Periodical Reviews -- By: Carisa A. Ash

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 172:688 (Oct 2015)
Article: Periodical Reviews
Author: Carisa A. Ash

Periodical Reviews

By The Faculty and Library Staff of Dallas Theological Seminary

Carisa A. Ash


Philippians 2:6-11 as Subversive Hymnos: A Study in the Light of Ancient Rhetorical Theory,” Michael Wade Martin and Bryan A. Nash, Journal of Theological Studies 66 (April 2015): 90-138.

Michael Martin is associate professor of New Testament at Lubbock Christian University and faculty mentor to Bryan Nash, a graduate student at Lubbock Christian University. In this compelling article on the relationship between ancient rhetorical theory and the poetic material found in Philippians 2:6-11, Martin and Nash exhibit the importance of understanding background contextual materials that influenced composition of the New Testament. Their article is an attempt to “vindicate the now centuries old reading of Phil. 2:6-11 as a hymn” (p. 134). They successfully demonstrate that the author of this material (whether it was preformed and later appropriated by Paul or written by Paul himself) may have crafted the Christ-exalting hymn as an attempt to subvert traditional Greco-Roman values as typically expressed through hymnic rhetoric. Such an understanding, if accurate, powerfully highlights the significance of Jesus’s exemplary sacrificial work, in contrast to the values of first-century Mediterranean society.

Martin and Nash begin by surveying the rhetorical genre categories typically proposed for the Philippians material. They determine, based on prescriptive indicators found in ancient textbooks on rhetoric, that the author of the material most likely intended his poem to be interpreted as a “hymn.” Through this, Martin and Nash intend to demonstrate how the author of the Christ hymn of Philippians intentionally disobeyed prescribed hymnic conventions in order to highlight the intensely subversive nature of Christ’s example of humility.

After establishing the passage as hymnic, the authors compare the various subjects addressed in the Christ hymn with those typically contained in ancient hymns. They note several areas in which traditional Mediterranean values are inverted in order to positively illustrate the countercultural value of humility exemplified in the work of Jesus Christ. For example, a typical hymn might praise what was popularly considered a life of virtue. The hymn found in Philippians “displays almost none of the characteristics normally thought praiseworthy in the ancient Mediterranean world” (p. 110). In fact, the hymn praises that which is “normally considered the subject of invective” (ibid.)....

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