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These Bible scholars present the argument that Paul had healed the sick, even raising the dead. (Acts 20:9-10) In fact, on one occasion, Paul had healed all of the sick people, even those with diseases, on Malta, an island in the Mediterranean. (Acts 28:9) Then, the argument goes, ‘why was Paul unable to heal his coworker, Epaphroditus?’ First, let us review Epaphroditus’ mission.
Philippians 2:25-30 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
25 But I [Paul] thought it necessary to send to you [Philippians] Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need; 26 since he has been longing for all of you and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am sending him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and that I may be less anxious. 29 Therefore receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
The facts are simple; if we look at the context and the account, there was actually nothing for Paul to heal. Epaphroditus had made a 600-mile journey from Philippi to Rome, an 80-day journey on foot round trip, which was fatiguing, to visit the apostle Paul. Paul was imprisoned in Rome for his faith. Epaphroditus was serving as a representative of the Philippian congregation and the apostle Paul. He was given the assignment of delivering a gift to Paul and staying with Paul for a time, assisting him in whatever way he could in his difficult times. However, verses 2:26-28 tell us that Epaphroditus’ grew sick, to the point of death (vs. 27), while he was on his way to Rome. After dealing with his sickness, which caused him to delay his efforts to help Paul, he traveled on to Rome. Epaphroditus felt extreme guilt as though he had failed in his mission from the Philippian congregation, having to let them down, so he grew depressed. (Phil. 2:25-27) He likely longed to know that they knew of and understood his circumstances.
In verse 26, Paul used the Greek word (ἀδημονέω adēmoneō), to define/explain Epaphroditus’ situation/condition, which means “to be distressed and troubled [i.e., depressed], with the probable implication of anguish, ‘to be troubled, to be upset, to be distressed.’” In other words, Epaphroditus had become subject to extreme mental and spiritual distress, to the point of being depressed. Bible scholar J. B. “Lightfoot says of this word, ‘It describes the confused, restless, half-distracted state, which is produced by physical derangement, or by mental distress, as grief, shame, disappointment, etc.’ (Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians [London, 1908], p. 123). MM cites the word in the papyri in the sense ‘excessively concerned’ and holds that it ‘would suggest originally bewilderment.’ The combination makes it clear that Jesus was in great distress of spirit.”
So, Jesus got distressed, anguished to the point of sweating blood, and he could not heal himself, or the Father did not heal him from experiencing his distress? Hardly. What contributes to mental and spiritual anguish? Epaphroditus was not distressed, i.e., depressed because he got sick, because he let down his brothers and sisters in the Philippian congregation, or because he felt as though he had failed Paul. Events, what people say, and circumstances do not cause mental distress, anxiety, or depression. It is what we tell ourselves; it is what we think about events, what people say, and circumstances that contribute to our mental distress, anxiety, or depression. Edward D. Andrews wrote,
Self-talk is what we tell ourselves in our thoughts. In fact, it is the words we tell ourselves about people, self, experiences, life, in general, God, the future, the past, the present. It is all the words that we say to ourselves all the time. Actually, suppose we regularly cultivate and entertain slights against us or the deeper personal affronts. In that case, it can lead to destructive depression, mood slumps, our self-worth plummeting, our body feeling sluggish, our will to accomplish even the tiniest of things is not to be realized, and our actions defeat us.
Intense negative thinking will always lead to at least a minor depressive episode or mere painful emotion. Our thoughts based on a good mood will be entirely different from those based on our being upset. Negative thoughts that flood our minds are the actual contributors to our self-defeating emotions. These very thoughts are what keep us sluggish and contribute to our feeling frustrated, angry, or worthless. Therefore, this thinking is the key to our relief.
Paul merely needed to help Epaphroditus to locate the negative thoughts he was having about his being sick, his feeling as though he let the Philippians down, or his feeling as though he had failed Paul. Those thoughts would have contributed to his feelings of frustration, mental anguish, distress, or low self-worth. Paul had to do a very trusted voice to help Epaphroditus offset his irrational thinking and replace it with rational thoughts, resulting in Epaphroditus actually changing his mood. So, in short, Epaphroditus grew sick on his 600-mile journey to Rome, to the point of death, which delayed him from fulfilling his mission of helping Paul. Once on his way again, he was distressed, i.e., depressed because he continued to entertain and cultivate such irrational thoughts as,
Lies about Self
- I failed my mission
- I let me congregation of brothers and sisters down
- I failed the apostle Paul
- I created, even more, worries for Paul
- I am a failure
- The brothers in Philippi must think that I am incompetent
Thus, we can see Paul was not with Epaphroditus when he got sick, so the argument that he failed to heal him is not relevant. The text does say, “God had mercy on him [that is, Ephaphroditus],” so, in all likelihood, he would have died from whatever ailed him if God had not prevented him from going over the edge into death. Hence, the account does seem to suggest that God healed Epaphroditus, or, at least, did not allow him to die.
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 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1992). Pages 482-483.
 One early MS reads “to see you all”
 “Apparently on the way to Rome, Epaphroditus fell sick.” Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 120.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 314.
 Lightfoot John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, 1979 rpt.)
 MM J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (London, 1914–29)
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992).
 Astheneo means “to be sick and, as a result, in a state of weakness and incapacity—‘to be sick, to be ill, to be disabled.’” – Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 269.