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Daniel Morris
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Philippians class
Paul's use of the εν preposition in his letters: one of the key elements to our relationship with Jesus
Published October 4th, 2021; Updated October 9th, 2021
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Greek Cross-Training, Class 10
Greek Cross-Training, Class 10
A study on Prepositions in Paul's Letters, Part 2: εν I Introduction This is a sequel to the “συν words in the letters of Paul” study I did before. There, I learnt that the “συν” preposition, when attached to various verbs or nouns (or as a stand-alone preposition with other nouns), is used in a myriad number of ways by the Apostle. It is a comprehensive term that spans the whole range of his epistles, and, (if this proves to be true), one may very well make the case that if he or she were looking for the central thread or point that runs through every single one of Paul’s letters, the implications flowing out of his usage of this preposition συν (which is, I would argue, that this preposition points to the Union of Christ to the believer, and also to a fraternal but equally spiritual union that exists between Paul and his co-workers, and lastly, by extension, any set of believers today who have the same heart for the Lord as Paul and his colleagues did) may point to the very heart of his epistles. But more on that later. Naturally, as I was sorting through all the συν references in Paul, I would also come up against the equally prevalent and equally famous εν preposition (used in εν Χριστω ). So, I wanted to know: what are the similarities and differences between these two prepositions in Paul’s mind? This time, I did not do the study by sorting them into verbs, nouns, and prepositions, since εν, unlike συν in my opinion, does not lend itself to an “easy transference of meaning” from preposition onto verb (that is, for words that signify participation in Christ himself). For example, if we take the word συνοικοδομεω (to build together) (Eph 2:22) we could easily separate the word out into “to build (οικοδομεω)” and just attach the συν to the front to add the force of the “with (or together).” With εν, although there were 80 or so instances of verbs beginning with this preposition in Paul’s letters, I do not think the εν can be attached onto the base verb so easily to create words of “theological significance” (in this case quite different from συν). For verbs that do not carry such theological weight, it is a different story. So, I left out verbs and concentrated instead on the roughly 120x from Romans to Philemon where εν is attached to χριστώ (Christ), αυτω (him) or the relative pronoun ω(whom). Then, I categorised (like last time) words that I believe are “theologically significant” in red (those indicating every single believer’s spiritual status in Christ), and those that are not significant in that way. After the lists, I then record my observations , giving some comparative notes between συν and εν in Paul’s letters Lastly, different from the last study with συν, since all the words in this study focus only on the preposition itself (not attached as a prefix), I looked within the verse in which the preposition is located as to what Paul exactly defines as “the content” of what is “in Christ/in Him/in whom”. For example, in Romans 3:24, the content of what is “in Christ” is “the redemption” (τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως). So for each of the references below, I list up all the varieties of content that are in this prepositional phrase. I also tried to group most similar concepts together into sub-groups. (Finally, as a side note, by my count the 3 groupings yielded search results of just over 120x from Romans to Philemon, but based on your own search parameters, there may be some minor differences.) II The Full List 1. “In Christ” words (εν Χριστω) Part 1: “Words Bolded in red: Theologically Significant words” : special terms indicating the specific aspects of the Spiritual Position every single believer has (irrespective of earthly circumstances) because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 1. Our Spiritual Position as seen in terms of “The Legal Realm” The Redemption : Ro 3:24 Righteousness, Sanctification, Redemption : 1 Co 1:30 Righteousness : 2 Co 5:21 , Phil 3:9 Justification : Gal 2:17 Release-Freedom : Ro 8:2 , Gal 2:4 No judgement : Ro 8:1 Forgiveness : Eph 4:32 2. Our Spiritual Position as seen in terms of “A United people group (no distinctions)” Death of the hostility : Eph 2:16 All (types of people) united : Gal 3:28 3. Our Spiritual Position as seen in terms of “The Final salvation in heaven” The Upward call : Phil 3:14 Hope : 1 Co 15:19 Salvation : 2 Ti 2:10 4. Our Spiritual Position as seen in terms of “The changes we see in ourselves on earth over time” (compared with our former lives) Encouragement : Phil 2:1 The Peace of God : Phil 4:7 Veil unlifted (implies transformation) : 2 Co 3:14 5. Our Spiritual Position as seen in terms of “What is True in Heaven that is already ours (more direct “heavenly” language)” (with 3 sub-categories) A. Original Blessings all restored All Spiritual Blessings : Eph 1:3 Raised and Seated : Eph 2:6 , Col 2:12 Eternal life : Ro 6:23 , Life : 2 Tim 1:1 Alive to God : Ro 6:11 Gracious riches : Eph 2:7 , Phil 4:19 Glory of the Father (we see it) : Eph 3:21 B. Our reconstitution as new people Sanctified (completely pure) : 1 Co 1:2 A New Creation : 2 Co 5:17 , Eph 2:10 , 2:15 C. Victory over all of Satan’s plans (including death) Merely fallen asleep (physical death seen from heaven’s side) : 1 Co 15:18 , 1 Th 4:16 The Unification (anticipates Revelation 21) : Eph 1:10 The victory : Col 2:15 6. Our Spiritual Position in terms of “our relationship with the Father” (very similar to 5 above, but this aspect stresses more our direct relationship with the Father , whereas 4 above is more about heaven as a general kingdom realm ) Reconciliation : 2 Co 5:19 Nearness to God : Eph 2:13 Boldness and access : Eph 3:12 Grace : 1 Co 1:4 , 2 Ti 2:1 Sons of God : Gal 3:26 The love of God : Ro 8:39 , 1 Ti 1:4 Faith (as an object) : Col 1:4 , 1 Ti 3:13 , 2 Ti 1:13 , 3:15 7. Our Spiritual Position in terms of “being brought into the Church (his body)” Temple building (dwelling of God) : Eph 2:21, 22 Many are One body : Ro 12:5 Churches themselves : Gal 1:22 , 1 Th 2:14 8. Our Spiritual Positions in terms of “having access to God’s Will” Will of God : 1 Th 5:18 Purpose of God : 2 Tim 1:9 9. Our Spiritual Position in terms of “fulfillment (ourselves) of the Old Covenant (and into the New)” The Blessing of Abraham : Gal 3:14 The promise : Eph 3:6 Part 2: “Less Theologically Significant words” : words that though still are very significant, refer not to our spiritual position (which is fixed), but rather to various processes of spiritual growth while still on earth, or also to other earthly (not necessarily negative) spheres/concepts Abstract nouns and adjectives Way of thinking: Phil 2:5 Way of living: Col 2:6 Way of life: 1 Co 4:17 Edification: Col 2:7 Weak (this one could be colored red, not sure): 2 Co 13:4 Speaking truth: Ro 9:1, 2 Co 2:17, 12:19 Maturity: Col 1:28 True pride (in ministry): Ro 15:17, 1 Co 15:31 Godly life: 2 Ti 3:12 Wise (pejorative, but true too!): 1 Co 4:10 Boldness: Philemon 8 Heart refreshment: Philemon 20 Imprisonment: Phil 1:13 Boasting (good): Phil 1:26, 3;3 Love (of Paul): 1 Co 16:24 Person-related nouns Guides: 1 Co 4:15 Father (Paul): 1 Co 4:15 A man himself: 2 Co 12:2 Servants: Phil 1:1 The faithful: Eph 1:1, Col 1:2 Fellow workers: Ro 16:3, 16:9 Fellow prisoners: Ro 16:7, Philemon 23 Approved people: Ro 16:10 Infants (pejorative): 1 Co 3:1 Verbs (hard to classify) To welcome people: Ro 16:2, Phil 4:21 2. "In him" (εν αυτω) Part 1: “Words bolded in red: theologically significant” words 1. Physical Creation and New Creation (not only about believers, but also the cosmos) The Unification : Eph 1:10 All Creation made : Col 1:16 The sustainability of Creation : Col 1:17 The Unification : Eph 1:10 2. Our spiritual position in terms of “Received Blessings and Revelation(wisdom)” The Yes : 2 Co 1:19 The promises : 2 Co 1:20 Mystery of his Will : Eph 1:9 Truth : Eph 4:21 Enriched : 1 Co 1:5 All treasures of wisdom : Col 2:3 Fullness of God the Father : Col 1:19 , 2:9 3. Our Spiritual position in terms of “Pre-time election” Chosen : Eph 1:4 Part 2: “Less theologically significant” words Bold declaration: Eph 6:20 Glorified (classified here due to future tense): 2 Th 1:12 3. In whom (εν ω) Part 1: “Words bolded in red: theologically significant” words 1. Our Spiritual Position as seen in terms of “The Legal Realm” The redemption-forgiveness : Eph 1:7 , Col 1:14 Inheritance : Eph 1:11 Sealed with the Spirit : Eph 1:13 , 4:30 Part 2: “Less theologically significant” words Faith (our belief) : Eph 1:13 Sufferer for: 2 Tim 2:9 III Observations based on the List Findings (from both studies) 1. Specific Observations 1. " εν" statistics Out of the 120 or so εν prepositions directly connected to Christ, 71 of them (individual Scripture verses) are “theologically significant”(granted, using my own personal criteria) , which is just close to 60% of all total occurrences. 2. " συν" statistics Out of the 180 or so συν words (from the last study on συν), only 57 of them (individual Scripture verses) are “theologically significant” (again, from my own criteria), which is about 32% of all total occurrences. 3. " εν Χριστω" vs other "εν phrase" statistics In terms of the spread of the actual word sets: εν χριστω (in Christ) has 88 occurrences (over 70%); εν αυτω (in him) has 15 occurrences (about 12%), and εν ω about 7 occurrences (about 6%). The remaining occurrences (of εν αυτω or εν ω) do not specifically refer to Christ. 4. Combination of "συν and εν" in single verses One very interesting thing is that Paul sometimes connects εν Χριστω with a συν word in the same verse. Romans 16:3 is such an example: “ Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus who risked their necks for my life. ” What this shows is that though this comes in the Final Greeting section of the letter, there are never any mere simple greetings for Paul. If συν and εν are the primary ways for Paul of expressing Union with Christ, then this “stacking” of both prepositions within a single verse shows just how much Union with Christ flows into even the most “mundane” sorts of tasks or words. This “stacking” also appears in Rom 9:1 , 16:7 , 16:9 , 2 Co 13:4 , Eph 2:6 , Eph 2:21 , Eph 2:22 , Eph 3:6 , Col 1:17 , Col 2:12 , 1 Th 2:14 (this verse less significant), Philemon 23 . 1 Co 5:4 is a similar example (though not included here in the list because the literal phrase εν Χριστω is not written, but separated by a few words). 5. Regarding nouns There are more nouns related to people with the preposition συν, but there are more abstract nouns with εν. 2. Broader Observations 1. Level of detail: A comparison between συν and εν The “theologically significant” εν words related to Christ go into far more specific details regarding the “specific aspects of our Spiritual Position”, in comparison with the preposition συν. For example, there are words like “righteousness, reconciliation, forgiveness, redemption, treasures, mystery, veil unlifted, will of God etc.” connected to εν that are not seen at all in the συν word groupings. This is not to say that the συν words do not detail specific aspects (they do). Rather, it is that the range of specific categories with the εν preposition is far greater and wide ranging compared to συν. 2. συν and εν: a comparison regarding nouns and verbs Another interesting observation is that the “theologically significant” συν verbs and bare preposition +word (συν) are not as detailed as the “theologically significant” συν nouns , but this is not the case with the εν “theologically significant” words. The εν words retain their detail at all levels (admittedly, it must be noted that the εν study here does not really cover verbs, because Paul’s use of εν prefixed to a verb does not usually involve verbs of “theological significance”, which is quite different from συν). So (for words of “theological significance” basically) εν as a word for Paul is used primarily as a bare preposition +word only, while συν for words of "theological significance" is used more as a prefix for theological verbs far more often (as stated above, Paul attaches εν to a verb far less, and even when he does so, I find basically no verbs that detail our Spiritual Position in Christ ). I am not sure why Paul uses "bare preposition +word" for εν to concentrate the rich theological detail while he uses verbs to do the same with συν, but one possible speculation is that εν as a word relates more to "Location or Sphere or Realm", while συν is just "accompaniment", and so perhaps one can bring in richer realities in a Sphere (like a rich Storehouse) than just when being added on to some already pre-established word (as with συν). Perhaps the idea is that the εν acts as a more suitable "container" in which to pour so many amazing things, more so than συν, but I am not completely sure. Yet, it remains true that the rich theological words are used in primarily different parts of speech, with regards to the two prepositions εν and συν. 3. Final Essential Differences between συν and εν Therefore, in making one last broad comparison between συν vs εν: εν is the broader, more comprehensive word regarding terms of “theological significance”(words that detail our position in Christ). This is true both in terms of “hits” (occurrences) and also regarding the number of different spiritual aspects the word encompasses. By comparison, συν is slightly less comprehensive regarding words of “theological significance”, both in having fewer occurrences, but also in going into less detail regarding our spiritual position in Christ (though it does definitely go into it, and often! I am speaking in relative terms only). So, this comparison by no means implies that Paul is not “theological” when using the word συν (he is quite often); rather, it is only when seen in light of εν that one see that the scope of συν is slightly smaller here. That being said, what συν does have that εν does not have is an ability to move between words of “spiritual reality” and words of “earthly realities or spheres” with far greater ease (one reason for this is that συν seems to attach to verbs for Paul far more easily than εν, and so we can see parallels between verbs and nouns with συν (an example being συνεργεω and συνεργοί (working together, fellow workers)) that we don’t see with εν. Such that, at an another level, συν is as equally comprehensive a term for Paul as εν is. So then, the ultimate difference is that εν is the more focused preposition for more “theological realities” over earthly realities (though not exclusively); συν is encompassing both spheres far more consistently (both spiritual and earthly). In a sense, I think both words can do the same kinds of things , but that their spheres and emphases, though overlapping, do differ slightly . Either way, I do think that these two words are the key two words that are used to represent the reality of “Union with Christ” in Paul’s writings. 4. Two other observations: on other NT writers and one last other preposition Other writers do not seem to have much “εν plus Christ” language, except for John, who has “εν αυτω” about 15x in 1 John (Union with Christ language). Also, a study of John’s Gospel should also reveal many insights into Union with Christ as well no doubt (although the phrase “in me” is likely to come up much more, given that Jesus refers to himself there, more than in the 3rd person, as Paul does). Lastly, coming back to Paul, one other final preposition of note in regards to Union with Christ is δια. δια shows up about 30x in reference to Christ in his letters, so it is one last preposition to fill out the entire picture of this truth. However, in terms of comprehensiveness (both in terms of the range of categories and the number of occurrences) εν and συν have much wider use for Paul than δια does. 5. On Paul’s Overall Central Theme in all of his Epistles Before going into these two short studies on συν and εν, I assumed that “justification” (δικαιοσύνη) was the central theme for Paul (at the theological level at least). However, even though I had always thought this, I also realized that justification is basically the centre only of Romans, Galatians, and a very short section of Philippians (and perhaps the end of 2 Corinthians 5 as well). Ultimately, that is a mere 3 out of a total 13 epistles. So, I still thought, what then about the rest? If justification truly is the central theme, then why doesn’t Paul work out justification in equal detail in the other letters? This has always been a big conundrum for me. Now, interestingly enough, in conjunction with these two studies on prepositions in these last few weeks, I have also been studying Romans Chapters 5-8 again (and this I believe God has been leading me to do both at the same time. There are no mere coincidences). And what interested me with Romans Chapters 5-8 is that, though of course Justification does of course play a very big role in this section (and the whole letter) , so does “Union with Christ” (using both συν/εν) at an equal, or perhaps even greater level, starting arguably from 5:11 and all the way up to 8:39. Such that, justification could then be seen as the base starting point for Paul that leads into Union with Christ. Of course, justification is vitally important, but I don’t think Paul wants Christians to stay there. I think Paul wants us to end rather at Union with Christ . And I think the rest of all his letters really bear this out. There, you see far more “Union with Christ” language than justification-related language (with Paul using his συν and εν prepositions truly comprehensively at every level to work out this truth), because I believe Union with Christ is his more central theme. In fact, Ephesians and Colossians especially show this, only very rarely using the “legal” category (that justification belongs to) and instead showing the Cosmic and Global implications of Union with Christ. I now do really believe that Union with Christ is the central thread that runs through basically every letter (not just Romans or Galatians) of Paul, and using the combination of εν and συν, he has enough flexibility to work out this reality in any sphere he wants, whether in heaven or on earth. Of course, Paul can express the reality of Union with Christ (he does) outside of using συν/εν, but I think that these are the two most fundamental means of that expression. IV Some final thoughts for further study To go beyond Paul, and into the rest of the NT, I think all of the following Spiritual Pictures reflect, in their own way, some aspect of Union with Christ, with even perhaps more concrete imagery than Paul. It will be great to study these in more detail in the future: Marriage The Body The Family (father-son-brother) The Tree (Vine) Building-temple Circumcision-Covenant Light Food-Bread-Drink Kingdom-Commonwealth Shepherd-sheep Priests/worshippers (and many others) All of these pictures are highly organic (natural) pictures, or highly personal pictures, which each show vital aspects of our Union with Jesus. To go back even farther with these pictures of Union , all of them really begin in the Old Testament, such that Paul’s emphasis of Union with Christ is in a sense just the end or culmination of what had already been building and growing ever since the start of the Bible (albeit done in Paul’s unique, profound, and very rigorous way).
Disclaimer: The opinions and conclusions expressed on this page are those of the author and may or may not accord with the positions of Biblearc or Bethlehem College & Seminary.