like-minded harmony quarrelling disagreement Paul Euodia Syntyche

“The Same Thing” in Acts 14:1

This morning I read Acts 14. Verse one of this chapter contains a fairly common Greek expression to auto which typically means “the same thing”. This expression is sometimes used idiomatically to refer to harmony or unity. Context shows that it is used this way in Acts 2:44a, in Romans 12:16, and in 1 Corinthians 1:10, etc. But to auto is also used in other ways in the New Testament.

To auto is understood in three different ways in various English translations of Acts 14:1. Some interpret it as referring to “the usual custom” of Paul and Barnabas, that of going to Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath to bring the gospel message (NIV, CEV, CSB). Some interpret it as meaning “the same thing” happened in the city of Iconium that had happened previously in Pisidian Antioch (CEB, GNT, HSCB, NET, NLT, NRSV). Other translations have that Paul and Barnabas entered the synagogue “together” (ESV, KJV, NASB). This third interpretation seems less likely to me.

Reading to auto in Acts 14:1 with its ambiguous meaning, has reminded me of Philippians 4:2 where the same expression is also used with some ambiguity.

“The Same Thing” in Philippians 4:2

To auto is used in the context of Euodia and Syntyche, two prominent women in the church at Philippi, who Paul urges (literally) “to think the same thing” (Phil. 4:2). Many have assumed that the women were quarrelling and that Paul wants them to be like-minded and be in harmony. This interpretation is entirely possible. Still, it is unjustified to translate Paul’s words as saying that Euodia and Syntyche should stop quarrelling or should settle their disagreement (e.g., Phil. 4:2 CEV, NLT). Paul’s language is more positive and more edifying.

If the women were having a disagreement—and this was not, and is not, unusual among Christians—was their disagreement on a point of Christian doctrine or practice? The “thinking” that Paul urges, in some way, has to do with “the Lord”. Perhaps Paul is simply reminding the women of their identity as followers of the Lord Jesus and that all attitudes and behaviour should be governed by the knowledge that we are “in the Lord”.

Paul, however, may not have been asking the women to agree with each other. It is possible Paul wants the women to have the same thinking as him.

“Same Thinking” in Philippians

Philippians 3:15: To think like mature Christians “Think” (phroneō) is a keyword in Philippians; it occurs nine times in this letter. In chapter 3, Paul has been encouraging people to have the same thinking, or attitude, as himself, that of pursuing the goal of spiritual perfection (Phil. 3:12ff). And he writes, “as many, then, as are mature, let us think this (touto phronōmen) (Phil. 3:15a). It could be that Paul is carrying on this idea and, using similar language in the Greek, is saying, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to think the same thing (to auto phronein) in the Lord”, that of aspiring to spiritual maturity and perfection (Phil. 4:2).[1]

Philippians 2:5: To think like Jesus Another possibility is that Paul is asking the women to have the same thinking as Jesus. Philippians 2:5 begins with touto phroneite, literally, “y’all think this”. Paul wanted all the Philippians to have the same thinking—the same sacrificial, selfless and humble attitude—that was in Christ Jesus. Perhaps “the thing” Paul wants the women to think “in the Lord” is the attitude of selfless service that Jesus exemplified. Paul acknowledges that Euodia and Syntyche are his fellow workers who have served and worked hard alongside him in gospel ministry (Phil. 4:3).[2]

Philippians 2:2: All are to think the same thing Paul does not just tell Euodia and Syntyche to think the same thing, however. He urges all the Philippians (literally), “that y’all may think the same thing (hina to auto phronēte) having the same love, united in spirit/soul, one mind . . .” And he continues, in one long sentence, to speak about humble and deferential behaviour. Paul follows up the long sentence in 2:1-4 with 2:5 where, as mentioned above, he tells the Philippians to think like Jesus, that is, have the same attitude as Jesus.

Maturity and Harmony in Philippi, Rome and Corinth

Paul was not necessarily implying that the Philippians were quarrelling or being divisive when he encouraged them “to think the same thing”. (Unlike in his other letters, Paul does not give any direct rebukes in his letter to the church at Philippi.) Rather, he wants the Philippians, including Euodia and Syntyche, to excel in the Christ-like qualities that are demonstrated in a mature and selfless Christianity, of which like-mindedness, or harmony, is one feature.

Furthermore, Paul doesn’t just tell the Christians in Philippi to auto phronein. In his letter to the Romans and his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul uses the same expression “to think the same thing.”[3] Admittedly, factions and divisions were a problem in these two churches, but Paul uses the expression in general exhortations.

2 Corinthians and Paul’s letter to the Philippians were written around the same time and contain similar language. Paul states that he wrote to the Corinthians to build them up, not to tear them down (2 Cor. 13:10), and he closes his letter with:

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice. Become mature, be encouraged, be of the same mind (to auto phroneite), be at peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11 CSB

To the Romans, Paul wrote,

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind (to auto phronein) toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 NIV

Edifying Euodia and Syntyche

Whatever “to think the same thing” refers to specifically in Philippians 4:2—whether it refers to aiming for spiritual maturity (Phil. 3:15), to having the same attitude as Jesus (Phil. 2:5), to being like-minded and harmonious (Phil. 2:2ff), or to all these inter-related qualities—the fact that Paul addresses each woman directly and individually by name, and also asks that they be assisted, indicates that Euodia and Syntyche were prominent, influential women in the church.

Like a few other women mentioned in the New Testament, these women were possibly the patrons, hosts and overseers of house churches.[4] The ministry of these women was not trivial, and any interpretation or translation of Philippians 4:2 should not trivialise these women or their role in the church. Paul wrote Philippians 4:2 so that Euodia and Syntyche might be built up, not torn down or in any way diminished.


Endnotes

[1] Paul uses touto phronein (“to think this”), and other similar language, in Philippians 1:5-7a in the context of completing “good works”. This may refer to the continuation of benefactions towards Paul and his mission by the Philippian church until their completion on the Day of Christ.

[2] The early church father Chrysostom did not see any sign of a quarrel in Paul’s words to Euodia and Syntyche; he saw only praise and wrote: “Do you see how great a testimony [Paul] bears to their virtue?” (Homilies on Philippians 13) Chrysostom believed the women to be patrons and leaders of the church at Philippi, with a ministry similar to that of Phoebe of Cenchrea.  You can read Chrysostom’s commentary on Euodia and Syntyche in an endnote here.

[3] The exact words are to auto phronein in Romans 15:5 and to auto phroneite in 2 Corinthians 13:11.

[4] Phoebe, Lydia, Nympha, Apphia, Priscilla with Aquila, the chosen lady and other New Testament women hosted and cared for house churches that met in their homes. More about these women here.


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Bible study notes for Paul’s letter to the Philippians

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