The Dative Self: Philippians 1:12-21

Reflecting on the Pauline passages that warrant Kierkegaard’s “edifying negativity,” Philip Ziegler ruminates (in a footnote) on the idea of the “dative self.” He writes,

“I am minded to think that it should be possible to develop an account of Christian life conceived on the basis of the idea of the ‘dative self,’ i.e. from an account of how things come to appear when the human self is consistently understood on the grounds of its being displaced into the dative case by the divine subject and its agency (Christ for us, Christ in me, etc.).”

Ziegler is right about this. The Christian life is rightly understood in the dative case, with the Trinity as the sole subject. In Greek, as you may know, the dative case may function in three general ways: the true dative, locative dative, and the instrumental dative. Taking all three in hand, Ziegler’s suggestion may yield a threefold mantra summarizing Christian life as the “dative self,” with God as the subject:

  1. True Dative — God to me.
  2. Locative Dative — God in me.
  3. Instrumental — God through me.
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