My Photo
Location: United States

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Jesus Christ and Creation — Hebrews 11:1-3, 1:1-4 part one

Hebrews 11:1-3
1  Εστιν δε πιστις ελπιζομενων υποστασις, πραγματων ελεγχος ου βλεπομενων· 2  εν ταυτη γαρ εμαρτυρηθησαν οι πρεσβυτεροι. 3  πιστει νοουμεν κατηρτισθαι τους αιωνας ρηματι θεου, εις το μη εκ φαινομενων ⸂το βλεπομενον⸃ γεγονεναι.  —SBLGNT M. Holmes

Hebrews 1:1-4
1  Πολυμερως και πολυτροπως παλαι ο θεος λαλησας τοις πατρασιν εν τοις προφηταις 2  επ εσχατου των ημερων τουτων ελαλησεν ημιν εν υιῳ, ον εθηκεν κληρονομον παντων, δι ου και ⸂εποιησεν τους αιωνας⸃· 3  ος ων απαυγασμα της δοξης και χαρακτηρ της υποστασεως αυτου, φερων τε τα παντα τῳ ρηματι της δυναμεως, ⸂δι αυτου⸃ καθαρισμον ⸂των αμαρτιων ποιησαμενος⸃ εκαθισεν εν δεξιᾳ της μεγαλωσυνης εν υψηλοις, 4  τοσουτῳ κρειττων γενομενος των αγγελων οσῳ διαφορωτερον παρ αυτους κεκληρονομηκεν ονομα.  —SBLGNT M. Holmes

Hebrews 11:1-3 affirms that knowledge of creation is attained by faith and this is a knowledge that cannot be attained by observation: ου βλεπομενων. With this the author of Hebrews establishes the first principle for a christian understanding of origins; it is a subject, the knowledge of which is not attained by empirical investigation because the matters about which our author is speaking are not open to empirical observation. So don’t go asking some astrophysicist for help with this question. Two discourse features underline the importance of faith as the means to this knowledge. In verse three and following faith πιστις is clause initial which makes it salient (i.e., noteworthy). The repetition of πιστις faith through out this section serves as rhetorical underlining.

In the third verse Heb. 11:3 our author states: what can now be observed ⸂το βλεπομενον⸃ was created from what cannot be observed το μη εκ φαινομενων. What on earth does the author mean by το μη εκ φαινομενων? C. Koester (Hebrews AB) following P. Ellingworth Hebrews NIGTC) detects a chiasm (X pattern) in  Heb. 11:3:

a1 κατηρτισθαι
b1 τους αιωνας
c1 ρηματι θεου
c2 μη εκ φαινομενων
b2 ⸂το βλεπομενον⸃
a2 γεγονεναι

Ellingworth suggests that the first half a1 b1 c1 is repeating more or less in the second half c2 b2 a2. “This general assumption  is that the meaning of the two halves of this verse is generally the same …” Ellingworth p.568. He suggests with several qualifications that μη εκ φαινομενων is coreferential with ρηματι θεου. The word of God being that which is not seen. I don’t find his analysis very compelling.

Looking into A. T. Robertson, G. L. Cooper[1] , BDF, Moule, N. Turner. The constituent “εις το” construes with the infinitive γεγονεναι, there is no problem with the hyperbaton (discontinuous syntax) which is common enough. One issue I had some difficulty with is understanding the NT grammars treatment of “εις το”. At times they seem to treat it as if it were some sort of special case, like “εις το” with the infinitive transforms into a conjunctive particle which marks final, causal, telic … constituents. G. Cooper’s[1] approach was quite different. Cooper develops a general framework for understanding the article, the infinitive and prepositions and then explains “preposition + article + infinitive” as an extension of what we already know about the substantive function of the infinitive. The infinitive is a substantive by nature, it does not require an article to identify it as a substantive. Being a substantive, the infinitive can follow a preposition. The article is used to disambiguate the construction, mark case and so forth. The combination of “εις το” with an infinitive is commonly used to indicate “purpose” or “results”.

 The expression μη εκ φαινομενων means the realm of the unseen, i.e. not empirical. A chiasm is not always a restatement of the same thing. The second half often adds an element of significant new information. That is how I would read this. The first half is a statement about agency, τους αιωνας was created by ρηματι θεου. The second half is a statement about phenomenology, that which we now see (i.e. the created order) came into being from that which we do not see. The referent of το μη εκ φαινομενων is still an open question which will have to wait for another post.

This is a work in progress. I could change my views on the exegesis tomorrow without even pausing for breath. Exegesis is a process which never ends in this life.

[1] Guy L. Cooper,  Attic Greek Prose Syntax, vol. 1, 50.6.2, 50.6.3, 50.6.8. 


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home