LUTHER RICE SEMINARY
A HISTORICAL EXAMINATION INTO THE
CONTEXT OF THE PHILIPPIAN LETTER
A PROJECT SUBMITTED TO
DR. TONY GUTHRIE
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE COURSE
BE 7404 PREPARING AN EXPOSITORY MESSAGE
KINGS MOUNTAIN, NC
6 JULY 2014
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®)
Copyright © 2001 by Crossway,
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DATE. . . . . . . . . . . 4
AUTHORSHIP. . . . . . . . . . 5
HISTORICAL CONTEXT. . . . . . . . . 6
PURPOSE, OCCASION, AND RECIPIENTS. . . . . . 7
PLACE OF WRITING. . . . . . . . . 10
The date of the writing of the Philippian letter is in no way unanimous. Scholars range in dates from 54-55 A.D. to 61-64. One scholar did not even attempt to include the date of the writing. The question of when the book was written depends upon one’s view of Paul’s location and situation.
The most important fact to note is that Paul was in Rome at the time of the letter’s creation. The reason that this is so vital in determining the date of the letter is that Paul’s imprisonment at Rome was near the end of his life. From the materials in the letter itself it can be deduced that Paul was in his Roman imprisonment (see Phil. 1.13; 4.22 ESV). He refers to “the whole imperial guard” near the beginning of the letter (Phil. 1.13). Unger states, “The epistle was manifestly penned from Rome (cf. 1.13; 4.22) and very likely near the end of Paul’s two years there (Acts 28.30-31).” Walvoord and Zuck also list another intuitive key in Paul’s letter that indicates the writing during his Roman imprisonment, noting that he had some sense of an impending end to his life. Perhaps the clearest factor in determining Paul’s residence in Rome is found in Phil. 4.22, where Paul wrote, “especially those of Caesar’s household.” So the internal evidence seems to indicate that Paul wrote sometime from A.D. 61-64 while imprisoned at Rome.
The letter itself claims Pauline authorship (see Phil. 1.1 ESV). Müller writes, “…and there is nothing in the Letter, linguistic or historical, which can cause any doubt as to its authenticity.” Conservative scholars, though in disagreement as to the date, are almost unanimous in their assertion of Pauline authorship. However, some scholars of the German school question the possibility of Paul’s hand in the creation of the letter. The Tübingen School attempted to prove the falsehood of Pauline authorship through “Unionspaulinismus”, but without much serious following. Though the inclusion of Timothy as a traveling friend might cause some to think he wrote the letter, Müller lists reasons why this would not be the case.
While Paul was imprisoned the Philippians believers sent one of their own, Epaphroditus, to comfort Paul and bring him financial support (see Phil. 4.18 ESV). Paul was apparently chained to Roman guards, constantly in their keeping. So Paul would have needed extra encouragement during this trying time. In addition, Paul needed money in order to live and carry on his ministry. The Philippian church sent their comforter, Epaphroditus, along with monetary support to encourage the imprisoned apostle. Commentators seem to be in agreement that “the gifts” (Phil. 4.18 ESV) received were monetary. On this Walvoord and Zuck write, “And he [Epaphroditus] brought Paul a financial contribution from them [the Philippians] so that his confinement would be more comfortable (4.18).” So while Paul was imprisoned, facing financial hardships and possible loneliness, the Philippian believers sent one of their own to provide care and money.
However, while Epaphroditus was executing the task given to him, he fell ill (Phil. 2.27 ESV). The apostle states that “Indeed he was ill, near to death.” (Phil. 2.27 ESV) Word had reached the Philippian Church (2.25-26) and in the midst of a fear for their beloved parcel carrier Paul penned the letter to the beloved congregation and sent Epaphroditus to bear both the letter and the living proof of his recovery.
PURPOSE, OCCASION, AND RECIPIENTS
Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was manifold, though according to several scholars there was one primary purpose: to thank them for their sacrificial gift and the assistance and healing of his brother Epaphroditus. The fact that there was disunity in the church (see Phil. 2.1-3; 4.2-3) is apparent. But Peterlin makes the argument that not only is it often neglected, but that “It is suggested that the situation of disunity in the church is the background against which Philippians is to be read.” as a possibility of a reason for its writing. No doubt the apostle Paul was eager to offer his thanksgiving at the love bestowed upon him by the church, but he was just as keen to inform them of the restoration of their own. One commentator states, “The alleviation of their anxiety would lessen Paul’s. Thus he sent Epahroditus back more quickly.”
However, as Müller aptly notes, Paul took full advantage of this opportunity to help instruct and encourage his fellow believers in their knowledge of God. Paul’s main concern was humility and unity (see Phil. 2.3-5; 3.2; and 1.27-30), though he did touch on the topics of the Judiazers (3.1-3) and antinomianism (3.18-19). A possible additional purpose is the perceived ungratefulness on behalf of the apostle in conjunction with previous assistance (see Phil. 4.10-20), though this seems unwarranted.
The occasion of this letter has been illustrated that Paul wanted to offer thanks on behalf of the gift received (Phil. 4.10-20). Additionally, Paul wanted to calm the worried hearts of the Philippian church (Phil. 2:18).
The opening verse of the letter to the Philippians clarifies the destined populace. Paul marks, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” (Phil. 1.1 ESV). The Philippian church was the first church planted on European soil and had a rich history.
The people Paul was addressing, however, were the believers. Paul’s ministry to the Philippians began during his second missionary journey (see Acts 16.9-40). This is where Paul received his vision to go into Macedonia. Paul’s custom was to enter the synagogue first (see Acts 17.2), and when there was no synagogue he met with the women gathered by the river. From this information it can be presumed that the Jewish population was extremely small, for a synagogue needed a minimum of ten males to exist. Müller agrees, stating, “The Church consisted for the major part of gentile Christians.” Lydia was the first of the converts (Acts 16.14) and began what would become the church at Philippi.
The church was an extremely giving church which was well attested by the apostle Paul (see Phil. 4.15, 16; 2 Cor. 11.9). But, as was mentioned before, the church was suffering issues with unity (see Phil. 2.1-3; 4.1-3). To what extent this disunity had reached is debatable, but one cannot deny that it never existed.
PLACE OF WRITING
Paul wrote the letter from Rome while imprisoned. As Müller states, “That Paul was in captivity on account of and in consequence of his work as apostle among the heathen appears more than once in the Letter.” But where was Paul imprisoned? Was he at Philippi (Acts 16.23), Jerusalem (21.33), Caesarea (23.25) or Rome (28.16)?
From the internal conflict (Harrison’s views notwithstanding) it should be apparent that Rome was the place Paul was residing during his imprisonment.
First, Acts 28.16, 30, 31 mentions that Paul was imprisoned for two years at Rome. Second, Paul mentions “praetorian guard” (Phil. 1.13) and individuals from “Caesar’s household” (4.22) in his epistle. Though Harrison offers reasons that these two phrases favor an Ephesian origination, this seems to be a bit of a stretch.
Archer, R. L. “The Epistolary Form in the New Testament,” Expository Times, 63. 1951–52.
Barnett, A. E., Paul Becomes a Literary Influence, Chicago: University Press, 1941.
Blaiklock, F. M., The Acts of the Apostles . Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959.
Bruce, F. F., The Books and the Parchments. London: Pickering & Inglis, 1953.
_________, Commentary on the Book of the Acts . Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954.
Buck, C. H., “The Early Order of the Pauline Corpus,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 68. 1949.
Burkitt, F. C., The Gospel History and its Transmission . Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911.
Calvin, John. Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Philippians. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009.
Caroll, K. F., “The Earliest N T,” Bulletin of John Rylands Library, 38 (1955), 45–57.
_________, “The Expansion of the Pauline Corpus,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 72. 1953.
Deissmann, A., Bible Studies, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1901.
Feine, Paul, Johannes Behm, W. G. Kummel (transl., A. J. Mattill Jr.), Introduction to the New Testament. Nashville: Abingdon, 1966.
Finegan, J., “The Original Form of the Pauline Collection,” Harvard Theological Review, 45 (1956), 85–103.
Foakes Jackson, F. J., and K. Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity . 5 vols. Grand Rapids, Michigan, BakerBook House, 1920.
Guthrie, Donald, New Testament Introduction . 3 vols. Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1961–65.
Harrison, Everett F. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: the New Testament. Nashville: The Southwestern Company, 1962.
Hayes, Doremus Almy “The Epistle to the Philippians,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 2nd ed.
Hester, H. Richard. New Testament Bible History: Illustrated Study Series Handbook. Blacktown: Orion Printers Pvt. Ltd., 2009.
Horton, David. The Portable Seminary: A Master’s Level Overview in One Volume. Bloomington: Bethany House, 2006.
Jamieson, Robert, Fausset, A. R. and Brown, David. A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments: Volume Three. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.
Lake, Kirsopp and Sylva, An Introduction to the New Testament . London: Christophers, 1938.
Lake, Kirsopp, Earlier Epistles of St. Paul . London: Rivingstons, 1911.
Moffatt, James. The Moffatt New Testament Commentary: The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1927.
Müller, Jac J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon. Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns Publishing Co., 1978.
Peterlin, Davorin. “Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in Light of Disunity in the Church,” Tyndale Bulletin 45, 1994.
Ramsay, W. M., St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen . New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1898.
Unger, Merrill F. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1988.
________. “Archeology and Paul’s Campaign at Philippi,” Bibliotheca Sacra 119, 1962.
Walvoord, John F. and Zuck, Roy B. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: The New Testament. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook Publishers, 1983.
Warfield, B. B., The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible . Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948.
Westcott, B. F., A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament . London: Macmillan. 1881.
Wikenhauser, Alfred, New Testament Introduction . New York: Herder. 1963.
 James Moffatt, The Moffatt New Testament Commentary: The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1927), xxi; Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: the New Testament (Nashville: The Southwestern Company, 1962), 1319.
 Of these include: John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), ix; Jac J. Müller, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns Publishing Co., 1978), 28; John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: The New Testament (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook Publishers, 1983), 647; Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments: Volume Three (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 424; Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1003; and H. Richard Hester, New Testament Bible History: Illustrated Study Series Handbook (Blacktown: Orion Printers Pvt. Ltd., 2009), 183.
 David Horton, The Portable Seminary: A Master’s Level Overview in One Volume (Bloomington: Bethany House, 2006), 321. In his defense, David Horton’s book never claims to be an exhaustive study of the Bible. However, it is interesting that in the overview of the book of Philippians he never mentions a possible date for the book.
 See 2 Tim. 4.7 ESV. The second letter to Timothy is considered the last letter Paul penned. Walvoord and Zuck write, “Paul was a prisoner in a Roman dungeon when he wrote this, the last of his epistles, to Timothy (cf. 2 Tim. 1.8, 16; 4.6-13). The date, as best it can be established, was approximately A.D. 67. Not long afterward, according to tradition, the apostle was beheaded.” Walvoord and Zuck, 749.
 Unger, 1003.
 Walvoord and Zuck, 647. They write, “….as well as his concern about facing possible death (vv. 20-26) argue for his writing from Rome.”
 Phil. 4:22 ESV. Additional this reference rules out the fact that some scholars believed Philippians was written during Paul’s stay at Caesara (see Acts 24.27). See also Doremus Almy Hayes, “The Epistle to the Philippians,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 2nd ed.
 Müller, 14.
 Walvoord and Zuck, 647; Hester, 183; Moffatt, 1; and Unger, 1003.
 Harrison writes, “Apart from F. C. Baur and several other German critics, the Pauline authorship has never been seriously doubted.” Harrison, 1319.
 Müller, 15. Müller defines “Unionspaulisnismus” as “an attempt by a later disciple of Paul to reconcile the Jewish-Christian and the Gentile-Christian parties in the Church.” 15.
 Ibid., 14-15.
 Unger, 1054.
 Moffatt, 225; and Walvoord and Zuck, 647.
 Ibid., 647.
 Müller, 101-102.
 Walvoord and Zuck, 648; Moffatt, xxi-xxii; and Müller, 13-14. One commentator disagrees, saying, “The popular view that Philippians was primarily a thank-you letter is unlikely.” Harrison, 1319. However, internal evidence suggests Paul’s purpose to be to provide gratitude to the church (see Phil. 4.10-20). Hester lists four purposes, but begins with “to thank the believers at Philippi for sending him a financial gift.” Hester, 184.
 Davorin Peterlin, “Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in Light of Disunity in the Church,” Tyndale Bulletin 45 (1994): 207. Peterlin’s work goes into great detail listing out the internal evidence that suggests a struggle with unity. However, the majority of scholars seem to carry a consensus on Paul’s gratefulness as being the primary reason for the letter, though the majority can certainly be wrong.
 Müller, 14; Harrison, 1326.
 Müller, 14.
 Moffatt devotes nineteen pages on the possibility of this final purpose. See Moffatt, 208-227. Concerning this purpose he writes, “This reading of the situation finds support in other places in the epistle, as is shown by the fact that Zahn arrives at these conclusions with but little help from 4.10-20.” Ibid, xxii.
 See Müller, 13; Moffatt, x;
 The city was named after the father of Alexander the Great, Philip of Macedon. It witnessed several key Roman victories and eventually become a colony of the great empire. See Moffatt, x. See also Merrill F. Unger, “Archeology and Paul’s Campaign at Philippi,” Bibliotheca Sacra 119 (1962).
 See Walvoord and Zuck, 399.
 Müller, 13.
 Ibid., 21. Müller lists the following references to prove this assertion: 1.7; 1.13, 14; 2.17.
 Ibid. 22; Walvoord and Zuck, 647; and Harrison, 1319. Harrison (as well as Müller, 22) adds a fifth possibility (which he also uses to determine the early date of A.D. 54) of Ephesus and lists several reasons he holds to that view. Müller lists the areas with the supporting scholars. For Caesarea: O. Holtzmann, Spitta, and Lohmeyer (Müller, 22). For Ephesus: Deissmann, Appel, Lake, Feine-Behm, Duncan, Manson, McNeile, Goguel, Obbbink-Brouwer, and Mihaelis (Ibid., 24). For Rome: “Advocates of this view constitue the huge majority of theologians and students of Scripture. B. Weiss, Zahn, Haupt, Ewald, Jülicher, Moffatt, Baljon, Kennedy, Vincent, Lightfoot, Barth, Geijdanus, Thiessen (Ibid., 26).
 Harrison, 1319. Müller offers counterpoints to this, see Müller, 27. Moffatt also lists similar reasons to support the Roman view, Moffatt, xiii.