Paul does something unusual in Philippians 4. He specifically names at least two leaders in the congregation who have some problem hindering the church. Specifically, Euodia and Syntyche need to demonstrate unity. For Paul to specifically name, people is very unusual since the letter would have been read publicly to the whole congregation. He treats them equally by repeating the verb twice (“I encourage Euodia, I encourage Syntyche”).
We know nothing about these two women, although a few Christian writers denied they were women, perhaps because Paul called them co-laborers, and a few have wondered if they were actual people! But the pronouns throughout the three verses are feminine, so very few (if any) modern scholars deny Paul is talking about two women who worked with him in Philippi.
- Syntyche is a feminine name in Philippians, but it appears as a masculine name in some inscriptions. For example, the early Christian writer and bishop of Antioch Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca. 350–428) argued this name refers to a man rather than a woman. He went as far as to identify Syntyche as the Philippian jailer from Acts 16!
- Euodia is also a common name in the Greco-Roman world (BDAG cites Greek grave inscriptions on Cyprus); the name means “prosperous” or “successful,” sometimes in the context of a journey. Like Syntyche, the name has a masculine and feminine form.
- The Tübingen School interpreted Euodia and Syntyche as symbols for Jewish and Gentile Christians (for a summary, see Gillman, “Euodia (Person),” ABD 2:670). If this was the case, the Syzygus is the one who unifies the two opposing sides of the early Christian church.
The motivation for making Syntyche into a man is to avoid the implication that an early church like Philippi had women leaders on a level with Paul. These women are not opponents of Paul or false teachers: their names are “written in the book of Life.” This is a common way of describing someone who has suffered for their faith yet remained faithful (Dan 12:1, Rev 3:5). This may therefore be a hint the church has suffered for their faith, and these two women were instrumental in guiding the congregation through that difficult time.
Verse three asks someone in the congregation to help the women to work through their dispute. The Greek word (σύζυγος) has sometimes been interpreted as a name (Syzygus), a name which would mean “yoke-fellow” if it is a name at all. The name does appear in Greek literature as a description of a wife (T.Rub 4:1, for example), so sometimes Syzygus was thought to be Paul’s wife! (She is Paul’s loyal wife, left behind in Philippi, perhaps Lydia herself.) Paul also calls on Clement and the “rest of my fellow workers” to help the women to reconcile. We know nothing of Clement. Although it is the same name as a bishop of Rome in the late 90s, it is unlikely to be the same man.
Paul loves and respects these fellow workers (v. 1) but strongly encourages them to set aside these differences. He uses a strong word for his affection for the church: he earnestly desires to see them (ἐπιπόθητος). The church is Paul’s “joy and crown.” This is similar to saying “pride and joy” today. The church is something Paul can boast about, and on the day he stands before the Lord, he can consider the church a victor’s crown.
In summary, Paul deeply cares for the church at Philippi and wants them to endure the trials they will face. Because he loves them so deeply, he needs to call out two people causing disunity. But the whole church needs to have the same unity as well; everyone must “think similarly.”
3 thoughts on “Philippians 4:1–3 – Euodia and Syntyche”
In chapter four of Philippians, Paul challenges the people to live in the example of Jesus. Instead of “grumbling, arguing, and competing with one another, Paul’s vision for the Philippians was one of concord and contentment in Christ borne of sacrificial, mutual, joyful service in the gospel” (Longenecker, 202). Paul first challenges the prominent women leaders, who worked alongside Paul, to follow Jesus’ example of humility. The women needed to reconcile, accept their differences, and become unified so that they serve the Lord (4:2). The two women who were named were Euodia and Syntyche. Although these two women were named specifically, chapter four addresses the other Christian Philippi citizens as well (4:6-7). As mentioned, it was unusual for Paul to specifically mention two names, but it was to be used as an example of how the Christians needed to live in the example of Jesus.
I find it interesting that people have stated that they believe these two people to be men and not women. I think it is important to realize that Paul really cares about the people and is trying to show them how to live more Christ-like. It seems that Paul is trying to get the women to get along more and work together, so I feel like these names would refer to other women who should be looked at as examples. I definitely seems that in Philippians 4:1-3 that Paul is talking about the women specifically, and that he is trying to have others follow these two women’s examples.
It is bold of Paul to call out two people by name in his letter in the church at Philippi. I find it incredibly interesting that is how he chose to tell them to get along with one another and create unity within the church. Paul chooses to call these two women by name in a letter read to an entire church in an area. This is bold and shows just the love that I believe Paul had for the believers in the church that he was willing to put relationships with members of the church in jeopardy to help the church at Philippi be the best church that it could be. Paul wants the church at Philippi to be unified and clearly he felt that this was not the case and felt that he needed to make sure it was. That is the reason that he called these two out to make them realize the damage they were doing but also to help the church.