φείδομαι/φειδομένως (Good or bad sense)

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.
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Stephen Hughes
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φείδομαι/φειδομένως (Good or bad sense)

Post by Stephen Hughes » April 27th, 2013, 4:18 am

I realise that this is a seemingly obvious question and easily dismissed by "the lexicon says...", but I'm having real trouble getting my head around the sense of the later part of P.Oxy.1065 ὥσπερ οἱ θεοὶ οὐκ ἐφείσαντό μου οὕτως κἀγὼ θεῶν οὐ φείσομαι (lines 7-9).
Is not withholding something a good or a bad thing? The most educated guess I can come up with is that the gods have not spared him some trouble that has happened in his life, but the second part of that, the κἀγὼ θεῶν οὐ φείσομαι is proving difficult on the grey matter.

Likewise the adverb of the participle φειδομένως at 2 Cor.9:6. Is that meant as a good or a bad thing? Does it assume a "more is better" mentality among the Corinthians? Understanding the sense is perhaps based on an assumed contrast between the εὐλογία, and the φείδομαι. While I do think that is methodologically sound, I would like to suggest that perhaps such a way of dealing with it can be jumped to too quickly, especially when the thing with which it is contrasted is not well understood - like mooring a boat on a floating log. Let me say that actually, I disagree with the reference material that I have seen on this verse, because it seems to me that εὐλογία here is not the same εὐλογία as in from "speak", but from λογία "collection", as in get some "good εὐ" handfuls (of seed) collected together when you sow and you will get a good handful of stalks together when you reap. I guess the apostle was trying a pun or wordplay on the εὐλογία in verse 5, but that it is a homophonic neologism rather than taking it as a concrete expression of the blessing of God (as in the LXX). But using resources sparingly is a good thing that would suppose something like ὁ σπείρων φείδεται σπόρον* (This is not a quote, I made this up), the uses of φείδομαι talk about sparing rational beings (angels and humans). That is to say that the seeds are saved from something that would happen to them, perhaps death (according to the (pseudo-)science of that time)/ being thrown to the ground.
φείδομαι in NT usage is a positive thing - keeping some bad things away from someone or something., I haven't got a library (within 3,000 km) that I would expect to find reference books in, so that I can actually see the Loeb, but it seems that the usage in Plut. Alex. 25 (and 28 for ὑποφειδομένως "restrain oneself a little") are in both cases referring self-restraint and that is seen as a virtue - to be taken in a good sense. That would suit the first φειδομένως - handling and saving money is a virtue, but the second φειδομένως doesn't seem natural. It seems to imply that there is a choice about how much grain to harvest, i.e. to say that it seems to say that the sower (who has now taken on the role of reaper) can see a lot of stalks and only cuts a few, and leaves the rest (spares them from undergoing the "ordeal" of being cut down). I find that strange. It is strange because this verb seems to assume a conscious decision on the part of the person doing a harmful action. Who is the sparer in the second φείδομαι/φειδομένως, the grammar says it is the sower come reaper, and the weight of Greek suggests that that is seen as an ethically good thing. I don't think that "In a scanty or meager manner" holds the right sense for this, and "sparingly" looks like one of those translations that I used to do in undergraduate Greek classes Spare (for the meaning) + ing (for the participle) + ly (for the adverb), without really thinking about it. I guess the third ed. of BDAG captures the sense of the English and expresses about the Greek.
Does anyone have any suggestions or ideas on this understanding of the Greek?

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Re: φείδομαι/φειδομένως (Good or bad sense)

Post by cwconrad » April 27th, 2013, 8:34 am

2 Cor 9:6 Τοῦτο δέ, ὁ σπείρων φειδομένως φειδομένως καὶ θερίσει, καὶ ὁ σπείρων ἐπ᾿ εὐλογίαις ἐπ᾿ εὐλογίαις καὶ θερίσει.
It seems to me that the context of the collection for the πτῶχοι of Jerusalem makes the sense of φειδομένως here clear enough. It's pretty clear that φείδεσθαι here is used in a pejorative sense of "stinting, niggardliness" where one ought to be generous. One must, of course, forget the parables suggesting that it doesn't take much seed to produce a bumper crop; the context here is different. If the farmer doesn't put down a goodly portion of seed, he cannot expect much of a crop. So niggardliness in benevolence giving won't accomplish much that's praiseworthy. So φείδεσθαι here has the fundamental sense of parsimony and εὐλογία has the fundamental sense of benevolence or generosity.

For my part, I think that BDAG s.v. εὐλογία is right on the money (pun intended):
4. Since the concept of blessing connotes the idea of bounty, εὐ. also bears the mng. generous gift, bounty (opp. πλεονεξία) 2 Cor 9:5b; perh. also 5a, s. 3c above. ἐπ᾿ εὐλογίαις (opp. φειδομένως) bountifully 9:6ab (Philo, Leg. All. 3, 210: ἐπ᾿ εὐλογίαις=in order that blessed influence might be felt). This may perh. be the place for Hb 6:7 (s. 3bα above) γῆ . . . μεταλαμβάνει εὐλογίας ἀπὸ τ. θεοῦ the earth receives rich bounty from God. RAC VI 900–928. JMateos, Análisis de un campo lexematico—Εὐλογία en el NT: Filologí a Neotestamentaria 1, ’88, 5–25; cp. Betz, 2 Cor 96–99, 103.—Renehan ’85, 73f. M-M. TW.
As for
P.Oxy.1065 ὥσπερ οἱ θεοὶ οὐκ ἐφείσαντό μου οὕτως κἀγὼ θεῶν οὐ φείσομαι (lines 7-9).
I'd need to see more of the context, but I can readily enough imagine a positive sense, "As the gods have not stinted me, so I won't stint the gods." or a negative sense of, let's say, William Ernest Hensley, "As the gods have spared me nothing in abuse, so I'll not treat them less ungenerously."

And regarding the etymology of εὐλογία, I don't think we need to suppose derivation more directly from the "gathering" root sense of λεγ/λογ. The usages cited by BDAG for εὐλογία in the sense of beneficence are quite adequate, I think.
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Stephen Hughes
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Joined: February 26th, 2013, 7:12 am

Re: φείδομαι/φειδομένως (Good or bad sense)

Post by Stephen Hughes » April 29th, 2013, 3:54 am

Thank you Carl for taking the trouble to reply and share your views.
I'd also like to know what people think about the meaning or sense of φειδομένως when used with θερίσει? Who would be the stingy party in that case? The reaper, God or the natural order of things? Then I would like to suggest that it is plausible to understand it in a good sense.
It seems to me that if it is the reaper, and we assume for argument's sake that the sense of φειδομένως from the point of view of the donor / sower is pejorative and that it is a morally undesirable characteristic, then they also hold back from taking what good is available but because of their own disposition don't enjoy. If it is God, then He is making a "conscious" decision to withhold what is good and bountiful and to be stingy. For the option that it is a natural outcome of agricultural science, I think that more morally neutral term like ὀλίγον or ἐλαχύ would more readily be used. If it is something other than a (morally) neutral term, then is was probably used with some force or intention.

I still think that to get to a φειδομένως from its usually (morally) positive sense with a decision to be a better person and use things wisely, to change to a sense that is morally wanting (as most secondary reference materials hold to be the case) or even to a sense that is a natural action devoid of considerations of morality is a big leap, without a body of examples to prove it was a general thing to do for this adverb. But there isn't even one.

So far as I understand language processing, we understand unfamiliar words by translating / paraphrasing them, not be reciting them from lists into a second language. I assume that a speaker with a reasonable education / understanding of Imperial Koine would know φείδομαι to be a good thing, which is often threatened not to happen. It seems to have an element of fear, like "I'm not going to stop you smoking (driving fast), and you just see what happens to your health (life)". I think that the way that someone would understand that adverb is by taking its meaning and sense from the verb. Unless φειδομένως was a commonplace in a negative sense at that time in that community and for the Apostle (supposing that he was not aware that his letter may be read by others throughout the Koine scribing and reading area), it is most likely being meant to be in a positive sense at least in the first instance. I don't think there needs to be a separate entry in the dictionary for this word, I think that it is in this place the logical derivative of the positive force of φείδομαι, "use sparingly so that you will not waste it".
Now, what about the difficult to explain second usage. I contend that it may be meant as humourous. Something like, "If someone goes out sowing trying to go easy on the grain, then he is going to "go easy" on the harvest too." Harvesting is a good thing bringing material benefits, φειδομένως is a good and morally virtuous thing with a clear and definite good feeling, but it is made to sound like it is in a bad sense, that is a form of humour. I personally would like to give money to a charity more freely if I am relaxed and happy. Humour is a good way to loosen things up. I don't think that moral judgement (using a word that most of the hearers would take as in as good a sense as they had been taught that being abstemious was good) is a effective a way to get a generous bounty. I think that it is possible that this humour could be in addition to the play on words that I conjectured in my previous post.

A side issue to the discussion of φειδομένως is the question about who or what were those who were spared from the uses of φείδομαι in the NT spared from. Did God spare people or angels from himself, or from His the wrath or agent of wrath. I think that in the papyrus, it mean spared from the logical outcomes of fate or life, that the gods did not intervene into the game to bend the rules. I see that it it possible that there might might not have been the fullness of thought given to the implication of using this word for (not) sparing such and so, but that it may have been used with a largely emotive rather than logical force. I don't think that the passages that φείδομαι is used in were written to help us explore the nature and agency of punishment. I take it as something like Russel Peter's "somebody" (emotion and unspoken). The primal fear of the boogie-man to make children behave, expressed at an adult level to turn people from sin, so they might see the possibilities of righteousness more clearly.

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