Learned in a hospital room

I learned a few things during the hours in my father’s hospital room.  Below are a few thoughts, developed a little since then.
  1. The motion of time seems different when a loved one is in a hospital room.  Sometimes it stands still, and sometimes you have no idea where the time went and why you never picked up your book to read.
  2. One should never underestimate the relief potential of water or ice.  When you can’t have water because of pending or past medical procedures, even a moist, cool swab on the lips can be appreciated like a good meal, a neck rub, or a thousand dollars.
  3. It is possible for a large proportion of a hospital staff to be caring, knowledgeable, warmly “connected” health workers.  There might be one favorite nurse or aide.  In our case, 4, 6, or even 10 rise to the top, depending on who you talk to.  The bottom of the heap was far above average.  Exceptional courtesy and warmth of personality can also play important roles in patient care.
  4. I’m a bit squeamish when I think of some of the things medical people have to do, and I recoil even from thinking about the pain of certain procedures, but blood and fluids are things I can deal with.  We can usually manage and get through what we have to, and it certainly helps to share the experience with multiple family members.
  5. No matter how knowledgeable, devoted, and caring the healthcare professionals are, it is quite possible and even likely that communicational misfires will occur.  Some of these may affect a patient’s ultimate health or even threaten life on occasion.  I attest to the fact that, on multiple occasions, information bits were missed by pros in our experience.  It is inevitable, no matter how good the technology and intentions.  Several of us helped to connect dots on occasion, most often with the thanks and attention of the docs and nurses.  It is important to read reputable web pages and to be informed, but I think it is even more important to be attentive in the moment, in the room.
  6. Being on the night crew has its benefits, and I suspect that night medical workers also require some additional skills in order to do the things they do in relative isolation all through the wee hours.
  7. Medical machines are fancier and more numerous these days.  Various equipment and supplies¹ for patient care seem to ease things a bit.  Technology advances, but there is always, always great value in a simple hand-massage or a genuine smile.
  8. Hospitals seem to have eased up on some of the visitation restrictions of the past.  At least in some units, relatives are encouraged to be there, not shooed out when “visiting hours” are over.  Many stay nights in patients’ rooms.  At some point in the last couple of decades, hospitals must’ve begun to realize more that having your own loved ones nearby is important.
  9. Wires and tubes and machines and hums and beeps are less mysterious than they first seem.  I learned some abbreviations and initials, e.g., NG, IV IG, and NPO and could readily use medical and anatomical labels when it might help in communicating.  After a while, I started pushing the IV silence button, having learned to recognize a few of the flashing codes.  I played with the position of the tubes and felt free to take the oxygen lines out for a little while for Dad’s comfort or so we could read his lips when he spoke quietly.  When the nurses or aides saw what I was comfortable with, they would sometimes ask me to help with something.  Partnership and teamwork were and are to be valued.
  10. Compassion tends to surface in a hospital room.

¹ There are automatically inflating calf “socks,” minty swabs for oral care and comfort, increasingly automated IV machines, and more.  Packets of this and that must fill many supply closets.  Perhaps these items are not so much new as new to me.)  Sometimes, another prop pillow or extra blanket was just the thing.  I shudder to think of the expense to the insurance company, not to mention the fights that may be ahead because of duplicated procedures and things that some actuary might unknowingly deem medically unnecessary.  In the room, though, all these things were good and used intentionally.

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Caregivers and healthcare pros

Words cannot express my family’s gratitude for the physicians, nurses, aides, and technicians that cared for my dad during his month-long hospitalization.  Upon Dad’s hospital admission, his lifelong friend who was also his primary physician quickly called in another specialist —an oncologist (who was not dealing with any cancer in our case but).  This doc brought considerable investigative gifts to bear as he put the pieces of this “Dr. House” case together and consulted with others.  Both of these men are highly respected as skilled, caring doctors, and also as committed Christian men.  That devotion was shown in multiple ways, including their giving their cell phone numbers to us.  They asked for, and responded to, our updates, even a couple of weeks after my dad had been transferred to another hospital for state-of-the-art treatment.  The primary physician/friend later signed my dad’s death certificate and also spoke at the memorial ceremony.

A general surgeon did excellent emergency surgery in the abdomen, and Dad healed well from that.  A neurologist read the initial radiology report in great detail and spoke with another specialist who was in transition to another hospital.  Two cardiac specialists saw Dad on rounds and monitored the circulatory system (only a side issue in this case), carefully considering the possible impact of each step taken.  We have two relatives with high-level biochemistry/medical university teaching experience; it was a blessing to be able to rely on their advice.¹

I had my favorites among the nurses and CSAs (Clinical Support Associates/aides) at this first hospital, but I loved and appreciated qualities in each of them.  The charge nurse Jennifer, for instance, showed above-and-beyond, sincere concern for Dad as he was administered a sedative prior to the second attempt at a lengthy series of MRIs.  Tracy connected with both my mom and my dad, and she prayed for us, as several others did.  Alicia, serving as an aide but about to graduate with an R.N. degree, gave amazing relief to my dad with skilled tissue massage.  I cannot recall a single caregiver at this hospital who responded with anything other than attentive, helpful care and promises kept.  Sure, some were a little quicker or slightly more skilled than others, but every one was good. 

Some nurses and aides seemed to travel in pairs, working closely together.  Callie & Susan and Stephanie & Emily made for great teams in the daytime, and Jason & Robert at night.  All the nurses and aides regularly asked if we needed anything, and when asked for something (ice chips, pillow, a med check, or whatever), each one responded willingly.

Brad the radiology tech stayed 3-4 hours past his shift to give my dad the benefit of his personal skill, seeing him through the 2nd painful, anxiety-laden MRI.  I don’t think we’ll ever forget Kristy from dietary, who, upon hearing Dad tease Mom in a whisper, grinned and said if her husband said that, she’d get “butter in a sock.”  It was hard to imagine that sweet person putting a stick of butter in a sock and chasing her husband around, beating on him.  With a grin, Kristy said, “It doesn’t leave marks.”  I’ll bet she’d heard that country “solution” from her grandmother.  This was the kind of personality and warmth that existed in my dad’s room for most of the time he was hospitalized.  

When we transferred Dad to a 2nd hospital, I was only there for one evening since my sister arrived then.  I personally experienced one rather arrogant internist who proved to be nearly worthless in our case, except in that he eventually called in a specialist when he finally humbled himself and listened to a few things my sister said.  We had the distinct impression that a couple of key people, including this “lead,” really needed to have read the medical chart thoroughly first.  A neurologist seemed attentive, and a physical therapist or two helped Dad sit up one time and encouraged him, but the week+ in that hospital was essentially wasted time.

On the other hand, the hospital above was very fine.  Finally, a bed had become available at this university hospital, so Dad was transferred to yet a 3rd institution.  No caregiving duds existed in this bunch.  Skilled docs with strong communication gifts included a CCU/ICU attending that we liked very much.  Jackie, a day nurse, could be slightly businesslike and gruff but also took good care of dad and had a strong hug with Mom one evening, mentioning her prayer for us.  Randy, another day nurse, holds a special place in our hearts because of his years of experience and obvious expertise, but also because of his faith statements and appreciation of our hymn singing on Thanksgiving evening.  Randy told us, “Every day I work for God.”  He also said one morning, as my dad had turned a corner positively, “I usually take care of really sick people, and you don’t need me anymore.”

My favorite nurse was Kelsey.  Her perfect pacing, her wide-open attention, and her consistent, thorough care through the night provided reassurance.  Each task (e.g., turning/wedging, leg/foot treatments, and bed changes, which she did herself instead of relying on an aide; not to mention the IV monitoring and more medically crucial items) seemed perfectly executed.  It was Kelsey who by her ways and spirit gave Mom the peace of mind to leave Dad alone for the night for the first time.  Rebecca, another day nurse, talked openly with me about Dad’s worsening condition near the end; she was very caring and attentive, as well.

After Dad’s death, a dear lady that Dad worked with recently commented, “I will even miss getting him a bottle of water every day, and the gratitude he showed.  He was a gentleman.  Completely.”  In the hospital, too, Dad’s gratitude was shown in his whispers and eyes, and most caregivers got to experience that.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more adept at showing gratitude than my dad when he was a patient.  Although his voice was weak, no one mistook his genuine appreciation.

For all the aides, nurses, and doctors, we the family members now give thanks.  We had at many points hoped to return to the 1st hospital (at least) with Dad in a wheelchair, showing them the good news that he was recovering.  That was not to be.  Now, we give thanks for the Lord’s mercy in not allowing Dad’s earthly life to continue in a difficult, depressing, burdensome way.  We grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope.   While Dad’s memory will live for quite a while in those who knew and loved him, it is infinitely more important that his soul will live eternally with God.


¹ Our medical vocabularies quickly grew—perhaps too quickly for our own good, because the terms would sometimes fly over the hospital bed faster than we could take them in or jot down notes.

My father

After a complex set of illnesses and a period of hospitalized treatment by many expert physicians and nurses, Gerald Casey’s earthly frame was exhausted, but his spirit continued, even through his final hospitalization, in worshipful focus on his eternal Lord.  He died on November 28.

The son of Max and Ruth Casey, Gerald was born January 1, 1940, in Pangburn.  He is survived by his wife of almost 57 years, the former Bettye Ritchie; a brother, Lanny (Linette) Texas; three children, Brian (Karly) of Kansas; Laura (Bruce Finnie) of Pennsylvania; and Greta (Neil Floyd) of Washington; and seven grandchildren.

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The past five weeks have been rather intense—and intensely rewarding, as well.  I’ll surely have more to share on this blog about relationships, death, dying, hospital caregivers, and more.

Spot-on advice

Recently published interpretive advice from Dr. Suzanne Nicholson is golden.  I can’t resist extracting bits and phrases for those who may not click the link below.

“Words have different meanings in different contexts”

“looking at the text closely and seeing what is really there”

“not to read 2,000 years of Christian theology into the passage”

“How does the structure highlight the meaning?”

“how does a single passage reinforce the themes of the book?”

“don’t jump straight to application”

The entire post is brief.  Go ahead and read the whole thing.  It will take all of one minute.

Suzanne Nicholson (Malone University) on “What Makes a Good Biblical Scholar or Theologian?”

What? The Qur’an is like the Bible?

A new book aims to introduce the Qur’an from a historical-critical perspective.  I doubt anyone would argue with the first part—the principle of considering a book within a historical frame—but “critical” can set some folks off.  It might help to get over an initial barrier if we thought not about being critical but more along the lines of employing critique

In the publisher’s catalog listing for the new book I noticed a few chapter titles in particular:

4 Literary coherence and secondary revision:  The very idea of examining literary coherence is potentially bothersome to those who discount the human element in their sacred texts—and the suggestion of revision or even developmental phases in the production of said texts, potentially offensive.

6 Intertextuality:  The intertextuality notion deals with the relationship between/among different texts (potentially including non-sacred and chronologically distant ones), as well as others written for altogether different purposes.  Intertextual relationships include both direct and indirect quotations, references, and less explicit “echoes.”

Part Three:  The idea of a “diachronic survey” indicates that it examines through time, taking development into consideration, as opposed to gauging things based on a “snapshot” at one point in time.  I note sub-references to both the “Meccan surahs” and the “Medinan surahs.”  I would have to look up what a surah is, but I have a passing acquaintance with the idea that Muhummad’s ideologies shifted from his early years in Mecca to his later ones in Medina.  See the last part of this post for one key change.

The quotation below is from Larry Hurtado, whose blog was the source for my information.  This is worth sharing on its own merits—for the sake of Christians who care, or at least say they care, about the biblical text.

“No doubt, the book will receive objections from Muslims who imagine the Qur’an to be a miracle, not a historical phenomenon, just as fundamentalist Christians demur from a critical approach to biblical texts.  But, as Sinai notes, an awareness of the historically-conditioned nature of a sacred text doesn’t mean that it’s no longer sacred or meaningful for faith.”  – Dr. Larry Hurtado, https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/a-historical-critical-introduction-to-the-quran/

Postlude:  I once heard of a book titled Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.  I paid little attention at the time, thinking it was little more than a curiosity being shared by a skeptical Episcopalian.  Regardless of certain theologically and socially liberal agendas that the book’s author would appear to support, I focus now on the relationship suggested by the title.  I was not a Fundamentalist even then, and I surely am not now, so it’s not as though I feel the title threatens to wrest something away from me.  The idea of freeing the Bible from certain agendas resonates even more these days than it did a couple decades ago.  I wish this or that fundamentalist view of scripture were seen as a particular type of conservative stance, and not the only viable type.

It would be a good thing if Christian and Muslim adherents alike came to consider the human elements in the production of sacred texts.

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Of harvest fruits, seasons, and chills

We are not good vegetable gardeners, but my wife planted some good stuff this year, and a faithful tomato plant in the backyard, having given so much fruit, has now given its last.  We got some good string beans and a few more things, but this tomato plant has been a particularly amazing producer.  Its vine extended 12 or 15 feet upward onto our 2nd-floor deck.  (See below, lower left.)  For about three months,. we have never been in want for these sweet delights.  They are like candy, and they also go nicely on salads, and in halves on grilled fish and in sandwiches.  Since we’ve had a freeze now, it was time for the plant’s life to end, so Karly even picked the green ones and canned them with jalapenos.  Yum.   

Saturday was the last day for the local farmer’s market, and we got some good late-season vegetables, including a butternut squash (that doesn’t seem to be as much of an item here as it was in New York’s Southern Tier).  It’s not time for a fireplace yet, and part of me wishes we had one.  It’s also time for chili, hot tea, and maybe more coffee than usual.  A recent spending spree on syrup flavors for drinks was extravagant.  These will last us well past the winter!

Not having a live TV service has more pluses than minuses, but we haven’t been able to watch much baseball this year.  We were on the other hand happy to find out that we can get the Fox channel with an antenna and have been enjoying the World Series, another sign of fall.  The second game in L.A. was exciting; Saturday night’s game in Houston brought some great moments; and Sunday night’s slugfest was pretty intense.  A Saturday night commentator mentioned the chill in the Houston air, and I recalled amusement at South Texas students who donned light jackets when it dipped below 80.  (“We get cold!” a bass trombonist told me with a smile, while sweat was still dripping from my brow in November.)  You might notice the lack of a mention of football here.  I simply don’t care about it as a national occupation and rather feel that the marching band ought to be viewed as the central act of a high school or college football game.

Since I spend half the year too warm, I do like chilly weather—if it’s clear and not too windy, that is.  Brisk walks to work in the morning can occur for a month or two.  Something tells me it’s going to be a cold winter with more snow than last.  Since my little truck is rear-wheel drive, and there are real hills here in town, it might be better to plan on walking to work in boots instead of driving.

We turned the heater on 3 days ago and dug out jackets and coats we hadn’t seen in a few months.  Strange noises outside remind me that I need to chop a weed-become-tree so it doesn’t scrape the side of the house as the branches move with the wind.  Better get out the space heaters.  We don’t need a plug-in heater for the car engine blocks here, but I do wonder when I last had the anti-freeze flushed and filled.

Where we live, the wind has been kicking up lately.  It ’bout blew me off the road coming home from Oskie a week ago.  Motorcycle season is about over, and my bike sprocket was recently severed from the axle in the wind and cold.  An acquaintance who frequents our bookstore and often regales us with regional tales made a comment about the wind coming from Alaska.  In an odd mood, I regaled him right back with something about the linguistic connection of wind and breath and Spirit, Hebrew ruach and Greek pneuma, and the interesting convergence of physical and spiritual realities, you know, with what Jesus told Nicodemus about the wind and all, i.e., that no one sees the wind’s origin.  He was silent for about four seconds, affirmed vaguely, and then cast his eyes back in the direction of an Alaska photo book.

I’m still not sure what season of life I’m in, but it seems like late fall at times, and my father may be heading into a final winter.  Spring is marvelous, but sometimes it seems good to embrace the cold, looking full into the wind.¹  Warmth, shelter, and a looking-beyond faith are not to be taken for granted in any season.


¹ This is the imagery of Craig Smith’s song “Spirit Wind.”  The song once inspired me a lot but has left me out in the cold lately.

Commentaries can contribute contextually

Some years ago, over a period of time, I learned to look askance at commentaries.  That was after my college years—which had involved a rather limited use of them.  The commentaries I used as textbooks in Bible classes were not particularly slanted, but they were too shallow and too brief.  For one thing, they didn’t expend much effort “getting into the cracks” of the text, as one respected scripture scholar has put it.  I grew increasingly involved in Bible study as an adult and rarely spent time in commentaries, choosing rather to learn Greek vocabulary and use other methods (sometimes good, sometimes not as good).  Although I retained—and packed and moved and re-shelved—certain commentaries many times, I eventually divested myself of some of them.  No more Matthew Henry or Adam Clarke for me!  (Books by narrow-minded commentators with less thoroughgoing capabilities were also jettisoned.)

While I have tended generally to avoid commentaries (in favor of lexicons and direct work in the text itself), I acknowledge that there are some really worthwhile commentaries.¹  The Logos/Faithlife company, in the course of advertising for its products (which it does with vigor and annoying regularity), recently shared this post that discusses the use of commentaries.  The current Logos software can access millions of indexed commentary entries on Greek and Hebrew words and phrases, all linked to specific scripture texts.  That is an impressive capability!  And the blog author’s point is well taken:  commentaries, as compared to lexicons, aim to analyze meaning of a word or phrase in biblical context.  Contextual considerations do appear in lexicons, but not as explicitly, or at least not in the same way.

Since I am currently wrestling with Galatians 2-4 (viz. word-concepts of faith, hearing, and justification; the Law, works, promise, etc.), an example in this Logos post about justification/righteousness caught my eye:

The other main disagreement concerns the question whether in the phrase dikaiosune theou in 1:17; 3:21, 22 (Cf. 10:3) theou is to be understood as a subjective genitive or as a genitive of origin, or—to put it differently—whether dikaiosune refers to an activity of God or to a status of man resulting from God’s action, righteousness as a gift from God.

[I have transliterated the Greek above for the sake of the majority of readers.  -bc]

The question of which type of genitive is not merely a grammarian’s diversion but is quite key in coming to understand the passages.  Is the genitive form of the word “God” (theou, often simply a possessive form) better understood as primarily indicative of God’s prior action or of human standing that results from the action?  A third option could be to read this as “God’s righteousness,” i.e., a righteousness that is in a sense owned by God.  A fourth possibility (that has to my knowledge not been suggested by scholars) is taking the genitive form as objective—for instance, “the righteousness shown toward God.”

A second commentary quoted in the Logos post makes reference to similar verbal constructions in Romans (similar to “righteousness of God,” that is)—namely, power of God and gospel of God.  Comparing what Paul is saying about power and gospel could be an important consideration in interpreting “dikaiosune theou” (righteousness of’ God) in Romans 1:17—but perhaps not in Galatians 2 and 3, where the other phrases do not appear.


¹ Some of the better ones I’ve used were written by Abraham Malherbe, Raymond Brown, and Ben Witherington.

It’s sad for a child

Taking a short walk earlier this very morning, I happened to glance between two houses to see another house, and the sight reminded me of something sad.

A couple weeks ago when Jedd and I rode our bikes past that same house, he commented,

“That’s Crystal’s dad’s house.”

Instantly I thought, “That’s sad for 5-year-old Crystal.  Her dad has a different house from her mom.”  (Obviously, this happens a lot in our world, but it’s still sad for a child and for all concerned.)

Then it got worse.  Jedd followed up by saying,

“Well, her dad goes there a lot, anyway.”

And I realized that what he meant was that Crystal’s dad is probably sort-of half-living-with a woman that is not his wife.  I suspect he goes there—to the woman’s house—more than he goes to see Crystal.  These things, too, make me sad for the little girl.

And then I remembered that I’d heard Crystal herself say, only a couple weeks before that,

“My mom has gone to jail three times in a row!”

Crystal (not her real name) lives with her grandparents.  I gather that she has lived there for half her life or more.  This presumably started because neither of Crystal’s biological parents is fit to raise her.  One of them is probably addicted to illegal drugs.  Crystal’s grandparents give her food and shelter.  In fact, they give those things to two other grandkids, too (from other parents).  And two more sets of grandkids seem to be at the grandparents’ house more than at their own houses.  One set walks a few blocks in the dark, well before 7:00 every school day, to be fed breakfast and go to the bus stop near the grandparents’ house.  The grandparents are not very capable of giving a lot more than food and shelter, but they do what they can.

Crystal is growing up in a very broken life.  We are all broken, and aspects of every life manifest the broken condition of humankind.  I think what Crystal must endure as a young child is cause for great sadness.

Galatians frustrations

In leading a small group through a Galatians study, I am encountering frustrations.  I can categorize these as relating either to (1) my own inadequacies or (2) Paul’s expressions that are difficult to translate.  Comparatively, I had little frustration with 1:1-2:14.  The problems come with the substance introduced in 2:15 and beyond.

Two text scholars I consulted differed over whether to consider 2:15-21 a rhetorical propositio or a partitio.  It’s not that the label matters, but if I can determine this passage’s function and purpose within the whole letter, I will interpret better.  At this point in my study, I think the passage is less transitional and more stage-setting.  Both the propositio and the partitio traditionally involve backward-looking aspects, and those may be present in 2:15-21, but I find this section heavily weighted toward what is to come in the following discourse.  Whatever Paul is saying here will be elucidated in chapters 3 and 4, or at least I hope so.

 

The main issue for the last couple of weeks has been interpreting an expression with a notoriously problematic Greek construction:¹  The meaning of this phrase, consisting of the last few words of both 3:2 and 3:5, is something like “by faith’s hearing” or “by the proclamation of faith(fulness).”  The deeper one goes in trying to interpret Galatians on the whole, the large this phrase looms.

The noted Greek grammarian C.F.D. Moule once suggested that ex akoes pisteos equals hearing and believing, i.e., a sort of hearing that leads to belief.  Arguably, that interpretation places more emphasis on the faith/believing, and I think there is some grammatical precedent for that “take.”  Major translations may generally be placed in one of the following categories with respect to how they handle this phrase:

  • Emphasis on hearing (e.g., “the hearing of faith” or “hearing with faith” in the RSV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, KJV, ASV, and others)
  • Emphasis on believing (e.g., “believing what you heard,” as in NIV, NET, NRSV, CSB, ISV, CEB, and others)

Other, more obscure translations may be better than some of those mentioned above.  Was Paul connecting the Spirit of God to the Galatians’ hearing (or heard material) that leads to belief, or to their believing that comes from hearing, or to some other variation?  In an attempt to understand this matter, I have jumped through a few hoops and ended up on my face.  Additional research might involve careful consideration—in all levels of Galatians context—viz. the words for believing/faith and for hearing the message.  Comparisons with similarly themed passages in Romans might eventually be in order, too.

An additional, embedded difficulty in translation involves whether to translate pistis (found 22 times in Galatians, with a 77% concentration in this section) as “faith” or “faithfulness.”  At stake are entire denominations’ theologies (which I care little about)—and a better connection with faith, Christ’s death and related acts, and Paul’s thoughts on salvation and justification (all of which I do care about) At this point, the only thing I’m comfortable in saying in this arena is that Paul affirms both Christ’s faithfulness and the importance of a human faith response.  The human element is clearly a factor in Galatians 2:15-17.  Two overlapping centric textual structures are possible here, with each centering on human faith/belief (with a different preposition) “in” Jesus Christ.  Try both of these on for size:

Structure 1 (encompassing 2:15 through 2:17a)

A  We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;

B  nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law

C  but through faith in Jesus Christ

C’  even we have believed in Christ Jesus

B’  so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since (that) by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.  But if, while  seeking to be justified in Christ,

A’  we ourselves have also been found sinners, . . .

Above, the A and A’ phrases are verbally related, as are B and B’.  The C and C’ texts form a central emphasis; an added spotlight shines on the mirroring of “Jesus Christ to “Christ Jesus” in the succeeding phrase.

Structure 2 (more compact—2:16 alone—original word order shown below)

Knowing that a man is not justified

by/out of works of [L]aw

but through faith(fulness) in/of Jesus Christ

and we in Christ Jesus have  believed

that we should be justified out of faith[fulness] in/of Christ

and not by/out of works of [L]aw

since no flesh will be justified by works of [L]aw

For my exegetical money, the second structure is more convincing, and it’s even more so in the Greek.  See color codes below.

There are a few inconsistencies above, such as the aqua-colored repetitions and the asymmetry of the “that” clauses.  The negative (not) particles’ correspondence is also intriguing but not necessarily material here.  The centered emphasis on faith(fulness) is key.  If in the C and C’ phrases one takes pistis to refer to the faithfulness of Christ (as opposed to faith in Christ)—and I lean that direction myself—we still have a structure in which those phrases flank the clause “we have believed in Christ Jesus,” which refers to human faith.

Permutations and translations aside, the verbal relationships abound.  Whether intentional or subconscious or both, it seems obvious that Paul was stressing some things here!  At some point, I will have to leave my frustrations with 2:15-3:6 and move on, apprehensively, into all the argument-proving substance of chapters 3 and 4.


¹ The phrase is constructed with a preposition and two successive nouns in the genitive case (ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως | ex akoes pisteos).  The genitive case is the most potentially varied of the Greek cases.

A Bible reader’s observations

Or, The Voice is Like the 1984 NIV on Steroids

Despite the NIV’s generally smooth flow and its broad acceptance, at some point I began to learn that it was not always consistent or trustworthy.  (No translation is.)  

I have on several occasions noticed that points made by well-meaning people during Bible classes were tied to particular NIV wordings.  In other words, if another version had been used, the argument would crumble.  Sometimes the points seemed reasonable, but the “Bible” wordings on which they were based turned out to be phantoms.  This is the case with Philemon verse 6.  First, I should acknowledge that the newest edition of the NIV (2011) has recognized the problem and revised the wording, resulting in a fine translation:

I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.

But here is the older (1984) NIV:

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

The two are really different!  Let me flesh out one component.

It’s not that that the 1984 NIV contains bad ideas.  Regardless of the arguably odd cause and effect (a full understanding that results from evangelistic “witnessing”), the main ideas seem good.  The problem may first be spotlighted by considering English Christianese:  sometime in the latter part of the 20th century, the phrase “sharing your faith,” referring specifically to evangelistic speech, took on a life of its own, being used in countless sermons, teen devotionals, and Bible classes.  That type of activity, however, is not a subject of this letter to PhilemonMoreover, thorough study of the letter reveals a relational emphasis suggested by the Greek koinonia idea(s)—and this partnership is to be distinguished from “faith-sharing” speech.  Admittedly, seeing the depth of this verbal emphasis requires more sustained study, but on the negative side, it may readily be seen by an attentive reader that “evangelism” per se not is in view here.  Considering what Paul was communicating to Philemon, it appears clear that “partnership with us in the faith may be effective …” is a better English translation for our day than “be active in sharing your faith.”

Translation might be thought of as an arrow with heads on both ends.  The left arrowhead points to the original, but there is another arrowhead on the other end, pointing to the target language.  In translation, there should be valid motion from one language to another.  The antecedent points to the receptor language, and the translation must also in a sense point back to the original.  Said another way:  a translator might understand the Greek very well, but if that understanding doesn’t come through in English, the translation is lacking.

You know what?  I’ve now found a version that’s worse than the older NIV.  Much worse.  It’s like the NIV on steroids.  I had high hopes for The Voice, based on its solid, well-considered prefatory material and its broad-based committee, including not only biblical scholarship but also poets, musicians, and writers with expertise in English communication.  In the case of Philemon 6, though, this relatively new version is, sadly, marooned on a sand bar, having missed the boat:

Thank You, Father, for Philemon.  I pray that as he goes and tells his story of faith, he would tell everyone so that they will know for certain all the good that comes to those who put their trust in the Anointed One.

No.  Just no.  That is not what the text is about there.  Several ideas intrude into this verbiage—most notably the emphasis on “telling the story”—with the result that it is more of an obfuscation than a commuicative paraphrase.  It’s as though no one bothered to study Philemon.  “Well, you know, it’s so short.  Let’s just crank that page out in an hour.”  But what a shame.  Philemon is a gem among the NT letters, and it deserves deep attention, too.  (Here is a post about this verse from 8 years ago.  It fairly briefly explains the issue.)

A couple more bits on The Voice . . . while I’m immediately partial to its “theater script” format for dialogue sections, another formatting aspect—rampant italics—leaves it wanting.  All translations explain things to one degree or another, and The Voice didn’t really need to be over-zealously ethical in this respect.  It’s overkill to delineate every explanatory word or phrase.  Further, when italics are so frequently interspersed, the experience of reading is halting and unsatisfying.