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The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians is written in the second person plural, except for the following verse.

Philippians 4:3 (NASB)
3 Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

This verse appears to be parenthetical, because here we find the Greek word, σύ, which is the second person singular; that is, in the following verse he reverts to the second person plural of address for the remainder of the epistle.

To whom then was Paul referring as the "True Companion" in this verse, if we understand that the epistle was supposed to be addressed to "all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi" in general (Phil 1:1)?

Was this perhaps some literary device to address each individual in the Philippian Church to take responsibility in helping Euodia and Syntyche to live in harmony?

In other words, was Paul aware of the "Bystander Effect" (or Genovese Syndrome) in the First Century? The thesis avers that larger numbers of people decrease the likelihood that any one person in particular will step forward to help those in distress; responsibility to help thus remains diffused among the large number of people. That is, the individual must be addressed in order to prompt the response to assist those needing help.

In this context was the "True Companion" therefore each and every believer in Philippi (thus Paul's attempt to mitigate the "Bystander Effect"), or was perhaps the "True Companion" actually some particular individual person in Philippi? Thoughts?

7 Answers 7

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The name Syzygus is not found in all of Greek literature, so this is unlikely. Chrysostom does not know, but guesses that it could be one of the women's husbands. Gordon Fee thinks it likely that it is Luke. The calling of this person "a genuine companion" brings to mind a close long standing relationship. In the Book of Acts, written by Luke, he describes the journey of Paul as "we" did this, and "we" did that, up until they got to Philippi, and then it changes in Chapter 17 to "they", so the thought is that Luke was asked to stay back (Gordon Fee, Philippians, NICNT Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI 1995).

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And I entreat thee also, true yoke-fellow - It is not known to whom the apostle refers here. No name is mentioned, and conjecture is useless. All that is known is, that it was someone whom Paul regarded as associated with himself in labor, and one who was so prominent at Philippi that it would be understood who was referred to, without more particularly mentioning him. The presumption, therefore. is, that it was one of the ministers, or “bishops” (see the notes at Phlippians 1:1) of Philippi, who had been particularly associated with Paul when he was there. The Epistle was addressed to the “church with the bishops and deacons” Phlippians 1:1; and the fact that this one had been particularly associated with Paul, would serve to designate him with sufficient particularity. Whether he was related to the women referred to, is wholly unknown. Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible from Studylight.org

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In his commentary, the late Moises Silva (Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary)suggests that Paul may be using the 2nd per sing to address the recipients (plural) of the letter in the same way he treats many people using the singular (Rom 2:1,17;8:2; 9:20 etc). If so, could the reference to Clement and his other co-laborers be the ones he wants to help Euodia and Syntyche? Would Greek syntax allow? Could they be one-in-the-same as this "yokefellow"?

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It seems logical to me that this peace-keeper would be Epaphroditus. We know Epaphroditus carried the letter back to Philippi, so he would be present among the congregation at its reading. Paul acknowledges Epaphroditus’s close connection with himself, as “my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25), which might qualify him as Paul's true companion. I agree that there is no great theological question hanging upon this person's identity, but it's a nice little mystery to consider. Luke might also make sense, as some have suggested. But there is no iron-clad answer. We can, however, look forward to meeting them one day!

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    Commented Oct 9, 2021 at 13:10
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Biblical tradition dictates that Paul was celibate. However, because the word syzygos is not found anywhere else in the New Testament or in the LXX, it behooves us to look elsewhere for its meanings and use. In Classical Greek (and today’s Greek) syzygos means “spouse.”

For me, a Biblical Christian who rejects the traditions that developed after the first century, the simplest explanation is that Paul was addressing his spouse.

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    – agarza
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 18:11
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My brothers, It was Lydia. The first convert in Europe. The faithful fellow Jewish companion and businesswoman from Thyatira who dyed cloths and opened her heart to God while hearing Paul preach by the waterside in Philippi (Acts 16:11-15). The true companion and fellow worker and businesswoman who opened her house to become the first gathering place for European Christians and the one who tended to Paul and Silas after their beating in the Philippians jail (Acts 16:40). Surely she was a leader in the church, knew most of the converts and would be able to help make peace among them!… Discuss.

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    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 14:43
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There is a temptation into which some of us fall (not necessarily you, OP); namely, to think because we live in the 21st century and have appended ostensibly "modern" labels (such as cognitive dissonance, bystander effect, déjà vu, buyer's remorse, Freudian Slip--well, you get the idea) to human behavior, that that behavior did not exist in previous centuries. I guess you'd call it a form of anachronistic thinking. (Would it be the opposite of anachronism?)

Do we really think, for example, that a teenage girl in 1423 never said to her father who just criticized her for going out in public with her bare ankles showing,

"Oh, daddy, you're soooooo old fashioned. For goodness' sake, this is the 15th century! Get with it!"

The point is: the labels and vocabulary for describing behavior may change; the behavior, "not so much" (as the young people say nowadays).

In answer to one of your questions, then: no, Paul most likely was not consciously singling out one particular person to intervene in an unpleasant situation into which no one but he, apparently, was willing to insert himself, in order to combat the "bystander effect." Paul was simply enlisting the help of a

  • true yokefellow, helper, companion, teammate

  • loyal friend

  • sincere companion

  • faithful partner, friend, yokefellow (or yoke-fellow)

to intervene in the sticky situation created by Euodia and Syntyche. He was encouraging a "good Samaritan" to step forward and minister to two sisters in the Lord who were evidently butting heads, thinking unanimity is somehow better than unity!

Now, was Paul singling out an unnamed "true companion" (NASB), or was he singling out a brother in the Lord by the name of Syzygus? Allow me to digress.

The brothers Gershwin wrote a song for the 1937 film "Shall We Dance," and Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers sang the song while roller-skating in the film. The song was called "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

A famous line from the song goes,

“You like to-may-toes /təˈmeɪtoʊz/ and I like to-mah-toes /təˈmɑːtoʊz/”

The song goes on to parody the different ways--depending on one's regional dialect--of saying various words (e.g., eether/eyether, neether/nyther; potato/potahto; pajamas/pajahmas), and since Ginger and Fred can't seem to agree on how to pronounce the words in question, then maybe they should simply break off their romantic relationship!

In Philippians 4:2, we have a somewhat similar situation, but with a twist. Paul, in attempting to resolve that interpersonal conflict between two sisters in the Lord, whom he singles out by name, engages the help of either

  • a true companion (from Gk σύζυγος/suzugos)

or

  • a brother in the Lord named Syzygos (with a capital Sigma as the initial letter).

Instead of calling the whole thing off (because some scholars say suzugos and some scholars say Syzygos), perhaps the sensible thing to do is to say simply, "It makes not a whit of difference, at least in the grand scheme of things!"

To me, in light of Paul's singling out Euodia and Syntyche by name, it seems reasonable to assume Paul was addressing perhaps the lead elder of the church at Philippi, or at least a brother in the Lord with whom Paul was familiar and with whom he had perhaps worked side by side in the past.

If, on the other hand, Paul was simply addressing a true companion whom he did not have to name (the ol' "you know who you are"), that exegesis is also perfectly reasonable.

Either way, no key doctrine of Scripture is in danger if the word in question is suzugos or Syzygos. In other words, let's not call the whole thing off! Just put in your nickel and make your choice!

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    I, for one, am fairly confident that no "teenage girl in 1423" said to her father, "this is the 1500s!". I just have a hunch.... ;)
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 21:18
  • @David: How right you are. I've corrected my blunder. Thanks! Don Commented May 16, 2014 at 1:30
  • We really do need a word for reverse anachronism. Was trying to explain a similar thing to someone just the other day, like what you were describing in your opening. I believe there's a technical name for "presentism" prejudice that may be similar. Paul being a leader and an expert on the human condition was almost certainly aware of people's tendency to hide in a crowd. He didn't need to know the term "bystander effect" to understand what it means. I think that is what @Joseph is saying, that Paul consciously understood human nature and how to motivate people, regardless of terminology.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 13:45

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