Thursday, July 23, 2020

Who Gives Paul Strength?

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
Professor Emeritus
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.


  1. Who gives Paul strength? Looking for the answer in the context of Philippians:

    Paul followed the laws of Moses and found that God offered sin and death.

    Paul followed the trust/faith of Jesus and found that God offered resurrection.

    Additionally he found that [God] not only offered "strength for all things" (Phil 4:16), but also offered the "peace of God (tou Theou) surpassing all understanding" (Phil 4:7).

    Phil 4:16 appears to follow directly from 4:7.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

  2. Thanks, Charlie. It is interesting to note that The Authentic Letters of Paul (Polebridge, 2010) is closely aligned with yours: "I can cope with anything through the one who strengthens me." But also arresting -- the choice of the verb "cope" is a contrast to the list you give; certainly a more modest boast or testimonial. Keep writing. Keep safe and well. Andy

    Andrew D. Scrimgeour, Ph.D.
    Archivist Emeritus, Society of Biblical Literature
    Dean of Libraries Emeritus, Drew University
    Madison, New Jersey

  3. Hi Charlie,

    As you know I've occasionally on this venue reported digging in the ancient ruins of my basement with the good fortune of discovering manuscripts that are at least as old as the second century. That happened again today, discovering what appears to be part of Matthew 3-4.

    It reads like this: "Jo(h)n...bapt(ism) more pow(erful) is (com)ing...every tree (t(hat) does not...he will baptize (yo)u w(ith) the f(ir)e of (g)ood (t)rou(bl)e...Je(sus) went through(out) Gal(ilee)...(t)eachi(ng) (and) pro(claim)ing
    (goo)d trou(ble).

    I think that John Lewis had a "vision" of this manuscript aa a young boy. I can't really think of a better way to describe Jesus' teachings and attitudes than as "good trouble." Just think if every sermon was preached and every Christian education lesson was taught under the heading of good trouble.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

  4. Good Evening Charlie,

    First, I have to comment about Gene's discovery in the ancient ruins of his basement... That was an interesting coincidence because at the exact same time he was unearthing those manuscripts, I was getting a pedicure and reading from your "Unmasking Biblical Faiths" about the baptism of Jesus by John and its historical validity in the Jesus Seminar. (pp. 135-147) I was so engrossed in what I was reading that I failed to noticed my toe nails were already dried and ready to go.

    Furthermore, I too watched the funeral service of John Lewis and was moved by the words spoken about him. I belong to the International Thomas Merton Society and was particularly interested to learn that Lewis had a copy of Merton's biography in his backpack when he marched across Pettus bridge in Selma. And I love Gene's connection between the "good trouble" that both Lewis and Jesus found themselves in as they challenged the prevailing thoughts and attitudes of their prospective hierarchies. Very appropros Gene, thank you for sharing. (Merton was also a fellow "good trouble" seeker and challenger)

    1) Charlie, the only answer i can give to your question about who gives Paul strength is what I was "taught." My immature concepts about God and Jesus that I grew up believing did not originate with me- they came from my parents and teachers. (I went to Bible school) People used the terms God and Jesus interchangeably... There was no distinction because God and Jesus are considered to be one entity. Doctrine of the Trinity. God is Jesus- Jesus is God. Holy Spirit... blah blah blah... Three persons, one Being. Three in One. In other words, it didn't matter to whom you prayed because all three entities are one and the same.

    I wasn't smart enough or insightful enough to question this mindset... Or to ask for a scripture which supports this insanity. No one in my circle of friends or family cared whether it was God or Jesus giving Paul strength.

    What does your academically trained mind think about that? The fact that 99.9% of Christians could care less whether it's God or Jesus giving Paul strength in Phil. 4:13? Does it surprise you?

    Many thanks as always! Elizabeth

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      No, it does not surprise me. I too was taught the same as you were about the Trinity. Nevertheless, the idea of three distinctive divine personages included in one of those personages could not have been shared by Paul since the concept was a much later religio-political solution designed to keep Christianity from having three distinctive Divine Figures to worship. No Christian would like to think that s/he may be a polytheist. In any case Paul was not Trinitarian in his faith: see my essay "Is the Holy Spirit part of a Trinity" pp. 177-79 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths.

  5. “In the master” (or Christ) is used rather frequently in Philippians. It seems to me that it is likely that “in the one” refers to Christ. And, I sort of get the impression that this would “empower” both the audience and the author, who extols his audience to imitate him, as he is in “partnership” with the sufferings of Christ (see below, 3.10). In the verses leading up to 4.13, he “rejoices [or rejoiced] in the Lord” three times (4.4, 4.10). That doesn’t tell us that “Christ” was the intended meaning of “the one,” but it gives a plausible reason that it was interpreted as such.

    The earliest I can find attestation for the verse (in an online catena) is in several Origen writings. He was apparently a fan of verse 13, using it in at least three writings (De Principiis, Against Celsus, and Commentary on Matthew). Instead of “him” he used “Christ” in those. Another possible allusion is found in Ignatius. He might have been alluding to it (Smyrnaeans, 4.2). He was also speaking of “the name of Jesus Christ alone.” This was in respect to Ignatius, aka Theophorus (“God-bearer”), enduring and suffering with Christ, and “... in the name of Jesus Christ alone am I enduring all things, that I may suffer with him and the perfect man himself gives me strength.” (This is similar to Phil. 3.10, “I want to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” But, it probably makes little difference whether t’was God or Christ in canonical Philippians, where one is told Christ was “in the form of God” but did not want to seize his “equality to God” (2.6).
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Dahlonega, Ga.