Tuesday, December 16, 2008

pedantic post on πίστεως

The really serious bibliobloggers are looking at this Greek word πίστεως. Well, the funny biblioblogger named N.T. Wrong is anyway: 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive. Those who think that he's real, that he's really writing a book for real publication, and that Jesus is real are getting really excited.

What's their real question and his?  
Did Paul write in Greek to mean Jesus himself has real saving "faith" 
OR did Paul mean that others should have real saving "faith in Jesus" 
(OR is there "some other genitive meaning")?
So why should I get involved?  I shouldn't.  But Aristotle already wrote about this stuff, sort of. It's a philological mess now.  Pedantic.  

(At least Wrong warns readers about the pedantry, calling it a "rather esoteric, subtle, and arcane grammatical dispute."  

And I've already tried to say, again and again, that Aristotle didn't want us native-speakers of barbarian mother tongues to be messing around with his elite language for the boys at the Academy.

Haven't I also warned, again and again, that New Testament scholars and translators don't want others messing around with their Greek?  And that philosophers don't want others messing around with their Greek?  And that rhetoricians don't want others messing around with their Greek?  And that classicists don't want others messing around with their Greek?)

Pedantic is what this stuff is.  And, therefore, it's vastly important to Greek New Testament scholars and to Greek Rhetoric scholars too, for two different reasons.  NT scholars want the Greek word to mean "faith."  Rhetoric scholars want the Greek word to mean "proof."  (Philosophers care about other more important things, and classicists have a critical story or two to tell.)

It's a mess before anyone starts arguing about the "genitive" case (i.e., πίστεως), which is how Jesus gets dragged in.  So would I surprise you if I said women got dragged into the conversation a lot earlier than Jesus did?  Except, in contrast to the genitive question for Jesus, there was among Greek men no question as to whether women could have "faith" or "proof" or anything so valuable that men had.  The question, rather, was whether men can believe women, period.

You want examples, don't you?  

In his Anabasis, Xenophon tells of how his namesake character would not believe the man Eucleides:
ὁ δ’ αὐτῷ οὐκ ἐπίστευεν . . . .
And Eucleides would not believe him. . . .

ἰδὼν δὲ τὰ ἱερὰ ὁ Εὐκλείδης εἶπεν
and when Eucleides saw the vitals of the victims, he said

ὅτι πείθοιτο αὐτῷ μὴ εἶναι χρήματα.
that he was well persuaded that Xenophon had no money.
(lines 7.8.2-3
translated by classicist Carleton L. Brownson
with one little change by me).
Okay, fair enough.  That example had nothing to do with women.  I was just trying to show different Greek words in narrative context, where one man couldn't believe another and where "persuasion" (i.e., as in "rhetoric") was at play but is something altogether different from "belief."

Now to women.  In his Work and Days, Hesiod writes to men telling them how to trust their "brothers."  But then he transitions to how they ought not to believe women:
πίστεις δ' ἄρα ὁμῶς καὶ ἀπιστίαι ὤλεσαν ἄνδρας
Certainly trust [believability] and distrust [unbelievability] prove equally fatal to men.

μηδὲ γυνή σε νόον πυγοστόλος ἐξαπατάτω
Don't let a wily, wheedling woman who wiggles her bottom

αἱμύλα κωτίλλουσα, τεὴν διφῶσα καλιήν:
Wholly befuddle your wits: her purpose is rifling your pantry.

ὃς δὲ γυναικὶ πέποιθε, πέποιθ' ὅ γε φιλήτῃσιν.
One who is persuaded by a woman is persuaded by cheats and deceivers.
(lines 372-375
translated by classicist Friedrich W. Solmsen
with a couple of small changes by me).
And then there's this from Homer's Odyssey (lines 455-56 with a translation by classicist James Huddleston, with a touch-up by me):
κρύβδην, μηδ' ἀναφανδά, φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν
Take your ship to your beloved fatherland

νῆα κατισχέμεναι: ἐπεὶ οὐκέτι πιστὰ γυναιξίν.
secretly, not openly, since there's no way now to believe in women.
Then we fast forward past Aristotle (and Plato and Socrates).  We find, then, there's John's Jesus who does this (2:24 my translating):
αὐτὸς δὲ Ἰησοῦς οὐκ ἐπίστευεν αὐτὸν αὐτοῖς 
Joshua himself, nonetheless, did not believe himself [believable] to them
διὰ τὸ αὐτὸν γινώσκειν πάντας
because he himself knew every one [of these mortals]
And Matthew translates Jesus, who exclaims (15:28):
ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῇ ὦ γύναι μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις
Joshua said to her, "Oh wow, woman. That belief of yours is huge!"
While earlier Matthew's translated Jesus exclaiming this way (9:22):
ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς στραφεὶς καὶ ἰδὼν αὐτὴν εἶπεν
Joshua, however, turning, looked for himself and said

θάρσει θύγατερ ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε
"Dauntless Daughter! That belief of yours rescued you!"

καὶ ἐσώθη ἡ γυνὴ ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας ἐκείνης
Indeed the woman was rescued from that point in the season on.
Timeout for a minute. Let's rewind again. Greek men writing and Greek men speaking are hardly used to finding women believable. Men don't believe women, and men don't believe in women either. Men might be believable to one another on the other hand.  So John writes to say that mortal men are falling all over themselves in belief of this guy Joshua. And yet, he (the Joshua man) treats them like other men have treated women: he doesn't believe those other guys falling for him, and he doesn't believe in those men (because, John says, he "knows" all mortals). But he (the Joshua) does believe women, and does believe in women (which the examples from Matthew show).

So we're going to have to get to Jesus and Paul's genitive for Bible translators.  I promise we will.  Just believe me.  But let's work through Aristotle and his teachers and their translators first.

Here's Plato's Socrates in the Philebus (as also translated by philologist Harold N. Fowler all on his own):
διὰ δὴ τί μάλισθ’ ὑπολαμβάνεις με δεῖξαί σοι τὴν ἐν τῇ κωμῳδίᾳ μεῖξιν; 
Now why do you particularly suppose I pointed out to you the mixture of pain and pleasure in comedy?

ἆρ’ οὐ πίστεως χάριν?
Was it not for the sake of convincing you?
Notice how the genitive form stumps this translator-scholar! All of the sudden, there's the meaning "convincing" (as in "persuasive" and "proof") for πίστεως for Fowler. Who cares what Socrates meant when it's Plato writing about him. What I mean by that is, "Why would Plato have his teacher's character in this dialogue change the meaning of the Greek word in this context from 'Was it not to gain the favor of your belief' to how Fowler means it?" What's wrong with Plato's Socrates meaning, "Was it not to gain the favor of your belief" for "ἆρ’ οὐ πίστεως χάριν"?  (And can I persuade you by some proof to believe that a New Testament scholar-translator would want that to be "Was it not for the sake of grace through faith?"  Let's do that another day; can we?)

Now, we're ready for Aristotle.  Here's his Athenian Constitution (line 18.6, as also translated by philosopher H. Rackham):
καὶ πείσας αὑτῷ τὸν Ἱππίαν δοῦναι τὴν δεξιὰν πίστεως χάριν
and induced Hippias to give him his right hand as a pledge of good faith.
So we notice here that there is "faith," but "good faith" as a "pledge," which is more like "convincing persuasive proof" (even πείσας or "induction") than like "grace through faith"; and neither of those is like "the favor of belief."  In other words, the philosopher and the New Testament scholar tends to depart from the classicist.  Three different directions for the same word in the same context.  But why?  Doesn't the philosopher know Aristotle?  Yes, he does.

The rhetorician also knows Aristotle.  In the Rhetoric, as translated also by rhetorician George A. Kennedy, there's this:
ἐνθυμημάτων . . . ὅπερ ἐστὶ σῶμα τῆς πίστεως
enthymemes, which is the body of persuasion
Let's jump back over to the Bible now. It's only Wisdom of Solomon (3:14), not the bible really is it? And yet, look at the same language but how different the translating by the King James translation team: 
καὶ εὐνοῦχος ὁ μὴ ἐργασάμενος ἐν χειρὶ ἀνόμημα μηδὲ ἐνθυμηθεὶς κατὰ τοῦ κυρίου πονηρά δοθήσεται γὰρ αὐτῷ τῆς πίστεως χάρις ἐκλεκτὴ καὶ κλῆρος ἐν ναῷ κυρίου θυμηρέστερος

And blessed is the eunuch, which with his hands hath wrought no iniquity, nor imagined wicked things against God: for unto him shall be given the special gift of faith, and an inheritance in the temple of the Lord more acceptable to his mind.
Here there's now "faith" where once there was "proofs" (and "imagined wicked things" where once there were "enthymemes," and "gift" where once there was "grace" and "favor" in other contexts).

What are men like Aristotle and men like Paul and their translators doing with Greek?with the genitive form πίστεως?  


Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks for taking us on the scenic route. It was fun.

We've been discussing this a bit (The Jesus Faith) and plan to do more. Thanks for more thoughts we can think on.

John Radcliffe said...

Season's Greetings, JK

I was somewhat concerned when I read in a recent post that you were "thinking at Christmas of never blogging again". Now where else would I go for posts like this one, that don't just attempt to tweak our understanding of the NT, but challenge whether we're been making any sense of it at all?

"That belief of yours is huge!" certainly pulled me up. In my experience, when you hear men using words like "huge" when talking about a woman, they're not usually referring to her beliefs. Of course you can always rely on someone like Jesus to lower the tone of any conversation, and you can't get much lower than bringing in "religious things" like beliefs or faith. It's just not done in polite society.

This coming Sunday I've been asked to read John 1:1-14 at our traditional "Lessons and Carols" service. Most unfortunate. No doubt I'll read from a standard version, but the problem is that it's got me back to re-translating John's prologue. Again. You see it's one of those passages where I've yet to find any translation (literal, free, or whatever) that really satisfies. As it's been a while since I last looked at in detail, it's interesting to see how and where my understanding has moved.

Of course pistis, doesn't appear, but the verb does (v7,12). Now I'm even less sure how to deal with it! (Especially as, in v7, no object is made explicit: the Light? What John said about it?) But at the moment I'm stalled on charis in v14 (which will reappear in v16 and v17). Now I'm not at all sure what to do with that (perhaps something like: "bursting with favour and truth"). I could just do with a charis post (unsubtle hint).

In case I don't comment again before, may I wish you and your family a positively-memorable Christmas!

J. K. Gayle said...


First, thanks for the blogroll. Second, thanks for reading and for writing on this topic: "The Jesus Faith - Vol. 1"


Seasons greetings! Thank you, as always, for the cheers! I'd love to hear your reading! Let me know what and how you choose it. If only we had time, we could talk about so many interesting things. On charis, David Ker has posted some. Isn't it interesting how long and variously that word collocates with pistis Merry Christmas!