Paul’s Prayer for Wisdom: Philippians 1:9-11.

Today I continue my blog series on Philippians with Paul’s prayer for the Philippians’ wisdom and discernment:

9 καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι, ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει

10 εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα, ἵνα ἦτε εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ,

11 πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ.

My translation:

9 And I pray this, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment,

10 for your discerning that which is worthy, so that you may be pure and blameless on the day of the Lord,

11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness through Jesus Christ, for the glory and praise of God.

This passage contains some interesting word pairs: ἐπιγνώσει καὶ αἰσθήσει (v. 9) and δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον (v. 11).  How do these pairs contrast and work together? The phrase ἐπιγνώσει καὶ αἰσθήσει (epignosei and aisthasei) is translated various ways: “knowledge and full insight” (NRSV), “knowledge and all discernment” (ESV), “knowledge and every kind of perception” (NAB).  BDAG explains that epignosis is not just general knowledge, but “limited to transcendent and moral matters.”  In that sense the term was used by philosophers such as Epictetus and Plato.  In the New Testament it was used especially to refer to knowledge of the will of God. Aisthasei, by contrast, typically refers more to sensory perception.  In later Greek it takes on the meaning in this passage, “a capacity to understand, discernment.”  Reumann translates it “discernment” to better capture a sense of practicality and connection to life.


Ruins of Philippi.  Source:

Reumann translates the pair as “perception and discernment.”  To me this doesn’t capture the contrast between theoretical and practical knowledge.  But I can’t think of any phrase in English that does.  “[Theoretical] knowledge and wisdom”?  “Theological understanding and discernment in faith”? In v. 11, Paul speaks of the “δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον” (doxan and epainon) of God.  Doxa survives in English in words like “doxastic” and “doxology,” and generally means “glory/honor.”  Originally in classical Greek, it just referred to reputation or opinion about someone.  But by the time of the NT, that usage had disappeared.  In the Septuagint, it was used to translate the Hebrew kavod (honor or glory).  Under the influence of Greek mysticism and mystery religions it gained the added meaning of shining, brilliance, and splendor.  It’s one of Paul’s favorite words. Epainos, “praise,” can refer to praise of/for humans and of/for God.  Classical Greek texts used it to refer to the praise accrued to a great orator, the same praise that Stoic philosophers sought to free themselves from. While major translations (NRSV, NIV, NAB, Reumann) don’t really differ in translating this pair “glory and praise,” what about the sense of brilliance that doxa carries?  Could we translate the pair “brilliance and praise”?  “Splendor and admiration”?  The latter especially conveys a note of royalty.

The series continues with Paul’s intention for the Philippians.

One thought on “Paul’s Prayer for Wisdom: Philippians 1:9-11.

  1. Pingback: Paul’s intention for the Philippians: 1:12-14. | Linguae Antiquitatum

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