I am sure that anyone familiar with Fee’s writings know that his central concern is that we as Christians are one body in the Spirit. Everything is for the building up of the church as a whole, the focus is on the community and not the individual. The strength is from the Spirit, not from human wisdom.
In 1 Corinthians the church is described using the metaphor of the temple, the building and the body. In fact, I find that the base text for this may be Ephesians 4, so let’s look at this first.
- So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Here the function of the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is to equip and to build up. In this passage the body is built up. This means that the body is joined together by the head for support and growth and building up.
The same theme recurs throughout 1 and 2 Corinthians. In fact, we find the only time that Paul uses authority/power – εξουσια – in a positive sense in all his writings is here in 2 Cor. 10:8, in the context of “building up”,
- So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9 I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. 10 For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” 11 Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.
Now the entire force of Paul’s intent here is to build up the church so that it will be mature and then he can go beyond and open up new territory for evangelism. That is, the authority is to empower others to be mature Christians as a group, who will no longer need him to treat them as children. They will be mature.
Authority, for Paul, is not a permanent position, it is an empowerment to build others up to be mature as he is. This is done not through men who hold permanent positions of authority as apostles and evangelists and teachers, but through these functions as gifts of the Spirit.
So what about translation? I sometimes favour translations that are concordant enough to keep the metaphor alive if possible. I’m not sure if the TNIV does this but I want to look at the use of “building” and “building up” in 1 Corinthians.
- 9 For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. TNIV 1 Cor. 3:9-17
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. TNIV 1 Cor. 8:1
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. TNIV 1 Cor. 10:23
Now here is the catch. At a certain point the TNIV gives up condordance and switches to “strengthen” and “edify”.
- But those who prophesy speak to people for their strengthening [building up], encouragement and comfort. TNIV 1 Cor. 14:3
Those who speak in a tongue edify [build up] themselves, but those who prophesy edify[build up] the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, [b] but I would rather have you prophesy. Those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues, [c] unless they interpret, so that the church may be edified [built up]. TNIV 1 Cor. 14:4-5
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. TNIV 1 Cor. 14:12
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. TNIV 1 Cor. 14:26
I can see the problem. It is harder to talk about the building up of a person. We can “build up” the church in English because we think of the church as a building. However, I like the metaphor and I would like to think it could be maintained. The RSV/NRSV/ESV does better at this, although at the expense of naturalness of language. I am truly happy to see the old “edify” go. It was not one of my favourite words in the KJV.
I did not have a chance to discuss this with Fee, but, for myself, I would prefer to see the consistent use of the term “build up”. This is a far more vivid and concrete term than “edify” and was a real improvement in the RSV. I love these changes which benefit everyone.
It is good to think that we are given authority/power for the purpose of building up the church – that is – our fellow believers, our fellow travelers. It doesn’t mean that we run around making decisions for other people, but we feed people and care for them.
This was one of the themes that came to my attention in Fee’s class. It is not word for word his teaching but just my meditations as I listened.