The Koine-Greek Blog: Paul and the Question of σκύβαλον

The Koine-Greek gang is at it again, this time covering the controversial word skubalon that is featured in the words of Paul in Philippians 3:8. Here are a few ways English translations render the word.


KJV: Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung [skubala], that I may win Christ.

NRSV: More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish [skubala], in order that I may gain Christ.

NIV: What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage [skubala], that I may gain Christ.


I have to admit that in my final years as a Christian I became a bit more “edgy” and loved pushing the lines of decency when it came to how Christians typically thought and spoke. Some of it was because I was serving as a youth and young adult ministries director in a Presbyterian church that undoubtedly would beat all other churches to meet Jesus in the air since “the dead in Christ will rise first.” Making Christians uncomfortable was fun for me, and childish. And so I often told people that skubalon could easily be rendered as “shit” in Philippians 3:8 and if we wanted to understand Paul we should be willing to rise above our conventional and polite Christianity!

Boy was I wrong.

Mike Aubrey of Koine-Greek writes in his introduction to the series covering skubalon that seeing “shit” as a possible gloss for skubalon

is not sufficient justification for such a rendering. Acting on such inclinations results in bad lexicography. There are a number of reasons why ‘shit’ is an unacceptable gloss.  For one, even though σκύβαλον has a socially avoided referent, that does not mean the term itself creates the visceral reaction that a true obscenity would. More importantly, σκύβαλον has a distinctly different distribution in its usage compared to the English obscenity shit. The lexeme is comfortably at home in a wide variety of contexts, including in medical texts, for example.

You can read the rest of his post here. He has two other posts on his site covering skubalon that I will be reading and posting in the next few weeks. If you aren’t reading Koine-Greek then I suggest you subscribe and do so. It is fascinating stuff.

Featured image: By Truebano – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17526638

 

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