The names of Phil 4:2-3

I’ve thought recently about the presentation of people’s names in scripture—particularly in Acts 21 & 22 and in Philippians 4:2-3.  In narratives like Acts (and in this case, it’s actually one narrative on top of another, in that Luke is narrating what Paul was narrating), a name/character often enters a story in a particular way, with a particular purpose.  In Philippians—not essentially a narrative but a letter—are the names Euodia and Syntyche actually names, or possibly something else?  What do the words mean?  What is the reader to understand based on their “appearance” here?
I appeal to Euodia and I appeal to Syntyche [to be in agreement] in the Lord.  Yes, I ask also you, true yokefellow, help them, who struggled along with me in the gospel with both Clement and the rest of my fellow workers whose names are in the book of life.  (Phil 4:2-3, LEB)
Current-day Philippi/Filippoi: Excavations
Current-day Philippi/Filippoi: Excavations

Philippi (modern Filippoi) is clearly a real place.  What about the names in chapter 4, though?  I was intrigued by the possibilities in all directions—i.e., 1) whether the first three were all actual people, or 2) some of them, or 3) none.  Along with most Bible students, I’ve always assumed that Euodia and Syntyche were real-live women, but only in the last year or three have I thought about the possibility that the “true yokefellow” (transliteration:  Sudzuge) was a real-live man.  These names are all compound words (or at least concocted compound words).  The prefixes to the first names (eu and syn) arouse my interest within the context of Philippians as a whole; syn in particular appears in several other words in Philippians, a couple of which could have been terms coined by Paul, so I wonder if he could have been concocting symbols here.

I pick up that many readers sense a stronger, more personal message if we at least read the words Euodia and Syntyche as real women’s names, and that’s a fine motivation.  On the contrary side, though, consider for a moment the possibility that no one named Euodia or Syntyche actually existed at Philippi.  If that happens to have been the case, could the Philippian believers have read the message with just as much force?  In other words, after hearing all of the preceding instruction, inspiration, clarification, etc., if 4:1f had been directed symbolically to the whole group, they might all have been wincing or even weeping at this point . . . whereas if this were “only” written to two women, that fact could in one sense allow the rest of the church to stop listening (and that would be most ironic but also  understandable).

I had been thinking that it could be that all of these names could be concocted to stand for the whole Philippian church, in the aggregate.  (And I could more readily have read it that way near then end of a Philippians study, and I think that’s because the whole letter is better tied together, more cohesive in my head at this point.)  The sense of it might be something like this:

I appeal to all you guys who’re on this good journey with me — and every one who acts in accord with my actions for the gospel’s sake — to live in harmony in the Lord.

[Euodia’s name  roughly means “good journey,” and Syntyche’s roughly means “act in accord with”]

However, the last part of v3 makes me lean back the other way.  The manner in which Clement comes into the picture seems to be a big clue that all four of them them were actual people and not merely symbolic.  If they were not real-live people, it would seem strange for Paul to put them in a list, as it were, of individuals who “struggled along with” him, “with both Clement and the rest of my fellow workers.”

After initial musings, I learned (thanks to the insights and “homework” done by a teacher) that

  • There are some instances in ancient literature of a non-personal-name variant of “Euodia” (to mean something like “a good journey”).
  • No precedent has been discovered of a non-name use of “Syntyche.”
  • The feminine plural seen as a direct object in 4:3 (help “them” or “these women“) strongly favors a simple, literal reading of the names as names of individuals.

I’m content now to view the names of Philippians 4:2-3 all as names, including Sudzuge, the “loyal yokefellow” or “true companion” of most translations.  I don’t know why that word was ever rendered with words other than a proper name.  All of these people are in Paul’s group of “the rest of my fellow workers whose names are in the book of life. ”

Coincidentally, the phrase “book of life” appears only here in Paul, and the only other instances are in Revelation (several times).  One cannot rightly assume the meaning here is the same here as in Revelation.  Whatever it means here, the real names of real people might provide a clue.

B. Casey, 6/4/16-11/16/16

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