The power of a conjunction and a lesson in grammatical research

This week I am going to devote my posts to working through a question I got in one of my classes a few weeks ago about the force of one of the conjunctions in Philippians 3:10. Thinking aloud about how to answer this question and its import upon the meaning of the text since then has been a good exercise for me, and in turn I hope it is helpful for my readers. Questions and comments welcome.

At DTS I regularly teach NT103, which is a class on intermediate Greek. In it we focus on learning Greek grammar and syntax by studying Philippians. Every time I teach the class I learn something new: Either I notice something in the text I had overlooked before, or students ask me questions on facets of the grammar I had not considered before. One such question came up the other day, and because I had not considered it before I dedicated some time to figuring it out. The question involved the use of the conjunction καί (kai) in Philippians 3:10. Very often this word connects similar grammatical components like the conjunction “and” does in English, but sometimes it adds emphasis or explanation, functioning somewhat like the phrase “that is.” It is not always easy to distinguish these uses, and the question I received was essentially how to decide which use was in play in this text. Here’s the text in Greek first, and then in two English translations to show the difference in meaning:

τοῦ γνῶναι αὐτὸν καὶ τὴν δύναμιν τῆς ἀναστάσεως αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν κοινωνίαν τῶν παθημάτων αὐτοῦ, συμμορφιζόμενος τῷ θανάτῳ αὐτοῦ
“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (HCSB)[1]
“Yes, I gave it all up in order to know him, that is, to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings as I am being conformed to his death” (CJB)[2]

There are two occurrences of the conjunction καί in Phil 3:10, the second of which is not in question. The first, though, could legitimately be taken one of two ways: either as a connective as the HSCB has done or as offering an explanation as the CJB has done. In the assignment we have students complete along with translating this passage, we point them in the latter direction through a reference to the explanatory use of καί in the BDAG lexicon.[3] The question I got in class was, on what grounds can we make this choice?

Answering this question is not as easy as one might think. On the one hand, there is the intuitive sense we have that certain language uses mean one thing and not another. This shouldn’t be casually dismissed: Because we in our contemporary situation have a full complement of contextual information, we can usually discern which meaning an author or speaker intended. We might not process all the options explicitly, but we can process them efficiently and effectively, often quite successfully. On the other hand, when we lack a full complement of contextual information about an utterance, our intuitive sense has to be replaced with explicit reasoning. In the case of written communication in another language between people whom we don’t know directly, this need becomes quite acute. It is fair to hope that after studying enough Greek the intuitive sense about how the language functions might become well developed,[4] but the exegete will always need to supplement this with some explicit reasoning given the linguistic, historical, and chronological distance between the utterance and the exegete. So on this reasoning in order to best answer the question about which meaning of καί is in play in Phil 3:10, I may have an intuitive sense about which meaning fits best, but I ought to augment that intuition with explicit reasons why that would be so. The next post in this short series will address that question.

  1. The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).  ↩

  2. David H. Stern, ed., The Complete Jewish Bible (Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1998).  ↩

  3. We point them to BDAG 495 1.c, which reads, “oft. explicative; i.e., a word or clause is connected by means of καί w. another word or clause, for the purpose of explaining what goes before it and so, that is, namely.”  ↩

  4. Many exegetes from older times were exceptional in this regard. They were often spot on about what the Greek would mean, but they did not, perhaps could not, give explicit reasons why. I think this is due to the fact that to learn Greek they simply had to read Greek—lots and lots of it—while in our situation we tend to learn Greek by analyzing it. So maybe their intuitive sense was well developed, while modern exegetes have a leg up on articulating explicit reasoning.  ↩