Did Paul Address His Wife in Philippi?
In this short article, or rather two conjoined articles, we
(John Gee and Thomas Wayment) have agreed to amicably debate an issue that has
been of interest since at least the second century AD, and perhaps as early as the first century AD. The issue is whether or not the
apostle Paul addressed his spouse in his epistle to the Philippian saints. This
discussion should be distinguished from the larger issue of whether or not Paul
was ever married. The larger question is much more complex and requires a
significantly longer discussion and the consideration of a larger body of evidence.
At the core of the present discussion is the interpretation of Philippians 4:3
and a unique Greek phrase employed by Paul. We have agreed to discuss this
issue because we both have strongly held viewpoints, but we agree that the
topic, while of historical interest, is not crucial to the gospel of Jesus
Christ. Ideally the reader will glean from the present discussion the important
insight that this matter is far from conclusive for either of us and that
careful scholarship can generate two very different conclusions. If anything,
the two points of view help define the limits of scholarship in dealing with
this particular issue.
Thomas Wayment on Yokefellow as Missionary
not typically debated in the secondary literature of the New Testament, there
has for some time been a popular undercurrent to read Philippians 4:3, "And
I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me
in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose
names are in the book of life," as a reference to Paul’s wife. The word
translated here as "yokefellow" (Greek σύζυγος) may, in some situations, be translated as "spouse"
or "wife," although the word has a complex community of meanings, all
of which are centered on two things being joined together or appearing in
Grammatically, the term yokefellow is a noun of two
endings, which means that both the masculine and feminine endings are the same
in the vocative case in which it appears in Philippians (σύζυγε). This circumstance,
unfortunately, confuses the exegete about whether Paul was addressing a male
coworker or a female friend or companion. Fortunately, several means of
determining the gender of this noun exist. In this situation, the noun is modified
by the adjective true, which also carries gender-specific endings.2 In this example, the word true (Greek γνήσιε)
is by form a masculine adjective and thus indicates that Paul was speaking of a
true friend, or a true comrade, who likely had labored with him.3 By form, if Paul had been addressing a female companion, he would have written
the form γνησία σύζυγε.4 It may be argued here that Koine Greek, the Greek of the New Testament and patristic
authors, would have collapsed the adjective somehow from three into two forms,
thus combining the masculine and feminine endings into a single form, but this
There are, admittedly, some ways to interpret the adjectival
ending as a corrupted feminine form. In many Greek manuscripts letters are
routinely interchanged through phonetic confusion or orthographic
peculiarities, particularly η for ει and vice versa.
Although the following switch occurs with less frequency, ε can be interchanged with α,6 which in this instance could account for a feminine adjective and thus make
Paul’s statement a secure reference to a feminine companion. Ideally, a textual
variant would back up this conjectured misspelling; however, such does not exist
in the case of Philippians 4:3. Thus there is no textual support for this
reading. Early twentieth-century exegetes argued that the noun σύζυγε was actually
the vocative form of the name Syzygy, but Syzygy as an independent name has yet
to be identified in any Roman period papyri.7
In an article written by
C. Wilfred Griggs8 in response to a reader of the Ensign who asked whether Paul was married, the author
contends that the Philippians passage can be translated to mean that Paul was
addressing his wife: "Gnēsie syzuge, the words translated ‘true yokefellow,’ are here
taken as feminine, and ἡ σύζυγος is a noun that means ‘wife.’ Ancient
commentators believed that Paul was addressing his wife (e.g., Clement of
Alex., Strom. 3:53:1, and Origen, Comm. in Ep. ad. Rom. 1:1), and this is the most sensible translation
of the Greek in this context." 9 The matter of whether syzyge can be
interpreted as a masculine or feminine noun has been treated above, but Griggs
raises another important consideration—namely, whether the "most
sensible translation" of the word is actually "wife." This is
where the real issue arises. If indeed σύζυγος is the most natural or sensible term for wife,
then Griggs is right to think that Paul would have been aware of the connotations
of addressing someone with this term. But this seems to oppose much of the existing
evidence. In Attic Greek, the noun also carried the connotation of brother,10 a gladiator’s adversary in battle, an item held in common esteem,11 or something jointly owned.12 By the first century, it is obvious that the
term had taken on two distinct meanings: a comrade in battle or a wife.13 As evidence of comrades in battle saluting one
another, I mention two inscriptions found in Magnesia that were written nearly
contemporaneous with Philippians and are indicative of the shift in meaning of
the term: [σ]ύζυγοι·Βαίβιος Κάλλιππος, "companions, Baibios Kallippos." 14 Another Magnesian inscription is even more
concise: Ἀλλέας σύζυγοι φίλοι Δαμᾶς [σύζ]υγοι. "Alleas,
comrades, friends, Damas, comrades." 15
The abundant epigraphic
evidence also contains several important references to the use of syzygy in the sense of a
wife; that meaning is abundantly clear, although slightly removed from the
writing of Philippians. From Thrace and Moesia Inferior, the following
inscription from the second or third century AD contains a secure reference to a wife: [ἀγ]αθῇ τύ[χῃ. Αυλ]ουμενης
[καὶ Τ]ηρης Βειθυο[ς
σ]ὺν τῇ συζυγ[ίᾳ], "in
good fortune. Auloumenes and Teres Beithous with his wife." 16 Further unequivocal references come from the third
and fourth centuries.17 The challenge in adopting the meaning of these references is that they are two
to three hundred years removed from the time when Philippians was written, and
the word appears to have undergone a nuanced change in meaning, much like the
modern word companion can indicate a number of things, including both wife and friend. So
while it is abundantly clear that the meaning of the noun σύζυγος ranged between "companion (comrade in battle)"
and "wife," it was not exclusively used for either. If our surviving
evidence is representative of the period in which it was preserved, then it is
possible to say that the closest evidence in place and time to Philippi in the
first century suggests the meaning would naturally have been "companion."
To say, however, that there is a "most sensible translation" would
likely be an ambitious claim for the existing evidence.
Another grammatical issue is the use of the vocative case
here, and Gerhard Delling has argued that it is unlikely that true can be used in the vocative as a polite reference to a spouse.18 While I likewise share Delling’s reservations about the contextual meaning of
the reference in Philippians 4:3, I would add that no exact parallel exists
that would precede the writing of Philippians. If indeed it could be found that
such an address was a common way to invoke a spouse, then Delling’s concern
would be a moot point. As the evidence stands today, it is unlikely that "true
yokefellow" was ever used as a public vocative address to a beloved
Patristic Evidence to Paul’s Marriage
Clement of Alexandria has
often been cited as making explicit reference to Paul’s wife in 3.6.53 of his
work Miscellanies (Stromateis),
the key portion of which reads in Greek: καὶ ὅ γε Παῦλος
οὐκ ὀκνεῖ ἔν τινι ἐπιστολῇ τὴν αὑτοῦ προσαγορεύειν
σύζυγον, ἣν οὐ περιεκόμιζεν
διὰ τὸ τῆς ὑπηρεσίας
εὐσταλές.19 The translation of this particular passage is key to understanding whether Clement
thought Paul was invoking his wife here or perhaps a fellow laborer in the
gospel.20 A careful translation of the passage reads: "Even Paul did not hesitate in
one of his letters to address his syzygos, whom (feminine) he did not take around with him
because of the orderliness of the crew." The final phrase (τὸ τῆς ὑπηρεσίας εὐσταλές) is awkward in English, and the Greek context
suggests that Clement thought Paul would not take his feminine companion
(possibly "wife") with him because of rugged conditions. The next
Greek sentence is also critical in interpreting whether Clement thought Paul
was married when writing Philippians: λέγει
οὖν ἔν τινι ἐπιστολῇá οὐκ ἔχομεν ἐξουσίαν ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα περιάγειν, ὡς καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ ἀπόστολοι.21 This phrase can be translated as follows: "He also says in a certain
epistle, ‘Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as the
remaining apostles?’ "
(quoting 1 Corinthians 9:5). The logical connection between the two
passages is not abundantly clear. It could be interpreted in a number of ways:
(1) Clement may mean that Paul was speaking about his wife and that he refused
to take her along because of difficult living and traveling conditions. As
evidence that Paul would speak concerning a wife, Clement cites 1 Corinthians
9:5. (2) Clement may mean that Paul is speaking of his wife and then cites
a precedent (1 Corinthians 9:5) in which he states that he is aware of
others taking women associates along with them even though Paul demonstrates prudence
in not taking his wife. (3) Because Clement cites 1 Corinthians 9:5, which
speaks of sisters and spouses, it may be inferred that Clement intended to draw
attention to the fact that Paul also had a female associate, "a sister in
the gospel" like Phoebe or Priscilla, with whom he did not travel because
of the difficulty of his living conditions.22 Significantly, Clement’s reference to Paul’s supposed wife uses two different
words—syzygon and gunaika—and it seems to indicate not a reference to a wife but to a female
traveling companion of some sort, most likely a female missionary with whom he
had come in contact such as Priscilla.23
understands syzygy in Philippians 4:3 as a feminine noun, although he clearly does not
mention the adjective in a way that would indicate he had considered the gender
of the adjective. However, while it is clear that he understands σύζυγος as feminine, it is unclear whether he would
translate that word as "wife" when the range of meanings for that
term might simply indicate a fellow laborer or friend. In fact, Clement may
have had theological reasons for considering the possibility that Paul had a syzygy. Other Christian
writings frequently mention the pairing of similar things as syzygies, and thus it is
not unlikely that he would search for a scriptural precedent for Paul’s syzygy.24 Moreover, while we might be predisposed to thinking of this in terms of a wife,
Clement may actually be drawing a distinction between the apostles who had
wives (γυναῖκα) and the apostle who had addressed a portion of a
letter to a female fellow laborer (σύζυγος). The evidence is inconclusive.
Origen’s comment on
Philippians 4:3 is no less interesting and no less problematic in understanding
whether patristic authors thought Paul was married during the time he wrote the
aforementioned epistle. Origen, in his Commentary on Romans, mentioned a report he had heard concerning what
appears to be a unique interpretation of Philippians 4:3.25 The
pertinent section has been preserved only in a Latin translation; although
originally written in Greek, this section is missing from the current Greek
manuscripts, which raises some suspicion as to its accuracy or authenticity: "Therefore
Paul, as some relate, was called while in possession of a wife, concerning whom
he spoke when writing to the Philippians: ‘And I intreat thee also, true
yokefellow, help those women,’ who was made free from her by mutual consent,
called himself a servant of Christ." 26 Fortunately, the reference quotes from Philippians
4:3 directly, thus making it certain that the controversial interpretation
raised by Origen is traceable. But what is equally important is the fact that
Origen makes it abundantly clear that this opinion is not his own, but that of
others. He reports that "some have said" or "according to some."
Whether Origen agreed
with any of their conclusions is unclear, and in fact, he seems to be passing
on the same information already known from Clement, who declared that Paul
would not take his spouse along with him because of the uncertainty of his
living and traveling conditions. Here Origen reports that some had supposed
Paul and his spouse to have agreed by consensus to permit him to be free, which
may imply that 1 Corinthians 7:27, 32–33 was also under consideration.27 Whether Paul was married when he wrote Philippians 4:3 is not made clear from
Origen’s report. What it establishes is that some Christians were of the
opinion that he was married, and as justification of that opinion, some had
supposed he left his wife behind because of the difficulty of traveling as a
missionary and Paul’s need to be a servant of Christ. Moreover, it may be that
Origen is even offering a summary of Clement’s claim that Paul was married,
although he distances himself from that opinion.
Who Was Paul’s "True Yokefellow"?
Although the evidence is simply too fragmentary to identify
an exact person behind the phrase "true yokefellow," it is helpful to
note that on several occasions Paul also addresses a fellow worker without
mentioning that person by name: "And we have sent with him the brother,
whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches"
(2 Corinthians 8:18); "And we have sent with them our brother, whom
we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent,
upon the great confidence which I have in you" (2 Corinthians 8:22);
and "I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother"
(2 Corinthians 12:18).28 Moreover, he also addresses fellow workers with other compound adjectives
formed with the preposition σύν;
in the case of Philippians 4:3, Paul has used the compound σύν + ζυγός. That Paul would
use a compound adjective to praise a fellow laborer/missionary companion is
expected from other phrases used by him. He refers to other workers as "fellow
prisoners" συναιχμάλωτος (Romans 16:7; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:23), "fellow servant" σύνδουλος (Colossians 1:7; 4:7), "helpers" συνεργός (e.g., Romans 16:3,
9, 21), and "fellow soldier" συστρατιώτης (Philippians 2:25; Philemon 1:2). It thus seems clear that Paul was addressing
a fellow missionary who was dear to his heart, one who had stayed true to him
(compare 2 Timothy 4:10), and one he addressed in this instance with some
John Gee on Yokefellow as Wife
An obscure passage in the letters of Paul provides the
occasion for this discussion. The King James Version renders the passage: "And
I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me
in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose
names are in the book of life" (Philippians 4:3). Many early Christians
understood this passage to be a reference to Paul’s wife, whom he seems to have
left in Philippi. This understanding was lost over time. How and why this came
about deserves some explanation.
History of the Word
The Greek term translated by the King James translators as "yokefellow"
which derives from two elements, σύν "with,
together" and ζύγον "yoke." 29 It refers to something "yoked together, paired, united,
esp[ecially] by marriage." 30 But etymology (breaking the word into constituent components) and definitions
of the term in dictionaries and lexica can tell only part of the story. What is
more useful for determining the meaning of a term is the history of the usage
of a term.
In classical Greek the term σύζυγος could be used to refer to an ordinary companion. For example, in discussing a
pair of young men (νεανίαι),
Iphigenia asks a herdsman, "What was the name of the stranger’s companion
(ξυζύγω)?" 31 A sycophant in Aristophanes’s Pluto claims: "If I get a
partner (σύζυγον), even
if disreputable, I will dare to bring this mighty god to justice, for openly,
even though alone, destroying the democracy without persuading the city council
or the assembly." 32
There is, however, another
way that the term σύζυγος was used in classical Greek. Even as early as
Euripides, it was used as the term for "spouse." 33 In Euripides’s Alcestis, Alcestis wonders to Admetus: "What sort of
wife (συζύγου) will your own father get?" 34 Admetus later tells Alcestis: "Does it not
hurt me more than all such to have sinned against a wife (συζύγου) like you?" 35
The use of σύζυγος as "spouse" is the only usage preserved
in the Septuagint. A textual variant in the Septuagint version of Ezekiel 23:21,
instead of "and I will visit the iniquity of your youth, which you did in
Egypt, in your lodging, to whom belonged the breasts of your youth," has "I
will visit the iniquity of your youth, in which you made Egypt your spouses (συζύγους) because of the breasts of your youth." 36 In 3 Maccabees the results of a decree was
the breaking up of weddings: "Their husbands (συζυγεῖς), their necks wound in
ropes rather than wreaths, in the prime of youth, instead of joy and youthful
amusement, spent the rest of the days of their wedding in lamentations seeing
hell already lying at their feet." 37 Otherwise, the term does not occur in the
Septuagint.38 In the pseudepigrapha, it is also used to mean "wife": "Therefore
my children, do not pay heed to the beauty of women, neither worry about their
deeds, but go forth in singleness of heart, in the fear of the Lord, and spend
your time in good works and in study and in your herding until the Lord give
you a wife (σύζυγον) of his choosing, lest you suffer as I." 39 This is the Jewish use of the term that would have
served as a background to the understanding both of Paul and those who read his
The understanding of σύζυγος as a wife or spouse was preserved in the church
fathers. Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235), referring to the gnostic cosmogony in
which everything is in male and female pairs, says: "The Father alone
begat without a mate (άζυγος). She [Sophia] wished to imitate the Father and
beget apart from her spouse (συζύγου)." 40 Epiphanius says of Simon Magus, "His
fornicating spouse (τήν δέ σύζυγον) they have dared to claim was the Holy Spirit." 41 Gregory of Nyssa exhorts, "Let the ethical
and physical philosophy become ever the companion (σύζυγος) to the higher life along with friendship and the
common life." 42 So for Christian authors writing in Greek, the
term principally was used in the meaning of "spouse" rather than the
The persistence of usage of the term σύζυγος as "spouse" has been so pronounced throughout the history of Greek
that it survives into Modern Greek as the standard term for spouse.43 The term has never been known to be used as a personal name,44 so interpretations that take it to be such are dubious.45
The term σύζυγος, however, has not just been used in Greek but
has been borrowed into other languages. When one language borrows a term from
another, it is usually because the language borrowing finds it useful in some
way. While the adopted term may have many different meanings in the original
language, the language borrowing it will generally use it with only a specific
The Greek term is
borrowed directly into Coptic and used in the meaning of "spouse" or "consort."
The most extensive use of the term comes in the Pistis Sophia, where it is
frequently used clearly in the meaning of "spouse." 46 The term is also borrowed from Greek into Syriac
(a Christian version of Aramaic), as zawgo’, meaning "yokefellow, companion, wife," 47 and sūzūgīya’, a term for "union." 48 Because Aramaic is a Semitic language and is
based on triliteral roots, the shortened form looks like a triliteral root (*zwg) and can be treated
like a triliteral root even if it is not originally one. The shortened form is
based on the term for "yoke" and provides a generic term that allows
a distinction to be drawn between a bar zawgo’ son of the yoke or "husband" and a bat zawgo’ daughter of the
yoke or "wife." 49 Syriac speakers then, since the term looks like a
triliteral root, treated it as such and used it verbally.50 In the form zūg it was also used
in the Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud as a term for "couple, pair, set"
and "partner, equal, match, counterpart." 51 In the form zūgā’, it meant "match, wife," 52 and in the form zeweg, it was a term for "marriage." 53
So not only was σύζυγος a standard term for "spouse" in ancient Greek long before Paul’s day,
and one used as such by other Christian authors down to the present day, but it
was so well known in Greek as a term for "spouse" that that remained
the major meaning of the term when borrowed into other languages.
In Philippians 4:3 the noun σύζυγος is paired with an unusual adjective as well. This deserves some consideration.
The adjective that modifies σύζυγος in Philippians, γνήσιος, has "a
very affectionate nuance," 57 and with "women—mothers and wives"—it has "a clear
nuance of love" 58 and thus is properly rendered "dear." 59
The translation of the New
Testament into various languages can sometimes indicate how the term was
understood by Christians at the time it was translated. The Coptic versions, both
Sahidic and Bohairic, date to the second through fourth centuries 60 and simply borrow the Greek term into Coptic
without a translation. But we have seen that the Coptic understanding of the
term was "consort" or "spouse." While the Sahidic version
was standardized in the fourth and fifth centuries, and the Bohairic by the
ninth,61 it is not clear that an understanding of the term syzygos was preserved, as it
appears to drop out of usage otherwise by the fourth century.
The Syriac version renders σύζυγος as bar
zawgo’, which is masculine, indicating that the Syriac translators
in the fourth century did not understand the text to refer to Paul’s spouse.
The Latin Vulgate renders σύζυγος as conpar,
meaning primarily "equal, companion," and secondarily "spouse,
consort, mate." 62 The Vulgate was prepared by Jerome, "a Christian ascetic who positively
delighted in drawing contrasts between the mediocre life of the average
clergyman [who at the time was married] and the spiritual heights achieved by
the monk." 63 Jerome had been a monk in the Syrian desert 64 and
proselyted for asceticism,65 including translating many works promoting asceticism and the monastic life.66
The versions are split on their interpretation of the
passage. Coptic favors "spouse." Syriac favors "companion."
Latin is ambiguous. In sum, the versions are of little assistance here.
Grammatically, the term σύζυγος is both masculine and feminine.67 Presumably, the treatment of the adjective attached to the term γνήσιος might give some indication of the understanding of the original writer. In
Attic Greek we would expect that the feminine form of the adjective would be
declined according to the first declension68 and thus be
found in the vocative as γνήσια,69 rather than the form γνήσιε that appears
in the text. Attic Greek also has a class of adjectives in which the feminine
and masculine forms are identical and are both declined according to the second
declension.70 Unfortunately, in Koine the vocative does not work as it does in Attic,71 so we might not expect this example to conform to Attic grammar. There is,
however, a more direct and serious complication. Not only was "the
so-called Attic second declension . . . dying out in the Hellenistic
vernacular," 72 but the feminine form of the adjective changed, often conflating with the
masculine forms.73 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. To these we now turn.
The earliest Christian commentators understood this passage
to refer to Paul’s wife. Both Clement of Alexandria 74 and Origen 75 take this term to mean "spouse." Clement of Alexandria’s discussion
of the passage deserves to be quoted in context:
Some say that marriage is fornication and teach that it was
handed down by the devil. They proudly say that they are imitating the Lord,
neither marrying nor owning anything in the world, boasting rather that they
understand the Gospel better than others. . . . There is nothing virtuous about
abstinence from marriage if it does not arise from the love of God. Actually
Paul, the blessed, says about those who abhor marriage: "In the last days
some will apostatize from the faith, heeding deceiving spirits and the
teachings of demons, forbidding to marry, and to abstain from foods" (1
Timothy 4:1, 3). And again, he says: "let no one of you disqualify you by
demanding humiliation and the harsh treatment of the body" (Colossians
2:18, 23). The selfsame author writes "Are you bound to a wife? Do not
seek a divorce. Are you divorced? Do not seek a wife" (1 Corinthians
7:27). And again: "Let each have his own wife lest Satan tempt you"
(1 Corinthians 2:5). How so? Did not the righteous of old gratefully
partake of the creation? They begat children while married, exercising
self-control. To Elijah, for example, the ravens brought food, bread and meat;
and Samuel the prophet to whom was left the thigh, from which he had eaten, he
brought and gave to Saul to eat. Those who say that they excel them in civility
and life are not comparable with them in practice. So, "let not him who
does not eat exercise authority over him who does and let not him who eats
condemn him who does not eat for God has accepted him" (Romans 14:3). But
even the Lord says of himself: "John came neither eating nor drinking, and
they say he has a devil; the Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say:
behold the man is a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and a
sinner" (Matthew 9:18–19). Or do they even disapprove of the
apostles? For Peter and Philip begot children? Philip even married off his
daughters. Paul did not hesitate to address his own spouse in a certain epistle
(Philippians 4:3) whom he did not bring with him for the convenience of his
ministry. He says therefore in a certain epistle: "Do we not have
authority to lead around a sister or wife, like the rest of the apostles?"
(1 Corinthians 9:5). On the one hand, they particularly in their ministry,
approaching their preaching without distraction, took around their wives, not
as wives, but as sisters, being ministers with them to deal with housewives,
through whom the teaching of the Lord blamelessly penetrated the women’s quarters.76
So Clement uses this passage to demonstrate that Paul was
married as one example among several to combat the notion that Christians had
to be celibate. He also compares the choice of marriage to dietary choices,
asserting that in either case one should not be condemned for one’s choice.
Clement brings the issue up because certain Christians in
the second century, notably Tatian, began to regard "all sexual union,
whether within or outside marriage, as ‘fornication.’ " 77 And
therefore marriage was seen as sinful. Earlier in the second century,
Christians had argued that they were good citizens because they got married and
raised families.78 Clement saw the need to respond to Tatian and others such as the Encratites.
Clement’s student and successor, Origen, writes of
Philippians 4:3: "Truly free is he who comes to Christ through pure
chastity without a wife; he, however, who is shown to be the servant of Christ,
yet serves with complete virtue. Therefore Paul, as some relate, was called
while in possession of a wife, about whom he spoke when he wrote to the
Philippians: ‘Therefore I ask you, genuine match, to help those women,’ who
since he was set free from her by mutual agreement, called himself the servant
of Christ." 79 Origen does not give this as his own understanding but recognizes that some
Christians taught that Paul was married and that this passage referred to his
Both Clement and Origen were native speakers of Greek who
taught Greek in Alexandria and knew their Greek well. Origen, furthermore, was
a self-imposed ascetic, which might have been why he did not claim the
interpretation of the passage as his own opinion. "Though Origen was
willing to accept the presence of married Christians in the Church, it is clear
that his deepest instinct was to view them as second-class citizens." 80
Tertullian, writing to his wife asking her not to remarry if
he dies, provides an oblique reference to Philippians 4:3 claiming that
marriage is permitted because of the weakness of the flesh 81 but claims that abstinence from all sexual relations is preferable.82 The oblique reference provides an implicit understanding that the passage
referred to Paul’s wife. Tertullian was married himself, but after he became a
Montanist (and his reference to Philippians 4:3 comes after he became a
Montanist), he adopted the ascetic beliefs of the Montanists.
By the fourth century,
this interpretation had fallen out of favor with Christian leaders. The church
authors rejected the favorable view of marriage of Clement of Alexandria. "Tertullian,
Cyprian, and Origen, each in his own way, articulated an ascetic vision that
reflected significant features of the ancient encratite tradition. While
accepting marriage as permissible, these writers approached the topic of
celibacy and marriage from within the basic encratite framework that
associated sexuality with sin and linked salvation with sexual purity. As a
result, they inevitably supported a hierarchy that relegated married Christians
to the lowest rung of salvation." 83 Tertullian and Origen are at least honest in
showing that Christians interpreted this text as referring to Paul’s wife and
do not try to evade that fact. Those who followed them, however, found ways to
reinterpret the passage. There is, however, an exception. Eusebius quotes
Clement of Alexandria to show that Peter, Philip, and Paul were married.84
Theodoret of Cyrus takes the passage very differently than
his predecessors: "Now some have unthinkingly understood the syzugon to be the wife of the apostle, not paying attention to the things written in
the epistle to the Corinthians that he reckoned himself among the unmarried. .
. . Therefore he calls him yokefellow who took upon himself the yoke of piety." 85 One notes, however, that Theodoret was raised and educated in the monasteries
near Antioch.86 He had no normal family life. He was not overly literal in his readings of
scripture,87 which gave him the latitude to interpret the scriptures however he might
desire. He was bilingual in Greek and Syriac 88 and was
active at the time when the Syriac version of the New Testament was translated,
a translation that deliberately excluded the possibility of taking Philippians
4:3 as a reference to Paul’s wife.
John Chrysostom says about this passage, "Some say that
he addresses his wife here, but it is not so, but a certain wife, or the
husband of one of them." 89 Chrysostom’s treatment of the interpretation is interesting because he admits
that the interpretation is current but basically grabs at straws trying to
dismiss it. It is also predictable since Chrysostom was an extreme ascetic.90
So a change in the interpretation of this verse occurred in
the third century. A number of factors figured into this change. The first and
most prominent was the rise of asceticism and the denigration of marriage. This
reached an extreme by the end of the fourth century when the monk Jovinian was
condemned as a heretic for having the temerity to teach that "virgins,
widows, and married women, once they have been washed in Christ, are of the
same merit, if they do not differ in other works." 91 A second is
perhaps the use of the term by heretical gnostics in their cosmogonies.
Whatever the cause of the change in understanding of Philippians 4:3 between
the earliest Christians and those who came later, the change is clear and
Paul’s usage of σύζυγος in Philippians 4:3 follows the common
understanding of the day and of earlier Jewish usage as a word for "spouse."
This interpretation fits with the grammatical usage of Koine Greek. The common
understanding is shown not only by Greek usage but by the meaning of the term
when it was borrowed by languages in contact with Koine Greek. The earliest
Christian interpreters understood Philippians 4:3 as referring to Paul’s wife,
but later Christian authors, who rejected marriage and were inclined to remake
Paul in their own image, rejected the notion that Paul was married and
reinterpreted the passage, both in translations they made and in the
commentaries they wrote, as referring not to Paul’s wife but to someone
The King James Version of Philippians 4:3 should read: "And
I intreat thee also, dear wife, help those women which laboured with me in the
gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are
in the book of life." The earliest Christian authors, who knew their Greek
well, so understood it, and so should we.
The purpose of this
article has been twofold: (1) to discuss the evidence regarding
Philippians 4:3 with respect to Paul’s unnamed addressee and (2) to
demonstrate how evidence can be used. With respect to the first question, if
Paul were a fourth-century-BC native
Athenian writing in classical Greek, we would say that the grammatical evidence
for Philippians 4:3 clearly indicates that γνήσιε σύζυγε is masculine by form, and thus Paul would have had in mind a fellow
missionary who was also a male. Since Paul was a first-century-ad Jew from Tarsus writing in Koine
Greek, the grammatical evidence is less clear. If he were referring to a male
companion, the question of why he might have used a word that is commonly
employed to refer to a spouse is not resolved. It is equally certain that some
patristic authors whose native language was Greek picked up on the
interpretation of the word σύζυγε and either failed to note
the gender of the adjective preceding it or did not understand the form as
determining the gender. Therefore, following the line of reasoning of some
patristic authors, the meaning "wife" was possible for some. When discussing
the early apostles who were married, scholars sometimes include Paul in the
list of married leaders, perhaps on the basis of the passage in question.
It is certain that later
views on marriage—particularly asceticism with regard to marriage and Paul’s
statements on women in 1 Corinthians—began to influence the discussion of
whether or not Paul was married or advocated marriage. Because marriage
eventually began to be viewed negatively in some Christian circles, it is not
unreasonable to suppose that it may have shaped the way the evidence concerning
Paul’s potential marriage was understood. At certain times there were groups of
Christians who openly accepted the idea that Paul was married while at other
times those Christians who thought such things were denounced. This, however,
may be venturing into the larger question of whether or not Paul was ever
married rather than the question of whether Philippians 4:3 mentions Paul’s
This paper has also addressed the wider concern of scholarship
and how evidence is weighed and considered. Rarely is the evidence so clear as
to permit precise and undeniable claims, and all types of historical evidence
must be used critically. On the one hand, the semantic range of meaning for the
word translated as "wife" would indicate that such a translation was
natural and expected in some instances. At the same time, contemporary usage
shows that it could have several different meanings apart from "wife,"
much like the modern English word companion. Additionally, many
early Christian commentators discussed Paul’s marriage, but it seems unlikely
that they had access to any sources on this matter beyond those available to
us, and therefore their conclusions are little better than our own. While it
would have been patently obvious to both Paul and his audience at Philippi
whether he was addressing his wife, the information available to us at this
time does not allow an unambiguous reconstruction of events.
Obviously one of us is right and the other is wrong even
though at our present state of knowledge we cannot know which is which. We are
willing to risk being wrong. We can do so because we are not fourth-century
encratite monks holding up Paul as some sort of ascetic ideal. We do not think
that married individuals are somehow second-class citizens of the kingdom of
God. We are not trying to gain power for ascetics in ecclesiastical office.
Whether Paul addressed his wife in Philippi is for us an interesting historical
footnote, not some sort of vital saving doctrine. In the end, we can agree to
respectfully disagree on whether Paul was referring to his wife in Philippians
Thomas A. Wayment is professor of ancient scripture at Brigham
John Gee is a senior research fellow and the William (Bill) Gay
Professor of Egyptology at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious
Scholarship at Brigham Young University.
1. For the interpretation of the
term as "wife," see Aeschylus, Cho. 99 (lyr.); Euripides, Alc. 314, 342, 921; Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum 4175 (Aezani); Testament of Reuben 4:1.
2. Koine Greek prefers
adjectives of three endings, and in the case of gnēsie syzyge we
would not expect any collapse of the form of the adjective into two forms,
which would account for the confusion of forms. See Friedrich Blass and Albert
Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature,
trans. and rev. Robert W. Funk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961),
3. See Herbert W. Smyth, Greek Grammar,
rev. Gordon M. Messing (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984),
4. An example of this can be
found in Acta Monasterii Lembiotissae, Donatio salinae facta cellae sancti Georgii
Exocastritae (ad 1230): ὁ Βάλκης καὶ Ἄννα ἡ γνησία σύζυγος
αὐτοῦ καὶ Γεώργιος ὁ γνήσιος
"Balches, his dear wife Anna and Georgios their dear son."
5. For contemporary examples of γνησία +
a feminine noun, see Philo, Fug. 50.4; and Philo, Somn. 2.266.1.
6. Francis T. Gignac, A Grammar of
the Greek Papyri of the Roman and Byzantine Periods: Phonology,
2 vols. (Milan: Istituto Editoriale Cisalpino, 1975), 1:278–80.
7. Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesell-schaft, 1983), 521, contains a conjectural
emendation in the notes for Philippians 4:3, suggesting that Syzygy in that
verse can be interpreted as a name. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian
Literature, rev. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd
ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. "σύζυγος," 954, refutes the idea of Syzygy as a name,
as does a quick search through the various databases of ancient names.
8. Griggs responded to the query
in the I Have a Question section, Ensign, February 1976,
9. Griggs, I Have a Question,
10. Euripides, Tro. 1001.
11. Edme Cougny, ed., Anthologia Graeca: Appendix nova epigrammatum (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1890), 2.26.
12. Apollonius Dyscolus, De
Pronominibus 51.9. See Henry G. Liddell, Robert Scott, et al., Greek-English
Lexicon (Oxford: New York, 1968), s.v. "σύζυγος, ον," 1670.
13. Euripides, Tro. 1001; Euripides, Iph. taur. 250; Aristophanes, Plut. 945.
at Magnesia Mai
in Asia Minor and therefore in the region of Philippi. Cited in Otto Kern, ed., Die
Inschriften von Magnesia am Mäander (Berlin: Spemann, 1900), 161,
Nr. 328; and F. Hiller von
Gaertringen, "Die Inschriften: Ausgrabungen im Theater von Magnesia am
Maiandros," Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Athenische
Abteilung 19 (1894): 50–51, no. 58. The Greek text can be
accessed online through epigraphy.packhum.org/inscriptions/main.
15. Found at Magnesia Mai; see Kern, Die Inschriften von Magnesia, 160, Nr. 321. Hiller von Gaertringen, "Die
Inschriften," 35, no. 2. The Greek text can be accessed online
16. IG Bulg III,2 1627.
17. Αὐρηλία τε Μεσσαλεῖνα ἡ σύζυγος αὐτοῦ, IK Selge 66, 3rd century; Λύκος Καλοποῦ τῇ ἰδίᾳ συζύγῳ μνήμης χάριν, Kretika Chronika (Herakleion) 23 (1969): 323.
18. Gerhard Delling, "σύζυγος,"
in Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New
Testament, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromily (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
19. On the interpretation of ὑπηρεσίας as a naval term, see Thucydides, History 8.1.2, and for a
contemporary interpretation along the lines of "crew" or "group,"
see Philo, Quod
deterius potiori insidiari soleat 66.3.
20. Clement’s claim that Paul was
married is repeated with endorsement in Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.30.
21. Compare Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.30.1, and Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulus, Hist. eccl. 2.44.36.
22. On this matter, see John
Phil. 13.3, in PG 62:279.
23. For Phoebe, see Romans 16:1;
for Priscilla, see Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19. In
Romans Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila as "my fellowlaborers" (τοὺς συνεργούς μου) and refers to
Priscilla first, unlike the book of Acts, which refers to Aquila (Priscilla’s
24. The syzygy of Pistis
Sophia appears in 1:29–31, 39.8, 50.14; 2:93; see Hippolytus, Haer. 6.13, 29, and
30. The Holy Ghost is the syzygy of the "sun of
righteousness," Malachi 4:2 LXX; Eusebius, Praep. ev. 7.15.15–16,1. Eusebius notes that Matthew puts himself after his syzygy,
Thomas, in Dem.
25. Origen, Comm. Rom. 1:1, in PG 14:839, hints that Paul was married, although this passage cannot be
taken to mean that Paul was married when writing Philippians. The suggested
marriage of Paul could have taken place well before his conversion on the road
to Damascus or even much later.
26. The quotation from
Philippians borrows from the English of the KJV.
27. "Art thou bound unto a
wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.
. . . But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried
careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But
he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may
please his wife."
28. The Greek may be construed to
mean that Paul was referring to Titus as "a brother."
29. See Liddell and Scott et al., Greek-English Lexicon, 1670; G. W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961), 1278; Delling, "σύζυγος," 748–50; Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 954; Henri Stephanus, Thesaurus Graecae Linguae (1829; repr. Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1954), 8:1012.
30. Liddell and Scott et al., Greek-English
Lexicon, 1670; Delling, "σύζυγος,"
31. Euripides, Iph. taur. 250.
32. Aristophanes, Plut. 945.
33. Liddell and Scott et al., Greek-English
Lexicon, 1670; Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 954.
34. Euripides, Alc. 314.
35. Euripides, Alc. 341–42.
36. In Ezechiel, ed. Joseph Ziegler, Septuaginta 16.1 (Gšttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977), 195.
37. 3 Maccabees 4:8 (author’s translation).
38. Delling, "σύζυγος,"
39. Testament of Reuben 4:1 (author’s
40. Hippolytus, Haer. 6.30, in
PG 16.3:3239. The same phrase occurs in Hippolytus, Haer. 31.4, in PG 16.3:3242.
41. Epiphanius, Pan. 18.104.22.168, in PG 41:288.
42. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses,
in PG 44:336–37.
43. "ὁ ἑνωμένος μέ ἄλλον μέ τό δεσμό τοῦ γάμου (one united with another by the bond of marriage)"; Harry Sakellariou, Νέο Λεξικό Δημοτκής (Athens: Σιδέρη,
1981), 1139; Divry’s
New English-Greek and Greek-English Handy Dictionary, ed. G. C.
Divry and C. G. Divry, rev. ed. (New York: Divry, 1978), 204, 445; Niki Watts, Oxford Greek
Mini Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007),
44. Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 954;
Delling, "σύζυγος," 749.
45. Some of these have been gathered in The
Greek New Testament, 3rd ed. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies,
1983), 689 n. a. Others include Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament,
trans. and ed. James D. Ernest (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 1:297; Richard
Neitzel Holzapfel, Eric D. Huntsman, and Thomas A. Wayment, Jesus Christ
and the World of the New Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,
46. Pistis Sophia 1:29, 31–32,
39.8, 41.18, 48.11, 50.14; 2:93.
47. J. Payne Smith, ed., A Compendious
Syriac Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903), 111.
48. Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary,
49. Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary,
50. As a denominative Pael verb, zaweg meant "to join together, unite in marriage"; with an Aphel
(causitive) verb, ‘azweg meant "to couple, join with another";
and as an Ethpael (reflexive) verb, ‘ezdawag meant "to be joined
together, united in marriage, marry." Smith, Compendious Syriac Dictionary,
51. Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of
the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature (New York: Judaica Press, 1996), 383.
52. Jastrow, Dictionary, 384.
53. Jastrow, Dictionary, 383.
54. Dimitri Gutas, Greek Thought,
Arabic Culture (London: Routledge, 1998), 20–22, would like to
minimize the impact of Syriac on the transmission of Greek into Arabic. The
Syriac influence is clear in this case.
55. Edward W. Lane, Arabic-English
Lexicon (London: Williams and Norgate, 1867), 1:1266–67.
56. Hans Wehr, A Dictionary
of Modern Written Arabic, 4th ed. (Ithaca, NY: Spoken Language Services,
1979), 447. As in Syriac, in Arabic the noun and its supposed root also
developed into a verb, though not using the same verbal forms as Syriac. Lane, Arabic-English
Lexicon, 1266–67; Wehr, Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic,
57. Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New
58. Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New
59. Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New
60. Tito Orlandi, "Coptic
Literature," in The Roots of Egyptian Christianity, ed. Birger A. Pearson and James E.
Goehring (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 53.
61. Orlandi, "Coptic Literature,"
62. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles
Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon, 1879), 386; Oxford Latin
Dictionary, ed. P. G. W. Glare (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), 372; Thesaurus
Linguae Latinae (Leipzig: Teubner, 1906–12), 3:2004–5.
63. David G. Hunter, Marriage,
Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity: The Jovinianist Controversy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 56.
64. Johannes Quasten, Patrology (Utrecht: SPECTRUM, 1950), 4:213–14;
Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient
65. Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in
Ancient Christianity, 62–63.
66. Quasten, Patrology, 4:231,
67. Liddell and Scott et al., Greek-English
68. Smyth, Greek Grammar, §286.
69. Smyth, Greek Grammar, §287.
That γνήσιος is in this class of adjective is indicated by Liddell and Scott et al., Greek-English
70. Smyth, Greek Grammar, §289.
71. Blass and Debrunner, Greek Grammar
of the New Testament, §§146–47.
72. Blass and Debrunner, Greek Grammar
of the New Testament, §44.
73. Blass and Debrunner, Greek Grammar
of the New Testament, §59.
74. Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 3.53.1, in PG 8:115.
75. Origen, Comm. Rom. 1.1, in PG
76. Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 3.49–53, in PG 8:1152–57. I have inserted the references to
scriptural quotations into the text. The translation in Mark J. Edwards, ed., Galatians,
Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 280, is
77. Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in
Ancient Christianity, 104.
78. Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in
Ancient Christianity, 98–101.
79. Origen, Comm. Rom. 1:1, in PG
14:839: "Paulus ergo, sicut quidam tradunt, cum uxore vocatus est; de quia
dicit ad Philippenses scribens: Rogo etiam te, germane compare, adjuva illas:
qui quoniam ab ipsa ex consensus liber effectus est, servum se nominat Christi."
80. Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in
Ancient Christianity, 127.
81. Tertullian, Ux. 1.4.
82. Tertullian, Ux. 1.3.
83. Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in
Ancient Christianity, 127–28.
84. Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.30.1.
85. Theodoret, Ep. Phil. 4.3; alternate translation in Edwards, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians,
86. Quasten, Patrology, 3:536.
87. Quasten, Patrology, 3:539.
88. Theodoret, "Prolegomena,"
trans. Blomfield Jackson, in Nicene and Post-Nicene
Fathers, series 2, ed. Philip
Schaff and Henry Wace (repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 3:2.
89. John Chrysostom, Hom. Phil. 13.2–3,
in PG 62:279.
90. Quasten, Patrology,
91. Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in
Ancient Christianity, 26.