind, and so forththe details of this account confirming
that it is the behavior of the Corinthians to one another which is at
issue here. The rhetorical figure of personification does not cause words
to take on a mystical level of meaning out of keeping with their con
text; but in this case Paul's figure of speech has encouraged loose
speech in many of his readers. Conzelmann writes of verses 4-7 that
they display "personifying style," or "Wisdom style," and cites Spicq,
who compares love here to "la hypostasie . . . envisage tantt
par rapport Dieu, tantt dans l'me du pieux dont elle inspire les
penses et dirige l'action."51 The parallel with Wisdom is instructive.
Everyone now knows that Wisdom is personified in the wisdom liter-

49
There might be such a relationship But this would have to be shown, it does not
follow by default
50
Or love for one's neighbor Whether this would include non-believers is uncer-
tain, but does not matter for our purposes
51
Hans Conzelmann, / Corinthians (Philadelphia Fortress, 1975) 223, C Spicq, Agape
dans le Nouveau Testament (Pans Lecoffre, 1959) 2 77 1
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 163

ature; but a look at Sirach or Wisdom of Solomon suggests caution.


The classic text, personified wisdom's speech in Sirach 24, is metaphor
ical through and through, from "I covered the earth like mist" (v. 3)
to "my river [became] a sea" (v. 31) and "instruction shining like the
dawn" (v. 32), and if these metaphors are not to be taken literally,
how should we then take the personification of wisdom? And in the
same chapter also retains its ordinary abstract significance, declar
ing in v. 34: "I have not labored only for myself but for all who seek
her"that is, wisdomwhich (since wisdom is the speaker) thus changes
its sense from the beginning of the sentence (wisdom personified) to its
end (wisdom as being wise). Or has it? What does it mean to personify
an attribute? A person is not an attribute, even if it is given the name
of one; it is wrong to ask whether we should take such a figure of
speech literally, for that cannot be done; if "wisdom" is a person it is
not wisdom, and if it is wisdom it is not a person. If wisdom is a per
son, what sort of person is she? How would one recognize her? What
is her criterion of identity?
In an expression like "wisdom opens her mouth" (Sir. 24:2) we can
take "wisdom" literally, or "opens her mouth" literally, but not both.
There is really no choice to be made here, however, for if "wisdom"
does not refer to the attribute of being wise, all that is said about wis
dom in Sirach collapses into nonsense. In 1:16, "the fullness of wisdom
is to fear the Lord; she intoxicates with her fruits," where wisdom is
made an object although not a person, the first half of the verse serves
as a reminder that the writer refers not to a vine but to a quality.
There are metaphors for wisdom throughout Sirach (a field in 6:19, a
boulder in 6:21, game in 14:22, a house in 14:23-24, a tree in 14:26),
52
of which personified wisdom is only one. But none of these metaphors
serves any purpose if "wisdom" does not, at bottom and in each case,
refer to being wise.
In the same way, love personified in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 follows imme
diately on love in 13:1-3 as a quality one may have, without any
change in the actual referent for love. If the referent shifted, the argu
ment would make no sense.53 The declaration in verses 8 through 13

52
Likewise Wisdom of Solomon. In 7:22 wisdom is described as a person, in 7:25
as a vapor or breath, in 7:26 as a mirror; she is said to enter holy souls in 7:27 and
everything in 7:28. In Prov. 9:5 (LXX) wisdom invites those who lack understanding
to eat her bread and drink her wine; since the bread and wine are certainly metaphor
ical, what basis have we for taking the invitation literally? (Overall, and notwithstand
ing chapters 8 and 9, wisdom in Proverbs is generally not personified.)
53
Conzelmann's claim (223-24) that Jewish parallels to w . 4-7 show that Paul's
164 M. W I N G E R

that love will not end, which might be ambiguous out of context, refers
to the love identified in the preceding verses: that of believers for one
another. No doubt Paul would also say the same thing about humans'
love for God, and God's for humans. But this does not mean that Paul
says it here in 1 Cor. 13.
I have turned to literary evidence, as seems appropriate when con
struing texts. However, it may be suggested that other kinds of evi
dence show that inhabitants of the early Roman Empire were quite
willing to personify abstractions, or at least certain ones; for we know
cults of abstract divinities in both the Latin and Greek worlds, includ
ing Fortuna and Victoria, and .54 This is true; but its
significance is uncertain. If the worship of suggests that was
a person or object, the failure to worship ' might suggest that it
was not. Moreover, the literary evidence on shows that the
significance of personalizing language is open to question; Walbank
observes of that "how far men really personalized such an abstrac
tion and whether they had any consistent view about it is a problem
almost impossible to answer."55 The ambiguity of cultic evidence emerges
in an anecdote from Suetonius's life of Vitellius. When that emperor,
wishing to show his desire for peace, went to lay his dagger in the
temple of Concordia, the leading citizens called him back, "adcla-
mantibus ipsum esse Concordiam," whereupon he declared that he
would take Concordia for a surname {Vitellius 15). Axtell remarks, "Now,
these sycophants did not consider him the feminine deity Concordia,
but the spirit of Concord. Neither they nor he would have given him

meaning transcends specific loves ("for example . . . love for God or love for man" [224
n. 53]) is fallacious; parallels from other contexts cannot show the reference in this
context. Gordon Fee's suggestion (The First Epistle to the Corinthians; [NICNT; Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987] 636-37) that v. 4a ("love is patient and kind") refers to God
is only superficially plausible; Paul has been talking explicitly of human love, and any
way w . 4b-7 ("is not jealous or boastful. . .") cannot refer to God.
34
See, for example, W. Burkert, Greek Religion (Cambndge, Mass : Harvard University
Press, 1985) 184-87; I. Kajanto, "Fortuna," ANRW 17.1, 503-58 (1981); J.R. Fears,
"The Theology of Victory at Rome," ANRW 17.2, 737-826 (1981); K. Latte, Romische
Rehgionsgeschichte (Mnchen: Beck'sche, 1960) 176-83, 233-42; M.P. Nilsson, Geschichte der
Griechischen Religion (Mnchen: Beck'sche, 1955) 812-15; T.B.L. Webster, "Personification
as a Mode of Greek Thought," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 17 (1954)
10-21; H. Usener, Gotternamen (Frankfurt/Main Schulte-Bulmke, 1948) 364-75; H.L.
Axtell, The Deification of Abstract Ideas in Roman Literature and Inscriptions (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1907)
,5
F.W. Walbank, The Hellenistic World (Cambndge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
1981) 220. In this connection it is interesting that, according to Latte (Romische Rehgions-
geschichte, 314), personifications appear principally in official cults rather than private
ones.
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 165

56
the designation Juno or Minerva." The existence of a cult does not
57
prove that what is worshipped is a person rather than a quality.
This is consistent with a point made by recent treatments of Fortuna
and Victory. Fears says that "as a cult figure Victoria was regarded
both as an autonomous divine force and as a gift granted to the state
by the intervention of Jupiter," and "could also be regarded as an
aspect of a divinely favored mortal," as in Victoria Caesaris and the
like.58 But this characteristic of belonging to many different things is
exactly what one expects with a quality rather than a person. Likewise
Fortuna, according to Kajanto, is found in many forms, including bona,
brevis, mala and salutaris, and especially in the "varieties . . . Fortuna
Augusta or Augusti, the guardian spirit of the emperor, an equivalent
of his Genius, and Fortuna Redux, the power that guarded the return
of the emperor from dangerous foreign journeys." 59 In the same way,
in the Greek world might be associated with a specific city.60
To return to Paul: I have noted that "the love of God poured into
our hearts through the holy spirit" (Rom. 5:5) has been taken by some
interpreters to mean God's love for humans, and by others, humans'
love for God. 61 This reflects the classic difficulty, in Greek as in English,
with genitives attached to nouns that have cognate verbs; the genitive
may identify either the subject or the object of the verbal action, and
only the context can tell which is meant. Here, love "in our hearts"

56
Axtell, Deification, 81
57
We may also question whether pagan cults will reveal Paul's thinking But this
objection is inconclusive Granting that Paul would not have participated in such a
cult, he could still have shared the worshipers' perception that there was some thing
they worshippedas in Gal 4 8 Paul refers to "beings which are not in nature gods "
As to deified abstractions, however, this does not advance us from Walbank's gesture
of hopelessness
58
Fears, "Theology of Victory," 744, 745
59
Kajanto, "Fortuna," 510-16, 517 Axtell (Deification, 89) observes that "such modifiers
are not characteristic of, but alien to, the anthropomorphic gods "
60
Burkert, Greek Religion, 186 The diverse sources I have invoked, Latin and Greek,
pagan and Jewish, leave us to wonder why, if no person is really meant, a person still
is spoken of This is a version of the question of why one may speak figuratively, and
our lack of a convincing answer does not mean that there is no figure Webster makes
a fruitful suggestion in his treatment of Greek personification (at 13) "with a few excep
tions personifications of abstracts do not persist with the same kind of permanent
and developing individuality as the Olympian gods, but are deified at moments of great
and compelling emotion " A modern example illustrates the point When Sky Masterson,
the gambler in the musical Guys and Dolls, pauses before a crucial roll of the dice to
sing, "Luck, be a lady tonight," this shows the depth of his feelings, not necessarily his
understanding of what kind of beings inhabit the universe
61
Most commentators (e g , Barrett, Cranfield, Dunn, Kasemann, Fitzmyer) take the
first view, but see Barth and Stuhlmacher
166 M. WINGER

sounds like human love, and the reference to its being poured "through
the holy spirit" fits with Paul's identification of love as a "fruit of the
spirit" in Gal. 5:22. On the other hand, just after this verse Paul refers
to "love of him [God]" (5:8) in a way which makes it clear that God
is the lover, and it is natural to take the earlier phrase in the same
way; this also seems to make the best sense of the relation between
62
v. 5 and the verses which precede and follow it. None of the argu
ments is conclusive. Granting the ambiguity of Paul's expression, it
does not follow that Paul merges God's love and ours, only (at most)
that the two are related. Love is a natural response to love; but Paul
suggests a more particular connection: God's love prompted him to
send Christ (Rom. 5:8); with Christ God sent the spirit (Gal. 4:6); and
with the spirit comes love (Gal. 5:22). Perhaps it would have been
more precise for Paul to have said that the spirit is poured into human
hearts through love,63 but Paul's association of the concepts is more
important than his suggestion of the mechanics of that association. On
the other hand, I think Dodd's apparent equation of love and spirit
invites the kind of confusion which abstract nouns sometimes engender.64
The spirit, though it may be immaterial, is nevertheless concretea
particular, not a universal. This does not mean Paul cannot, by
metonymy, refer to the spirit by a term which elsewhere refers to a
quality, and could be such a term, standing on this occasion for
the spirit because it happens to be one manifestation of the spirit But
love and spirit are not thereby the same, and love is not therefore a
particular.

62
The full statement in 5 is, "Hope does not shame us, because the love of God
has been poured into our hearts through the holy spirit " "Hope" here looks back to
2, "hope of [sharing] the glory of God," and it would seem that God's love for
humans is a better warrant for this hope than is humans' love for God Then w 6-11
(introduced by the particle which usually marks an explanation for what has just
been said) argue that Christ's death for humans as sinners shows God's love for humans,
and "much more" (v 9) shall humans, having now been justified, be saved Still, the
connection between in w 5 and 8 is rough, there is a shift from love felt to
love logically demonstrated In any case, w 6-11 do not explain the love of 5b, but
the hope of 5a, nothing rules out distinct references to both human love (v 5) and
God's (v 8)
65
Kasemann's and Barrett's interpretations imply this (Ernst Kasemann, Commentary
on Romans [Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1980] 135-36, Barrett, Romans, 105) The prophet
Joel tells us that the Lord promises to "pour out" () his spirit (3 1 [LXX]), and
that his people "will not be ashamed" () (2 26), Paul's association of the
same terms in Rom 5 5 suggests that he has Joel in mind Spint and heart are also
associated m five other Pauline passages (Rom 8 27, 2 Cor 1 22, 3 3, Gal 4 6)
64
"Since the nature of God himself is love, in giving us love He imparts to us some
thing of His own nature, or, in Pauline language, His Spint " C H Dodd, The Epistle
of Paul to the Romans (London Hodder & Stoughton, 1932) 95, cf Fitzmver, Romans, 398
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 167

Another interesting passage is Gal. 5:6, "for in Christ Jesus neither


circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working
through love." To what does Paul refer, and how does it relate
to ? These two abstract nouns are found together in eight other
Pauline passages, distinguished from one another in 1 Cor. 13 (espe
cially w . 2 and 13), associated in 2 Cor. 8:7; Gal. 5:22; 1 Thess. 1:3;
3:6; 5:8; Phlm. 5. It is clear that Paul expects (or assumes) that believers
will be both faithful and loving, but it is not so cleardespite Gal.
5:6that Paul has a developed theory of their relationship. Since in
Gal. 5:13-14 is love of neighbor, and since the issue throughout
5:2-15 is the law, which is brought to completion by love of neighbor,
this love is the evident topic in 5:6. Betz cuts loose from this
context when he writes that the Christian "becomes a channel for the
divine power of ." 6 5 It is probably "working" () which
leads Betz to translate the act of loving into the power to do so, and
then to attribute this power to an entity which Paul himself does not
refer to.
Finally, there is Philippians 2:1-2, on which we touched above. Here
Paul writes, "Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any
consolation in love, any fellowship in the spirit, any compassion or
mercy, complete my joy by thinking the same thing and having the
same love, a common mind, and one thought." This passage should
not be interpreted with greater precision than Paul employed in fashion
ing it. There are not five distinct thoughts in the first clause and four
in the second, but clusters of expressions directed, as Paul says, at one
general thought: the Philippians' unity. 66 In this exhortation love is
both a ground and a goal; but what love? In v. 1 Paul indicates love's
object (the Philippians) but not its subject, and in v. 2 its subject (also
the Philippians) but not its object, and the various possible subjects in
v. 1 each have their support: God's love, or Christ's, or Paul's, or the
Philippians'.67 If the same love is meant in both places it must be the
Philippians' love for one another, and in fact Paul says "the same love"
( ) in v. 2. But this begs the question. "The same" here

65
Betz, Galatians, 263; cf. 264 (the Christian "receives the divine power of love which
enabled Christ to do what he did").
66
Many of the key terms here are not clearly distinguished in meaning. Translators
tend to use the same English terms in rendering it, but not always in the same places.
67
Respectively, G. Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1995) 180; F.W. Beare, The Epistle to the Philippians (HNTC; New York: Harper & Row,
1959) 71, G.F. Hawthorne, Philippians (WBC, Waco: Word, 1983) 65; M.R. Vincent,
A Critical and exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon ( I C C ;
Edinburgh: Clark, 1897) 52.
168 M. WINGER

could mean: each of you have the same love as each other (which is
the dominant theme of this verse and is what "the same" means in
"thinking the same"); it could also mean love of the same kind: for
instance, as God loved you, so you love each other. The fact is, Paul
does not specify the love of v. 1, perhaps because he takes its identity
for granted, but perhaps because the ambiguity is useful. Whatever
love the Philippians themselves find "consoling" is for that reason the
love that best serves Paul's argument. 68 Still this ambiguity does not
entail any confusion. If v. 1 suggested no particular love at all, but
only love in general, how would it invoke any consolation? It would
be useless to Paul's exhortation. There is no love "in general": only
specific loving; a quality or concept; an action, not an entity.

'

Finally, sin. has a different feel to it than the terms we have


just looked at, not only because it refers to something evil, but because
Paul's language so often treats concretely. What we have to
consider is how such language is to be taken.
appears principally in Romans 3 through 8 (46 uses31
in Rom. 6 and 7out of 59 overall), an extended passage which there
fore requires some general attention. Within this passage the cognate
verb appears seven times, and, as we shall see, Paul's usage
of sheds some light on his usage of . The noun
emerges in 3:9: "For we have already charged that all, both Jews and
Greeks, are under sin ( )." Commentators generally find
here a reference to sin as a "power," many adding that sin is here
"personified."69 So far as this verse is concerned, "personification" is
used loosely, and even the idea of sin as a power depends on reading
later passages back into this one. Here, the verb ("we

b8
For this reason I think Suva's generally sound assessment goes astra\ at the end
Silva writes (Philippians [Grand Rapids Baker, 1992] 102) that questions such as what
love Paul refers to "cannot be answered with any certainty Nor should they The
clauses are deliberately compressed and vague, since the appeal is pnmanly emotional "
If the last phrase invokes the modern distinction between the emotional and the rational,
then it imposes an opposition that would have puzzled Paul, and, m any event, does
not fit Paul's argument
69
On personification, see C Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the
Epistle to the Romans (ICC, Edinburgh Clark, 1975) 191, Fitzmyer, Romans, 331,
Meyer, "Romans," m J L Mays, ed., Harper's Bible Commentary (San Francisco Harper
& Row, 1988) 1130-67, 1139, on power, also J D G Dunn, Romans (WBC, Waco
Word, 1988) 143, Kasemann, Romans, 86
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 169

have already charged") sends us back to look for the charge, and we
pull up naturally at the previous reference to sin, in 2:12: "For who
ever sinned (... ) outside the law, will perish outside the
law, and whoever sinned in the law will be judged by the law." Not
that "sin" as such is emphasized in Romans 2; a number of parallel
expressions are employed, either as synonyms ("to do evil," 2:9) or as
antonyms ("doers of the law," 2:13; "to do the things of the law," 2:14;
"to do the law," 2:25; "to keep the commands of the law," 2:26; "to
keep the law," 2:27). With this background, the natural reading of
in 3:9 is as an expression equivalent to and
indeed, what is said in 3:9 with the noun is repeated in 3:23 with the
verb: "All have sinned." The idea of power has not been suggested,
nor can it be found in the scriptural passages which Paul brings for
ward in the succeeding verses (10-18) to substantiate the charge that
all are . There is no power here unless the preposition
is itself sufficient to suggest it, or unless it may be read back into
3:9 from what Paul says later. This last point we necessarily defer, only
noting in passing that the general reader (if not the scholar) is prob
ably more likely to read what follows according to the ideas suggested
by what precedes, than to proceed in the reverse fashion. As for the pre
position, I doubt that much can be made to rest upon it. Prepositions
are notoriously various in their meaning, and their use is often idiom
atic; what is the sense of "in" in the English expression "to live in sin"?
Does the preposition here invoke the idea of a realm characterized
(somehow) by sin, which is inhabited by couples who live together
while unmarried? Not, probably, for most English speakers.
Paul uses "under sin" twice later, in passages which suggest that sin
has some power: "sold under sin" in Rom. 7:14 and "confined under
sin" in Gal. 3:22. But in both of these places it is the verb, not the
preposition, which suggests a constraint, and there is no such verb in
Rom. 3:9. Moreover, when next appears, in 3:20, it is not
concrete at all: "for through law comes knowledge of sin." What humans
know through the law is, as most commentators say, what is sinful, or
the corollary (according to Paul) that everyone sins.70
Paul's next two references to , in 4:7-8, are borrowed from
Ps. 31:1-2 (LXX), and employ the sense, rare in Paul, of individual

70
Barrett, Romans, 71; Cranfield, Romans, 199; Kasemann, Romans, 89; Meyer,
"Romans," 1139. Dunn (Romans, 160) and Fitzmyer (Romans, 339) add that one learns
of sin's power, but that idea is not drawn from this verse.
170 M WINGER

71
sinful acts The case for as concreteand even personal
rests principally on chapters 5, 6 and 7, where some of Paul's lan
guage makes that suggestion "sin came into the world" (5 12), "sin
reigned" (5 21, cf 6 12) or "rules" (6 14), "slaves of sin" (6 16, 17, 20),
freed from sin (6 18-22), "sin dwelling in me" (7 17, 20) But, as with
love and wisdom, to say that sin is personified begs the question What
does it mean to present sin as a person? What sort of person is this,
and what relation has it to sin, as that is ordinarily conceived?
The answers to these questions lie in the passage we are examining
In 5 12 Paul writes, "Therefore, as sin () came into the world
through one man, and death through sin, so also death entered all
humans because all sinned () " Here, "sin" plainly means "to
sin," and "sin came into the world through one man" means "one
man sinned " Similarly, in 5 19 "sinner" () is used to express
the same thought "through the disobedience of one, many became
sinners"that is, many sinned In 5 20, "sin abounded" means that
there was much sinning
This brings us to 5 21 "as sin reigned in death, so also grace might
reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our
lord " Sin is indeed personified in this verse, or at any rate in its first
clauseas grace is personified in its second Yet grace is not a person,
we have already seen that is used here to refer to Christ, in a
way which calls attention to the human condition thanks to Christ 2
"Sin" is used differently, no figure is mentioned to whom "sin" might
refer, unless we construe Sin as such a figure As with lo\e, however,
this confuses rather than explains what Paul wrote I take 5 21a to
recall what Paul said in similar language m 5 12 that all sinned, and
because all sinned, all died While Paul wntes as though sin were a
person, this form of expression is not intended to efface the essential
reference of "sin" to the act of sinning If that connection is broken
then Rom 5 21 has no sense
From 5 21 we proceed to 6 1, "shall we continue in sin?" and 6 2,
"How shall we who died to sin live m it?" In both of these verses sin
is abstract, not concrete, m 1 "continue in sin" means "continue to

71
This sense is clear m 4 7, where the plural is used ("blessed is the one whose
sins are covered"), which naturally determines the reference in 8 as well Similarly,
in 5 13 "sin is not counted if there is no law," the verb () is cognate to the verb
of 4 8 (), and probably the reference in 5 13 is also to sinful acts
72
See above, at n 29 and following
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 171

sin," and in v. 2 "death to sin" and "life in it" mean first of all (what
ever else the metaphor suggests) sinning and not sinning. No cosmic
73
power is implied here.
In "the body of sin" (6:6), "of sin" ( ) is equivalent to
"sinful" (); so also with "passions of sin" in 7:5 and "flesh
of sin" in 8:3. At the same time Rom. 6:6 introduces us to further
terms which objectify sin: "enslaved to sin" in 6:6, followed by "slaves
of sin" in 6:16, 17 and 20, and contrasted with freedom from sin in
6:18 and 22; along the way Paul also speaks again of sin "reigning"
or "ruling" (6:12, 14). Even within this passage, however, is
not consistently concrete. According to 6:7, a person who has died is
"justified" or "acquitted" () from sin, which must therefore
mean sinfulness, or guilt.74 In 6:10 and 11 Paul writes of death "to
sin" ( ), in which "death" is certainly metaphorical, but a
very awkward metaphor if "sin" means a living master: in that case
"death to sin" would imply that the master has conquered "once for
all" (6:10). Although a concrete sense for sin is possible in these verses,
nothing in particular suggests it (five of the six immediately preceding
uses of the term are abstract).75
Sin is personified within Romans 6, but we still must decide how
literally to take this personification. Throughout, the conception of sin
as sinning underlies what Paul wrote, while the figure of personification
is never pressed to the limit. We can see this in some of the parallels
and substitutes Paul employs for personified sin. While in 6:11, 22 and
23 is parallel to , in 6:16 ... is parallel
to ... ; in 6:17 is parallel to
... , and in 6:18 and 20 ...
and ... are parallel to
and ... ; yet it seems doubtful
that Paul means the abstract terms , and to

73
In these verses death, which like sin "reigns" or "rules" in 5:14, 17; 6:9, is treated
as metaphorically as sin.
74
See T. Sim. 6.1 : "See, I have foretold everything to you, so that I will be absolved
() from the sins of your souls." The NRSV rendering of Rom. 6:7, "freed from
sin," is slightly misleading, for it suggests that the sense is equivalent to
in 6:18 and 22. But 6:7, unlike 6:18 and 22, does not suggest that
sin is a master.
75
A related metaphor appears in 6:23, "the wages of sin is death.. . . " Here too sin
could be abstract ("the wages paid for sin") or concrete ("the wages paid by sin"); but
because sin has been treated concretely in 6:12 through 22, that is the natural under
standing here.
172 M. WINGER

refer to various concrete powers. Similarly, for itself Paul can


substitute and (compare 6:13,
. . . xf , with 6:19,
); but it is questionable that we should regard these
abstractions as further concrete powers allied with sin.
Most interesting are the parallels suggested in 6:12-13 between
, , and . These verses read:

[a] Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies


[a'] so that you obey their desires,
[b] nor turn your members over to sin
[b'] as instruments of wickedness

I have divided this passage into four partstwo pairs of more-or-less


equivalent statements, with the first statement of each pair employing
"sin" but the second a different term, "desires," or "wickedness." Letting
sin reign in one's body is roughly equated with obeying the body's
desires; turning one's members over to sin means making them instru
ments of wickedness; all four expressions say approximately the same
thing. Like the other variations of language we have noted, these sug
gest that the figure of sin as a ruling force is useful but not indis
pensable to Paul's argument. Here, however, one expression stands
out: "desires of the body" ( ) differs from the other
parallel terms Paul uses in Romans 6, for there is nothing abstract
about a desire.
Let us set this point aside for the moment. If the fluidity of Paul's
language suggests that his references to sin as though it were a ruling
power are metaphorical, the next question is what this metaphor is
meant to suggest. If Paul does not literally mean that humans are either
obedient to or free from sin as a personal, ruling master, what does
he mean? Here the central piece of Paul's argument seems to be 6:16,
according to which one must be either a slave to sin or a slave to
obedience (that is, obedience to God). As Barrett says, "Paul assumes
that men will be slaves, and obedient, to a good master or a bad.
Independence is impossible."76 It follows that , when it is used
concretely, should refer to something which one can obey. What could
this be, if not a personal power? An answer is immediately at hand
in 6:12, where "obedience" first appeared in this passage: one may
obey the desires of the body.

Barrett, Romans, 132


NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 173

Again, let us put this aside for the moment, and move on to Romans
7 and 8. continues to be prominent in these chapters, and it
is often used concretelyten times in the nominative case, although
two of these are predicate nominatives that may have the abstract sense
77
"sinful." But the vocabulary has changed from chapter 6; while lan
guage of obedience and freedom continues, these terms no longer attach
to sin, but to law (7:3, 6, 23, 25; 8:2). A different vocabulary is now
employed with sin: sin is "in me" (7:8, 17, 20), or "in our/my mem
bers" (7:5, 23), or "in the flesh" (7:5); "under sin" I am "fleshly" (7:14),
and "with flesh" I "serve the law of sin" (7:25). Also prominent now
are accounts of sin "working" (7:8, 13, 17, 20), and this is the lan
guage which in chapter 7 most strongly suggests that refers
to something concrete. But this only returns us to the question of what
this concrete thing may be. Parallel to Paul's references to sin "work
ing" is 7:5: "the sinful passions ( ) worked in
our members through the law to bear fruit to death." 7 8 The suggestion
of 6:12 and 16, that obedience to sin means obedience to desire, here
is translated into new language, that the work of sin means the work
of the passionsa connection underscored by Chapter 7's repeated
descriptions of sin as "within" the one who sins. The fundamental con
nection of sin to sinful acts always remains. This is the presumption
of 7:7-12, where sin means violation of the commandments found in
the law. Likewise the emphasis in 7:13-25 on what one does preserves
the link between sin and action. 79
Thus "sin" refers to what is sinful; it is a concept or quality, some
times expressed by the terms "evil" (), or "transgression" (),
or "disobedience" ().80 It would seem that "sin" has a contrary,

77
The predicate nominatives are in 7:7 ("Is the law sin [ful]?") and 13 ("sin, in order
that it might be seen as sin [ful]").
78
With this connection of passions to death, compare that of sin to death in 6:16;
7:13; 8:2, 10.
79
This applies as well to Gal. 2:17, where Paul asks whether, if Jewish Christians
have become sinners by their violation of Jewish food laws, this means that Christ is
a "servant of sin." Although this could be interpreted as a personification of sin, Paul
makes no use of this figure. His ground for denying that Christ serves sin, as devel
oped in the difficult argument of 2:18-21, appears to be that violating the food laws
is not in fact sinful (the term "sinner," which 2:15 applies to Gentiles as a matter of
definition, is likely meant ironically). The issue, therefore, is simply whether Christ
causes one to sin. (As the answer to this question is no, this passage would in any case
be indifferent evidence for the existence of sin as a power.)
80
For , see Rom. 2:9, 3:8; 7:19; for , see Rom. 5:15, 16, 17, 20;
for , see Rom. 5:19. In each of these passages the term is used in proximity
to or (Rom. 2) .
174 M. W I N G E R

namely "not sinning," an idea which appears in the expressions "doer


of the law" ( , Rom. 2:13), and "to do good" (
, Rom. 2:10; , Rom. 7:18; ,
81
Rom. 7:19; , Rom. 7:21). Passages which present sin
as a person or object, such as those we have noted in Romans 6 and
7, come among others which do not. This is the pattern we saw with
wisdom and love, and it cautions us against taking sin literally as a
personified or objectified power. If it is a power, what power is it?
What is its criterion of identity? No answer appears in Paul's use of
this term, except that it causes sin, which is not a real answer to our
question.
The key point Paul makes by his objectification of sin, that sinful
human acts reflect forces or impulses which humans do not control,
he also makes without using the term "sin." In Gal. 5:16-25 Paul
depicts his readers as caught between opposing flesh and spirit, "so
that whatever you want, you do not do" (5:17). Paul then lists the fruit
of the flesh: fornication and impurity, jealousy and anger, envy and
drunkenness, "and things like these" (5:19-21). These are sins, and
people do not choose them but are driven to them, just as, according
to Rom. 7:19, they are driven to "the evil [they] do not want." In
one account, the motive force is called the flesh, and in the other, "sin
dwelling in me"alternative ways of referring to the same thing, which
is not sin itself (whatever that might mean), but the desire or impulse
to sin. This use of "sin" is, at any rate, exceptional; most of the time
Paul uses the term, in various constructions, to refer to the action of
sinning.

Summary

Our limited survey has mostly shown us that Paul uses abstract nouns
to refer to the action of cognate verbs. These nouns typically stand for
universals, not particulars, qualities not substances, concepts not objects.
When this usage implies an object, especially when that is a concrete
object, it is generally figurative. One measure of this is the intimate

81
Similar expressions also occur elsewhere, but in all of these passages contrasting
references to sin or sinning are close at hand "Righteousness" () is also con
trasted with "sin," for example in Rom 3 20-21 ("through the law comes knowledge
of sin But now the righteousness of God has been manifested ") and 6 20 ("when
you were slaves of sin you were free in regard to righteousness"), but it is not clear
that sin and righteousness are simple opposites
NAMES AND ABSTRACTIONS IN PAUL'S LETTERS 175

link between the apparent object and the quality or concept to which
the term ordinarily refers. A second measure is the absence of any cri-
terion of identity, such as ordinarily characterizes an object. We find
thus that grace, faith, love and sin (like wisdom) are not names, because
what they name is simply the act (or state) of giving, believing, loving
and sinning (or being wise).
^ s
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