Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Euodia and Syntyche: Two Notable Philippian Women


Once again, I’m here to bring you another of Grudem’s “infamous” attacks against the egalitarian position. Grudem gives a three-part answer to this question (parts A, B, and C) but I’ll cut to the most serious answer he gives (some of his responses are a bit goofy and defy intellectual ability altogether, so I won’t waste time with answering crazy questions).
His best response for claim 7.8 is the following: “It is true that women were Paul’s coworkers, but the title ‘coworker’ does not imply that they had equal authority to Paul, or that they had the office of elder, or that they taught or governed in any New Testament churches” (248). His second response is “Some coworkers do things that other coworkers do not do” (248).

I’ll start with an example. Say that a person decides to go into business overnight and dreams of owning their very own business. Suppose that person decides to ask a friend to go into business with him, since he needs the extra energy, hands, and, not to mention, creativity. Within about six months, the company is alive and running and both men are given credit for ownership.
My question would be, “Who owns the business?” Keep in mind that one person decided to own a business, but asked a friend to join him in the business venture. If the original inventor is the owner, what does that make his friend—just an employee? No, I don’t think so! It makes the friend a CO-OWNER of the business. He and the original guy who dreamed up the idea are both CO-OWNERS! Each owns fifty percent of the company and are free to do with their fifty percent what they choose. Because they CO-OWN the business, they are both able to make lasting changes to the business and possess the power and authority to do so.

In Philippians 4, Paul refers to Euodia and Syntyche as his “coworkers.” This means that they worked closely with Paul, they labored alongside of Paul, they were right there on the front lines of evangelism, aiding in starting churches and preaching and teaching, etc. Euodia and Syntyche are no mere “hospitality committee members,” that’s for sure. If they are coworkers with Paul, then that means they labored with him to accomplish great things for the Gospel’s sake. That alone makes them very visible members of Paul’s ministry teams.

During my time home over the Christmas season, I read one of five books entitled “A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity” by Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald. I’ll share some thoughts from this book in another blog post in the future. For now, I wanna talk about what I read in this book that ties into our investigation of Euodia and Syntyche:
“…Paul’s language implies that these women were involved in the evangelization of nonbelievers. They were apparently successful despite having experienced opposition from nonbelievers…using a verb that recalls the struggles of war or the violent contests of the games (sunathleo), the text describes them as coworkers who fought at Paul’s side in the gospel. The only other use of the term in the New Testament appears earlier in Philippians to refer to the struggle of the community against some external threat that Paul himself experienced (Phil. 1:27-30; see also Acts 16:19-40; 1 Thess. 2:2)” (“A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity”, 227).
According to Osiek, the word “sunathleo” refers to fighting, to contend, to struggling with something; and the fact that this verb is written by Paul about Euodia and Syntyche places them at the top of Paul’s workers in the churches he founded. If we look at a literal translation of the verb “sunathleo,” it literally means “to fight with,” or “to be a fighter with.” From the parent verb “athleo” comes our English word “athlete.” An athlete is one who plays sports, whether it be basketball, football, hockey, tennis, volleyball, track and field, gymnastics, etc. Athletes are distinguished from everyday people because they often wear uniforms at their games—and, they are usually the only ones who sweat themselves to death during the games! Athletes get themselves dirty in games—they dive for the ball, catch the baseball out in left field, slide to home base, make the winning soccer goal kick, hit the volleyball over the net, etc. Athletes, then, are very active in their games. No spectators are allowed to play in sports games—only the ATHLETES are. They do not sit on the sidelines and look pretty; no, they are the ones making plays happen for their team. And although everyone has a different part to play on the team, they are all still one team…and should they win a championship, everyone gets to share in the prestige and glory of victory (not one person is left out).

So to take this discussion of the verb “sunathleo” a little further, I will now look at the Philippians passage Osiek cites to see what we can gather about the significance of this “athlete” verb that just may set Euodia and Syntyche apart from the rest of Paul’s workers in the churches.
In Philippians 1:27-30, Paul tells the Philippians to “strive together for the faith of the gospel”(KJV). But this “striving together” is in a context that involves outside opposition: “And in nothing terrified by your adversaries” (1:28). In verse 30, Paul writes, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also TO SUFFER for his sake…” The verb is used here in a context of fighting against an enemy or an opponent.

Looking up the word “sunathleo” on my own, I discovered that Paul writes it to someone else—his son in the ministry, Timothy. 2 Timothy 2:5 is where we find our “famous” word: “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” The word for “strive” is “athleo,” being used as a subjunctive (a statement of possibility). In 2 Timothy 2:5, Paul uses the word “athleo” because he is giving Timothy an analogy of an athlete. Notice in 2 Tim. 2:5 that Paul talks about a man being “crowned,” which indicates that the athletes here are not just any athletes, but probably olympians. The reason why Paul gives Timothy this exhortation is because he wants Timothy to fight a good fight: “Thou therefore ENDURE HARDNESS, as a good soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3, King James Version), “if we SUFFER we shall also reign with him” (v.12), and especially some of Paul’s opening words—“but be thou PARTAKER OF THE AFFLICTIONS of the gospel according to the power of God” (1:8). Paul is talking to Timothy about the spiritual warfare he must rage in the city of Ephesus, where false teaching is prevailing among the believers, causing some to wander from the faith (and causing others to doubt their faith).

The word “athleo” may be found elsewhere in Scripture (such studies are to be discussed at a later time); but, for now, we know that these women were on the front lines with Paul, “sweating” for the gospel’s sake. Grudem’s first response, that these women did not have equal authority to Paul, is just an attack with no scriptural basis. Paul, for instance, refers to Apollos, for instance, on the same plane as himself: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Look at these two verses. Paul notes that Apollos’ job is different from his own—he was charged by God to plant churches, while Apollos’ job was to edify the churches, to instruct believers, to build up the churches in the faith (in short, to nurse Paul’s “baby” churches and grow them into maturity). Nevertheless, Paul makes it clear that he and Apollos are both equally-called ministers of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 3:8, Paul writes, “Now he that planteth and he that watereth ARE ONE,” and in 3:9, “for we are laborers together with God…” He places himself and Apollos in the same category, and he doesn’t distinguish his power from Apollos’. To be brief, he isn’t caught up in how much power he had. He is simply concerned about God’s work and that the churches reap the fruits of he, Apollos’, and Cephas’s labor.
If Paul considered Apollos to be on the same level with him in ministry, and Apollos was not one of Paul’s “team workers,” then what does this tell us about his view of Euodia and Syntyche? Since they fought “side-by-side” with him, they were certainly on the same plane as Paul was. Evidently, these women were so powerful in the church at Philippi that their dissention was causing division among the believers.

In Grudem’s response (, he uses, as an example of “fellow worker,” 3 John 8, where it reads, “Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be FELLOW WORKERS for the truth.” Grudem responds with saying, “But this surely does not mean that everyone who supported a traveling missionary had ruling authority over the churches!” (248) Grudem actually believes his usage of 3 John 8 proves his point; however, he fails to see that John actually qualifies his use of “fellow worker” in 3 John 8: “fellow workers OF THE TRUTH.” All of those who believe in Christ are fellow workers of the truth! Because this title refers to all believers, this is not a statement on par with Paul’s classifications of “fellow worker” throughout his letters. In the Pauline letters, there are several people who “worked hard” for Paul, but not all of them are called “fellow workers.” In contrast, every believer is “a fellow worker of the truth.” He lifts up those in 3 John who support missionaries, saying that all believers have an opportunity to support the truth. While this is a nice try, it is really an extreme example that has no bearing on Paul’s labels of certain individuals. Once again, Grudem plays a “1 Timothy 2” card. He is still hung up on the “insane” notion that women never had any spiritual authority in the churches…and the more we examine his responses to egalitarianism, the more the “1 Timothy 2” card shines through.


  1. I often wonder when it comes to biblical hermeneutics if this passage would be translated completely differently if two men's names were there.

  2. Brennie,

    I think it would be different if it were two men placed there. The fact that two men aren't explains the rationale behind the interpretation. The same thing is done in Romans with the apostle "Junia," a name which has been translated "Junias." There is no "Junias" in the 200 Greek and Latin manuscripts that have been found to even carry the name. There is only one manuscript that offers up a "Junias," and this manuscript has been placed by complementarians over the majority of manuscripts. Why is this? Would we do this in hermeneutics? Does one take one passage and place it over the others (the majority)? No. But when it gets to the issue of men and women in the church, all of a sudden, complementarians find rationale for something that is so irrational in nature.


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