Philippians, Epistle to the
PHILIPPIANS, EPISTLE TO THE
Place, Date, and Unity of Composition. Philippians has in the past generally been classified with the "captivity epistles," although the disputed status of Ephesians and Colossians leaves only Philippians and Philemon remaining in this category. The question of where Philippians was written continues to be debated. Four suggestions have been made as to provenance: Rome, Ephesus, Caesarea, and, more recently, Corinth. In the absence of compelling evidence, however, it seems best not to base one's exegesis of the epistle on the issue of where it was written.
Because of its association with what might have been Paul's final captivity, Philippians was long held to be one of Paul's later letters. However, even though Paul contemplates his death within the letter, he ends up expressing strong confidence that he will continue to live for the sake of the Christians in Philippi. In her detailed study of Rom 6:5, Florence Morgan Gillman has argued that the terminology there has been influenced by the morph- vocabulary in Phil 3. Additionally, there appear to be indications that the Letter to the Philippians was composed around the time of the Corinthian correspondence, most likely before 2 Corinthians. The first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, like Philippians, appear to share a background which contrasts a human view of wisdom with the Wisdom of God that 1 Cor 1:24 identifies as the crucified Christ. 2 Cor 8:1–5 appears to be a later reflection on the situation described in Philippians, and 2 Cor 8:9 seems to echo Phil 2:5–11.
Another point of debate regards the integrity of the letter. Particularly since the mid-20th century, it had become fashionable in discussion of this letter to propose that in fact Philippians is composed of parts of two or even three letters. Since 1981, however, the pendulum seems to be swinging in the other direction, initially stimulated by an article by David Cook that exposed the pseudo-scholarship of a number of exegetes who claimed to find early evidence for the "partition theory" in the 17th century writing of Stephanus LeMoyne. The fact that advocates of a partition theory are by no means in agreement as to where the supposed "obvious breaks" in the letter occur has led to the existence of at least 16 versions of this theory, as David Garland has pointed out. Wolfgang Schenk (1983) has attempted to "objectively" demonstrate the lack of integrity of the letter using the methodology of text linguistics, but in fact an appeal to linguistics cannot conclusively resolve the issue either way, as Jeffrey Reed has demonstrated. There is no manuscript evidence to indicate that the text ever existed in anything other than its canonical form. Also, as recent commentaries (see bibliography) have demonstrated, good sense can be made of the extant letter.
The Relationship between Paul and the Philippians . One item that has never been in dispute is the manifest affection between Paul and this community and the high regard in which its members were held by Paul, evidenced not only in this letter, but also in 2 Cor 8:1–5. The mutual participation in the gospel which extended to sharing of material resources is indicated by the frequency of koinōnia terminology (Phil 3:10). This was the only one of the churches Paul founded from which he accepted financial support for his own use "from the beginning of the gospel" (Phil 1:5, 4:15–16; cf. 2 Cor 11:9), contrary to his usual practice as illustrated in 1 Thes 2:9 and 1 Cor 9:1–15.
While in every one of his undisputed letters Paul at times uses the terms brother (s) or sister to indicate the addressees' equal status with him in the gospel, normally this is balanced by indications of his superior status as one who has a right to teach, as illustrated, for example in the use of apostle (Rom 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1, 2 Cor 1:1, Gal 1:1; cf. Phlm 1:14), father (1 Cor 4:15, 1 Thes 2:11; cf. 2 Cor 12:14), or mother (1 Thes 2:7; cf. Gal 4:19 and 1 Cor 3:1–1). Only in Philippians is there no explicit claim to superior status. At first glance this appears more remarkable insofar as modern scholars are increasingly inclined to agree with the observation of Chrysostom that it appeared to him the women mentioned in Phil 4:2 were the heads of the church at Philippi. In appealing to them to resolve their dispute, which may have been due to serious concerns regarding the threat of persecution, Paul is extremely courteous, although he takes the almost unprecedented step of naming persons involved in a dispute. This may indicate that Paul can rely on the strength of their relationship. In Galatians and 1 Corinthians, while he expresses disapproval in much stronger terms, the only person who is named as being party to an earnest disagreement is Peter (influenced by James; see Gal 2). The difference between his report of undisguised anger at Peter and the gentle courtesy extended to Euodia and Syntyche is understandable if Paul was expressing sensitivity to their serious situation which involved the threat of persecution.
Koinōnia in Suffering (Phil 3:10). The tendency to read Philippians as dealing with relatively minor problems in intra-community harmony has increasingly been replaced by a viewpoint which recognizes that most likely the letter was directed to a community in danger of persecution and even death for its belief in the gospel Paul preached. The initial impetus for this change of perspective was the 1930 commentary of Ernst Lohmeyer, which read the epistle against the background of the possible impending martyrdom of Paul (Phil 1:20–23) and also of the Philippian community (Phil 1:29–30). Such a reading makes better sense of Phil 2:5–11, which is preceded by an exhortation to have the same "mind" as Christ (or "as you have in Christ"). Earlier objections to such an "ethical" interpretation of 2:5–11 were primarily based on the perceived incongruity between putting forth the model of Jesus' obedience even unto death as an incentive for the community to improve its internal relations. However if the disputes within the community are viewed not as petty squabbles, but rather as serious disagreements as to how to deal with the possibility of impending persecution, the exhortation to obedience in Phil 2, immediately following the example of the freely chosen obedience of Jesus unto death, makes better sense. Likewise, Paul's impassioned plea in Phil 3 to beware of the advocates of circumcision is more understandable if perhaps some in the community might have been considering the option that accepting this mark of Jewishness could be a means of avoiding Roman persecution. Philippi was a city in which abstaining from participation in Roman cult would have been noticeable, but Jews were exempt from such participation.
Reversal of Values. Phil 3:7–11 testifies to a profound reversal of values on Paul's part as the result of his encounter with the risen Christ. Not only his former privileged status in Judaism, but everything other than Christ is now accounted as worthless. The 15th century mystical writer Dionysius the Carthusian pointed out the similarity of this passage to Wis 7:7–9. It is in the Book of Wisdom that the notion of a righteous sufferer apparent in the Book of Isaiah becomes explicitly linked with the hope of resurrection for the just. In encouraging this community which, together with him, is "knowing" the koinōnia of Christ's sufferings, Paul holds out to them his own hope that he and they will likewise experience the power of Christ's resurrection (Phil 3:10), when the one who did not consider equality with God something to be used for his own advantage (Phil 2:6) "will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself" (Phil 3:20–21, NRSV).
Bibliography: d. a. black, "The Discourse Structure of Philippians: A Study in Text Linguistics," Novum Testamentum 37 (1995): 16–49. m. bockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians, Black's New Testament Commentary 11 (London 1998). g. f. hawthorne, Philippians, (Word Biblical Commentary 43; Waco, Texas 1983). v. koperski, "Feminist Concerns and the Authorial Readers in Philippians," Louvain Studies 17 (1992): 269–292. v. koperski, "Textlinguistics and the Integrity of Philippians: A Critique of Wolfgang Schenk's Arguments for a Compilation Hypothesis," Ephemerides theologicae Lovanienses 68 (1992): 331–367. v. koperski, The Knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: The High Christology of Philippians 3:7–11, Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 16, (Kampen, Netherlands 1996). p. t. o'brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich 1991). l. portefaix, Sisters Rejoice: Paul's Letter to the Philippians and Luke-Acts as Received by First-Century Philippian Women, Coniectanea Biblica, New Testament 20 (Stockholm 1988). j. t. reed, A Discourse Analysis of Philippians: Method and Rhetoric in the Debate over Literary Integrity, JSNTSuppl 136, (Sheffield 1997). w. schenk, Die Philipperbriefe des Paulus (Stuttgart 1984). m. silva, Philippians, Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Chicago 1988).