Tag Archives: Philippians

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.

Internalizing the sounds of Philippians.

This morning I stumbled across the blog of Jacob Cerone, a grad student in biblical studies.  Coincidentally he is also working on Philippians – actually memorizing it:

  1. My vocabulary is already increasing. In memorizing the verses, I ensure, before moving on, that I have memorized all the vocabulary contained therein.

  2. Memorizing the Greek text is not simply a task that enables me to reproduce a copy of the NA27. No, I am able to think through the Greek. I am able to translate as I go.

When I started doing Greek and Latin, I assumed I would never have to engage the orality, the sounds of any ancient text.  But Cerone’s approach is making me rethink that.  He has already come up with some thoughts on the sounds of Philippians that I hadn’t caught.  I think I’m going to try this approach.

EDIT: It appears that another blogger took notes on his Philippians memorization a few years back as well!

Paul’s intention for the Philippians: 1:12-14.

Paul continues his letter to the Christians at Philippi:

12Γινώσκειν δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι τὰ κατ᾽ ἐμὲ μᾶλλον εἰς προκοπὴν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐλήλυθεν,

13ὥστε τοὺς δεσμούς μου φανεροὺς ἐν Χριστῷ γενέσθαι ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν,

14καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ πεποιθότας τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου περισσοτέρως τολμᾶν ἀφόβως τὸν λόγον λαλεῖν.

My translation:

12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have led more to the progress of the gospel,

13 so my bonds became visible for Christ to all the palace guard and the rest of those in the prison,

14 and more of the brothers and sisters in Christ have been persuaded to speak the Word more fearlessly and with audacity.

Paul is certainly making the most of his time in prison!  Here I want to focus on two words, ἀδελφοί (adelphoi) and πραιτωρίῳ (praitōriō).

Adelphoi, the plural of adelphos, literally means “brother.”  In early Christian and Essene circles it referred to a fellow member of one’s religious community.  (Some Christians still use this meaning – most obviously Catholic religious orders, but I’ve also heard Mormons and evangelicals do so.)  Since God is referred to as “Father” in Jewish and Christian scriptures, it only makes sense to extend the metaphor and refer to fellow believers as fellow children of God.

Adelphoi, a plural masculine, literally translates to “brothers.”  In English this sounds as if the entire group being referred to are men.  But in Greek, a group of 99 women and 1 man are still referred to as adelphoi.  Words such as this have been at the heart of inclusive-language debates in biblical translation.  Should adelphoi be translated as “brothers” (NAB) or “brothers and sisters” (NIV)?  Some translators have sidestepped the debate entirely, translating it “friends” (NEB) or “beloved” (NRSV).  I considered “siblings,” but it has too legal and removed a tone to translate a word conveying intimacy and love.  I settled on “brothers and sisters” because it’s clear from context that Paul is writing to all the Christians in Philippi, not just the men.

Paul writes that he has convinced the praitōriō in the prison that his imprisonment is for Christ.  Any student of Roman history can recall the infamous Praetorian Guard, the Roman emperor’s bodyguards (and often assassins).

A bust of some of the Praetorian guard.  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelcjones/9141795998/

A bust of some of the Praetorian guard, c. 50 A.D. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelcjones/9141795998/

This Greek term, a loan-word from Latin, could refer to the guard of the emperor, but also the soldier-guards of Rome or another Roman city.  It could also refer to the palace of the Roman emperor or one of his provincial governors.

Reumann lists four (!) different theories as to what praitōriō refers to in this passage: the imperial palace in Rome, a small barracks attached to it, a Praetorian camp outside the city, or the elite soldiers themselves.  He (and I) go with the last meaning.  But it’s useful to be aware of the nuances of this word, because it is used in the Gospels and Acts to refer to imperial buildings where Jesus and other early Christians were accused.

Paul’s Prayer for Wisdom: Philippians 1:9-11.

Today I continue my blog series on Philippians with Paul’s prayer for the Philippians’ wisdom and discernment:

9 καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι, ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει

10 εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα, ἵνα ἦτε εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ,

11 πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ.

My translation:

9 And I pray this, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment,

10 for your discerning that which is worthy, so that you may be pure and blameless on the day of the Lord,

11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness through Jesus Christ, for the glory and praise of God.

This passage contains some interesting word pairs: ἐπιγνώσει καὶ αἰσθήσει (v. 9) and δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον (v. 11).  How do these pairs contrast and work together? The phrase ἐπιγνώσει καὶ αἰσθήσει (epignosei and aisthasei) is translated various ways: “knowledge and full insight” (NRSV), “knowledge and all discernment” (ESV), “knowledge and every kind of perception” (NAB).  BDAG explains that epignosis is not just general knowledge, but “limited to transcendent and moral matters.”  In that sense the term was used by philosophers such as Epictetus and Plato.  In the New Testament it was used especially to refer to knowledge of the will of God. Aisthasei, by contrast, typically refers more to sensory perception.  In later Greek it takes on the meaning in this passage, “a capacity to understand, discernment.”  Reumann translates it “discernment” to better capture a sense of practicality and connection to life.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33037982@N04/4952327900

Ruins of Philippi.  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33037982@N04/4952327900

Reumann translates the pair as “perception and discernment.”  To me this doesn’t capture the contrast between theoretical and practical knowledge.  But I can’t think of any phrase in English that does.  “[Theoretical] knowledge and wisdom”?  “Theological understanding and discernment in faith”? In v. 11, Paul speaks of the “δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον” (doxan and epainon) of God.  Doxa survives in English in words like “doxastic” and “doxology,” and generally means “glory/honor.”  Originally in classical Greek, it just referred to reputation or opinion about someone.  But by the time of the NT, that usage had disappeared.  In the Septuagint, it was used to translate the Hebrew kavod (honor or glory).  Under the influence of Greek mysticism and mystery religions it gained the added meaning of shining, brilliance, and splendor.  It’s one of Paul’s favorite words. Epainos, “praise,” can refer to praise of/for humans and of/for God.  Classical Greek texts used it to refer to the praise accrued to a great orator, the same praise that Stoic philosophers sought to free themselves from. While major translations (NRSV, NIV, NAB, Reumann) don’t really differ in translating this pair “glory and praise,” what about the sense of brilliance that doxa carries?  Could we translate the pair “brilliance and praise”?  “Splendor and admiration”?  The latter especially conveys a note of royalty.

The series continues with Paul’s intention for the Philippians.

Philippians, Part Two: Paul’s Gratitude for the Philippians, 1:3-8.

Last week I began my blog-through of Paul’s letter to the Philippians using Jerry Sumney’s reader and John Reumann’s Anchor commentary.  This week I continue Paul’s greeting to the Philippians with my friend Brian:

3Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶν

4πάντοτε ἐν πάσῃ δέησει μουὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν, μετὰ χαρᾶς τὴν δέησιν ποιούμενος,

5ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸεὐαγγέλιον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν.

6πεποιθὼς αὐτὸ τοῦτο ὅτι ὁεναρξάμενος ἐν ὑμῖν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἐπιτελέσει ἄχρις ἡμέρας Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ·

7καθώςἐστιν δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳὑμᾶς, ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίουσυγκοινωνούς μου τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας.

8μάρτυς γάρ μου ὁ θεὸς ὡςἐπιποθῶ πάντας ὑμᾶς ἐν σπλάγχνοις Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ.

And my translation:

3 I give thanks to my God every time I remember you

4 always in all my prayers, on behalf of all of you, as I make a prayer with joy,

5 because of your communion in the gospel from the first day until now,

6 being convinced that the one who begins a good work in you will reach its end on the day of Christ Jesus.

7 So it is right for me to think that on behalf of you, since you have me in your mind, and in my bonds and my defense and confirmation of the gospel, you being my partners in all charity.

8 For God is my witness that I long for you all in the mind of Christ Jesus.

A few things of interest.

Modern ruins of Philippi.  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33037982@N04/4952686280/

Modern ruins of Philippi. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33037982@N04/4952686280/

First, the word μνείᾳ (mneia) in verse 3.  Sumney translates this as “mentionings.”  The NRSV translates it “every time I remember you.”  It’s a little more complicated than that.  The word was used in Plato to refer to a “token of remembrance” of the dead.  Reumann notes that the idiom mneia poieisthai (lit. “to make mentionings/remembrances”) was used as an idiom for prayers in early Christian literature.  I suspect there’s a connection here between mentioning as an oral act and prayer.  Think of how prayer is conceived of: talking to God, listening to God, etc.  In Hebrew there is a similar word, hagah, a verb that (in one meaning) literally refers to the moaning before God in prayer, softly reciting a phrase or word.  But in English I can’t think of a word that conveys a similar connection between remembering, prayer, and speech.

Second, the word κοινωνίᾳ (koinonia) in verse 5.  This word is often translated as “communion,” but Sumney translates it as “participation” and Reumann as “sharing.”  It’s related to κοινός, a word referring to that which is shared or communal.  We know from texts like Acts that many early Christian communities strived for an ideal community of shared property.  Plato himself uses the term to refer to his political order, and the same term is used of the Pythagorean cult.  How close is this bond of sharing, communion, and participation?  Koinonia was used throughout the Greek world to refer to the bond between husband and wife.  Imagine not just two people seeking that closeness, but an entire community.

When first studying Hebrew, I learned that the Hebrew language maps metaphors of the human body differently.  The gut is the source of emotion and instinct while the heart is the source of volition, will, personality, and rationality.  What I didn’t know: it’s similar in Greek.  So when Paul says “you have me in your καρδία [heart],” he doesn’t just mean feelings or emotions, but the seat of physical, spiritual, and mental life.”

But it is usually rendered “heart.”  Think of preachers imploring people to “take Jesus into your heart!”  Every time I hear that phrase (sometimes in an altar call), it means something very emotional, contrite, powerful.  But when you take Jesus in an altar call, have you had time to reason through the Christian worldview?  In other words, while καρδία (and its Hebrew equivalent, lav) and “heart” refer to the same physical thing, when used metaphorically they have different meanings in Greek, Hebrew, and English.

So why do translators render this “heart”?  It’s inaccurate.  But it’s hard to find a word in English that fits the bill. I translate it “mind” to be thought-provoking, but that too has problems.

Next up: Paul’s imprisonment, 1:12-14.

Philippians in Greek, Part 1: Epistolary Greeting, 1:1-2.

In June I finished first-year Greek.  Though a fellow student and I read half of Pseudo-Lucian’s The Ass last summer, it has now been almost three months since I really looked at a Greek text.  And despite my original desire to read Greek for the New Testament, it has been never since I looked at a biblical text.

0008333_philippians_a_greek_students_intermediate_reader__300

So for the next 3-4 weeks, I will work my way through Philippians with my friend Brian, using Jerry Sumney’s useful reader and Reumann’s Anchor commentary.  Philippians is ideally short.  And not knowing it very well, I won’t be able to fake my way through remembering what it says.

Part of the terror – and thrill – of blogging as I read is that I don’t know what will come next.  But I have faith in the fact that every section, even the most prosaic, contains nuggets of linguistic insight.

With that confidence in mind, let us move to the first part, Paul’s greeting to the Philippians.

1  Παῦλος καὶ Τιμόθεος, δοῦλοι Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ, πᾶσιν τοῖς ἁγίοις ἐν χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Φιλίπποις, σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις·

2 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ.

My translation:

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus in Philippi with overseers and assistants,

2 grace to you and peace from God our father and the lord Jesus Christ.

Even in this innocuous greeting, I found some linguistic nuggets.

First, “ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις.”  The KJV translates these as “bishops and deacons.”  At first glance it is an easy choice.  But ἐπισκόπη in Greek was used to refer to any officials in government or officers in an organization.  The word goes all the way back to Homer and Sophocles.  And διακόνος, though it is cognate with the English word “deacon,” could refer to any intermediary, assistant, or agent in a transaction.  Cynic philosophers used it to refer to themselves.  Josephus used it to refer to Rachel in her role as an intermediary introducing Jacob to Laban.

As tempting as it is to translate “ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις” as “bishops and deacons,” it is inaccurate.  It might lead a reader to think that the Philippians in the 50s A.D. had bishops and deacons just as we do now.  They did not.  The NRSV rightly translates this “overseers and helpers.”

Also, thanks to Brian for pointing out that this word is related to the verb σκοπέω: to look at, examine, oversee.  So an ἐπισκόπη was someone who literally watches (σκοπέω) on or at (ἐπί) someone or something.

Second, the term δοῦλος.  When I was learning Greek, I thought δοῦλος could refer to a servant or a slave.  But it very clearly only refers to a slave.  We know from the letter to Philemon that the earliest Christians included both slaves and slaveowners.  Reumann notes that there was no real questioning or criticism of slavery in the ancient world.  He also notes:

In a tiered hierarchy among slaves, “middle-level” douloi with managerial skills (as in Matthew’s parables) could control property and achieve upward social mobility and status by association with the upper class in a patron-client system. (56)

So a δοῦλος, while a slave, was a higher-class slave, perhaps like the house slaves in American history.  Speaking of America, BDAG notes that early American Bible translations tend to render δοῦλος as “servant,” despite all good philological sense.  Interesting.

Probably not one of the saints of Philippi.  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pjhodges/4745916734

Probably not one of the saints of Philippi. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pjhodges/4745916734

Third, the ἁγίοις that Paul writes to, usually translates “saints.”  I am wary of this translation because it runs the risk of (like “bishops and deacons” above) making the reader project onto the past, as if first century Philippians (or any Christians) had a canonization process.

In the Septuagint, ἁγίος is the translation of קדוש, literally someone who is holy or set apart by God.  So perhaps we should translate ἁγίοις as “holy ones.”  But that is so vague in English, I am not sure what it refers to.

How fascinating that even the most (seemingly) simple words can have unexplored nuances and meanings in the original tongue.  I hope you can join me as I continue with the next few verses.