17

Philippians 4:3 reads:

ναὶ ἐρωτῶ καὶ σέ, γνήσιε σύζυγε*, συνλαμβάνου αὐταῖς, αἵτινες ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ συνήθλησάν μοι μετὰ καὶ Κλήμεντος καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν συνεργῶν μου, ὧν τὰ ὀνόματα ἐν βίβλῳ ζωῆς. (NA27)

* or σύνζυγε

Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (ESV)

The word σύζυγε is rendered as "companion" or a synonym by almost all modern translations (a few take it as a name). However, Origen, who I believe was a native speaker of Greek took it to mean "wife".

Paul, then, if certain traditions are true, was called while in possession of a wife, concerning whom he writes in Philippians "I ask you also, my loyal mate, help these women." (Commentary on Romans, Book 1, Ch 1)

Clement of Alexandria also talks about Paul having a wife, and BDAG suggests he is thinking of Phil 4:3. But as Susan points out, others feel Clement was referring to 1 Corinthians 9.

Assuming σύζυγε is a common noun (technically an adjective), how plausible is Origen's interpretation grammatically? I know Paul more-or-less says he is single in 1 Corinthians 7:7, and argues that being single is the superior state, which obviously counts against interpreting Philippians 4:3 as referring to a wife. But, it does not completely rule out that Paul was married by the time he wrote Philippians 3-5 years later. Thus, I would prefer an answer based primarily on the grammar and immediate context.

15

The Greek text of Phil. 4:3 according to the Textus Receptus states,

Phil. 4:3, Textus Receptus. (Estienne, 1550)

Γʹ καὶ ἐρωτῶ καὶ σέ σύζυγε γνήσιε συλλαμβάνου αὐταῖς αἵτινες ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ συνήθλησάν μοι μετὰ καὶ Κλήμεντος καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν συνεργῶν μου ὧν τὰ ὀνόματα ἐν βίβλῳ ζωῆς TR, 1550

The Greek word σύζυγε is declined in vocative case, either the feminine or masculine gender, and singular number, from the lemma σύζυγος, an adjective functioning substantively in this particular context.

Regarding the declension σύζυγε, Lexigram states,

Lexigram, σύζυγε

According to BDAG (which specifically addresses the question at hand),1

BDAG, p. 954, σύζυγος

According to LSJ,2

LSJ, p. 1670, σύζυγος

According to Thayer,3

Thayer, p. 594, σύζυγος

The adjective σύζυγος is related to the verb συζεύγνυμι, which means “to be yoked together.” This verb occurs twice in the Greek New Testament, and in both instances, it refers to being married.

For example, in Matt. 19:6, it is written,

6 so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together, let no man separate!

Ϛʹ ὥστε οὐκέτι εἰσὶν δύο ἀλλὰ σὰρξ μία ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω TR, 1550

The Lord Jesus Christ is referring back to the marriage of Adam and Eve.4 Accordingly, one who is σύζυγος, “yoked together,” would be one’s spouse. On the other hand, as the lexicons clearly state, the word does not only possess the meaning of “spouse.” Furthermore, the apostle Paul clearly implies in his first epistle to the Corinthians that he was unmarried.5

As for the claim that the apostle Paul is referring to someone’s name, I hesitate to accept this claim since he modifies σύζυγε by the adjective γνήσιε, which he does nowhere else before a name.6 On the other hand, he does modify names by other adjectives elsewhere,7 which therefore leaves the possibility.

By itself, it cannot be determined whether σύζυγε is referring to a male or female, since it could be declined in the masculine or feminine gender. However, because it is modified by the adjective γνήσιε, which is certainly declined in the masculine gender alone,8 then σύζυγε must also be declined in the masculine gender in agreement with the adjective γνήσιε.

In his commentary on Phil. 4:13, Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer wrote,9

Meyer. p. 161. Phil. 4:3.

If the apostle Paul would have modified σύζυγε by γνησία, which is declined in the feminine gender (whether vocative or nominative), then there would have been a basis for the assertion that σύζυγε is referring to a wife.

Contrary to my assertion that σύζυγε is not referring to a name, Meyer also writes,10

Meyer. p. 162. Phil. 4:3.

Summary

In summary, σύζυγε by itself can mean “wife,” or even “husband.” Only an associated adjective or the definite article when the word is not declined in the vocative case could clue the reader in on whether it’s referring to a male or female! However, because the apostle Paul modifies σύζυγε by the masculine-gender adjective γνήσιε, the word σύζυγε in Phil. 4:13 is understood to be declined in the masculine gender and could not therefore be interpreted as referring to the apostle Paul’s wife. It could however be a proper name, but ultimately, the matter remains unsettled.


References

Arndt, William; Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick William. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.

Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; et al. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1940.

Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Philippians and Colossians, and to Philemon. Trans. Moore, John C. Ed. Dickson, William P. New York: Funk, 1889.

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.

Footnotes

1 p. 954
2 p. 1670
3 p. 594
4 Gen. 2:24
5 1 Cor. 7:7–8
6 cp. 1 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4
7 e.g., “the beloved Persida” (Περσίδα τὴν ἀγαπητήν; cp. Rom. 16:12); “the beloved Apphia” (Ἀπφίᾳ τῇ ἀγαπητῇ; Phlm. 1:2); etc.
8 The corresponding feminine declension would be γνησία.
9 p. 161
10 p. 162

  • Excellent, I thought "wife" couldn't be ruled out, but wasn't completely sure since no commentary seems to even mention the possibility... I agree that the name interpretation is unlikely because of the adjective. For it to work, Paul would have to be making a pun on the name and since the name is unattested making the assumption of word play seems to folly to me. – ThaddeusB Oct 29 '15 at 14:15
  • As I mentioned in my answer, in this passage σύζυγος cannot, from a purely grammatical point of view, mean "wife". – fdb Oct 30 '15 at 13:04
9

It is correct to say that σύζυγος (literally “yoke-mate, one of a pair”) can be masculine or feminine, and that it is very often used to mean “wife” in classical and post-classical Greek. But in this passage it is modified by the adjective γνήσιε, which is unmistakeably masculine singular vocative. Thus, “wife” is not possible here.

Anyway, as you point out, in 1 Cor. 7:8 Paul does say very clearly that he is not married, and that he considers it better for all to remain unmarried “like me”. Are we to believe that Paul changed his attitude towards marriage between writing 1 Cor. and Phil.?

  • 1
    (+1) Good argument. This paper, however, suggests it is not so cut-and-dry: "Not only was “the so-called Attic second declension . . . dying out in the Hellenistic vernacular,” but the feminine form of the adjective changed, often conflating with the masculine forms. This would lead us to expect γνήσιε for the feminine vocative form, and, as we shall see, several early Christian commentators who were native speakers of Greek took this passage to be the feminine form." – ThaddeusB Oct 30 '15 at 14:22
  • 1
    @ThaddeusB. Thank you very much for the article by the two Mormon professors. I need to admit, as a mere linguist, that I am totally unconvinced by their argument, I mean by things like: “It may (sic) be argued here that Koine Greek, the Greek of the New Testament and patristic authors, would have (sic) collapsed the adjective somehow (sic) from three into two forms, thus combining the masculine and feminine endings into a single form, but this is unattested (sic).” – fdb Oct 30 '15 at 15:13
  • 3
    True, the usage of (sic) does allow for "surprising assertions", but it is not normally used to mark logical errors, but only technical ones (hence my confusion). I'm pretty sure the sentence in question, though, is meant to argue against the idea, not support it. That is, he is criticizing the hypothesis as unsupported. – ThaddeusB Oct 30 '15 at 15:33
  • 2
    "But in this passage it is modified by the adjective γνήσιε, which is unmistakeably masculine singular vocative. Thus, “wife” is not possible here." - Can't believe I overlooked that. Nice catch. :) – user862 Oct 31 '15 at 8:50
  • 4
    @H3br3wHamm3r81 I feel like there’s something fishy though, because (as the Q points out) at least some of the Greek fathers took it as a reference to his wife. I don’t have a problem with them being wrong, but I have to give some deference to their familiarity with Greek. Maybe @​fdb has some idea how this happened? – Susan Nov 4 '15 at 22:30
0

Since when did he retract:

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 Λέγω δὲ τοῖς ἀγάμοις καὶ ταῖς χήραις καλὸν αὐτοῖς ἐὰν μείνωσιν ὡς κἀγώ εἰ δὲ οὐκ ἐγκρατεύονται γαμησάτωσαν κρεῖττον γάρ ἐστιν γαμῆσαι ἢ πυροῦσθαι

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain [as such], [just] as myself. If, however, they cannot control themselves they ought [indeed] to marry; for it is better to marry than to burn*.

Are we to entertain that St. Paul either went against his own advice, or couldn't control his passions?

* with passion? in Hell?

  • While that phrase "as myself" could mean that he was unmarried, it could also mean that his wife had died and he is remaining unmarried. If he had a wife prior to his conversion, he could have been saying this in hindsight or, most likely, be giving advice from God. – A Child of God May 13 '17 at 23:38
  • Indeed that could be so. However, wasn't Philippians written/isn't it dated after 1 Corinthians? – Sola Gratia May 13 '17 at 23:45
  • 1
    Granted. It would just seem to be hypocritical writing that unless he was unmarried at the timeof writing.To me, at least. These are things about which we are free to opine :) – Sola Gratia May 14 '17 at 0:03
  • 1
    Just be careful not to charge Scripture itself with error. – A Child of God May 14 '17 at 0:18
  • 1
    Have never onced in my life done that :) – Sola Gratia May 14 '17 at 0:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.