The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians
[Sidenote: The Author.]

The genuineness of this Epistle is now admitted by critics of very different schools of thought, including some extreme rationalists. About A.D.110 St. Polycarp, in his letter to the Philippians, speaks of the letters which they had received from "the blessed and glorious Paul." Although he seems to refer to a number of letters, we may be sure that this letter was among that number. Otherwise it would not have been so universally regarded as genuine during the 2nd century. It is in Marcion's canon, in the Muratorian Fragment, the Peshitta Syriac and Old Latin versions. It is also quoted in the letter of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne, in the Epistle of Diognetus, and by Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria. It was rejected by Baur and others on various grounds. It was urged (1) that the doctrine of Christ's self-surrender or "self-emptying" in Phil. ii.7 is derived from the Valentinian Gnostics of the 2nd century, who taught that the Spirit "Sophia" fell from the "fulness" of divine spirits in heaven to the "emptiness" of the lower world. This objection is too fantastic to deserve serious refutation. It is, in fact, little more than a play upon words. It was urged (2) that in Phil. ii.7 the manhood of Christ is said to have come into existence at the incarnation, whereas in 1 Cor. xv.47-49 it is said to have existed in heaven before the incarnation. This idea rests on a false interpretation; in 1 Cor. xv. Christ is called "of heaven" {189} because His manhood became heavenly at His ascension. It was urged (3) that in Phil. iii.6 the writer says that he had been, "as touching the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless," whereas St. Paul in Rom. vii. speaks of his revolt against the Law. But it seems that in Phil. iii. St. Paul is laying stress rather on his external privileges and external conformity, while in Rom. vii. he speaks of what is inward and secret. It was urged (4) that the mention of "bishops" (or rather episkopoi) and "deacons" in Phil. i.1 shows that the Epistle was not written in the apostolic age. But there is nothing to make it impossible that such offices did exist at that period, and there is much evidence in favour of them. Christians who are attached to the historical form of Church government will now note with interest that, since the genuineness of this Epistle has been practically demonstrated, some writers have suggested that these words do not refer to special ecclesiastical offices![1]

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

Philippi was named after Philip, King of Macedon, in the 4th century B.C. It was in Eastern Macedonia, on a steep hill at the edge of a plain; its seaport, Neapolis, was about eight miles distant. It was on the Egnatian road, the great high-road which connected the Aegean and the Adriatic seas, and therefore connected Asia with Europe. It was made into a Roman colony, with the title Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensium, after the victory of Antony and Octavian over Brutus and Cassius. Its new name was, therefore, a memorial of the murdered but avenged Julius Caesar. St. Paul brought Christianity to Philippi early in A.D.50, during his second missionary journey. St. Paul's first visit here is described in Acts xvi.12-40, and it has a special interest as the story of the apostle's first preaching in a European town. The Jews had no synagogue, only a spot by the river-side in the suburbs, where a few met together on the sabbath. His first convert was Lydia of Thyatira, who was a seller of purple-dyed {190} goods; her house became the centre of the Philippian Church. The imprisonment of St. Paul and St. Silas in consequence of St. Paul's exorcising a heathen slave-girl who professed to be inspired, is one of the most dramatic incidents in Acts. When St. Paul was released he left the town, but returned there, in all probability, in A.D.55, on his third journey while travelling to Corinth. In A.D.56 he was there once more, and the last Easter before his imprisonment was spent with these beloved converts (Acts xx.6).

The Christians of Philippi were pre-eminent in the affections of St. Paul. He calls them, like the Thessalonians, his "joy and crown" (iv.1), and they alone of his children had the privilege of ministering to his personal necessities.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

It may be regarded as almost certain that St. Paul wrote this Epistle in Rome. He was a prisoner, as we see in Phil. i.7, 13, 14, 17. He sends greeting from those of Caesar's household (iv.22). The first and last chapters imply that he is in the midst of an active Church, and that he is the centre to which messengers come and from which they go. This accords with the apostle's treatment at Rome. One phrase, however, has been thought to suggest Caesarea rather than Rome. It is "the whole praetorium" (i.13). This might mean the praetorium or palace of Herod Agrippa II. at Caesarea, but it is possible that it has quite a different meaning. It may either be the imperial guard or the supreme imperial court before which St. Paul had to be judged. The latter interpretation is that suggested by the great historian Mommsen, and seems to be the most satisfactory explanation.

The meaning of the phrase has an important bearing upon the date of the Epistle. If it was not written at Caesarea, it must have been written at Rome between A.D.59 and A.D.61. But the critics who are agreed that it was composed at Rome, are divided as to the place which it occupies among the Epistles which St. Paul wrote during his imprisonment. Some {191} place it first, because the vigorous style, and many of the phrases, suggest that it was written not very long after Romans. Others, with greater probability, place it last among the Epistles of the captivity. For even if it was written first among those Epistles, it was written more than three years after Romans. And the Epistle contains several indications of being written late in the captivity. If "praetorium" means the imperial guard, some time would have to elapse before such a large body of men could know much about St. Paul; and if it means the imperial court, the verse implies that he had already appeared before his judges. Phil. ii.24 shows that he was expecting a speedy decision on his case. Epaphroditus, probably not the Colossian Epaphras who was with St. Paul at Rome (Col. iv.12), had come as a delegate from the Philippians, bringing their alms to the apostle (ii.25; iv.18). After his arrival in Rome he was ill and homesick, and now he is returning to Philippi bearing this letter of thanks. This all seems to imply that Philippians was written a considerable time after the apostle's imprisonment began, and we can therefore reasonably place it after Colossians and Ephesians, and date it early in A.D.61.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

With the exception of 2 Corinthians, this is the most personal and intimate of St. Paul's writings. In both he lays bare his heart. But the tone of the two Epistles is absolutely different. In 2 Corinthians he writes as a man who has been bitterly injured; he asserts his claims to fickle believers whose ears have been charmed by his unscrupulous opponents. In Philippians we chiefly observe a note of frank and loving confidence; buffeted by the world, the apostle finds refreshment in the affection of his friends at Philippi.

After a salutation to all the "saints" at Philippi, including especially the episkopoi and deacons, the apostle speaks of the joy which he feels in praying for them, and begs of God that their love may abound, and that they may approve the things {192} that are excellent, being filled with the fruits of righteousness (i.1-11).

Then St. Paul tells how his captivity has been a means of spreading the gospel in the praetorium and elsewhere. Even the malicious activity of his opponents has been a means of proclaiming Christ, and with true grandeur of soul the apostle rejoices in the fact. So far as he is concerned, death would be a more attractive prospect than life, for death would mean admission into the presence of Christ, but for the sake of the Philippians he is glad to live. With wonderful cheerfulness he says that he is glad if his blood is to be offered like a libation poured over the living sacrifice of the souls and bodies which the Philippians offer to God (ii.17). Before he speaks of this libation of his blood he makes a tender appeal to his converts to imitate the lowliness of Jesus Christ. He puts into the language of theology the story of the incarnation which his friend St. Luke draws with an artist's pen in the first two chapters of his Gospel. He speaks to them of "the mind" of Christ Jesus, whose life on earth was self-sacrifice in detail. Christ had before the incarnation the "form" or essential attributes of God, but He did not set any store on His equality with God, as though it were a prize,[2] but stripped Himself in self-surrender, and took the "form" or nature of a bond-servant. He looked like men as they actually are, and if men recognized His outward "fashion," they would only have taken Him for a man. And then He made Himself obedient to God up to His very death, and that the death of the cross. This was followed by His exaltation, and worship is now paid to Him in His glorified humanity (ii.1-11).

In ii.19 St. Paul returns to personal matters concerning Timothy and Epaphroditus; then he seems on the point of concluding the Epistle (iii.1). But he suddenly breaks into {193} an abrupt and passionate warning against the Judaizers. The passage almost looks as if it were a page from the Epistle to the Galatians. The Judaizers are called "dogs," and as their circumcision was no longer the sign of a covenant with God, the apostle calls it a mere outward mutilation of the flesh (iii.2). It is unlikely that Jewish influences were potent at Philippi. The explanation of this passage appears to be that the apostle, before completing his letter, learnt of some new and successful plot of the Judaizers at Rome or elsewhere. Nervously dreading lest they should invade his beloved Philippian Church, he speaks with great severity of these conspirators. The conclusion of the chapter is apparently directed against the licence of certain Gentile converts. These seem to have been "enemies of the cross of Christ" in the looseness of their lives rather than in the corruptness of their creed. It is difficult in this case, as in that of the Judaizers, to know whether these errors already existed at Philippi or not. The passage concludes with an exhortation to steadfastness (iii.2-iv.1).

Two women, Euodia and Syntyche, are exhorted to be "of the same mind." A true yokefellow of the apostle, possibly Epaphroditus, and a certain Clement, possibly the Clement who was afterwards Bishop of Rome, are exhorted to try to bring about their reconciliation. All are exhorted to rejoice in the Lord, and are told that the peace of God, which passeth understanding, shall stand sentinel over their hearts and thoughts. Before returning again to personal matters and thanking the Philippians for their gifts, St. Paul urges them to follow whatsoever is true and lovely. His language here seems to consecrate all that was permanently valuable in the sayings of the Greek philosophers. It recalls to us the words of the ancient Church historian, Socrates: "The beautiful, wherever it may be, is the property of truth."



Salutation, thanksgiving, prayer (i.1-11).

The position of affairs at Rome. His imprisonment has stimulated the preaching of the gospel; his own feelings are divided between the desire for death and a willingness to live for their sakes; an exhortation to boldness (i.12-30).

An exhortation to imitate the humility of Christ, who took the form of man and was willing to die, and was after this abasement exalted above every created being (ii.1-11).

An exhortation to obedience, quietness, purity, mission and commendation of Timothy and Epaphroditus; farewell (ii.12-iii.1).

Strong warning against Judaism, enforced by his own example; against claim to perfection, also enforced by his own example; against Antinomian licence as unworthy of "citizens of heaven", exhortation to steadfastness (iii.2-iv.1).

Advice to Euodia, Syntyche, and others; exhortation to think of all things true and lovely (iv.2-9).

The apostle expresses his joy at the spirit shown by the offerings sent to him from Philippi. Doxology. Salutation (iv.10-23).

[1] So E. Haupt, Die Gefangenschaftsbriefe, p.3.

[2] The Greek is ordinarily translated as "a prize to be grasped," but it seems quite possible to translate the passage, "He considered not equality with God to involve a process of grasping."


chapter xv the epistle of
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