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The Superman Verse (Phil. 4.13)


I just came across this little explanation of Philippians 4.13 from this post on Ben Witherington’s blog. (Thanks Dustin for sending this over.)

We’ve all seen the T shirts, and the T-bow eye black touting Phil. 4.13. And the translation always is ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me’. Leap tall buildings in a single bound, overcome all odds, go boldly where no one has gone before. You get the picture.

The problem is, that this translation absolutely makes no sense of the context, and is not a literal rendering of the verse in question at all. The verb ‘to do’ is nowhere to be found in this Greek verse. The verb ‘ischuo’ means ‘to be able, strong, healthy, valid, powerful’. That’s the only verb in this phrase. You have to fill in the helping verb, and the context absolutely doesn’t favor the translation— ‘to do’ as in ‘I am able to do all things….’ Not at all. Here is a rendering of the verse in context.

“I know a humbled state, and I know also surplus. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of how to be satisfied, even if hungry and being able also to do without. I am able/strong enough [to endure] all things in Him who empowers me.”

What Paul is saying is that no matter what his circumstances, God has given him the strength or ability to endure and be satisfied, even when he must do without, even when he must go hungry.

This verse has nothing to do with ‘I can accomplish anything with a little help from the Lord’. It is a verse about perseverance in God’s will and way, not about personal success or triumph or even overcoming odds to win an individual victory of some kind. And most emphatically it is not about God helping us achieve our desires and goals. It is about Paul submitting to God’s goals and plan, and God giving him the strength to do so, even when he must endure house arrest (as he did when he wrote this), and hunger, and deprivation.

The ‘superman’ rendering of this verse is all too typically American. It is based on an assumption that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to, perhaps with a little help from above and a little luck.

Actually, this is not how the world works. We are not in charge, we are not the masters of our own fate and the captain’s of our own souls and lives. God did not die and leave us boss of the universe.

If we are Christians, Christ is our Lord, and we are bought with a price. It’s not about our dreams, our goals, our agendas, and getting God to assist us with them. It’s about Christians like Paul doing God’s will, working out God’s salvation plan, even when it involves suffering, and loss, and hunger, and the like. Paul says bravely– ‘I can endure anything the world throws at me, in Him who strengthens me’. Elsewhere we read ‘greater is he who is in us, than any of the forces in the world’. This is certainly true, but it has nothing to do with the American success syndrome or our accomplishing our individual selfish goals and dreams in life. Nothing.

Think on these things.

by Ben Witherington III
(link to original)

4 Responses to “The Superman Verse (Phil. 4.13)”

  1. on 17 Oct 2012 at 9:35 pmDoubting Thomas

    Thanks Sean.
    That was another great article. I pray that God gives me the strength to endure anything that might come up in my future, and never to lose my faith…

  2. on 18 Oct 2012 at 10:36 pmBrett

    That is a perfect explanation of that scripture. I’ve always been saddened when athletes quote that verse. So many people hear it and just accept it the way they hear it without ever pondering what it really means. Unfortunately, most folks don’t have the time or interest in learning what the Bible says.

  3. on 19 Oct 2012 at 12:46 amSheryl

    I am so glad this explanation has been posted, and enlightened and blessed by it. As a Colorado resident and football fan I was delighted that an outspoken Christian was given the helm of the Broncos for a time, and saddened when Tim was given the heave-ho. I wavered back and forth on what to think of God being brought front-and-center to the sports arena. Did it trivialize our Almighty God? Or did it encourage others to stand up for their faith too? The talk around Denver is that Tim was the real deal and wasn’t just “showing off” on the field, and those demonstrations of his faith led to his dismissal. And so the correct interpretation of Phil 4:13, that God will sustain us through all trials, is evident in Tim’s life after all… I understand he always stood humble and dignified in the face of his adversity here in Denver. I pray that people like Tim Tebow will continue to stand up for God and give us the courage to do the same even when our stance costs us dearly.

  4. on 29 Nov 2012 at 2:53 amGeorge

    Not to long ago we sang a song that was based on this verse,day by day hour by hour I will manifest Gods power I can etc. Thank you for bringing new light to a new generation or in my case a little bit older guy,I am very thankful to God for your life you have inspired me in so many ways,please pray for me as I will for you and your family.You are a wonderful example of a man whose heart and mind are meek,you have a hunger for the word that you asked God for,”like those french pancakes you roll crapes.Our Father is full of lovingkindness and I want to thank you your wife and kids for being there for us when we are in need,Love everlasting george


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