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Christian Friendship: John, Paul,

and the Philippians


JOHN FITZGERALD
Associate Professor of Religions Studies
University of Miami

Both John and Paul ground friendship in love, yet their conceptions
differ in important ways. This article provides a brief discussion
and comparison of their two understandings and concludes with a
treatment of Paul's use of friendship language in Philippians.
i or many contemporary Christians, both in North America and elsewhere, Christian
I
friendship is simply sociological, a matter of people who like one another and enjoy
ML
associating with one another at church and at various church-related functions.1 For
such people, Christian friends are "church friends" as opposed to "business friends" and friends
with whom they associate in other social settings. The same view of Christian friendship
was undoubtedly held by many Christians in the first century, and this has remained true
throughout the centuries. From a theological standpoint, however, Christian friendship is
much more than a particular sociological phenomenon.
The NT offers two basic conceptions of Christian friendship. The first is the Johannine
conception, which is the most explicit. The second is the Pauline conception, which is implicit
and thus not as widely recognized as the Johannine view. In what follows, I shall briefly dis
cuss both conceptions, pointing out certain similarities and differences. After doing so, I
shall discuss Paul's use of friendship language in his letter to the church at Philippi.2
THE JOHANNINE CONCEPTION OF CHRISTIAN

FRIENDSHIP

In the Gospel of John, during Jesus' farewell or testamentary discourse,3 he commands


his disciples to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).4 He elucidates the meaning
and implications of this commandment by saying,

1
The writing of this article began while I was a Visiting Research Scholar at North-West University in South
Africa and was completed upon my return to the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.
2
In this article, I draw freely upon my previously published discussions of both friendship and Philippians. See
John T. Fitzgerald, "Philippians, Epistle to the," ABD 2:318-26; "Philippians in the Light of Some Ancient Discussions
of Friendship," in Friendship, Flattery, and Frankness of Speech (ed. JohnT. Fitzgerald; NovTSup 82; Leiden: Brill,
1996), 141-60; "Friendship in the Greek World Prior to Aristotle," in Greco-Roman Perspectives on Friendship (ed.
John T. Fitzgerald; SBLRBS 34; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997), 13-34; "Friendship," in Encyclopedia of Early Christi
anity (ed. E. Ferguson; 2 vols.; 2d ed.; New York: Garland, 1997), 1:439-42; "Freundschaft: Neues Testament," RGG4
3:351-52; and "Paul and Friendship," in Paul in the Greco-Roman World (ed. J. Paul Sampley; Harrisburg: Trinity
Press International, 2003), 319-43. See also Wayne A. Meeks and John T. Fitzgerald, eds., The Writings of St. Paul:
Annotated Texts Reception, and Criticism (Norton Critical Edition; 2d ed.; New York: Norton, 2007), 87-94.
1
1 plan to discuss the Johannine conception of friendship more fully in The Last Will and Testament of Jesus:
Wills, Friendship, and the Fourth Gospel (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, forthcoming).
4
Unless otherwise indicated, I use the NRSV for all biblical texts.

JULY 2 0 0 7

Interpretation 285

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my
friends, if you do what I command you. I do not call you slaves any longer, because the slave
does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made
known to you eventhing that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:13-15)5
In making these statements, the Johannine Jesus draws on two ideas commonly associated
with friendship. The first is the idea that a friend is someone who cares so much for you that
she or he is willing to die in your stead.6 In keeping with this understanding, Jesus' death in
John is a death for his friends.
The second common idea is that a friend is someone who is so trustworthy that you may
confidently disclose to that individual your most guarded secrets." Here, however, there is
an important shift in the relationship of friendship to full disclosure. In the standard GrecoRoman understanding of friendship, revelation presupposes friendship. It is the same with
us today. In the normal course of affairs, no one discloses secrets or sensitive information to
casual acquaintances. A confidant is by definition someone who has earned one's confidence,
and it is only to such trusted or trustworthy individuals that full disclosure is made. Inasmuch
as the Fourth Gospel posits a longer period of association of Jesus and the disciples than do
the synoptic Gospels, one might have anticipated its use of the standard logic. That is, one
might have expected the Johannine Jesus to have said to his disciples, "We ha\^e been together
now for three years, and in this period of time, I have learned to trust you. We have become
friends, and inasmuch as we are now friends, I shall disclose to you everything that I have
heard from the Father." But Jesus in the Fourth Gospel does not do that, in part because the
disciples will immediately demonstrate that they are utterly untrustworthy, with Peter denying him (18:15-18, 25-27) and the others abandoning him (16:32). Instead, he reverses the
standard logic: "I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I
have heard from my Father" (15:15). Revelation here creates friendship rather than presupposes it. Jesus discloses everything to the disciples in spite of the fact that they are unreliable.
Stated theologically, it is grace (1:17) rather than demonstrated merit and reliability on the
disciples' part that creates friendship between Jesus and his disciples. By treating his followers
as friends, Jesus makes them precisely that. The disciples' continuing friendship with Jesus
depends on their willingness to follow his instructions (15:14), just as Jesus himself has kept
the Father's commandments and thus has abided in his love (15:10).
Friendship in antiquity was typically viewed as a relationship involving a small number
of individuals, from two or three people to a handful at most. But like the Epicureans, the
Johannine Christians expanded the use of the term "friend" (philos) to include the entire

5
6
7

1 have modified the NRSV translation by rendering doulos with "slave" rather than with "servant."
Plato, Symp. 179b; Seneca, Ep 9.10; Epictetus, Diss. 2.7.3; Lucan, Tox. 36.
Cicero, Amie. 22; Fin. 2.85; Seneca, Ep. 3.2-3; Pliny the Younger, Ep. 5.1.12.

286 Interpretation

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community. Thus, the author of 3 John can write to Gaius, "The friends greet you. Greet the
friends there, each by name" (3 John 15). Within the Johannine community, Jesus' death for
his friends became paradigmatic: "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us
and we ought to lay down our lives for one another" (1 John 3:16).
Friendship for John8 is grounded ultimately in love. "As the Father has loved me, so I
have lo\red you" (John 15:10). The disciples did not choose Jesus to be their friend, for the
choice was his and his alone. He did not honor the disciples with friendship because of their
demonstrated fidelity; it was an act of grace bestowed on them as his fallible followers. His
revelation to them created their friendship with him and thus with one another. That revelation simultaneously liberated them from slavery and elevated them to the status of being
Jesus' friends. Because of what Jesus had said and done, the Johnannine Christians were a
community of friends and could address each other as such. Precisely because friendship
was understood to be grounded in the love of Jesus for his disciples, it was contingent on
the Johannine community being and doing all that discipleship entails. Above all, that meant
walking in love, loving one another as he had loved them (John 15:12), even to the point of
death (1 John 3:16). Without discipleship, without abiding in love, friendship with Jesus
and with one another was simply impossible.

THE PAULINE CONCEPTION OF CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP


That Paul even had a conception of Christian friendship has been doubted as well as
denied. The reason for this skepticism lies in the fact that Paul never uses either the word
"friendship" (philia) or the word "friend" (philos). If one employs the presence of a particular lexical term as the sole criterion for whether a concept or a phenomenon associated with
that term is present in a given author, then one can easily deny that Paul had any conception of friendship. But in terms of method, it is extremely problematic to use the presence
of a specific Greek termespecially one that is not fully equivalent to its standard English
translationas the exclusive criterion for detecting the presence of a concept or for observing a phenomenon. To give but one example, Paul does not use the term "Christian," but he
surely has a concept of what is entailed by that term. The same is true with "friendship."
Paul is by no means the only writer to describe friendship without ever using the term
"friend." The deuteronomistic historian does the same thing in describing the relationship of
David and Jonathan. Like Paul, the deuteronomistic historian (or his source) uses conventional language associated with friendship to describe their relationship, such as the statement

8
1 use "John" here as a convenient way of designating the Johannine literature of the NT (the Gospel of John
and the Johannine Epistles). The term is not intended to indicate the actual authorship of this literature.

PHILIPPIANS

Interpretation 287

that Jonathan "loved David as his own soul" (1 Sam 18:3), instead of using one of the standard Hebrew terms for "friend." For that reason, the Greek word for "friend" (philos) and its
cognates (philia ["friendship"], philein ["to love"], etc.) do not occur in the Jonathan-David
section of the Septuagint, the best known Greek translation of the HB. But later Jewish writers
correctly recognized that the relationship of David and Jonathan was being described in terms
of friendship, and they did not hesitate to say that the two men were philoi?
Paul's letters constitute an interesting phenomenon in regard to friendship language.
On the one hand, as just noted, Paul and the Paulinists who write in his name never use the
standard Greek terms associated with the concept and practice of friendship.10 On the other
hand, both Paul and the Paulinists draw freely and repeatedly on the Greco-Roman topic
(topos) of friendship, adopting and adapting terms and expressions for use in the Pauline
churches. The apostle's use of friendship language in Philippians is particularly rich and will
be illustrated below. That should not be surprising, especially if the traditional view is correct,
namely, that Philippians is a single letter written from Rome in the early 60s of the first century C.E. The church at Philippi was Paul's first European church (Phil 4:15), established in
the year 49 or 50. If Paul is writing this letter in the early 60s, that means that he has had
more than a decade of association and continuing contact with the Christians in that city.
To state the matter in the form of one of Paul's favorite methods of argumentation ("from
the lesser to the greater"), if 1 Thessalonians, written no more than four or five months
after Paul's departure from the city of Thessalonica and less than a year after his establishment of the church there, contains friendship language, how much more might one anticipate such language in Philippians, written after an extended period of cordial contact?11
One of the factors that has contributed to an insufficient appreciation of friendship as
an aspect of Paul's thought is the modern dependence on Greek-English lexicons and similar dictionaries in other languages. Every student of the New Testament owes an immense
debt to the lexicographers who prepared these lexical treasures, especially those works associated with the names of Liddell, Scott, and Jones, with Moulton and Milligan, with Kittel
and Friedrich, with Spicq, and with Bauer and Danker.12 Yet even the best of these lexicons
has severe limitations. One important limitation is that they provide, in typical dictionary
fashion, only the Greek term itself, or, at best, its cognates and synonyms. Only rarely, if at
all, do they offer any indication of a word's "linkage group," that is, the terms and ideas with

See, for example, Josephus, A.J. 6.225, 228, 239; 7.111.


In a similar way, the canonical gospels never use the standard Greek term for miraclethauma ("wonder")of
Jesus' miracles, preferring other Greek words to narrate and describe Jesus' activity as a thaumaturge.
11
For the date of Paul's establishment of the church in Thessalonica and of 1 Thessalonians, as well as his use
of friendship language in that letter, see Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians (AB 32B; New York:
Doubleday, 2000).
12
Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (rev. Henry Stuart Jones; 9th ed. with a rev.
supp. ed. by P. G. W. Glare; Oxford: Clarendon, 1996); J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek
Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1930); Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary
of the New Testament (10 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-76); Celas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New
Testament (trans, and ed. J. D. Ernst; 3 vols.; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994); and Walter Bauer and Frederick Danker, A
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3d ed.; Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1999). On lexicons and lexicography, see John T. Fitzgerald, "Lexicons, New Testament," in Dictionary of
Biblical Interpretation (ed. John H. Hayes; 2 vols.; Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 2:62-66, and "Lexicography Theory
and Biblical Interpretation," in Methods of Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004), 49-53.
10

288 Interpretation

JULY 2 0 0 7

which a word is conceptually and traditionally linked. The term "linkage group" is borrowed
from the field of genetics, where it is used to describe the tendency of some genes to remain
linked and to be inherited as a unit, not individually. Therefore, a genetic linkage group is "a
group of hereditary characteristics which remain associated with one another through a
number of generations."13 When applied to concepts, the expression "linkage group" indicates
that particular terms and ideas have remained associated with one another through a num
ber of generations. This notion has the useful function of reminding us that antiquity's
notions about particular subjects were rarely, if ever, held in isolation. On the contrary, these
concepts were interconnected and transmitted from one generation to another collectively,
not individually or in isolation from one another. This is particularly true of concepts such
as friendship, which was intimately connected with other concepts and with various con
ventional practices.
From the very earliest period, friendship was closely linked to the practice of hospitality.
Although the ways in which hospitality was practiced changed over the centuries, its link
with friendship was never lost in antiquity.14 In the course of time, new ideas began to be
associated with friendship. One especially striking example of this phenomenon is "frankness
of speech" (parrhesia), which initially attained conceptual importance in Athenian political
life, where it indicated the right and responsibility of the citizen to voice his opinion fully,
frankly, and boldly. In that context, it had nothing at all to do with friendship. Later, however,
it acquired a new significance within the context of friendship. Within the latter, it indicated
the friend's responsibility to engage in "candid criticism," when the recipient of that sometimes
harsh language was either engaged in self-destructive behavior or practiced conduct that was
potentially or actually detrimental to the larger community. To give a modern example,
confronting an intoxicated friend who is about to drive home is not a pleasant task and risks
damaging the relationship, but the bottom line is that "friends don't let friends drive drunk."
Linkage groups are not confined to synonyms but also include antithetical concepts,
which function to sharpen the cultural understanding of what something is by indicating
what it is not. In the case of friendship, the quintessential antonyms were enmity (echthra)
and hatred (misthos). The association of these concepts was still very much alive in the first
century, as Jas 4:4 ("friendship with the world is enmity with God") shows. Similarly, in the
Gospel of John, the theme of friendship with Jesus (15:12-17) is followed by its axiomatic
corollary, the enmity of the world (15:18-25). To give another example, the link between
friendship (philia) and candor (parrhesia) led to the notion that flattery (kolakeia) was the
opposite of friendship. The basic premise of Plutarch's How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend

John A. Simpson and Edmund Werner, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary (20 vols.; 2d ed. Oxford: Clarendon,
1989), 8:996 (s.v. "linkage"), citing Chambers Technical Dictionary.
14
On the various types of ancient hospitality, see John T. Fitzgerald, "Hospitality," Dictionary of New Testament
Background (ed. Craig E\-ans and Stanley Porter; Downers Gro\e: InterVarsity, 2000), 522-25.

PHILIPPIANS

Interpretation 289

was that the friend would use frank speech whereas the flatterer, who wanted only to exploit
a purely utilitarian relationship, would seldom risk speaking candidly for fear that doing so
would jeopardize the feigned friendship.
There are many important terms and concepts that belong to ancient friendship's linkage group, some of which are obvious and others not quite so self-evident. In addition to
those already mentioned, they include koinbnia ("partnership," "fellowship," "participation"),
prokope ("progress"), pepoithesis ("trust," "confidence"), attestation (dokime and its cognates),
worth (axia and its cognates, such as axiopistos, "trustworthy"), self-sufficiency (autarkeia),
virtue (arete), good will (eunoia), equality (isotes), intimacy (synetheia), oneness of mind
(homonoia), peace (eirene), and reconciliation (katallage, diallage). Many of these occur in
Paul's letters, though each has been transformed to various degrees, and collectively they form
a broader basis for understanding Paul's view of Christian friendship.
Of these various terms in friendship's linkage group, the most important for our purposes
is "reconciliation," for this is the theological basis for Paul's understanding of friendship and
provides the key to his use of friendship language.15 Indeed, one of the primary meanings of
"reconciliation" is "the restoration of friendship." That this is the case has long been recognized by lexicographers. The fifth century CE. lexicographer Hesychius of Alexandria, for
example, gives philia ("friendship") as one of the two meanings of katallage ("reconciliation").
Similarly, he defines "irreconcilable" (adiallaktos) as "not to be made a friend of" (aphilitos)
and gives "to make a friend" (philon poiesai) as the meaning of the verb "to reconcile"
(apokatallaxai, the deutero-Pauline verb used to indicate reconciliation: Eph 2:16; Col 1:20,
22). These definitions were hardly innovations; on the contrary, Hesychius was simply giving
expression to meanings that had been self-evident and axiomatic for centuries in the Greekspeaking world. Modern lexicographers agree that this is the case and typically define both
katallassein and diallassein as "to change from enmity to friendship.16 Ceslas Spicq, for
instance, says unequivocally, "For pagans and Christians alike, reconciliation is the action of
reestablishing friendship between two persons who are on bad terms, to replace hostility
with peaceful relations."17 The same was true for Greek-speaking Jews. Philo, for example,
in discussing Genesis' account of Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers, says that "his
brothers will make with him covenants of reconciliation [katallakterious], changing their
hatred [misos] to friendship [philian], their ill-will to good-will" (Somn. 2.108).18
Given the widespread linkage between enmity, reconciliation, and friendship, Paul's
depiction of God's action in Christ is revealing. The apostle says that God acted "while we
were enemies" (echthroi), at a time of human hostility to the divine. That inimical relation-

15
See John T. Fitzgerald, "Paul and Paradigm Shifts: Reconciliation and Its Linkage Group," in Paul Beyond the
Judaism/Hellenism Divide (ed. Troels Engberg-Pedersen; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 241-62, 316-25.
For reconciliation and friendship, see also "Paul and Friendship," 334-37.
16
See, for instance, LSJ 401 (s.v. diallasso, III) and 899 (s.v. katallass, II); George Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek
Lexicon of the New Testament (3d ed.; Edinburgh: & Clark, 1937), 109 (s.v. diallassb, 2), and 236 (s.v. katallass);
BDAG 521 (s.v. katallass).
17
Spicq, TLNT, 2:262.
18
All translations of non-biblical texts are from the Loeb Classical Library, though these have been occasionally
adapted or modified.

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ship has now been completely obliterated, for "we were reconciled [katellagemen] to God
through the death of his son" (Rom 5:10). This transformation is paradigmatically the case
in regard to Paul himself, profoundly changed from adversary to envoy by the action of
"God, who reconciled [katallaxantos] us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry
of reconciliation [katallages]" (2 Cor 5:18).
Inherent in the use of such terminology is the implication that God has transformed the
hostile Paul into his friend and, moreover, has entrusted him with the task of bringing God's
gift of friendship to others. The terms of reconciliation that God offers are, to use the language of the Alban leader Fufetius and the Roman king Tullus in their own pact of reconciliation and friendship, "the best and the most magnanimous" (Dionysius of Halicarnassus,
Rom. ant. 3.8.4; 3.9.2), for God grants a blanket amnesty to all who will accept the offer of
friendship, "not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor 5:19). To be reconciled to God
(2 Cor 5:20) means concretely to become the friend of God. Of all the unequal friendships
of the Greco-Roman world, friendship with God was the most extreme and important
example (see Jas 2:23).
In establishing friendship with the world, both God and Christ have gone far beyond
what had been previously contemplated. To emphasize this fact, Paul invokes the idea
common in theory but rare in practicethat friends are willing to die for each other (John
15:13). "Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous personthough perhaps for a good
person someone might actually dare to die" (Rom 5:7). The highest ideals of human friendship thus pale in comparison to what God has done through Christ's death for ungodly,
hostile sinners (5:6, 8,10). This extraordinary feat is evidence to Paul of God's unfathomable
love (5:8; cf. Rom 11:33-36, esp. v. 35), which is the ultimate ground of human friendship
with the divine.
Only a few modern translators have endeavored to convey to readers the idea that reconciliation implies not simply the termination of hatred and hostility but also the establishment
or restoration of friendship, and thus the inception or return of affection. Of these few
translators, the best known is William Barclay, whose translation of 2 Cor 5:18-20 correctly
conveys the theological implications of Paul's thought:
And the whole process is due to the action of God, who through Christ turned our enmity
to himself into friendship, and who gave us the task of helping others to accept that friendship. The fact is that God was acting in Christ to turn the world's enmity to himself into
friendship, that he was not holding men's sins against them, and that he placed upon us the

PHILIPPIANS

Interpretation 291

privilege of taking to men who are hostile to him the offer of his friendship. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors. It is as if God was making his appeal to you through us. As the
representatives of Christ we appeal to you to accept the offer of friendship that God is making to you.19

THE JOHANNINE AND PAULINE CONCEPTIONS OF FRIENDSHIP:


SOME COMPARISONS
As the preceding comments suggest, both John and Paul have a conception of Christian
friendship, and their perspective is sometimes similar or identical. Both, for instance, ground
friendship ultimately in love, and this foundation would not have surprised any Greek or
Latin speaker in the ancient world. In both Greek and Latin, the words for love and friendship are cognates, with the former often seen as the fount of the latter. As Cicero, for instance,
says, "It is love [amor], from which the word 'friendship' [amicitia] is derived, that leads to the
establishment of good will" (Amie. 26). The love that forms the basis of the Christian understanding of friendship is, to be sure, exceptional, but it is intimately related to a common
Greco-Roman understanding of friendship. Indeed, it was that linkage that allowed the
import of the Christian message to be grasped and its radical implications proclaimed.
In addition to similarities between John and Paul, there are some significant differences.
Owing to limitations of space, I shall mention here only four important differences.
First, the Johannine literature of the NT reflects no hesitancy in using the term "friendship" to describe both the relation of Christ to his disciples and the relationship of the disciples to one another. The Johannine community traced its use of the term back to Jesus
himself, who, on the night before he died, declared his disciples his friends. Implicit in that
declaration was the disciples' friendship with one another. The community's fondness for
the term was doubtless enhanced by the hostility that it experienced from the world. The
traditional sharp dichotomy between friendship and enmity provided language that helped
members of this community makes sense of their own religious experience, and it also
simultaneously contributed to their sectarianism.
Paul, by contrast, eschews the actual term "friendship," but unhesitatingly uses language
from the ancient topic of friendship as well as terms that belong to friendship's linkage group.
He prefers using kinship language, repeatedly invoking God as "Father" and fellow believers
as "brothers and sisters." Yet the latter statement is somewhat misleading, for kinship was
widely recognized as a type of philia, and kinship terms were often used to characterize

19

William Barclay, The New Testament: A New Translation (2 vols.; London: Collins, 1968-69), 2:72. See also
Barclay's New Testament Words (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), 164-68.

292 Interpretation

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friendship rather than to indicate lineage or biological relationship. Therefore, it is more accurate to say that the apostle's use of affect-laden language is much more common with kinship
terms than with friendship proper. And, of course, Paul makes no attempt to trace Christian
friendship back to the historical Jesus, though he does transmit to his churches the tradition
of the eucharistie remembrance of Jesus (1 Cor 11:24-25). In antiquity, preserving and perpetuating the memory of someone was quintessentially the obligation of family and friends,
and the celebration of the Eucharist provided an occasion to do so.
Second, by means of the etiological narrative of John 15, the author of the Fourth Gospel
links Christian friendship with discipleship, and he views that friendship as created by Jesus'
full disclosure to his followers of what he had heard from the Father (John 15:15). By treating
his discipleshere termed "slaves" (douloi)as his friends, Jesus makes them his friends. By
an act of testamentary manumission, he not only emancipates his disciple-"slaves" but elevates
them to friendship with himself. Paul, by contrast, does not even use the word "disciple" in
his letters and links Christian friendship to God's reconciliatio inimicorum ("reconciliation
of enemies"), which forms a strong corollary to his more famous and controversial assertion
of God's iustificatio impiorum ("justification of the impious").
Third, like the hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," John speaks in terms of the
disciples being the friends of Jesus. That is, he does not refer to the disciples as "the Father's
friends" or as the "friends of God." Paul, on the other hand, refers to God reconciling people
unto himself. Thus, implicitly, the reconciled are the friends of God, with Jesus as the one
who makes such a relationship possible.
Fourth, the death of Jesus plays a crucial role in both conceptions of friendship, yet there
is a striking difference. For Paul, it is in and through Christ's death that God has reconciled
Christ-believers and made them his friends. Christian friendship is thus inextricably linked to
God's reconciling act, with Christ's death forming the basis for both reconciliation and friendship with God and with one another. Although the death of Jesus is important in Johannine
thought, it does not form the basis for friendship with Jesus. The disciples are already Jesus'
friends when he goes to the cross for them (John 15:15). In short, for the Gospel of John,
Jesus' crucifixion is a death for his friends (John 15:13), who already have been cleansed by
Jesus' words (15:3; see also 13:10). For Paul, by contrast, Jesus' death is a death for the
ungodly, for sinners, for enemies (Rom 5:6, 8,10), not for friends. But it is the event that
makes friendship with the divine possible.

PHILIPPIANS

Interpretation 293

PAUL'S USE OF FRIENDSHIP LANGUAGE IN PHILIPPIANS


Paul uses friendship language throughout his letter to the church at Philippi, especially in
chs. 1-2 and 4. For reasons of space, a full inventory cannot be given here and a few examples
must suffice. To begin with, one of the most common descriptions of friendship in the Greek
world is that friends are of "one soul" (mia pysche), a depiction that was already a commonplace at the time of Aristotle (Eth. Nie. 9.8.2) and continued to be used proverbially thereafter (e.g., Plutarch, Amie. mult. 96f). Basic to this characterization of friendship is the belief
that a friend is a person's second self or alter ego. Friends are thus so similar that they are,
as it were, two bodies sharing one soul (Diogenes Laertius 5.20). Paul uses this designation
of friendship in 1:27, when he exhorts the Philippians to strive side by side "with one soul." In
addition to using the typical phrase, he also employs two variants that reflect the same or
similar conception. One of these appears in the apostle's description of Timothy in 2:20,
when he says that he has no one who is as much "of equal soul" (isopsychos) as his young
co-worker. This description combines the "one soul" definition of friendship with another
ancient definition, viz., that "friendship is equality" (isotes).20 Paul's second variation of the
"one soul"/"equal soul" description of friends appears in 2:2, where he asks the Philippians
to be "fellow souls" (sympsychoi), a designation that was culturally similar to our characterization of close friends as "soul brothers." Finally, in addition to Paul's "one soul" exhortation,
he also asks the Philippians in 1:27 to stand (together) "in one spirit."
Closely related to the "one soul" characterization is the common affirmation that friends
"think the same thing."21 Paul uses it twice in Philippians. The first time is in 2:2, where he
exhorts all the Philippians to think the same. The second is in 4:2, where he asks this of
Euodia and Syntyche. In both cases, he is using the cultural idiom to exhort the Philippians
in general, and Euodia and Syntyche in particular, to be friends. In addition to these two
instances, Paul also uses a close variant in 2:2, where he exhorts the Philippians to think "one
thing." All three instances illustrate Plato's insistence that friendship is a matter of homonoia,
of being of the same mind and thus in harmony and concord (Ale. maj. 126-127).22
Another ancient understanding of friendship is reflected in the widespread sentiment
that "friends have all things in common."23 In keeping with that sentiment, Aristotle had
argued that koinbnia ("commonality," "partnership") was essential to all forms of friendship
(Eth. Nie. 8.12.1). Of all the terms that Paul draws from friendship's linkage group, he uses
koinbnia the most frequently in Philippians, and his emphasis on sharing should be seen, at
least in part, in light of this term's connection with friendship. Paul mentions the term for the

20

This definition is mentioned together with the "one soul" saying in Aristotle, Eth. Nie. 9.8.2 and Eth. Eud. 7.6.9.
Cicero, Amie. 15; Plane. 5; Gregory of Nazianzus, De sua vita 236-237.
22
See also Dio Chrysostom, Or. 34.20; Epicurus, SV61.
23
Plato, Ly 207c; Aristotle, Eth. Nie. 8.9.1-2; Cicero, Off. 1.51; Diogenes Laertius 8.10. It should be noted that
Acts' depiction of the Jerusalem church as having "all things in common" (2:44; 4:32) was intended to depict it as a
community of friends.
21

294 Interpretation

JULY 2 0 0 7

first time in his thanksgiving in 1:5, when he expresses his gratitude for the Philippians'
koinbnia in the gospel. This is the first of some six times that he uses that word or one of its
cognates in the letter (1:5, 7; 2:2; 3:10; 4:14-15). Paul's emphasis on sharing something in
common and engaging in mutual enterprises is not restricted, however, to his use of koinoslanguage. It is also reflected in his usesome thirteen timesof compounds formed with
the prefix "with" (syn: 1:7, 27; 2:17-18, 25; 3:10,17; 4:3, 14). Of particular interest in this
regard is Paul's statement concerning mutual joy in 2:18-19 (see also 1:4, 18, 25; 2:2, 28-29;
3:1; 4:1,4,10). Friends were expected to share both joy and sorrow, to rejoice with those who
rejoice and weep with those who weep, as Paul himself says elsewhere (Rom 12:15). Or, as
Aristotle says, "It is characteristic of a friend to rejoice for no other reason than because the
other is rejoicing" (Eth. Eud. 7.6.9). Paul's concern with sharing is also reflected in his use of
words such as "same" (autos). For instance, he not only exhorts the Philippians to have the
same love (2:2), but also affirms that they share the same struggle as he (1:30).
Inasmuch as Paul's most concentrated and sustained use of friendship language occurs
in 4:10-20, it will be useful to conclude this discussion by focusing on this passage.24 Paul
begins by conveying his joy at the Philippians' expression of concern for him (4:10). Such
concern was not only a quintessential element of the care friends were expected to exercise
for one another but also one of the chief practical reasons why having many friends was
viewed as problematic. Paul uses the imperfect tense of the verb phronein ("you were concerned") to assert that the Philippians' concern was longstanding, but he switches to the
aorist tense of another verb (anathallein, "to bloom again") to express his joy at its most
recent manifestation.
In keeping with the cultural penchant to use agricultural and horticultural imagery to
describe both friendship and its sendees, he says that their concern has now "bloomed again"
(anethalete). Later in this pericope (4:17), he uses the word "fruit" (karpon), another horticultural image, to describe the interest that accrues to their "account" (4:17). Like other
writers, Paul thus mixes agricultural and commercial language when discussing friendship.
A second instance of this commercial terminology occurs in 4:15, where he uses the language
of credits and debits, of "giving and receiving," to describe his interaction with his friends at
Philippi. Since the time of Aristotle, friendship had been commonly viewed as an exchange
relationship (e.g., Cicero, Amie. 26, 58), and Paul's use of this terminology reflects the reciprocal nature of the relationship that he enjoys with the Philippians.
Indeed, Paul points to the inaugural period of their friendship by recalling how they

24
Chapter three is replete with terms and techniques (such as invective [3:2] and ridicule [3:2,19]) that constitute the opposite of friendship, namely, enmity (3:18). On friendship terminology (such as "true yokefellow" [4:2])
and techniques in 4:1-9, see Fitzgerald, "Philippians in the Light of Some Ancient Discussions of Friendship,"
148-56.

PHILIPPIANS

Interpretation 295

already had sent similar gifts to him in Thessalonica, doing so on more than one occasion
(4:15-16). The Philippians' partnership (koinbnia) with him is not only unique (4:15), but
also has stood the test of time, the mark of any true friendship. It is true that there had been
no recent gesture by the Philippians, but far from reproaching them for any neglect on their
part (which would have violated the ethics of friendship), he graciously notes that until now
they had no opportunity (ekaireisthe) to express their care (4:10). By mentioning their lack
of opportunity, he invokes one of the widely recognized reasons for a friend to be slow in
repaying a benefit.25
The concentration of friendship terms in 4:10 leads in 4:11 to Paul's denial of need and
assertion of self-sufficiency. Both of these concepts played a significant role in discussions of
friendship. Need was a widely viewed ground of friendship, connected especially with utilitarian kinds of friendships. But many philosophers, such as Aristotle and the Stoics, denied
that it was the basis for true friendship, reserving that distinction for virtue (4:8). In denying
that he is in need, Paul is rejecting any suggestion that his friendship with the Philippians is
utilitarian, which is how some of the Christ-believers in Philippi quite likely construed their
relationship with the apostle. In asserting his self-sufficiency, he broaches the issue of how
philia is related to autarkeia ("self-sufficiency"), a concept that had been firmly linked to
friendship since the time of Aristotle. Both were widely lauded as moral values, yet their
precise relation was problematic because they were viewed as logically in tension with each
other. Paul follows in the train of those philosophers (such as Cicero and Seneca) who wanted
to assert both friendship and self-sufficiency, but he departs from them by grounding both
phenomena in God, the former implicitly and the latter explicitly.
He does so in 4:12 by means of a catalog of vicissitudes, a form of the peristasis catalog
(catalog of hardships) that gives both favorable and unfavorable circumstances in life and
indicates how an individual responds to drastically different situations as well as to fluctuation
in fortune itself.26 The theme of vicissitude looms large in discussions of friendship, being
closely tied to the conviction that friends share one another's lives. To do so necessarily entails
sharing each other's joys and sorrows, the inevitable ups and downs of human existence.
Friends are important in times of prosperity, for they sweeten life and make it more pleasant.
Yet they are crucial in times of adversity. Indeed, friendship, like virtue, is particularly associated with adversity. Prosperity tends to hide the worthless, the lucky, and the charlatan,
but adversity lifts the veil and reveals all such people for what and who they are. Therefore,
just as adversity is virtue's opportunity, so is the plight of a friend. Adverse circumstances

25
See, for instance, Seneca, Ben. 4.40.3: "I am not responsible for the delay if I lack either the opportunity or
the means."
26
On the peristasis catalog, see John T. Fitzgerald, Cracks in an Earthen Vessel: An Examination of the Catalogues
of Hardships in the Corinthian Correspondence (SBLDS 99; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988).

296 Interpretation

JULY 2 0 0 7

constitute a testof the individual's character and of the friend's loyalty. The base person is
crushed by adversity and the feckless friend leaves one in the lurch, but the person of integrity
stands firm in the midst of life'sfierceststorms and the genuine friend loyally shares another's
dangers and humiliations. Valerius Maximus is thus typical of ancient thought when he says,
"Truly loyal friends are most recognized in time of trouble, when whatever is rendered proceeds entirely from steady good will" (4.7 praef.).
That the Philippians have not abandoned Paul in the time of his affliction (4:14; cf.
1:12-19) is thus glowing proof of the reality of their friendship with the apostle and their continuing joint participation (koinbnia) with him in the gospel. Yet it is not to his friends in
Philippi that Paul attributes his capacity to experience the vicissitudes of life. He rejoices in
their loyalty and praises them for having acted appropriately (4:14), but he denies that their
gift is what sustains him and that their relationship is what empowers him. The enabling
power he attributes to God (4:13; cf. l:19d), who uses godly wealth to satisfy both Paul's own
need and that of his Philippian friends (4:19). In short, Paul here (as well as elsewhere)
attributes to God (or Christ) the role that others assign to virtue and human friendship. But
that was a natural step for him to take as a former foe now transformed into a friend of the
divine.

CONCLUSION
As the preceding discussion indicates, the idea of friendship is not unique to lohn, but
also plays an important role in Paul's theology. Particularly important is Paul's conception
of God as friend, which underlies various passages in his correspondence. It plays a part in
his depiction of God's absolute fidelity. Friends, as Aristotle says, to do not abandon (me
egkataleipontas) each other (Rhet. 2.4.26), especially in adversity. Similarly, Paul asserts in
his peristasis catalog of 2 Cor 4 that he has not been left in the lurch (ouk egkataleipomenoi),
namely, by God, who is his faithful divine friend (2 Cor 4:9). Even Paul's paradoxical style
here and in 2 Cor 6 recalls one of Cicero's descriptions of the paradoxes of friendship:
"Wherefore friends, though absent, are at hand; though in need, yet abound; though weak,
are strong; andharder saying stillthough dead, are yet alive" (Amie. 23). That Paul was
still strong whenever he was weak (2 Cor 12:10) was due to God's friendship with him.

^ s
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