Friday, October 22, 2010

Go Figure!

Figures of Speech are generally associated with such matters as simile or metaphor—figures that are readily apparent to the reader. Other figures of speech, however, are not so easily seen, and these are better called Figures of Rhetoric (see Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible where both types of figures are discussed at length). If Figures of Speech focus on the meanings of words, Figures of Rhetoric focus on the argumentation of the author, although the two cannot be completely separated.

Philippians 2:1-2 provides a superb example of rhetorical argumentation. Four Figures of Rhetoric follows with their involved verses and conclusions about the interpretive values of these expressions. Supporting data have been purposely left out so as to spotlight the effects without detracting the reader with minutia. The writer encourages the reader to utilize the interpretive processes and evaluate these conclusions. See Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, 64-70, “Word Biblical Commentary” series, for some interpretive direction.

Asyndeton (v. 1) is the absence of connecting conjunctions used here in an explanatory sense wherein the 2nd clause further defines the 1st and the 4th clause further defines the 3rd, thus making the surface level of four-fold “if clauses” (protasis) two-fold. The interpretation reads like this, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, that is, if there is any consolation of love; if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, that is, if there is any affection and compassion” (New American Standard Bible, NASB, here and elsewhere, italicized words were added).

Hendiadys (v. 1d) ties the terms affection (tender mercies) and compassion into a single idea by transforming one of the two terms into an adjective, compassionate tender mercies. Both terms are plural in the Greek text.

Chiasmos (vv. 1-2) constitutes a reversal of the order of clauses following an A, B, B', A' pattern wherein the first two “if” clauses of verse 1 (A) are refocused in verse 2b, maintaining the same love (A'), and the second two “if” clauses of verse 1 (B) are revisited in verse 2a, being of the same mind (B'). Bullinger, 374, writes, “This is by far the most stately and dignified presentation of a subject; and is always used in the most solemn and important portions of the Scriptures.”

Symperasma (v. 2c) is a concluding summary. It gathers the author’s thrust in a single term, harmonious ones (NASB, united in spirit, one word in the Greek text, σύμψυχοι). This concluding summary will fulfill Paul’s joy (v. 2a). It is also the exegetical center of the verses leading up to 2:5-11, the famous “kenosis” passage. Verses 3-4 return to the emphases of verses 1-2 with further amplifications that are not taken up in this article.

In conclusion, someone is sure to ask, “Are those figurative expressions really there?” The only way to be sure is to test the hypotheses utilizing the interpretive processes. But one thing is absolute: if they are really there, they affect both the interpretation and the application! “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).