Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Working Together for Deliverance: Greek Verbs in Philippians 2:12-18

12W”ste, ajgaphtoiv mou, kaqw;V pavntote uJphkouvsate, mh; wJV ejn th÷Æ parousiva÷ mou movnon ajlla; nuæn pollwÆ/ maÆllon ejn thÆ÷ ajpousiva/ mou, meta; fovbou kai; trovmou th;n eJautwÆn swthrivan katergavzesqe` 13qeo;V gavr ejstin oJ ejnergwÆn ejn uJmiæn kai; to; qevlein kai; to; ejnergeiæn uJpe;r thÆV eujdokivaV. 14pavnta poieiæte cwri;V goggusmwÆn kai; dialogismwÆn, 15i”na gevnhsqe a[memptoi kai; ajkevraioi, tevkna qeouÆ a[mwma mevson geneaÆV soliaÆV kai; diestrammevnhV, ejn oiflV faivnesqe wJV fwsthÆreV ejn kovsmw/, 16lovgon zwhÆV ejpevconteV, eijV kauvchma ejmoi; eijV hJmevran CristouÆ, o”ti oujk eijV keno;n e[dramon oujde; eijV keno;n ejkopivasa. 17ajlla eij kai; spevndomai ejpi; thÆ/ qusiva/ kai; leitourgiva/ thÆV pivstewV uJmwÆn, caivrw kai; sugcaivrw paÆsin uJmiæn` 18to; de; aujto; kai; uJmeiæV caivrete kai; sugcaivretev moi.

12So then, my loved ones—just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but also much more now in my going away[1]—with reverence and humility continue together in bringing to fruition your own deliverance, 13for the one working vigorously among you is God, [compelling you] to desire and to work energetically above and beyond God’s good purpose. 14Do everything without grumbling and disputing, 15in order that you may become blameless and innocent, untarnished children of God within your own corrupt generation, in which you are shining as light-bearers in the cosmos. 16In your holding onto the Word of Life, I may boast on the day of Messiah that I neither ran nor labored in vain. 17Moreover, if I pour out my life as a sacrifice upon the service of your faith, I can be glad and rejoice in you all. 18But you likewise should be glad and rejoice with me.

The second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi contains a clear and recurrent dual theme: the necessity for obedience and harmony among the Christian community. In keeping with this thesis, Paul recites a hymn about Christ, highlighting the Messiah’s own obedience to God, inferring that the Philippian congregation should go and do likewise. So intent is Paul on conveying this message of collective submission that he molds his very language to carry his meaning for him, even going so far as to invent completely new words (suvmyucoi—“same spirited ones”—v.2) to describe the shared Christian experience in which he is urging the church to continue to take part. In vv.12-18, his various use of the imperative, subjunctive, and indicative moods paired with the second-person plural (“you all”) verb form emphasizes at times the hortatory nature of his letter and the possible outcome of his instructions, while his use of the aorist tense implies that the church has indeed already been working on these teachings for some time. The second-person plural imperative in particular is often lost in English translations, and along with it Paul’s rhetorical exhortation to communality. In what follows, I will examine the grammatical and syntactical properties of five keys verbs that Paul uses in vv.12-18 as hortatory tools, displaying with his very word choices a pastoral instruction of cooperation and obedience, that the Church in Philippi might become “luminaries in the cosmos,” shining out among their own crooked generation.
uJphkouvsate (v.12)
Paul’s penchant for run-on sentences often creates problems for translators of the Greek text. Such is the case with v.12, which contains a series of clauses that stretches to the end of the following verse. With no punctuation to divide the clauses, discerning just what exactly Paul is exhorting his audience to do can be a tricky undertaking. However, there are outward indicators of meaning in the sentence structure (syntax) of the verse, which I will discuss below. The primary grammatical question raised by efforts to translate the first verb that appears in this passage (uJphkouvsate, from uJpakouvw, “to hear and obey”) is whether it should be treated as an aorist active verb in the indicative or imperative mood.[2] If the verb is in fact a second-person plural aorist active indicative verb, then the verse should read something like what I have translated above. However, if the verb is imperative, it might be translated like this:
So then, my loved ones, continue to obey just as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence but also much more now in my going away. With reverence and humility continue together in bringing to fruition your own deliverance.
Note the improved sentence structure and different punctuation; as an imperative, uJphkouvsate breaks v.12 into two distinct exhortations. However, though an imperative would indeed provide for clearer translation, this is unlikely to be the case. If Paul had intended to use uJphkouvsate as a command to continue in the same obedience that the Church in Philippi had already been practicing, an imperfect (continuous past event) or perfect/imperative combination (past event with continuing effects into the present) would perhaps have been better suited to the task, rather than a simple complexive aorist, which merely “reports” that the Church was obedient sometime before the present.[3] In either instance, the general connotation of the verse remains the same. However, the kaqw;V pavntote phrase which introduces the verb suggests that Paul is in fact referencing a past action in conjunction with an imperative verb to be found later in v.12. If this is the case, then uJphkouvsate must surely be in the indicative mood. The aorist indicates that the Philippians have always obeyed, and in light of that obedience provides them with further instruction in the immediately following clause.
katergavzesqe (v.12)
Having acknowledged the obedience of the Philippian Church, Paul now suggests that they put their obedience to work. Rather than a form of e[rgon—a common word for work involving manual labor—the author here uses the verb katergavzesqe, “work out”. This second-person plural verb is in the imperative mood, indicating that the focus of the exhortation is cooperation toward a given communal purpose rather than a call for individual personal responsibility for salvation.[4] The present tense and deponent voice of the verb reinforce the fact that this work is an ongoing, unfinished process, but one that nonetheless does involve an ultimate completion.[5] The Philippian community is instructed to simply carry to conclusion a divine work that already existed among them from an undetermined point in the past.[6] 
Syntactically, katergavzesqe is modified with the qualifying phrase meta; fovbou kai; trovmou, which defines the manner in which the Philippian community is to “work out” their deliverance. Often translated fear and trembling, this phrase is a common idiom that appears frequently among the letters of Paul; however, in context, reverence and humility or humility and concern might be more appropriate renderings.[7] It is unlikely that swterivan here refers to ultimate individual salvation, but rather indicates the goal that Paul is trying to impart with his exhortation to “continue working out”: cooperative deliverance into a communal spiritual health.[8] The fact that the reflexive pronoun modifying katergavzesqe is plural (eJautwÆn, “yourselves”) reinforces the cooperative and dependent nature of the swterivan to which Paul is referring. Finally, it should be reiterated that Paul intends the two verbs in this verse to work in tandem; the grouping of the present imperative katergavzesqe with the aorist indicative uJphkouvsate suggests a continuation of work that has already begun out of sincere obedience to both God and to Paul.[9]
ejnergeiæn (v.13)
Paired with the articular participle ejnergwÆn, the present active articular infinitive verb to; ejnergeiæn (“to work enthusiastically”) depicts God—“The Great Energizer”[10]—in turn working among the congregation at Philippi, providing the motivation to work above and beyond thÆV ejudokivaV (“the good purpose”). The present tense of both the participle and the infinitive stresses yet again the ongoing nature of this work currently being performed within, among, and by the Philippians. The fact that ejnergeiæn appears side-by-side with another articular infinitive—to; qevlein (“to will/desire”)—conjoined by a double kai; suggests a strong both/and quality to the phrase. Paul is emphasizing that both the energy and the will that drives the obedience and cooperation of the Philippians has in fact been instilled among them by God, “the one who works vigorously.”[11] The exhortation given by imperative in v.12 is strengthened by Paul’s present assertion that God is already at work. 
gevnhsqe (v.15)
As v.15 begins a i{na clause, it is no surprise that a verb in the subjunctive mood is soon to follow.[12] The Philippians are to continue their work energetically, “without grumbling or disputing,” so that they might become (gevnhsqe—second-person plural, aorist deponent subjunctive) innocent and blameless, living up to the standard of Jesus that Paul has already recounted to them in the earlier Christ hymn in vv.6-11. The subjunctive mood suggests a possible outcome of the work that they have been instructed to carry out: if the Philippians continue together in bringing to completion their own communal deliverance, then the expected result is that the congregation might become blameless and innocent.
faivnesqe (v.15)
What, then, is the outcome of these continuous actions of obedience, working toward cooperative deliverance, and striving for blamelessness? Paul suggests that the result of the Philippians’ faithfulness is that they shine or are shining (faivnesqe—second-person plural, present middle/passive indicative) as torchbearers, or luminaries (fwsthÆreV), even within their own corrupt generation—a possible reference to Dan. 12:3.[13] The voice of faivnesqe could indicate a variety of interpretations, including being or becoming visible, though shining— semantically the most powerful extent of light-giving—is ultimately preferable.[14]
Hawthorne correctly notes that it is possible to interpret this verb as an imperative—ie., you must shine—inferring that the role and responsibility of the church is in fact that of the torch-bearer.[15] However, Hawthorne’s commentary tends to over-inflate the passage with imperatives, which effectively devalues any one particular exhortation over another, and thereby deprives the passage of a single, centralized locus. Rather, faivnesqe should be interpreted as an indicative that recalls the v.12 imperative to continue working, as well as the command to do all things (pavnta poieiæte) without grumbling or disputing in v.14.[16] Paul suggests their shining is the direct result of the church’s ongoing pursuit of the spiritual wholeness that God has already germinated within their community. In their obedience, they are like the very stars themselves, casting light into the darkness of the moral cosmos.
            As the possibility of his own death grows increasingly imminent, Paul urges the congregation at Philippi to continue in their obedient work and to do all things without the grumbling and disputing that generates discord within communal life. The imperative to keep working takes on particular importance, as the Philippians can see in Paul’s current situation the very serious consequences of obedience to Christ. As a result of their work, Paul reminds them in his use of the present active indicative verb faivnesqe that they are bringing the light of humility and mutual submission into the darkness of conceit and empty self-flattery that has already fallen upon their own crooked generation. To help them along, Paul has put his own life forth as a sacrifice, devoting himself to their spiritual upbringing, so that he might boast of their obedience on the day of the Messiah. It is in their growth and maturity that Paul takes comfort, leaving the church with one final imperative: rejoice (caivrete) with me.

[1] parousiva and ajpousiva: Traditionally rendered “presence” and “absence.” Here, however, is it possible that Paul is juxtaposing a reference to a previous visit to the Church in Philippi with his “going away”—that is, his impending martyrdom? Translated this way, Paul is encouraging the Philippians to continue in their obedience to God even as Paul himself appears to be facing death for his own obedience to Christ. Paul’s suggestion of pouring himself out as a drink sacrifice in v.17 lends particular gravity to this interpretation.
[2] For arguments that uJphkouvsate is indicative, see Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians: A Greek Student's Intermediate Reader (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 52; For imperative, see Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 43 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 98.
[3] Peter T. O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary On the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 276.
[4] Ibid, 278.
[5] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, 98.
[6] Bonnie B. Thurston, “Philippians.” In Philippians and Philemon, by Bonnie B. Thurston and Judith M. Ryan. Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005), 98.
[7] John Reumann, Philippians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 386.
[8] See Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, 98-99, and Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 277.
[9] See Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 275, and Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians, 52. Exactly who the object of the Philippians’ obedience might be is unclear. However, it is generally accepted that Paul is referring to their obedience to both God and himself (cf. Bonnie B. Thurston, “Philippians,” 93).
[10] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, 100.
[11] Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians, 53.
[12] Ibid, 55.
[13] Bonnie B. Thurston, “Philippians,” 95.                    
[14] Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians, 55.
[15] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, 103.
[16] John Reumann, Philippians, 413.

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