by John Kight
I recently had the pleasure of working through Paul’s epistle to the Philippians alongside Joseph H. Hellerman’s latest contribution to the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series. Hellerman delivers a goldmine of exegetical insight that proves indispensable, not only to the task of translation, but also to the task of interpretation. If you have translated portions of Scripture, whether for academic or personal purposes, then you know how tedious the process can be. Hellerman is a tremendous help across the board in this effort.
Another resource that I found extremely beneficial in the process was The Book Study Concordance of the Greek New Testament (BSCGNT, Köstenberger & Bouchoc, 2003). This resource afforded me the ability to focus more broadly on Paul’s vocabulary and thought process throughout the epistle. This proved to be a necessary vantage point to retain both consistency in translation and accuracy in interpretation. An example from Philippians 2:1-5 will illustrate the usefulness of the BSCGNT to my study.
As Paul begins to unpack the body of the epistle his broader focus is twofold: unity among believers (2:1-30) and steadfastness in the face of adversity (3:1-4:1). These two themes are interlaced throughout the entirety of these chapters as Paul expands upon what it means to “conduct yourselves worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). For Paul, one of the initial and primary means of conducting oneself “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (ἀξίως τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τοῦ Χριστοῦ) is found in the unity of the church, specifically “being of the same mind (φρονῆτε)” and “being united in spirit and mind (φρονοῦντες)” (2:2).
A quick glance at the BSCGNT allows us to see that Paul used φρονέω ten times in the epistle, which accounts for 38% of its occurrence in the entire New Testament (1090). Additionally, the BSCGNT tells us that three of the ten occurrences are located in Philippians 2:1-5 (1108), and φρονέω is one of the top three most frequently used verbs by Paul throughout the epistle (1111). In other words, when Paul commands the Philippians to “complete my joy” (πληρώσατέ μου τὴν χαρὰν) through the means of “being of the same mind” (ἵνα τὸ αὐτὸ φρονῆτε), his usage of φρονέω is not only relevant to the immediate context but the epistle as a whole. By utilizing the BSCGNT we are able to quickly capture the importance and intentionality of Paul’s word choice in Philippians 2:1-5.
But what does Paul actually intend the reader to do when he anticipates the reality of “being of the same mind”? Does he merely expect the Philippians to reflect on things as he himself does? While this may be semantically possible within the broader use of φρονέω, it is contextually unsatisfying in light of the following verses (especially 2:3-5). Paul’s intent here anticipates higher hopes for a particular and singular mind-set among the Philippian church—a mind-set that embodies love, unity, and humility, as well as the motivation to initiate unified decisions among the group, and to be witnesses to the secular world.
Consulting BSCGNT again, we anticipate another occurrence of φρονέω in v. 5. Here, Paul eliminates any possibility of ambiguity regarding his intent, stating, “have this mind (φρονεῖτε) among yourselves which is also in Christ Jesus” (2:5). For Paul, this transitional passage thus places Christ at the center of his exhortation, as the incarnational reality of everything hoped for in the “conduct” of the Philippian church. It is here that Paul encourages unity among the believers—unity exemplified in humility and Christlikeness towards the use of authority, social status, and power for personal gain.
Being able to survey the linked usages of particular terms is helpful not only for the task of translation (rendering terms in a like manner to bring forth the intended connection sometimes lost in translation), but also, as seen above, for the task of interpretation (communicating the message in a coherent manner to bring forth the intended connection). The BSCGNT provided a much-needed vantage point to further understand and explain a pivotal point in Paul’s overall exhortation. Could the above method be accomplished by other means? Certainly. But, the vast amount grammatical information available in the pages of the BSCGNT is simply far too convenient to be ignored by any serious student of the New Testament. It will remain on my shelf for many years to come.
John Kight is pursuing an MDiv at Liberty University with an emphasis in biblical studies. He is Director of Adult Education at The Well Church in Brighton, Michigan, and is married with three children. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.
Editors’ note: Learn more about The Book Study Concordance, edited by Andreas Köstenberger and Raymond Bouchoc. This tool examines Greek words in their respective New Testament book settings with the theology of the book considered. Also provided are word totals, most-frequently-used words, semantic domains, and words set in relation to the New Testament as a whole. This is an absolutely invaluable new tool to the scholarly community.