Notes from Down Under





by Ernie Klassek

The Greek word translated "rubbish" in Philippians 3:8, New International Version, occurs only once in the New Testament.


The apostle Paul was writing to the Christians in Philippi (near the modern port city of Kaválla), Macedonia, the province north of ancient Greece.


His choice of the word skubala (pronounced skívala) for "rubbish", seems to have been deliberate. To this day, the farming people in the fertile regions of Macedonia call the leftovers from sifted wheat skívala. The Philippians would have fully understood the term and what it stood for. A close look at farming practices in their region, past and present, should tell us why.


Age-old methods of harvesting, threshing, winnowing and sifting wheat were still in use as recent as the 1930s. My wife Domna vividly recollects how it was all done in her village not far from Thessaloniki, about 90 miles southwest of ancient Philippi.


Beginning in July, the villagers would harvest the crop of wheat with sickles, tie it into sheaves which they would bring to a level piece of ground prepared for the threshing. There they untied the sheaves and spread them out. A large wooden board, bent up in front like a sledge and studded with sharp quartz stones underneath, was pulled across the sheaves by a bullock led in circles by a man. Every now and then, the bullock would help himself to a mouthful of what was between his hoofs. Now we can relate to what we read in Deuteronomy 25:41, a good indication that for centuries all around Bible lands, people had done their threshing in a similar way.


To weigh down the board, children would take turns sitting on it. Domna has fond memories of rides on such a board, slowly round and round the threshing floor. With a horse, the pace was considerably faster. The cutting action of the quartz stones would turn the straw into chaff, and together with the impact of the hoofs would separate the husks from the grains of wheat.


After the threshing, winnowing could only begin in windy conditions. Wooden shovels were used to toss everything into the air. The breeze would blow the chaff and husks to one side, while the grains of wheat together with other heavier particles would drop to the ground, to be taken away in bags for sifting.


The sifting was done with hand-held, round sieves. The grains of wheat would drop onto a sheet, while the larger bits of gravel, lumps of earth, the pods and seeds of tares and other weeds as well as some wheat still in the husk would remain in the sieve, to be thrown to the chickens. So the bits of rubbish, called skívala, were not wasted, but were only suitable for chicken feed.


To find out what Paul compared to rubbish in verse 8, we have to read the preceding verses. Beginning with verse 4, he lists all the reasons to put confidence in the flesh, and adds,


"I have more: circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless."


What a lineup of worldly qualifications, enough to gain admission to the higher strata of the society of his day. Yet he continues in verse 7:


"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ."


Being surrounded by this postmodern age with all its crass materialism and self-seeking, a 21st century Christian would do well to heed Paul's evaluation, be fully aware that the world's values are rubbish-mere chicken feed-and echo the words that follow: "that I may gain Christ."


1"Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," quoted verbatim from the Septuagint in I Corinthians 9:9 and I Timothy 5:18.

Issue 25


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.66.
On 02 Nov 2008, 18:09.