The Good, the Bad, and the Preaching of Christ: Philippians 1:15-20.

Hope this new year is going well for all of you.  I am sad, because I know that this Philippians series will have to wait until the summer to get finished.  But Monday I begin my odyssey into the Odyssey.  But for now, Paul marches on:

15 Τινὲς μὲν καὶ διὰ φθόνον καὶ ἔριν, τινὲς δὲ καὶ δι᾽ εὐδοκίαν τὸν Χριστὸν κηρύσσουσιν·

16 οἱ μὲν ἐξ ἀγάπης, εἰδότες ὅτι εἰς ἀπολογίαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου κεῖμαι,

17 οἱ δὲ ἐξ ἐριθείας τὸν Χριστὸν καταγγέλλουσιν, οὐχ ἁγνῶς, οἰόμενοι θλῖψιν ἐγείρειν τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου.

18 τί γάρ; πλὴν ὅτι παντὶ τρόπῳ, εἴτε προφάσει εἴτε ἀληθείᾳ, Χριστὸς καταγγέλλεται, καὶ ἐν τούτῳ χαίρω. ἀλλὰ καὶ χαρήσομαι,

19 οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν διὰ τῆς ὑμῶν δεήσεως καὶ ἐπιχορηγίας τοῦ πνεύματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

20 κατὰ τὴν ἀποκαραδοκίαν καὶ ἐλπίδα μου, ὅτι ἐν οὐδενὶ αἰσχυνθήσομαι ἀλλ᾽ ἐν πάσῃ παρρησίᾳ ὡς πάντοτε καὶ νῦν μεγαλυνθήσεται Χριστὸς ἐν τῷ σώματί μου, εἴτε διὰ ζωῆς εἴτε διὰ θανάτου.

In English:

15 While some preach Christ by envy and strife, others do through goodwill;

16 Some from love, knowing that I am appointed to defense of the gospel,

17 and others from strife proclaim Christ not from pure motives, thinking they will increase the affliction of my bonds.

18 What of this?  But in every manner, whether in pretext or in truth, Christ is preached, and in that I rejoice.  And I will continue to rejoice,

19 for I know that this will turn out for salvation, through your prayers and the assistance of the spirit of Jesus Christ,

20 in accord with my eager expectation and hope, that I may in nothing be ashamed but in all boldness, as always and now, Christ will be exalted through my body, whether through life or through death.

Today I’ll focus on the term φθόνον (phthonon, or phthonos in the nominative).

Phthonos most directly translates to “jealousy” or “envy.”  Sumney explains that this is an uncommon term in the NT, appearing only nine times, three of which are in lists of vices.  Reumann notes two things about this word: it’s a “thoroughly Greek term, in classical sources,” and it is always a bad thing.  Phthonos is a vice, whether it’s envy of friends, political leaders, or the gods.  First Clement gives a short history of jealousy and envy, deeming its cause to be outside God’s order, and implicated jealousy in the sins of Cain, David, and Israel itself.

Yet we have also just read a passage from Exodus where the Lord famous says, “I am a jealous [qana’] God.”  Is God supposed to be petty and envious?  TWOT tells us that qana’ is a vice for humans in the Hebrew worldview, but not for God:

On the other hand the divine action accomplished with “jealousy” may result in good and salvation.  Thus this arduous love effected the return (Isa 42:13). … The word is used to denote a passionate, consuming “zeal” focused on God that results in the doing of his will and the maintaining of his honor in the face of the ungodly acts of men and nations.

So phthonos is bad, but qana’ is not necessarily so.  Propp even notes that qana’ carries connotations of sexual jealousy and possession.  The Septuagint seems to catch this nuance.  The Greek renders qana’ not as phthonos, but as ζηλωτής (zēlōtēs), meaning “loyal,” “zealous,” “enthusiastically adherent,” or “patriotic.”  Yet English translations often fail to make this distinction, rendering both in the same way.  The NIV, NRSV, and NAB all have “envy” (Phil 1:15) and “jealous” (Exodus 20:5).

So perhaps Exodus should not state that God is jealous, but that God is zealous or impassioned, as Propp suggests.  To me this makes more sense, and erases this odd anthropomorphism that the KJV and subsequent translations introduce.

2 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad, and the Preaching of Christ: Philippians 1:15-20.

  1. Brian

    Wow, it’s amazing that there’s so much to discuss regarding just one little word! You’ve translated an entire passage, yet you’ve only managed to talk about a single word of the first sentence! There’s always so much more to talk about. This isn’t criticism, but just a comment on how long it would take to talk about everything in just this small section.

    I can definitely see how the proper translation of these Greek words can have pretty significant implications for theological interpretation. Choosing just the right English word can have huge effects on how people understand their relation with God; zealous or passionate is really quite different from envious or jealous.

    On a related but slightly different note, this reminds me of the Latin adjective “superbus,” which has both positive or negative connotations: proud, arrogant, excellent, rude, magnificent, etc. With words like these, going back to the “original” or “proper” meaning is pretty much impossible, so it leaves it all up to the translator to interpret things for us.

    Will you be writing posts for the Odyssey? I am thinking of putting up a few Odyssey posts for my blog.

    1. Post author

      I had actually originally planned to discuss the nuances of soterian as well, usually translated “salvation.” But I know that word will come up again.

      Speaking of Latin, Jerome translates the Exodus word as “zelotes,” which according to Lewis and Short means “jealous.” The Philippians 1:15 in Latin is “invidiam,” which also refers to envy or jealousy. Of course we can’t expect them to be the same because Jerome didn’t translate the Pauline letters of the Vulgate. (I’m starting a blog series on the Vulgate soon so you’ll hear more about that!)

      I am aiming to do 1-2 posts a week on the Odyssey. If I could I would do 2 a day and probably still have things to write about. It’s a bit mind-boggling that we are getting to read Homer.


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