Philippians 1:1-5 (Graeco-Roman Commentary)

7 12 2008
same books, different light
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I’m developing (what I think) is an interesting angle on PhilippiansPaul’s concerned he’ll lose their support because he’s (supposedly) “out of the Ministry” (i.e. in prison where he can’t preach the gospel). Not totally new, but don’t know of a commentary taking this line. So why not start writing one?!! Would love your questions & comments!!! Note v3f. IS WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING (if you need to jump to there):

Phil 1:1
Παῦλος καὶ Τιμόθεος δοῦλοι Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ (Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus)
Paul begins (as usual) Introducing himself & (for whatever reason) Timothy. Maybe a “Macedonian thing” (c.f. 1&2Thessalonians).

πᾶσιν τοῖς ἁγίοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Φιλίπποις (to all those who are set apart in Christ Jesus, who are in Philippi)
The “From A… to B” common formula in Paul, standard letter form for the day. Greek most resonant with Rom 1:7… interesting… Rome & “little Rome.” No mention of “church” in either letter… maybe Christians not a registered society… Maybe ekklesia too provocative a term for a Roman.

σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις· (together with overseers and deacons)
This is interesting. Why make a distinction with those in office – is he asserting his authority, but in a softer way than starting “Paul an Apostle”?

Phil 1:2
χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Grace & peace to you from Father God and Lord Jesus Messiah)
Very interesting verse, but standard greeting for Paul. Read any good commentary on Paul for more.

Phil 1:3(-5) HERE’S WHERE IT STARTS TO GET INTERESTING!!!
Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶνἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν (I give thanks to my God upon your every remembrance… [and] upon your partnership)
Seems to me that the parallel ἐπὶ phrases suggest he is giving thanks for parallel things… and quite possibly the same thing! If this is true, the first bit means “I give thanks every time you remember me [with contributions]” because what he is going to go onto say about partnership is their support of him.

THAT’S ENOUGH TO STIMULATE SOME INITIAL THOUGHTS… MORE SOON!

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Understanding Faith (04)

24 11 2008
Julius Caesar Bust

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Today’s entry is where I put in a plug for knowing something about the culture behind the NT. Here is where I mention that many Christians feel really comfortable with the current Scholarly focus on Judaism. And why not? Those who read the Bible are familiar with Judaism through the OT and the controversies of the NT. Jesus, Peter, Paul… they were all Jews. So of course we’ll feel at home with this! But there is another context, which we don’t feel so at home in… i.e. the Graeco-Roman world. But let’s not forget that Paul (at least) was also very connected to this world. He had to be if he was going to be a missionary. So the Graeco-Roman world is relevant to the context into which Paul was writing. Therfore it must be of some importance for us who read the NT today! This will be something I will come back to in future entries. For now though, we need a quick lesson into the fabric of Romans society in the first century. The Roman world was literally held together by relational exchange A ↔  B. As Richard Saller says in his exceptional little book Patronage in the Early Empire, “The Romans could hardly conceive of friendship apart from reciprocal exchange.” In fact from the Emperor all the way down to the lowest citizen it was reciprocal exchange which held everything together. And so fides (the Latin word for faith) has been defined as “”confidence” (fides) and, especially (in a more derivative sense of fides), the “good faith” or “trustworthiness” that inspires confidence.” Whenever the Romans thought about a relationship they thought in terms of two way exchange (A ↔ B). When we talk then about “faith” or “grace” as exchange words because they are used in relationships, this is therefore not a big jump. Rather, the culture of the day confirmed that this was a logical way for people to see things. Now we are ready to tackle pistis Christou which we’ll do next entry.

Bruce Lowe

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Understanding Faith (01)

3 11 2008

Image by Mr Messy! via Flickr

Image by Mr Messy! via Flickr

In case you didn’t know, there’s a revolution happening right now over the meaning of faith. The expression “for the love of Pete,” means either “love towards Pete” (objective genitive) or “Pete’s love” (subjective genitive). Likewise, pistis Christou in Paul means either “faith in Christ” or “Christ’s faith” (Rom 3:22 & 26; Gal 2:16 [twice] & 20; Gal 3:22; and Phil 3:9). Traditionally it has been taken as “faith in Christ.” But more recently, people have gravitated towards the second. The implications can be big, as Mark Reasoner suggests: “Proponents… who hold that Christ’s faith is what saves will not call for… placing one’s faith in Jesus. They will rather call people to join the church that lives out… the faith that Jesus displayed” (Romans in Full Circle, 39).

This is a great example of how your reading impinges upon the message you preach. The specific issue also has implications for where Christian ethics should be placed in the scheme of things. In this series of contribution (posted weekly), I want to use this debate to illustration the importance of how you read. More than this though, I hope to stir thinking in a new direction on the issue itself (and thus the ethical question), by focusing on what has been a blind spot. What happens when we read pistis Christou as a Graeco-Roman person would have read it? Surprisingly perhaps, the answer has much to do with relationships!

posted by Bruce Lowe