Saturday, January 19, 2008

Blamelessness? -- Part III-B

To continue a series that was rudely interrupted by a TV program about Paul and "submission" in Ephesians 5, I want to continue my investigation of the use of ἄμεμπτος (amemptos) in the literature from around the NT period. In my last post on this topic I turned my attention to the LXX and HB; now we will look into blamelessness in the Apocrypha.

There is a telling passage in Esther (Greek) 16.12-15a which will shed light on our study. In the second letter from Artaxerxes we find in the Additions to Esther, the king writes:

But, unable to restrain his [i.e., Haman’s] arrogance, he undertook to deprive us [i.e., the Persians] of our kingdom and our life, and with intricate craft and deceit asked for the destruction of Mordecai, our savior and perpetual benefactor, and of Esther, the blameless partner of our kingdom, together with their whole nation. He thought that by these methods he would catch us undefended and would transfer the kingdom of the Persians to the Macedonians. But we find that the Jews, who were consigned to annihilation by this thrice-accursed man, are not evildoers, but are governed by most righteous laws.

The king, in an effort to undermine the malignant works of Haman, sends this letter abroad to prevent the execution of the Jews in Persia, which he had ordered earlier (13.1-7). He does so, of course, because his chosen queen, Esther, reveals her "Jewish" identity to him (7.3-6). Because of this revelation, the king can label two "Jews," Mordecai and Esther, with laudatory titles, including that of ἄμεμπτος (amemptos) for Esther (16.13). This change of heart also causes Artaxerxes to value Esther’s people and their Law differently. Now he can see the intrinsic value of their laws (16.15), which he had earlier found to be "perversely" followed and "strange" (13.5). The truly amazing thing is that this conversion of opinion occurred partly because of the blamelessness of his queen, Esther. Thus, ἄμεμπτος (amemptos) was a quality of character that Esther possessed, probably indicating her innocence.

In Wisdom 10.5 the following is found concerning Abraham: "Wisdom also...recognized the righteous man and presented him blameless before God." This passage resonates with Genesis 17.1 in the LXX where
ἄμεμπτος (amemptos) is also associated with Abraham. The connection in Wisdom 10.5 with righteousness leads me to think that this notion of blamelessness had morality in view, not sinlessness but certainly living appropriately "before God." However, it is hard to miss the sacrificial tone of this passage: "presented him...before God." Importantly though, blamelessness is a character trait possessed by Abraham here.

There are two more interesting passages that use ἄμεμπτος (amemptos) that are of special interest. In Esther (Greek) 13:4, the intentions of Artaxerxes and his court to unify the kingdom are considered blameless or honorable ("the unifying of the kingdom that we honorably intend cannot be brought about") and in Wisdom 10:15 those following Moses through the wilderness are identified as “a holy people and blameless race.” Thus, it appears that ἄμεμπτος (amemptos) was flexible enough to describe not only individual and their intentions, but also groupings of people, including entire nations.

When Phil 3.6 is viewed in light of this evidence, Paul seems to be saying that he too possessed this characteristic of blamelessness before his encounter with Christ. That this characteristic has something to do with morality with regard to the Law seems evident, especially in light of his usage in close relation to righteousness, as in Widsom 10.5. It appears that
ἄμεμπτος (amemptos) had this meaning in the LXX (where Job and Abram possessed this same characteristic) and the Apocrypha as well. However, we cannot jump onto this bandwagon fully yet because we have not examined all the extant evidence.

Check out more posts by me on this topic!

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