Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Bible Study Series: Philippians 1:1-11
I will typically include only one translation of the given passage for each study, but in this case, to show some of the main differences that are found in this letter, I am going to show both the NABRE and RSV-CE for this instance.
Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers: 2 grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Thanksgiving.3 I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, 4 praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, 5 because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right that I should think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, you who are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, 10 to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God (NABRE).
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philip'pi, with the bishops and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (RSV-CE).
As with many of his letters, minus Galatians, Paul begins Philippians with a greeting and prayer of thanksgiving.
Let's take a look at a few of the verses:
We see here a standard opening of Paul, though with a few twists. First off, my namesake, Timothy, is mentioned at the beginning, although it is clear that Paul is the primary writer of this letter with his use of "I" throughout. Timothy joined Paul, after Paul's parting-of-ways with Barnabas, just before the mission to Philippi. You can read about this at the beginning of Acts 16.
Of note, verse one proves to be interesting because it shows four significant differences between the NABRE and RSV. In the beginning of verse one, the NABRE goes with "slaves" instead of the RSV's "servants", while in the second half of that verse the NABRE goes with "holy ones", "overseers" and "ministers", instead of the RSV's "saints", "bishops", and "deacons". In the first case, concerning the Greek word doulos, I actually prefer the NABRE's decision to go with "slave". As the NABRE note in Romans 1:1 points out: "Paul applies the term slave to himself in order to express his undivided allegiance to the Lord of the church, the Master of all, including slaves and masters. "No one can serve (i.e., be a slave to) two masters," said Jesus (Mt. 6:24). It is this aspect of the slave-master relationship rather than its degrading implications that Paul emphasises when he discusses Christian commitment." However, I can certainly understand, nowadays, why some translators go with 'servant".
The second half of the verse I tend to prefer the all of RSV's rendering. The Greek term hagios can be either options, and I certainly understand the translators of the NABRE not wanting to confuse readers in regards to canonized saints, but historically it has always been rendered as "saints". Also, are we not called to strive for sainthood while here on earth? I think a footnote would have been sufficient to explain this.
As for the final two differences in verse one, the key is how one translates episkopos and diakonoi. The RSV is consistant, particularly with episkopos in translating it as "bishops". While in this one instance, the NABRE decided to go with "overseers" because, as the NABRE note says:
"Overseers: the Greek term episkopos literally means “one who oversees” or “one who supervises,” but since the second century it has come to designate the “bishop,” the official who heads a local church. In New Testament times this office had not yet developed into the form that it later assumed, though it seems to be well on the way to such development in the Pastorals; see 1 Tm 3:2 and Ti 1:7, where it is translated bishop. At Philippi, however (and at Ephesus, according to Acts 20:28), there was more than one episkopos, and the precise function of these officials is uncertain. In order to distinguish this office from the later stages into which it developed, the term is here translated as overseers.
While it seems likely that the development of the office of bishop was still in its infancy, a point that is made in both the Navarre and ICSBNT as well, is it not better to be consistent in translating it as either "bishops" or "overseers" throughout? In any case, we do see that, even before the writing of the Pastoral Letters, the local churches have some kind of hierarchical structure (Navarre 499). The same thing goes for the office of deacon, although there are some more complicated issues regarding diakonoi which may be a bit too much to get into at this point.
Finally, Paul concludes, in verse 2, with "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." We see here, not only a pretty standard Pauline greeting, but more importantly an important Christological statement. Grace and peace do not come simply from the Father, but also the Lord Jesus Christ, second Person of the Blessed Trinity. This will make more sense, once we look at the great Christ-hymn of 2:6-11.
In my introduction to this series, I mentioned that of all Paul's letters, this one probably shows the most joy and affection. As the Navarre Compact New Testament confirms, these opening verses show "more vividly than any other, St. Paul's affection and appreciation for the Christians of those communities he founded (Navarre 499)." In many ways, this could be described as an epistle of joy. In verses 3-11 we find that Paul is joyful, thankful, holding in his heart, and yearning with affection for the Philippian church. (Could this be the anti-Galatians epistle?) It should be remembered that Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned, so you can imagine how uplifting it would be for him to be able to communicate with this thriving, yet young, Philippian church which he founded in Christ Jesus.
Yet, even with this sense of joy, there is an underlying sense of urgency, particularly when Paul mentions "the Day of Jesus Christ" in verses 6 and 10. While Paul recognizes the sanctity of the Philippian church, he also knows that they need to continue to grow spiritually. This is most clear in verses 9-10: "And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ." Here, and in verse 6, Paul reminds them to cooperate with the graces that God is giving them, so that they will attain salvation. Here, we see echoes of what Paul will later say in 2:12-13, where he urges the Philippians to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
Next time, we will look at chapter 1, verses 12-26.