Thursday, July 23, 2020

Who Gives Paul Strength?

Here is an interesting question whose answer depends upon a text critical and literary critical analysis of the Bible: What is the proper translation of Philippians 4:13?
1.  Living Bible Paraphrase: "For I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power."1
2.  King James: "I can do all things through Christ which strengthenth me."2
3.  New International Version: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
4.  Revised Standard Version: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me."
5.  My translation: "I can do all things in the one (masc.) who gives me strength."
In the first two translations Christ is specifically identified as the one who strengthens Paul. In the last three translations it is unclear who does the strengthening.

            The first problem to resolve is what did the author's original autograph of the text read? This is a problem in textual criticism. We have over 5000 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. Most of them are fragmentary and no two of these exemplars agree alike in all particulars. Text critics weigh the readings of the various manuscripts, discuss them, and then vote to determine what the author's original autograph most probably read. They will then print that reading in a critical Greek text. In Phil 4:13 they determined that the reading "in Christ" (Xristō) was a later addition to the text:

The Textus Receptus, following several of the later uncials [manuscripts with capital letters] and many minuscules [manuscripts with lowercase letters], adds Xristō ["in Christ"]. If the word had been present in the original text, there would have been no reason to omit it.3

If one decides that the text critics are correct and Christ is not identified as giving strength to Paul, the text becomes unclear. The second question to ask is: who then is Paul asking for strength, God or Jesus? In the immediate context (Phil 4:4-13) God is invoked three times (4:6, 7, 9), and the Lord (God or Jesus?) is invoked three times (4:4, 5, 10). The situation most similar to Phil 4:13 is 2 Cor 12:1-10 where Paul asks "the Lord" to remove his "thorn in the flesh: "Three times I implored the Lord (kurios) about this, that it should leave me." But exactly who Paul is addressing is unclear. If we read through the undisputed Pauline letters searching for appearances of the word "Lord" by itself, we discover that Paul uses the word "Lord" to refer specifically to God,4 at other times specifically to Jesus,5 and once to the master (kurios, lord) of an estate (Gal 4:1). With all other uses of "Lord" by itself it is unclear to whom the word refers.

Most of the usages of Lord to refer to God are within quotations from the Old Testament but the context makes it clear that Paul is referring to God in the passage. Where the word "Lord" refers to Jesus the context makes the situation perfectly clear.

            Who do you think Paul is referring to in Phil 4:13? Who is it that Paul thinks grants him strength? Based on Phil 4:6-7, 9, 19, my money would be on God. How do you see it?

            For my conservative brothers and sisters: this exercise reveals that the Bible is as much a human word as a divine word.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1The Living Bible is a paraphrase by Kenneth N. Taylor of the English of the American Standard Version of 1901.
2The King James Version of 1611 is based on the Textus Receptus ("received text"), an ancient Greek text established in the 16th century used mostly by Protestant Groups. Today most scholars use the current Nestle/Aland text, which appears in the 28th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece.
3Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; German and American Bible Societies, 2000). 550.
4God: Rom 9:29; 10:12-13, 16; 11:3, 34; 12:19; 14:11; 15:11; 1 Cor 1:31; 2:16; 3:20; 4:4; 10:26; 14:21; 2 Cor 6:17-18; 10:17-18;1 Thess 4:6; 5:2.
5Jesus: 1 Cor 2:8; 4:5; 6:14; 7:10; 9:1, 2, 5; 10:21-22; 11:26, 27; 2 Cor 3:16-18; 8:5; Gal 1:19; 1 Thess 1:6; 4:16-17.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thomas Paine and the Bible, Third Part

Readers of the Age of Reason should not assume that Paine is in step with all positions of modern critical scholarship. One way that he is out of step with the results of modern scholarship is his view of the canonical gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Judging by the current state of scholarship, Paine correctly understood that the gospels were anonymous and that their authors were not eye witnesses; that they contradicted one another in many ways both large and small; that they were written many years after the times they describe by persons he described as “half-Jews”16 (meaning, I gather, that they were from a mixed culture); that they were not written by apostles.17 He thought, however, that the canonical gospels were independent of one another,18 whereas the dominant position in modern scholarship postulates that a literary relationship exists between Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source drawing on another source no longer extant (Quelle, “source”) for material Matthew and Luke shared but does not exist in Mark. The dominant position on the Gospel of John is that John was written independent of the other three gospels.

            Paine, however, was not really interested in advancing the cause of critical scholarship of the Bible. He was primarily interested in the Bible only as a means of debunking Christianity as a religion of revelation, for Christians argued that the Bible was the word of God, God’s revelation to the world. Paine, on the other hand, argued that it is “fraudulent” to classify the Old and New Testaments as “being all revelation”:

The most detestable wickedness, the most horrible cruelties, and the greatest miseries, that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonorable belief against the character of the divinity, the most destructive to morality, and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist. It is better, far better, that we admitted, if it were possible, a thousand devils to roam at large, and to preach publicly the doctrine of devils, if there were any such, than that we permitted one such imposter and monster as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and the Bible prophets, to come with the pretended word of God in his mouth, and have credit among us. Whence arose all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Old Testament is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death and religious wars, that have laid Europe in blood and ashes; whence arose they, but from this impious thing called revealed religion, and this monstrous belief that God has spoken to man? The lies of the [Old Testament] have been the cause of the one, and the lies of the [New Testament the cause of ] the other.19

Nevertheless, Paine should probably be regarded as something like an “independent” scholar in the history of biblical scholarship. In contemporary language the term means that the individual so designated is not connected to an institution of higher learning, but has the requisite credentials and demonstrated learning to be included among the “guild” of scholars. In Paine’s case he would qualify as a scholar who demonstrated sufficient knowledge of the subject to be taken seriously by others in the field of the critical study of religion. “Layman” is an ecclesiastical term, meaning that that an individual is not ordained clergy, and hence would not be familiar with the professional knowledge of clerics. This term is surely not appropriate for Paine because of his demonstrated hostility against both the church and members of the clergy. As a deist, he would not want to be associated in any way with traditional Christianity.

Although his writing does not reflect the discipline of a mind academically trained, his insights were original for his day. He deserves to be included among the vanguard of modern critical scholarship and required reading for theological seminaries.

Paine deserves the last word. To close this essay, here is a challenging comment from Thomas Paine completely dismissing the entire theological enterprise as practiced in a Christian context, which relies on the Bible for its data:

The study of theology as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and admits of no conclusion. Not anything can be studied as a science without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is not the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.20

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

16Paine Collection, 217, 219.
17Paine Collection, 210-16.
18Paine Collection, 212, 216.
19Paine Collection, 222.
20Paine Collection, 225.