Translation commentary on Philippians 1:27

Now, the important thing is is an idiomatic equivalent of a single word in Greek (literally, “only”). This clause also serves to bring out the emphatic nature of the imperative statement which follows (Bruce “see to it that”; Phillips “make sure that”; Knox “you must”). The adverb now should not be understood merely in a temporal sense. Rather, it serves as a transition from what is said in the preceding verses to the implications which must be drawn from it. In some languages an appropriate transitional would be “and so accordingly the important thing is…,” or “and so what is important is that….”

Your way of life should be translates a Greek verb which means literally “behave as citizens.” Elsewhere in the New Testament the verb occurs only in Acts 23.1. The verb originally meant “to live the life of a citizen” or “to live as a member of a community.” Later it came to be applied to all moral conduct within a community. Paul usually uses another Greek word (meaning literally “to walk about”) for Christian conduct (e.g. Eph 4.1; Col 1.10; 1 Thes 2.12). He uses a more distinctive term here probably to emphasize his Philippian friends’ mutual duties as members of a local Christian community. Your way of life may be rendered as “the way in which you live,” “how you behave,” or simply “what you do.”

As the gospel of Christ requires is literally “be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The gospel of Christ is best taken objectively, meaning “the good news about Christ” (1 Cor 9.12; 2 Cor 2.12; 1 Thes 3.2). It may be awkward in some languages to speak of “the gospel requiring” anything. Only people can be said to require certain kinds of behavior. However, it may be possible to say “as the gospel about Christ says you should live.” One may then translate this rather complex relation as “what is important is that you live in the way that the good news about Christ says you should live,” or “… that you live in accordance with the demands in the good news about Christ.”

There is no doubt that so that should go with I will hear that you are standing firm etc., with the clause whether or not … introduced between the two elements.

Whether or not I am able to go and see you translates a Greek phrase with three participles (literally “whether coming and seeing you or remaining absent”). Because of the somewhat irregular construction in the Greek, some commentators suggest an emendation. They would change the finite verb I will hear into a participle and link it with the third participle in the series (“remaining absent”), which they would take adverbially. This suggestion is followed by some translators, for example, “whether I come and see you for myself or hear about you from a distance” (New English Bible); “whether I come and see for myself, or stay at a distance and only hear about you” (Jerusalem Bible cf. New American Bible Phillips Knox Goodspeed). If this emendation is followed, one has to supply a finite verb, such as “I may know” or “I may learn,” for the following clause. The meaning seems quite clear, however, even without the emendation (cf. Good News Translation Revised Standard Version).

A translator may find it particularly difficult to embed the clause whether or not I am able to go and see you within the purpose clause introduced by so that. Accordingly, it may be better to continue with the purpose clause and then reintroduce certain aspects of that clause in order to relate it more clearly to the conditional expression introduced by whether, for example, “so that I will hear that you stand firm…; I want to hear that whether or not I am able to go and see you.” In some languages there is no convenient way of indicating succinctly a positive or negative condition such as may be introduced in English by “whether or not.” The closest equivalent may simply be “if I am able to go see you, that is fine; and if not, that is also fine,” or “if I am able, or if I am not able, to go see you….”

I will hear is literally “I may hear the things concerning you,” but since the details of “the things” are mentioned in the following clause, this phrase is omitted in Good News Translation. The basic meaning of the verb translated are standing firm is simply “to stand” (Mark 3.31; 11.25), but in Pauline contexts it usually has the added component of firmness (2 Thes 2.15; 1 Cor 16.13). The metaphor could be that of soldiers standing firm in battle or of condemned believers fighting for their lives in a Roman amphitheater (Eph 6.13; 1 Cor 4.9). In a number of languages the positive idiom “to stand firm” must be expressed negatively as “not to be moved,” “not to change,” or “not to give up.”

With one common purpose is literally “in one spirit” (Revised Standard Version). It is sometimes argued that Paul is here referring to the divine Spirit. But the context seems to indicate clearly that the united purpose of the Philippian Christians is meant (New English Bible “one in spirit”; Knox “common unity of spirit”; Jerusalem Bible “unanimous”). With one common purpose may be expressed in some languages as “by all intending the same way,” “by all of you having the same goal in mind,” or “by all of you wanting to do the same.” With one common purpose is essentially equivalent to with only one desire.

The order of the Greek allows some ambiguity in the phrase with only one desire (literally “one soul”). It can be interpreted as in apposition with the “one spirit” which immediately precedes it (so New English Bible “one in spirit, one in mind” and Goodspeed “with one spirit, one purpose”), or it can be interpreted as modifying the following participle fighting together. Good News Translation chooses the latter alternative and clarifies its choice by supplying and that. Another means of clarification is used by New American Bible, which supplies the connective “and” and rearranges the word order (“and exerting yourselves with one accord”). “Spirit” and “soul” are sometimes used almost interchangeably in the New Testament (Luke 1.46-47; John 11.33; Acts 4.32; 1 Cor 16.18). If a distinction must be made, “spirit” would be used of the mind with its activities of thought and reflection, whereas “soul” would be used of the seat of inward feelings, affections, passions, and desires. The term “soul” in this context is rendered in various fashions by various translators: New English Bible “one in mind”; Moffatt “like one man”; Bruce New American Bible “with one accord” (cf. Jerusalem Bible “united by your love”).

You are fighting together translates a Greek participle which means literally “striving together with.” The compound verb used here is used elsewhere only in 4.3. The simple verb, from which the word “athletics” is derived, occurs in 2 Tim 2.5 in the sense of “contesting in the games.” The metaphor is taken from an athletic contest or from war. The present context seems to favor the latter. Both Moffatt and Goodspeed render the participle as “fighting side by side” (New English Bible “contending as one man”). In rendering fighting together, it is essential to employ a form which will not suggest “fighting against one another.” It may be useful to employ such an expression as “join together in fighting for.” In some languages, however, the metaphor of “fighting” would be inappropriate in this type of context. It may be preferable to use such an expression as “to work hard for,” or “to put all one’s strength in order to help.”

The expression the faith of the gospel appears only here in the New Testament. Faith is in the dative case in Greek and this can be taken as an instrumental dative, resulting in the rendering “with the faith of the gospel” (Knox). Good News Translation, however, along with most translations, takes it to be a dative of interest and so renders for the faith of the gospel. The word faith seems to be used here in the semitechnical sense of the content of the gospel (Eph 4.5).

The genitive construction the faith of the gospel can be taken as in apposition, that is, “the faith which is the gospel.” It can also be interpreted as an objective genitive, “the faith in the gospel.” It seems better, however, to take it in the sense of “the faith which is appropriate to the gospel,” or “the faith which is based on the gospel.” If it is interpreted this way, “the gospel” may have an attributive force, thus “the gospel faith” (New English Bible). It is important to note that Paul is urging his readers to fight for “the faith appropriate to the gospel,” not for “the gospel which is believed.”

A more or less literal translation of the faith of the gospel leads almost inevitably to a misunderstanding which makes faith essentially equivalent to the good news or the content of the good news. If, however, one interprets the faith of the gospel in terms of faith which is appropriate to, or based upon, the gospel, it may be necessary to make the relation quite explicit, for example, “fight for the kind of trust which results from the good news,” or “… the kind of faith which those who believe the good news have.”

Quoted with permission from Luo, I-Jin. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philippians 2:29

Paul now appeals to the Philippians to give Epaphroditus a cordial welcome. With joy (literally, “with all joy”) is best understood in the sense of “hearts full of joy” (Moffatt) or “most hearty welcome” (Jerusalem Bible). As a brother in the Lord is literally “in the Lord.” It is possible to take the phrase with receive him. If so, it could mean “receive him as the Lord would receive him.” It is also possible to take it as qualifying with joy. The sense would then be to give Epaphroditus a most hearty Christian welcome, that is, “welcome him the way Christians should welcome fellow believers.” If this phrase is to be understood as an attributive to joy, it may be necessary to expand it in such a way as to indicate more precisely what the relation would be, for example, “with all joy, as would be characteristic of those who are in union with the Lord,” “with all joy, such as being in union with the Lord would produce,” or “with all joy, as believers in the Lord should.” Another possibility is to take the phrase as referring to the mutual relationship of the Philippians and Epaphroditus. If so, it can mean as a brother in the Lord, or “as a fellow believer who is in union with the Lord,” or even “because you are fellow believers in the Lord.”

The clause show respect to all such people as he is rendered in New English Bible as “you should honor men like him.” The expression translated respect has the components of honor and value (Moffatt “value men like that”). Since the honor and respect due to people who are like Epaphroditus must be based upon what they have done, rather than upon some personal characteristic or outward features, it may be useful to translate show respect to all such people as he as “give honor to all people who have done what he has done.”

Quoted with permission from Luo, I-Jin. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philippians 4:10

In my life in union with the Lord it is a great joy to me is literally “but I rejoiced in the Lord greatly.” Here the function of “but” is nothing more than to indicate a transition to new subject matter, and so it is left untranslated by most modern translators.

The aorist verb “I rejoiced” is sometimes taken to refer to the joy the apostle experienced when Epaphroditus met him with the gifts from his old friends at Philippi (Moffatt “it was a great joy to me”; Goodspeed “I was very glad”; New American Bible “it gave me a great joy”). A great number of translators, however, take the verb as a so-called “epistolary aorist.” The apostle experiences the joy as he writes, but it will be something in the past by the time the letter is read by the believers in Philippi. In English such a verb is rendered in the present tense (New English Bible Jerusalem Bible “it is a great joy to me”; Bruce “it gives me great joy”). The verb “I rejoice” and the adverb “greatly” occur in an emphatic position in the Greek text. To bring out the proper force of this clause, it is possible to restructure it as an exclamatory statement, “How great is the joy I have….” Paul’s joy in keeping with or experienced in the light of his relation to his Lord: in my life in union with the Lord.

It is a great joy to me may be rendered simply as “I am very happy indeed.” It may be possible at this point to use some idiomatic expression, for example, “my insides are sweet indeed.”

As in many instances, in my life in union with the Lord may be rendered as “as I live my life joined with the Lord,” or “… as one with the Lord.”

In Greek the next clause is connected by a conjunction (that) which indicates that what follows is the basis for Paul’s joy. Instead of translating it as that (Moffatt New English Bible Jerusalem Bible Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch), it is also possible to bring out the connection by a colon (Bible en français courant). The basis of Paul’s joy is not the gift he received from the Philippians; it is the fact that his readers finally had an opportunity to show their concern for him.

After so long a time (literally, “already at last” or “already once more”) is an expression which appears elsewhere only in Rom 1.10, where Good News Translation has at last. It is an extremely difficult expression to render adequately into English. The basic idea is something like “now, after this waiting at last” (Barclay “after so long an interval”). The expression seems to suggest that Paul is chiding the Philippians for their delay in sending the money to him. But this is not his intention, as can be seen in what he goes on to say next.

You once more had the chance of showing translates a single verb in Greek, rendered in a number of translations as “revived.” This is a rare word, appearing only here in the New Testament. It suggests the picture of a bush or tree putting out fresh shoots or flowers in the springtime. This imagery is kept in some translations (New English Bible “has now blossomed afresh”; Barclay “has flowered again”; New American Bible “bore fruit once more”). You once more had the chance may be appropriately expressed in a number of languages as “it was once more possible for you,” “you once more had the opportunity,” or even “you once more could.”

That you care for me is an infinitive phrase in Greek. It can be taken as an accusative of reference, meaning “you revived regarding the thinking for me,” but it is probably best taken as an accusative governed by the verb “you revived,” meaning “you revived your thinking for me.” The word care (literally, “think”) is again (as in 1.7) to be taken in the positive sense of “concern” or “active interest” (Phillips “interest in my welfare”). The chance of showing that you care for me may be expressed as “the possibility of showing me how much you care for me,” “… how much you are concerned about me,” or even “… how much you want to help me.”

In order to avoid any hint of blame, Paul adds some words of explanation—literally, “on which indeed you were thinking.” It is probably permissible to take “on which” to mean “for” with an explanatory force, but it is perhaps better to take it in the sense of “with regard to which.” The antecedent would be the infinitive phrase immediately preceding, namely, “your thinking for me.” The imperfect tense of the verb suggests that it has the force of “all along” or “all the time.” The clause can be rendered as “you have indeed thought much about me all the time” (Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch). Since this is an added explanation to avoid misunderstanding, one can bring the sense out explicitly as “I mean…” or “I know…” (cf. Bruce Barclay) One can also turn the positive statement into a negative one, I don’t mean that you had stopped caring for me (cf. Phillips “I don’t mean that you had forgotten me”). I don’t mean may be appropriately rendered in some languages as “my words do not mean,” or “do not let my words cause you to think.”

That you had stopped caring for me may sometimes be expressed by an aspect of the verb which indicates cessation of an activity or state. In some languages, however, it may be better simply to say “that you no longer wanted to help me,” or “… were caring for me.”

Paul gives the real reason for the delay as you just had no chance to show it. This clause translates a single verb in Greek, which means literally “you were without opportunity,” or “you were lacking opportunity.” The verb refers to the circumstances which prevented the Philippians from sending their gift sooner. You just had no chance to show it may be best expressed in some languages as “it simply was not possible for you to show it,” “… to show me that you cared for me,” or “… wanted to help me.”

Quoted with permission from Luo, I-Jin. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philippians 1:6

And so I am sure that is literally “being sure of this very thing” and may be rendered as “and therefore I am sure of what follows,” or “… this that I am going to say.” It may, however, be better in some languages to combine the first part of verse 6 with the substance of what is referred to, as in Good News Translation. From the context it is clear that the one who initiated the good work among the Philippians and who would carry it to completion is God. Therefore Good News Translation translates explicitly God, who began this good work. The expression good work may refer to the part taken by the Philippians in the work of the gospel, but more naturally it points to the activity of God at the time of their conversion. The outward cooperation in the work of the gospel is, of course, the outcome and expression of the inward change made at the time of conversion.

It may be necessary to restructure rather radically the clause who began this good work in you. The verb began simply indicates an aspect of the more central activity indicated by the noun work. Therefore one may need to render this clause as “who began to work in you in this good way,” or even “… for good.” One may also express the proper relations by a rendering such as “who began to do in you what was good.”

A single Greek word meaning “will complete” (future tense), in combination with a preposition, is rendered in Good News Translation as a verbal phrase will carry it on until it is finished. The verb, as used in this particular context, has the sense of continuance and consummation (Moffatt “will go on completing”; Bruce “will go on bringing it to completion”). It may also be possible to render this verbal clause as “will continue to work in you until he has finished what he has planned,” or “… accomplished his purpose.”

The Day of Christ Jesus is not a reference to the day of one’s death, but to the Parousia, or the return of Christ (Knox the day when Jesus Christ comes), and so Good News Translation capitalizes the word Day. It is the Day of judgment as well as the Day of salvation (1 Thes 1.10). Apparently the early return of Christ is very much in the apostle’s mind as he writes this letter. In some languages literal translation of the Day of Christ Jesus may be quite misleading; one may need to indicate clearly the idea of Parousia and so render this expression as “on that Day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Quoted with permission from Luo, I-Jin. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philippians 2:8

This verse concludes the first stanza of the hymn. It reaches the climax in Christ’s supreme humility and obedience. It is this act of humility which is urged on the Philippian Christians (vv. 3-5).

Note the word order in Greek: in 2.7 we have “but himself he emptied,” with the emphasis on the person; whereas here we have “he humbled himself,” with the emphasis on the act. Note also that the Greek verb is in the aorist tense, describing an act, not a disposition. To reflect this emphasis, he was humble is best taken in the sense of “he abased himself” or “he humiliated himself” (Knox “he lowered his own dignity”). To indicate the role of Jesus in “humbling himself,” one may say in some languages “he caused himself to be humble,” “he himself lowered his own status,” or “he caused himself to become low.” (For the meaning of “humility,” see the discussion under Pp. 2.3.)

Walked the path of obedience all the way to death translates a participial phrase which means literally “becoming obedient to the extent of death.” The action of the aorist participle “becoming” is simultaneous or contemporaneous with the main verb “he humbled,” and it is also explanatory. Christ humbled himself “by becoming” obedient even to the extent of death; in other words, “obedient to death” defines the measure of Christ’s humbling himself (cf. also John 10.17; Heb 5.8; 12.2). The obedience is rendered to God, as implied in verse 9. A contrast with Adam appears to be in the author’s mind (Rom 5.12-21). The act of self-humbling and obedience sums up the whole course of Christ’s life on earth. Good News Translation attempts to make this fact explicit by rendering walked the path of obedience all the way to death. Christ humbled himself by living a life of complete obedience which culminated in death (cf. Phillips). Paul hastens to add that Christ’s death was not a normal death, but the cruel, torturous, shameful death on the cross. It was an accursed death, the death of a common criminal (Gal 3.13).

Two principal problems are involved in the expression walked the path of obedience all the way to death. In the first place, many languages do not permit the metaphorical use of such an expression as walked the path. In the second place, some languages require an indication of the person to whom another is obedient. It may be more satisfactory to render walked the path simply as “becoming,” although one can also say “in what he did he became obedient.” When it is necessary to indicate the person to whom Christ was obedient, that person must, of course, be God. Therefore one may say “he was obedient to God even to the point of dying,” or “… giving his life.”

The final phrase in verse 8, his death on the cross, may be introduced as an explanation of precisely what kind of dying was meant, for example, “He was obedient to God even to the point of dying, that is to say, dying on a cross” or “… that is to say, being crucified.”

Quoted with permission from Luo, I-Jin. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philippians 3:10

In verse 10 and 11 there is another instance of the rhetorical device called “chiasmus”:

Quoted with permission from Luo, I-Jin. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philippians 4:21

Paul begins his greetings by saying literally “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” The verb “greet,” a common word in the New Testament, is the word regularly used to convey greetings at the end of a letter. Its modern equivalent is “give my greetings to” (New English Bible New American Bible), “give my good wishes to” (Barclay), “remember me to” (Goodspeed), or simply greetings to. In some instances one may translate greetings to each one of God’s people as “I send these words to each one of God’s people,” or “I want each one of God’s people to know that I remember them.”

The word “saint” is not a description of the moral character of Christians; it refers rather to the fact that they belong to God. It is therefore usually best to render it as God’s people (New English Bible; cf. Barclay “God’s dedicated people”). (See the discussion under 1.1.) Notice that the greetings are addressed to each one of God’s people. Paul is careful to include the whole Philippian community in his expression of love and care.

The expression “in Christ Jesus” can be taken with greetings, so “give my greetings, in Christ Jesus” (New American Bible cf. Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Biblia Dios Habla Hoy), or “give my greetings in the fellowship of Christ” (New English Bible). It appears better, however, to connect it with God’s people, thus God’s people who belong to Christ Jesus, “all the people of God, fellow members of Christ Jesus” (Bruce cf. Moffatt Jerusalem Bible Traduction œcuménique de la Bible).

The word brothers (Barclay “fellow Christians”) is often used synonymously with God’s people (“saints”). It is impossible to determine who are included in this expression, but certainly Timothy would be one of them (cf. 1.1).

Quoted with permission from Luo, I-Jin. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Philippians 1:17

Good News Translation restructures this sentence to present the thoughts in a more logical order and to make the contrast with the previous verse more apparent. The others refers to the preachers mentioned in verse 15a (Revised Standard Version; Bruce “the former”). This phrase must be rendered in a way that will show clearly that it refers to those who preached Christ out of jealousy and quarrelsomeness. It may be possible in some languages to use such an expression as “the former,” but frequently one must repeat part of the identifying elements in verse 15, for example, “the others, who are jealous, do not proclaim Christ sincerely.”

Not … sincerely is literally “not purely,” in the sense of “from mixed motives” (New English Bible). The translator must make certain that the negative not qualifies the sincerity with which the preaching is done. A literal rendering of the others do not proclaim Christ sincerely may suggest that they do not proclaim Christ at all. Those persons did, in fact, proclaim Christ, but they did not do so with pure motives. One must often translate the first part of verse 17 as “the others proclaim Christ, but they do not do so sincerely.” Not … sincerely may be rendered in some instances as “with bad motives,” “but what they want to accomplish is not right,” or “but their purposes are personal.” This meaning is brought out more clearly in the phrase which follows; from a spirit of selfish ambition is an amplification of not … sincerely.

From a spirit of selfish ambition is literally “out of partisanship.” The word “partisanship” originally meant “working for pay.” Since a man who works solely for pay works from a low motive, the term later acquired a bad sense—describing a person who serves in an official position for his own selfish purposes and to that end creates a “partisan spirit” (Phillips; Moffatt “for their own ends”). From a spirit of selfish ambition may be rendered as “because they simply want things for themselves,” “because they themselves want to get ahead,” or “because they want to surpass.”

Good News Translation changes a participle with a force of purpose into a finite verb, they think (Moffatt “intending”; Phillips “hoping”; New English Bible “meaning”; Goodspeed “imagining”). The word translated think occurs only here in the Pauline letters. It connotes the sense of thinking with a purpose which is based on wrong judgment or conceit (cf. the context of James 1.7).

They will make more trouble for me translates an infinitive construction meaning literally “to raise up affliction.” Good News Translation supplies for me, making explicit the goal of their malicious action (New English Bible “meaning to stir up fresh trouble for me”). They will make more trouble for me is clearly causative, and the closest natural equivalent, in many instances, is “they will cause me to suffer more,” or “they will cause me to have more difficulties.”

Since while I am in prison refers to Paul’s condition at the time, it may be useful to add an adverbial expression such as “here,” for example, “while I am here in prison.”

Quoted with permission from Luo, I-Jin. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .