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Thursday, December 09, 2010

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

Hebrews 11:1-3
1  Εστιν δε πιστις ελπιζομενων υποστασις, πραγματων ελεγχος ου βλεπομενων· 2  εν ταυτῃ 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

Picking up where we left off yesterday; What is the referent of το μη εκ φαινομενων Heb. 11:3? Looking once again at the chiasm perhaps it would help to see this in English, I will adapt from Craig Koester (Hebrews, AB p.474).

1a was fashioned     1b came into being
2a the universe         2b that which can be seen
3a by the word of God     3b by what cannot be seen

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

Koester and Ellingworth suggest that we should understand το μη εκ φαινομενων as coreferential with ρηματι θεου. In other words, “what cannot be seen” is a substantive with same referent as ρηματι θεου. To make this work εκ with the genitive is understood as causal. The agent of creation is the referent of both c1/3a and c2/3b and εκ with the genitive in εκ φαινομενων marks agency as the dative marks agency in ρηματι θεου which are rendered by Koester “by the word of God” and “by what cannot be seen”. In some ways this is an attractive solution. It underscores the non-empirical aspect of creation. However, the idea that the word of God active in creation is not visible, not open to human observation almost sounds like a statement of the obvious. Perhaps there are parallels in wisdom literature that suggest this reading, I should look into that question. I’m not ruling it out. 

On the other hand, if we read εκ in μη εκ φαινομενων as a genitive of source, we end up with a chiasm that serves as a proof text for creation ex nihilo or at least what might look like one if we assume that μη εκ φαινομενων implies something like “not from the realm of physical cosmos”.   

The location of μη in το μη εκ φαινομενων has been a source of difficulty since ancient times. Henry Alford[1] shows how it was often understood as if the wording ran something like εκ των μη φαινομενων. This is demonstrated by several ancient translations Syriac, Codex Bezae (D) Latin “ut ex non apparentibus”, Vulg. “ut ex invisibilibus”.   
Καὶ πῶς τοῦτο δείκνυσιν, εἰπέ μοι; Πίστει νοοῦμεν, εἰπὼν, κατηρτίσθαι τοὺς αἰῶνας ῥήματι Θεοῦ, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων τὰ βλεπόμενα γεγονέναι. Δῆλον, φησὶν, ἐστὶν, ὅτι ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων τὰ ὄντα ἐποίησεν ὁ Θεὸς, ἐκ τῶν μὴ φαινομένων τὰ φαινόμενα, ἐκ τῶν οὐχ ὑφεστώτων τὰ ὑφεστῶτα.   — Chrysostom[2]
Note how Chrysostom cites the original word order μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων but reads it as ἐκ τῶν μὴ φαινομένων. While Chrysostom and other ancient authorities (see Alford[1]) make this passage a proof text for creation ex nihilo ὅτι ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων τὰ ὄντα ἐποίησεν ὁ Θεὸς (Chrys. see above)  that involves making the expression μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων semantically equivalent with ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων;  the not visible becomes the nonexistent.  This equation is not self evident as C. Koester points out. The referent of μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων could very well be things, events, processes not open to human observation but none the less real things that exist beyond the our capacity to perceive. 

[1]Henry Alford has a detailed discussion of the history of interpretation which is available from Google Books. This passage was located by searching on: ut ex invisibilibus, Erasmus (without quotes). See also BDF #433.3 and A. T. Robertson page

[2]Joannes Chrysostomus Scr. Eccl., In epistulam ad Hebraeos (homiliae 1–34) (2062: 168); MPG 63.
Vol 63, pg 154, ln 48


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