Dallas Baptist University
College Of Christian Faith: Religion
Early Life & Letters of Paul
Research Paper on Philippians
Prof. Scott Salzman
In Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements of the Course
Meeting On: Monday to Friday (5:30 pm to 9:45 pm)
Wilson Allen Campbell III
Sept. 15, 2016
Authorship of Philippians
In reviewing various commentaries, there is little debate as to the authenticity of Philippians being a letter written by Paul. Some of the most basic evidence to Paul as the author include his own claim to have written it (Phil. 1:1), the mentions of various individuals that Paul knew (such as Timothy and Epaphroditus), as well as specific mentions of events in his life (including his time in Thessalonica Phil. 4:16) (Constable, Thomas L. pg. 2). Additional internal evidence includes his style of writing and the way that he thinks as can be discerned from his writing along with various incidental allusions including things such as his suffering in Philippi (Brown D., Fausset A.R., * Jamieson R. pg. 1).
However, there are a few detractors from the view of Paul as the author and that dispute the authenticity of the epistle. One of the major evidences given is with regards to certain words and phrases that the author uses that are not found in the other letters of Paul. Perhaps one of the most significant arguments against Pauline authorship for Philippians is the mentioning of leadership in his opening greeting (Phil. 1:1). Detractors suggest that mentioning “overseers and deacons” is far to advanced in time for Paul to be the author, given that Philippians is considered to have been written while Paul was imprisoned (Wilder, Terry L. pg. 3). However, it is accepted in argument by detractors that it is quite possible that a church structure of leadership may have formed naturally as early as Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Wilder, Terr L. pg. 4). This results in many accepting Philippians as authentically written by Paul.
Dating of the Letter to the Philippians
The dating of the writing of Philippians is debated. Much of the debate has to do with where Paul was imprisoned while writing this letter. It is clear that Paul is a prisoner while writing this particular letter. There are references to the palace guard given (Phil. 1:13) and he even mentions Caesar’s household (Phil. 4:21), which together lead most scholars to accept that this was his Roman imprisonment (Constable, Thomas L. pg. 2). In order to add greater specification to time, it is understood that this letter was written during his first imprisonment. The internal evidence includes his clear belief that he will be released (Phil. 2:23-24), the time for Epaphroditus to travel to, be sick, go back, and return, and also the realization that Luke is no longer with him (Brown D., Fausset, A.R., & Jamieson, R. para. 8). However, the internal evidence regarding Epaphroditus given is questioned due to the amount of time and the distance traveled in order for Epaphroditus to go back and forth the number of times suggested. This results in the alternative view that this letter may have been written while Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus (Capes, David B., pg. 204).
Given all of this, it is believed that the letter to the Philippians was written about AD 60-62, during the first Roman Imprisonment (Constable, Thomas, L. pg. 2). However, there are adjustments to this time frame. Paul is considered to have been imprisoned in February of AD 61, having been released after two years of imprisonment in AD 63. This results in a more specific date of AD 63, given it appears that Philippians was written closer to the end of his imprisonment (Brown D., Fausset A.R., & Jamieson, R. para. 8). This is not the only alternative dating offered, as there is also a suggestion of AD 59 being the year of authorship, and another of AD 60, the sixth year of Nero, but these dates are from 18th century commentary (Gill, John para. 1). All of this together results in a rough dating of between AD 59 to AD 63 depending on the commentary and its reasoning.
To Whom Philippians Was Written
There is no suggestion that the letter could be to anyone other than the church in Philippi. One of the more unique features in this letter is that Paul refers to them as “saints” and even mentions (unusually) the “overseers and deacons” in his greetings. There are certainly no disagreements with this, and it appears that he is not writing to anyone in particular in the church of Philippi. He does mention a few specific individuals, including Timothy (Phil. 2:19) and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25). Epaphroditus is viewed as the likely presbyter of the congregation there (Brown, D., Fausset, A.R., Jamieson, R. para. 7) and is considered to be their minister or pastor and was obviously trusted to send their gift by him to Paul in Rome (Gill, John, para. 1). He also mentions two women, Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2), but only to note his desire for them to “agree in the Lord.” He also mentions a “Clement”, along with what appears to be an unnamed “true companion.” (Phil. 4:3). All of these individuals are only mentioned in the letter, as it is clear the letter is addressed to the whole church there in Philippi.
Occasion/Purpose for the Letter
The primary occasion and purpose of the letter is considered to be to show thanks to the church in Philippi for the gift they sent via Epaphroditus. It is clearly a letter of love and endearment to the church in Philippi who has evidently been a full-hearted supporter of Paul throughout his missions (Phil. 15-16). The bulk of the letter gives praise to the Philippi church for what appears to be their steadfast behavior and true clinging to Paul’s teachings. The purpose is viewed as being to express his love and affection for them and to give them thanks for the gift (Gill, John. Para. 1). It also contains within it a small variety of exhortations and guidance, but the bulk of the object of the letter is to show his love and sympathy for them (Brown D., Fausset, A.R., & Jamieson, R. pg 2 para. 7).
Major Themes of the Letter
In spite of the obvious purpose of the letter to give thanks for the gift and to express his love and affection for the church in Philippi, there are a few themes, (or perhaps better explained as sections) in the letter. The letter can be divided into three main parts. The first is an affectionate address to the Philippians along with something similar to a ‘status update’ on his imprisonment, as well as sending Epaphroditus back to them. The second part is a caution against what appears to be Judaizers. The third part then covers some admonitions of individuals, the church in general, and thanks for their help. (Brown D., Fausset, A.R., & Jamieson, R. pg 2. Para 8). However, it can also be broken into four sections that provide and easier grasp of the letter as not necessarily a theological exposition or one of rebuke and correction like his other epistles, but as a letter written to a church that Paul greatly loves.
The first section that follows the greeting, thanksgiving, and prayer that opens the letter discusses Paul’s positive outlook on his imprisonment. Philippians 1:12-18 covers Paul’s view of his imprisonment advancing the gospel. He mentions that it is now spreading even among the Imperial guard that he is under the watch of. He states that his imprisonment has compelled most of the brothers to “…speak the word without fear.” (Phil. 1:14). Here he gives a brief mention of those brothers who may be doing so for selfish reasons, perhaps suggesting individuals attempting to usurp his authority while he is in prison (Capes, D. B. pg 208). But regardless of their intentions, he is glad the gospel is spreading, as he states “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil. 1:18). Paul continues to speak of rejoicing throughout the letter, and considering the nature of his other letters in which he points out his opponents and veraciously attacks their heresies, here, Paul reacts rather light heartedly and with rejoicing.
The next section is heavily focused on uniting the church in Christ. There is a view that Paul may be attempting to confront an issue of divide in the church in Philippi given the amount of time that is spent on this subject (Capes, D.B., pg 208). Philippians 1:19 to 2:18 really seems focused on having the church come together, creating a unity so they may “…shine as lights in the world..” (Phil. 2:15). He urges them to live as Christ, as he gives something of a joyful (yet to the reader, depressing) expression of “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21) as he explains his contentment with death or life, viewing either option as good in his eyes, as in life he works to better the Philippians, and in death he is with Christ. He encourages them to “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ… that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” (Phil. 1:27). He continues in this section with encouragement to unite together by saying “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Phil. 2:2). These passages make it quite clear the Paul wants the church in Philippi to unite together as one people so they may separate themselves from the rest of the world, and be a light for them. This may not necessarily mean that Paul is addressing a divide in the church of Philippi, but instead, given the joy in the nature of Paul’s writing in this letter, he may be expressing what is already happening in Philippi. That is to say that the church in Philippi is doing great, which brings Paul greater joy, and he is attempting to motivate and praise them for that.
He then briefly addresses his desire to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to them and gives light that he is positive that he will be released and come to see them himself. This then moves into the next major section that has a focus on warning the church in Philippi to watch out for those who seem to be trying to cause disruption and problems in their church. Going on the ending statement of the previous section, this may be a rallying subject to keep what may be the one remaining assault on the unity of Philippi that is either near to being accomplished, or already is. He identifies these opponents as dogs, evil-doers, those who mutilate the flesh (suggesting Judaizers as the likely opponents), and those who are enemies of the cross. In this section he encourages them by declaring that “…we are the circumcision..” and covers his past gains as the persecutor of the church, Hebrew of Hebrews, and blameless, and how he views all of these gains of the flesh as loss sacrificed for Christ (Phil. 3:3-8). He provides for the church, in order to bring them together, a unifying goal and vision for them to seek to achieve together (as a vision is something that any group of people need to come together around). He separates them from the evil-doers and enemies of the cross by saying “Their end is desctruction, their god is their belly…but your citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior…” (Phil. 3:19). This stands to provide a strong unifying foundation for the church.
Then the final section comes up in Chapter 4. The focus here is on giving thanks to the church in Philippi for their gift. He admonishes them as those who have always supported him, even while in Macedonia and during his time in Thessalonica. He includes in this section of praise and exhortation the verse “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). This whole section is filled with great joy and love for the church in Philippi, it makes for the primary evidence for the identity of this letter as one of Joy that Paul doesn’t demonstrate in any of his other letters as much as he does in the letter to the Philippians.
Distinctiveness or Uniqueness of Philippians
What is quite apparent throughout the letter to the Philippians is that Paul is in a rather unusual state of Joy. He appears quite cheerful in this letter, which might have more to do with what may be a reasonable belief that he will be released soon (Phil. 2:23-24). However, an addition to this joy can include news from Epaphroditus regarding the nature of the church in Philippi. The giving of gifts of some form to Paul by Epaphroditus on behalf of the church in Philippi gives Paul joy in his heart, as he refers to the gift as “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” (Phil. 4:18). Whichever the case may be, it is clear the Paul is in unusually high spirits.
Through out every commentary, it is clear that the most distinctive feature of this epistle is joy. The theme attributed to this letter is often considered to be love, unity, and peace as presented in joy and uplifting spirit (Gill, John, para. 1). It is referred to as a “..spontaneous utterance of Christian love and gratitude..” by Robert Lightner, and is seen as the most consistently positive and personal (Constable, T. L., pg. 3). The epistle reflects a certain warmth and expression of love that is not found in any of his other epistles (Brown D., Fausset, A.R., & Jamieson, R. pg. 2). Commentaries speak of the “…great burst of thankful love…” he shows in the salutation and speaking of his “…prayers of joyful thanksgivings.” (Maclaren, A. pg. 1 para. 8). Given all of these references across many years of commentary on this epistle, it is clear that the most unique feature of this particular letter is how uplifting and joyous it is. This becomes something that itself is rather gratifying in light of all of his other Prison epistles and makes it one of the more enjoyable books of the Bible, with little or no scorching rebukes, and only much praise and thankfulness throughout it.
Brown, D., Fausset, A. R., & Jamieson, R. (2009). Commentary Critical & Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved From http://www.ccel.org/ccel/jamieson/jfb.xi.xi.i.html, August 19, 2016.
Capes, David B., Reeves, Rodney, and Richard, E. Randolph. (2007). Rediscovering Paul. An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology. Nottingham, England: IVP Academic. Pgs. 203-215
Constable, Thomas, L. (2016). Notes on Philippians, 2016 edition. Garland, TX: Sonic Light. Retrieved from http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/philippians.pdf, August 19, 2016
Gill, John (1763). John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, Philippians, Introduction. Biblestudytools.com. Retrieved from http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/philippians-1-introduction.html, August 19, 2016.
Maclaren, Alexander. Expositions of Holy Scripture, Philippians. New York, NY: George H. Doran Company. Retrieved from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/maclaren/iicor_tim.ii.iii.html, August 19, 2016
Wilder, Terry L. (2003). Philippians Is Just as Pseudonymous as the Pastorals. Kansas City, MO: Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Retrieved from http://reclaimingthemind.org/papers/ets/2006/Wilder/Wilder.pdf, August 19, 2016