The latest issue of Neotestamentica (December 2008) will include my ‘”I Will Not Be Put to Shame”: Paul, the Philippians, and the Honourable Wish for Death’ (pp. 253-268).
This article, a draft of which I presented in 2007 at the British NT Conference, is an exploration of a Jewish literary tradition I call the ‘honourable wish for death’ and how Paul re-expresses this concept. This traditional normally involves a Jewish person (whether Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Job, Jeremiah, etc..) who is God’s servant and hopes for some kind of success or victory in service to him. When God sometimes leads his servant into suffering or humiliation, it was normal for him to wish for death as a way of alleviating dishonor. The important thing, though, is that none of these characters actually commit suicide – it is a rhetorical device.
In Philippians 1, I argue that Paul is re-deploying this literary device because he, as God’s agent, is in a shameful position of imprisonment and one would naturally say ‘Oh God, take my life, for it is better for me to die than to live’. But, those who are ‘in Christ’ know life and death differently. For Paul to live is ‘Christ’ even though to die is ‘gain’. Death and suffering are revealed to be, not marks of shame, but of conformity to the pattern of Christ. This is clearly laid out in Philippians 3.
Unfortunately Neotestamentica is not available to ATLA users online. You will have to make a trip to the library for this one.
I am happy to share this issue of NeoT with Jonathan Draper, Darian Lockett, David Moessner, Steve Moyise, and Gert Steyn. There are several good articles here worth checking out!