The Greek preposition kata is one of the most difficult to bring over into English. Essentially, it means down, but there are many idiomatic usages in which this idea is largely, if not entirely, hidden. In his critical study, "Is the Concordant Version Reliable?" Mr. Alexander Thomson remarked of its renderings of this word (p. 99): "In contexts which are similar in construction, kata is rendered in various diverse ways. Prepositions, if they cannot be rendered concordantly, can at least be rendered consistently."
The unquestionably sound principle he here enunciates should be borne in mind whenever we have to render this word into English idiomatically by according to. In all of these there is "reference to some standard of comparison, stated or implied," as Green puts it in his Greek "Grammar."
What precisely, then, does the Apostle Paul mean when he writes that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" in I. Cor. 15:3? Does he mean that Christ died in circumstances that were in harmony with the ancient prophecies? Or does he mean that Paul accepted that Christ died for our sins, because that idea is set out in some standard of comparison available to him; namely, certain writings already acknowledged as Scriptures at the time when Paul wrote those words? Almost universally, hitherto, people have tacitly accepted the former interpretation. Yet if this be correct, the question arises why Paul did not say so unambiguously by using the verb sumphOneO, as in Acts 15:15: "And as to this the words of the prophets are in agreement, according as it is written, 'After these things I shall be returning. . .'" Here a form of the preposition kata is used also, but it is the agreement, not the fact, that is set out. Another example of sumphOne0 is in Luke 5:36, literally, "the patch from the new will not be agreeing with the old." The essential idea of this verb is sounding in harmony and thus harmoniously going with, or agreeing with, something else.
However, in 1. Cor. 15:3 (and in v. 4) the question of such harmony or agreement does not arise. The plain issue is whether Paul's assertions correspond with some standard of comparison to which his readers can refer. In short, it is not a matter of harmony but of actual agreement. Here, Paul announces twice, with great emphasis in fact, that what he states can be checked by the Scriptures. This, therefore, cannot mean anything but that at least two of the canonical Gospels were not only in existence but actually accepted by all Christians as Scripture; which in turn means that they had the full approval and authority of all the Apostles themselves. This, in turn, finally closes not only the Synoptic Problem but all problems connected with the authorship of the Gospels. They were written at a very early date, by the men whose names they bear, and with full apostolic authority.
As a check, let us go over the other occurrences of kata in the epistle in question, 1. Corinthians, bearing in mind that those we have referred to above, in 1. Cor. 15:3, 4, are followed by an Accusative noun. Those followed by a Genitive have a different meaning, usually against, in opposition to. The first is 1. Cor. 1:21: "not many wise according to flesh." Here the meaning is by the standard of flesh, by reference to flesh; and certainly not "in agreement with flesh" or "in harmony with flesh." The next, 2:1, is "came not according to superiority of word or of wisdom." Again, "in harmony with" or "in agreement with" is inadmissible. Next, 3:3, "are you not fleshly and walking according to man?" Not "in harmony with," but "in accord with man's standards." Next, 3:8, "Yet each his own wages will be getting according to his own toil." One corresponds with the other. Next, 3:10, "according to the grace of God. . . I lay a foundation." Next is 7:6, in which English idiom forces us to say "as" instead of "according to"; and it is particularly obvious that "in harmony with" is altogether unsuitable. Next, 7:40, "according to my opinion"; 9:8, "according to man"; 1O:18, "according to flesh"; 12:8, "according to the same spirit"; 12:31, "a path according to transcendence"; 14:27, "according to two"; 14:31, a different idiom, "one by one"; 14:40, "respectably, and according to order"; 15:31, again a different idiom, "daily" and in 15:32 yet another, "as man"; 16:2, very literally, "in accord with No. 1 of sabbaths"; 16:19, "at their house," yet another instance of English idiom working against strict concordance.
In some quarters there exists a prejudice against Grammars; and one must admit that all too often they indulge in over-fine distinctions, and for their proper interpretation require a good deal of calm common-sense. Yet that is no reason why they should not be used properly. Translating the Greek prepositions into English is a case in point, and with intelligent care can be most enlightening and even vital. The realization of this particular usage of kata as involving the notion of reference to some standard of comparison, stated or implied, has not only thrown light on the implications of the phrase "according to the Scriptures" but helps us elsewhere also. We get such standards of comparison repeatedly in Ephesians. They are, in order, the delight of His will, 1:5; the riches of His grace, 1:7; His delight, 1:9; the purpose of the One operating the universe, which operating is measured by the counsel of His will, 1:11; the might of His strength, 1:19; the eon of the world, and the chief of the authority of the air, 2:2; "what I write before, in brief," 3:3; the gratuity of the grace of God, 3:7; purpose of the eons, 3:11; the riches of His glory, 3:16; the power which is operating in us, 3:20; the measure of the gratuity of Christ, 4:7; operation in measure of each one's part, 4:16; the former behaviour, 4:22; the desires of the seduction, 4:22; God, 4:24; flesh, 6:5; eye slavery, 6:6. This study can profitably be pursued right through the Epistles.
That this understanding of 1. Cor. 15:3, 4 is the right one is made even plainer when we consult what others have written about this passage. Not one that I can discover attempts to find v. 3 set out in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the attempts to find v. 4 are very unconvincing. That this verse corresponds in a measure with Psalm 16:9, 10; Isa. 53:8, 9; Dan. 9:26; Jonah 1:17 may be conceded; that these or any other Old Testament passages actually state what Paul declares is, simply, untrue. The Compiler of the Margin of the Authorized Version is, as so often, much nearer the truth; for of the ten references he cites in support of v. 3 no less than six are in the New Testament, the Greek Scriptures—Luke 24:26, 46; Acts 3:18; 26:23; 1. Peter 1:11; 2:24. This suggests, at least, that the Compiler had some realization, if only a dim one, that the Apostle Paul recognized these three books as Scripture when he wrote 1. Cor. 15:3. If this be not so, then the six references are irrelevant and should not have been inserted in the Margin. Be this as it may, the hard fact remains that the Hebrew Scriptures do not give such support to 1. Cor. 15:3, 4 as the commentators suggest. Therefore, when Paul wrote those two verses, he must have regarded the four Gospels as accepted Scripture, and perhaps 1. Peter if the references by the Compiler of the A.V. Margin was right; and doubtless known that Acts, when finished, would be also.
That one of the matters in this paper: the need to distinguish carefully between "according to" and "in harmony with"; is by no means academic or unimportant in other contexts either, is shown by the twist given by one writer ("Things to Come," June, 1912, p. 67); and, if I recollect correctly, others who have copied him; who misquotes Rom. 2:16 by: "in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ in harmony with my gospel." But this truth is not simply in harmony with Paul's Evangel, but an integral part of it. The motive underlying the misquotation soon appears; for presently the fact stated in 2. Tim. 2:8 that Jesus Christ is of David's seed is made out to be merely "in harmony with" Paul's Evangel; and, in turn, this distortion is alleged to have "supplied Peter with a gospel to Israel," although in this epistle there is not even the smallest hint of any such thing. Thus does the Slanderer manufacture his lies. By these subtle and most unscrupulous means the unity and integrity of everything that Paul said and wrote is undermined. What he proclaimed in Athens is made out to be only" in harmony with" his Evangel, and his reference to David in 2. Tim. 2:8 is quietly handed over to Peter.
After that, it is hardly surprising to read of Paul's Evangel in Eph. 3:6: "The gospel, there mentioned, is qualified and restricted to that where of Paul 'was made a minister in harmony with the gift of the grace of God' which was given unto him." Comment is superfluous! Moreover, we are even told that "If we turn to 1. Cor. 15:1-3 we may read the inspired definition of Paul's gospel during that period which ended with Acts 28:28." The words I have put in italics are this dangerous heretic's own addition to Paul's words. Such inspiration as they have can come only from Satan, the real originator of all the lies quoted above. From this lie we are now able to see the object of the remark, quoted above, about Eph. 3:6: it is to make out, somehow, that Paul's Evangel had changed when he came to write Ephesians, though how it is supposed to have changed is never disclosed explicitly—understandably, for the idea is just moonshine.
Then we are told that "at the time when 1. Corinthians 15 was written, the Scriptures would mean the Old Testament": and the word "harmony" crops up again. So now we are able to appreciate how this distortion is necessary to support the "Acts 28:28 boundary" theory as well. Truth is one: and this discovery that the Gospels were recognized Scripture by the time the Apostle Paul began his ministry has taken its proper place as a great buttress of that oneness.
Hitherto, almost every expositor has taken for granted the assumption that in Acts and Paul's Epistles "the Scriptures" refers to the Hebrew Scriptures, the so-called Old Testament. Few have ever paused for one moment to ask whether there is any foundation for this assumption; and the most curious thing, I think, is that the exception discussed below, the only exception I can discover, never appears to have gone on to develop his findings or to appreciate their significance. Even when confronted with 1. Cor. 15:3, expositors have quietly ignored it, or fobbed their readers off with a series of references that do not, in fact, refer. They are bogged down with the findings of their predecessors; so they carry out the very sin which the Lord Jesus in Matt. 15:6 condemned so forcibly: "And you invalidate the Word of God because of your tradition"; that is, "in order that their tradition might be upheld and take first place," as Mr. Alexander Thomson put it when discussing this passage.
Possibly, even more heinous is the way 1. Tim. 5:18 is ignored; for here is a quotation from Matt. 10:10 and from Luke 10:7, an utterance made by the Lord Jesus on two different occasions. This fact involves explicit recognition by the Apostle Paul of these two Gospels as part of the Scriptures. Yet this most illuminating fact is generally ignored. One commentator, even speaks of this quotation as "having been made an objection to the genuineness of the epistle"; a fine example of "standing the truth on its head," as someone once put it! Meyer avoids discussing it. Alford pronounces: "But it is, very unlikely that the Apostle should cite these under the title hE graphE" (i.e, the Scriptures)—but why very unlike1y, or why unlikely at all, he does not deign to tell us. This is a good example of that sporadic irrationality so common among scholars and expositors and so irritating to those minds trained in the Physical sciences. No wonder so many scientific men are misled into regarding the Scriptures as of no account.
Alone (so far as I can discover) does Dr. Wordsworth declare the
truth. In his commentary on the New Testament, in 1862; in support of
his contention that Paul possessed and used Luke's Gospel, he says
(Vol. 2, p. 455) of Tim. 5:18:
"May we not therefore be permitted to believe, that St. Paul is
Nor is this all. Bishop Wordsworth points out that 1. Thess. 5:2
refers to something of which the Thessalonians were accurately aware;
and suggests that this refers to Matt. 24:43; Luke 12:39; 21:34, 35. He
points out that aiphnidios, unawares,
occurs elsewhere only in Luke 21:24. On this evidence alone, he has
made out a good case for Luke's Gospel having been accepted as
Scripture by the time when 1. Thessalonians was written.
here quoting from St. Luke's Gospel? And that by combining a
quotation from that Gospel with a quotation from the Book of
Deuteronomy , the Apostle purposely designed to teach the
important truth, that the Gospels are inspired by God no less than
the books of Moses are; and that the Gospels are to be received
as Scripture by all, as the books of Moses were received by the
ancient people of God, and by the Apostles and Evangelists, and
by the Son of God Himself."
Bishop Wordsworth's great discovery has come as a considerable relief to me, as it indicates that I was not, after all, the first to perceive the tremendously important and liberating truth that the Gospels were the first of the Greek Scriptures to be accepted by the Apostles as Scripture.
R.B.W. Last updated 7.3.2006