Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Our Wills and Fates Do So Contrary Run...

Had I simply refrained from seeking counsel, I could have started a cult by now. At least I know better than to make the same mistake twice: next time, I publish first, and apply a liberal dose of Alexander Pope to the critics ("damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, and, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer. Willing to wound and yet afraid to strike, just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike").

Below is the sarcophagus in which I have laid the remains of him who once laid low the nations, the great argument I was working on.

Our verse for dissection today, familiar and favorite of every teenager on the planet, is the fourth verse of the last chapter of the glorious book of Ephesians, which in the KJV reads "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." In the Greek, "Καὶ οἱ πατέρες, μὴ παροργίζετε τὰ τέκνα ὑμῶν ἀλλὰ ἐκτρέφετε αὐτὰ ἐν παιδείᾳ καὶ νουθεσίᾳ κυρίου." Pay especial attention to the fourth word from the end: παιδεια, hereafter simply "paideia" to save me clicking that little flag too many times. It simply means tutelage, with an implication of discipline.

Here is my thesis in a sentence: the wrath spoken of in the first half of the verse should be understood as the wrath of God.

My reasons for this are fairly simple. To begin with, there is the problem with how we typically interpret this verse, the "don't make your kids mad" approach. Even Mennonites, who diligently discipline and spank their children beginning in the first trimester, often exasperate their children. Every godly parent has to deal with furious two year-olds who find their otherwise intelligent parents inexplicably immune to flawless logic ("I want it." "You can't have it." "But I want it..."), and what parent, raising their child to love and serve God would honestly say that they have never made their child mad?

How then can we contrast making your child mad with raising them in the paideia of God? The latter does not exclude the former, it necessarily includes it. If the contrasting of the first and second half of the verse ("do not make your child angry, but rather...") does not work, then our interpretation of either the first half or second half must be in error. Otherwise, we accuse Paul of saying something along the lines of "do not go outside in the rain, but rather go outside when it's wet." The two are by no means mutually exclusive.

The only ambiguity in the verse appears in the first half, and is not at first glance obvious: "do not provoke your children to wrath..." The ambiguity lies in the fact that the indirect object, wrath, is not specifically possessed. Our assumption of it being the children's wrath is entirely due to their mutual proximity in the verse, as well as a lack of other potential owners.

However, there is a simple solution: could not the wrath belong to God as an understood possessor? He is, after all, the owner of the paideia in the second half of the sentence, and we do this type of thing (same subject for multiple objects) on a regular basis. Also, in context, it agrees with the rest of Scripture: simply read Proverbs for a Biblical view of a parent's responsibility regarding their children. The foolish child brings shame to his parents.

The other options I have found to be either weak or to do more violence to the text than this one does. You either have to import something into the sentence that simply is not there, or imply a great deal that is not implied on the first reading. This interpretation simply applies the explicit ownership (paideia of God) in the second half of the sentence to the first half of the sentence, and only does that because without that, the sentence does not make sense.

That was the interpretation I was working on. It was, however, quite neatly dismantled by Mike Lawyer's offhand comment: "parallel passage." Oopsie. So, I am a somewhat sadder, but greatly(?) wiser Jesse: I've now read Colossians.

Blessings all: I'll post new heresies as I invent them.

Jesse B


Claire said...

Oh, too bad. (Am I also a heretic for saying that?)

Finished the book yesterday.

J. A. Broussard said...

How did you like it?

Wodehousian Fun