One of the more interesting words employed by Paul in his letter to the Philippians is αὐτάρκης, in Phil 4:11. αὐτάρκης is normally translated as self-sufficiency. The word only appears here in the NT but is a staple for the Stoics and other philosophical schools. My favorite quote on the matter stems from the ever quotable Gordon Fee who states in his NIC Philippians commentary that the term “… looks like a meteor fallen from the Stoic sky into his epistle …” (431)
Reumann (from his AB Philippians commentary) problematizes the term a bit by providing a thorough analysis of the different meanings of the term from the various philosophical schools. He demonstrates that the Cynics, Stoics, and Aristotle used the term differently. Additionally, O’Brien concludes that the term was part of the wider currency of the culture by Paul’s day. Thus, we arrive at the big question, what do we do with the word αὐτάρκης?
The most reasonable conclusion seems to be that Paul used a word from the philosophical schools that the Philippians would have immediately recognized to denote his self-sufficiency. However, as most commentators note, Paul seems to have twisted the use of the word. While the Stoics it meant self-sufficiency and relying only on oneself, Paul makes it clear that he does not rely only on himself but rather on God. Thus, Bruce’s oft cited statement that Paul was less self-sufficient and more “God-sufficient” seems accurate.
For further ramifications of Paul’s use of αὐτάρκης and why its use is important in Philippians 4:11 see the articles by Ken Berry and Abraham Malherbe in Friendship, Flattery, and Frankness of Speechor check out my upcoming dissertation (completion date currently unknown).