Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Excursus on Romans: Exegesis on 2:14, Part 2

IN PART ONE OF THIS SERIES, we reviewed the Greek text in Romans 2:14 and concluded that there is no way to determine the difference between a adjectival dativus actoris and an adverbial dativus modi or dativus instrumenti. A dativus actoris relates to a "who"? A dativus modi relates to an "in what manner"? A dativus instrumenti relates to a "by what means"? Whatever kind of dativus the word physei is, it cannot be learned from the form of the noun: they all are the same.

Since we don't have commas to help us in Greek, we look at the syntax. What about syntax? Is the fact that the word φύσει located after the phrase ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα mean that it does not refer to ἔθνη (gentiles who do not have the law)? Since φύσει precedes the phrase τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν (those who do the law) does that mean that it refers to that phrase that follows?

St. Paul Writing an Epistle

The argument supporting the majority interpretation seems to have the upper hand when syntax is considered. The argument is that if Paul or any writer of Greek had intended to say that the Gentiles by nature lacked something, namely the law, the term "by nature" (physei) would not have been placed at the end of the phrase he was modifying, but would have been placed before the noun it was modifying, such a construction being the more natural construction. What seems quite clear is that physei is never used in any instance in the New Testament in a manner where it modified a noun (i.e., as a dativus auctoris or in an adjectival sense) and was placed post-positively, that is after the noun. There is, however, no instance where the term physei was used pre-positively when it was used adverbially in the sense of a dativus modi or dativus instrumenti. In fact, there is no instance in the New Testament where the term physei was used as a dativus modi or dativus instrumenti, i.e., adverbially at all. So the argument by syntax is not absolutely conclusive, but it leans heavily in support of the traditional understanding.***

St. Paul uses the term physei three other times in his epistles: Galatians 2:15, 4:8, and Ephesians 2:3. Do these provide any instruction as to St. Paul's usage of the dative noun physei?

ἡμεῖς φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί

We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles

Ἀλλὰ τότε μὲν οὐκ εἰδότες θεὸν ἐδουλεύσατε τοῖς φύσει μὴ οὖσιν θεοὶς

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods

ἐν οἷς καὶ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἀνεστράφημεν ποτε ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῆς σαρκὸς ἡμῶν ποιοῦντες τὰ θελήματα τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ τῶν διανοιῶν, καὶ ἤμεθα τέκνα φύσει ὀργῆς ὡς καὶ οἱ λοιποί

Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest

In each of these instances, physei is used as a dativus auctoris, since in each instance it is clear that the term "by nature" refers to a noun, and not a verb (Jews, Gods, children of wrath). It is adjectival, not adverbial. Now, what is apparent is that, when used in this sense, St. Paul places the dativus auctoris before the modified noun, between a definitive article and the noun (and so also before the noun), and between a noun and its genitive modifier. In no instance does St. Paul place the dativus acutoris post positive, after the noun it modifies. This would suggest that Paul is not using the term physei as a dativus auctoris in Romans 2:14, as, if he followed his habit in these other verses, one would anticipate the term physei to be before the noun it modifies, so that St. Paul would have said placed φύσει either before the word Gentile (ἔθνη) or somewhere before ἔχοντα. He would not have placed a dativus auctoris, a dative used adjectively, post-positively.

Since in none of these other instances is physei used in a dativus modi or dativus instrumenti (i.e., in an adverbial sense modifying a verb), we cannot use these instances to help inform us as to whether St. Paul would have placed a dativus modi or instrumenti pre-positively, that is, before the verb he was intending to modify.

While we are at it, we might as well review the only other instance of the use of physei in the New Testament, namely in the Epistle of James (3:7):
πᾶσα γὰρ φύσις θηρίων τε καὶ πετεινῶν, ἑρπετῶν τε καὶ ἐναλίων δαμάζεται καὶ δεδάμασται τῇ φύσει τῇ ἀνθρωπίνῃ

For every nature of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of the rest, is tamed, and hath been tamed, by the nature of man (Douay Rheims)

St. James uses a dativus auctoris pre-positively, not post-positively. Following St. Paul's practice, St. James place the term physei when used as a dativus auctoris before the noun it was modifying, and never after that noun.

So it seems that those who want to read St. Paul's words and construe them to mean something along these lines--"For when the Gentiles who have no law by nature do the things of the law, these having no law, are a law unto themselves"--have no warrant.

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