I went today to the evening service at Tenth Presbyterian Church here in Philadelphia (not my normal church), and one of the evening's readings included Philippians 4:5. Tenth Pres. uses the ESV, which renders the beginning of this verse as "let your reasonableness be known to everyone." Now, I've definitely read Philippians several times, and never came across anything about letting your 'reasonableness' be known, so this immediately stuck out to me, and I looked it up in the NKJV New Testament I had with me. NKJV reads "let your gentleness be known to all men." Are gentleness and reasonableness the same concept? Are they even related? How can a verse which has no textual discrepancies associated with it result in such a wide variance between translations?
So, of course, now that I'm at home I've pulled my Greek out and discovered that the offending word is epieikes which, according to LSJ, is derived from eikos and has a very similar meaning: "fitting, meet, suitable." (Note that it's actually an adjective, but Paul uses it as a substantive in the neuter, so the meaning would be "your [fitting/suitable/meek] thing."), so the most literal possible translation of this text would be something like, "let your suitable thing be known to all people." That doesn't make any sense in the context (or out of it!). It seems that both translation teams have in mind instead of the primary definition LSJ definition 2.2a: "after Hom., ... of persons, ... in moral sense, reasonable, fair, kind, gentle, good." (Strangely, the word 'gentle' doesn't appear in the Perseus edition of the Great Scott - I'm quoting from my print edition of Middle Liddell.) LSJ cites James 3:17 in this connection: "but the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (NKJV - epieikes is translated 'gentle' again). This passage isn't much help, since it's a list of traits of wisdom, and any number of definitions of epieikes could make sense of it.
The grammatical usage is, as has been mentioned, strange. LSJ does mention it's usage as a substantive in the neuter in its moral sense at one place: Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus line 1127. The Richard Jebb commentary argues that this should be taken to mean "an equitable and humane disposition," citing Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and a fragment of a lost Sophocles play. At Plato's Laws, 6.757e, there is a similar usage of the word, where it seems to be intended to be synonymous with sugnomon, which means "disposed to pardon." So, it seems that when this word is used as substantive in the neuter, the implied thing is a 'disposition.' But what should the word be taken to mean? A thread running through several of the LSJ definitions fits very well with Paul's overall view of what Christians ought to be known for: not demanding the letter of the law. This is within the possible range of interpretations for either the ESV or the NKJV translation, I think, but neither of them says it very clearly. HCSB does substantially better with its word 'graciousness,' but there is still room for improvement. I think the ISV's 'forbearing spirit' is also very good, though I'm not sure I like the use of the word 'spirit' here. Perhaps we could say something like "let your forgiving character be known to all people." I'm not sure that's the best English, but I think it clearly communicates the meaning I'm looking for. Improvements, anyone? Objections to my interpretation? Koine citations to supplement my classical ones?Posted by Kenny at May 21, 2006 11:34 PM
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