156. The Christian God — a God of Peace, not Confusion or Instability akatastasia

In  I Corinthians 14 Paul incorporates an essential characterization of God into his discussion about the appropriate use of ‘prophecy’ in Christian worship. Having attributed the phenomenon of prophecy to divine action, Paul affirms that the Christian God is “not the God of confusion/instability/disorder (akatastasias), but peace (eirēnēs).” Exactly what Paul is affirming about God here deserves careful consideration.

This noun akatastasia is related to katastasis which means “settled state or condition, settled order, firmness.” The initial letter alpha causes the sense of the following nominal to be reversed. So akatastasia conveys the idea of “unsettled state, disorder, chaos.” The nature of the disorder will vary depending upon the context, e.g. political disorder, military disorder, social disorder, cosmic disorder, relational disorder, etc.

In addition to 1 Corinthians 14:33 the noun akatastasia occurs twice in 2 Corinthians (6:5; 12:20) and once each in Luke (21:9) and James (3:16). [The cognate adjective  akatastatos also is found twice in James (1:8; 3:8).] In these contexts the noun describes forms of human behaviour that are associated with war, strife, and discord. In other words, disorder reflects the influence of sin. The list of behaviours that Paul hopes not to discover when he visits Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:20) includes discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder (akatastasia). Such a catalogue of vices is replicated in other Pauline letters and these actions are classified generally as sinful conduct. James echoes Paul’s understanding when he includes  akatastasia among “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” forms of wisdom (James 3:16). The usages in 2 Corinthians 6:5 and Luke 21:9 refer to civic and military unrest.

We should note the two occurrences of akatastasia in the Greek Old Testament. The Greek translation of Proverbs 26:28 (“a flattering mouth works ruin”) is “an unguarded mouth produces disorder/confusion (akatastasia).” As in the Letter of James in the New Testament, the tongue and mouth need to be controlled lest they create severe damage. The other case comes in Tobit 4:13 where Tobit gives advice to his son, Tobias. Part of the advice deals with the selection of an appropriate wife. Arrogance might lead him to choose a wife who is not from his kindred, but such an arrogant act will create “ruin and great confusion (akatastasia).” The exact nature of the “confusion” is not explained.

Neither Philo nor Josephus use this term in their writings. It does occur in the non-Jewish Hellenistic compositions of Polybius, an historian, and Melampus, an astologer. Melampus describes instability and chaos portended by heavenly signs with this term.

From the inception of his letter (1 Corinthians) Paul has denounced divisiveness within the house church as an evil aberration, characteristic of natural, human behaviour, rather than behaviour guided by the Holy Spirit. Such disorder does not represent life within the Spirit’s temple, i.e. the congregation of Jesus followers. God places people in the “body of Christ” in ways that should dispense with divisions (12:25) and enhance “the common good” (12:7). If the practice of “spiritual gifts” generates chaos and disorder among God’s people, then such “gifts” do not originate with the Spirit of God. It is probable that Paul emphasizes this correlation between God’s presence and order because  celebrations during worship of pagan deities often became frenzied, chaotic, and riotous. He wants to distance Christian worship gatherings from pagan cultic celebrations.

Whether Paul here is interacting also with Stoic ideas cannot be determined. Within Stoic philosophy god is identified with order in the cosmos. There does not seem to be any warrant for privileging interaction with Stoicism in 1 Corinthians, but Paul was probably quite aware of its key concepts.

So to summarize Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that Yahweh creates order, not instability or disorder. So communities which claim his name should also demonstrate order in their activities, particularly those activities through which they seek to honour him. Practices which contravene such principles should not be tolerated because they detract from his reputation.


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