on the intertextuality of Philippians 2:14-18

if you are into this kind of stuff, which can be pretty interesting to see how it works, Gordon Fee says its “quite unlike anything else in the Pauline corpus” (241-242).  Here goes from Fee’s Philippians commentary in the NICNT set (a must have commentary):

The abrupt way is ministry is brought into the sentence, with it eschatological focus – also a recurring theme in the letter – is perhaps best explained on the basis of its most striking feature: the sudden and profuse influx of echos from the OT, which is quite unlike anything else in the Pauline corpus.   So unique is this that one scarcely knows what to make of it.  A maximal  view would see it as intentional intertextuality, with distinct language from a series of LXX text that recall the story of Israel from its origins, through the desert, to its eschatological hope.  A minimal view would see it as the outflow of a mind steeped in Scripture and Israel’s story as it has been regularly applied to the new people of God.

The data: It begins with v. 14 with Israel’s “murmuring” (Exod 16:12 et al.): the Philippians are urged not to do so.  The reason for the prohibition is first expressed in the words God spoke to Abraham at the renewal of the covenant in Gen 17:1; as with the father of the covenant, the Philippians are to “become blameless” before God.  This concern is then repeated in the language of Deut 32:5, where in the Song of Moses Israel is judged on account of its rebellion as “blameworthy children, a crooked and perverse generation” (LXX); but for the new covenant people of Philippi all of this is now reversed: by heeding to prohibition against “murmuring,” they become “God’s blameless children,” and the opposition in Philippi the “crooked and perverse generation.”

Finally, in Dan 12:3 Israel’s eschatological hope takes the form: “the wise shall shine as luminaries (phosteres),” with the parallel clause in the Hebrew (MT) adding, “and those who lead many to righteousness as the stars” (for which the LXX has, “those who hold strong to my words“); from the perspective of Paul’s “already/not yet” eschatological framework, the Philippians, as they live out their calling as God’s blameless children, already “shine as stars” as they “hold firm to the word of life.”

The eschatological context of Daniel in turn accounts for Paul’s concluding with a word about the “not yet” side of eschatological realities: the Philippians must persevere (now) in this kind of obedience or Paul will have no “boast” at the end; indeed, he will have “labored in vain” (yet another clause echoing OT language [esp Isa 65:23, "my chosen ones will not labor in vain"]).   Finally, in contrast to that, and now with no specific text in view, he images his ministry and suffering, and their faith and suffering, in terms of the levitical sacrifices (242). 

It’s breathtaking really.  I take the minimalist view on this: Paul was a person who lived and breathed the Old Testament story of God’s people and that this narrative merely reflects that reality.  Fee goes on to share:

But what to do with this phenomenon?  On the one hand,  both its uniqueness in the corpus and the sudden profusion of language not found elsewhere in Paul suggests something more intentional than otherwise; moreover, it seems to “work” too well to be mere chance or coincidence.  On the other hand, this might be just our discovery, with nothing intentional on Paul’s part at all; afterall, he is a man steeped in the story of Israel and is quick to see its application to the people of God newly constituted by Christ at the Spirit.

Perhaps there is a middle way, that this reflects something sermonic or some former teaching (and is thus intentional in that sense), of a kind that Paul can draw on at will, and weave into a single, meaningful sentence that specifies the kind of obedience his is calling them to, while at the same time placing the imparative within the larger biblical framework that assures the Philippians of their place in God’s story (242-243).

Perhaps it’s just me, but I read this some time ago and it has been amazing to me to think about and it comes back to me now and again.

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