The ProBible Project
[bible passage=”Philemon 1:5″]
Hello B-Greekers, I have a question about Chiastic structure in Philemon 5. Here’s the Greek text and an attempted transliteration:
ἀκούων σου τὴν ἀγάπην καὶ τὴν πίστιν ἣν ἔχεις πρὸς τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν καὶ εἰς
πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους AKOUWN SOU THN AGAPHN KAI THN PISTIN HN ECEIS PROS TON KURION IESOUN KAI EIS PANTAS TOUS AGIOUS Philemon 5
My question concerns chiastic structure, which seems to be the basis for most modern translations rendering it something like this: “I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.” However, I’ve only seen this shown as an example of chiastic structure, and not explained. If PISTIS is understood as solely faith in Christ, then I can understand why chiastic structure is necessary, but if PISTIS includes a larger sense like faithfulness, then might AGAPHN and PISTIN refer to both the saints and to Jesus? I’m sure there are good reasons to interpret it according to the chiastic structure with an A B B A pairing, but to a Greek newbie and ancient literature neophyte it seems rather arbitrary and out of place, especially for a personal letter.
From: Tony Pope
Sent: Tue, November 3, 2009 8:26:43 AM
Subject: [B-Greek] Chiastic Structure in Philemon 5
I notice you have had no reply to your question, so I’ll say something. I agree with your sentiments
entirely. I have never been happy with the interpretation of this verse as a chiastic structure. As
I understand it, interpreters are driven to it because, as you suggest, they feel unable to give a
“non-religious” meaning to PISTIS. The assumption is that the statement must be the same as in
Colossians 1.4, especially as it is supposed to have been written at the same time as the letter to
I don’t profess to be able to explain why PROS is used in one phrase and EIS in the other, but the
fact that there is a difference encourages me in the view that PISTIS is meant to apply to both TON
KURION and TOUS hAGIOUS. Perhaps the formulation was intended in some way to prepare Philemon for
what was to come later in the letter, as undoubtedly verse 6 was.
PISTIS could mean faithfulness, or it could mean trust. Trust in human beings who belong to the Lord
could perhaps be mentioned right after trust in the Lord they belong to, given the theme of the
letter. Josephus, War 2.257, has been cited as an example of PISTIS as trust in human beings. The
context is the nervousness caused by the attacks of the Sicarii, who used to knife their victims and
disappear into the crowds.
προεσκοποῦντο δὲ πόρρωθεν τοὺς διαφόρους, καὶ οὐδὲ τοῖς φίλοις προσιοῦσιν πίστις ἦν, ἐν μέσαις δὲ
ταῖς ὑπονοίαις καὶ ταῖς φυλακαῖς ἀνῃροῦντο:
PROESKOPOUNTO DE PORRWQEN TOUS DIAFOROUS, KAI OUDE TOIS FILOIS PROSIOUSIN PISTIS HN, EN MESAIS DE
TAIS hUPONOIAIS KAI TAIS FULAKAIS ANHROUNTO.
Men watched at a distance for their enemies and would not trust their friends when they came
near to them. Yet, in spite of their suspicions and precautions, they were murdered; (Cornfeld’s
George F Somsel gfsomsel at yahoo.com
Tue Nov 3 10:55:46 EST 2009
The attempts to find a chiastic structure everywhere reminds me of the saying, “To a man with a hammer everything is a nail.”
Col 1:3-4 is indeed an important background for understanding how Paul
introduces many of his letters:
The text is:
3 Εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ [καὶ] πατρὶ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ πάντοτε περὶ
4 ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην ἣν ἔχετε εἰς πάντας
EUCARISTOUMEN TWi QEWi (KAI PATRI TOU KURIOU hHMWN IHSOU CRISTOU) PANTOTE PERI
AKOUSANTES THN PISTIN hUMWN EN CRISTWi IHSOU KAI THN AGAPHN hHN ECETE EIS PANTAS
The text in Philemon has many similarities:
4 Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου πάντοτε μνείαν σου ποιούμενος ἐπὶ τῶν προσευχῶν μου,
5 ἀκούων σου τὴν ἀγάπην καὶ τὴν πίστιν, ἣν ἔχεις πρὸς τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν καὶ εἰς
πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους
4 EUCARISTW TWi QEWi MOU PANTOTE MNEIAN SOU POIOUMENOS EPI TWN PROSEUCWN MOU
5 AKOUWN SOU THN AGAPHN KAI THN PISTIN hHN ECEIS PROS TON KURION IHSOUN KAI EIS
PANTAS TOUS hAGIOUS
In both cases Paul is thanking God in his prayers for the addressee since he has
had a good report of their faith in Jesus and love towards all the saints.
We find a similar statement in Eph 1:15-16 but with the reason before the
15 Διὰ τοῦτο κἀγὼ ἀκούσας τὴν καθ᾽ ὑμᾶς πίστιν ἐν τῷ κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην
τὴν εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους
16 οὐ παύομαι εὐχαριστῶν ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν μνείαν ποιούμενος ἐπὶ τῶν προσευχῶν μου
DIA TOUTO KAGW AKOUSAS THN KAQ’ hUMAS PISTIN EN TWi KURIWi IHSOU KAI THN AGAPHN
THN EIS PANTAS TOUS hAGIOUS
16 OU PAUOMAI EUCARISTWN hUPER hUMWN MNEIAN POIOUMENOS EPI TWN PROSEUCWN MOU
In all of these Paul is referring to what he has heard.
Also consider 2 Thes 1:3:
Εὐχαριστεῖν ὀφείλομεν τῷ θεῷ πάντοτε περὶ ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί, καθὼς ἄξιόν ἐστιν, ὅτι
ὑπεραυξάνει ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν καὶ πλεονάζει ἡ ἀγάπη ἑνὸς ἑκάστου πάντων ὑμῶν εἰς
EUCARISTEIN OFEILOMEN TWi QEWI PANTOTE PERI hUMWN, ADELFOI, KAQWS AXION ESTIN,
hOTI hUPERAUXANEI hH PISTIS hUMWN KAI PLEONAZEI hH AGAPH hENOS hEKASTOU PANTWN
hUMWN EIS ALLHLOUS
PISTIS in Paul’s writings has as its object God or Jesus, not people, and this
is so much expected that the word often occurs without an object, since the
reader can easily supply it.
In 1 Thes 1:2-3 there is a similar thanksgiving in prayer because of their ERGON
THS PISTEWS KAI KOPOS THS AGAPHS.
PISTIS is directed to God and AGAPH to other people. Paul obviously sought and
received reports about these two things from the churches. How is your faith (in
Jesus)? How do you express that faith in your love towards one another? (cf. Gal
5:6 πίστις δι᾽ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη – PISTIS DI’ AGAPHS ENERGOUMENH).
IMO, this practice of Paul is enough to show that the intention in Phm 1:5 is
that PISTIS is directed to Jesus – PROS TON KURION IHSOUN – and love is directed
to people – EIS PANTAS TOUS hAGIOUS.
Paul, of course, is very familiar with Hebrew chiasms, and the letter to
Philemon is not a casual, hurriedly written letter, but a fine piece of
rhetoric, so I don’t have a problem with the chiasm here – although I do not
subscribe to all examples of chiasms that commentaries have suggested.
In the majority of instances it is true that PISTIS has a divine object in Paul, but this does not
seem to be the case in Galatians 5.22, where PISTIS occurs in a list of qualities that are directed
towards fellow human beings, nor in Titus 2.10, where PASAN … PISTIN AGAQHN must by contrast
denote a quality exhibited by slaves towards their masters. Nor probably in Titus 3.15, ASPASAI TOUS
FILOUNTAS hHMAS EN PISTEI, which according to Spicq reflects a standard form of expression combining
friendship (hence FILEW) and fidelity (PISTIS).
Incidentally, Spicq’s article on PISTIS in Vol. 3 of his Theological Lexicon of the New Testament
(Hendrickson, 1994) is to be recommended for broadening one’s horizons on the different senses of
PISTIS that were used in NT times. (As it is on a lot of other words too. For those who read French,
the original Lexique théologique du Nouveau Testament is available from Editions Cerf.)
What determines the sense of a word is, as we are so often in danger of forgetting, the immediate
context. It strikes me that this is a particular danger when coming across examples of words that
are often elsewhere used in theologically weighty statements. We tend to shoehorn every example into
the “primary” sense. It’s particularly a problem for words that are traditionally translated by a
“religious” word. Thus all examples of CHARIS must everywhere mean grace, APOSTOLOS must everywhere
refer to one of the twelve apostles or Paul, GRAMMATEUS must everywhere refer to a Jewish scribe,
EUAGGELION must everywhere mean gospel, BAPTIZW must everywhere mean to baptize, KAQARIZW must
everywhere mean to cleanse ritually, etc. etc. But if you think about it, such an approach would
impose enormous restrictions on anyone who wants to speak or write the language.
Also, and this I believe is crucial, when you are dealing with a relatively small corpus of written
material there will inevitably be cases where a word is commonly used in one sense but also used
maybe only once or twice in a different sense that can only be exampled from outside biblical Greek.
Begging the moderator’s pardon and not wishing to reopen a closed thread “by the back door”, but
merely to point out what is lexically attested and thereby put the record straight, re KAQARIZW and
KAQAIRW, see lines 6-7 of the BAGD entry for KAQARIZW. For one interesting attested object of
KAQARIZW, see LSJ: “prune away, PERISSA BLASTHMATA [superfluous shoots] P. Lond. 1.131r 192 (i.
A.D.)” The object of KAQARIZW is in that case the item removed. (There are more given for KAQAIRW.)
In the NT itself, Matt 8.3b EKAQARISQH AUTOU hH LEPRA [his leprosy cleared, i.e. disappeared] comes
under this head. It is not the ritual cleansing that is being recorded at that point.
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