Heroes

When I last visited the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame about 8 years ago, I wandered into a bookstore and noticed a book authored by my childhood baseball hero—a book in which he monotonously spouted many things about himself.  This former player holds many National League and MLB records, and I’m of the opinion that he should be in the Hall of Fame despite personal downfalls.  His prideful character is far from unassailable, though, and I long ago stopped listening and following his exploits (although I do have a gift coffee mug with his uniform number on it, and I’m hanging onto an autograph, too, for posterity).  I can’t completely shake my consciousness of this past player, but I’m opting out of using his name here since he’s gotten more than his share of publicity.  As late as my 20s, I might have named him as one of my “heroes,” but no more.

My dad, during his childhood, had chosen a far better baseball hero—Stan Musial, a man who apparently never did anything societally unbecoming.  Musial also holds many baseball records and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.  Musial is “The Man” by nickname and could also be referred to that way in complimentary slang terms (i.e., “Dude, you Da Man”):  his baseball career, his reputation as a person and celebrity, and his personal integrity all seem to have been aligned.  My dad’s autobiographical memoir (for which I served as copy/layout editor) contains an entire chapter on Musial.  I have a copy of an autographed Musial photo on my wall and am also happy to be first in line for a Musial-autographed ball, which will be passed down the line through my son.  [See also  https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/multi-talented-monopolies-or-sluggers-and-clergymen/]

Baseball heroes are okay, I suppose, as far as they go.  Most of them are probably better than entertainment-types.

But the only hero I now claim lived 2,000 years ago.  He’s the only One worthy of hero worship.  Obviously, the Galilean Rabbi didn’t tick off the baseball commissioner or the press, but He did tick off the religious establishment as He turned the world upside down by newly bringing in the Kingdom of God in the midst of the Roman Empire scene.  The “Son of Man” (in a sense a nickname, and one with a lot more theological and cosmic significance than Musial’s “The Man”) didn’t have sports records, but He did have a completely perfect record as a human on earth.  It would be hard to imagine Him giving autographs like a celebrity, and He didn’t receive a national medal.  He did have given to Him the name that is above every name . . . the power above all powers . . . the authority and status of The Name YHVH.  He is Kurios, the Lord.

God upraised Him to the topmost place and freely conferred on Him the name which is above every name.   – Philippians 2:9

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The names of Phil 4:2-3

I’ve thought recently about the presentation of people’s names in scripture—particularly in Acts 21 & 22 and in Philippians 4:2-3.  In narratives like Acts (and in this case, it’s actually one narrative on top of another, in that Luke is narrating what Paul was narrating), a name/character often enters a story in a particular way, with a particular purpose.  In Philippians—not essentially a narrative but a letter—are the names Euodia and Syntyche actually names, or possibly something else?  What do the words mean?  What is the reader to understand based on their “appearance” here?
I appeal to Euodia and I appeal to Syntyche [to be in agreement] in the Lord.  Yes, I ask also you, true yokefellow, help them, who struggled along with me in the gospel with both Clement and the rest of my fellow workers whose names are in the book of life.  (Phil 4:2-3, LEB)
Current-day Philippi/Filippoi: Excavations
Current-day Philippi/Filippoi: Excavations

Philippi (modern Filippoi) is clearly a real place.  What about the names in chapter 4, though?  I was intrigued by the possibilities in all directions—i.e., 1) whether the first three were all actual people, or 2) some of them, or 3) none.  Along with most Bible students, I’ve always assumed that Euodia and Syntyche were real-live women, but only in the last year or three have I thought about the possibility that the “true yokefellow” (transliteration:  Sudzuge) was a real-live man.  These names are all compound words (or at least concocted compound words).  The prefixes to the first names (eu and syn) arouse my interest within the context of Philippians as a whole; syn in particular appears in several other words in Philippians, a couple of which could have been terms coined by Paul, so I wonder if he could have been concocting symbols here.

I pick up that many readers sense a stronger, more personal message if we at least read the words Euodia and Syntyche as real women’s names, and that’s a fine motivation.  On the contrary side, though, consider for a moment the possibility that no one named Euodia or Syntyche actually existed at Philippi.  If that happens to have been the case, could the Philippian believers have read the message with just as much force?  In other words, after hearing all of the preceding instruction, inspiration, clarification, etc., if 4:1f had been directed symbolically to the whole group, they might all have been wincing or even weeping at this point . . . whereas if this were “only” written to two women, that fact could in one sense allow the rest of the church to stop listening (and that would be most ironic but also  understandable).

I had been thinking that it could be that all of these names could be concocted to stand for the whole Philippian church, in the aggregate.  (And I could more readily have read it that way near then end of a Philippians study, and I think that’s because the whole letter is better tied together, more cohesive in my head at this point.)  The sense of it might be something like this:

I appeal to all you guys who’re on this good journey with me — and every one who acts in accord with my actions for the gospel’s sake — to live in harmony in the Lord.

[Euodia’s name  roughly means “good journey,” and Syntyche’s roughly means “act in accord with”]

However, the last part of v3 makes me lean back the other way.  The manner in which Clement comes into the picture seems to be a big clue that all four of them them were actual people and not merely symbolic.  If they were not real-live people, it would seem strange for Paul to put them in a list, as it were, of individuals who “struggled along with” him, “with both Clement and the rest of my fellow workers.”

After initial musings, I learned (thanks to the insights and “homework” done by a teacher) that

  • There are some instances in ancient literature of a non-personal-name variant of “Euodia” (to mean something like “a good journey”).
  • No precedent has been discovered of a non-name use of “Syntyche.”
  • The feminine plural seen as a direct object in 4:3 (help “them” or “these women“) strongly favors a simple, literal reading of the names as names of individuals.

I’m content now to view the names of Philippians 4:2-3 all as names, including Sudzuge, the “loyal yokefellow” or “true companion” of most translations.  I don’t know why that word was ever rendered with words other than a proper name.  All of these people are in Paul’s group of “the rest of my fellow workers whose names are in the book of life. ”

Coincidentally, the phrase “book of life” appears only here in Paul, and the only other instances are in Revelation (several times).  One cannot rightly assume the meaning here is the same here as in Revelation.  Whatever it means here, the real names of real people might provide a clue.

B. Casey, 6/4/16-11/16/16

Inkblots from Philippians

The following verses or partial verses from Philippians have in my experience been used in isolation from their literary context(s).  There are many of these “offenders” in Philippians!  The ones in bold are those I think could stand as “poster children” for the disease of “inkblotitis” (Dr. Greg Fay’s term).

Although I rarely use the NIV on this blog, its largely familiar wordings will serve illustratively here.  As you scan these, please consider how easy it is to think you understand of what they “mean” apart from the surrounding thoughts in their full context.

Chapter 1

I thank my God every time I remember you.

18b  The important thing is that . . . Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.[1]

Chapter 2

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: [2]

12b  continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. [3]

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, [4]

17a But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering . . . [5]

Chapter 3

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12b-14  I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. . . . 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

18-19  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. [6]

Chapter 4

2b  be of the same mind in the Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [7]

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.


[1] 1:27 may be a “verse” that, when ripped from its context, hasn’t actually strayed too far from its original import in its current-day application.

[2] Here, I am passing over the famed 2:6-11 passage, although it, too, is frequently understood outside its Philippians context.  This text is considered by most scholars to be some type of ancient ode or hymn (whether originally sung or not, whether original with Paul or not) text.  Its exalted poetry is legendary, and it stands on its own to some extent, although it is imbued with additional/different meaning when seen within the contextual shape of Philippians.

[3] Here’s an exceptionally convicting bit of non-exegetical, personal history:  I once spoke a message—translated on the spot into another language, even—that forced a separate theology onto this passage, ignoring its own context altogether. The theology I was “pushing” was a good one, I’m convinced, but nonetheless was a theology unrelated to this particular context.

[4] Oh, the numbers of parents who have quoted this one to their grumbling children!

[5] I know a song, “Would You Be Poured Out Like Wine,” that came from this, but the rest of its words had nothing directly to do with Philippians, insofar as I can remember.  Now that I think about it, the song might have mixed two contexts, since it used the specific word “wine,” which is not used here.  Perhaps a little latitude for the songwriter who knew that the word “drink” doesn’t sing all that well?  Or perhaps the songwriter was leaning on historical rather than literary context (I’m not at all sure), understanding that wine was what was used in the “poured drink offering”?

[6] True confession:  I quasi-intentionally take this one out of context myself, and probably will continue to do so.  Although recognizing that these words find their most valid illumination within the context of Philippians, I feel that they succinctly state an important concept that all Christians would do well to take in.

[7] It might not do much harm to take this one out of context.  In suggesting that, I would lean a little on the “anything” and “every” language:  perhaps this is duly taken as more broadly applicable.  Yet its original meaning is to be found within the context of the letter to the Philippians.

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Important city, important words

The letter to the Philippians—presumably written by Paul (and Timothy), some time within a couple years of 60CE, to Christians in the ancient city of Philippi, which was an important city in the Roman world.  It seems clear that Paul had a close relationship with the people in this church.  Not everything was perfect (it never is), but I’d have to say that Paul had had a special, generally very positive experience with these believers, leading to high expectations of their spirits and their actions.

I haven’t paid much recent attention to this gemstone in the bracelet of NT letters.  I suppose the last time I studied it, I wasn’t really studying it, if you know what I mean.  What that admission means to me is that, more than a decade ago, I was much more typical in my knowledge and application of “study” methodologies.  Those methods led to familiarity—but very little else that was valuable.  I was also much more accepting of . . .

φ  perfunctory readings that failed to take historical and literary contexts into consideration

φ  surface-level “word studies” based on English tools

φ  jumped-to conclusions

. . . and other results of dubious “study” methods that I now reject out of hand.

Despite previous personal ineptitudes (and many remain to this day), there was at least one general conclusion I reached years ago about this letter that I believe was quite “ept”:  that “verses”¹ within this letter must be read in the context of the whole.  To point up this concern, in the next post about Philippians, I will share some “verses”¹ that tend to be lifted out of their contexts (both macro [book-level] and micro) and invite you to consider how you, too, might have erroneously developed an understanding of what certain Philippians words “mean” apart from the surrounding thoughts.

Given a couple of long-term opportunities coming in early 2016, I expect that my insight into Philippians specifics is about to start down a road of significant enhancement.  For today, I merely want to say this, transparently:  I have been struggling in recent days with two other (unrelated) essays intended for this blog.  For different reasons, I am questioning their content and have been delaying in finalizing and posting them.

Rather than deal with those essays further, I thought it was far better that I spend some time reading Philippians today.  So I did just that.  I read the entire letter aloud in the New English Bible.  At this point, no background info, no Greek, no textual criticism or consideration of textual variants, and no word studies or discourse analysis, and no commentaries.  Just the letter, read as a whole.  I am better for having taken in these important words.

Sola scriptura
B. Casey (12/27/15)

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¹ I put “verses” in scare-quotes not only because the verse numbering is not original.  More important:  seeing Bible texts as “verses” can detract from the flow of a text by visually delineating things not meant to be delineated.  After all, I’m focusing on contextual flow here, and verses inhibit the reader’s sense of context.  It is a far better thing to consider texts in larger blocks—blocks based on contextual reading and intratextual clues.