Here is an interesting question whose answer depends upon a text critical and literary critical analysis of the Bible: What is the proper translation of Philippians 4:13?
1. Living Bible Paraphrase: "For I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power."1
2. King James: "I can do all things through Christ which strengthenth me."2
3. New International Version: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
4. Revised Standard Version: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me."
5. My translation: "I can do all things in the one (masc.) who gives me strength."
In the first two translations Christ is specifically identified as the one who strengthens Paul. In the last three translations it is unclear who does the strengthening.
The first problem to resolve is what did the author's original autograph of the text read? This is a problem in textual criticism. We have over 5000 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. Most of them are fragmentary and no two of these exemplars agree alike in all particulars. Text critics weigh the readings of the various manuscripts, discuss them, and then vote to determine what the author's original autograph most probably read. They will then print that reading in a critical Greek text. In Phil 4:13 they determined that the reading "in Christ" (Xristō) was a later addition to the text:
The Textus Receptus, following several of the later uncials [manuscripts with capital letters] and many minuscules [manuscripts with lowercase letters], adds Xristō ["in Christ"]. If the word had been present in the original text, there would have been no reason to omit it.3
If one decides that the text critics are correct and Christ is not identified as giving strength to Paul, the text becomes unclear. The second question to ask is: who then is Paul asking for strength, God or Jesus? In the immediate context (Phil 4:4-13) God is invoked three times (4:6, 7, 9), and the Lord (God or Jesus?) is invoked three times (4:4, 5, 10). The situation most similar to Phil 4:13 is 2 Cor 12:1-10 where Paul asks "the Lord" to remove his "thorn in the flesh: "Three times I implored the Lord (kurios) about this, that it should leave me." But exactly who Paul is addressing is unclear. If we read through the undisputed Pauline letters searching for appearances of the word "Lord" by itself, we discover that Paul uses the word "Lord" to refer specifically to God,4 at other times specifically to Jesus,5 and once to the master (kurios, lord) of an estate (Gal 4:1). With all other uses of "Lord" by itself it is unclear to whom the word refers.
Most of the usages of Lord to refer to God are within quotations from the Old Testament but the context makes it clear that Paul is referring to God in the passage. Where the word "Lord" refers to Jesus the context makes the situation perfectly clear.
Who do you think Paul is referring to in Phil 4:13? Who is it that Paul thinks grants him strength? Based on Phil 4:6-7, 9, 19, my money would be on God. How do you see it?
For my conservative brothers and sisters: this exercise reveals that the Bible is as much a human word as a divine word.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1The Living Bible is a paraphrase by Kenneth N. Taylor of the English of the American Standard Version of 1901.
2The King James Version of 1611 is based on the Textus Receptus ("received text"), an ancient Greek text established in the 16th century used mostly by Protestant Groups. Today most scholars use the current Nestle/Aland text, which appears in the 28th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece.
3Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; German and American Bible Societies, 2000). 550.
4God: Rom 9:29; 10:12-13, 16; 11:3, 34; 12:19; 14:11; 15:11; 1 Cor 1:31; 2:16; 3:20; 4:4; 10:26; 14:21; 2 Cor 6:17-18; 10:17-18;1 Thess 4:6; 5:2.
5Jesus: 1 Cor 2:8; 4:5; 6:14; 7:10; 9:1, 2, 5; 10:21-22; 11:26, 27; 2 Cor 3:16-18; 8:5; Gal 1:19; 1 Thess 1:6; 4:16-17.