Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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 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 and the same thinking as Jesus.

“Same Thinking” in Philippians

Philippians 3:15: To think like mature Christians
“Think” (phroneō) is a keyword in Philippians; it occurs ten 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, “you (plural) 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] He may have wanted to encourage their selfless service.

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 you (plural) 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 and harmony is one feature.

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


Footnotes

[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.
The other nine occurrences of the word are in Phil. 2:2 (twice); 2:5; 3:15 (twice); 3:19; 4:2; and 4:10 (twice). This amount is remarkable considering the word occurs twenty-six times in all in the New Testament.

[2] The early church father Chrysostom did not refer to a quarrel and only offered praise when he wrote about Euodia and Syntyche: “Do you see how great a testimony [Paul] bears to their virtue?” (Homilies on Philippians 13) Chrysostom believed the women to have been patrons of Paul and the leaders (to kephalaion) 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. The Greek can be found in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca volume 62, column 279, 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.

Postscript: August 2 2020

I discovered today that the translators of the Common English Bible have rendered Romans 12:16a—which contains to auto (“the same thing”), a participle of phroneō (“think”), as well as the reciprocal pronoun allelous with the preposition eis (“towards one another”)—as “Consider everyone as equal …” This translation fits the context well. The Darby translation expresses something similar, “Have the same respect one for another …” The New Matthew Bible has: “Be of equal affection one towards another….” More traditional renderings are “Be of the same mind one toward another …” and “Live in harmony with one another …” English translations of Romans 12:16 can be compared here.

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Related Articles

Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders in Philippi
Deacons in the Philippian Church and Phoebe 
“Must manage his own household well”: The Role of Overseers (1 Tim. 3)
The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Chrysostom on 5 Women Church Leaders in the NT
Bible study notes for Paul’s letter to the Philippians

Further Reading

Richard Fellows argues that Euodia and Syntyche were leaders of the church at Philippi and that they weren’t arguing. And he has an interesting theory as to the identity of Syzygos (“yokefellow”):
“Euodia, Syntyche and the Role of Syzygos: Phil 4:2–3” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 109 (2018), 222–234. A PDF is here.

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

20 thoughts on “What were Euodia and Syntyche thinking?!

  1. I never thought it meant disagreement over doctrine and not a personal disagreement. Nicely done Marg!

    1. I’ve seen commentaries and articles that disparage the character of Euodia and Syntyche. It seems some people are too quick to think the worst of female Bible characters. I’m glad we’re not among them. 🙂

      1. Two years on from your comment:
        On Radio National this morning I heard an older man proudly describe how his debating group forbade the membership of women as they could not be rational and discuss without getting emotional. Such a mindset amongst unaware enculturated commentators will probably conclude that the women must have been arguing.
        Thanks again.

        1. Leigh, When I was beginning to look into the topic of women as senior ministers, a close female relative told me without blinking that she didn’t want women as pastors. She explained her view by saying that all newsreaders were male because no one would want to listen to a female newsreader; women wouldn’t be taken seriousy. What she didn’t even realise was that at the time, about 10 years ago, there were already female newsreaders, and no one seemed to have a problem with it.

          These faulty stereotypes continue.

  2. Thanks, Charles.

    The Greek word αἵρεσις did come to mean “heresy”, but in the New Testament the word is typically used to refer to sects or factions within Judaism and within the church. 2 Peter 2:1 is a possible exception, however.

  3. I personally love to read about the original Greek and the possibilities for all the ways of translation of passages, and then to consider the stories of the people who Paul and Peter, and the others, wrote to or about, and their church family. It brings a lot of depth to consider what they were saying and why. And it’s a reminder too, to remember that they were all real people with real lives, with real pastors, and because of that is a lot of the reason why the Bible still says so very much for us today, even if we still haven’t learned the whole original context.

    1. I do wish we had more background information and that we could understand Paul’s letters better. 🙂

  4. Given that the letter starts off with a generic (1:1) “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons”, it makes much more sense that Paul would be winding up his letter by specifically naming those leaders, telling them to put on the mindset he has been talking about, and then asking the others in the congregation to help them. (4:2-3) “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.”

    Well done, Marg.

    1. Thanks, Bob.

      Yes, Paul may be winding up in Philippians 4:2ff, as he does in Romans 15 and 2 Corinthians 13 where he uses the same expression as an encouragement rather than as an implicit criticism.

  5. Hi, Marg.

    Along similar lines, I have just blogged about Euodia and Syntyche
    here. I link to a recent ZNW paper, which you can read for free here.

    1. Thanks, Richard. I’ll have a look.

  6. Is there any possibility Timothy around woman is an ‘added’ document, by either weeds of the early church, or those working on the scriptures in 325 ad….it seems to me so opposite to the rest of the teachings of the lord.

    1. Hi Lydia,

      I’m not following your question. Are you suggesting either First or Second Timothy is an added document? And what do you mean by “added” document?

      Verses from First Timothy are quoted or are alluded to by second and third-century proto-orthodox church fathers, well before 325. Moreover, the oldest surviving copy of First Timothy, Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 81.5259, P GA 133, of which only verses 3:13-4:8 survives, dates to the third century, perhaps 100 years before 325.
      There is some speculation that 1 and 2 Timothy were included in P 46 (dated to around 175-225 AD) but that the pages containing these letters did not survive.

      Fragments of an ancient Coptic translation of 2 Timothy and Titus survive. These papyrus fragments (P.Mich. inv. 3535b) may date from the 300s. (Coptic papyri is harder to date than Greek.)

      All this evidence points to a wide distribution and acceptance of these letters before and after 300.

      What in particular is the opposite to the teachings of the Lord?

      Are you referring to the Council of Nicea? This council met in 325 but they did not “work on the scriptures.” They discussed theology, primarily the nature of Jesus’ divinity, and church practice.

      Or do you mean that certain verses in First Timothy were added later? I have heard this suggested, but there is simply no evidence for it. I have written on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 here.

      On the other hand, there is some evidence that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 may not have been written by Paul, but was later inserted into the text. More on this here. My articles on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 here.

      Both 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are addressing local issues. They are not general statements that restrict the ministry of women.

  7. First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus were certainly not written by Paul, but were indeed added documents. This is widely accepted by specialists and it is scandalous that the information has not been more widely disseminated.

    But how to reconcile what we learn about Euodia and Syntyche, for example, with 1 Cor 14:34-5? Those two verses may well be interpolations. By the way, Marg, Payne’s argument from the distigme in Vaticanus has now been discredited. However, there is evidence for sexist corruptions of scripture in the early centuries of the church, and I think we do have evidence that the texts were sometimes adjusted under the influence of marginal notes.

    1. I don’t push for the standpoint that Paul did or didn’t write the Pastorals—I’m sitting on the fence for now—but I’m not quite getting my head around what “added” means. I thought the Pastorals were included in early canons and have as much right to be included as any of the canonical books and letters of the NT.

      Have you got a link to something that discusses and discredits Payne’s argument?

      I’ve been reading some of your papers and posts, Richard. It makes good sense to me that Theophilus was a Philippian. And I like your arguments supporting the idea that Lydia = Euodia.

  8. Since the author of the PE does not tell the truth about his identity, why should be trust him on any other matter? These letters would surely not have been included in the canon if it had been known at the time that they were not written by Paul.

    Concerning Payne’s use of Vaticanus, see my blog post from last year. Thank you for your interest in my work.

  9. Thank you for this article. The work done here is very helpful. I might add that Paul was no stranger to calling out both sin and sinners in his letters to churches. If these two ladies had been in a disagreement and in sin, he would surely have called them out on it. He had in fact already addressed enemies in the church in chapter 3 and it would have been easy to keep that thinking and identify them as enemies if they were sinning. I agree with you, I do not think that they were in sin. Maturity, unity of purpose/mind, seem to be the idea given the context.

    1. You make a good point, Clint.

      1. Tolong jelaskan , yang menjadi pokok permasalahan antara euodia dan sintkhe

        1. Hello Delson, Paulus tidak memberitahu kita apa isu utama, tetapi saya menawarkan beberapa kemungkinan dalam artikel ini.

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