Philippians, Part Two: Paul’s Gratitude for the Philippians, 1:3-8.

Last week I began my blog-through of Paul’s letter to the Philippians using Jerry Sumney’s reader and John Reumann’s Anchor commentary.  This week I continue Paul’s greeting to the Philippians with my friend Brian:

3Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶν

4πάντοτε ἐν πάσῃ δέησει μουὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν, μετὰ χαρᾶς τὴν δέησιν ποιούμενος,

5ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸεὐαγγέλιον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν.

6πεποιθὼς αὐτὸ τοῦτο ὅτι ὁεναρξάμενος ἐν ὑμῖν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἐπιτελέσει ἄχρις ἡμέρας Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ·

7καθώςἐστιν δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳὑμᾶς, ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίουσυγκοινωνούς μου τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας.

8μάρτυς γάρ μου ὁ θεὸς ὡςἐπιποθῶ πάντας ὑμᾶς ἐν σπλάγχνοις Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ.

And my translation:

3 I give thanks to my God every time I remember you

4 always in all my prayers, on behalf of all of you, as I make a prayer with joy,

5 because of your communion in the gospel from the first day until now,

6 being convinced that the one who begins a good work in you will reach its end on the day of Christ Jesus.

7 So it is right for me to think that on behalf of you, since you have me in your mind, and in my bonds and my defense and confirmation of the gospel, you being my partners in all charity.

8 For God is my witness that I long for you all in the mind of Christ Jesus.

A few things of interest.

Modern ruins of Philippi.  Source:

Modern ruins of Philippi. Source:

First, the word μνείᾳ (mneia) in verse 3.  Sumney translates this as “mentionings.”  The NRSV translates it “every time I remember you.”  It’s a little more complicated than that.  The word was used in Plato to refer to a “token of remembrance” of the dead.  Reumann notes that the idiom mneia poieisthai (lit. “to make mentionings/remembrances”) was used as an idiom for prayers in early Christian literature.  I suspect there’s a connection here between mentioning as an oral act and prayer.  Think of how prayer is conceived of: talking to God, listening to God, etc.  In Hebrew there is a similar word, hagah, a verb that (in one meaning) literally refers to the moaning before God in prayer, softly reciting a phrase or word.  But in English I can’t think of a word that conveys a similar connection between remembering, prayer, and speech.

Second, the word κοινωνίᾳ (koinonia) in verse 5.  This word is often translated as “communion,” but Sumney translates it as “participation” and Reumann as “sharing.”  It’s related to κοινός, a word referring to that which is shared or communal.  We know from texts like Acts that many early Christian communities strived for an ideal community of shared property.  Plato himself uses the term to refer to his political order, and the same term is used of the Pythagorean cult.  How close is this bond of sharing, communion, and participation?  Koinonia was used throughout the Greek world to refer to the bond between husband and wife.  Imagine not just two people seeking that closeness, but an entire community.

When first studying Hebrew, I learned that the Hebrew language maps metaphors of the human body differently.  The gut is the source of emotion and instinct while the heart is the source of volition, will, personality, and rationality.  What I didn’t know: it’s similar in Greek.  So when Paul says “you have me in your καρδία [heart],” he doesn’t just mean feelings or emotions, but the seat of physical, spiritual, and mental life.”

But it is usually rendered “heart.”  Think of preachers imploring people to “take Jesus into your heart!”  Every time I hear that phrase (sometimes in an altar call), it means something very emotional, contrite, powerful.  But when you take Jesus in an altar call, have you had time to reason through the Christian worldview?  In other words, while καρδία (and its Hebrew equivalent, lav) and “heart” refer to the same physical thing, when used metaphorically they have different meanings in Greek, Hebrew, and English.

So why do translators render this “heart”?  It’s inaccurate.  But it’s hard to find a word in English that fits the bill. I translate it “mind” to be thought-provoking, but that too has problems.

Next up: Paul’s imprisonment, 1:12-14.

4 thoughts on “Philippians, Part Two: Paul’s Gratitude for the Philippians, 1:3-8.

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  4. Brian

    It’s quite interesting to see how body parts convey different metaphorical meanings in different languages. In Vietnamese, I believe that one of the words for “courageous” or “daring” (gan) is the same as the word for “liver.” In English, we might ask if “he has the balls.” Do you happen to know what body parts convey courage in Greek or Hebrew?


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