A continuation of my previous post here, also known as unashamedly reusing a paper as blog posts.
IV. Form, Structure and Movement
[outline removed because it is boring]
This Epistle contains repetitive words and themes which serve to emphasize the intent of the letter. The root words for grace, thanks and joy – χάρις/χαιρω – are used nineteen times in this letter. From this brief analysis it is clear then that thankfulness and joy are going to be a predominant message of Philippians. We can also see from the brief outline some elements of parallelism, specifically in chapters 1 and 2. Paul seems to repeat a similar point – to pursue holiness – in light of his example in imprisonment and Christ’s example of suffering death on a cross. Chapters 3 and 4 serve as exhortations of the foundations primarily set in chapters 1 and 2.
Our verses from chapter 2 appear to fit right in the middle of a transitional point for the letter. Prior to verses 2:12-13 Paul is primarily giving himself and Christ as examples of obedience and joy during suffering. Verses 2:14ff and chapters 3 and 4 outline more situations to find joy in Christ, whether it be in our daily pursuit of a life in Christ (verses 3:12-21), joy in ministry (verses 2:19-30 and 4:2-9) or God’s provision (4:10-20). Prior to verses 2:12-13 we read reasons and examples to live out a joy in Christ during trials, following these verses the letter moves in to sort of a practical application of what this looks like lived out. We can get that sense from 2:12, beginning with “Therefore…” which really tells us everything Paul had said up to that point is reason to “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” It is clear then that these verses are an important hinge and turning point on which the letter relies.
V. Detailed Analysis
Now that the text has been surveyed, the structure of the letter has been analyzed and important historical and literary details have been considered, focus must now turn to our specific passages at hand. As has already been discussed, Philippians 2:12-13 is a hinge on which this letter switches its primary focus from the foundation of Paul’s exhortations to the meat of the exhortations themselves. This will become clearer as the individual sections of this passage are dissected.
The passage begins with the words “Ὥστε, ἀγαπητοί μου,” (Therefore, my beloved). When we see a ‘therefore’ in Scripture the first question we must ask is “What is it there for?” In regards to this passage, the word Ὥστε tells us that Paul is going to draw a conclusion from his preceding argument. Paul has just finished spending forty-one verses primarily giving us examples of joy and obedience during suffering. Beginning with his own imprisonment, and moving into the far exceeding example of Christ’s humility on the cross in verses 2:1-11, Paul is going to issue an imperative to his audience.
Paul delays his command briefly to provide more emphasis on the imperative. His next words are “καθὼς πάντοτε ὑπηκούσατε” (as, or just as, you always obeyed). Commending the Philippians for their obedience is consistent with the overall tone of this letter. As has already been discussed, Paul is exceedingly grateful for the support in his ministry. However, given the exhortations that will follow it is clear Paul wants to see their obedience and behavior increase. We feel the weight of his desires with the next section of verse 12, “μὴ ὡς ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ μου μόνον ἀλλὰ νῦν πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἐν τῇ ἀπουσίᾳ μου” (not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence). What does it mean for Paul to say “but much more in my absence”? There is a reasonable conclusion to be made from the preceding verses in 2:1-11. It has been shown previously that Paul had a very close relationship with the Philippian church, and rightly so. It is no wonder then that Paul begins his letter with a model of his leadership through service and imprisonment. However, Paul does not want the Philippian church to use him as the primary model for their Christian faith. It is not his intention for the church to need his presence as their foundation. Rather, they have Christ as their example – his humble service, his life, his death and his resurrection to look to. So then, having outlined Christ’s magnificent sacrifice for sinners on the cross, it is right for Paul to say but much more in my absence. Having Christ as their example, how much more so they must continue to strive for obedience!
Finally we arrive at Paul’s imperative command, the conclusion of Ὥστε; “μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε” (with fear and trembling workout your own salvation). As was already discussed, ‘fear and trembling’ are words that allude back to language from the Old Testament, specifically the pagan’s view towards God and the way he worked through his people Israel. What does it mean for Paul to issue the imperative workout your own salvation? This is a key question address when understanding this passage. Could Paul actually be saying that salvation is dependent on our own works to attain it? Some who have immature understandings of Paul’s theology might want to take that idea and run with it, however that would not be consistent with Paul’s theology as a whole (Eph. 2:8).
In addition to being inconsistent with the entirety of Paul’s writings, thinking this imperative means we earn salvation for ourselves would also be inconsistent with the entirety of Philippians. Paul says later in the letter “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” What we begin to see in this imperative, and will continue to see in the remainder of the letter, is that it is very important for Paul to communicate this idea: that because we have grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we must continue to devote ourselves to obedience and striving to persevere until the end. A person who says something to the effect of “Because I have grace, I can take it easy and not try too hard” would be entirely foreign and incompatible to Paul. This idea of grace-fueled obedience is supported in verse 13, but we also see it in verse 2:16 (“…I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”), verse 3:12 (“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”), and verse 3:14 (“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”) among others.
Paul continues expounding on this idea of grace-fueled obedience in verse 13. Continuing with an explanatory clause he says “θεὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν” (For God is the one working in you). The first observation to be made from this segment should be that Paul chose to put θεὸς at the beginning of the sentence, rather than ὁ ἐνεργῶν. As the latter is the subject (since it has the article), we would normally expect the subject to precede ἐστιν. It should be noted thusly that Paul chose to put θεὸς at the beginning of the sentence to provide weight, “For GOD is the one working in you”. This emphasis on God being the one working in the believer would indeed back up the idea that it is not works-based salvation Paul is speaking of in these passages, rather obedience to God who is already working in us.
The remainder of this detailed analysis will be spent on the second half of verse 13, “καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν ὑπὲρ τῆς εὐδοκίας.” I leave out the translation for this second half because it can go one of two ways, depending on how the substantive infinitives are translated. Depending on which translation is chosen, the implications of this verse significantly change.
The common translation amongst today’s major translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, KJV) would say something to the effect of “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” And this makes sense considering the standard use of the infinitive verb. However, as Wallace points out, because the infinitives are used substantively and they have the article, it is entirely possible for a different translation to be rendered. This translation would be something to the effect of “both the willing and the working for his good pleasure.” (Wallace, 602). While the wording only slightly changes, the meaning has a drastic difference. While the former translation only tells us that it is God who is working in the believer, the latter translation would tell us that it was God who both initiated and is currently working in the believer. While I would like to see this verse behind my reformed bias and stick to the latter translation, I see no immediate reason to choose this translation over the one used by every English translation. There appears to be nothing in the passages immediate context nor the letter as a whole to give reason to choose the latter translation.
That being said, the former translation of “both to will and to work for his good pleasure” is plenty of evidence to show that Paul is not speaking of works-based salvation in verse 12. Rather, this segment provides much weight to the idea of grace-fueled obedience. Why should believers work out their salvation with fear and trembling? Because it is GOD, the God of the universe and the head of the Trinity who dwells and works in us, therefore it is necessary for us to be obedient to his working in us to fuel our will and work for His good pleasure.
Aland, Kurt, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini et al. The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (With Morphology), Php 2:12–13, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993; 2006.
Fee, Gordon D. Vol. 11, Philippians. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, 11-39. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.
Metzger, Bruce Manning and United Bible Societies. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.), 546. London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994.
Silva, Moisés. Philippians. 2nd ed. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 1–22. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.
Wallace, Daniel. Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. 46, 602-603. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.
Well, finishing this little mini-series took a lot longer than expected. Needless to say that getting engaged, work, school and life are enough to keep me away from writing!
I’ve previously written two entries about the study of Biblical languages, part 1 and part 2. In the first entry I talked about why it is important for ministry leaders, particularly pastors, to have a working knowledge of the original text. In the second entry, I focused mainly on some small but common examples of how to defend the text against common attacks. In this last entry of this series, I am going to discuss a few examples of how the original text can greatly enhance teaching from a given text.
It is rarely the case that a reading of the original language will significantly alter the message of the translation. That should be of great comfort to many, as it shows that our English translations (and others) are mostly accurate concerning the original text. What we do often find, however, is that the message can be significantly enhanced by really understanding the language of the author.
Below I have listed a few examples that I will do my best to explain. I would like to again remind the reader that I am in no way claiming to be an expert on this subject, as I am barely scratching the surface myself. I do however love to share what I am learning with others, and I hope in some way these little examples are enriching to you.
Example #1: Understanding the Original Word
This little diddy was something I discovered in my studies of 1 Timothy a couple of weeks ago. As I was translating and studying 1 Timothy 2:1-6, I was curious at the following line: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Ti 2:5–6, ESV). My attention was drawn to the word ransom, ἀντίλυτρον in the Greek. Recognizing this as a compound word, I looked up λυτρον in the lexicon to find that λυτρον by itself meant “ransom”. So why the need to compound ἀντί ? Turning to my handy Daniel Wallace grammar to see what he had to say about this, indeed our little preposition ἀντί provides great emphasis to this passage. As it turns out, ἀντί carries the meaning of “exchange”, “substitution” or “in place of”.
Now the passage in the English already says “ransom for all”, so the idea of Christ paying our penalty is already at work here. However, taking into consideration the full word ἀντίλυτρον, we can now really see a substitutionary ransom is what Paul really had in mind here. Paul really wants to get the message across to his audience that Christ’s death was in place of sinners. How sweet this truth is!
Example #2: The Present Progressive
The book of 1 John is awesome because you need very little vocabulary to translate it. It is so repetitive that by the end of the book you feel like an absolute pro who could translate any book in the New Testament. If only this was the case…
1 John 3:9 presents us with an interesting little passage. It reads: No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God ( 1 Jn 3:9, ESV). Now from what we know about the entirety of the New Testament, there can be no way this passage means that if you sin once you aren’t a Christian anymore. That isn’t how grace works. But don’t we sometimes think that? Maybe when we’re feeling low, having a week where we’ve really fallen into sin, we start thinking those thoughts don’t we? There are some preachers out there (albeit false ones) who want to lord over you by preaching a perfectionist message, maybe they’re right?
This is where our understanding of the present progressive tense comes into play. The present progressive tense is one that means it is an action that is occurring now and is continuing on into the future. When we read the verbs “makes a practice of” and “sinning”, what we’d find in the Greek language is this is in the present progressive tense. So what we’re talking about here is someone who sins now and continues habitually to practice that sin without remorse. While this is again understandable from our English translations, it is entirely possible for people to get caught up on verses like this.
**As I write example #3, I realize it is worth briefly mentioning Hebrews 2:17, …to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Heb 2:17b, ESV). It is interesting to note that the verb “to make propitiation”, ἱλάσκεσθαι, is also in the present progressive tense. What we can gather from this is that this passage is not referring to a single act of atonement on the cross, but a continual subsequent activity by which Christ continually applies the propitiatory power of His sacrifice (Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 145). Since this could be an entirely separate post to examine this, for brevity’s sake I will end this note here.
Example #3: The Perfect Tense
The perfect tense is a verb tense in the Greek language that is really hard to communicate in the English. The reason for this is the lengthy implications the perfect tense has. The perfect tense can simply be defined by an action that was completed in the past and has results or impact in the present time. An example of this idea would be like saying “I have freed him from jail”, with the present result being that he is still freed. Since it is hard to realize when such a tense is being read in our English translations, we often breeze right through the words without stopping and asking “Well what is the result that action had on present reality?”
The perfect tense is littered throughout the Greek text, and it often can greatly enhance ones message when properly understood. A great example of this can be seen in Hebrews 2:18, For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb 2:18, ESV). The verb for “has suffered” is in the perfect tense, which tells us that Christ’s sufferings are something that happened in the past, but have a result in present reality. The sufferings and temptation that Christ has behind him, and still carries with him as a past experience, enables him to relate and know exactly to what weight and force we are struggling in our temptations.
This message brings such joy and comfort to my soul. The God of the Bible is such a drastically different God than any other man-made god throughout history – he understands what we are going through and sympathizes with us in our weaknesses. I know when I am feeling tempted and shamed in my sinful state that Christ hears me and sympathizes with me, knowing what I am going through.
Example #4: Word Order
Those silly Greeks didn’t quite understand proper word order yet (proper by my American English standards!), so ancient Greek writings can largely put the words in any order the author so chooses. One of the benefits of this is that the author can place certain words before others if he really wanted to provide an emphasis on a word or concept.
Philippians 2:13 has a really great example of this. The beginning of this verse reads, for it is God who works in you (Phil 2:13a, ESV). The Greek for this reads θεὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν, woodenly translated for God is the one working in you. What is interesting about this sentence fragment is the word order – under normal circumstances we would expect ὁ ἐνεργῶν (the one working) to have been the first two words in the construct, as it is the subject of this clause. However, what we find is that Paul chose to put θεὸς (God) first. This is important for us because it tells us that Paul really wanted to emphasize GOD as the one who works in us. That is the concept Paul wants us to take away, that it is not us who works for him but it is GOD who works in us. This is also especially important if we consider the previous verse, which has often led people to think Paul was teaching a works-based salvation. This is not the case, instead Paul is speaking of an obedience to God already working in us.
Well, that concludes this short series on the importance of language studies. I hope these few examples were enriching to you in some way, and if you are not familiar with languages, you can begin to see how small things here and there can really begin to enhance the message of a passage when the original text is really studied.
Of course there are examples where varying translations can occur from the Greek that might have significant differences in the meaning of the passage (Philippians 2:13, substantive infinitives anyone?). However, I do not think examining such passages would be particularly fruitful at this time, but I may write about them in the future.
If you are familiar with languages, or have had some training in the past but have now neglected to keep up with your understanding of the languages, I hope this series was an encouragement and challenge for you to get your grammars and books back out. For people new to the idea of studying languages, I hope this series has given you an appreciation for the depth that can be found in language study.
When I began this series weeks ago, I set out to answer the question “Why study the original languages if we have modern translations?” Hopefully this served its purpose!