Philippians 1:19-20 Confident of Victory

It seems that the date of Paul’s trial is near.  Paul will be led from his rented home where he is serving house arrest and taken to the tribunal to be heard by Caesar himself, where Paul will defend the Gospel and his role as an ambassador for Christ.  At the end of the trial either Paul will be allowed to leave a free man, vindicated by Caesar’s court, or he will be led away to the place of execution.

Paul has no human way of knowing the outcome, and he claims no explicit revelation from God: no vision, no clear inner voice, no word of prophecy.  He does, however, have the confidence of faith.  His faith gives him the confidence that God still has a purpose for his life on earth, in particular encouraging his faith family and especially those who are both friends and brothers and sisters from Philippi.  His hopes will not be realized automatically but through the prayers of his friends and the workings of the Spirit.

Regardless of the outcome of his trial before Caesar, Paul has the hope of final vindication before the throne of Jesus; but his faith is also inspired by the examples in the Psalms of those who expressed their hope for God’s deliverance in this life and on this earth.

Paul’s situation is ambiguous and his hope is ambivalent.  We should expect some ambiguity in his language, and it is present throughout this passage (Phil 1:15-26).  Paul confidently expects his trial to result in his salvation.  Normally he uses the word to express the ultimate consummation of a believer’s faith, which will happen when Christ reveals himself to the world as both Savior and Judge.  You could say Paul is hedging his bets, because he is assured of salvation in that sense.  But he is also using the word in the context of God’s deliverance of the faithful from their temporal and earthly enemies, a context seen so frequently in the Psalms.

If David’s faith could give him the hope of triumphing over his enemies, was Paul not entitled to expect the same result?  He is not seeking personal revenge over his enemies—but he does trust that God will grant him a personal victory.  Paul will emerge from the ordeal as a conquering hero.  Paul uses the language and imagery of a military victory parade.  In fact—here’s where some of the linguistic ambiguity comes in—he uses the terms that otherwise normally refer to the Second Coming to describe his anticipated return to the Philippians, in verse 26.  He speaks of his parousia palin.  Apart from reference Christ’s triumphant return, the expression was used in military and political circles to describe the glorious arrival of Caesar, accompanied by his retinue, to a Roman city.

The word parousia is a compound from a prefix meaning “with, beside” and a the verb eimi, which is a homonymn/homograph meaning either “I am” or “I arrive”.  So parousia can mean either “being with” or “presence” or else “coming to (someone’s presence)” or “arrival.”  It is used in the second sense here, and in the context of a victorious appearance.

Since we sometimes fail to appreciate literary subtlety, irony, and imagery, I should point out that Paul’s militant, triumphal imagery is metaphorical and paradoxical language.  The battle from which he hopes to emerge victorious is a spiritual battle, and the weapons that lead to triumph are faith, love, and prayer.  And the defeat of his enemies may well be that they are brought to their knees in homage to Paul’s Lord and become willing captives to him as Paul himself is.

If Paul’s greatest hopes were realized, and if we were able to see the event, we would not see a conquering hero–except through the eyes of faith.  We would see a little old man with scars on his body, dressed in well warn clothing, being unceremoniously released onto a dirty Roman street, perhaps to be greeted by a handful of friends.  But they would have the eyes of faith and would be quietly rejoicing in Paul’s triumph.

Linguistic Trivia–Translating τα σπλαγχνα

Meaghan Smith, an alumna of MCC and now working as an exegetical checker with an SIL Bible translation team in Ethiopia, was on campus today.  She spoke to my Greek class about issues in translation, and the words τα σπλάγχνα in particular in Philippians 1:8.  The words are mostly metaphorical for what we call “the heart” and refer to affection, sympathy and compassion, or other tender emotions.  That part is easy enough for translators.  In Philippians 1:8 it’s simply a matter of asking “How do speakers [of the target language] express that?

But we also got to thinking about the non-metaphorical use of the words.  Like our word “heart” ta splanchna literally refers to internal organs, but the question is “which organs?”  I have told my students (and you, gentle readers) that the splanchna are the organs above the diaphragm, i.e., the heart, liver, spleen, and so forth.  We looked it up in class this morning and found that according to Lowe and Nida, the splanchna are “the intestines.”  Have I been giving misinformation?

After class I went to TDNT and found that in classical usage the words do refer to the “nobler organs” (I find the quaint, almost Victorian expression interesting).  In fact, Homer refers to sacrifices in which the splanchna of sacrificial sheep are the heart, liver, and so forth which are cooked and eaten by the celebrants as part of the sacrificial ritual.

So maybe I was right after all?  But Lowe and Nida point to the one non-metaphorical usage in the NT, where Judas fell headlong and his splanchna burst out.  It seems more likely that the lower organs would be dislodged by a precipitous fall than the ones protected by the ribcage and held up by the diaphragm.

So now we have the question of synchronous or diachronous linguistics?  Well you have to go with the usage more contemporaneous with the source you are comparing–if there is enough evidence.  But I would still ask whether this one passage is enough synchronous evidence or not.  My one complaint about Lowe and Nida is that the lexicon does not cite any contemporary evidence outside the New Testament.

One other trivial issue.  A couple weeks ago Michael Halcomb was asking for onomatopoeic expressions in Greek.  I have always thought σπλάγχνα made an interesting sound, but I’m not quite sure it qualifies as onomatopoeia.  Did Judas’s noble or ignoble organs go SPLANCH! when he hit the rocks at the bottom of the cliff?

These questions are just curiosities, thought don’t really affect the meaning or translation of the passage in Philippians.  But I had a professor once who said you might learn something useful as a by-product of pursuing things not so obviously useful.

Next time I will return to more edifying thoughts–more honorable, pure, and noble themes–when I return to the Epistle to the Philippians.  In the meantime I’m interested in what some of my linguistically inclined friends think.  How would you translate σπλάγχνα?  Is it a good case of onomatopoeia?

Eleven Years Ago

I’ll get back to Philippians, but I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on the events of eleven years ago today.

We had just moved from Memphis back to Kansas.  I was in about my third week of teaching at Manhattan Christian College.  My son was still in Memphis and had been in an accident.  I had been on the phone with him that morning.  I didn’t have an early morning class that day, but we did have a chapel service at 10:00 AM.

I was driving an old beat up pickup at the time, which didn’t have a working radio.  My commute to work is 27 miles.  I enjoyed the scenery on my way in.

Sonja had taken a job traveling to different cities to work in her profession as a health information coding specialist.  She had been in Milwaukee the last three weeks, working a four-day work week and coming home on weekends–and it was not working out.  On Sunday evening she drove to her sister’s house in KCK, to go to the airport early Monday morning.

Monday afternoon she showed up back in Manhattan and said “I’ll explain later.”  She had an interview at Wamego City Hospital and accepted the job.

Meanwhile I arrived on campus a little before ten.  I went into our chapel and things seemed confused.  The college president, Ken Cable, was there and explained we would be dividing into prayer groups.  I still wasn’t sure what had happened.

I heard someone mention the Twin Towers.  I said, no that was five or six years ago, and the explosion was a failure–a car bomb in the parking garage.  There were a few people killed, which is tragic enough, but it didn’t bring down the towers, and I believe they arrested the bomber.

I eventually learned what had happened.  I stayed in the chapel and prayed for a few minutes, then wandered back to the faculty building where some of my colleagues were watching a television.  We saw the second airplane hit the building then.

At some point, I believe I must have talked with my dean and told him I needed to go back to Memphis because of a family emergency.  I went home and watched TV for a while, stunned.  Then got in my truck, filled up with gas, grateful that the local gas station had not raised the price, and headed down the road with a cheap transistor radio.  I remember thinking, “I’ve got a family emergency, I don’t have time for a national crisis.”  Not a rational thought, just part of my confusion.

The skies seemed eerily calm.  It was a clear day.  At some point I noticed trails in the sky from fighter jets patrolling from nearby Fort Riley.  At that moment it seemed comforting that they were protecting us.  And I was glad Sonja was home.  She would have been stranded in Milwaukee, was it three weeks before air travel resumed?

Philippians 1:12-18

1:12 But I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have led rather to the progress of the Gospel.  Early followers of Jesus addressed one another as adelphoi, “brothers and sisters” because of the family bond they had through their common faith and life.  The practice is common in many religions and other movements where adherents share a common purpose.

It was common for Jews too to refer to each other using family language, both because of their common spiritual heritage and because of their ethnic bonds, but faith in Jesus transcended national and ethnic boundaries.  Family language is more than a metaphor among followers of Jesus, they are part of the family of God.

In Greek grammar, the masculine gender is used for groups that may include either gender; so adelphoi is appropriately translated “brothers and sisters.”  In this epistle we know by name two of the women included in the group of brothers and sisters, namely Euodia and Syntyche (4:2).

Verse 12 forms a transition from Paul’s description of his prayer to informing them of his circumstances, that is, his imprisonment.  Rather than what they might think, his confinement has served to advance the Gospel.

The message itself, is described in the imagery of an army waging peace, a progressive movement advancing toward victory.  The Gospel is the story of Jesus, his faithfulness to the father, his love displayed on Calvary, his victory over death, hatred, and sin, his power to create a new humanity who follow him in the way of peace and love.  The Gospel story and the transformation that follows in its wake, is being furthered by Paul’s sufferings, in two ways:

1:13     First, it has become obvious even in the capital city, even in the emperor’s inner circle that Paul is a prisoner for Christ.  They might never have heard of Christ or Paul had he not been brought to Rome as Caesar’s guest; or at least they would not have had accurate information.  It is true, there were Christians in Rome before Paul, and it is true that they had been attracting some attention.  Vigorous debates had been going on in Rome among Jews who followed Jesus as the Christ and Jews who did not.  The result was misinformation.

But God had come up with a plan to infiltrate Caesar’s elite Praetorian Guard.  Probably at least four teams of two guards were kept with Paul daily.  He may have been in chains; but they were a captive audience!  Under house arrest Paul had freedom to meet with other believers, members of the synagogue, or interested parties.  He had freedom to pray, read Scripture, dictate his letters, hold conversations—and the guards couldn’t help overhearing.

When they were alone with Paul, they may have asked questions.  The learned that Paul himself and his fellow Christians were honorable people, not criminals; their only crime was finding the meaning of life in Christ.  Further they learned the content of the Gospel.  At the end of the letter, Paul will drop a little surprise (4:22).

1:14 Second, The majority of fellow believers in Rome have gained courage from the inspiration of Paul’s strength during his imprisonment and have become far bolder in speaking the Word fearlessly.

The word they are speaking is the story of Jesus Christ, how he defeated sin, death, and hatred by enduring them on the cross and rising again, how he will come again to finish the work of transforming all creation into the place where God’s will is done on earth as in heaven, and how he empowers his followers through the Spirit of God to live a life that is a foretaste of and witness to the glory and victory that is to come.  The word is not yet written down in the four Gospels or any creed, but it has been summarized in creed-like confessions and hymns, and is contained in a recognized body of traditional teaching.

When they speak the word, they are not proselytizing, they are evangelizing.  That is they are not are not trying to convert people from one religious-ethnic identity to another; they are sharing the Good News of God’s transforming power.

1:15-16  Paul shares here the surprising news that some who are proclaiming Christ are doing so from corrupt motives, the motives of political ambition and personal rivalry.  They were Christians who envied the honor that others gave to Paul and the influence he had.  They saw his confinement as a chance to promote their own careers.

Of course for Paul apostleship was not rewarded with prestige or wealth (1 Cor 4:9-13), but others imagined they were contending on a Christian cursus honorum.  It’s not clear how they hoped to add stress to Paul’s bondage.  Maybe they claimed to preach only a “spiritual” Gospel with a Jesus who was no threat to Caesar’s lordly rule on earth—implying that Paul was in fact a threat to the public order?

Paul’s response is somewhat surprising given his vehement rejection elsewhere of those who preach “another Jesus” or a false Gospel (Gal 1:6-9 and Phil 3:2).  It may be that the essential message proclaimed by his enemies in Rome was correct; only their motives were suspect.

Paul was content to leave the judging of those up to God.  Maybe had he been free, he would have confronted them to their face; maybe he would have counseled them or prayed with them.  Lacking that freedom, he left it up to God.  In the meantime he would also commit the results of their preaching up to God and rejoice that the name of Christ is being proclaimed.

1:18     Of course, only a few were preaching the Good News from bad motives.  Most were sincere and motivated by love for Jesus and love for his apostle as well.  Paul had double reason to rejoice at this fact.