Philippians 2:3

From: Arto Hoikkala (
Date: Mon Apr 20 1998 - 07:53:35 EDT

Dear B-GREEKers,

After two basic (and probably boring) questions I am trying to
bring in something more interesting ;-)

Philippians 2:3 "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility consider others better than yourselves." (NIV)

I have always had difficulty exercising adequate mental acrobatics when I
have been trying to consider every believer (there are about 600 million of
us) as "better" than I am (or generally more excellent). Many are certainly
better than I am in many ways... but at least Finnish translation seems
imply to one should consider everyone to be generally better than oneself
(I am not sure what nuances English "better" has). It has been even more
difficult to think that Christ, who is presented as our example in verse 5,
would have considered everyone else better than himself.

Some time ago I discovered that the word "better" in this verse is hUPEREXO
which is also used in connection with "higher rank" in Romans 13:1 and in 1
Peter 2:13. After that I understood this verse as parallel to Christ's
teaching about "be not like rulers of the Gentiles but be servants and
slaves to each other... even as the Son of man came not to be served but to
serve" in Matthew 20:25-28 and "when you are invited to a wedding feast, do
not sit down in a place of honor... go and sit in the lowest place" in Luke
14:8-11. According to this interpretation this verse is instructing us not
to seek high position among others but to consider others to be important
'like kings', that is, worthy to be served in humility.

Here's how I have understood some keywords.

ERIQEIA generally as "a selfish attempt to get immediate gain"
  and in this context "a selfish attempt to gain high position"
  (but I am quite uncertain about this word)

KENODOCIA as "an exaggerated estimate of one's own importance"
  (I am quite uncertain about this word too)

hUPEREXO generally as "exceeding, surpassing"
  and in this context "exceeding in rank" or "more important"
  NOT as "more excellent" or "better" like most translations

And here's my understanding of the meaning of the verse.


"Do nothing from selfish attempt to gain high position
or from exaggerated [or empty] estimate of your own importance
but in humility consider others to be more important than yourselves."

What do you think?


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