International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
PHILIPPIANS, THE EPISTLE TO THE
I. PAUL AND THE CHURCH AT PHILIPPI
II. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHURCH AT PHILIPPI
III. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EPISTLE
1. A Letter
2. A Letter of Love
3. A Letter of Joy
4. Importance Theologically
IV. GENUINENESS OF THE EPISTLE
V. PLACE, DATE AND OCCASION OF WRITING
VI. CONTENTS OF THE EPISTLE
I. Paul and the Church at Philippi.
Paul was on his second missionary journey in the year 52 A.D. He felt that he was strangely thwarted in many of his plans. He had had a most distressing illness in Galatia. The Spirit would not permit him to preach in Asia, and when he essayed to enter Bithynia the Spirit again would not suffer it. Baffled and perplexed, the apostle with his two companions, Silas and Timothy, went on to the seacoast and stopped in Troas. Here at last his leading became clear. A vision of a man from Macedonia convinced him that it was the will of God that he should preach in the western continent of Europe. The way was opened at once. The winds were favorable. In two days he came to Neapolis. At once he took the broad paved way of the Via Egnatia up to the mountain pass and down on the other side to Philippi, a journey of some 8 miles. There was no synagogue at Philippi, but a little company of Jews gathered for Sabbath worship at "a place of prayer" (proseuche, Acts 16:13), about a mile to the West of the city gate on the shore of the river Gangites (see PROSEUCHA). Paul and his companions talked to the women gathered there, and Lydia was converted. Later, a maid with the spirit of divination was exorcised. Paul and Silas were scourged and thrown into prison, an earthquake set them free, the jailer became a believer, the magistrates repented their treatment of men who were Roman citizens and besought them to leave the city (Acts 16:6-40). Paul had had his first experience of a Roman scourging and of lying in the stocks of a Roman prison here at Philippi, yet he went on his way rejoicing, for a company of disciples had been formed, and he had won the devotion of loyal and loving hearts for himself and his Master (see PHILIPPI). That was worth all the persecution and the pain. The Christians at Philippi seem to have been Paul's favorites among all his converts. He never lost any opportunity of visiting them and refreshing his spirit with their presence in the after-years. Six years later he was resident in Ephesus, and having sent Titus to Corinth with a letter to the Corinthians and being in doubt as to the spirit in which it would be received, he appointed a meeting with Titus in Macedonia, and probably spent the anxious days of his waiting at Philippi. If he met Titus there, he may have written 2 Corinthians in that city (2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:6). Paul returned to Ephesus, and after the riot in that city he went over again into Macedonia and made his third visit to Philippi. He probably promised the Philippians at this time that he would return to Philippi to celebrate the Easter week with his beloved converts there. He went on into Greece, but in 3 months he was back again, at the festival of the resurrection in the year 58 A.D. (Acts 20:2, 6). We read in 1 Timothy 1:3 that Paul visited Macedonia after the Roman imprisonment. He enjoyed himself among the Philippians. They were Christians after his own heart. He thanks God for their fellowship from the first day until now (Philippians 1:5). He declares that they are his beloved who have always obeyed, not in his presence only, but much more in his absence (Philippians 2:12). With fond repetition he addresses them as his brethren, beloved and longed for, his joy and crown, his beloved (Philippians 4:1). This was Paul's favorite church, and we can gather from the epistle good reason for this fact.
II. Characteristics of the Church at Philippi.
(1) It seems to be the least Jewish of all the Pauline churches. There were few Jews in Philippi. No Hebrew names are found in the list of converts in this church mentioned in the New Testament. The Jewish opponents of Paul seem never to have established themselves in this community.
(2) Women seem to be unusually prominent in the history of this church, and this is consistent with what we know concerning the position accorded to woman in Macedonian society. Lydia brings her whole family with her into the church. She must have been a very influential woman, and her own fervor and devotion and generosity and hospitality seem to have been contagious and to have become characteristic of the whole Christian community. Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned in the epistle, two women who were fellow-laborers with Paul in the gospel, for both of whom he has great respect, of both of whom he is sure that their names are written in the book of life, but who seem to have differed with each other in some matter of opinion. Paul exhorts them to be of the same mind in the Lord (Philippians 4:2). The prominence of women in the congregation at Philippi or the dominance of Lydia's influence among them may account for the fact that they seem to have been more mindful of Paul's comfort than any of his other converts were. They raised money for Paul's support and forwarded it to him again and again. They were anxious that he should have all that was needful. They were willing to give of their time and their means to that end. There seem to have been no theological differences in their company. That may testify to the fact that the most of them were women.
(3) There were splendid men in the church membership too. Some of them were Macedonians and some of them were Roman veterans.
Hausrath declares that the Macedonians represented the "noblest and soundest part of the ancient world..... Here was none of the shuffling and the indecision of the Asiatics, none of the irritable vanity and the uncertain levity of the Greek communities..... They were men of sterner mold than could be fouund in Asia Minor or languorous Syria. The material was harder to work in, and offered more stubborn resistance; but the work, once done, endured. A new Macedonian phalanx was formed here, a phalanx of Pauline Christians..... Manliness, loyalty, firmness, their characteristics in general history, are equally their characteristics in the history of the Christian church..... They were always true to Paul, always obedient, always helpful" (Time of the Apostles, III, 203-4).
Paul rejoiced in them. They were spirits congenial with his own. The Roman veterans had been trained in the Roman wars to hardness and discipline and loyalty. They were Roman citizens and proud of the fact. In the epistle Paul exhorts them to behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27), and he reminds them that though they were proud of their Roman citizenship, as was he, they all had become members of a heavenly commonwealth, citizenship in which was a much greater boon than even the jus Italicum had been. In Philippians 3:20 Paul states the fact again, "Our citizenship is in heaven"; and he goes on to remind them that their King is seated there upon the throne and that He is coming again to establish a glorious empire, for He has power to subject all things unto Himself.
It is to these old soldiers and athletes that Paul addresses his military and gymnastic figures of speech. He informs them that the whole praetorian guard had heard of the gospel through his imprisonment at Rome (Philippians 1:13). He sends them greeting from the saints that are in Caesar's household (Philippians 4:22). He prays that he may hear of them that they stand fast like an immovable phalanx, with one soul striving athletically for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). He knows that they will be fearless and brave, in nothing affrighted by the adversaries (Philippians 1:28). He speaks of his own experience as a wrestling-match, a conflict or contest (Philippians 1:30). He joys in the sacrifice and service of their faith (Philippians 2:17). He calls Epaphroditus not only his fellow-worker but his fellow-soldier (Philippians 2:25). He likens the Christian life to a race in which he presses on toward the goal unto the prize (Philippians 3:14). He asks the Philippians to keep even, soldierly step with him in the Christian walk (Philippians 3:16). These metaphors have their appeal to an athletic and military race, and they bear their testimony to the high regard which Paul had for this type of Christianity and for those in whose lives it was displayed. We do not know the names of many of these men, for only Clement and Epaphroditus are mentioned here; but we gather much concerning their spirit from this epistle, and we are as sure as Paul himself that their names are all written in the book of life (Philippians 4:3).
(4) If the constituent elements of the church at Philippi fairly represented the various elements of the population of the city, they must have been cosmopolitan in character. Philippi was an old Macedonian city which had been turned into a Roman colony. It was both Greek and Roman in its characteristics. Christianity had been introduced here by two Jews, who were Roman citizens, and a Jewish son of a Gentile father. In the account given of the rounding of the church in Acts 16 three converts are mentioned, and one is a Jewish proselyte from Asia, one a native Greek, and one a Roman official. The later converts doubtless represented the same diversity of nationality and the same differences in social position. Yet, apart from those two good women, Euodia and Syntyche, they were all of one mind in the Lord. It is a remarkable proof of the fact that in Christ all racial and social conditions may be brought into harmony and made to live together in peace. (5) They were a very liberal people. They gave themselves to the Lord and to Paul (2 Corinthians 8:5), and whenever they could help Paul or further the work of the gospel they gave gladly and willingly and up to the limit of their resources; and then they hypothecated their credit and gave beyond their power (2 Corinthians 8:3). Even Paul was astonished at their giving. He declares that they gave out of much affliction and deep poverty, that they abounded in their bounty, and that they were rich only in their liberality (2 Corinthians 8:2).
Surely these are unusual encomiums. The Philippians must have been a very unusual people. If the depth of one's consecration and the reality of one's religion are to be measured by the extent to which they affect the disposition of one's material possessions, if one measure of Christian love is to be found in Christian giving, then the Philippians may well stand supreme among the saints in the Pauline churches. Paul seems to have loved them most. He loved them enough to allow them to contribute toward his support. Elsewhere he refused any help of this sort, and stedfastly adhered to his plan of self-support while he was preaching the gospel. He made the single exception in the case of the Philippians. He must have been sure of their affection and of their confidence. Four times they gave Paul pecuniary aid. Twice they sent him their contributions just after he had left them and gone on to Thessalonica (Philippians 4:15, 16). When Paul had proceeded to Corinth and was in want during his ministry there his heart was gladdened by the visitation of brethren from Philippi, who supplied the measure of his want (2 Corinthians 11:8, 9). It was not a first enthusiasm, forgotten as soon as the engaging personality of the apostle was removed from their sight. It was not merely a personal attachment that prompted their gifts. They gave to their own dear apostle, but only that he might minister to others as he had ministered to them. He was their living link with the work in the mission field.
Eleven years passed by, and the Philippians heard that Paul was in prison at Rome and again in need of their help. Eleven years are enough to make quite radical changes in a church membership, but there seems to have been no change in the loyalty or the liberality of the Philippian church in that time. The Philippians hastened to send Epaphroditus to Rome with their contributions and their greetings. It was like a bouquet of fresh flowers in the prison cell. Paul writes this epistle to thank them that their thought for him had blossomed afresh at the first opportunity they had had (Philippians 4:10). No wonder that Paul loved them and was proud of them and made their earnestness and sincerity and affection the standard of comparison with the love of others (2 Corinthians 8:8).
III. Characteristics of the Epistle.
1. A Letter:
It is a letter. It is not a treatise, as Romana, Hebrews, and 1 John are. It is not an encyclical full of general observations and exhortations capable of application at any time and anywhere, as the Epistle to the Ephesians and the Epistle of James and the Epistles of Peter are. It is a simple letter to personal friends. It has no theological discussions and no rigid outline and no formal development. It rambles along just as any real letter would with personal news and personal feelings and outbursts of personal affection between tried friends. It is the most spontaneous and unaffected of the Pauline Epistles. It is more epistolary than any of the others addressed to the churches.
2. A Letter of Love:
It is a letter of love. All of the other epistles have mixed feelings manifest in them. Sometimes a feeling of grief and of indignation is dominant, as in 2 Corinthians. Sometimes the uppermost desire of Paul in his writing seems to be the establishment of the truth against the assault of its foes, as in Galatians and Romans. Always more or less fault is suggested in the recipients of the warnings and the exhortations Paul feels compelled to write to them. In Philippi alone there is no fault to be found. The only suggestion of such a thing is in the reference to the difference of opinion between Euodia and Syntyche, and while Paul thinks this ought to be harmonized, he does not seem to consider it any very serious menace to the peace of the church. Aside from this Paul has nothing but praise for his beloved brethren and prayer that their love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment (Philippians 1:9). He is full of thankfulness upon all his remembrance of them (Philippians 1:3). He rejoices in the privilege of being offered upon the sacrifice and service of their faith (Philippians 2:17). The church at Philippi may not have been conspicuous in charisms as the church at Corinth was, but it had the fruits of the Spirit in rich measure. Paul seems to think that it needed only to rejoice in its spiritual possessions and to grow in grace and in the mind of Christ. His heart is full of gratitude and love as he writes. He rejoices as he thinks of them. His peace and his hope are triumphant over present affliction and the prospect of persecution and death. If this is his last will and testament to his beloved church, as Holtzmann calls it, he has nothing to bequeath them but his unqualified benediction. Having loved them from the first, he loves them to the end.
3. A Letter of Joy:
It is a letter of joy. It was Bengel who said, Summa epistolae: gaudeo, gaudete, "The sum of the epistle is, I rejoice; rejoice ye." Paul was a man whose spirits were undaunted in any circumstances. He might be scourged in one city and stoned in another and imprisoned in a third and left for dead in a fourth, but as long as he retained consciousness and as soon as he regained conscioushess he rejoiced. Nothing could dampen his ardor. Nothing could disturb his peace. In Philippi he had been scourged and cast into the inner prison and his feet had been made fast in the stocks, but at midnight he and Silas were singing hymns of praise to God. He is in prison now in Rome, but he is still rejoicing. Some men would have been discouraged in such circumstances. Wherever Paul had gone his preaching had been despised, and he had been persecuted. The Jews had slandered him and harassed him, and so many of his converts had proved to be fickle and false. The years had gone by and the breach between him and his brethren had widened rather than lessened, and at last they had succeeded in getting him into prison and keeping him there for years. Prison life is never pleasant, and it was far less so in that ancient day than it is now.
Paul was such an ardent spirit. It was more difficult for him to be confined than it would be for a more indolent man; He was a world-missionary, a restless cosmopolite ranging up and down through the continents with the message of the Christ. It was like putting an eagle into a cage to put him into prison. Many eagles mope and die in imprisonment. Paul was not moping. He was writing this Epistle to the Philippians and saying to them, "The things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel.... therein I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" (Philippians 1:12, 18). His enemies were free to do and to say hat they pleased, and they were making the most of the opportunity. He could no longer thwart or hinder them. Some men would have broken out into loud lamentations and complaints. Some men would have worried about the conditions and would have become nervous about the outcome of the cause. The faith of even John the Baptist failed in prison. He could not believe that things were going right if he were not there to attend to them. Paul's faith never wavered. His hope never waned. His joy was inexhaustible and perennial. He was never anxious. Did he hear the sentry's step pacing up and down the corridor before his prison door? It reminded him of the peace of God which passeth all understanding, guarding his heart and his thoughts in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7), standing sentry there night and day. The keynote of this epistle is "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).
Paul is old and worn and in prison, but some 20 times in the course of this short letter to the Philippians he uses the words, joy, rejoice, peace, content, and thanksgiving. It is a letter full of love and full of joy.
4. Importance Theologically:
It is of great importance theologically. It is one of the paradoxes to which we become almost accustomed in Paul's writings that this simplest of his letters, most epistolary and most personal throughout should yet contain the fullest and most important putting of theology of the incarnation and exaltation that came from his pen. He has only a practical end in view. He is exhorting the Philippians to humility, and he says to them, Have the mind which was in Christ who emptied himself and then was exalted (Philippians 2:5-11). It is the most theological passage in the epistle. It is one of the most doctrinally important in the New Testament. It is Paul's final contribution to the solution of the great mystery of the coming of the Saviour and the economy of salvation. It is his last word, at any length, on this subject. He states plainly the fact of the kenosis, the morale of the redemption, the certainty of the exaltation, and the sure hope of the universal adoration in the end. The most vital truths of Christology are here clearly stated and definitely formulated for all time. Jesus was a real man, not grasping at any of the attributes of Deity which would be inconsistent with real and true humanity, but in whole-hearted surrender of sacrifice submitting to all the disabilities and limitations necessary to the incarnate conditions. He was equal with God, but He emptied Himself of the omnipotence and the omniscience and the omnipresence of His pre-incarnate state, and was found in form as a man, a genuine man obedient to God in all His life. He always maintained that attitude toward God which we ought to maintain and which we can maintain in our humanity, in which He was on an equality with us. We ought to have the mind which was in Christ. He humbled Himself and became obedient. He was obedient through life and obedient unto death, yea, even unto the death of the cross. It is a great passage, setting forth profoundest truths in the tersest manner. It is the crowning revelation concerning Jesus in the Pauline Epistles. It represents Paul's most mature thought upon this theme.
IV. Genuineness of the Epistle.
The genuineness of the epistle is very generally admitted today. It was in the Canon of Marcion. Its name occurs in the list on the Muratorian Fragment. It is found in both the Peshitta and the Old Latin versions. It is mentioned by Polycarp and quoted in the letter of the churches of Lyons and Vienne, in the Epistle of Diognetus, and in the writings of Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria. Baur made a determined attack upon its authenticity. He declared that it was not doctrinal and polemical like the other Pauline Epistles, but that it was full of shallow imitations of these. He said it had no apparent motive and no connected argument and no depth of thought. He questioned some of the historical data and suspected Gnostic influence in certain passages. Bleek said of Baur's arguments that they were partly derived from a perverted interpretation of certain passages in the epistle; they partly rested upon arbitrary istorical presuppositions; and some of them were really so weak that it was hard to believe that he could have attached any importance to them himself. It is not surprising that few critics have been found willing to follow Baur's leadership at this point. Biederman, Kneucker, Hinsch, Hitzig, Hoekstra, and Holsten may be mentioned among them. The genuineness of the epistle has been defended by Weizsacker, Weiss, Pfleiderer, Julicher, Klopper, Schenkel, Reuss, Hilgenfeld, Harnack, Holtzmann, Mangold, Lipsius, Renan, Godet, Zahn, Davidson, Lightfoot, Farrar, McGiffert, and practically all of the English writers on the subject. Weizsacker says that the reasons for attributing the epistle to the apostle Paul are "overwhelming." McGiffert declares: "It is simply inconceivable that anyone else would or could have produced in his name a letter in which no doctrinal or ecclesiastical motive can be discovered, and in which the personal element so largely predominates and the character of the man and the apostle is revealed with so great vividness and fidelity. The epistle deserves to rank alongside of Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans as an undoubted product of Paul's pen, and as a coordinate standard by which to test the genuineness of other and less certain writings" (The Apostolic Age, 393). This is the practically unanimous conclusion of modern scholarship.
V. Place, Date, and Occasion of Writing.
This is one of the prison epistles (see PHILEMON). Paul makes frequent reference to his bonds (Philippians 1:7, 13, 14, 17). He was for 2 years a prisoner in Caesarea (Acts 24:27). Paulus and others have thought that the epistle was written during this imprisonment; but the references to the praetorian guard and the members of Caesar's household have led most critics to conclude that the Roman imprisonment was the one to which the epistle refers. Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians were also written during the Roman imprisonment, and these three form a group by themselves. Philippians is evidently separated from them by some interval. Was it written earlier or later than they? Bleek, Lightfoot, Sanday, Herr, Beet and others think that the Epistle to the Philippians was written first. We prefer, however, to agree with Zahn, Ramsay, Findlay, Shaw, Vincent, Julicher, Holtzmann, Weiss, Godet, and others, who argue for the writing of Philippians toward the close of the Roman imprisonment.
Their reasons are as follows:
(1) We know that some considerable time must have elapsed after Paul's arrival at Rome before he could have written this epistle; for the news of his arrival had been carried to Philippi and a contribution to his needs had been raised among his friends there, and Epaphroditus had carried it to Rome. In Rome, Epaphroditus had become seriously sick and the news of this sickness had been carried back to Philippi and the Philippians had sent back a message of sympathy to him. At least four trios between Rome and philippi are thus indicated, and there are intervals of greater or less length between them. The distance between the two cities was some 700 miles. Communication was easy by the Appian Way and Trajan's Way to Brundusium and across the narrow straits there to the Egnatian Way, which led directly to Philippi. There were many making the trip at all times, but the journey would occupy a month at least, and the four journeys suggested in the epistle were not in direct succession.
(2) Paul says that through him Christ had become known throughout the whole praetorian guard (Philippians 1:13). It must have taken some time for this to become possible.
(3) The conditions outside the prison, where Christ was being preached, by some in a spirit of love, and by others in a spirit of faction, cannot be located in the earliest months of Paul's sojourn in Rome (Philippians 1:15-17). They must belong to a time when Christianity had developed in the city and parties had been formed in the church.
(4) Luke was well known at Philippi. Yet he sends no salutation to the Philippians in this epistle. He would surely have done so if he had been with Paul at the time of its writing. He was with the apostle when he wrote to the Colossians, and so was Demas (Colossians 4:14). In this epistle Paul promises to send Timothy to Philippi, and says, "I have no man likeminded, who will care truly for your state" (Philippians 2:20). This must mean that Aristarchus, Demas and Luke were all gone. They had all been with him when he wrote the other epistles
(5) His condition as a prisoner seems to have changed for the worse. He had enjoyed comparative liberty for the first 2 years of his imprisonment at Rome, living in his own hired house and accessible to all his friends. He had now been removed, possibly to the guardroom of the praetorian cohort. Here he was in more rigorous confinement, in want and alone.
(6) Paul writes as if he thought that his case would be decided soon (Philippians 2:23, 14). He seems to be facing his final trial. He is not sure of its outcome. He may die a martyr's death, but he expects to be acquitted and then to be at liberty to do further missionary work. This was not his immediate expectation when he wrote the other epistles., and therefore they would seem to be earlier than this.
(7) The epistle is addressed to all the saints in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons (Philippians 1:1). These official titles do not occur in any earlier epistles, but they are found in the Pastoral Epistles, which were written still later. Therefore they link the Epistle to the Philippians with the later rather than the earlier epistles
From these indications we conclude that this is the last of Paul's Epistles to the churches. Hilgenfeld calls this the swan song of the great apostle. In it Paul has written his last exhortations and warnings, his last hopes and prayers for his converts to the Christian faith. Its date must be somewhere toward the close of the Roman imprisonment, in the year 63 or 64 A.D. Epaphroditus had brought the contribution of the Philippians to Paul in Rome. He had plunged into the work there in rather reckless fashion, risking his life and contracting a malarial fever or some other serious sickness; but his life had been spared in answer to the prayers of Paul and his friends. Now Paul sends him back to Philippi, though he knows that he will be very lonely without him; and he sends with him this letter of acknowledgment of their gift, filled with commendation and encouragement, gratitude and love.
VI. Contents of the Epistle.
The epistle is not capable of any logical analysis. Its succession of thought may be represented as follows:
(1) Address (Philippians 1:1, 2).
(2) Thanksgiving and prayer (Philippians 1:3-11): Paul is thankful for their fellowship and confident of their perfection. He longs for them and prays that their love may be wise to discriminate among the most excellent things and that they may be able to choose the very best, until they are filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and the praise of God.
(3) Information concerning his own experience (Philippians 1:12-30):
(a) His evangelism (Philippians 1:12-14): Everything had turned out well. Paul is in prison, but he has been indefatigable in his evangelism. He has been chained to a soldier, but that has given him many an opportunity for personal and private and prolonged conversation. When the people have gathered to hear, the guard has listened perforce; and when the crowd was gone, more than once the soldier has seemed curious and interested and they have talked on about the Christ. Paul has told his experience over and over to these men, and his story has been carried through the whole camp.
(b) His tolerance (Philippians 1:15-18): Not only has the gospel found unexpected furtherance inside the prison walls, but through the whole city the brethren have been emboldened by Paul's success to preach Christ, some through faction and envy and strife, and some through love. Paul rejoices that Christ is preached, whether by his enemies or by his friends.
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