John Chrysostom, Philemon 1:4-6, and κοινωνία

My father-in-law has a neat practice.  Throughout the year, he sends one verse from each chapter of the New Testament to each of his children.  He typically goes through books, and since the year has more chapters than the New Testament, he repeats from the gospels or adds in from the Psalms.  

Recently, the verse he sent along was one from the tiny letter to Philemon.  I don’t always ponder these little snippets like I should, but this one piqued my interest, due mostly to a mistranslation of the NIV84.  

Philemon 6 reads in the NIV84, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” The Greek reads of 4-6 reads (I add more since it’s one all one sentence), “Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου πάντοτε μνείαν σου ποιούμενος ἐπὶ τῶν προσευχῶν μου,  5 ἀκούων σου τὴν ἀγάπην καὶ τὴν πίστιν, ἣν ἔχεις πρὸς τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν καὶ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους,  6 ὅπως ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου ἐνεργὴς γένηται ἐν ἐπιγνώσει παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ τοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν εἰς Χριστόν.”

The bolded section is what concerns us here.  Namely, κοινωνία (koinonia) does not imply the type of sharing that the NIV84 seems to imply.  As it stands in the NIV84, Paul’s prayer for Philemon concerns evanglism: sharing the faith with those outside the fold.  However, our word implies a sharing among intimates or friends. Hence, it is used in other contexts, like 1 Cor 10:16 to describe our communion with Christ through the bread and wine, or to denote the Philippians financial and spiritual partnership with Paul and his ministry.  

Of course, you should always be wary of people who say, “well the Greek really says…”  Fortunately for you, and for me, I have support for my claims!   The standard New Testament lexicon (BDAG) gives four definitions:

  1. close association involving mutual interests and sharing
  2. attitude of good will that manifests an interest in a close relationship
  3. abstr. for concr. sign of fellowship, proof of brotherly unity, even gift, contribution
  4. participation, sharing τινός in someth. 

The editors of the lexicon list this passage under section 4, and offers the following translation, “that your participation in the faith may be made known through your deeds.” This strikes me as unlikely (particularly the last part: I don’t know how γένηται ἐνεργὴς translates to “might be made known through your deeds”). I think participation is certainly a possible translation, but I’d want to add “with us” that that the corporate dimensions of Paul’s prayer are more clear.

When dealing with a Greek question like this, I always try to get a native speaker’s opinion.  Fortunately, the late fourth century bishop John Chrysostom has left us a series of homilies on all of Paul’s epistles, including little Philemon.  He notes (from PG 62.709),

Εὔχομαι, φησὶν, ἵνα ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου ἐνεργὴς γένηται. Ὁρᾷς πρότερον αὐτὸν διδόντα ἢ λαβεῖν, καὶ πρὶν ἢ τὴν χάριν αἰτῆσαι [62.709], τὴν αὑτοῦ παρέχοντα πολλῷ μείζονα; Ὅπως, φησὶν, ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου ἐνεργὴς γένηται ἐν ἐπιγνώσει παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ τοῦ ἐν ὑμῖν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν. Τουτέστιν, ἵνα πᾶσαν ἀρετὴν ἐπέλθῃς, Ἵνα μηδὲν ἐλλειφθῇΟὕτω γὰρ ἡ πίστις γίνεται ἐνεργὴς, ὅταν ἔργα ἔχῃ. Χωρὶς γὰρ ἔργων ἡ πίστις νεκρά ἐστι. Καὶ οὐκ εἶπεν, Ἡ πίστις σου, ἀλλ‘, Ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου, συνάπτων αὐτὸν ἑαυτῷ, καὶ ἓν σῶμα δεικνὺς, καὶ τούτῳ μάλιστα αὐτὸν δυσωπῶν. Εἰ κοινωνὸς εἶ, φησὶ, κατὰ τὴν πίστιν, καὶ κατὰ τὰ ἄλλα ὀφείλεις κοινωνεῖν

 “I pray,” he says, “that your partnership in the faith may be active.” Do you see how he himself gives before receiving, and that before he asks him the favor, he provides a much better one of his own? “So that,” he says, “the partnership of your faith my be active in the knowledge of everything good thing we have in Christ.”  That’s to say, “so that you may attain all virtue,” or “so that you may lack nothing.” Now faith is “active” when it has works, for without works faith is dead.  He did not say, “your faith,” but the “partnership of your faith,” joining him (Philemon) to himself, and with one body revealed, he entreats him all the more.  “If you share the faith,” he says, “then you are required to share other things too.”

John appears to understand κοινωνία not as participation, nor as evangelism, but as a partnership: notice the line “joining him to himself.”  The use of κοινωνία serves to link Philemon to Paul, and hopefully make him more receptive to Paul’s plea to free Onesimus (the favor John mentions here).

John’s gloss of ἐνεργὴς (active, or effective) is also helpful, as this adjective isn’t terribly common in the New Testament.  His explanation (that faith is ἐνεργὴς when it “has works”) fits particularly nicely in the context of the letter, as Paul is essentially urging Philemon to do a good work: free Onesimus! 

All that to say, I think the NIV11’s change to this verse is most welcome!  The new NIV reads: “I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.”  I’m still not sure about the second half of the verse, (how does ἐν ἐπιγνώσει…, which means “in the knowledge…”, fit in with the rest of the sentence?), but I think they nailed the first part.  Kudos!

ἐν αὐτῷ,


Update: I amended my translation with two suggestions from Stephen (see the comments).  Thanks to him for catching several mistakes, and for the helpful suggestions! 

Commentary on Gregory of Nazianzus Or. 41:15

As mentioned in a prior post, Gregory of Nazianzus spawned a significant scholarly tradition.  His works accumulated scholia from an early date, and several different commentaries have come down to us for several of his works.

In this post, I translate Nicetas of Serrone’s on Or. 41:15.  To my knowledge, the Greek text of commentary has not been published in its entirety.  I have transcribed the Greek text from CMB Codex Graecus 140 folio 94 and following.  This codex preserves a selection of Gregory’s homilies in their entirety, along with Nicetas’ commentary.  The images of the manuscript are freely available online.

For convenience, I copy in my translation of Gregory from the prior post.  In that post, I translate 41.15-16, but here I only deal with 15.  For my transcription of the Greek text (of both Gregory and Nicetas), see here.  Here’s the English.

Gregory of Nazianzus. Or. 41.15

[15] They were thus speaking in foreign languages, and not their own, and this was a great miracle: the message was being proclaimed by those who had not been instructed.  This was sign to the unbelievers, not to the believers, so that it might be a sign of judgment against the unbelievers, for it is written, “’in different languages and in strange lips I will speak to this people, and thus they will not hear me,’ says the Lord.”

But, “they were hearing.”  But wait here for a bit, and let us raise the question about how to divide this sentence.  The reading has an ambiguity, which arises because of punctuation.  Were they each hearing their own language, which implies that once voice was resounding through the air, but that many were heard?  Thus, as it was traveling through the air, so that I may speak more clearly, one language [1] became many.

Or, should we place a pause after “they were hearing,” and thus join “as they were speaking in their own languages” with what follows. Thus, those “who were speaking,” were speaking the languages of the audience, so that we might understand it as, “foreign languages.” [1] I much prefer this approach [2].  In the former case, the miracle would belong more to the hearers than to the speakers.  But in the latter, the miracle belongs to the speakers, who even as they were being accused of drunkenness were clearly working wonders by the Spirit through their voices.

[0] See 1 Cor 14:20ff

[1] Several times in the passage, Gregory uses φωνή to mean language.  This word generally means “sound” or “voice” but “language” is a possibility according to LSJ.  Gregory is also likely pulling from Neoplatonic discussion of φωνή.

[2] There is some doubt about this phrase.  Rufinus’ early Latin translation appears to be confused about Gregory’s preference on the matter, and it may be that his base text lacked this sentence.  We have some fairly early Syriac translations (c. 700-800) that have the line (thanks to Charles Sullivan for untangling the Syriac).

Nicatas of Serrone. Commentary on Or. 41.15

For it is written in the book of Acts about the apostles, that “they began to speak in different languages.” That is, the languages of the listeners, and not their own.  For the languages of the hearers were not native to the apostles.  This was a most marvelous occurrence, because the apostles were speaking a language that they had not learned.  Just as the divine apostle says when writing to the Corinthians, these languages were a sign, not to the believers, but to the unbelievers, so that there may be a sign of judgment for them, and that when they saw this, that did not believe, as it is written, “in foreign tongues I will speak,” and the rest.  Now where is this written? Chrysostom says that it is in Isaiah, but it is not found there, unless it was removed maliciously or was overlooked by mistake.

This is from the book of Acts, that “each one was hearing in their own language as they were speaking.”  But the Theologian2 raises a difficulty.  Presently, it is necessary to identify and resolve the ambiguity that is found there, that is, to punctuate it and solve the problem.  He has presented two resolutions, so that he may establish the second.  “Were the apostles,” he asks, “speaking one and the same language, while their voices became many as they resounded through the air? In which case, each of the hearers understood their own language.  Or, shall we punctuate after “they were hearing?”  Then, we would join “as they were speaking,” to what follows, so that the sense would be that the nations were hearing as the apostles were speaking their own languages,  that is, in languages foreign to the speakers.  This indeed fits much better, for he says that if the apostles were speaking in only one language, while the audience divided it into their own, then the miracle would belong to the audience.  But if you punctuate after “they were hearing,” then you may infer that the apostles were speaking in the languages of the audience, and that the miracle belongs to the apostles.  After all, it is clear that, even as they were being accused of drunkenness, that they themselves were speaking in the languages of the audience through the Spirit.  Everyone who heard his own language was burning in his heart, since he saw that the apostles were not only speaking to him, but also speaking the message to those of other languages.  The one who accuses them of a debauched frenzy seems not to understand the foreign languages the apostles were speaking.

As always, suggestions and corrections are welcome.

ἐν αὐτῷ,