Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Reflections on Greek Texts II

Reflections on last semester's modules kicks off with Greek Texts II. What can I say....? It falls between Greek Texts I and Greek Texts III....self-evident. These three modules take us through Mounce's Graded Reader of Biblical Greek and it's not just about learning Greek, it's a bout learning exegetical skills, learning theology and hearing God's word. Each week we have to prepare translations and do some reading from the commentaries and lexica (when I say 'have to', I mean 'are supposed to'). The module was assessed on an exam (on sight exegesis with nothing but UBS4 in front of you) and a exegesis paper (which this year was from 1 Peter 1:13-17). It's hard to pick out a few highlights when you've ranged across the gospels and epistles during a module, but my main highlights come from our studies in Philippians...
  • In exegeting the Christ hymn of chapter 2, Muller's old NICNT volume (produced under the editorship of Ned Stonehouse) was very helpful. Of course, the meaning of harpagmon in 2:6 is debated; I opted for the translation prized possession, following Muller: 'in combination with hegeisthai it is used to denote a much-valued possession or gain, and the pregnant meaning of robbery has been ousted'.
  • In 2:6, Paul writes that Christ Jesus existed in the morphe of God. Lightfoot writes that morphe is the 'outward display of the inner reality or substance' as opposed to the schema, which is merely outward appearance, something changeable. In Plato (although the use is rare) it is 'the impress of the idea on the individual'. Therefore here morphe is expressing the essential unity of the pre-existent Christ with deity. There is a problem with most translations of the remainder of this verse. NASB renders it 'did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but...'. The problem is that this can be made to imply that Christ gave up his equality with God, since he did not regard it as a thing to be grasped (or a prized possession). Muller's exegesis of the phrase to einai isa thew is therefore interesting. He translates it as to exist in a manner like unto God rather than to be equal to God, arguing that isa is an adverbial form carrying the sense of in such a way or manner, rather than the substantive isov, which Paul would have used if he wanted to denote equality. This avoids the problem since Paul's thought is therefore that Christ did not consider existing in the same manner as God, i.e. his pre-incarnate spiritual existence, as a prized possession, but emptied himself. To my mind, this is theologically more satisfactory, although I'm sure arguments could be brought against this interpretation of isa.
  • The Christ hymn is a sublime passage of scripture which Paul deploys in order to encourage the Phillipian believers to humility and service - something that ought not to be overlooked as we seek to glean Christology from it.
Other highlights can only be mentioned in passing:

  • In James, we noted the connections with wisdom literature, and with the Sermon on Mount, which also has connections with wisdom literature.
  • The similarity between James 1 and 1 Peter 1 on faith and testing is striking.
  • Christ's quotation from Isaiah whilst explaining the parable of the sower in Matthew's gospel can be compared to the Isaianic source in both the MT and LXX. The differences are very interesting indeed: are the parable spoken because the people don't understand, or so that they will not understand?
  • Ephesians 1 is another sublime passage and can be characterised as a berakah psalm....
Greek is becoming more familiar, which is a good feeling! Some might question the need to do so much Greek (or Hebrew for that matter). Well, I've heard a few dodgy exegeses over the last couple of years (not in my own congregation!) that would have benefitted from some awareness of the fact that the Word of God was not given to us in English! Anyway, it's on to Greek Texts III this coming semester...