The Structure of Philippians 4:4–9 and Recent Neurobiological Research on Anxiety

The famous text in Philippians 4 that commands Christians to rejoice always and be anxious for nothing has some fascinating connections to what is being learned in psychiatry and psychology today. The pericope begins in 4:4 with the command to rejoice. But is the adverbial use of the adjective τὸ λοιπόν (4:8) intended to convey “a transition to someth[ing] new (Phil 3:1), esp. when it comes near the end of a literary work finally” (BDAG, 603), or inferentially, as in, “therefore?” First, it will be argued that the Greek construction τὸ λοιπόν can be legitimately understood either way, and Pauline usage reflects occurrences of both (for the inferential use, see 1 Cor 4:2; 7:29; 2 Tim 4:8). Second, contextual clues will be discussed that demonstrate the preferences for the inferential understanding, against the consensus of modern Bible translations and some scholars (therefore, contra Loh and Nida, Hellerman; O’Brien; Fee; NASB (1995), CSB, NET, ESV, KJV, NIV, all say “finally”). The commentaries and Greek literature about this construction demonstrates that most scholars have sensed the connection between 4:4–7 and 4:8–9. The struggle they seem to be having is deciding upon appropriate options for τὸ λοιπόν. Once it is recognized that an inferential interpretation is an option, they seem to gravitate toward that, even though that is not observed in modern Bible translations. The translation “finally” too strongly separates 4:7 from 4:8–9.

Recent research in neurobiological studies have shown that when someone encounters a situation that causes them anxiety, the body produces cortisol from the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys, though it is regulated through the pituitary gland (the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis) in the brain. Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone (Fischer & Cleare). Human brains are trained at an early age how to respond to a release of cortisol. Some people will see their blood pressure rise, others might get a migraine, and others might get an upset stomach, all activations of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. But a new anxiety treatment proposes that a mental exercise of refocusing a person’s thoughts can cause oxytocin to be produced from the hypothalamus, which is, again, regulated by the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus activates both cortisol and oxytocin in an attempt to signal the need for social affiliation or connection -seeking (Cheng & Kornienko). When oxytocin is produced, cortisol decreases. Therefore, by refocusing, as Paul says in Phil 4:8–9, a person can cause their brain to produce oxytocin and it drives away the cortisol to help the person better cope with their anxiety and establish connection and intimacy through affective and reciprocal bonding.

1 thought on “The Structure of Philippians 4:4–9 and Recent Neurobiological Research on Anxiety”

  1. Structure of Philippians 4:4-9
    An interesting proposal but not sure that a strong case has been made in the proposal for the connection with modern day psychiatry. The two paragraphs seem somewhat disconnected.

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