Phil 3 Textual Critical Analysis

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Jack Painter at Simpson University during my junior year in my Greek Readings class.


Textual criticism—the study of the Bible that seeks out the exact wording of the author—is a rather painstaking process. It requires the separation of variants and the various manuscripts, lectionaries, and patristic writings according to their own school of thought. It requires the examination of the types of errors produced by scribes. It requires the study of the history and date of the manuscripts. It requires the exploration of all these different studies combined in order to determine the original penned words of the author. In sum, textual criticism is no easy task, and even those groups that sought out the exact wording of the author in order to give an accurate reading of the Bible had difficulty at times determining the original words. Philippians 3:12-16 has its own share of textual problems, most of which are not terribly difficult to work through, but a couple are determined to be uncertain.

Philippians 3:12 begins with Ou0x o#ti h!dh e!labon h@ h!dh tetelei/wmai. However, P46 D*.c F and Irenaeuslat all have an addition after e!labon: h@ h!dh dedikai/wmai (rendered as “nor have I already been made right with God”). This has early support from P46 and it also has decent support from a combination of Alexandrian and Western texts. Moisés Silva addressed this variant in his commentary on Philippians. Silva wrote, “It is very difficult to account for this reading as an insertion, and the explanations are not weighty” (1992, 204). There are several different explanations for this addition. One states “that a copyist added it thinking that otherwise ‘the Divine side of sanctification was left too much out of sight’” (Silva 1992, 204). Another states “that the addition was made by analogy with 1 Cor. 4:4” (Silva 1992, 204). And still, another states “that it would compensate for the lack of a direct object” (Silva 1992, 204). However, when approaching textual variants, the theology and phraseology of the author is always to be noted. In this case, “Given the Pauline emphasis on justification as something already experienced by the believer (Rom. 5:1 etc)” (Silva 1992, 204), it is not likely that Paul would have written h@ h!dh dedikai/wmai. However, according to Silva, “it is relatively easy to explain the omission of the clause if it is original; it was either omitted deliberately because of its apparent theological difficulty, or it was omitted accidentally because of the repetition of h@ h!dh” (1992, 204). So, this addition may have been a sort of deliberate doctrinal change or it was an accident of homoeoteleuton. Silva argues that “In favor of its originality, one should notice the paronomasia with diw&kw. If the clause is original, it would be an interesting example of a future-eschatological use of the verb (cf. Rom. 2:13), but the external evidence is so strongly in favor of the omission that the originality of the clause remains doubtful at best” (1992, 204). Therefore, it would be best to leave h@ h!dh dedikai/wmai out of the text because its originality is doubtful and it goes against Paul’s own doctrine.

In verse 12, kai_ seems to give difficulty in translation, and its originality is questioned by its omission by * D* F G 326. 2495 Clement and Tertullian. However, despite somewhat early support for its omission, its presence in the text is greatly supported by P46.61vid 2 A B D2 1739. 1881 and M. It is possible, perhaps, that the omission of kai_ was for the elimination of some sort of discrepancy, or perhaps it was a grammatical improvement because it is hard to translate kai­_ in this text. In either case, it was probably an intentional scribal error to clear up the passage. Still, it is probably best to keep kai_ in this text. In many cases, the harder reading is usually the original one; therefore, kai_ is most likely to be original.

At the end of verse 12 there is one last variant. It is not entirely certain that I)hsou~ is original. This is why it is found in square brackets in the Greek New Testament. Several witnesses omitt I)hsou~ (B D2 F G 33 Clement and Tertullian), however, the earliest and most important manuscripts include it (P46.61vid A 1739. 1881 as well as M). Bruce Metzger wrote, in his textual commentary of the Greek New Testament, that “Amid a variety of readings that involve the presence, the absence, and the sequence of name and title, on the strength of P46.61 A Y al, the Committee decided to adopt the reading Xristou~ I)hsou~, but to enclose I)hsou~ within square brackets because of its absence from B D* F G 33 al” (1994, 548).

One of the more difficult textual decisions is found in verse 13. There are two different variants here, one is ou) and the other ou!pw. The latter has much support from several witnesses, some of them being A D* P 075. 33. 81. 104. 1175 and Clement, but it does not have the earliest support. The former, on the other hand, does have the earlier support as well as strong witnesses to back it up (P46 B D2 F G Y 1739. 1881 M). It is possible that ou) was changed to ou!pw in order to fix some sort of grammatical error, or it was changed “by copyists who considered Paul to be too modest in his protestations” (Metzger 1994, 548). Silva helps to distinguish which variant is the original by pointing out that ou!pw “injects the nuance ‘not yet’ to the simple ou). This very point suggests that the original was indeed ou) and that the scribes semi-consciously altered it in accordance with the context” (1992, 204). Silva goes on to write that “we see this process in operation in Chrysostom’s homilies. The lemma says ou) but the commentary repeatedly says ou)de&pw, even when he appears to be quoting directly” (1992, 204-5). This discrepancy leads to an analysis that understands the latter variant as “probably wrong in this particular case” (Silva 1992, 205). Therefore, it is most probable that ou) is the original reading, not ou!pw.

Verse 14 has several different variants. The first one deals with a substitution of diw&kwn in for diw&kw. Only a handful of witnesses have this substitution (I Y pc). Perhaps somewhere along the line a scribe thought he should harmonize diw&kw with the surrounding passages (singular genitive participles are found in the preceding verse) with the result of a better flowing passage. However, the substitution does not seem to fit the context. Paul does not appear to be forming a list of participles in verse 13 which diw&kwn would fall into, but diw&kw is the main verb and is the central feature of the sentence. It is rendered, “Brothers, I do not count myself as having attained it; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.” To say, “I press on,” as opposed to, “pressing on,” fits the context in a much more suitable fashion; as a result, diw&kw seems to be the original word used by Paul.

The second variant struggles with the substitution of e)pi& in for ei)j. While this variant has some good support from D F G 075 and M, ei)j has earlier and more preferable support from P16.46 A B I 33. 81. 1175. 1881 Clement and Origen as well as from Y 365. 1241s and 2464. It seems that scribes along the way decided to make a grammatical improvement from ei)j to e)pi&. However, given the earlier witnesses, it is best not to make a substitution but keep ei)j as the original word used.

The third variant in verse 14 deals with what is apparantly a faulty word division, where a scribe must have combined the two words, a!nw klh&sewj, and formed a)negklhsi&aj. The former is rendered in context, “of the upward calling of God,” while the latter is rendered in context, “of ‘the deed of indemnity’ (Lidell and Scott 1940) of God.” It is possible that “upward calling” and “indemnity” are associated ideas, but it is not likely that they are synonymous. The substituted reading is supported by 1739v.1 Origen and Tertullian. However, to say that the prize is a)negklhsi&aj does not seem to fit the context as well as a!nw klh&sewj. Justification claims indemnity is a gift from God and it is a reality for the believer. Therefore, it does not make sense for Paul to say that this is what he presses on for because he already has it. Rather, Paul presses on for the a!nw klh&sewj, the upward calling, which either refers to the call to live in unity with all the believers in Christ Jesus and to be holy before God, or it refers to the final destination of the believer (heaven). For this reason, a!nw klh&sewj is more likely to be Paul’s original wording.

The last variant has several different options for the ending of verse 14. The first one substitutes tou~ qeou~ e)n Xristw~| I)hsou~ for simply qeou~ (P46 Y 075). The second one substitutes in e)n ku&riw| I)hsou~ Xristw|~ for tou~ qeou~ e)n Xristw~| I)hsou~ (F G). The third one reads tou~ qeou~ e)n ku&riw| I)hsou~ Xristw~| instead of tou~ qeou~ e)n Xristw~| I)hsou~ (D*). The final option is tou~ qeou~ e)n Xristw~| I)hsou~ (P(16: s 5 4).61vid A B D1 I 33. 1739. 1881 M).

The first option, qeou~, has very early support. However, it does not give a very difficult reading, and it seems to be too simplified. The second option, e)n ku&riw| I)hsou~ Xristw~|, is entirely different from the first and has some rather late support (9th Century). The third option, tou~ qeou~ e)n ku&riw| I)hsou~ Xristw~|, combined the first two options and has decent support as early as the 6th Century. However, the final option, tou~ qeou~ e)n Xristw~| I)hsou~, has very early support (as early as the 3rd Century), it has a more difficult reading, and it seems to account for the other three options. It may be possible, then, that the other options tried to simplify the fourth option. This longer, more difficult reading is perhaps the more original wording penned by Paul.

In verse 15, fronou~men is substituted in for fronw~men ( L 326. 1241s Clement). The latter verb is rendered “let us think” (1 pl. pres. act. subj.), and the former verb is rendered “we think” (1 pl. pres. act. ind.). It is possible that Paul used the indicative instead of the subjunctive, but the subjunctive best suits the context of this passage. Verse 15 could be rendered, “Let us, therefore, as many as are perfect, think these things,” or it could be rendered, “Therefore, as many as are perfect, we think these things.” However, in context, Paul is exhorting the Philippians to be unified in their thinking. Therefore, it is only fitting for him to use the hortatory subjunctive in order to exhort the Philippians to be unified in thinking. Therefore, the preferred reading and the more probable original reading is fronw~men.

Verse 16 has an interesting substitution. The word e)fqa&samen is taken out and e)fqa&sate is put in(P16vid samss). The substituted reading is second person plural (“you all”) while the first reading is first person plural (“we”). Being that Paul has already addressed himself earlier in the passage, he is most likely using the first person plural, including himself again here in verse 16: “however, for what we have attained.” Because the context of verse 15 puts Paul, the author, into the text, it is best to stick with the “we” language and not use the variant, hence e)fqa&samen is more likely to be the original reading.

At the end of verse 16 three different options are present: one, tw~| au)tw~| stoixei~n kano&ni, to\ au)to\ fronei~n is used instead of tw~| au)tw~| stoixei~n; two, to\ au)to\ fronei~n, tw~| au)tw~| (au)toi~ D*) kano&ni (–D* F G) stoixei~n (F G, stoixei~n kano&ni D2) is used in place of tw~| au)tw~| stoixei~n; last, tw~| au)tw~| stoixei~n is used. The first option is supported by 2 Y 075 and M, therefore giving it some substantial support. The second option has much support from D F G 81. 104. 365. (629). 1175. 1241s and (1881: to\ au)to\ fronei~n). The third option has the earliest and best support from P16.46 * A B Ivid 6. 33. 1739 and Augustine.

The first option is rendered “walk in the same rule, think the same thing,” and the second option is rendered, “think the same thing, walk in the same rule.” The third option is a bit simpler: “walk in the same thing.” It seems that the first two options tried to make the earlier option make more sense by tying in the idea of walking “in the same rule” or “in the same sphere.” It is as if Paul’s hortatory subjunctive from the verb, frona&w, is being called upon again here in verse 16 to exhort the Philippians to “think the same things.”

Because of the wide variety and the minute homogenous longer readings, it is “difficult to suppose that the shorter reading tw~| au)tw~| stoixei~n arose because of homoeoteleuton” (Metzger 1994, 549). In other words, the more likely explanation for these variants is not that the shorter reading was an accidental scribal error and the longer readings are the more original wordings, but the shorter reading is the more original wording and the longer readings are attempts at clarifying the shorter reading. Peter O’Brien argues that Paul is urging the Philippians “to march by the same rule that they have already followed, that is, in accordance with the guidelines for Christian living that he had imparted to them when he first came with the gospel, and which he consistantly passed on to his converts” (1991, 442). Therefore, the first two options do seem to fit into the context.

Although the longer readings fit into the context of verse 16, the shorter reading, according to Silva, “is the preferred critical reading; it is both shorter and more difficult, and thus it accounts for the Majority reading, which adds the words kano&ni, to\ au)to\ fronei~n (with some variations in the textual tradition)” (1992, 207). For Silva, if any of the longer readings “were regarded as original, there would be no reasonable explanation for the origin of the short reading (cf. Metzger)” (1992, 207). Therefore, keeping in mind the context of all these options, their own individual renderings, the variety of options, and all the above information, the shorter reading seems to be the original wording penned by Paul, as it is also the more difficult reading and accounts for all the other options.

Interestingly enough, this short passage has several different textual variants, all of which were studied carefully by those that helped assemble the Greek New Testament in order to help provide the Greek student of all levels the most accurate and original wording of the text. Although this study of the textual variants in Philippians 3:12-16 was in agreement with those that assembled the most recent Greek New Testament, there will be other times when it is up to the student to make a hard-pressed decision to determine the original wording from the author. It is an important task, for the heart of the passage rests upon the words which were truly written by the author. It is the responsibility of the Greek student to find these words amidst all the different variations in the witnesses today.


Lidell, Henry George and Scott, Robert. 1940. A Greek-English Lexicon [on-line]. Revised and

augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick

McKenzie. Oxford: Clarendon Press; available from; Internet; accessed December 2, 2004.


Metzger, Bruce M. 1994. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd ed.

Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.


O’Brien, Peter T. 1991. The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text.

Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


Silva, Moisés. 1992. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Philippians. Grand

Rapids: Baker Book House.