Wednesday, 29 April 2020

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth? Deciphering Meaning Through Layers of Context (Part 2 of 5)

On a Galilean slope near Capernaum, the Lord Jesus delivered his celebrated discourse traditionally known as “the Sermon on the Mount,” recorded in chapters 5–7 of Matthew’s Gospel.1 In his mission of “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom” (4:23), Jesus would have been speaking in the Aramaic language to a large gathering of Aramaic-speaking Jews, inclusive of but not limited to his disciples (4:25; 5:1; 7:28; cf. 10:5-6; 15:24). The message, having been preserved in Greek translation, uses imagery and comparisons with which the Lord’s immediate audience would have been familiar (5:13-15, 21-22, 25-27, 31, 33, 38, 43, 46-47), addressing topics particularly relevant to them (5:20, 23-24, 28, 32, 34-37, 39-42, 44-48), while preparing for the advent of God’s spiritual kingdom (3:2; 4:17, 23; 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 6:10, 33; 7:21). 

As part of the lengthy address, Jesus quotes, alludes to, and echoes multiple passages from the Hebrew scriptures.2 In the present study our focus is on the segment recorded in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for ‘they shall inherit the land,’” a quote from Psalm 37:11a.3 While the Greek noun gē can be used in various senses (“land,” “ground,” “earth,” etc.; see BDAG 196), most English translations inconsistently render it “earth” in this passage but “land” in the OT text from which it is quoted.4 As observed in our previous post, “the land” of Psalm 37:3, 9, 11, 22, 29, 34 is contextually the promised land of the Israelites. To “inherit the land,” from an ancient Hebrew perspective, is idiomatically synonymous with God’s providential care, provision of needs, security, peace, empowerment, averting shame, and salvation (or deliverance), offering the psalmist’s Hebrew audience assurance and hope. From this initial layer of context, we move on to the next.

Contextual Layer #2: Jesus and His Listening Audience

Speaking to a crowd of Jewish contemporaries still amenable to the old-covenant system of Moses (Matt. 5:17-19), the Lord pronounces blessings (“beatitudes”) on those exhibiting certain virtues (vv. 2-11). Included is the quote from Psalm 37:11a. What would be a reasonable expectation for how this statement would have been received by this particular audience?

Those whom Jesus addressed were already residing in the land of promise, albeit under the occupation and control of a foreign power (Matt. 22:17; Luke 2:1; 3:1). When Judea was annexed as a Roman province in AD 6 (incorporating Samaria, Idumea, and at times Galilee), the local Jews begrudgingly transitioned from an autonomous nation to a subjugated and suppressed people. It was in this environment that the defiant Zealot movement was born,5 prompting Jesus to observe on another occasion, “but from the days of John the baptizer until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent forcefully seize it” (Matt. 11:12).

In his epic sermon Christ repeatedly challenges the status quo of his day and promotes an alternative way of thinking (“but I say to you …”).6 When he affirms, “blessed are the meek” (Matt. 5:5a), to what kind of persons is he alluding? The standard lexical definition of the Greek adjective praüs is “gentle, humble, considerate, meek” (BDAG 861). It would be the opposite of angry hostility (vv. 21-26), lack of self-control (vv. 27-32), lack of integrity (vv. 33-37), retribution (vv. 38-42), and hatred (vv. 43-48). In the original context of Psalm 37, from which Jesus draws the allusion, the description applies to those oppressed but still showing mercy, generosity, righteousness, and faithfulness, trusting in Yahweh, practicing goodness, and obeying his will. 

The quoted blessing, “they shall inherit the land,” is poetry, not theology.7 For a Jewish person in antiquity this was a comforting affirmation of divine favor. Anticipating improved circumstances (cp. Psa. 25:13), the expression was “emblematic of the better prosperity and happiness of life.”8 But what kind of prosperity? With the provision of physical needs understood (Matt. 6:11, 25-34), note Christ’s weighty emphasis on the heavenly nature of God’s kingdom (5:3, 10, 19, 20; 7:21), the priority of heavenly treasures (6:19-21), and the heavenly reward (5:12) in the presence of the heavenly Father (5:16, 34, 45, 48; 6:1, 9, 26, 32; 7:11). The greatest benefits are by far spiritual in nature (6:1, 4, 6, 9-10, 12-14, 18). A clear distinction is consistently made between the materialistic cares of the world and the loftier ways of God (6:19-24, 33; 7:6, 13-21, 24-27, 29). 

To isolate and literalize the statement in Matthew 5:5 to advocate a literal, futuristic, earthly habitation is a form of “physicalism” that runs contrary to the rest of the Lord’s teachings. Focusing on the temporal to the virtual disregard of the heavenly was characteristic of the vain externals of hypocrites (6:1, 5, 16), the empty ritualism of the heathen (6:7), the materialism of pagan Gentiles (6:32), and the deceptive appeal of false teachers (7:15). It ignores Christ’s persistent contrast between physical and spiritual realities (5:3, 10, 12-16, 34-35; 6:9-10, 19-21). 

Concluding Thoughts

Known for his emblematic and parabolic teaching style, Jesus routinely used earthly examples to convey spiritual truths, particularly with regard to “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:24-27; 9:12-17; 16:6-12; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 21:28-45; 22:1-14; 24:45-51; 25:1-30), a.k.a. “the kingdom of God” (19:23-24). It is also helpful to remember the common usage of physical types from the OT to illustrate spiritual antitypes in the NT, e.g., Jonah, Nineveh, Solomon, Elijah (12:39-42; 16:4; 17:10-13), to name a few.9 To “inherit the land” (5:5b), as a historical symbol, does not replace or counter the spiritually-explicit affirmation, “for great is your reward in heaven” (v. 12b).

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 The traditional site is Mount Eremos, just northwest of the Sea of Galilee and west of the Jordan River on the southern slopes of the Korazim Plateau in northern Israel, also known as the Mount of Beatitudes (cf. Matt. 14:23; 15:29; 28:16; Mark 3:13). Seeing that the material in the first thirteen chapters of Matthew’s Gospel is arranged more topically than chronologically, this sermon was likely delivered at the height of the Lord’s Galilean ministry, as indicated by the large crowds. Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 See Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, eds. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007): 20-30.
     3 That this is a direct quote from Psalm 37:11 is seen by comparing Matthew’s Greek translation of Jesus’ words with the LXX version of the Hebrew text, showing parallel usage of the nominative masculine plural hoi praeîs (“the meek [ones]”), the future active indicative klēronomēsousin (“shall inherit”), and the accusative feminine gēn (“land”). Also note the inclusion in Matt. 5:5 of the conjunction hóti, which is functionally equivalent to quotation marks. See BDAG 732; H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek NT (Toronto: Macmillan, 1955): 252. 
     4 The Douay-Rheims Bible, New American Bible (revised), Young’s Literal Translation, Orthodox Jewish Bible, and Easy-to-Read Version render the word “land” in Matt. 5:5, while the King James and New King James Versions employ “earth” in both passages.
     5 See K. L. Moore, Ancient Terrorists, Barabbas, Historical Background: Jewish Subgroups, Historical Background: Roman Authority. It has also been suggested that the idea of a separate, organized group of rebels was invented by Josephus in order to divert the hostile attention of the Romans away from the general Jewish populace (see M. Smith, “Zealots and Sicarii,” HTR 64.1 [1971]: 5). It is true there is little evidence of the Zealots as an organized group prior to the revolt of AD 66 (see Josephus, War 4.129-62). Nevertheless, the earlier presence and activities of these freedom fighters, whether organized or not, are evident in passages like Mark 15:7; Luke 6:15; 23:19, 25; Acts 5:36-37; 21:38.
     6 Matt. 5:20-22, 27-28, 31-34, 38-39, 43-44; cf. also 6:2, 5, 7, 16, 32; 7:15, 29.
     7 See Douglas Stuart, “The Psalms: Israel’s Prayers and Ours,” in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by G. D. Fee and D. Stuart (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014): 215-16. 
     8 Al Novak, Hebrew Honey: A Simple and Deep Word Study of the Old Testament (Houston, TX: C & D International, 1987): 140.
     9 Discussed further in Part 5. We could add to the discussion the emblematic appeal to “the shepherd” and “the sheep” (Matt. 26:31), or the emblems of the Lord’s Supper representing far greater spiritual concepts (26:26-29).

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Wednesday, 22 April 2020

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth? Deciphering Meaning Through Layers of Context (Part 1 of 5)

A single verse in the Bible is like an isolated piece of a jigsaw puzzle: the whole picture is indiscernible unless all the pieces are joined together. To focus on a biblical text without considering its surrounding context almost certainly guarantees distortion of meaning. While the twofold emphasis of contextual studies involves the particular environments within which biblical narratives and discourses took place and within which the biblical writings themselves were produced, there are other contextual matters that must not be overlooked. 

Multiple Layers of Context 

The Bible is fundamentally a compilation of sixty-six separate documents representing a variety of literary genres and subgenres. When any passage of scripture is examined, the type of literature through which it is conveyed dictates its purpose and meaning.

If a historian records someone’s public speech that contains quotations from other sources, there are at least three layers of context to consider: (1) the quoted material, including the original speaker or writer, his targeted audience, and their immediate circumstances; (2) the oral discourse, including the orator, the listening audience, and their immediate circumstances; and (3) the written account, including the author, the projected reading audience, and their immediate circumstances. 

The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5–7, comprises all three layers: (1) scripture quotations, (2) Jesus and his listening audience, and (3) Matthew and his reading audience. All these layers of context are helpful in discerning the Spirit-inspired message, enabling interpreters to handle God’s word accurately and make application to a fourth layer: the present-day church and world.

Contextual Layer #1: Psalm 37 

The biblical psalms, as a collection of prayers and hymns, are more likely to contain words spoken to or about God than from God. They are poetic by nature and characteristically composed with figurative language. Their function is not primarily for the teaching of doctrinal absolutes.1 In the genre of Hebrew poetry, the imagery is familiar to the psalmist’s contemporary Hebrew audience and creates associations that stir the emotions and engage the mind. A psalmist should therefore be afforded appropriate leeway to create a work within the parameters of his own literary conventions. The more we appreciate the poetry and cultural environment of the psalms, the better we understand the intended message.2

Psalm 37 can be subcategorized as a wisdom (sapiential) psalm, contrasting the respective plights of the righteous and the wicked, along with assurances of blessings and judgments. Lost in English translation is the poem’s acrostic structure, with two lines given to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Easier to detect is the synonymous parallelism, where the second line repeats or reinforces the preceding line, with meaning drawn from the combination of both. Parallelism is not two separate ideas but one main idea expressed in two different ways. It is important in analyzing any poem to discover its theme and how each part contributes to the whole. The entirety of the psalm, not just a single verse or stanza, supplies the interpretive framework. 

Of particular interest to our present study is the recurring blessing involving the Hebrew verbs shakan (“abide,” “dwell,” “settle down,” vv. 3, 27, 29) and yarash (“inherit,” “possess by inheritance,” vv. 9, 11, 22, 29, 34), along with the noun erets (“land,” vv. 3, 9, 11, 22, 29, 34).3 These familiar concepts would immediately call to the Jewish mind the Abrahamic promises (Gen. 12:1-7; Psa. 105:42-45), the physical aspect of which was realized in Abraham’s biological descendants – the Israelites (Gen. 12:2a, 7; 15:5-7; Ex. 32:13; Deut. 1:8).4 This provided a national setting for the fulfillment of the spiritual messianic promise: “in you [your seed, 22:18; 26:4] all the families of the earth [adamah] shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3b; cf. Acts 3:25-26; Gal. 3:8-29; 4:4-7).

To “dwell in the land” (Psalm 37:3) meant so much more than mere territorial occupancy. Reprobates, void of divine favor, physically inhabited the land of Israel for generations (Lev. 20:2-5; Judg. 1:19-21, 27-35; 2:2-3; Ezek. 33:23-26). In the context of Psalm 37, the land dwellers are those exhibiting trust in God, goodness, and allegiance to the divine will, thereby benefitting from his faithfulness and provision (vv. 3-4). They are further identified as the “meek” [anav] (v. 11), those oppressed (v. 14) yet merciful and generous (vv. 21, 23), righteous and faithful (vv. 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 21, 23, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 37, 39, 40).5

To “inherit the land” (Psalm 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34),6 therefore, is an expression of comfort and hope (vv. 1, 7, 8). It is idiomatically synonymous with providential care (vv. 3, 5, 6, 17b, 18, 19b, 24, 26b, 28, 31b, 40), including provision (v. 4, 25), protection (v. 33, 40a), peace (vv. 11, 37), fortification (vv. 17, 19, 24, 39b), rising above shame (vv. 19a, 34), and salvation (v. 39a, 40b). In old covenant Judaism, the sacred land (centralized in Jerusalem) represented Yahweh’s presence among his people (Ex. 33:1, 14; Psa. 27:4-6; 65:4; 140:13; Isa. 2:3). But to literalize the poetic imagery is to miss the spiritual significance of the divine purpose, more clearly revealed in the New Testament.

Concluding Thoughts

The psalmist essentially encourages his readers to trust in the Lord for improved circumstances. Traditionally ascribed to David, apparently in his later years (v. 25), Psalm 37 is thus placed in the historical context of the united kingdom of Israel during the first half of the 10th century BC. In another Davidic psalm (25:13), to “inherit the land” parallels towb, “goodness” or “well-being.” Just to hear the expression would have offered a great deal of consolation to any Jewish persons in antiquity, especially the disadvantaged and oppressed, irrespective of when or where they lived.

While some have posited the dating as late as the 4th century BC,7 whoever was responsible for the Psalter’s ancient inscriptions would have had access to information unavailable to subsequent generations.Moreover, the Davidic titles assume readers know who David is and are familiar with his life and poetry. Whether the psalm was originally intended for pre-exilic Jews, who already inhabited the land, or those in exile, who longed to return to the land, or post-exilic Jews of the diaspora, it offers the same assurances and hope. 

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Douglas Stuart, “The Psalms: Israel’s Prayers and Ours,” in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by G. D. Fee and D. Stuart (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014): 212-16. At the same time, however, we still acknowledge “the importance of understanding the instructional function of the Psalms as a book. This is because the very process of canonical collection means that the 150 psalms now gathered together are seen as playing a special role within the life of Israel. Their place within the canon also means that they have a further role …. their very status as scripture means that they now have a teaching role” (David G. Firth, “The Teaching of the Psalms,” in Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches, eds. D. Firth and P. S. Johnston [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005]: 162).
     2 Mark D. Futato, Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007): 24-42. Ancient near-eastern literature, even when translated, is very different from the literature to which modern readers are accustomed. A poem’s rhetorical effect on a targeted audience, far removed from our own, should not be ignored. See David Petersen and Kent Harold Richards, Interpreting Hebrew Poetry (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992): 1-16.
     3 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation. The Hebrew noun erets (vv. 3, 9, 11, 22, 29, 34) is consistently translated “land” in most English versions (e.g. ASV, CSB, ESV, ISV, NIV, NASB, NET, N/RSV, YLT), but varyingly rendered in the N/KJV “land” (vv. 3, 29, 34) and “earth” (vv. 9, 11, 22). It is flexible enough to apply to the entire planet (Gen. 18:18, 25), earth’s inhabitants (Psa. 33:8; 66:4), a regional or territorial section of land (Gen. 10:10, 11; 11:28; Psa. 42:6), particularly the land of Canaan (Gen. 11:31; 12:1, 5; Psa. 105:11; 135:12; 136:21) often designated simply “the land” (Gen. 1:8, 21; 12:6; Deut. 17:14; 18:9; Psa. 35:20). In addition to usage in Davidic psalms (incl. 101:6, 8), see also 44:3; 80:9; 85:1, 9, 12; 106:38; cp. 74:8. 
     4 Historically the Abrahamic land inheritance (Gen. 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:7-18; Deut. 4:1; 16:20) was fulfilled (Acts 7:2-5, 17, 45; Josh. 3:14-17; 21:43-45; 1 Kings 4:21; Neh. 9:7-8), albeit conditionally (Lev. 20:22, 24; Deut. 28:1-2, 15; Josh. 23:13-16; 1 Kings 9:6-7; 2 Chron. 20:7). Nevertheless, Abraham’s descendants did not remain faithful to the covenant (1 Kings 19:10; Jer. 31:32) and eventually lost the land (Josh. 23:13-16). The Hebrew olam (“forever”) occurs three times in Psalm 37, in conjunction with the righteous ones’ inheritance (v. 18), abiding (v. 27), and preservation (v. 29). Even though the Abrahamic land inheritance was promised “forever” (Gen. 13:15, ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJV), this must be understood not only as a conditional promise but also in view of the fact that olam signifies simple duration and applies to that which continues as long as it was intended (cp. Gen. 17:13; Ex. 12:14; 21:6; 29:42; 30:8; Lev. 23:14; 1 Kings 9:3-5; et al.). Irrespective of what may or may not result on the other end, olam is merely a durative term expressing something that lasts its allotted time. See K. L. Moore, Will the Earth Last Forever?.
     5 The masculine noun anav is descriptive of the humble and gentle (Psa. 10:12, 17; 25:9; 34:2; 69:32), the afflicted and oppressed (Psa. 22:26; 147:6; 149:4; Isa. 11:4; 29:19; 53:4; 61:1), those who seek the Lord, uphold his justice, seek righteousness, and seek humility (Zeph. 2:3).
     6 Except for the infinitive construct in v. 34, the future form of this verb is repeatedly employed (vv. 9, 11, 22, 29), although verbal tense in Hebrew, unlike modern languages, refers more particularly to action than time. The Hebrew future tense expresses what is unfinished, whether future or present, something anticipated or continued at any point of time. See William Wilson, Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies (McLean, VA: Macdonald, n.d. [rev. ed., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1990]): i-ii.
     7 Elmer A. Leslie, The Psalms: Translated and Interpreted in the Light of Hebrew Life and Worship (Nashville; NY: Abingdon, 1949): 412. Samuel L. Terrien posits a 6th-century date for Psalm 37, from late-exilic or early-postexilic times (The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003]: 322). Whether or not a specific time period can be determined, the psalms reflect “the spiritual insight and religious heritage of a small number of ancient Israelites ...” (David Firth and Philip S. Johnston, eds., Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005]: 17).
     8 When and by whom the collection of canonical psalms was compiled is unknown, though it is not outside the range of plausibility that the titles were appended by the original authors themselves. See Franz Delitzsch, “Biblical Commentary on the Psalms,” Vol. 1, in Biblical Commentary on the OT by C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968): 23. Prefixing authorial titles to songs was an ancient practice among the Hebrews (Deut. 31:30; Isa. 38:9; Hab. 3:1; cp. Ex. 15:1, 21; Num. 24:3; Judg. 5:1), inclusive of David (2 Sam. 1:17-18; 22:1; 23:1; cp. Psa. 72:20). Moreover, Davidic authorship of selected psalms is confirmed in the NT (Matt. 22:45; Mark 12:36-37; Luke 20:42-44; Acts 1:16, 20; 2:25-28, 34-35; 4:25-26; [cf. 13:33, 35]; Rom. 4:6-8; 11:9-10; Heb. 4:7); viz. Psalms 2, 16, 32, 69, 95, 110. 

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Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Lost in Translation: A Closer Look at the NT Greek Term PHRONÉŌ

In Paul’s brief letter to his dear friends at Philippi, no fewer than ten times a form of the Greek verbal phronéō occurs, its highest concentration in the New Testament. Indicative of an interconnecting theme, the expression appears once in the first chapter and at least three times each in the remaining chapters.1

The central message of Philippians is bracketed between the apostle’s use of the term to describe himself toward his readers (1:7) and his readers toward him (4:10), with multiple applications in between. It is particularly exemplified in the Lord Jesus Christ (2:5). The problem is, there is no single word in the English language with which it exactly corresponds or that captures the full sense of the Koinē Greek. Neither is there consistency in any standard Bible translation in how the term is rendered in English. 

The fundamental idea of the phronéō word group is “a pattern of judgment that involves thinking, feeling, and acting.”2 It describes “a state of mind, an inward disposition. It signifies sympathetic interests and concern, reflecting the action of the ‘heart’ as well as the ‘head’.”

The purpose of this study is to offer a more descriptive and consistent translational alternative, thereby highlighting a thematic connectivity of the word’s usage throughout Philippians and revealing an emphasis otherwise lost in translation. Our aim is not ease of reading or proficiency of English grammar, but to contextually reflect the apostle’s own wording as closely as the translation process will allow.

Philippians 1:7

Paul expresses heartfelt gratitude in the letter’s opening thanksgiving and prayer (1:3-11). According to the NKJV, verse 7 reads, just as it is right for me to think this of you all …”, compared to the ESV“It is right for me to feel this way about you all …4 The challenge is finding an English equivalent for the present infinitive phroneîn. While expressing something current and ongoing, the word “think” misses the emotional aspect, the word “feel” leaves out the cognitive component, and neither conveys the behavioral overtones. 

Having acknowledged his thankfulness for and confidence in the saints at Philippi, the apostle continues: “Accordingly,5 it is right for me to be manifesting this caring disposition concerning you all, because I have you in [my] heart, in both my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel; you are all partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all in deep-seated affection of Christ Jesus” (1:7-8). This translation is an attempt to capture the thinking-feeling-doing nuances of phroneîn in both its immediate and remote contexts.

Paul has thus laid the groundwork for the rest of his message to these beloved brethren. His threefold repetition of “all” [pás], an adjective occurring frequently throughout the letter, indicates his keen interest in and close relationship with the Christian community as a whole, as well as each member individually.6 It also reflects how much church unity is on his mind, a nagging concern hard to account for in this otherwise joyous letter unless he is sensing actual or threatened disharmony (cf1:27; 2:1-18; 3:15-17; 4:1-3).7

By employing the term “heart” [kardía], figuratively representing a person’s physical, mental, and spiritual core, Paul lets his readers know they reside in the very center of his being. As biblical usage of “heart” involves the cognitive (Rom. 10:6, 8-10),8 the emotional (Rom. 9:2; 2 Cor. 2:4),9 and the impetus of action (Rom. 6:17; Eph. 6:6; Philem. 20),10 this wording in some measure reiterates the essential concept of the preceding phroneîn.

Seeming to struggle to communicate his point strongly enough, Paul then incorporates the noun splágchnois (dative plural of splágchnon) in describing the derivation of his intense yearning. Occurring again at 2:1, the word literally refers to the internal organs, metaphorically descriptive of deep-seated or even gut-wrenching emotions. The apostle’s longing for “all” these believers is “in deep-seated affections of Christ Jesus” (admittedly a less-than-adequate translation). From here Paul goes on to speak of the “provision of the spirit [pneûma] of Jesus Christ” (v. 19), whose caring disposition ought to be emulated, expressed once again with the verbal phronéō (2:5).

Philippians 2:2

In the second verse of the second chapter, Paul employs both the verb form and the participial form of phronéōserving as bookends of his plea for unity. Most English translators choose the term “mind” in both instances, while others submit a combination of “mind … purpose” (NASB, NET), “thinking … purpose” (CSB), or “attitude … mind” (ISV). But these renderings restrict the wider breadth of the word’s connotations. 

To more fully convey the essence of what Paul is saying, we propose the following translation: “Therefore if any encouragement in Christ, if any incentive11 of love, if any fellowship of spirit, if any deep-seated affections and compassions, fulfill my joy, so that you may be manifesting the same caring disposition, having the same love, united in soul, manifesting the one caring disposition” (Phil. 2:1-2; cp. Rom. 12:16; 15:5; 2 Cor. 13:11; Gal. 5:10).

While Paul develops this further in the verses that follow, note that koinōnía – “participation” (ESV), “fellowship” (ASV, KJV), “common sharing” (NIV) – involves much more than simply engaging in the same activities. It describes the close relationship (of mind, heart, purpose; partnership) Christians have with God (1 John 1:3b, 6; cf. 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 13:14) and consequently with one another (1 John 1:3a, 7; cf. Gal. 2:9). Only the former makes the latter possible.

When the apostle speaks of koinōnía pneúmatos (“fellowship of spirit”), the question is whether God’s “Spirit” (the majority opinion) or the believers’ unified “spirit” is in view. In the immediate context, this seems to be a reaffirmation of 1:27b, “that you are standing firm in one spirit [pneûma], with one soul [psuchē], striving together for the faith of the gospel” (cf. 1:5). Paul then affirms: “Do nothing according to self-ambition or according to empty pride, but with humility considering one another above self, each regarding not the things of self, but each also the things of others” (2:3-4).

Philippians 2:5

As the appeal continues, the verb phronéō occurs again in verse 5, with English translators using words like “mind” (ASV, ESV, N/KJV, N/RSV), “mindset” (NIV), and “attitude” (CSB, ISV, NASB, NET). Serving as an introductory preface to the verses that follow, we recommend the following translation: “Be manifesting this caring disposition among you, which [is] also in Christ Jesus.”12

The sentence itself is somewhat enigmatic. The ESV omits the conjunction kaì (“also”) and adds “is yours” (not in the original text), interpreting the prepositional phrase “in Christ Jesus” as the spiritual realm in which the collectivity of believers abides (cf. RSV). However, it seems more likely that the contrasting parallel of the preceding prepositional phrase “among you” makes “in Christ Jesus” an allusion to the attitudinal, cognitive, emotional, action-prompting temperament that Christ Jesus possesses and exhibits.13 Accordingly, “the community created by the incarnate and enthroned Lord must share his spirit, and be controlled by the pattern of self-effacement and humility which his incarnation and cross supremely display.”14

Philippians 3:15

A form of the verb next appears twice at 3:15, typically rendered in both cases “think” (CSB, ISV, ESV), “have … attitude” (NASB), or “be … minded” (ASV, KJV, RSV), while sometimes varied: “mind … think” (NKJV, NRSV), or “view … think” (NET, NIV). Alternatively, in keeping with previous usage, we submit the following: “Therefore as many as are mature should be manifesting this caring disposition, and if [in] anything you are manifesting a [cognitive-emotional-behavioral] disposition differently, even this God will reveal to you.” 

While the statement’s initial employment of the verb reaffirms the sense of its recurring application thus far in the letter, the second occurrence introduces for the first time an apparent negative connotation (cp. 1 Cor. 13:11) that is fleshed out more a few verses later. Contextually there is the possibility that some of these readers have been influenced by judaizing thinking, characterized by confidence in the flesh, misdirected satisfaction with past achievements, and lacking spiritual maturity (vv. 1-14). 

When Paul says, “even this God will reveal to you [plural],” he does not elaborate on the means through which this is to be accomplished among the mid-1st-century Philippians (cf. 2:13), whether through local or visiting prophets or evangelists (2:19-23), the apostle’s continued instruction (1:24-26; 2:24), this very letter (3:1) or other inspired writings, and/or the examples of those adhering to divine directives (1:1c; 3:15a, 17). The mature in Christ seem to have little difficulty understanding and obeying the Lord’s will (v. 16).

Philippians 3:16

There is textual variation at v. 16. Many Greek manuscripts include a form of the verbal phronéō, and others do not. The ESV, primarily based on the UBS5/NA28 standard Greek text, renders v. 16, “Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (cf. also ISV, NIV, N/RSV). The Byzantine Majority Text includes the added phrase kanóni, tò autò phroneîn. The passage reads in the NKJV, “Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind” (cf. also KJV, MEV, WBT, WEB, YLT).15

The noun kanōn (“rule,” “standard,” “sphere,” included here in the ASV, NASB, NET) is a Pauline term (2 Cor. 10:13, 15, 16; Gal. 6:16), while the present infinitive phroneîn has already been used in the Philippians correspondence at 1:7 and again at 4:2 and 10a. The point of the phrase in question simply reiterates what is affirmed at 2:1-5 and 3:15a: “be manifesting the same caring disposition.” Therefore, whether these words were part of the original text of 3:16 or not, nothing new or different is gained or lost either way.

Philippians 3:19

Having alluded to a negative sense of phronéō in v. 15b, Paul more fully develops his concern in vv. 18-19. He and other mature Christians, following the pattern of Jesus, are themselves examples worthy of imitating (v. 17).16 Sadly, many do not think and behave as they should (cf. 2:3a, 21). In addition to the apostle’s adversaries (1:15-18) and the circumcisionists (3:2), another threat to the joy and spiritual health of these brethren is a group on the opposite extreme of the judaizers, viz. certain ones advocating lawless living. Having placed special emphasis on Christ’s humbling “death on a cross” (2:8), Paul alludes to “many” who are “enemies of Christ’s cross” (3:18; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-23; Heb. 6:6; 10:29). Although not specifically identified, the warning’s address to “you” excludes these evildoers from being part of the local church. 

Three characteristics are identified. Their priority (“god”) is their inner desires, indulging the flesh, submitting to sensual appetites (cf. Rom. 16:18; 1 Cor. 6:13; Jude 11). They glory in their shame, taking pride in disgraceful conduct (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-2; Eph. 5:12). The third description employs the verbal phronéō: “the [ones] manifesting a [cognitive-emotional-behavioral] disposition [set on] earthly things.”17 These worldly-focused pleasure seekers are the opposite of the spiritually-committed, heavenly-directed citizens noted in the verses that follow and the mature ones of the preceding verses (cp. 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:3-4)Within the same general timeframe, Paul has also used the verbal phronéō to highlight the thinking, feeling, acting pursuit of “the things above, not the things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).

Philippians 4:2

A couple of members of the Christian community at Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, were apparently in conflict with one another. Each one Paul entreats, using the present infinitive phroneîn, to seek reconciliation and unity. English translators typically employ words like “mind” (ASV, NIV, N/KJV, NRSV), “attitude” (ISV), “agree” (CSB, ESV, NET, RSV), or “live in harmony” (NASB). Based on what Paul has already written in the letter (esp. 1:27–2:5), particularly in regard to modeling Christ (2:5), each woman is being asked to demonstrate humility by putting the interests of others before self (2:3-4). Our proposed translation of 4:2 is as follows: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche, manifest the same caring disposition in the Lord” (cp. 1:7; 2:2, 5; 3:15a, 16?; 4:10).

Philippians 4:10

As Paul brings this very personal and passionate letter to a close, he prefaces his thanks for ongoing prayerful and financial support with a dual use of phronéō terminology: “but I greatly rejoiced in the Lord, that now at last you revived the manifestation of a caring disposition for me, wherein which also you have manifested a caring disposition, but you have lacked opportunity” (4:10).18 Paul is ending his letter by describing how the Philippians have thought, felt, and acted toward him, just as he opened the letter with a description of how he thinks, feels, and acts toward them (1:7).

Seeing that the verbal phronéō recurs so often throughout Paul’s letter to the Philippians, more than in any of his other extant writings, emphasis by way of repetition seems to be intentional. We have attempted to call attention to this thematic connection by offering a fuller and more consistent translation. In so doing we have uncovered a thinking-feeling-doing pattern with respect to Paul toward his brethren (1:7), the brethren toward one another (2:2), the ultimate example of Christ Jesus (2:5), the comparable example of the spiritually mature (3:15a) and potential deficiency of others (3:15b), the contrasting carnal extreme (3:19), practical application to a specific case (4:2), and finally the brethren toward Paul (4:10). At 3:16 there may be a reaffirmation of 2:2 and 3:15a, albeit with textual variation.

Although “joy” has historically been understood as the principal theme of Philippians,19 it is the phronéō motif (“manifesting a cognitive-emotional-behavioral disposition”) that makes true joy possible and gives it meaning as an internal conviction not particularly dependent on external circumstances. This, in turn, enables both Paul (1:18; 2:17; 4:10) and fellow believers (2:18, 28; 3:1; 4:4) to “rejoice in the Lord always …”

Every aspect of a Christian’s being can be succinctly summed up with the multifaceted expression phronéō. It is observable and influential (Acts 28:22). As a driving propensity, it governs our judgments, emotions, behavior, and everyday lives. It is how we think, feel, and act toward one another. It characterizes who Jesus is and who we ought to be.

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Textual variation notwithstanding: Phil. 1:7; 2:2[x2], 5; 3:15[x2], 16(?), 19; 4:2, 10[x2]. Elsewhere in Paul, nine times in Romans (8:5; 11:20; 12:3[x2], 16[x2]; 14:6[x2]; 15:5) and only once each in 1 Corinthians (13:11), 2 Corinthians (13:11), Galatians (5:10), and Colossians (3:2). Outside of Paul, the word occurs in Matt. 16:23; Mark 8:33; and Acts 28:22.
     2 James W. Thompson and Bruce W. Longenecker, Philippians and Philemon (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016): 30.
     3 I.-Jin Loh and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Stuttgart: UBS, 1977): 54. The corresponding noun phrēn refers to the diaphragm or inward parts surrounding the heart; metaphorically the inner self that regulates external behavior.
     4 Emphasis added in italics (KLM). The word “feel” occurs in the ESV, NASB, NIV, TLB, RSV; “think” in the CSB, ISV, NET, N/KJV, NRSV, WEB; “minded” in the ASV. Hereafter, unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation, with added words [in square brackets]. 
     5 The adverb kathós (“as, in the manner that”) is left untranslated in some versions (e.g. ESV, NIV, N/RSV), but it indicates that the thanksgiving does not end at v. 6 and continues on into vv. 7-8.
     6 Jac. J. MüllerThe Epistle of Paul to the Philippians NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955): 34. See K. L. Moore, The Macedonians Had Names.
     7 Patrick E. Harrell, The Letter of Paul to the Philippians (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1984): 45.
     8 This would include volition as well (1 Cor. 7:37; 2 Cor. 4:1, 16; Gal. 6:9; Eph. 3:13). See also 1 Cor. 14:25; 2 Cor. 9:7; cf. Psa. 4:4; 7:10; 10:6, 11, 13; 14:1; 15:2; 16:7; 19:14; 27:8; 37:31; 40:8; 49:3; 64:6; 66:18; 77:6; 90:12; 119:11, 112; Prov. 2:2, 10; 3:3; 4:4; 8:5; 10:8; 11:29; 14:33; 15:14, 28; 16:1, 9, 21, 23; 18:15; 19:21; 20:5; 22:17; 23:7, 12, 19; Eccl. 1:13; Matt. 24:48; Acts 5:4; 8:22; 11:23; Heb. 4:12; 13:9.
     9 See also Psa. 4:7; 13:2; 16:9; 19:8; 25:17; 28:7; 33:21; 38:8; 39:3; 51:17; 55:4; 61:2; 73:21; 104:15; 119:111, 161; 143:4; Prov. 12:25; 14:13; 15:13, 15, 30; 17:22; 27:9, 11; Acts 2:26, 46; 7:54; 21:13.
     10 See also Psa. 9:1; 13:5; 86:12; 111:1; 119:2, 7, 10, 34, 58, 69, 145; 138:1; Prov. 3:1; 4:23; Matt. 12:34-35; 15:18-19; 18:35; Heb. 10:22.
     11 The noun paramúthion is usually rendered “comfort” (ESV, ISV, NIV, NET, NLT) or “consolation” (ASV, CSB, NASB, N/KJV, NRSV), but the idea of “incentive” (RSV) or “stimulus” (Müller 73) may be in view here, as J. B. Lightfoot suggests, “incentive, encouragement …. a motive of persuasion or dissuasion” (Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians [London: Macmillan, 1873]: 107).
     12 The Byzantine Majority Text has the passive singular phroneísthō, and the N/KJV supplies “was” for the missing verb (cf. also ASV, ISV, NASB). However, manuscript evidence more strongly supports the present active plural imperative phroneîte. See R. C. H. Lenski,The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1937): 770. 
     13 See CSB, ISV, N/ASV, NET, NIV, N/KJV, NRSV.
     14 Ralph P. Martin, Philippians TNTC (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1987): 11:104.
     15 See Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont, The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform (Southborough, MA: Chilton, 2005): 442; contra Bruce M. Metzger, who considers the shorter reading to be original and the rest a gloss (A Textual Commentary on the Greek NT 2nd ed. [Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994]: 548-49).
     16 Paul has thus far in the letter used the examples of Jesus Christ (2:5-11), himself (2:17-18), Timothy (2:19-24), and Epaphroditus (2:25-30) to encourage and challenge the Philippians. He now calls upon his readers to imitate him (3:17; cf. 4:9), which is appropriate in so far as he is imitating Christ (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Gal. 4:12; 1 Tim. 1:16; cf. Phil. 1:21; Gal. 2:20; 4:14). Other faithful disciples are also worthy examples to follow (1 Thess. 1:7; 2:1-12; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7).
     17 English versions typically use “mind” or “minds” in this verse (ASV, ESV, ISV, NASB, NIV, N/KJV, N/RSV); also “think about” (NET) and “focused” (CSB). On the negative sense, see also Rom. 11:20 and contrasting usage in Rom. 8:5a; 12:3a, 16b; cf. Matt. 16:23; Mark 8:33. 
     18 English versions have rendered both the infinitive and the verb in this verse using words like “thought” (ASV, WEB), “care” (N/KJV), or “concern” (ESV, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, N/RSV); also “care … concerned” (CSB).
     19 In the Philippians correspondence the noun chará (“joy”) appears five times (1:4, 25; 2:2, 29; 4:1), the verb chaírō (“rejoice”) nine times (1:18; 2:17, 18, 28; 3:1; 4:4, 10), the compound verb sugchaírō (“rejoice with”) twice (2:17, 18), and the cognate noun cháris (“grace”) three times (1:2, 7; 4:23). Joy, biblically understood as an internal conviction not dependent on external circumstances (cf. Heb. 10:34; 12:2; 13:17; Jas. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:6-9), has an inextricable link to divine grace.

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