🔼The name Phygelus: Summary
- From the verb φευγω (pheugo), to flee.
🔼The name Phygelus in the Bible
The name Phygelus occurs only once in the Bible, namely in the enigmatic opening cords of Paul's second letter to Timothy, which seem to be themed on love, fidelity and discipline versus shame and abandonment. Timothy and Onesiphorus Paul counts among his faithful friends but "all those in Asia" and particularly Phygelus and Hermogenes "turned away" from Paul (2 Timothy 1:15).
What exactly this "turning away" of "all those in Asia" entails isn't clear, also because the province of Asia contained such star players as Ephesus and the other six congregations addressed by Jesus via John's Revelation, and was doubtlessly home to scores of sincere disciples of Jesus.
But since Paul most probably wrote often in a kind of literary code (read our article on the name Onesimus for more on this), the chances are excellent that Hermogenes (= A "New" Borne Message?) and Phygelus (= Avoider?) were code names for movements that were as illegal as Christianity was (which, from a political perspective, was a resistance movement against Roman totalitarianism, albeit characteristically peaceful) but somehow had taken to compromising and fantasies, or perhaps even armed revolt, which both Paul and Jesus openly abhorred.
🔼Etymology of the name Phygelus
Another reason why one may be forgiven to suspect that Phygelus isn't really the personal name of an otherwise unmentioned fellow, is that Paul's wayward acquaintance would be the only one in extant classical history to have that name. The "name" Phygelus isn't even a regular word, but a kind of masculine joke-name constructed from the more common Latin feminine word fugela, meaning "flight". This word in turn derives from the verb fugio, meaning to flee, take flight, or avoid, move away from, vanish, and the much more common noun fuga, meaning a flight, a moving away, an avoidance.
These words are hugely old and have their origin in Sanskrit. Consequently, they also exist in Greek:
The verb φευγω (pheugo) means to flee; to take flight or to escape from or avoid a thing or situation. It's often used in a military sense and occurs in Latin as the verb fuga. Noun φυγη (phuge) means flight
On the other hand, however, since we know that Asia remained very much faithful to Christ and Paul too, the name Phygelus may rather have denoted a rival school of though or action, or better yet: represent resistance to the Gospel in general.
Paul possibly wanted to avoid sounding too radical or successful in a public letter (Paul's letters were immediately massively copied and went viral during his own life time) and may have wanted to state that in the whole area of Asia, there was no "Avoiding" the Gospel message, and no "Novel Counter Philosophies" were proposed.