This is a summary of the lexical definition and theological discussion of the more significant words in Philippians 1:1-11. Most of this information is taken from the BDAG Greek Lexicon and the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament.

v.1 servants (δοῦλος)

  • One who is solely committed to another, slave, subject. Especially of the relationship of humans to God. (BDAG)
  • Paul calls himself and his coworkers Timothy, Epaphras, and Tychicus slaves or fellow-slaves (with each other) of Christ or of God (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1; Col 1:7; 4:7, 12; 2 Tim 2:24; Titus 1:1). The OT self description of the pious as δοῦλοι θεοῦ and the self description of Christians as δοῦλοι Χριστοῦ do not sufficiently explain this self-designation of Paul and his coworkers. Instead OT honorific titles given to such specially chosen and extraordinary characters as Moses, David, and others, have had an influence. The designation expresses for Paul not only a relationship of service, but is also a title of office and an honorific description. Corresponding to this self-understanding Paul is able to describe his commission and the commission of his coworkers as slavery (1 Cor 9:19; 2 Cor 4:5; Phil 2:22).1

v.1 saints (ἅγιος)

  • Used as a pure substantive. The holy (thing, person). ἅγιοι, ων, οἱ the holy ones. Believers, loyal followers, saints of Christians as consecrated to God. (BDAG)
  • In second place follows the absolute use of the substantival adjective (οἱ) ἅγιοι (the article occurs nearly without exception) for Christians in general (Rom 8:27; Eph 6:18, etc.) and by Paul for the early church in Jerusalem (e.g., Rom 15:25, 26, 31; 1 Cor 16:1, etc.), with a total of 61 occurrences.2

v.3 thank (εὐχαριστέω)

  • Verb: Present active indicative 1st singular
  • To express appreciation for benefits or blessings, give thanks, express thanks, render/return thanks. (BDAG)
  • When Paul and his imitators insert a fixed formula of thanksgiving, the style corresponds to that of the Hellenistic letter. In the briefer variants the author thanks God and gives the basis for the thanksgiving in a ὅτι clause, which normally involves the addressees: the gift of grace in the church (1 Cor 1:4), their faith (Rom 1:8), faith and love (2 Thess 1:3); cf., outside the introduction of the letter, acceptance of the word of God (1 Thess 2:13) and election (2 Thess 2:13). In as many as three participial clauses the longer form adds the occasion for the thanksgiving: works of faith (1 Thess 1:2ff.), participation in the gospel (Phil 1:3ff.), faith and love (Phlm 4ff.; Col 1:3ff.; Eph 1:15ff.). Also in reference to himself Paul can express thanksgiving to God within a theological argument (1 Cor 1:14; 14:18; cf. Acts 28:15). In contrast, the Gentiles do not thank God, although they acknowledge him (Rom 1:21). Thanksgiving is a parenetic obligation (2 Cor 1:11; Eph 5:20; Col 1:12; 3:17; 1 Thess 5:18). The doxology of the elders before God (Rev 11:17ff.; cf. Did. 9:2, 3; 10:2f., 4ff.) indicates the Jewish background of the NT formulations (Pss 134–136; Jdt 8:25; 1QH 2:20, 31, etc.). Paul apparently thinks of the liturgical place of such prayers of thanksgiving when he demands a form of personal thanksgiving in the worship service which is intelligible (1 Cor 14:17). On personal prayer of thanksgiving, see, on the one hand, the prayer of the Pharisee (Luke 18:11) and, on the other hand, the prayer of Jesus at the raising of Lazarus (John 11:41).3

v.3 remembrance (μνεία)

  • Mention. As often as I make mention of you (in prayer) Phil 1:3. (BDAG)
  • Phil 1:3, εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶν, is frequently rendered as “I thank my God whenever I remember you.” Such a translation is linguistically possible but exegetically doubtful. First, ἐπί with the gen. is the more common construction (cf. Rom 1:10; Eph 1:16; 1 Thess 1:2; Phlm 4). Second, the thought of this verse is clearly expressed in v. 4 with other words–“I always pray for you in all my prayers with joy.” Third, v. 5 shows that ἐπί with the dat. is used to give the reason for thanks (ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν, “for your partnership”; cf. 1 Cor 1:4; 2 Cor 9:5; 1 Thess 3:9). These factors indicate that the expression of thanks in Phil 1:3 actually has the meaning: “I thank my God for those indications of your remembrance of me,” one that in this case consisted of concrete, material support (4:10).4

v.4 prayer (δέησις)

  • Urgent request to meet a need, exclusively addressed to God, prayer. (BDAG)
  • Use of δέομαι and δέησις, with few exceptions, is concentrated in the Pauline and Lukan literature (22 occurrences of δέομαι, 18 of δέησις). From the basic meaning “be lacking, need” – included in προσδέομαι – the meaning of the words developed into entreat, ask for, pray and petition, prayer, etc.5
  • Where δέομαι involves a third party (cf. Luke 22:32; Acts 8:24), it refers to intercession. In the Pauline letters the motif of intercession extends beyond the mere stylistic function that it has in the ancient letter. The intercession of the church (Phil 1:19) seeks the deliverance of the apostle. Thus Paul thankfully recognizes in it the work of the Spirit (v. 4). In 2 Cor 1:11 the church is summoned to intercession as an expression of solidarity (cf. 2 Cor 9:14; 2 Tim 1:3). Intercession manifests a “hope against hope” (2 Cor 1:9; Rom 10:1), the social aspect of faith, and dependence on others. Beyond the context of the Church, “the priestly calling of the Church in the world” (Holtz 56) is fulfilled in prayer for non-Christian humanity (1 Tim 2:1). Intercession can thus be called generally “the prayer of a righteous man” (Jas 5:16; 1 Pet 3:12).6

v.5 partnership (κοινωνία)

  • Close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, close relationship. (BDAG)
  • The special character of Pauline usage is always emphasized in the exegetical literature and its religious character is always emphasized. However, the neutral rendering, “participant,” “participate,” “participation,” is overwhelmingly preferred. This takes place esp. out of aversion to the term “fellowship.” In English the ideas of association, alliance, and unity, as well as similar ideas, easily enter in–conceptions that are misleading in regard to Pauline use of κοινωνία. Moreover, the lexicons indicate that the word group represented by κοινωνία is distinguished from synonyms by the idea of fellowship, of inner relationship. “Κοινωνία expresses a mutual relationship. . . . As with κοινωνέω either the giving or the receiving side of the relationship can stand in the foreground” (Hauck 798; cf. Moulton/Milligan 351). Indeed, in actual usage either one motif or the other is expressed. But the total Pauline usage has a unified structure for the word group as such, which can be seen in the interpretation of individual texts; fellowship/partnership (with someone) through (common) participation (in something).7
  • Κοινωνία is in Paul a designation for various community relationships that come into being through (common) participation and are seen in reciprocal giving and taking of a portion. Where the community relationship (common participation in something) is mediated through someone (e.g., Jerusalem, apostles, teachers) an obligation comes into being that obligates the receiver to a response of giving a portion. Κοινωνοί are persons who stand in a relationship of community because they have a common share in something. In κοινωνέω the act of giving and receiving a portion itself is expressed, the experience of having fellowship with someone in something. The meaning have fellowship, give a portion, impart has occasionally been disputed for Paul; it emerges unambiguously, however, from Gal 6:6 and Phil 4:15 and is attested both in Greek (Endenburg) and early Christian literature (Barn. 19:8; Did. 4:8; Justin Apol. i.15.10). Because the word group represented by κοινωνία includes these various implications in content, a precise summary of these aspects is possible only by referring to particular contexts (→ 4).8

v.6 completion (ἐπιτελέω)

  • Verb: Future active indicative 3rd singular
  • To finish something begun, end, bring to an end, finish. (BDAG)
  • Also unproblematic is Phil 1:6, where, indeed, with the retention of the meaning carry out, accomplish, the accent is shifted more in the direction of finish (the fut. ind. is not limited to one mode of action).9

v.7 partakers (συγκοινωνός)

  • Participant, partner. (BDAG)
  • With object genitive (of that in which one participates with others) in Rom 11:17; Phil 1:7;10

v.8 yearn (ἐπιποθέω)

  • Verb: Present active indicative 1st singular
  • To have a strong desire for something, with implication of need, long for, desire. (BDAG)
  • There are 9 occurrences in the NT, none in the Gospels or in Acts. The verb is used in reference to congregations and congregational leaders with accusative (2 Cor 9:14; Phil 1:8; 2:26).11

v.9 may abound (περισσεύω)

  • Verb: Present active subjunctive 3rd singular
  • To be in abundance, abound. of things. grow. (BDAG)
  • Exceed, be present in superabundance, prove to be extremely rich, have a superabundance. Περισσεύω is largely used intransitively, and in the case of things means exceed, be left over, be present in superabundance, though also be exceedingly rich. In reference to persons περισσεύω means have more than enough, be rich (in something). The less frequent trans. meaning make exceedingly rich occurs with reference to things only in Matt 13:12; 25:29; 2 Cor 4:15; 9:8a; Eph 1:8, and with reference to persons in 1 Thess 3:12 and perhaps Luke 15:17, if περισσεύονται is pass. rather than mid. (→ 3). The (intrans.) meaning noted by BAGD (s.v. 1.a.δ, for Acts 16:5 and Phil 1:9), grow, renders only inexactly the sense of περισσεύω with dat. or with ἐν.12

v.10 may approve (δοκιμάζω)

  • Verb: Present active infinitive
  • To make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine. (BDAG)
  • Unlike OT usage, where God is most often the subj., in Paul humans are explicitly named as the subj. of δοκιμάζειν. 1 Thess 2:4 and 1 Cor 3:13 are only partial exceptions. In 1 Cor 3:13, in accordance with OT traditional imagery, fire will be used to test the work of the individual, because the day will bring it to light (the images of the burning house, final judgment, and trial by fire are brought together). 1 Thess 2:4 speaks of the God who tests the heart (citing Jer 11:20); for Paul (1 Thess 2:4a) this means that the gospel has been entrusted to him and that he must respond to this “approval” by God in the preaching of the gospel (cf. 2 Cor 2:17; Gal 1:10). Thus: δοκιμάζω in Paul refers indirectly to God, insofar as it refers to practical accomplishment, to the concrete responsibility determined by the situation and resting on the knowledge granted by the gospel in Christ of what God himself wills (in Christ!) – in relation to those who rely on the word of the cross.

    Knowledge of the will of God is decisive. This is apparent in Rom 1:28; 2:18; 12:2: in the accusation in 1:28 in the corresponding lines (from the wisdom literature) “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God” and “God gave them up to a base mind the loss of sensible existence”; in the citation of the Jewish claim in 2:18, where knowledge of God’s will (from the law) is equated with ability to determine what is important; and in the summons to worship in everyday life in the world in 12:2, the ability to give a critical answer with the renewed mind concerning the will of God. In its concrete but undetermined content τἁ διαφέροντα (a common Hellenistic colloquial phrase) in Phil 1:10 indicates, with respect to content, what is involved in the Church’s critical testing and examining: an overflowing of the love which determines thought as well as action. (In the makarism of Rom 14:22, the concern in a more general sense is with capacity to judge which has been determined in the certainty of faith; in 1 Cor 11:28 it concerns the correct use of the sacraments, which is tested in self-examination).13

v.11 filled (πληρόω)

  • Participle: Perfect passive participle
  • To make full, fill (full). of persons. (BDAG)
  • Πληρόω is a causative vb. from the stem of → πλήρης and means basically fill or make full in a purely spatial sense, e.g., jugs (Euripides Ion 1192), and then metaphorically, e.g., fill with joy (Philo Abr. 108), e.g., Wis 1:7: πνεῦμα κυρίου πεπλήρωκε τὴν οἰκουμένην, “the Spirit of the Lord has filled the world” (cf. also Aristides Or. 45.21, of Zeus Serapis: τὸ πᾶν πεπλήρωκε).

    The spatial meaning is relatively infrequent in the NT (e.g., Matt 13:48, of a net; Acts 2:2, of a house). Πληρόω first acquires its real theological importance in metaphorical usage (→ 3): One fulfills the law and its demands, realizes it, or fulfills Scripture or its word. Πληρόω is usually pass. in these cases and always pass. when it is used of the end of an era (e.g., Acts 7:30: πληρωθέντων ἐτῶν τεσσεράκοντα, “when forty years had passed”). Mark 1:15 uses it in a qualitative sense: πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρός, “the time is fulfilled” (see also John 7:8). The christological statement in Eph 4:10 lies somewhere between purely spatial usage and metaphorical usage: ἵνα πληρώσῃ τἁ πάντα, “that he Christ might fill all things.” 5:18 can be understood similarly: πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι, “be filled with the Spirit.” In Acts 13:52, on the other hand (“the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”), we encounter metaphorical usage only. “That your joy may be full” and similar phrases are characteristic of the Johannine writings (e.g., John 15:11; 16:24; 1 John 1:4; 2 John 12).14

  1. A. Weiser, “δουλεύω δουλαγωγέω δουλεία δούλη δοῦλος δοῦλος δουλόω σύνδουλος,” EDNT, 1:352. ↩︎
  2. H. Balz, “ἅγιος ἁγιάζω ἁγιασμός ἁγιότης ἁγιωσύνη,” EDNT, 1:17. ↩︎
  3. H. Patsch, “εὐχαριστέω,” EDNT, 2:88. ↩︎
  4. R. Leivestad, “μνεία,” EDNT, 2:434. ↩︎
  5. U. Schoenborn, “δέομαι δέησις,” EDNT, 1:286. ↩︎
  6. U. Schoenborn, “δέομαι δέησις,” EDNT, 1:287. ↩︎
  7. J. Hainz, “κοινωνία κοινωνέω κοινωνός,” EDNT, 2:304. ↩︎
  8. J. Hainz, “κοινωνία κοινωνέω κοινωνός,” EDNT, 2:304. ↩︎
  9. R. Mahoney, “ἐπιτελέω,” EDNT, 2:42. ↩︎
  10. συγκοινωνός,” EDNT, 3:283. ↩︎
  11. ἐπιποθέω,” EDNT, 2:33. ↩︎
  12. G. Schneider, “περισσεύω,” EDNT, 3:76-77. ↩︎
  13. G. Schunack, “δοκιμάζω δόκιμος δοκιμή,” EDNT, 1:342. ↩︎
  14. H. Hübner, “πληρόω ἀναπληρόω ἀνταναπληρόω,” EDNT, 3:108. ↩︎