Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hypography, Puffery & Hypocrisy (Part II): Warnings from 1 Corinthians 4:6-7

In my previous post, I pointed out the variance among the translations of the phrase

     ἵνα ἐν ἡμῖν μάθητε τὸ μὴ ὑπὲρ  γέγραπται (to mā hyper ha gegraptai).

A quite literal (or word-for-word) translation is as follows:

     “that in us you may learn the not-beyond-what-is-written”.

Since this is not very good English (by this I simply mean that it does not sound proper to a native English speaker), translators supply an extra word. But as seen in my last post, there is little agreement as to what word should be supplied.

I contend that all major translations have missed the mark here and have even obscured the original point. By supplying extra words such as "to go beyond" or "to exceed" or "the saying," the object of knowledge is changed. Does Paul want the Corinthians to learn "to not go" or to learn "the saying" or something else altogether? To decide, let's take a closer look at the text.

The article (τό) makes the following prepositional phrase (“beyond what is written”) with the negative adverb (“not”) into a substantive (noun-like). That is, the article shows that the object of learning is “that thing which is not beyond what is written”. What is it that is not beyond the Scripture ("what is written")? Right! That which is bounded by Scriptures -- the Scripture itself and things in accord with the Scritpures!

A more full (interpretive) translation reads:

     "that you might learn by us that which is within the bounds of Scripture"

So, contrary to the ESV (and NIV, RSV, NET, ASV, NAS) Paul is not forbidding the Corinthians from going beyond the Scripture ("what is written"), but is exhorting them to learn things that are Scriptural. He is not telling the Corinthians to avoid other arenas of knowledge (i.e. science, math, philosophy, humanities, psychology, etc. that are "beyond" the Scripture), but to make sure they do learn what is in the bounds of what is written (that which is not beyond).

In 1 Corinthians 4:6 Paul begins to draw to a close his lengthy first point to the Corinthian Church. He has been drawing a distinction between human folly under the guise of rhetoric and godly wisdom expressed in the simplicity of the Gospel message. The former leads to one being "puffed up in favor of one against another" (1 Cor 4:6b) but the latter leads to unity and humility in the recognition that we are all "servants of Christ" (1 Cor. 4:1).

In verse 7 Paul rhetorically asks the Corinthians what makes them unique or special that they should be puffed up with conceit. Surely all that they have they received. But they are acting as though they were to be praised for their wisdom and rhetorical prowess. They were benefactors of Paul's missionary efforts but acting as though they were somehow better than Paul, their "father in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 4:15). How often are we guilty of the same attitude -- of wanting praise for our own insight into the Scriptures or our own theories about life rather than acknowledging that the Gospel is a profoundly simple gift? How often is the church unity destroyed by things that have no Scriptural relevance?

Paul does not forbid us from going beyond what is written (hypography) as modern English translation intimate, but exhorts us to learn that which is Scriptural so that we we do not become conceited in our own thinking (puffery) and deny that we are merely unworthy recipients of God's grace (hypocrisy). 

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