αὐτάρκης in Stoicism and Phil 4:11

Challenging Individualist Readings of Stoicism

in Novum Testamentum
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This article contends that many nt scholars have read the Stoics and their view of αὐτάρκης through a post-Enlightenment (specifically Kantian) ethical framework, which assumes notions like individualism and detachment are fundamental to the ethical subject. When Stoicism is not distorted with these modernist assumptions about the ethical subject, a fairer comparison can be made between the Stoics and Paul. This article demonstrates this by providing an outline of Stoicism in such a manner, emphasizing how their ethical theory is grounded in a teleological and communitarian framework and maintains a psychologically holistic view of the self, which then sets up an exploration of the Stoic understanding of αὐτάρκης not clouded by individualist strands of thinking. This provides material for a more equitable comparison with Paul’s use of this term in Phil 4:11, where it can be seen that the scope, sources, and basis of Stoic and Pauline contentment are similar.

αὐτάρκης in Stoicism and Phil 4:11

Challenging Individualist Readings of Stoicism

in Novum Testamentum




R.M. ThorsteinssonRoman Christianity and Roman Stoicism: A Comparative Study of Ancient Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press2010) 3-5. Cf. J.Z. Smith Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (London: School of Oriental and African Studies 1990) 43.


R. BultmannPrimitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting (London/New York: Thames and Hudson1956) 135-145. His contemporary influence can be seen in A.J. Malherbe’s work where he quotes Bultmann’s understanding of Stoicism with approbation. See his “Godliness Self-Sufficiency Greed and the Enjoyment of Wealth: 1 Timothy 6:3-19 Part iNovT 52 (2010) 376-405 p. 393; cf. idem “Paul’s Self-Sufficiency (Philippians 4:11)” in Friendship Flattery and Frankness of Speech: Studies on Friendship in the New Testament World (ed. J.T. Fitzgerald; NovTSupp 82; Leiden/New York: Brill 1996) 125-126.


BultmannPrimitive Christianity137. It is commonplace among nt scholars to describe the Stoics (and Hellenistic moral philosophers in general) as maintaining an individualistic and essentially self-centered ethic. See e.g. J.N. Sevenster Paul and Seneca (NovTSupp 4; Leiden: Brill 1961) 106-107; H. Koester History Culture and Religion of the Hellenistic Age Vol. 1: Introduction to the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1982) 147 150; W. Schrage The Ethics of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1988) 217-218; P.F. Esler “Paul and Stoicism: Romans 12 as a Test Case” nts 50 (2004) 106-24 pp. 113-14 116 121; J.W. Thompson Moral Formation according to Paul: The Context and Coherence of Pauline Ethics (Grand Rapids mi; Baker Academic 2011) 11; N.T. Wright Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis: Fortress 2013) 234 who even suggests “the Greco-Roman philosophers as the real inventors of modern individualism.”


BultmannPrimitive Christianity137.




Ibid.144; see also p. 143.


See e.g. J.B. LightfootSaint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (London: MacMillan1868) 305; M.R. Vincent The Epistle to the Philippians and to Philemon (icc; Edinburgh: T & T Clark 1897) 143; Sevenster Paul and Seneca 114; J. Gnilka Der Philipperbrief (hknt; Freiburg: Herder 1968) 176; P.T. O’Brien The Epistle to the Philippians (nigtc; Grand Rapids mi: Eerdmans 1991) 521; G.D. Fee Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (nicnt; Grand Rapids mi: Eerdmans 1995) 432; M. Bockmuehl The Epistle to the Philippians (bntc; London: A & C Black 1998) 261; P.A. Holloway Consolation in Philippians: Philosophical Sources and Rhetorical Strategy (sntsms 112; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001) 158 n. 64; G.F. Hawthorne and R.P. Martin Philippians (wbc 43; rev. edn.; Thomas Nelson 2004) 263-264. For a more positive treatment see T. Engberg-Pedersen (Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit [Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010] 121 132) where he sees congruence between Epictetus’ and Paul’s understanding of self-sufficiency arguing that for both it relates only to the body and the rest of the world but not God and that it does not exclude engagement with the world and others. Cf. W. Schenk (Die Philipperbriefe des Paulus: Kommentar [Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1984] 36-37) who also sees a closer relationship between Paul’s and Epictetus’ understanding of self-sufficiency. See also K.L. Berry (“The Function of Friendship Language in Philippians 4:10-20” in Friendship Flattery and Frankness of Speech 115 n. 36) who notes that for some Stoics inner strength was viewed as coming from God but he still maintains the common argument of difference between Paul’s and the Stoic’s understanding of self-sufficiency.


Ibid.135-36. Cf. J.M.G. Barclay who also argues for a difference with respect to the scope of contentment (“Security and Self-Sufficiency: A Comparison of Paul and Epictetus” Ex Auditu 24 [2008] 60-72 p. 70).




R.J. SullivanImmanuel Kant’s Moral Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1989) 45. For an analysis of this claim with respect to his epistemology see E. Bencivenga Kant’s Copernican Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1987). Kant conceived of his Critique of Pure Reason in these terms see his preface to the second edition B 16.


Ibid.441 (88-89); 443-444 (93-94).


Ibid.446-447 (97-98).


Ibid.402 (17); 420-421 (51-52); 444 (95).


Ibid.431 (70-71).


Ibid.429 (66).


See CiceroFin. 3.20-22. Cf. Stobaeus 2.65.8; Diogenes Laertius 7.91. See the discussion of the first strand of the Stoic theory of οἰκείωσις in Christopher Gill The Structured Self in Hellenistic and Roman Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2006) 129-131. My discussion of Stoicism in this essay has been greatly informed by Gill’s work which has more than others sought to call attention to some of the differences between ancient and modern thought.


See CiceroFin. 3.62-63.


Cf. CiceroOff. 1.107-115. See the discussion in A.A. Long Stoic Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1996) 162-167 and Gill “Personhood and Personality” 176-199.


EpictetusDiatr. 2.10.1-6.


Cf. SenecaEp. 120. See Gill The Structured Self 163-164.


LongStoic Studies164. With the second strand of ethical development emphasizing the kinship bonds one has with others and how this provides ways of thinking that have significance for various social roles it seems entirely inappropriate to say that the Stoics’ sense of mutuality is weak (Esler “Paul and Stoicism” 114) or is a fundamentally different vision of koinonia than Paul’s (Barclay “Security and Self-Sufficiency” 66).


Cf. A.A. LongFrom Epicurus to Epictetus: Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press2006) 367: “Stoic philosophers do not envision a purely private or personal or introspective selfhood divorced from determinate roles.” See also Annas Morality 448-450.


For Stoic texts see e.g. EpictetusDiatr. 1.3; Marcus Aurelius Med. 2.2; 5.26; Seneca Ep. 65.18. For the individualistic understanding of these statements see Bultmann Primitive Christianity 137; Sevenster Paul and Seneca 106-110. Sevenster argues that the individualistic turn in Stoic ethics is in large part attributable to Panaetius’ ethical theory (p. 106) which is preserved in Cicero Off. especially 1.93-151. Gill’s discussion of Panaetius’ theory of the four-personae (“Personhood and Personality” 169-199) however provides a persuasive argument against Seventer’s position.


E.g. EpictetusDiatr. 2.23.3; 3.3.22. See A.A. Long Epictetus: A Stoics and Socratic Guide to Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press 2002) 158.


LongFrom Epicurus to Epictetus364.


See GillThe Structured Self96-100; Annas Hellenistic Philosophy 55.


Cf. GillThe Structured Self138-141.


E.g. AnnasHellenistic Philosophy103-120; J. Sihvola and T. Engberg-Pedersen (eds.) The Emotions in Hellenistic Philosophy (Dordrecht: Kluwer 1998); Gill The Structured Self 207-289.


GillThe Structured Self79.


See e.g. SenecaEp. 59.2; Diogenes Laertius 7.94. For its description as “well-reasoned swelling” see Diogenes Laertius 7.115 (ls 65 F); cf. Cicero Tusc. 4.6.13.


AndronicusOn Passions 6.2.1-2: Οἰκεῖαι δέ εἰσιν αὐτῆς• αὐστηρία• ἐγκράτεια• εὐτέλεια• λιτότης• κοσµιότης• εὐταξία• αὐτάρκεια.


Ibid.6.2.14-15 = svfiii 272.10 (my translation).


Clement of AlexandriaPaedagogus 2.12.128 = svfiii 276.3: Αὕτη γοῦν τοι ἕξις ἐστὶν ἀρκουµένη οἷς δεῖ καὶ δι’ αὑτῆς ποριστικὴ τῶν πρὸς τὸν µακάριον συντελούντων βίον.


SenecaVit. beat. 6.2 (Basore lcl).


Cf. SenecaEp. 9.18-19.


SenecaEp. 9.5 (Gummere lcl). Cf. Epictetus Diatr. 3.13.5-8 (trans. Hard) who takes it for granted that humans are sociable and then states: “But we ought to prepare ourselves nonetheless to be able to be self-sufficient (τὸ δύνασθαι αὐτὸν ἑαυτῷ ἀρκεῖν) and to be able to live with ourselves (δύνασθαι αὐτὸν ἑαυτῷ συνεῖναι).”


Cf. EpictetusDiatr. 3.13.13-14.


See e.g. Engberg-PedersenCosmology and the Self116-121.


See e.g. SenecaEp. 41.1-2 5; Epictetus Diatr. 1.6.37-43; 2.8; 2.16.40-43; Marcus Aurelius 3.6.


Engberg-PedersenCosmology and the Self112-116 121.


FitzgeraldCracks in an Earthen Vessel34. See e.g. Polybius 3.31.2; Epictetus Diatr. 1.15.4.


See e.g. EpictetusDiatr. 2.14.10 where it is associated with learning skills like carpentry and being a helmsman (cf. 2.9.10 where deeds are associated with learning particular skills). The idea of learning being associated with training is also found in the nt (see Matt 11:29 and Heb 5:8) and the lxx (see Sir. 8:8; 4 Macc. 1:17).


SellarsThe Art of Living107-166.


Cf. ibid.520.


John ChrysostomHom. Phil. 15.1 (my translation).


See e.g.Greek Anthology 7.385; Plutarch Mor. 795E.


Cf. J.A.D. WeimaNeglected Endings: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings (JSNTSup 101; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press1994) 191.


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