Monday, September 07, 2009

πολιτεύεσθε - Phil 1:27a

Phil. 1:27a Μόνον ἀξίως τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τοῦ Χριστοῦ πολιτεύεσθε
Only, live as citizens (πολιτεύεσθε) worthy of the gospel of the Messiah...
Reumann: This point only: Exercise your citizenship in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ...
NLT: But whatever happens to me, you must live in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ, as citizens of heaven.
NKJV: Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ...
NCV: Only one thing concerns me: Be sure that you live in a way that brings honor to the Good News of Christ.
Living Bible: But whatever happens to me, remember always to live as Christians should
As you can see, contemporary English translations opt for the word live but probably because we don't really have many alternatives, and thus lose a particular nuance of the Greek word. Thus, Reumann's translation is interpretive, but carries the particular nuance of the Greek.
πολιτεύεσθε is a fascinating word with a rich heritage. R. R. Brewer, "The Meaning of Politeuesthe in Philippians 1:27," JBL 73 (1954) provided us with a helpful survey of how this word is used in various civic and Pauline contexts. He suggested that it was a way of describing one's obligations as a citizen. Then came E. C. Miller, "πολιτεύεσθε in Philippians 1:27: Some Philological and Thematic Observations," JSNT 15 (1982). Appealing to its use in the LXX (Esth. 8:12; 2 macc 6:1; 11:25; 3 Macc 3:4; 4 Macc 2:8, 23; 4:23; 5:16) and Josephus (Vita 12; Letter of Aristeas 31) Miller suggested that this refers to "the Jews living in fidelity to Torah as God's chosen nation."
Enter the discussion on Paul's understanding of this word in Phil. 1:27. Scholars are quick to note that Paul does not employ his usual word for "life" (An example is περιπατεω, as in 1 Thess 2:12; Rom 13:13; etc.). Given that Philippi is a Roman city, an imperial outpost if you will, should πολιτεύεσθε be taken as a reference to living as a citizen of Roma, or as those who conduct themselves faithfully in light of the Gospel's teaching, as God's chosen people? Are these mutually exclusive options, or can one be a dual citizen?
Perhaps Paul has left open the ambiguity of citizenship in this passage, and chooses to unveil that only in 3:20?
Bockmuehl is probably right to read this as a politically relevant act, which in the context is distinguished from alternative lifestyles that might have been chosen... The rhetorical force of Paul's languge is to play on the perceived desirability of citizenship in Roman society at Philippi, and to contrast against this the Christian vision of enfranchisement and belonging... Paul interposes a counter-citizenship whose capital and seat of power are not earthly by heavenly, whose guarantor is not Nero but Christ. (Bockmuehl, Philippians, pg. 97-98).
At play here is the sticky hermeneutical issue of how much we allow Paul's audience to determine the meaning of the passage. While Paul may be reading this word in light of it's usage in the LXX (plausible), would the Philippian audience be aware of this (unlikely)? Or would the majority of them understand it the way Romans usually understood it? Bockmuehl's interpretation probably navigates through this impasse.

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