A Prelude to Exegetical Philosophy: A Theological Exemplar

The most daunting goal for the beginner of philosophy is choosing a first book. This, though, seems unproblematic, given the diversity and sheer amount of texts available today. Though I am certainly fond of introductory texts to philosophy, very clear insights are often glossed over for the sake of either clarity or readability. Introductory texts, too, have the problem of bias—like any work; however, a good introductory text gives both sides of the argument and lays each out fairly (though the author might portray, implicitly, which side has more merit). This notwithstanding, I want to, in this brief note, provide what I take to be an acceptable introduction to how philosophy works at the exegetical level. By this, I simply mean how philosophy works at the level of textual analysis, that is, of analyzing a text. If one works topically or historically, one still deals critically—paradigmatically—with philosophical texts. In this brief note, then, I will lay out what I take to be a wonderful case in philosophical studies where in close exegesis, we begin to see the fruit of careful analysis.

Let us take an example of a passage prima facie (at face value):

“Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are heirs of the grace of life, in order than your prayers may not be hindered.” (1st Peter 3:7 RSV)

“Οἱ ἄνδρες ὁμοίως συνοικοῦντες κατὰ γνῶσιν ὡς ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει τῷ γυναικείῳ, ἀπονέμοντες τιμήν ὡς καὶ συνκληρονόμοις χάριτος ζωῆς, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐνκόπτεσθαι τὰς προσευχὰς ὑμῶν.” (1st Peter 3:7 Nestle GNT 1904)

We will be primarily concerned with “Οἱ ἄνδρες ὁμοίως συνοικοῦντες κατὰ γνῶσιν ὡς ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει τῷ γυναικείῳ”. On first reading, there is one thing which stands out, which no doubt—at first glance—looks beyond problematic, namely, the admission of women as the weaker sex and the men as the noble, more important sex. This is a case in which it seems we have (i) a clear message, (ii) implication and (iii) analysis within the quote itself. In this way, no additional supplementary notes need be added. Thus, this seems to constitute a problem for those wanting to ascribe to the truth of the Biblical data since it involves a very difficult passage to accept. However, this judgement of 1st Peter 3:7 as involving the depreciation and devaluation of women is exegetically unsound, and uncareful. Let us look into the matter more deeply.

As Rev. J. Howard B. Masterman explains in his The First Epistle of S. Peter:

“The acceptance of subjection involves a claim to consideration and protection. In the words ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει there is a germ of nobler chivalry than that of the middle ages. συνοικέω is the nearest equivalent in Greek to our English expression “making a home for.” The participle carries on the thought of the ύποτάγητε of ch. ii. 13. κατὰ γνῶσιν refers either to spiritual knowledge or to recognition of the weakness (not the inferiority) of women. For σκηυήες compare 1 Thess. iv. 4. Cp. Also 2 Tim. ii. 21. It is probable that the Apostle has specially in view the “marital rights” of the husband (1 Cor. vii. 3-5), which are to be exercised not selfishly, nor for mere gratification of appetite, but κατὰ γνῶσιν, in the light of the ennobling of truth that our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. iii. 16; vi. 19).

There are two lessons from such an exegesis. First, it is not legitimate—philosophically—to evaluate a text out of historical context, that is, in isolation from other texts and the historical happenings of the time period in question i.e., Rev. Masterman points out that we cannot keep 1st Thessalonians out of an exegesis of 1st Peter 3:7. Secondly, we see that there is a distinction to be made between an exegesis of a text in its original language, as well as a translation. While translations are helpful for those who do not know foreign languages, examples like 1st Peter display the sort of problems which are derivative from working at a text out of its original language. While this is sometimes unproblematic, if the truth of a claim is in doubt over its translated meaning, it might be worth inquiring whether the original preserves the same—or relevantly similar—meaning. Both these points serve to undergird the fundamental point that exegesis is an important endeavor which cannot be taken lightly or faint heartedly. Engaging with a text might involve learning another language, reading the text in light of the surrounding body of knowledge and so forth—this, though, might just be exegesis. One may well wonder, though, where this leaves the beginner. To this, I only suggest that the considerations I have made should not discourage a reader from doing reading translated philosophical texts. I have simply pointed out that a degree of humility should be set forth in critical analyses, and the considerations from 1st Peter 3:7 highlight what exactly this means.

In this brief note, I have laid out an informative and telling message from evaluating 1st Peter 3:7. What seemed a sexist passage turned out to be, in the end, nothing more than what we should expect from the Bible—an affirmation of the value of women. For the beginner in philosophy—or the beginning student of philosophical analysis—this should be pertinent to remember: A philosophical text requires diligence, patience and, most importantly, a sense of humility despite one’s own philosophical and theological convictions.

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