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An Introduction To The Book Of Philippians

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I. AUTHOR: The Apostle Paul

A. External Evidence: There never seems to have been a question about Pauline authorship by the church fathers

1. The Church Fathers: Echoes of Philippians are found in the writings of:

a. Clement (c. AD 95)

b. Ignatius (c. AD 107)

c. Hermas2 (c. AD 140)

d. Justin Martyr (d. c. AD 165)

e. Melito of Sardis (d. c. AD 190)

f. Theophilus of Antioch (late second century)

g. Polycarp of Smyrna3 (d. c. AD 155)

h. Irenaeus (d. c. AD 200)

i. Clement of Alexandria (d. c. AD 215)

j. Tertullian (d. c. AD 225)

k. Later fathers quote from Philippians and assign Paul to it as well

2. The Early Canons

a. The Muratorian Canon (late second century)

b. The Canon of Marcion (d. AD 160)

B. Internal Evidence: Internally, the evidence is strong for Pauline authorship of Philippians

1. The author claims to be Paul along with Timothy (1:1)

2. The picture of Paul in Philippians coincides with other sources like Acts and Galatians:

a. His innermost feelings (1:18-24)

b. Autobiographical information (3:5,6)

c. Naming of friends and coworkers (2:19-24)

d. Referring to gifts sent to him from Philippi to Thessalonica and elsewhere (4:15,16; cf. Acts 17:1-9; 2 Cor. 8:1-5

3. The style and language show themselves to be Pauline:

a. Special Pauline vocabulary appears throughout Philippians

b. Phrases, ideas, and allusions to opposition of false teachers which show up in Philippians also show up in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians

C. Critics:

1. A few modern scholars4 have questioned Pauline authorship of Philippians, but these radical views are not convincing

2. While most hold to the authenticity of Philippians, there are portions of the letter that some consider to be non-Pauline:5

a. Philippians 1:1b with its mention of bishops and deacons

b. as a Marcionite interpolation

c. as a song to Christ not originally written by Paul, but modified and used by him as the supreme example for humility and service

d. as a brief Pauline note written to correspondents whose identity can no longer be determined

II. THE INTEGRITY OF PHILIPPIANS: A Single Letter

A. A Composite Work of Two or More Letters:6

1. First suggested in the seventeenth century (Collange)

2. Reasons:7

a. If Romans 16 was originally a note addressed to Ephesus and 2 Corinthians was composed of at least two letters, then it is not an incredible thing to think of Philippians as a composite of previously existing letters

But Romans and 2 Corinthians are not composite letters; even if they were, it would prove nothing about Philippians

b. Paul may have written more than one letter to this community whom he loved; if he did, where they all lost but one?

Paul may have written more than one letter (3:1), but attempts to recover these letters is conjecture

c. An Ancient Syriac stichometry mentions two letters to the Philippians

This may be due to an accidental repetition and thus be no corroborating proof of plurality of Pauline letters to Philippi

d. Polycarp, in his letter to the Philippians also states that Paul had written them letters (3.2)

But the plural may simply mean “a letter of importance” or may refer to a collection of Paul’s letters which were sent to all churches, or may be a guess on Polycarp’s part inferred from Philippians 3:1

e. Polycarp’s own letter may itself be the end-product of a compilation confirming the practice

This thesis concerning Polycarp’s letter has not gone unchallenged

f. The disjointedness of Philippians raises questions of original unity (3:1-2 versus 3:1 and 4:4 which seem to go together)

This disjointedness is not surprising in a personal, conversational, letter written by a man accustomed to abrupt shifts in style8

The change in tone from warmth and friendliness to harshness is startling only if one assumes that the opponents Paul denounces were fellow Christians, identical with those mentioned in 1:15-17; but 3:1b-21 identifies them as Jews hostile to the gospel who were attempting to turn the Philippians away from faith in Jesus Christ

The harsh tone of 3:2-6 leads up to and gives way before the personal confession of faith and hope which is consistent with Paul’s other intimate expressions found in Philippians

The same terms, word-roots and motifs pervade all of the so-called separate letter of chapter three

If 3:1 and 4:4 fit together so perfectly one must ask why any intelligent scribe, bent on unifying the fragments would have placed 3:2ff between them

g. The question of unity is further raised by the fact that Paul did not turn to thanking the Philippians for their gift until the end of the letter (4:10-20) which seems unlikely9

But why would a scribe wishing to put the Philippian “letters” together into an ordered whole place the “letter” at the end?

It is possible that Paul, in the custom of his day, dictated the early part of the letter, but picked up the pen to sign it in his own hand, and in doing so wrote his own personal “thank your” for their gift10

B. A Single Letter:

1. Theories of compilation solve nothing, but shift the order and organization from Paul to an unknown editor

2. Theories of compilation do not deal with the questions of whether there were salutations and signatures to the “fragments” and why these portions of the letters were not allowed to stand without modification since length was not a criterion for preservation (e.g., Philemon)

3. From the beginning of its manuscript history there has been only one canonical letter to the Philippians11

4. All of the peculiarities of sequence of thought are comprehensible without assuming editorial work or interpolations

III. THE RECIPIENTS AND THEIR CITY:

A. In view of the prominence of Phillipi, Paul probably bypassed Neoapolis (Acts 16:11) to begin his preaching of the gospel in Macedonia in the Roman colony of Philippi

1. Philippi was built and fortified in 358-357 BC by Philip II of Marcedon (the father of Alexander the Great); it was named after him

2. It was a section along the Via Egnatia (the main overland route connecting Rome with the East)

3. It was the place where Brutus and Cassius (the assassins of Julius Caesar) were defeated by Antony and Octavian in 42 BC

4. When Octavian defeated Antony (31 BC) he rebuilt Philippi and established a military outpost there and gave it the legal quality of being a Roman territory in Italy (ius italicum) enabling colonists to purchase, own, and transfer property, to enter into civil lawsuits, and to be exempt from poll and land taxes

B. The People of Philippi:

1. The city was inhabited predominantly by Romans with many Macedonian Greeks and some Jews

2. The people were proud of their city, ties with Rome, Roman customs, Roman laws and to be Roman citizens (cf. Acts 16:21)

C. Paul’s Founding of the Church at Philippi (Acts 16:1-40):

1. The mission at Philippi: The mission through Paul and Silas is sovereignly directed by the Holy Spirit to Philippi where God sovereignly arranges for the conversion of several including Lydia (an Asian woman of commerce), and a Philippian jailer (a Greek/Roman man) before sending Paul and Silas out of the city 16:1-40

a. Prologue: the call to Macedonia: As the party, including at least Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke traveled, the Holy Spirit sovereignly directed their movement away from Asia to Macedonia 16:6-10

1) Paul, Silas, and Timothy were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word of God in Asia, so they went through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia 16:6

2) At Mysia the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go north to Bithynia, so they went down south to Troas 16:7-8

3) In a vision to Paul a Macedonian man beckoned him to come west and help them 16:9

a) A vision appeared to Paul in the night 16:9a

b) A Macedonian man beckoned Paul to come west and help them 16:9b

4) Those in the party (including Luke--”we”) immediately interpreted this dream as God’s sovereign direction to go to Macedonia to preach the gospel to the people there 16:10

b. The conversion of Lydia When the party arrived in Philippi, they sought the place of prayer by the river on the Sabbath, and the Lord caused a God-worshipping woman named Lydia to hear Paul’s message, whereupon she believed, and showed hospitality to the party 16:11-15

1) Setting: The party set sail from Troas to Macedonia through Samothrace and Neapolis to Philippi, the leading city of Macedonia, where they remained for some time 16:11-12

2) As the party went to a place of prayer by the river on the Sabbath, God caused an Asian woman named Lydia to hear Paul’s message, whereupon she believed, was baptized with her family, and showed hospitality to the party 16:13-15

a) There not being a synagogue12, on the Sabbath the party went to a riverside outside of the city where they supposed there to be a place of prayer, and they spoke to women who had come together 16:13

b) One woman heard them named Lydia, an Asian from Thyatira who was a merchant, and a worshiper of God 16:14a

c) The Lord caused her to hear what Paul was saying, she believed, was baptized, with her household, and showed hospitality to the party 16:14b-15

c. The conversion of the Jailer: God sovereignly works to save a jailer and his family through Paul delivering a demonized girl from an evil spirit, which led to his being arrested and placed under a jailer’s care, where the Lord caused an earthquake that provided the opportunity for the jailer and his family to hear and believe in the word of God 16:16-34

1) A demonized girl: When a demonized girl began to follow the party around and announce their mission from God, Paul in the name of Christ cast the evil spirit out of her 16:16-18

a) The party was met by a slave girl who was demonized and used for profit by her master as a soothsayer when they were on their way to the place of prayer 16:16

b) For many days she followed the party around announcing that they were servants of God who are proclaiming the way of salvation 16:17-18a

c) Paul was annoyed by her actions, so he cast the evil spirit out of her 16:18b

2) Imprisonment of Paul and Silas: When the Spirit was cast out of the girl, her owners drug Paul and Silas to the magistrates, and charged them with disrupting the city against Roman law, whereupon, the rulers had them beaten and thrown under custody of a jailer into prison 16:19-24

a) When the spirit was cast out of the girl, her owners saw that they had lost their hope of profit through her 16:19a

b) The girl’s owners brought Paul and Silas before the judges and charged them with being Jews (racial) who were disturbing the city, and whose customs are not Roman 16:19b-21

c) The town joined in with the attack, and the rulers had them severely beaten,13 thrown into prison, and put under the guardianship of a jailer who fastened there feet in stocks 16:22-24

3) The Deliverance: God sovereignly works through an earthquake to cause a jailer to hear the gospel message from Paul and Silas, whereupon he and his family believe and enter into fellowship with them 16:25-34

a) At midnight, Paul and Silas were being listened to by the prisoners as they were praying and singing hymns 16:25

b) Suddenly there was a great earthquake which shook the foundations of the prison, opened the doors and unfastened everyone’s fetters 16:26

c) When the jailer awoke and saw what had occurred, he was about to kill himself thinking that all of the prisoners had escaped, when Paul told him to not hurt himself since everyone was still present 16:27

d) The jailer ran into the jail, got Paul and Silas and asked them what he must do to be saved 16:29-30

e) Paul and Silas explained the word of the Lord to Him and his household, and urged him to believe in the Lord Jesus to be saved 16:31-32

f) A Picture of Reconciliation: That very night the jailer washed Paul and Silas’ physical wounds and they washed him and his family (through baptism) of their spiritual wounds, whereupon they fellowshipped in his house 16:33-34

d. Epilogue: Gods servants are vindicated: Paul and Silas were vindicated by the rulers of Philippi when they learned that the team were Roman citizens by being escorted out of prison, whereupon, they returned to Lydia’s house, encouraged the brethren, and left Philippi 16:35-40

1) When it was morning, the rulers ordered the jailers to release Paul and Silas 16:35

2) The jailer announced their release to Paul urging them to come out to peace 16:36

3) Paul refused to come out privately, but insisted that the leaders come themselves and lead them out because they were unjustly beaten in a public manner as Roman citizens14 16:37

4) When the leaders heard Paul’s words about being Roman citizens, they were afraid, came to them, apologized, took them out and asked them to leave the city 16:38-39

5) Paul and Silas left prison, went to Lydia’s, exhorted the brethren, and departed from Philippi 16:40

D. Other names of members of this Philippian community are Epaphroditus, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement (2:25; 4:2,3) which indicate that the church was largely made up of Gentiles

E. Paul stayed in touch with the Macedonian churches through Timothy (Acts 19:21-23; Phil. 2:19,20), visited them on at least two other occasions (Acts 16; 20:1-6), and received gifts from them on several occasions (Phil. 4:15,16)

IV. PLACE AND DATE OF WRITING: Rome AD 61

A. Several Fundamental Factors Must Be Considered in the Choice of a Place of Writing:15

1. The fact that Paul was in prison when he wrote (Phil. 1:7,13,17)

2. The fact that Paul faced a trial that could end in his death (Phil. 1:19-20; 2:17)

3. The fact that from wherever it was that Paul wrote there was the Praetorium (toV praitwvrion, 1:13), and there were those who belonged to Caesar’s household (4:22)

4. The fact that Timothy was with Paul (1:1; 2:19-23)

5. The fact that extensive evangelistic efforts were going on around Paul at the time he wrote to the Philippians (1:14-17

6. The fact that several trips were made back and forth between Philippi and the place from which Paul wrote Philippians--all within the time-span of his imprisonment (Phil. 2:19-30)

B. Several Locations Are Suggested As the Place of Writing:16

1. Caesarea

a. Many aspects of Paul’s imprisonment here could match the necessary events in the Philippian letter17

b. However, Caesarea is even further away from Ephesus than Rome

c. However, Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea did not hold the possibility of death (Phil. 1:20; 2:17) since he could and did appeal to Rome

It is true that the death that Paul could be concerned about is from the Jews (Acts 21:31,36; 22:22; 23:30; 25:3,24; 26:21)

2. Ephesus

a. While many elements could fit an Ephesian location, the hypothesis is mostly built on conjecture as one reconstructs what could have happened in Ephesus

b. Other objections:

1) No mention of the “collection” as in other letters known to have been written from this time (third missionary journey, e.g., 2 Corinthians and Romans)

2) Paul speaks harshly about the Christians around him--unlikely of Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2,18,24-26; 1 Cor. 16:19)

3) The church in the city where he is writing from is divided which may not answer the setting of the Ephesian church

4) How could Paul be facing the possibility of immediate death in Ephesus since he could appeal to Rome (Phil. 1:19-20)

5) Acts does not speak of an Ephesian imprisonment

3. Corinth

a. Although this could meet some of the necessary requirements, it is mostly built on speculation with no facts of support

b. There is no mention of an imprisonment for Paul in Corinth

C. Rome May Be The Best Suggestion as the Place of Writing:18

1. From the second century Marcionite prologues attached to Paul’s epistles until the eighteenth century, everyone accepted Rome as the place of writing without question

2. Paul was a prisoner under house arrest for at least two years (Acts 28:30)

3. While in prison Paul was free to send letters and receive those who would come to him or bring gifts (Acts 28:17,30)

4. From Rome Paul had no higher court of appeal: he would stand before Caesar and would either die or be acquitted

5. The expressions, “the praetorium” (Phil. 1:13), and “Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22) are most easily and naturally understood in view of Rome

6. In Rome there was a church sufficiently large and diverse to divide into factions over Paul and his teachings (Phil. 1:14-17)

7. The distance from Rome to Philippi is considered to be a problem for there to have been so many trips, but this is not insurmountable19

V. PURPOSES OF PHILIPPIANS

A. To write this church whom he loved with the opportunity of Epaphroditus returning to Philippi

B. To bring the church up to date on the news about himself--his present situation and future prospects (1:12-26; 2:24)

C. To address problems of infighting in the church over personal differences (1:27; 2:2-4,16; 4:1-2)

D. To honor Epaphroditus who had brought a gift from the Philippians to Paul (4:18), served Paul (2:25) was ill (2:27), but now was returning with the letter to the Philippians as one honored by Paul (2:25-30)

E. To warn of the threat to their faith through false teachers who:

1. Establish their own righteousness through the Law

2. Boast in the strictness of their religious observance

3. Consider themselves to have already arrived and to have attained a form of perfection in the eyes of God

F. To encourage the church to rejoice irrespective of circumstances (2:18; 3:1; 4:4)--to view imprisonment and suffering in light of a Christological framework:20

1. Jesus humbled himself in his incarnation and death

2. God exalted Jesus through the resurrection and established his ultimate victory over all of creation (2:6ff)

3. Therefore one can rejoice because:

a. In suffering the gospel is advanced

b. There will be a vindication on the day of Christ (2:16; 3:20)

G. To thank the Philippians again for their financial support (4:10-20)

H. To mention Timothy’s approaching visit (2:19), and Paul’s hope of visiting the church (2:24)

I. To provide cautionary and preventative warnings to the church--stand firm in the faith, complete dedication to the will of Christ (1:27-30)

J. To provide something like a last will and testament offering “a confident witness to a beloved church on how to respond faithfully and with joy to life with Christ even when the apostle is no longer present”21

K. To encourage the Philippians to continue in their unity for the sake of continuing their part in the proclamation of the message -- especially against false teachers22


1 Much of what follows is developed from Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary, pp. xxvi-lii; R. P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; Homer A. Kent, Jr. “Philippians” in The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 11.

2 Shepherd, Similitude 5.3.8 (Phil. 4:18); 9:13, 7-8 (Phil. 2:2; 3:16; 4:2).

3 He addresses himself to the Philippians and directly mentions Paul as having written to them (3.2). See also Philippians 9.2 (Phil. 2:16), 11.3 (Phil. 4:15), 12:3 (Phil. 3:18)

4 Edward Evanson (1731-1805), F. C. Baur (1792-1805), A. Q. Morton and J. McLeman (See Hawthorne, Philippians, p. xxviii).

5 Hawthorne, Philippians, pp. xxviii-xxix.

6 Some see Philippians as made up of two letters: (a) 1:1--3:1a; 4:2-7, 10-23, and (b) 3:1b--4:1, 8-9.

Some see Philippians as made up of three letters: (a) 4:10-20 [or 4:10-23], (b) 1:1--3:1a; 4:2-7, 21-23, and (c) 3:1b--4:1, 8-9).

Few scholars agree on the number of “letters” or on what sections go to make up these “letters”.

7 Hawthorne, Philippians, p. xxx.

8 See Romans 16:16-19; 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16.

9 The theory is that 4:10-20 must be a separate earlier letter sent soon after Epaphroditus brought the gift, but carried back to Philippi by someone else since Epaphroditus fell ill.

10 See Bahr, JBL 87 (1968).

11 Admittedly, the earliest manuscript that includes Philippians is the Chester Beatty Papyrus (P46) dated AD 200.

12 There may have been too few Jews in Philippi to have a synagogue, and others think that this may be descriptive of a synagogue since they were often placed by water for the convenience of religious ablutions. It seems that Luke is clear, however, when they do go to a synagogue in Acts.

13 Paul could have appealed to his Roman citizenship in order to avoid a flogging, but did not.

14 Although Paul would not claim Roman citizenship to spare himself physical suffering, he would and did claim it to clear Christianity from any possible reproach by the Roman government.

15 Hawthorne, Philippians, p. xxxvii.

16 Ibid., pp. xxxviii-xliv.

17 Ibid., pp. xli-xliv.

18 It is not possible to speak with certainty about this matter.

19 See Hawthorne, Philippians, p. xlii. Here he is arguing for a Caesarean location, but the arguments still apply to Rome.

20 See Brevard S. Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction, p. 337.

21 Ibid.

22 “To encourage partnership in the Gospel by reflecting upon the highest and most perfect expression of Christian life.” (E.E. Johnson)

Therefore, the theme of the book is: Unity in the body is necessary for effective witness to the world. As Johnson writes, “For the Gospel to increase through you it must continue to advance in you.” Herb Bateman writes, “Be unified and fight the enemy, not yourselves.”

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines