re: Philemon 6

From: Richard Lindeman (
Date: Mon Mar 16 1998 - 00:10:38 EST

I am forwarding the following message from Katy Barnwell.

Rich Lindeman

I followed with interest your discussion of Philemon 6 on B-Greek. I
attempted to send the following to the list, but for some reason it is
not going through, possibly because I have changed my e-mail address
since joining the list. So I thought I would at least send it to the
two of you who have been interacting. I would welcome any comments
you have.
One point you made that our notes do not cover is whether TES PISTEOWS
refers to the act of believing or to "the faith".
---------------------- Forwarded by Katy Barnwell/ILC on 03/14/98
02:28 PM ---------------------------

Katy Barnwell
03/14/98 01:56 PM
Subject: Re. Philemon 6
Being involved in Bible translation, I scan B-Greek for new insights
on problem verses. A commentator or a preacher can discuss the
different interpretations that a verse might have, but a translator is
forced to make a decision as to which interpretation to follow and can
seldom retain with clarity the same range of ambiguities as the
original text. Philemon 6 is a major challenge for translators.
The following notes on this verse were drafted as a help for Bible
translators. Comments on this exegesis would be much appreciated.
   PANTOS AGAQOU TOU EN hHMIN EIS CRISTON ?that the sharing of your
   faith may become effective in/by the knowledge of every good thing
   in us in(to) Christ?
The interpretation of the first part of this verse depends on several
interrelated questions:
   How is the word KOINWNIA "fellowship" (RSV "sharing") to be
   Who are the participants in each event? i.e. With whom is Philemon
   sharing in believing? Is it with other Christians (including, in
   anticipation, Onesimus) or is it with Paul (and Timothy)?
   What is the connection between ENERGHS GENHTAI "may become active"
   and EN EPIGNWSEI "in/by knowledge"? Does the phrase "in the
   knowledge of every good thing" describe the means by which that
   fellowship or sharing becomes effectual or is the knowledge of
   every good thing the result of that fellowship/sharing?
Here are three alternative interpretations that seem to be the most
likely of a range of possibilities suggested by commentators:
(1) Sharing (Greek: KOINWNIA) refers to sharing, or bonding, with
   others who believe the same truths. KOINWNIA is often translated
   into English as "fellowship" in this sense. Paul prays that
   Philemon will have active fellowship with other believers as he
   comes to understand every good thing that God has done for (or in)
   us. In this interpretation the words "in the knowledge of every
   good thing" refer to the means by which this fellowship becomes
   This fits well with the theme of the letter. Paul is about to
   appeal to Philemon to be merciful towards his runaway slave,
   Onesimus, because they now both believe in Christ. Although Paul
   has not yet mentioned his request to Philemon to forgive Onesimus,
   he is anticipating the fellowship that Philemon will have with
   Onesimus. This comes about because they both now recognize God?s
   goodness to them.
(2) Sharing means that Philemon shares his faith with others, that
   is, he tells other people about the gospel message he believes in
   (as in the NIV, and the Contemporary English Version (CEV)). The
   phrase "in the knowledge of every good thing" then refers to the
   result of sharing his faith. The result can still be understood in
   more than one way. NIV takes Paul?s prayer to be that, as Philemon
   tells others about what he believes, Philemon will come to a full
   understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. CEV takes
   Paul?s prayer to be that, as Philemon tells others about what he
   believes, those people "will come to know all the blessings Christ
   has given us."
(3) Sharing means "fellowship" as in the first interpretation, but
   here it is the fellowship Paul and Timothy (as writers of the
   letter) have with Philemon (to whom they are writing) that is in
   focus. The words "in the knowledge of every good thing" refer to
   the result of their fellowship. Thus the Good News Bible (GNB)
   takes the meaning to be that as Philemon fellowships with Paul and
   Timothy, they will come to ?a deeper understanding of every
   blessing which we have in our life in union with Christ.
Other interpretations of this verse have also been suggested. However,
interpretation (1) above seems to fit best with the purpose of the
letter. Paul is preparing Philemon for the request he is about to make
on behalf of their fellow believer, Onesimus. He is preparing Philemon
by asking him to think about the good things God has done for us all
and by urging him to act for Christ?s honour. Remembering these facts
will cause Philemon to have closer fellowship with other believers,
including his newly converted slave, Onesimus.
Thus the verse, following interpretation (1) above, could be
translated something like this:
   I pray that the fellowship which you have with those who believe as
   you do may increase/deepen, through your knowing [or because you
   know] all the good things that God has done for us. May this happen
   for the sake (or for the glory) of Christ.
An alternative translation, following interpretation (2), would be:
   I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you
   will have a full understanding of all the good things God has given
   us, and that this will result in people glorifying Christ.
Yet another problem is the phrase at the end of the verse, translated
in the RSV as "in Christ" and in some other translations as "for
Christ" or "to Christ". This is not the usual EN CRISTW which Paul
uses frequently in his letters but is literally "to Christ" (Greek EIS
CRISTON). There are two possible interpretations:
(1) The phrase EIS CRISTON is related to the verb "become effective"
   and indicates that the purpose of active fellowship is to honor
   Christ. It might be stated: "May this happen for the sake of
   Christ," or "This will bring honor to Christ," or "This will cause
   people to praise Christ." This interpretation is followed by the
   Jerusalem Bible and the New American Standard Bible.
(2) The phrase EIS CRISTON is related to the phrase "every good
   thing" and gives the meaning "all the good things that are ours
   because we are in union with Christ," or "because we believe in
   Christ." This interpretation is taken by NIV and GNB.
There is also a textual problem in this verse. In place of EN hHMIN
?in us? some ancient Greek manuscripts have EN HUMIN ?in you?. However
the weight of the manuscript evidence seems to support EN hHMIN and
the UBS Greek New Testament 4(superscript: th) edition rates this
reading as a B (very probable) degree of certainty. Of the major
English versions, only the KJV and the NASB follow the reading EN
Katy Barnwell
Summer Institute of Linguistics

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:39:13 EDT