In Christ – 1 & 2 Corinthians and Philemon

Read for fuller explanation of this series of post.

Continuing march through Paul’s use of “in Christ.” I have categorized each usage of the phrase within three lines – the use of the preposition εν*; the main referent or object of the phrase; and its place within Paul’s already/not yet framework. Today’s entry includes 1 & 2 Corinthians and Philemon. (For Romans and Galatians read)

1 Corinthians

  • 1:2 – state, cause: sanctified: already
  • 1:4 – state, cause: grace of God: already
  • 1:30 – state: because God chose: already
  • 3:1 – location**, state: infants: already
  • 4:10 – state: wise: already
  • 4:15 (1) – location**: countless (10,000) guides: already
  • 4:15 (2) – location**: I became your father: already
  • 4:17 – location, state: my ways: already
  • 15:18 – location, state: fallen asleep: already
  • 15:19 – state: hope only in this life: already
  • 15:31 – state, cause: my pride in you: already

2 Corinthians

  • 2:17 – state, cause: speak: already
  • 3:14 – cause, means: it (veil) taken away: already
  • 5:17 – state, cause: new creation: already
  • 5:19 – cause, means: God was reconciling: already
  • 5:21 (in him) – state, cause: become the righteousness of God: already
  • 12:2 – location: a man: already
  • 12:19 – state, cause: speaking: already


  • Philem 8 – location: bold enough: already
  • Philem 20 – state, cause: refresh my heart: already***
  • Philem 23 – location: my fellow prisoner: already

Initial Thoughts:

1. In these three books, “in Christ” is always a present reality. Through five books, the phrase has been united with the ‘not yet’ of Paul’s theology only once. Thus, understanding ‘in Christ’ is not only important for grasping Paul’s theology but also his ethic.

2. In 1 & 2 Corinthians, God’s activity becomes essential for understanding the phrase. There are now three primary cords being tied together in the phrase – God’s activity, Christ as the cause, and our state of being joined with Christ (perhaps in joining God’s activity, but this needs more time before I am willing to draw firm conclusion).

3. For those interested in the partition theories often associated with 1 & 2 Corinthians (see Margaret Mitchell for example), the absence of the phrase in major sections of each letter may be worthy of further consideration.

*There are many ways εν can function (see BDAG and Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics). I decided to list the two, at most, strongest possibilities as determined by my interpretation of the passage.

**Location simply means Paul may be using phrase to identify a “Christian”

***What Paul is asking for has not actually happened (it is why Paul is writing the letter), but Paul expects it to be present reality. In other words, because Philemon is “in Christ” this should come to pass; it should be real now.


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