The Task of Responsible Christian Communication

If σωφρονισμός refers to “the teaching of prudence,” then the ends of Christian teaching must include the cultivation of prudence in the minds of learners.

Last Friday morning I shuddered to see Scott Swain wasting of his brilliance in a tweet thread. I’m sure it was beneficial for the many who saw it, but I wanted more. And I was hoping for a format that wouldn’t disappear in a newsfeed in less than 24 hours. So I asked him if he would turn it into an article for a guest post here at MoS, so we can at least get a week of cyberspace out of it and a better context for search engines and quoting. He kindly obliged and I’m happy to share it with you today:

 

“God gave us not a spirit of fear but of power and love and σωφρονισμοῦ” (2 Tim 1:7). What is “a spirit of … σωφρονισμοῦ”? Oliver O’Donovan argues that we should not follow the standard English translations of “self-control” or “sound judgment” and instead that we should translate σωφρονισμός according to its common usage in first-century Greek, i.e., “the teaching of prudence” (BDAG). According to this translation, the person endowed with the spiritual gift of σωφρονισμός is endowed with the gift of “a certain type of speech: instruction, warning, and correction, intended to make its hearers sôphrones, i.e., intelligent and discerning agents” (O’Donovan, Entering into Rest, p. 194).

This translation seems to fit the context well. In 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul encourages Timothy to fulfill his pastoral vocation—in which speech is central (see 2 Tim 4:1-5)—by stirring up the gift that was given to him through the laying on of hands. This translation also opens up interesting horizons for thinking about the task of Christian teaching and communication. If σωφρονισμός refers to “the teaching of prudence,” then the ends of Christian teaching must include the cultivation of prudence in the minds of learners.

Prudence plays a primary role in Christian moral reasoning. Prudence refers to the capacity for testing and discerning the will of the Lord in a given setting (Rom 12:1-2), for approving what is the most excellent course of action in a given situation (Phil 1:8-10). Though prudence depends upon contemplative wisdom regarding God and his ways in order to orient itself before God in the world (Rom 11:33-36), prudence is a species of practical wisdom, aimed at human action. By discerning the will of the Lord, prudence illumines a path for Christian obedience, directing us to the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).

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