Paul’s intention for the Philippians: 1:12-14.

Paul continues his letter to the Christians at Philippi:

12Γινώσκειν δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι τὰ κατ᾽ ἐμὲ μᾶλλον εἰς προκοπὴν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐλήλυθεν,

13ὥστε τοὺς δεσμούς μου φανεροὺς ἐν Χριστῷ γενέσθαι ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν,

14καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ πεποιθότας τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου περισσοτέρως τολμᾶν ἀφόβως τὸν λόγον λαλεῖν.

My translation:

12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have led more to the progress of the gospel,

13 so my bonds became visible for Christ to all the palace guard and the rest of those in the prison,

14 and more of the brothers and sisters in Christ have been persuaded to speak the Word more fearlessly and with audacity.

Paul is certainly making the most of his time in prison!  Here I want to focus on two words, ἀδελφοί (adelphoi) and πραιτωρίῳ (praitōriō).

Adelphoi, the plural of adelphos, literally means “brother.”  In early Christian and Essene circles it referred to a fellow member of one’s religious community.  (Some Christians still use this meaning – most obviously Catholic religious orders, but I’ve also heard Mormons and evangelicals do so.)  Since God is referred to as “Father” in Jewish and Christian scriptures, it only makes sense to extend the metaphor and refer to fellow believers as fellow children of God.

Adelphoi, a plural masculine, literally translates to “brothers.”  In English this sounds as if the entire group being referred to are men.  But in Greek, a group of 99 women and 1 man are still referred to as adelphoi.  Words such as this have been at the heart of inclusive-language debates in biblical translation.  Should adelphoi be translated as “brothers” (NAB) or “brothers and sisters” (NIV)?  Some translators have sidestepped the debate entirely, translating it “friends” (NEB) or “beloved” (NRSV).  I considered “siblings,” but it has too legal and removed a tone to translate a word conveying intimacy and love.  I settled on “brothers and sisters” because it’s clear from context that Paul is writing to all the Christians in Philippi, not just the men.

Paul writes that he has convinced the praitōriō in the prison that his imprisonment is for Christ.  Any student of Roman history can recall the infamous Praetorian Guard, the Roman emperor’s bodyguards (and often assassins).

A bust of some of the Praetorian guard.  Source:

A bust of some of the Praetorian guard, c. 50 A.D. Source:

This Greek term, a loan-word from Latin, could refer to the guard of the emperor, but also the soldier-guards of Rome or another Roman city.  It could also refer to the palace of the Roman emperor or one of his provincial governors.

Reumann lists four (!) different theories as to what praitōriō refers to in this passage: the imperial palace in Rome, a small barracks attached to it, a Praetorian camp outside the city, or the elite soldiers themselves.  He (and I) go with the last meaning.  But it’s useful to be aware of the nuances of this word, because it is used in the Gospels and Acts to refer to imperial buildings where Jesus and other early Christians were accused.

3 thoughts on “Paul’s intention for the Philippians: 1:12-14.

  1. Pingback: Paul’s Prayer for Wisdom: Philippians 1:9-11. | Linguae Antiquitatum

  2. Jacob Cerone

    I thought you might find this interesting. In Chrysostom’s Homilies on Philippians (Homily 3), he comments on “Ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ” “In the whole praetorian” saying, “Τέως γὰρ οὕτως ἐκάλουν τὰ βασίλεια” “For at that time, they called the palace thus [the praetorian].”

    Now, that’s not to say that this is the way Paul used the word, but at least it provides us an idea of how a 4th century Greek commentator understood the text!

    1. Post author

      That is interesting, Jacob. By contrast it seems most modern translators render it as referring to the soldiers, not the palace (and by extension all the people of the palace). Thanks for coming by my blog!


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