Fellowship: A Word Study

by Becky Rene

It is essential at this point that we understand how our spiritual fellowship is expressed. So we will take the time to examine the noun “fellowship” (koinonia) in all the contexts in which it appears. Some of the verses are difficult to understand because the translators have translated the noun koinonia as if it were an action, but the comments following each verse attempt to explain why the noun koinonia is used in those places.


Places where the Greek word koinonia is translated “fellowship:”

Acts 2:42
"They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the Lord’s Supper and to prayer" (Acts 2:42 NASB).
“And fellowship - Κοινωνια, community; meaning association for religious and spiritual purposes” (Clark). “…we understand that they continued in the common participation of religious enjoyments…” (Combined Bible Commentary). The verse says that they devoted themselves to fellowship, and the meaning is that, because of their existing fellowship, they devoted themselves to expressing it - in the same way that friends might devote themselves to expressing their friendship.
I Corinthians 1:9
"God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (I Corinthians 1:9 NASB)
This verse simply states that we were called into fellowship with Jesus Christ. This verse doesn’t say anything about how this fellowship is expressed.
II Corinthians 8:4
"Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints" (II Corinthians 8:4 KJV)
The Amplified Bible says, “Begging us most insistently for the favor and the fellowship of contributing in this ministration for [the relief and support of] the saints [in Jerusalem].” The Corinthians were begging them for the fellowship of contributing. All Christians that are in fellowship with God are in fellowship with one another. The Corinthians were begging for the opportunity to express their fellowship by contributing toward the needs of the poor saints at Jerusalem.
Galatians 2:9
"And recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised" (Galatians 2:9 NASB)
The simple meaning here is that, they shook hands in acknowledgment of Paul as one who was in fellowship with them and preaching the same gospel.
Ephesians 3:9
"And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 3:9 KJV)
The mystery, once hidden but now revealed, is that Gentile Christians would be “heirs together,” “members together,” and “sharers together” along with Jewish Christians, that is, “in Christ Jesus.” The mystery is not that Gentiles would be saved but that Jews and Gentiles would be saved in one body, i.e., the church. There is some question over whether the text should read “…the administration of the mystery…” or “…the fellowship of the mystery…”. Some texts have the Greek word oivkonomi (which can be translated as administration or plan), and some have the word koinonia (which is translated "fellowship"). If oivkonomi is correct then the meaning is, “to cause all to understand the manner in which this great truth of the plan of salvation is communicated to people” (Barnes). If koinonia is retained then the meaning is that “this doctrine, or secret counsel of God, was now ‘common’ to all believers. It was not to be confined to any class or rank of people” (Barnes). All believers shared this knowledge.
Philippians 1:5
"For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now" (Philippians 1:5 KJV)
The word koinonia has here been translated “participation.” Paul says that he thanks God for their “fellowship in the gospel.” It was because of the fellowship they had that they supported preachers of the gospel. Supporting preachers is not fellowship…supporting preachers of the gospel were expressions of the fellowship they already had.
Philippians 2:1
"Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion" (Philippians 2:1 NASB)
“The idea here is, that among Christians there was a participation in the influences of the Holy Spirit; that they shared in some degree the feelings, views, and joys of the Sacred Spirit Himself; and that this was a privilege of the highest order. By this fact, Paul now exhorts them to unity, love, and zeal - so to live that they might partake in the highest degree of the consolations of this Spirit” (Barnes).
Philippians 3:10
"That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:10 NASB)
“The action here is ‘know.’ How do you do ‘power?’ You can't. But Paul wanted to know the power of Jesus' resurrection. How do you do ‘fellowship?’ You can't. But Paul wanted to know the fellowship of Jesus' sufferings. Paul stated that he wanted to understand Jesus better. He wanted to understand and experience the power found in Jesus' resurrection. He wanted to understand and experience the fellowship found in Jesus' sufferings. In other words, he wanted to know Jesus thoroughly both in the great things and the difficult things that Jesus faced. Yes, Paul wished to have a common experience of suffering so that he could experience a bond with his Lord. ‘Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy’ (I Peter 4:12-13). Our own sufferings give us a connection with our Savior, helps us to understand him, and forges a fellowship between us and him” (Jeffrey Hamilton).
I John 1:3
"What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:3 NASB)
“It is clear from his remarks that this fellowship, if not broken at this point, at least is under serious threat. If that were not so he would not have written as he did…The apostle manifestly suggests that, if there is no agreement upon certain basic points of doctrine between himself and his readers, he cannot extend fellowship to them…fellowship itself is the sharing of things in common. But if there is no commonality on matters as critical as the essential nature of the Christ, then brotherly commendation and mutual sharing of a common spiritual life cannot be possible” (Daniel H. King Snr., Truth Commentaries).
I John 1:6
"If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth" (I John 1:6 NASB)
“The word fellowship here refers to what one shares or has in common with God (cf. II Peter 1:4), but if we claim to have this fellowship and yet walk in darkness, then we must be lying because, in God, there is no darkness” (D. Collins, Quotes & Things, Commentary on 1 John).
I John 1:7
"But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:7 NASB)
Brethren are in fellowship with one another if both parties are walking in the light as God Himself is in the light. Walking in the light means (i) Living a life of holiness (ii) Living a life that is consistent with truth, and (iii) “Having the joy which true religion is suited to impart” (Barnes).


Places where the Greek word koinonia is translated “communion”.

I Corinthians 10:16
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (I Corinthians 10:16 KJV)
One of the things in which we all have fellowship or share in are the benefits of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. “When Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper, they announce to the world their belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. They announce a belief, not only in a death, but in an atonement for sins. Hence, the drinking of the cup is a joint participation with other Christians in the benefits of the death of Christ” (Mike Willis, Truth Commentaries).
II Corinthians 6:14
"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" (II Corinthians 6:14 KJV)
“…what communion hath light with darkness?” Christians are in communion or fellowship (Koinonia) with one another because of what they have in common, i.e., they walk in the light. Believers walk in the light and unbelievers walk in darkness; Christians walk by the principles of God’s word and unbelievers walk by the principles of the world. Thus, they have nothing in common; there is no fellowship.
II Corinthians 13:14
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen" (II Corinthians 13:14 KJV)
Paul wishes that all Christians may continue in the communion or fellowship (Koinonia) through the truth made known by the work of the Holy Spirit.


Places where the Greek word koinonia is translated “communication.”

Philemon 1:6
"That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus" (Philemon 1:6 KJV)
All Christians have fellowship because they share a common faith, and Paul prays that this fellowship might manifest itself in deeds for others “so as to cause acknowledgment on the part of all who behold it that such faith is indeed true and genuine. Thus, by sharing the fruits of his faith with others, his faith so shines as to glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16)” (Marshall Patton, Truth commentaries).


Places where the Greek word koinonia is translated “distribution”.

II Corinthians 9:13
"Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men" (II Corinthians 9:13 KJV)
The word liberal is from the Greek word haplotes and the word distribution is from the Greek word koinonia. Now consider Lenski’s commentary: “Secondly, the saints are seen as glorifying God ‘also for the single-mindedness of (your) fellowship with them and with all,’ i.e., all other saints. The word haplotes is used in the same sense as before (8:2; 9:11); it does not mean ‘liberality’ or ‘liberal’ (our versions) but, as already explained, ‘single-mindedness.’ And koinonia means ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion’…not ‘contribution’ (R.V.) or ‘distribution’ (A.V.). Every thought of ‘contribution’ is excluded by the phrases ‘with them and with all.’ When we translate ‘liberality of the contribution for them (the saints) and for all,’ the meaning is misleading, for the collection was taken up only for the saints in Jerusalem and not for all saints everywhere…Paul is speaking about something that is far higher than ‘the liberality of the contribution.’ The saints at Jerusalem are pictured as glorifying God ‘for the single-mindedness of (your) fellowship with them and with all,’ i.e., for your spiritual fellowship and communion. It is this fellowship of the Corinthians which extends not only to those saints who are being helped at present but to all God’s saints, whether they are helped or not” (Lenski).


Places where the Greek word koinonia is translated “contribution”.

Romans 15:26
"For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem" (Romans 15:26 NASB)
The translators have here translated the word Koinonia as “contribution”, but the idea is that, they made a contribution to the poor an expression of the fellowship they already had.


 Places where the Greek word koinonia is translated “to communicate”.
Hebrews 13:16
"But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Hebrews 13:16 KJV)
The writer urges us to do good and “to fellowship forget not”. Fellowship (koinonia) is a state of being, not an action – so what is the writer trying to say? The understanding of translators of the most respected Bible versions is reflected in their translation of the Greek word, koinonia, with either “communication” or “share”. But the Amplified Bible seems to understand and express it better than most: “Do not forget or neglect to do kindness and good, to be generous and distribute and contribute to the needy [of the church [11]as embodiment and proof of fellowship], for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (AMP). True, they paraphrase the word koinonia as, be generous and distribute and contribute to the needy, but, in the parenthesis, they say, as embodiment and proof of fellowship. The following comment is also very helpful, “This is a case where the grammar of one language (Greek) doesn't fit well with another language (English). In English, "do good" and "share" are action verbs, but in Greek they are nouns. The verb in this statement is "not forget." Perhaps a better way to translate this is: But do not forget about good works and fellowship, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. The point is not to forget fellowship. Obviously, when we are sharing what we have with others we are demonstrating fellowship, but unfortunately, the translations leave much out. If I told you not to neglect friendship, you would know that I'm encouraging you to bolster your friendships. It could be through kind deeds, or just sitting down and talking with someone. I think this is what the Hebrews writer is after as well. Fellowship with another person doesn't just happen and effort has to be expended to keep the state of fellowship going. Just because we have it, we should not neglect the relationship” (Jeffrey Hamilton, Minister for the La Vista Church of Christ).
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