With Fear and Trembling Work out Your Unity: An Exegetical Paper on Philippians 2:12-18

As believers today we are tremendously blessed to have God’s word readily available to us in our own tongue; we can find it online, we can find it in bookstores, and we may even find it in hotels, but with this tremendous availability comes a cost. We can begin to look at the Bible as just another book and begin to read it either as we would any other book from our time or in a mystical way that focuses on our subjective experience of the words and not the authors’ intent with them. As those who are called by God to be His people and entrusted with the task of making His Gospel known we must endeavour to understand Him and His Word to us on His grounds. To do this we must undertake the task of exegesis, wrestling with the words on the page and the contexts within which they are found so as to ascertain what the original author was intending to say. Only after separating ourselves from the text and coming to this understanding can we then “fuse our horizon of understanding with the horizon of understanding of the text—that is, only then can we begin to shape our thoughts by the thoughts of the text so that we truly understand them.”[1] This is where we must aim. If we truly value Scripture as God’s Word for people of all eras and places and believe that it truly is useful for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” so that we may be “equipped for every good work”[2] we must not allow an understanding of the text to be the final step, we must apply what the author was saying to our time so that we may be changed in conformity to the image of Christ and prepared for all that God will call us to in this life.

Towards the end of allowing God’s word to change us, let us turn our attention to Philippians 2:12-18, first to understand it as it was meant to be understood and then to bring this understanding to bear on our own lives and thinking. To come to this understanding one must understand the context within which this passage is embedded;[3] then understand the individual pieces of the author’s argument, how he has used propositions and sentences to convey his meaning; and finally, with these pieces in place, view the entirety of the author’s thought so as to understand his meaning. From a place of understanding the text can then be applied to our culture today.


Historical Context

Even a cursory reading of the book of Philippians yields much about its author, audience, and its provenance. Philippians has traditionally been considered one of Paul’s prison epistles; Paul’s authorship is confirmed in opening verse of the letter. We also discover that Paul was writing this letter with Timothy and unlike some of Paul’s letters there is no mention of an amanuensis in the letter, so he probably penned it with his own hand. The letter as we have received it bears the title “to the Philippians” and this audience is confirmed in v. 1 when Paul states that he is writing to the saints “who are at Philippi,” in 4:15 he also addresses them as “you Philippians.” From the evidence of the letter itself it seems likely that Paul was writing from the Roman capital of Rome while imprisoned (1:7, 12, 16) and expecting a verdict soon, trusting that he will be released (1:23-24). This can be argued mainly from two references which most naturally lead to the conclusion of Rome as the letters origin.[4] The first is Paul’s reference to the gospel becoming known to “the whole praetorian guard and everyone else” (1:13), the Praetorian Guard most readily refers to the imperial guard in Rome. The second piece of evidence is Paul’s reference to “Caesar’s household” in 4:22. We know from Acts that Paul experienced a time of imprisonment at Rome which also lends credence to this conclusion. The only weighty piece of evidence that has been brought to bear against Rome as the letters provenance has been the argument that the journeys recorded in the letter are far too numerous and the expectations for the timing of them far too short to account for the great distance between the cities of Rome and Philippi.[5] Part of the conclusion reached emerges because some writers assume that Paul expected Timothy to return “soon” with encouraging news (2:19, 24), but there is nothing in the text that requires this interpretation.[6] The issue of distance itself and the number of journeys is not as much of a challenge as some have suggested; even if the journeys are as numerous as suggested, though one scholar has argued that only two journey are presupposed, all the proposed journeys required by the letter could be fit into a span of two years.[7]

As a personal letter, the Epistle to the Philippians was written to address a specific set of circumstances in the life of the Philippian church and the life of Paul. Along with a specific occasion there is also a purpose of what Paul as the author would like to see accomplished with his address of these circumstances. Being so far removed from the time when this letter was written, reading Philippians can feel like trying to understand a cellphone conversation from the one side we are able to hear. To understand the letter as a whole, and the place of 2:12-18 within it, we must come to a conclusion on the purpose and occasion of the letter. By examining the issues addressed and the manner of address we may ascertain with a fair level of certainty particulars of the other side of the dialogue in which this letter participates.

Upon reading the letter it becomes apparent that no single circumstance necessitated the letter, instead Paul wrote with a variety of circumstances in mind. The first of these circumstances was the arrival, sickness, and future return of Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus was sent from the Philippian congregation with a gift for Paul in his imprisonment (4:18), the Philippians had also received news that he had fallen ill (2:18). Paul wrote with news of his grateful reception of their gift as well as the status of Epaphroditus, whom Paul was eager to send back to the Philippians (2:28). Along with the new about Epaphroditus, Paul was writing in view of his hope to send Timothy shortly to visit the Philippians (2:19). A significant theme that appears throughout the letter, which plays a major role in the occasion of the letter, is the disunity that the Philippians were expressing. The section of the letter spanning 1:27-2:30 appears to address this issue of unity in the church. In this section Paul exhorts them to live in a way worthy of the Gospel so that he may hear that they are “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together” (1:27). He then goes on to apply Jesus’ example to the Philippians’ situation, calling them to give of themselves for the sake of the interests of other (2:4). A specific manifestation of this disunity is in the disagreement between two women, Euodia and Syntyche (4:2-3).  While facing their own internal tensions, the Philippians also appeared to be facing persecution or hardship from those around them. In 1:27-28 Paul speaks of the Philippians striving in the faith and of their opponents, this would indicate that they were facing hardship. In 1:29-30 Paul speaks of it being granted to the Philippians to suffer for the sake of the Lord. This hardship may itself be a result of Judaizing false teachers who were present with the Philippians (3:2), or these teachers may provide another separate circumstance which Paul is attempting to address. Finally he seems to be writing in light of his own imprisonment; he frequently speaks of the good that has come from his suffering, seeing God use it for the spread of the Gospel (1:12-18).

In light of all these circumstances, Paul writes to encourage a specific response in the Philippians. He desires for them to give up their own rights and interests for the sake of each other (2:1-4), having the same mind (2:2); he specifically entreats Euodia and Syntyche to find agreement in their conflict (4:2). Paul also endeavours to encourage them in light of the news of his own situation (1:12-30), of Epaphroditus’ sickness (2:25-30), and also to encourage them to make the effort of striving/pressing-on/straining for the faith and to rejoice even in trials, as he rejoices in his circumstances (2:18, 4:4). The last purpose present would seem to be ensuring a positive reception of Timothy who Paul desires to send to them and a commendation of Epaphroditus who Paul is eager to send back to them (2:19-30).


Exegetical Commentary on the Verses

With a view now of the historical context within which Philippians was written it is necessary to turn to the text itself and understand the individual pieces of this passage that contribute to its overall meaning. In Philippians 2:12-18 Paul writes;

12So then, my beloved, as you have always obeyed—not only when in my presence but now much more in my absence—work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for God is the one who produces in you both the willing and the working for His good pleasure. 14Do all things without complaint or dispute, 15in order that you may be blameless and innocent, blameless children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as stars in the world, 16holding fast the word of life, so that I may have reason to boast in the day of Christ, because I do not run in vain nor in vain do I labor. 17Yet even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I will be joyful and rejoice with you; 18now in the same way also be joyful and rejoice with me.”[8]

12:  In verse twelve Paul draws an inference from his previous argument in v. 1-11 of chapter 2. Paul was calling for the unity of believers on the basis of Christ’s act of humbling Himself and dying for those He created. Specifically drawing from the example of Christ’s obedience, Paul then calls to mind the track record of the Philippians, their obedience in the past when he was present (παρουσίᾳ, parousia) and even more so in his absence (ἀπουσίᾳ, apousia), and calls for their continued obedience. As Christ obeyed and as they had always obeyed, the Philippians were to work out their “salvation with fear and trembling”. The meaning of “salvation” here has been the object of much debate. Some commentators have understood σωτηρία (sōtēria) in a purely sociological sense, seeing it as referring to community health or wholeness.[9] From this understanding Paul is directly addressing the issue of community in this verse and calling for them to work out their[10] communal wholeness together with fear and trembling.[11] The reasoning used to reach these conclusions appears to be rather fallacious, namely an appeal to an unlikely or unknown meaning,[12] for both Fee and Hawthorne resort to a usage of σωτηρία that is foreign to the Pauline corpus and at least 3 major lexicons on Hellenistic Greek.[13] In the early 20th century the suggestion of “wholeness” arose from the examination of the meanings of σωτηρία in Greek papyri,[14] but this meaning is foreign to NT usage, especially to the Pauline corpus. Of the 18 uses of the σωτηρία within Paul’s writing only once does it carry a non-soteriological sense, this usage—in Phil. 1:19—speaks of “deliverance” from prison, but may very well also carry soteriological connotations. Because Paul’s common usage of σωτηρία makes sense in context, it is best to understand salvation here to refer to the ongoing process of salvation. From the perspective of systematic theology, Paul is calling for the Philippians to work out there sanctification; the progressive work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life conforming them further and further to the image of Christ. Though Paul is speaking of individual sanctification, commentators have been right in pointing out Paul’s specific contextual application of this sanctification. Throughout Scripture we see that though salvation is individualistic, involving our right standing before a holy God (justification) and our actions as his people being conformed to the image of His Son (sanctification concluding with glorification), it is never worked out individualistically; we are to work out our active part in our salvation in the context of covenant community—Ephesians discusses this issue extensively.[15] Paul here is calling for individuals making up a community to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, his specific emphasis in context is how they are to work out their sanctification in reference to their communal relations. Fear and trembling would then refer to a godly awe and reverence towards a holy God as the Philippians worked out their holiness.[16]

13:  The syntax of Paul’s writing here in verse 13 is rather difficult at points, but connecting back to v. 12 with γαρ (gar) he is providing the grounds for how the Philippians are able to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. The emphasis in this verse, coming from verse 12, is on the “how” this working out is accomplish. In accord with this Paul has placed θεος first in this sentence, placing the emphasis on God’s work and probably “stressing God’s power more than his person”.[17] Paul is emphasizing God’s work in the believer’s life providing them with both the will (the willing) and the ability (the working) to do what they are being commanded to do. This translation accepts that Paul is using ἐνεργῶν (energōn) transitively with the infinitives θέλειν (thelein) and ἐνεργεῖν (energein) functioning as the direct objects; they are what God is producing in “you.”[18] The emphasis on human action in v. 12 is balanced out as v. 13 shows that the only way a man or woman can work forward in sanctification is because God is giving them the very desire and the ability to do so. The reason he does this is for his good pleasure, not because of an external demand placed on Him.

14: In verse 14 Paul outlines a specific application of the command to work out their salvation in their specific circumstances. Though the language and imagery parallels the grumblings of Israel in the desert (cf. 1 Cor. 10:10), it is unlikely that Paul has in mind that the Philippians aren’t to complain against or dispute with God. Paul has already commended them for their obedience to God (v. 12) and has in view in the surrounding context the specific unity issues of the Philippians, so it seems best to understand Paul to be calling the Philippians to do all things in community without complaint or dispute; they are to work out their salvation by living in community as they are supposed to. “Complaint” and “Disputing” are fitting English words to translate γογγυσμός (gongusmos) and διαλογισμός (dialogismos), in the context here γογγυσμός is speaking of complaining against brothers and sisters in the body and διαλογισμός is referring to quarrelling or disputing between brothers and sisters, not healthy discussion or correcting reproof but divisive arguments.[19]

15: The reason that the Philippians are to do this is so that they may be “blameless children of God”. Paul is purposefully echoing the language of Deut. 32:5 here; he is drawing a parallel between the Old Covenant community in the desert and the New Covenant community which includes the Philippian believers. Though the language is too close to be accidental, it is clear from context that the Philippian believers are not in quite the same situation as the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 32 the Israelites are being taught a song by Moses (Deut. 31:19). They had been disobedient towards God and in their rebellion had been forced to wander for 40 years, they are now approaching their final entrance into the Promised Land and God is prophesying through Moses that they will continue in their rebellion and that they will become blemished people who are not His children, a “crooked and twisted generation”.[20] God was faithful, but they were unfaithful towards him (32:4-5). In Paul’s context he is not using this language parallel to suggest that they are at risk of committing the same behavior, on the contrary his tone is completely positive; he is drawing attention to the fact that the Philippians by being this united community will be the exact opposite of the Israelites in Deuteronomy. Verse 13 may shed a clue on Paul’s allusion to Deuteronomy. A problem throughout the OT, emphasized in the book of Deuteronomy (eg. 29:4, 30:6), is that God demanded obedience but had not given all the Israelites the ability to obey His commands. They were circumcised on the outside but to be obedient they required circumcised hearts (30:6). Throughout the OT, the prophets look forward to a day when this will happen; a day when God will reach down and give hearts of flesh—hearts and minds with His law written on them—to each and every one of His covenant people so that they would all be able to obediently follow Him and have relationship with Him (Jer. 31:33-34; Ezk. 36:22-38; Isa. 54). The Israelites in Deuteronomy would prove themselves to not be children of God because they did not have the hearts to be able to fulfill their covenant obligations, but in Philippi the believers had new hearts and in fact God was working in them so that they desired and were able to fulfill His command. In using the language that he did, Paul calls attention to the New Covenantal nature of the Philippian community and the assurance of the outcome they would have because they were not working by their own strength but by the power of God Himself. The last proposition of v. 15 speaks of the Philippians shining as stars in the world; as they obediently worked out their sanctification in their community they would shine among the perverse pagan generation around them.

16: The means by which the Philippians would shine among the world around them is by “holding fast the word of life.” The participle ἐπέχοντες (epechontes, holding fast) adverbially modifies the indicative “φαίνεσθε”in v. 15; it gives the means by which the shining is accomplished. Another translation suggested is “holding out,”[21] but the overall thrust of the passage is the contrast between the Philippian believers and those around them; there may be an evangelistic undertone, but it is not the focus. For the Philippians to truly be shining they must hold fast to the word of life they have received from Paul. Holding fast has both the connotations of clinging to and endurance in. They are to hold fast in that they obey and do not depart from it, and this implies that they are to hold fast to the end. The thrust of the next few verses, speaking of Paul’s boast in the final day, is only valid if the Philippians have true faith and endure to the end; by working out their faith and shining by means of holding fast the word of life, the Philippians witness to true faith and will endure to the final day ensuring that Paul has a boast. Paul’s use of the term “word of life” may indicate, though it is not his primary focus, that he has a evangelistic end in mind for their shining; as the Philippians faithfully adhere to the word they have received and live out their lives in conformity to Christ they will shine in a way that distinguishes them from their neighbors and points to the word by which these neighbors may receive life.[22] The obedience and endurance of the Philippians encompassed in v. 14-16 will lead to Paul having a boast in the day of Christ for their obedience shows that his labor in bringing the Gospel to them was not in vain, indeed it shows that they had responded with true faith for which he receives a boast in the final day.

17-18: Paul here then explains the length that he will go to ensure the true faith and sanctification of the Philippians. Paul concludes this passage by writing that even if his life is poured out as a drink offering to finish the sacrifice and service of the Philippian’s faith he will still rejoice and be joyful; even in death he will maintain his joy for his labor was not in vain and they are showing, and will continue to show, signs of true faith—ensuring his boast—by their obedience. There is some discussion as to whether Paul when he uses the cultic language of σπένδω (spendō, pour out a drink offering) is referring to a pagan Greek background or a Jewish [23] Contextually the way he is using it seems to prefer that of a Jewish background. A drink offering would be poured over or beside a burnt offering with its accompanying cereal offering to finish that offering;[24] Paul is saying that he is willing to even be spent like a drink offering to finish their sacrifice, poured out to death over their sacrifice of faith that he may prove his work is not in vain by ensuring their true faith, obedience, and endurance.[25] Even if he is poured out to death, Paul will “be joyful and rejoice” with the Philippians for his boast is secure. Just as he will rejoice through his suffering, life or death, he also calls the Philippians to rejoice and be joyful with him as they work out their salvation in this way, no matter what suffering they receive from their opponents.


The Meaning of Philippian 2:12-18

With an understanding of the individual pieces of Paul’s argument it is now appropriate to consider the surrounding literary context of the passage and his full argument so as to understand his meaning, what he is saying and how he uses this passage to address the specific circumstances of the Philippians and to fulfill his purpose. The body of Paul’s letter to the Philippians seems to be outlined in 3 extended passages in which Paul addresses the main circumstances for which he wrote the letter. In 1:12-26 Paul addresses his own situation in Rome, how the Gospel is being spread because of his imprisonment (1:12-18) and Paul’s resolution that to live is Christ but to die is gain (1:18-26). In the next section, 1:27-2:30, Paul addresses the opposition the Philippians are facing and their unity issues; first calling for a life worthy of the Gospel (the overarching theme of this section), then addressing unity on the basis of Christ’s humility, and finally calling for unity on the basis of being obedient to God in working out their sanctification—especially in relation to unity in the community.  Paul then spends 11 verses speaking of the Epaphroditus and Timothy, examples of the behavior he encourages in the first part of this section (2:19-30). He first commends to them Timothy and speaks of his desire to send him (2:19-24), then he updates the Philippians on the condition of Epaphroditus and informs them that he was going sending him back (2:25-30). The last section in the body of Philippians is Paul’s address dealing with the persecution and false teachers that the Philippians were facing (3:1-4:1). He speaks of the Judaizers among them, those that “mutilate the flesh” (3:2), and outlines the true doctrine of righteousness through faith (3:3-11). Finally he calls for them to press on towards the goal even in the face of opposition, to stand firm in Christ (3:12-4:1). Philippians 2:12-18 fits into Paul’s call for unity in the centre of the letter. He has called for a life worthy of the Gospel and then called for unity based on the example of Christ and his humility. In Philippians 2:12-18 Paul calls them to continue in their obedience, which draws on the example of Christ, for he was “obedient to the point of death” (2:8), as well as continuing the theme of unity as this is how Paul will apply the specific exhortation of working out their salvation.  From here Paul then proceeds to his commendation of Epaphroditus and Timothy (2:19-30).

Seeing where Philippians fits in the bigger picture, we can know examine the way Paul makes his argument in the passage at hand. Drawing inferentially from the example of Christ and, in the even bigger picture, from his exhortation to lives worthy of the Gospel, Paul presents a general imperative in verses 2:12-13. This command to work out their salvation provides a general principle of each individual working out his life in a worthy way which he will then apply specifically in 2:14-18. Both the general command in v. 12 and the specific application in v.14 are made able by God at work inside of the Philippian Christians, empowering them with both the desire and the ability to work out their salvation generally and specifically in community (v. 13). This command is given in v. 14 and then the motivation, the purpose for doing it, is given in v.15-18. Here Paul gives the purpose for which to do it (15-16a) and then the effect resulting from what they will be (16b-18). By working out their salvation in the community by being without complaint or dispute, the Philippians will be the opposite of the Israelites in Deut. 32:5. The Philippians will be blameless children of God among the perverted and wicked generation around them, like stars shining in the world by means of their adherence to and endurance in the word of life (15-16a). The effect of this is a boast for Paul in the final day, for doing this will show that his work was not in vain; they are manifesting the fruit of true salvation. The effect will also be rejoicing, even if Paul has to be poured out in death to complete his work with the Philippians (16b-18).

Paul’s big idea for this whole section, what he is trying to say with his argument, is that the Philippians are to fulfill their general call to work out their salvation by being in unity. They are enabled by God’s work to do this and they do it for the purpose of being blameless children of God. In this passage Paul addresses one of the circumstances occasioning the letter head on, and subtlety addresses two other circumstances that also necessitated the letter. The main brunt of the passage is towards the divisiveness the Philippians were encountering. Paul brings to bear on this situation the obedience Christ showed on the cross and the not-yet aspect of the eschatological reality within which we find ourselves. Paul has spoken of Christ’s obedience in the previous passage (2:8) and then, drawing from this, he looks at the Philippians’ own obedience, calling them to both continue in the obedience they have shown and to emulate Christ by being obedient in working out their salvation. Paul’s very command to work out their salvation draws attention to the present eschatological reality within which we believers find ourselves. The Philippians were saints in Christ Jesus (1:1) and by their faith were in a state of being saved, they had received the first fruits of salvation in justification and had a foretaste of its final consummation in glory, but their salvation settled in a not-yet tension. Though set apart for God they were not yet conformed completely to the image of Christ, they still sinned and were plagued with dissension; their sanctification still needed to be worked out and completed in glorification. It is this not-yet aspect which Paul focuses on here in v.12-18. He calls the Philippians to work out their salvation, to do their part in conforming themselves to the image of Christ—something rightly attributed to the Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13) for it is God who gave them the very desire and ability to do it (v. 13). In doing this Paul also addresses the issue of the Philippians persecution and his own situation. Amid a twisted and perverted generation they were to stand united and different as blameless children of God holding fast the word of life; just as they were to press on towards their goal (4:14, 17) and strive for the faith of the gospel (1:27), they were to hold fast the word of life enduring in the truth and maybe even witnessing to the life that comes through the Gospel in the process. Paul also speaks of the possibility of being poured out to death for the sake of the Philippians; like his earlier encouragement that his imprisonment was for the good of spreading the Gospel (1:12-26), Paul here brings encouragement by saying that even if this happens he will be joyful and rejoice (2:17-18), as the Philippians should likewise do (2:18). Altogether Paul in this passage hits his themes of enduring—even moving forward—and rejoicing in suffering and the need for unity. This fulfills his purposes of providing encouragement and exhortation in suffering and correcting their unity issues.


The Application of Philippians 2:12-18 Today

If this is what Paul is saying in Philippians 2:12-18, how exactly does this apply to us in the 21st century? In North America today we struggle deeply with individualism; we are easily entrapped in the temptation of working out our salvation by ourselves, apart from deep involvement with the body of Christ. Many of those today who call themselves Christians have fellowship with the Church only on Sundays, if they attend a local church at all, and are not actively involved in living out there faith in community. This individualism has contributed a lot to disunity in the both the local church and the Church universal, but it is not the only source; we also have division for all sorts of seemingly petty reasons.[26] The information we have on the disunity in the Philippian church is not great, but what information we have reveals a disunity which relates well to the circumstances of our contemporary church. Specifically in 2:12-18 the unity issue is complaining and disputing within the community. A modern application of Paul’s teaching here starts with v. 12. We must understand that the call for all Christians in all times is to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, in awe of God. We must press forward and pursue our sanctification, not passively waiting for our shortcomings and sins to be magically removed nor relying solely on what we perceive to be our own ability—for we have none. Because God empowers us and gives us the desire for sanctification we must press forward in pursuing conformity to Christ, putting to death what is earthly in us and the deeds of our flesh (Col. 3:5, Rom. 8:13). We must not do this as lone rangers, setting out for sanctification on our own; we must do it in the covenant community of which we have become a part. As with the church in Philippi, a specific outworking of this pursuit needed today is the working out of our salvation in the expression of unity. We must do all things without complaining or disputing; we must avoid destructive argumentation, disputes that only serve to tear down our brothers and sisters and do not encourage, exhort, or grow them. We must treat each other as brothers and sisters, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and not complaining about one another, whether it is to each other’s face or behind each other’s back (cf. Eph. 4:29). In doing this we will be blameless children of God; surrounded by a similarly depraved generation as faced the Philippians we will both shine by holding fast the word, enduring all that they throw at us, and will testify to Jesus Christ whom God sent (John 17:23). Therefore, with the Philippians, let us work out salvation with fear and trembling in our communities by doing all things without complaint or dispute, for God is the one enabling to us to do this and giving us the desire for it.

[1] D. A Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Paternoster ; Baker Books, 1996), 24.

[2] 2 Tim. 3:17

[3] This includes both the literary and historical context, but for the purpose of this paper we will look at the historical context separately and the literary context when discussing the passages meaning.

[4] My conclusion here agrees with Fee, Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 34.

[5] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 503–506.

[6] Paul could wait as long as needed while being imprisoned and if he received his freedom he would be able to come and join Timothy in Philippi. Gerald F Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary 43 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983), xlii.

[7] Ibid.

[8] This is the author’s translation. Unless otherwise marked, all references from this passage are from this translation.

[9] Hawthorne, Word Biblical Commentary, 98.

[10] “your” is taken as referring to the community as a whole.

[11] Fee rightly reacts away from the extreme of Hawthorne and others, but still settles on a similar position; σωτηρία refers to the present working out of our eschatological salvation, but instead of individually it is “the salvation That God has wrought in making them a people of God for his name in Philippi”. This seems to do exactly what he accuses Silva and O’Brien of doing, dichotomizing individual and corporate aspects of salvation. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 235–236.

[12] Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 37–41.

[13] Thayer, Louw and Nida, and BDAG list two or three usages (Louw & Nida separating the state and process of salvation) for σωτηρία; it can refer to deliverance from physical danger or salvation in the soteriological sense (sometimes referring to a state of being “saved” and sometimes to the process of salvation). Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Basd on Semantic Domains, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (New York, New York: United Bible Society, 1989), 21.18, 21.25, 21.26; Joseph Henry Thayer, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 216; Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 985–986.

[14] P.T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Authentic Media, 1991), 277, http://books.googl.ca/books?id=IpbiGkWRKc0C; Hawthorne, Word Biblical Commentary, 98–99.

[15] Silva makes this point, Moisés Silva, Philippians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Publishing Group, 2005), 119, http://books.google.ca/books?id=B5cRc_2pgQsC.

[16] I am here agreeing with O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 273–274.

[17] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), 46.

[18] See Wallace’s discussion of possible ways of translating the infinitives here on page 603 and in the surrounding context.

[19] See Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 244; O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 291–292; James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[20] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001). This is how the ESV translates Philippians 2:15. All Scripture references from passages other than Philippians 2:12-18 are from the ESV.

[21] This meaning is not given in either the BDAG or the Louw & Nida lexicons. The example that Fee gives does not support this meaning at all, he points to 1Ti. 3:15 which means something like “to give ones attention to,” a meaning testified to in Danker and Louw, but which does not mean “hold out”. Hawthorne likewise suggests “hold forth” as a possibility, though he rejects it. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 362; Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Basd on Semantic Domains, 1:27.59, 31.47, 24.33, 85.59; Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 247; Hawthorne, Word Biblical Commentary, 103.

[22] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 247.. Cf. this end in Matthew 5:14, 16 and John 17:23 where the unity of believers is seen as testimony to Jesus.

[23] Fee seems to support a Jewish background, but points out that many interpreters assume a pagan one. Ibid., 251–252.

[24] O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 304; Harold J. Freeman, James M.; Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 158.

[25] O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 303–304; Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 241; Hawthorne, Word Biblical Commentary, 105; Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 561.

[26] I am addressing unhealthy division here, those minor things that prevent some interdenominational work and petty disputes within the local church that could be dealt with in much healthier ways. I am not speaking of the general differences between denominations, for these often arise out of the different sides attempt to be faithful to Scripture; while interdenominational work can be achieved, pure ecumenicalism would cause much compromise on what each denomination sees as the clear Scriptural teaching (of course, they are not all correct, but these issues need to be worked out from Scripture and not simply concluded with compromise).



Carson, D. A. Exegetical Fallacies. Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Paternoster ; Baker Books, 1996.

Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Danker, Frederick W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.

Freeman, James M.; Chadwick, Harold J. Manners & Customs of the Bible. North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998.

Hawthorne, Gerald F. Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary 43. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Basd on Semantic Domains. Vol. 1. 2 vols. 2nd ed. New York, New York: United Bible Society, 1989.

O’Brien, P.T. The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Authentic Media, 1991. http://books.googl.ca/books?id=IpbiGkWRKc0C.

Silva, Moisés. Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Publishing Group, 2005. http://books.google.ca/books?id=B5cRc_2pgQsC.

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Thayer, Joseph Henry, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996.


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