This is a summary of the lexical definition and theological discussion of the more significant words in Philippians 1:12-18. Most of this information is taken from the BDAG Greek Lexicon and the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament.

v.12 want (βούλομαι)

  • To plan on a course of action, intend, plan, will (BDAG)
  • Βούλομαι is generally far less frequent than → (ἐ)θέλω as a term for will. The exception is Acts, where use of βούλομαι definitely prevails, a peculiarity that is “linked with the fact that Acts is stylistically more akin to narrative prose such as that of Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, and Josephus, who still like βούλομαι, even in the period of transition to ἐθέλω” (Schrenk 632). Thus βούλομαι in Acts refers without exception to human will (5:28, 33; 12:4; 15:37; 17:20; 18:15, 27; 19:30; 22:30; 23:28; 25:20, 22; 27:43; 28:18), exercised to a greater or lesser degree. In Acts 15:37 Barnabas insisted on taking John Mark along on the missionary journey. Contrary to the intention of the soldiers to kill the prisoners on the ship, the centurion was determined to keep Paul alive (27:43). Earlier, however, βούλομαι refers to a wish: Agrippa wanted to hear Paul himself (25:22; cf. Acts 17:20; 1 Tim 6:9; Phlm 13).

    Βούλομαι is used of human will also in Matt 1:19; Mark 15:15; John 18:39; 2 Cor 1:15, 17; Phil 1:12; 1 Tim 2:8; 5:14; Titus 3:8; Jas 3:4; 4:4; 2 John 12; 3 John 10; Jude 5. It has an imperative ring in 1 Tim 2:8; 5:14; and Titus 3:8, where Paul, whose apostolic authority is challenged, commands a certain behavior of different groups in the local church or of Titus as an individual.1

v.12 has served (ἔρχομαι)

  • εἰς προκοπήν result in furthering Phil 1:12. (BDAG)

v.13 imprisonment (δεσμός)

  • That which serves as a means of restraint by tying or fastening, bond, fetter. (BDAG)
  • Along with the 18 occurrences in the NT, δεσμός is added in the TR of Acts 22:30, and Heb 10:34 TR has δεσμός instead of δέσμιος. Except for Mark 7:35 and Luke 13:16 (each with the art.; Luke also with a demonstrative pron.), δεσμός always appears in the pl. (Phil 1:13 in acc. pl.; cf. Euripides Ba. 518), usually without the art. (Acts 20:23; 23:29; 26:31; 2 Tim 2:9; Heb 11:36; Jude 6). Matthew does not use δεσμός. The words δεσμός and δέσμιος are also unknown in the Johannine literature and in the major Pauline works.

    As a derivative of the basic meaning, δεσμός can also mean imprisonment (e.g., Diodorus Siculus xiv.103.3; Josephus Ant. xiii.294, 302; Vita 241). In Acts 21:18–36 Luke describes the arrest of Paul in detail and then emphasizes in Acts 23:29; 26:31 the illegality of his imprisonment. He sets forth the apostle, who himself emulates the suffering Christ (Phil 3:12–17), as the model of the innocent martyr. Those who do not understand and those who are his opponents want to afflict Paul in his imprisonment (Phil 1:17). In the final greeting the author of Colossians encourages the church: “Remember I am in prison” (Col 4:18; cf. Eph 3:1). In prison Paul has become a father to the runaway slave Onesimus, who is now a Christian. The apostle sends him back with a cover letter to his “fellow worker Philemon” (v. 1). The NT generally assumes (Roman) prisons, where the prisoners were kept in chains until being sentenced (e.g., Mark 6:14–29; Acts 12:3–6; 21:33f.).2

v.13 it has become (γίνομαι)

  • To experience a change in nature and so indicate entry into a new condition, become something (BDAG)
  • In the authentic Pauline letters γίνομαι occurs a total of 118 times. The dominant meanings are take place (e.g., Rom 11:25; 1 Cor 9:15; 1 Thess 1:5, 7) and become (e.g., Rom 2:34; 4:18; 1 Cor 3:18; 9:20; 2 Cor 1:8; 5:21). The meaning be created or be born is relatively rare (Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4). Paul employs γίνομαι also frequently with the same sense as εἰμί (e.g., Rom 7:13; 1 Cor 4:13; 7:23; 9:20f.; Gal 4:12). Characteristic of Paul is the phrase μὴ γένοιτο (“by no means!” or “far be it from me”) as an answer to a rhetorical question, which occurs only in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians (elsewhere in the NT only in Luke 20:16). This phrase reflects a stylistic peculiarity of Cynic-Stoic popular philosophy (cf. BDF §§3, n. 4; 384).3

v.14 having become confident (πείθω)

  • To be so convinced that one puts confidence in something. Depend on, trust in with dative of person or thing. τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου Phil 1:14. (BDAG)
  • This vb. occurs 52 times in the NT. It is a favorite word in the Lukan double work (4 occurrences in the Gospel, 17 in Acts) and in Paul (19 occurrences, none of those in 1 Corinthians). It does not occur in, among others, Mark, John’s Gospel (once in 1 John 3:19),

    convince, persuade (or negatively: induce, cajole; cf. BAGD s.v. 1.b), conciliate, pacify. In the pass. it means trust, then also obey. Second pf. πέποιθα preserves in its act. form the original intrans. meaning fully trust in, depend on, i.e., persevere in a condition of trust. The mid. pass. first pf. maintains the pres. sense of be convinced (see Becker 588f.). The spectrum of meaning is wide, and the nuances many; a consideration of the various tenses and esp. of the context best discloses the meaning in a given instance.4

v.14 are bold (τολμάω)

  • To show boldness or resolution in the face of danger, opposition, or a problem, dare, bring oneself to (do something). With infinitive: dare, have the courage, be brave enough. (BDAG)
  • Τολμάω occurs 16 times in the NT, 8 of these in Paul (4 times in 2 Corinthians) and usually with a following inf. It refers to courage or (with negation) fear (in Phil 1:14 note the correspondence between τολμάω and ἀφόβως).5

v.14 to speak (λαλέω)

  • To utter words, talk, speak, of persons. Of speech with reference to what is expressed. (BDAG)
  • A more frequent idiomatic phrase is λαλέω τὸν λόγον (→ λόγος), used of preaching and proclamation (regarded by Kuhn 133 as a phrase from early Christian proclamation, by Räisänen 54 as the terminology of the Gospels; Mark 2:2; 4:33; 8:32 among the Synoptic Gospels only in Mark, but see Luke 24:44; Acts 11:19; 14:25; 16:6; Phil 1:14 cf. John 12:48; Heb 2:2;6

v.15 preach (κηρύσσω)

  • To make public declarations, proclaim aloud. Of proclamation that is divine in origin or relates to divinity. (BDAG)

v.15 rivalry (ἔρις)

  • Engagement in rivalry, especially with reference to positions taken in a matter, strife, discord, contention. (BDAG)
  • Ἔρις is always used of disputes that endanger the Church: Paul learns from Chloe’s people about quarrels (1 Cor 1:11), i.e., factions in the church, which are traced back to an attachment of individuals to a specific apostle or teacher or to Christ (v. 12). 1 Cor 3:3, where ἔρις is paired with ζῆλος, likewise means factions in the church (v. 4). According to Phil 1:15 there are not only those who proclaim Christ out of goodwill (εὐδοκία), but also those who do so “from envy and strife.” The context (vv. 16–18) suggests that the concern here is with the danger to the unity and the peace of the Church.7

v.15 good will (εὐδοκία)

  • State or condition of being kindly disposed, good will of humans δι᾿ εὐδοκίαν from good will Phil 1:15 (BDAG)
  • According to Phil 1:15, some who preach Christ δῖ εὐδοκίαν do so out of love, according to v. 16. Others, by contrast, do so out of envy and rivalry. Here also εὐδοκία is more than a weak feeling; it is goodwill.8

v.16 I am put here (κεῖμαι)

  • To exist, have place, or be there (for something). Be appointed, set, destined εἰς ἀπολογίαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Phil 1:16. (BDAG)
  • Κεῖμαι appears 24 times in the NT, of which 3 are in Matthew, 6 in Luke, 7 in John, 4 in Paul, and 1 each in 1 Timothy, 1 John, and Revelation. Its basic meaning is lie (of persons and things), be laid, then less definitely find oneself, exist, appear. Of theological relevance is the meaning be destined for (by God), which is seen in Luke 2:34 (Jesus “is set for the fall and rise of many in Israel”); Phil 1:16 (Paul was “put in place for the defense of the gospel”); and 1 Thess 3:3 (the Church is destined for the eschatological afflictions). Likewise in an apocalyptic text it is used in the words of the Baptist in Matt 3:10 par. Luke 3:9: “the axe is already laid at the root of the trees.” On 1 Cor 3:11 → θεμέλιον9

v.17 proclaim (καταγγέλλω)

  • To make known in public, with implication of broad dissemination, proclaim, announce. (BDAG)
  • Paul’s usage in 1 Cor 9:14 comes close to that of Luke, although καταγγέλλω is used in a more open way and tends toward meaning “be active as messengers of faith.” Paul, like Luke, can use other vbs. of proclamation alongside καταγγέλλω: In Phil 1:14–18 τὸν λόγον λαλέω, τὸν Χριστὸν κηρύσσω, and τὸν Χριστὸν καταγγέλλω (vv. 17, 18) are used in succession. As with Luke, Paul’s concern is with missionary preaching, the content of which is simply Christ (or “Jesus Christ and him only as the crucified one,” 1 Cor 2:1).10

v.17 selfish ambition (ἐριθεία)

  • Found before NT times only in Aristotle., Polit. 5, 3 p. 1302b, 4; 1303a, 14, where it denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means. Strife, contentiousness; selfishness, selfish ambition. (BDAG)
  • In Phil 1:17 the proclaimers who are determined by self-interest are contrasted to those whose motivation is love (v. 16). Ἐριθεία can mean here only conduct determined by selfishness.11

v.18 pretense (πρόφασις)

  • Falsely alleged motive, pretext, ostensible reason, excuse. With false motives; in reality they have other interests. (BDAG)

v.18 rejoice (χαίρω)

  • To be in a state of happiness and well-being, rejoice, be glad.
  • The Pauline letters highlight the paradox that Christian joy is to be found in the midst of sadness, affliction, and care. Indeed, this apparent incongruity is precisely what gives proof of its power.

    Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from prison, and at the time he was still uncertain of the outcome of his trial. There is evidence that he felt lonely (Phil 2:20–21) and that faithful preaching of the gospel was in jeopardy (1:15–17). Once again there was θλῖψις and thus occasion for anxiety (4:14; cf. Col 1:24). Yet there were also grounds for thankfulness and unmitigated joy: thankfulness for the participation of the Philippians in the gospel (Phil 1:5) and joy over the continuing proclamation of Christ (1:18). Constrained by the gospel and by Christ himself, Paul exhorts his readers to rejoice together with him (2:17–18), to cast care behind them (4:16), and to be of one mind in the fellowship of the Spirit (2:1–2). There may be occasion for anxiety, and even the possibility of death, but these things are of no importance as long as Christ is magnified in his body (1:20).

    In Philippians joy is thus a continuous “defiant ‘Nevertheless’” (K. Barth, The Epistle to the Philippians 1962, 120; cf. Phil 2:17; 4:4). This “nevertheless“ draws its strength not from itself but from untiring prayer, which lays every need before God (4:6; cf. 1 Thess 5:16; Col 1:11). It takes heart at the spread of the gospel throughout the world (Phil 1:5–6; 1 Thess 3:9; Col 2:5) and at the flourishing growth of missionary churches (Phil 4:10; cf. 1 Thess 2:20). But above all it is joy in the Lord (Phil 4:4).12

  1. H.-J. Ritz, “βούλομαι,” EDNT, 1:225. ↩︎
  2. F. Staudinger, “δεσμός,” EDNT, 1:288-289. ↩︎
  3. W. Hackenberg, “γίνομαι,” EDNT, 1:247. ↩︎
  4. A. Sand, “πείθω,” EDNT, 3:63. ↩︎
  5. M. Wolter, “τολμάω,” EDNT, 3:365. ↩︎
  6. H. Hübner, “λαλέω,” EDNT, 2:336. ↩︎
  7. H. Giesen, “ἔρις,” EDNT, 2:52. ↩︎
  8. R. Mahoney, “εὐδοκία,” EDNT, 2:75. ↩︎
  9. κεῖμαι,” EDNT, 2:280. ↩︎
  10. I. Broer, “καταγγέλλω,” EDNT, 2:256. ↩︎
  11. H. Giesen, “ἐριθεία,” EDNT, 2:52. ↩︎
  12. “ Χ,” NIDNTTE, 4:648-649. ↩︎