No, we’re not talking Star Trek here…
This subject was brought to my attention through a blog called “Energetic Procession” in a post entitled: “St Gregory Palamas on Eunomios and more” the post ending something along these lines: “These things in Scripture are not pointing to who God is but to our synergy in salvation. It tells of our freedom of will because God is unchanging in willing all men to be saved but yet few are chosen.”
I asked a few questions, being that I don’t really know all that much about the Orthodox church – and I was told to read an article by a man named David Bradshaw. I want to focus on that article, and begin to interact with what was said (there are many things said, I am only focusing on one thing in this post). I am spending the time to do this because it is important for me to interact with Scripture and be convinced of what I believe, to grow deeper in my knowledge of God so that I may worship Him more fully and love Him more completely; and looking at other’s differing opinions is one way to do that.
On Philippians 2:12-13 Dr. Bradshaw writes:
“The noun that is cognate to this verb, energeia, is the word from which we derive the term ‘energy.’ By the time of the New Testament it had in some contexts already acquired that meaning. Likewise, although energein normally means simply to act or to operate, in theological contexts such as this one it often has a further shade of meaning: that of acting in a way that itself imparts energy…This rendering helps bring out why for St. Paul there is no contradiction in urging the Philippians to do something that he also sees as the work of God…Giving this notion full weight, we could render the passage as follows: ‘it is God who energizes in you both to will and to energize of his good pleasure.’ This rendering helps bring out why for St. Paul there is no contradiction in urging the Philippians to do something that he also sees as the work of God. The peculiar nature of God’s activity is that it imparts the energy to do His will; yet this energy must be expressed or “worked out” (katergazesthe) in order to be effective.”1
The first thing that came into my mind when I read that Dr. Bradshaw suggests a translation of “energy” or “to energize” for the Greek word ἐνέργεια, was something that Oral Robert’s did in one of his books (as do many other Charismatics), translating δύναμις as “dynamite.”2 There are huge red flags going on in my mind when someone goes against the majority of accepted translation. The only times (five times) the word “energy” is used in BDAG is in the context of a human person lacking energy because they are exhausted or a loss of motivation. In the context, that makes sense – but if we indiscriminately use the word “energy” or “energize” it brings huge problems. Using the term as Dr. Bradshaw has suggested brings in modern concepts that frankly did not exist at the time of Paul’s writing. I believe his translation is hugely influenced by his Theological slant – something we should not have to do in order to prove our side. Let’s keep with Scripture – it is my goal, though I do fail, it is my goal.
Secondly, if we take Dr. Bradshaw’s translation and think about it, this is what it seems to imply if we buy it – God energizes us. Ok, that makes sense. God energizes us to do something – to will. Again, that makes sense – God supplies the energy, and I therefore have desire or the will to do what he wants. The concept here is God doing something so that I do something that he wants me to do. Going on, God supplies the energy for me to energize…wait…that doesn’t make sense. How do I energize? What does it mean for me to energize? If I say God does something causing me “to will” it makes sense because I actively then do something because he caused me to desire it. But if I say God does something causing me to energize it doesn’t make sense in English. Does it make sense to you? What does that mean? Maybe it’s just me, but it just doesn’t make sense nor is it parallel in thought to the infinitive that precedes it (θέλειν [“to will”]). But if we keep with the traditional translation “to do”, it make sense – God energizes me both to desire and to do.
The encouragement is this – work out your salvation – and lest you loose heart – remember, it is God who is at work in you both to desire and to do what he wants!
But if we make this a synergistic work, there is no encouragement – because God’s work is nothing unless I do something. God’s work has no effect on me unless I let it, and will I? I don’t know, probably not, or maybe I will. There is no assurance here, nor is there any reason for Paul to remind the Philippians that God is at work if God’s work doesn’t actually do something.
“Father, I thank you for the great encouragement it is to me, that as I press on in my walk with you that it is You and You alone who began the work in me and You will complete it, You will cause me to desire the things you want and to do Your will. Thank you for this amazing gift, the gracious gift of salvation.”
1 David Bradshaw, “The Divine Glory and the Divine Energies,” Faith and Philosophy 23 no. 3 (July 2006): 283.
2 Oral Roberts, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit: And the Value of Speaking in Tongues Today (Tulsa, Okla, 1964), 6, 9.