Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Problems with Participles

While living here in Indianapolis, I have been going to a Bible study on Hebrews. This week we will be discussing chapter six. In my reading, I was reminded again how decisions about grammar can impact meaning. Hebrews 6:4-6 is a single sentence with seven participles (eight if you count the implied one) that pose some interesting problems that significantly impact the meaning of the sentence. This highly debated New Testament sentence provides a good example of how sometimes, it is the decisions about grammar that impact translation and interpretation the most. My goal here is not to solve these problems, but to illustrate the need to make well thought out decisions in our study of New Testament grammar.

The first issue is the issue of the main verb. The primary verb is implied. The actual sentence has verbal ideas only from participles and one infinitive. The infinitive is adverbial and completes the idea of the main verb. The main verb is implied and, in my view, the verb “to be” makes the most sense. So, the primary phrase is 

[εστιν] αδυνατον ανακαινιζειν παλιν εις μετανοιαν 

The phase could be translated something like, “It is impossible to renew again to the point of repentance…”. What does εις μετανοιαν/to repentance mean? That is for a different discussion. What is important in this discussion is that we have our primary clause. In the passage it is interesting that five participles separate the “it is impossible” and “to renew again…”, but that is also a discussion for another time. There are five participial phrases that form the direct object of the infinitive ανακαινιζειν. The first participle is clearly a substantive – τους απαξ φωτισθεντας, “those who were once enlightened”. The article and the participle are both masculine, plural, accusative and the next four participles do not have articles. However, I see them as all substantives governed by the same article as the first. Each participle is also masculine, plural, accusative. Each participle is also aorist – matching the first, and each participial phrase is separated by a conjunction (τε or και). The single article governing a list of participles connected by conjunctions forms a tight block of text. Since each of these participles are aorist, they have an antecedent verbal idea. So, the author is saying something like this, 

“For, it is impossible to renew again to repentance the one who was once enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift and became a participant in the Holy Spirit and tasted the good word of God and the power of the age to come and fallen away…”. 

Wallace suggests that this last participle (παραπεσοντας fallen away) could be a conditional and translated “…if they fall away.” That is possible, but since it is in the sequence of participles in aorist tense, separated by conjunctions, it is also probably also governed by the same article as the others and hence a substantive. In other words, the author uses six attributes (as opposed to five plus one conditional) to describe the person about whom it is impossible to restore to repentance.

One of the key questions is, “Who is the author talking about”. It is difficult to imagine a clearer description of a believer. It is harder still to imagine this list of attributes being used to describe one who only pretends to believe. But, I’ll leave that discussion for others.

Next is the hard part. We have two adverbial present tense participles - ανασταυρουντας εαυτοι τον υιον του θεου και παραδειγματιζοντας. The present tense forms a strong contrast to the previous aorist tense participles and match the present tense of the infinitive. That means that they are connected with the meaning of the main verb. The contrast of tenses was probably not an accident and brings out the imperfective aspect of the participles. The question is, are they temporal or causal. The decision made here has a significant impact on the interpretation. 

If we understand them as temporal, we can translate them, “…while they are crucifying the Son of God to themselves and publicly putting him to shame.” The idea is that while they continue this action, they cannot be restored. Implied is the hope that if the offenders change their actions (stop crucifying Him to themselves and putting Him to open shame), then restoration is possible. The temporal option give hope and doesn’t demand the loss of salvation.

In contrast, if we understand them as causal, the picture is much bleaker. As causals they could be translated, “…because they are crucifying the Son of God to themselves and publicly putting Him to open shame.” The implication here is that their state is a done deal and they cannot be restored – there is no hope. It is even stronger if we take the present aorist as a gnomic – “…because they crucify the Son of God to themselves and publicly put Him to shame.” the causal option leaves no hope and demands either the loss of salvation or that the author is describing people who only gave the appearance of being saved.

So, which is correct? or better said, which did the author have in mind? Good question and beyond the scope of this post. I just wanted to highlight the connection between decisions about grammar and interpretation. I will leave the hard decisions to others.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Childbearing: Reflections on I Timothy 2:15

A former student sent me a question.  He asked, “How do you understand “the childbearing” in I Timothy 2:15”?  Short answer: “With difficulty”.  Long answer:  This is a complicated one, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with the four or five of you who read this.

In order to address this question, I think that at a minimum we need to address the immediate context, the range of word meanings, Paul’s understanding of salvation, the OT reference and finally Paul’s audience.

The immediate context is not without difficulties but in general is clear.  Paul is defining gender roles and proper behavior when believers gather together.  He is writing to Timothy to assist him (Timothy) in his task of correcting certain doctrinal problems in Ephesus.  This tells us a few of things.  First, this applies to gatherings of believers.  He is talking to and about men and women who follow Christ as their savior.  Second, the reference to women is in the context of Christian gatherings, not specifically to roles of wives and mothers.  Third, this is to correct some issue or issues in the gatherings in Ephesus. 

There are a couple of difficult words here.  The first is the word for salvation.  It can mean spiritual salvation or deliverance from an immediate danger or problem.  If Paul means deliverance from danger, then there should be some reference to the problem.  This seems to be absent.  Perhaps we can say that the problem is the strife in the community meetings, but it is difficult to see how childbearing would deliver women from that.  Thus, by the process of elimination, I will assume that Paul has spiritual salvation in mind.

The second difficult word is the word for childbearing.  This is the only New Testament usage in the noun form, so we don’t have much help from New Testament authors.  It is singular and part of a prepositional phrase.  The preposition phrase denotes “means”.  It could be rendered something like “by means of childbirth”.  In this case the singular takes on a collective meaning.  Or it could be rendered something like, “by means of the childbirth”.  The definite article is present and this would preserve the singular number of the noun, but it changes the meaning to refer to a known specific birth. 

Whatever the meaning, the grammar of the prepositional phrase (δια της τεκνογονιας) tells us that this is the means of the salvation.  The tense and voice of the verb, σωθησεται - future passive, tell us that the subject, “woman”, is not the active agent in her salvation.  The active agent comes from the prepositional phrase.  So, whatever we conclude, the woman must be passive in her salvation and the noun of the preposition phrase must be the active agent.

Even though the noun in the prepositional phrase δια της τεκνογονιας means something like “childbearing”, I think it is safe to say that Paul does not mean that women are eternally saved through giving birth to children.  That would present some significant theological difficulties.  First and foremost, it would present a means of salvation other than by grace through faith.  It would also present a separate means of salvation for men and women.  Further, it would seem to violate what Stott calls the “principle of harmony” - that the Bible is word of God and thus does not contradict itself.  It would seem to be inconsistent with the way Paul interacts with women like Priscilla, Lydia, Euodia and Syntyche. There is no mention in any of his interaction with these women about salvation through having children.  We also come up against the problem of single women.  If women are saved through giving birth, what of those who are not married?  Should they have sex outside of marriage, so they can have children and be saved?  In Paul’s words, “May it never be!”.  If he doesn’t mean that women are saved by having children, then what does he mean?

The OT reference may provide some further insight.  In the context of I Timothy, verse 2:15 is a contrast to a historical argument from Genesis 3.  Paul makes the point that in the garden of Eden the woman was deceived, and it is implied that paradise was thus lost.  Then, in 2:15 Paul says that she will be saved δια της τεκνογονιας.  The parallel to the Genesis story seems pretty obvious to me.  In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve sin, God pronounces the curse and then immediately, in Genesis 3:15, pronounces the hope of future salvation through the descendent of the woman who will crush the head of the snake.  As Paul writes, this flow of logic would be fresh in his mind.  In I Timothy 2:15, he simply finishes the thought of Genesis 3 in his modern terms.

If this is the case, then a translation something like, “but she will be saved by means of the birth [of the child]…” fits very nicely.  I admit that it is not the most natural meaning at first glance, but when we consider Paul’s audience, it seems to me very probable.  This is late in Paul’s ministry.  Timothy has been his disciple for some time and has grown to the point where Paul trusts him to correct false doctrine in Ephesus.  He and Paul have a deep history together.  With this in mind, it is not difficult to see that in a personal letter, it would not be unreasonable for Paul to expect Timothy to understand an indirect, yet poetic, reference to salvation through Christ.  This “δια της τεκνογονιας” could even be language the that Paul and Timothy had used together.

Next, we must say a few words about the phrase, “if they continue in faith, love and holiness”.  As evangelicals, we are very sensitive to anything that may indicate salvation by works.  So how are we to understand this conditional statement.  Put more formally, this is a third-class condition, which broadly means that the author is expressing uncertain but likely fulfillment.  It is like a proverb.  If you act this way, that will most likely be the result.  Paul presents this kind of formula:

If they (women) continue in faith, love and holiness, then they will be saved δια της τεκνογονιας.

I think this is a reference to what Carson calls, “the persevering quality of saving faith” or the like.  In other words, faith that saves is faith that perseveres.  If we mix in the third-class condition, Paul is saying that most likely their faith will persevere.  It is an encouragement.  It is probably an over-translation, but you could almost say, “since they will continue…”

Finally, the phrase, “with a sound mind” is probably a reference to Paul’s argument in 2:9-12.  There he describes behavior that results for sound thinking.

So, what did Paul mean by σωθησεται δια της τεκνογονιας?  A possible over-translation to make the point to our ears today could go something like this:

"But, she (the woman) will be saved by means of that specific birth of the child referenced in Genesis (i.e. Jesus and implied: just like all mankind), since they will continue in faith and love and holiness with sound minds (in line with what I was talking about earlier).”

Hope this is helpful, my friend.