James Cuénod wrote:In Philippians 2:15 the last part of the verse reads "ἐν οἷς φαίνεσθε ὡς φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳ" (en hois phainesthe hōs phōstēres en kosmōi) (NET: "in which you shine as lights in the world").
To what does the "οἷς" (the relative pronoun) refer?
I was expecting it to refer to "γενεᾶς" but the genders do not match.
Maybe I'm just being dumb (an option neither unfathomable nor without precedent).
You're not being dumb: the answer to your question is not really obvious. First, lef's have the whole of the relevant text before our eyes:
Πάντα ποιεῖτε χωρὶς γογγυσμῶν καὶ διαλογισμῶν, 15 ἵνα γένησθε ἄμεμπτοι καὶ ἀκέραιοι, τέκνα θεοῦ ἄμωμα μέσον γενεᾶς σκολιᾶς καὶ διεστραμμένης, ἐν οἷς φαίνεσθε ὡς φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳ, 16 λόγον ζωῆς ἐπέχοντες,
What immediately precedes the relative clause in question is the striking contrastive phrase, τέκνα θεοῦ ἄμωμα μέσον γενεᾶς σκολιᾶς καὶ διεστραμμένης -- "God's blameless children amidst a skewed and perverse generation". I think we'd have to say that the antecedent of ἐν οἷς must be seen in the description of the generation of humanity wherein these chldren of God shine brightly on a dark human scene. This is what's called a constructio ad sensum
-- the γενεὰ σκολιὰ καὶ διεστραμμένη is a collective noun in the feminine gender, but it refers to human beings -- ἄνθρωποι pretty obviously. Therefore I'd say that the relative pronoun οἷς construes with the implicit masculine plural which the phrase γενεὰ σκολιὰ καὶ διεστραμμένη represents. The Latin term, constructio ad sensum
, is used of a syntactic construction that is not in accord with standard grammatical usage but which is intelligible in its context because of what's implied in the context, which context may involve a metaphorical notion or a collective noun that functions as an antecedent for a plural relative pronoun. In this instance, the γενεὰ σκολιά is both a colleciive noun and a metaphorical expression; the reader, however, readlly grasps what the author is trying to say. I might add that it seems to me that this is an instance of grammatical explanation drawing an initial blank of perplexity despite the fact that one has read and understood without a problem what the text is actually saying: if the teacher hadn't asked the question of the antecedent that you have just asked -- or if your conscience in lieu of a teacher hadn't posted the question to your mind out of habit, you wouldn't have given the matter of grammatical mismatch a second thought. "Thus conscience/grammar doth make cowards -- or something like that -- of us all" (apologies to the bard).
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
ἄτοπον, ἔφη, λέγεις εἰκόνα καὶ δεσμώτας ἀτόπους.
ὁμοίους ἡμῖν, ἦν δʼ ἐγώ. Plato, Rep. 7 (515a)