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Was the Apostle Paul Married?

(Knowing Greek, Accepting the Bible’s Teachings, and Bible Reference Works)

Part One

By Gary F. Zeolla

      And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow [Paul’s wife], help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life (Philippians 4:3; KJV).

 

      The preceding is how a friend on Facebook posted this verse. He of course added the bracketed words, claiming “true yokefellow” refers to Paul’s wife. But does it? This two-part article will answer that question. It’s not a very important question, but it illustrates three very important concepts. That is why it will take two parts to fully answer it.

 

What is Meant by “true yokefellow?”

 

      The Greek noun for “yokefellow” is syzygus. It is masculine, as is the adjective (“true”) preceding it. I render the phrase  as “genuine fellow-worker [or, loyal Syzygus]” in my Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament.

 

      Yes, I ask you also, genuine fellow-worker [or, loyal Syzygus], be assisting these [women] who strove together with me in the Gospel, with Clement also, and the others, my co-workers, whose names [are] in [the] Scroll of Life (ALT3).

 

      I give the possibility the noun is a proper name, not a general term. It is hard to know for sure, as syzygus only occurs here in the NT. The lexical info is as follows:

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σύζυγε adjective vocative masculine singular no degree from σύζυγος  

BYZ Phi 4:3 Notes: 

1 N σύζυγε γνήσιε > γνήσιε σύζυγε

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Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon 

[Fri] σύζυγος, ον (also σύνζυγος) literally yoked together; figuratively and substantivally in PH 4.3 γνήσιε σύζυγε genuine fellow worker, true comrade; some see a proper noun Syzygus here, but the adjectival qualifier makes this unlikely

σύζυγε AP-VM-S σύζυγος

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Gingrich, Greek NT Lexicon (GIN) 

[GING] σύζυγος
σύζυγος, ου, comrade, lit. ‘yoke fellow’ Phil 4:3.* [syzygy] [pg 188]

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Danker, Greek NT Lexicon (DAN) 

[DANK] σύζυγος
σύζυγος,ου,[συζεύγνυμι; ‘yokefellow’] ‘one who shares burdens’, burden-bearer,close associate Phil 4:3; cp. συζεύγνυμι. (Copied from BibleWorks).

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      The Expositors Bible Commentary argues for the proper name being correct. In doing so, it makes an important point in this regard:

 

      A proper name is to be expected among the proper names given before (Euodia, Syntyche) and after (Clement). To regard the term as a reference to Paul’s wife (!) or some other woman runs afoul of the masculine adjective (gynesie, “loyal”). (Volume 11 [now 12]; p.150).

 

      Fritz Reinecker and Cleon Rogers write similarly in their  Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament about the noun:

 

      Syzygus. Yoked together, yokefellow, voc[ative]. masc[uline]. Sing[ular]. Some view this as a proper name, i.e., Synzygus (p. 560).

 

John MacArthur writes in his MacArthur Study Bible,:

      It is possible this person is unnamed, but it is best to take the Gr. word Syzygus translated “companion” as a proper name. He was likely one of the church elders (1:1) (p.1577).

 

      Since both a general term and a proper name are possible, I give both in the ALT. But either way, there is no sense of “spouse” in the word. And with both the noun and its adjective being masculine, it is not even referring to a woman. That is why MacArthur uses “he” to refer to this person.

     

      Jameson Faucet and Brown make this clear in their commentary:

true yoke-fellow — yoked with me in the same Gospel yoke (Matt. 11:29, 30; compare 1 Tim. 5:17, 18). Either Timothy, Silas (Acts 15:40; 16:19, at Philippi), or the chief bishop of Philippi. Or else the Greek, “Sunzugus,” or “Synzygus,” is a proper name: “Who art truly, as thy name means, a yoke-fellow.” Certainly not Paul’s wife, as 1 Cor. 9:5 implies he had none (Jameson Faucet and Brown, pp.5379-80).

 

      Just this information shows “yokefellow” cannot be referring to Paul’s wife. But where does that idea come from?

 

2Corinthians 6:14a

 

      The idea “yokefellow” in Phil 4:3 is referring to Paul’s wife comes from the first half of 2Corinthians 6:14, “Stop being unequally yoked [fig., mismatched] with unbelievers” (ALT3). The word “yoke” appearing in both verses seems to connect them. Moreover, most today take 2Cor 6:14a as referring to marriage, that a believer should not marry an unbeliever. Thus, they conclude, Paul is referring to his wife in Phil 4:3 due to him using a form of “yoke” in both verses.

      However, in 2Cor 6:14, Paul does not mention marriage, neither in that verse nor in the wider context. In context, the verse is referring to not engaging in pagan religious festivals with idol-worshipping unbelievers. That is seen when you look at the rest of the paragraph that verse 14a begins.

 

            14Stop being unequally yoked [fig., mismatched] with unbelievers; for what partnership [is there] for righteousness and lawlessness? And what fellowship [is there] for light with darkness? 15And what agreement [or common ground] [is there for] Christ with Belial? [i.e., the devil] Or what part [is there for] a believer with an unbeliever? [fig., what do a believer and an unbeliever have in common?] 16And what harmony [is there for the] temple of God with idols? (2Cvor 6:14-16; ALT3).

 

      However, it is true verse 14 could be applied to marriage and other kinds of relationships, such as a business partnership. Consider the following comments by older Bible commentators:

 

unequally yoked — “yoked with one alien in spirit.” The image is from the symbolical precept of the law (Lev. 19:19), “Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind”; or the precept (Deut. 22:10), “Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together.” Compare Deut. 7:3, forbidding marriages with the heathen; also 1 Cor. 7:39. The believer and unbeliever are utterly heterogeneous. Too close intercourse with unbelievers in other relations also is included (2Cor. 6:16; 1Cor 8:10; 10:14). (Jameson Faucet and Brown, p. 5115).

 

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers - This is a military term: keep in your own ranks; do not leave the Christian community to join in that of the heathens. The verb ἑτεροζυγειν signifies to leave one's own rank, place, or order, and go into another; and here it must signify not only that they should not associate with the Gentiles in their idolatrous feasts, but that they should not apostatize from Christianity; and the questions which follow show that there was a sort of fellowship that some of the Christians had formed with the heathens which was both wicked and absurd, and if not speedily checked would infallibly lead to final apostasy.

      Some apply this exhortation to pious persons marrying with those who are not decidedly religious, and converted to God. That the exhortation may be thus applied I grant; but it is certainly not the meaning of the apostle in this place. (Adam Clarke's Bible Commentary, p. 8962).

 

Be not yoked As if regaining his authority, he now reproves them more freely, because they associated with unbelievers, as partakers with them in outward idolatry. For he has exhorted them to show themselves docile to him as to a father: he now, in accordance with the rights that belong to him, reproves the fault into which they had fallen.

      Now we mentioned in the former epistle what this fault was; for, as they imagined that there was nothing that was unlawful for them in outward things, they defiled themselves with wicked superstitions without any reserve. For in frequenting the banquets of unbelievers, they participated along with them in profane and impure rites, and while they sinned grievously, they nevertheless thought themselves innocent.

      On this account Paul inveighs here against outward idolatry, and exhorts Christians to stand aloof from it, and have no connection with it. He begins, however, with a general statement, with the view of coming down from that to a particular instance, for to be yoked with unbelievers means nothing less than to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, ( Ephesians 5:11 ,) and to hold out the hand to them (610) in token of agreement.

      Many are of opinion that he speaks of marriage, but the context clearly shows that they are mistaken. The word that Paul makes use of means — to be connected together in drawing the same yoke. It is a metaphor taken from oxen or horses, which require to walk at the same pace, and to act together in the same work, when fastened under one yoke.

      When, therefore, he prohibits us from having partnership with unbelievers in drawing the same yoke, he means simply this, that we should have no fellowship with them in their pollutions. For one sun shines upon us, we eat of the same bread, we breathe the same air, and we cannot altogether refrain from intercourse with them; but Paul speaks of the yoke of impiety, that is, of participation in works, in which Christians cannot lawfully have fellowship.

      On this principle marriage will also be prohibited, inasmuch as it is a snare, by which both men and women are entangled into an agreement with impiety; but what I mean is simply this, that Paul’s doctrine is of too general a nature to be restricted to marriage exclusively, for he is discoursing here as to the shunning of idolatry, on which account, also, we are prohibited from contracting marriages with the wicked Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible, pp. 12089-12090).

 

      Thus, if there is a connection between 2Cor 6:14 and Phil 4:3, it is that Paul was in any kind of relationship with the “yokefellow” not necessarily that he was married to the person.

      But it gets even worse for the “Paul’s wife” crowd. There is no grammatical connection between the Greek particle in 2Cor 6:14 and the Greek noun in Phil 4:3. In other words, they are completely different Greek words. It is only in English that there appears to be a connection, due to “yoke” appearing in some translations in both places. But there is no such connection in the Greek text.

      That is why the ALT does not have “yokefellow” but “fellow-worker” in Phil 4:3. Since they are completely different Greek words, completely different English words are used in 2Cor 6:14 versus Phil 4:3 in the ALT. That is also why most modern-day versions have “true companion” or something similar in Phil 4:3, with no mention of “yoke.”

 

Romans 16:1,7

 

      Now I commend to you* Phoebe our sister, being a servant [or, deaconess] of the assembly [or, church], the [one] in Cenchrea (Romans 16:1l; ALT3).

 

            7Greet Andronicus and Junia [Gr., feminine] my relatives [or, close companions] and my fellow-prisoners, who are well-known by [or, outstanding among] the apostles, who also have been in Christ before me (Romans 16:7; ALT3).

 

      Someone  posted on this Facebook thread that Romans 16:1,7 were other examples of a masculine noun referring to a female.

      In response, I first noted that in Phil 4:3, it is not just a masculine noun but the accompanying adjective which are masculine. That is not the case with these two verses. But there are other reasons they do not correspond to Phil 4:3,

      In that initial response, I was thinking in the first verse that “servant” was masculine, and that is what the poster was referring to. But when I checked the Greek text, that word is feminine, as are all the rest of the nouns in the verse. As such, I have no idea why he cited that verse.

      In the  second verse, Andronicus is masculine, but Junia is feminine, as indicated in the ALT. That is important due to the mention of “the apostles.” Some claim Paul is calling Junia an apostle. That debate is outside the scope of this article, but I address it in my new Scripture Workbook: Third Edition, in Scripture Study #35, “Church Issues.”

      But here, I think the poster was referring to “relatives” and “fellow-prisoners” being masculine. However, in Greek, if there is a mixed group of men and women, or a man and a woman as here, then the plural masculine is always used, as it is here. As one of my Greek professors at Denver Seminary put it, “If you have a group of 99 women and one man, in Greek, you use a masculine plural noun to refer to the group.”

      However, there is no correspondence with Phil 4:3, since in that verse only singular words (the noun and its adjective) are used in reference to the person in question, and again, they are both masculine. If Paul was referring to a woman, they would be feminine singular.

      In fact, there is no place in the Greek New Testament where a singular masculine noun refers to a singular woman. For such to occur would be a defying of he rules of Greek grammar.

      As such, there is no doubt that in Phil 4:3, Paul is referring to a man. The only open question is if he is using the masculine noun as a general term for “yokefellow” or as a proper name. But either way, a man is being referred to.

 

1Corinthians 7:8-9

 

      8Now I say to the unmarried [persons] and to the widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I [am]. 9But if they are not exercising self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to continue being inflamed [with lust]” (1Cor 7:8-9; ALT3).

 

      In these verses, Paul is clearly identifying himself with those who are unmarried or widowed. Most likely, he was never married. But it is possible he was widowed. But either way, he was not married at the time of his missionary travels.

      That is even clearer when you look at the context of the entire chapter. That I do in Chapter 22 of my book God’s Sex Plan: Volume Two: What the New Testament Teaches About Human Sexuality. That is not just my interpretation. It has been the interpretation of this verse by Bible commentators throughout the centuries.

      For instance, John Calvin (1509-1564) writes in his Commentary on the Bible, “When Paul wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians, he was, as he mentions, at that time unmarried. ‘To the unmarried,’ says he, ‘and widows, I say it is good that they should continue even as I am’” (1Corinthians 7:8). (p. 12491).

      Matthew Henry (1662-1714) states, “It is convenient therefore that the unmarried abide as I, which plainly implies that Paul was at that time unmarried.”

      Adam Clarke (1762-1832) writes, “He wished that all that were then in the Church were, like him self, unmarried” (p. 8686).

      Jameson Faucet and Brown (1874) have, “8. to the unmarried — in general, of both sexes (1 Cor. 7:10, 11). and widows — in particular. even as I — unmarried (1 Cor. 9:5)” (p. 4945).

      Charles Ryrie writes in his Ryrie Study Bible (1978), “even as I. Paul was obviously unmarried when he wrote these words. He might have been a widower” (p. 1735).

      John MacArthur writes in his MacArthur Study Bible, (2020) “As a single person, Paul recognized the special freedom and independence he had to serve Christ” (p. 1499).

 

      Many more such quotes could be cited from the many Bible commentaries that have been written through the centuries, but these are the ones I have access to that comment in this regard. They should suffice to show the trend.

      This discussion will be concluded in Part Two of this article. It will appear in the next issue of Darkness to light newsletter. In it, the reason for the three items in the subtitle will be explained, though some of it should be obvious at this point.

 

This discussion is continued at:
Was the Apostle Paul Married? (Knowing Greek, Accepting the Bible’s Teachings, and Bible Reference Works) Part Two.

 

References:
 

     Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references in this article are from Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament: Third Edition. Copyright 2023 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian). Previously copyrighted 1999, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2012 by Gary F. Zeolla.

      In the following References, details are for the hardcopy formats that I own. But I am linking to the Kindle editions, when possible, as they are much less expensive. Also, I quoted from the Kindles when I had both due to the increased ease of doing so, so the page numbers are from the Kindles. For Matthew Henry, I quoted from it as it appears on the BibleWorks software program, so there is no page number.

      Bolding and italics in quotes are in the originals.

      BibleWorks™. Copyright 1992-2015 BibleWorks, LLC. All rights reserved. BibleWorks was programmed by Michael S. Bushell, Michael D. Tan, and Glenn L. Weaver.  All rights reserved (version 10.0).

      Britanica. Pharisee. Sanhedrin

      Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible. Volume 21. Zondervan Corporation. Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted 1979.

      Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke's Bible Commentary. Baker Book House. Reprinted 1971.

      Expositors Bible Commentary. Volume 10 (now 11). Zondervan Corporation. Grand Rapids, MI. 1978.

      Jameson Faucet and Brown. Zondervan Corporation. Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1999.

      Jewish Virtual Library. Ancient Jewish History: The Sanhedrin. by Shira Schoenberg.

      Jewish Virtual Library. Ancient Jewish History: Pharisees, Sadducees & Essenes.

      MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV). Second Edition. Thomas Nelson. 2020.

      Reinecker, Fritz and Cleon Rogers. Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Zondervan Corporation. Grand Rapids, MI. 1980

      Ryrie, Charles. Ryrie Study Bible. NASB. Moodey Press. Chicago, 1978.

      Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. Volume 3. Thomas Nelson, reprinted 1979.

      Walvoord and Zuck. Bible Knowledge Commentary. Victor Books, 1983

      Zeolla, Gary F.  God’s Sex Plan: Volume Two: What the New Testament Teaches About Human Sexuality. Copyright Gary F. Zeolla, 2018.

      The preceding links to Amazon are advertising links, for which I receive a commission if a product is purchased after following the link.

 

This discussion is continued at:
Was the Apostle Paul Married? (Knowing Greek, Accepting the Bible’s Teachings, and Bible Reference Works) Part Two.

 

Was the Apostle Paul Married? (Knowing Greek, Accepting the Bible’s Teachings, and Bible Reference Works) Part One. Copyright 2024 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).


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