Re: Meaning of phusis

On Thu, 29 Sep 1994, Kenneth Litwak wrote:

> Rom 2:14: hotan phusei (when they do by phusei the things in the law).  The 
> word here in question must, I think, refer tosomething innate in the doers.
> I don't see any way for it to refer to some sort of observable characteristic.  

I find it hard to read this text as saying the Gentiles were "innately" 
righteous, righteous from birth.  They aren't even Christians yet, so one 
can't even invoke Calvinistic predestinatory here.  If they are 
righteous, it is because of what they do. "Do by _phusis_" would thus 
refer to their behavior as evidence of their inward law.

> 1 Cor 11:14: oude he phusis (nature does not teach you ... does it? -- note that I am following Padgett's understandingof this verse.  My own research of Paul's use of ou and me compounds leads me to believe he is asking a question here that expects a negative response)  Here Paul uses phusis in the same way, IMHO, that we use the term "mother nature".  He is saying that the created order teaches
> nothing about long hair.  Again, phusis here does not mean observable
> characteristic but is being treated as an entity in its own right.

_Phusis_ is being personified, but that doesn't mean it's being 
personified as Mother Nature (a grandly anachronistic and theologically 
dubious concept).  Women aren't born long-haired, but they choose to keep 
their hair long since they regard baldness as "disgraceful" (11:6) and 
luxurious locks as "glorious" (11:15).  This is how it *looks* to them, 
and so I think _phusis_ is not even broaching the subject of internal 
characteristics or unchanging patterns ordained by God.  If Paul wanted 
to say _God_ wanted women to have long hair, he surely would have said 
exactly that, and not resorted to some Nature mythology.

> Gal. 2:15: hemeis phusei ioudaioi (we who by nature are Jews) I don't know 
> all the details of how a Jew might appear differently from a Gentile 
> in the Hellenistic world at large, but it seems clear to me that Paul is not
> talking about outward, observable characteristics, but innate qualities.

Jews looked different because they were circumcised, mainly.  Religious 
Jews also maintained a high degree of visible difference in behavior from 
Gentiles.  In Romans 2:28 Paul takes issue with this vary notion of Jews 
that they can be "born" Jews, just as Jesus criticized it (John 8:39).

> EPh 2:3: emetha tekna phusei orge (we were by nature children of wrath)  Surely
> one cannot tell merely by looking at someone if they are a child of wrath.
> This verse clearly uses phusis to refer to something completely
> non-tangible this side of the eschaton.  It refers to a basic, essentail
> quality. 

Paul said he "walked about according to this world-system's era" (2:2) 
and I assume he wants his readers to visualize typical evil acts (like 
his persecution of Christians, say).  God's wrath may be invisible, but 
actions that bring it on are not necessarily invisible, and often 
aren't.  More importantly, Paul's destiny for wrath cannot be "innate" 
here since he has changed and repented since then.  Of course you might 
say he was "reborn" and acquired a new nature, but we'd still be talking 
past each other if you think it refers only to an inner characteristic 
and I assume it refers primarily to an outward observable characteristic.  
But this is one passage in which Paul makes "good deeds" prominent (2:10).

>      The same could be said for several other references.  Louw and Nida divide the use of phusis into two parts (58.8 and 58.24 for those who want to know).
> 58.8:  nature, character.  It's semantic domain seems to overlap other
> words for nature or essentail character or form.  They reference 2 Pet. 1:4, which surely does not refer to anything outward but again uses phusis as Eph 2:3 
> does.

I have serious problems with the Louw and Nida approach, so I fail to see 
their distinctions of lexicon as adding anything helpful to someone noting 
specific usages and contexts.  L&N's are entirely artificial constructs 
with no relation to NT Greek except what their contextual arguments for 
each word and definition give to them.  Semantic domains are misleading 
in their linguistic model, IMO.  I think language processing proceeds by 
association, not by a priori systemic and structural totalization, so 
word meanings differ from author to author, from sentence to sentence, 
from time period to time period, from social group to social group, etc. 
in an open-ended and ever-changing way, interactive with history.

> 58:24:  category or kind, based on physiological or genetic qualities, as in
> James, where it refers to different kinds of animals.

Here I would agree a different English word, "species" would be called 
for, since English now operates under scientific terminology that has 
moved beyond comparing animals to each other on how they look and act.  
But even then it might be a little misleading - maybe we should 
let their terminology explain itself?

Greg Jordan