Koinonia and Coredemption in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

The search for an adequate theology of coredemption as a foundation for the development of mariological dogma must, sooner or later, arrive at the question of whether coredemption is found in Sacred Scripture. And no biblical theology can leave out a detailed consideration of the most important author in the New Testament canon, St. Paul of Tarsus. Pauline theology has been the foundation of so many, maybe most, doctrinal developments in the history of the Church. And still today, Paul’s epistles are a disputed territory in matters of ecumenical dialogue. A full study of coredemption in the Pauline corpus would be a monumental task, but such an investigation holds out the promise of establishing a solid exegetical foundation for the dogmatic development of Mariology. This article is a first attempt to explicate the Pauline teaching on coredemption and represents a moderately in-depth treatment of the notion of participation in Philippians.

At first glance, Philippians may not seem like a promising candidate among Paul’s letters, but this impression yields to a more profound understanding of Paul’s language when the details of the text of Philippians are examined.{footnote}For our purposes, it makes little difference whether the imprisonment mentioned in Philippians is Roman or Ephesian. The classic view of Philippians being written from Rome appeals to 1:13 (praetorium) and 4:22 (“those of Caesar’s house”). For a discussion of various views of Paul’s imprisonment, including the widely accepted Ephesian theory, see Brendan Byrne “Letter to the Philippians” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (ed. Raymond Brown et. al.) pp. 791-792. Bornkamm advanced the idea that Philippians is a composite of several letters pieced together by a post-apostolic redactor. G. Bornkamm “Der Philipperbrief als Paulinische Briefsammlung” in Neotestamentica et Patristica Eine Freundesgabe (Oscar Cullmann) (Leiden: Brill, 1962) 192-202. For a discussion of the compositional issues see Byrne ibid. pp. 791-792. The question of composition and unity of Philippians may have some impact on interpretation but our concern here is with explicating Paul’s underlying theology.{/footnote} Paul’s theology of apostolic ministry, I argue, rests on the idea of coredemption understood, not as a supplemental or competing redemption with that of Christ, but as a personal and corporate appropriation of Christ’s redemption. Paul’s language of participation (e.g., koinonia) provides the basis of coredemption.

From Paul’s statements of his apostolic ministry-sometimes passing, sometimes central-one can infer a deeper level of theology concerning the redemption of Christ and how the Pauline ministry participates in that redemption. This thesis involves an apostolic-mediatorial reading of Philippians in contradistinction to a simple parallel reading of various texts within the epistle. In other words, statements about the Christians at Philippi helping Paul, such as those in 1:7 and 4:14 using the language of participation (koinonia), are not simply additional parallels to his statements about participation in Christ such as in 3:10. I argue that the former kind of statements are based on, and flow from, the latter in Paul’s theology. If the mediatorial relation holds between these two kinds of statements, then it is justified to speak of a notion of subordinate or participatorial coredemption in Paul.

This article treats the notion of participation in redemptive grace in Philippians by examining four themes within the epistle. First, I survey statements about the Philippians sharing in Paul’s apostolic ministry. We shall see that, for Paul, this sharing involves more than material assistance. Second, I examine Paul’s teaching on participation in the sufferings of Christ as it comes to light in Philippians. Third, the notion of participation as sacrifice flows from the first two themes. Finally, Paul’s exhortations to unity within the epistle are intimately connected to participation in Paul’s theology. These four themes have a cumulative effect. Taken together, they teach a subjective appropriation of Christ’s redemption in such a way that the Church, as the body of Christ, participates in the redemptive sufferings of Christ through a reciprocal sharing between Paul, the apostle, and the other members of the body.

Participation in Redemptive Grace in Philippians

For Paul in Philippians, those who share in the apostolic ministry by serving the needs of the Apostle, also share in the grace that comes through the Apostle in his ministry. This suggests that, for Paul, one of the greatest features of koinonia is reciprocity. We will see that reciprocity is one of the distinctive features of Paul’s concept of the “body of Christ.”

1) Participation in Paul’s Apostolic Ministry