Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Blamelessness? -- Part III-A

Commenting on a previous post, my friend Garrett asked if I would reveal which Hebrew words were translated with amemptos and I hope to do just that in this post. We will take a quick look at ἄμεμπτος (amemptos) in the LXX and its Hebrew counterparts in the HB. The hope is that by examining these usages we may begin to gain a better understanding of the semantic and ideological range that Paul had in mind when he said that he had become amemptos with regard to the Law (Phil 3.6).

In the LXX amemptos is used twelve times - once in Genesis (17.1) and eleven times in Job (1.1, 8; 2.3; 4.17; 9.20; 11.4; 12.4; 15.14; 22.3, 19; 33.9). In Genesis 17.1 God appears to Abram and says to him "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless (amemptos)." The Hebrew word that the LXX translates is תָמִֽים, for which BDB gives the following definitions: complete, whole, entire; whole, sound, healthful; complete entire; sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, having integrity, while Holladay gives these glosses: whole, entire; intact; unobjectionable; free of blemish; blameless; sincerely, honestly; perfect. BDB lists Gen 17.1 under "sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, having integrity" and Holladay lists Gen 6.9, a close parallel to 17.1, under "blameless." Gordon Wenham calls this injunction for Abraham to be tamim "an extreme command," in which "Abraham is expected to emulate Noah’s moral perfection" (Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 16-50. electronic ed. Dallas : Word, Incorporated, 1998 [Logos Library System; Word Biblical Commentary 2], S. 20). Synthesizing these findings, it appears that tamim could refer to a moral state that was marked by integrity, i.e. blamelessness.

The LXX translates a number of Hebrew terms as amemptos. In Job 1.1, 8 and 2.3 amemptos is used for one of the terms in תָּ֧ם וְיָשָׁ֛ר, a phrase meaning something like "upright and blameless." In 4.17 the qal verb יִטְחַר, which means "be clean" or the like, is translated with amemptos, as is the verb צרק, which means "to be righteous," in 9.20 and 22.3. Several other words are translated with amemptos as well: זכח, "to be clean," in 15.14; נָקִי, "free, exempt; innocent; clean," in 22.19; and חַ֥ף, "clean," in 33.9. Interestingly, only once in Job is
תָמִֽים rendered as amemptos (12.4), which we saw in Gen 17.1. From all of these references in Job a few things can be surmised: amemptos carried with it an idea of exhibiting high personal morality, since in every case it is associated with a person and often matched with "righteous" or some similar word. (Amemptos also appears in Wisdom 18.21, but we will leave this reference to the side until we talk about the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.)

Thus, from the evidence from the LXX and HB, it appears that it is plausible to expect that Paul would use
ἄμεμπτος (amemptos) to refer to human morality. That he applies it to himself in Phil 3.6 when thinking back on his relationship to the Law is interesting, though we will have to leave any preliminary conclusions aside until we have finished this survey in full.

Blamelessness? -- Part I
Blamelessness? -- Part II


Anonymous said...

This looks like a pretty decent survey Matt. A few things jump out at me...

One thing Goldingay pointed out that was very helpful is that the narrator is not saying that Job is sinless/blameless in chapter 1; yashar is not really about being blameless (at all!) so much as being upright. It's really a shame that the major translations all screw this up...

As far as tamayim (forgive my transliteration) goes, I'd bet (and argue) that BDB is more accurate here; the word is more about what someone or something is (whole/complete) than about what something is not (which blameless would imply).

All of which to say, again, that blamelessness is not really an "Old Testamenty" way of describing what it means to be faithful/obedient/righteous.

It's interesting where the occurences of amemptos are found, and perhaps more importantly, where they are not. Even apart from the fact that there's no real Hebrew equivalent for blamelessness, and the implications that follow from that, it appears that the LXX authors were careful not to use the word in places one would expect it to be used--places like Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in which God's expectations are clearly laid out.

What I would argue, then, is that Paul's use of blamelessness, assuming that is how the word should be translated from the Greek, is an innovation and that it is, in fact, unexpected.

Since you are doing all the legwork :) , it'd be interesting to know how amemptos is used in non-biblical Greek, and/or where Paul would've picked up this language from. I'm not convinced he's picking it up from the LXX, since it isn't a common word to describe righteousness, it isn't in texts Paul was likely to be examining for this, and it isn't in texts that play a dominant role in shaping Paul's theology (going out on a small limb).

This is maybe a bit disjointed, but hopefully the main points were clear... Always a pleasure to read your stuff Matt...

J. Matthew Barnes said...

Thanks Garrett!

I'm still convinced that amemptos in Job has a moral side to it, especially since it appears alongside "righteous" language so much.

However, your comments about where Paul got this language are very instructive and I hope to fulfill them in the future!

Anonymous said...

I agree that amemptos has a moral side; I'm trying to make a (hopefully biblical) distinction between the idea of "not sinning" and "being righteous," and arguing that the OT regularly speaks in terms of the latter...

J. Matthew Barnes said...

That's my argument too. I guess in my head morals=ethics. This may not be a good, I don't know. But it does seem that the LXX translates Hebrew words that all have a sense of moral-ness about them. Maybe Paul had this in mind when he used amemptos, maybe he didn't. I guess that will have to wait for a future post!

Thanks again for your comment!

Anonymous said...

Stephen Westerholm makes an interesting point in a recent article (in Divine and Human Agency in Paul; edited by J.M.G. Barclay and S.J. Gathercole): Paul is surely being ironic when he says his former conduct in Judaism was blameless. Consider the fact that one of the items in his list of qualities contributing to his blamelessness was that he was a "persecutor of the church." It seems quite possible that this was no blamelessness at all!
Ben D.

J. Matthew Barnes said...

I don't know if I can fully agree with Dr. Westerholm because irony does not appear to fit with the rhetorical logic of the passage. Instead it appears that Paul is making a comparison between himself and the people in view on 3.1ff and he finds his pedigree and achievements to be better than theirs. The problem, therefore, lies in how one is more "blameless" than someone else. Did Paul find that he committed less moral mess-ups? When he did violate the Law did Paul think that he made amends faster than did those he is comparing himself to? Or did Paul build a hedge so far away from the Law that he actually did not think that he ever violated the Law proper?

While it may be ironic that the way he showed his zeal (persecution) would turn out to be his biggest embarrassment as a Christian, prior to his encounter with Jesus this didn't seem to bother him or infringe at all upon his sense of morality (as Acts and his letters seem to indicate). Only after his encounter with Jesus did Paul re-interpret his persecution of the Church. As already mentioned, this interpretation (that "blameless" is ironic) is secondary at best in Phil 3 because it does serve to make sense of the context.

Thanks for the comment though...I will have to check that article out!