The book of Philippians (Philippians 1)

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The author identified himself as Paul, and this has been accepted with little dissent. However, some interpreters consider Philippians to be a composite of several of Paul’s letters to the Ephesian church. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, mentioned in a letter to Philippi that Paul had sent “letters” to this church. Philippians does seem somewhat disjointed – the change in tone at Philippians 3:2 seems particularly abrupt – and this has led to the suggestion that the current book contains parts of several letters. However, it seems most likely that Philippians is one of several letters Paul wrote to Philippi, not a composite of several letters.

Candidates for place and date of origination of this letter include Rome (ca. 60-63), Ephesus (ca. 54-57), Corinth (ca. 50) and Caesarea (ca. 58-60). It is clear that Paul was imprisoned at the time at or near a praetorium (1:13). There is no doubt that Paul endured multiple periods of confinement (2 Corinthians 11:23).

Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Philippi (see Philippi also under Philippians 1). The city was located at the gateway between Europe and Asia and was like a miniature Rome, with a large number of Roman citizens.

The Philippians were proud of their Roman heritage (see Acts 16:21). They dressed like Romans and often spoke Latin. Many Philippians were retired military men who had been given land in the vicinity and who in turn served as a military presence there.

There dose not appear to be a single overriding concern behind this epistle. For the most part, this is simply a pastoral communication between Paul and a church that was especially dear to him.

As you read, watch for the repeated use of the words “joy” and “rejoice” throughout this letter. Note Paul’s ability to find joy and contentment in any circumstance. Look for clues to the sources of joy. Notice that Paul held up Christ as the model for Christians to follow and included a beautiful psalm of praise to Jesus (Ephesians 2:5-11).

Did you know that Philippi was a wealthy town because of nearby gold and silver mines (1:1)? Did you know that the “whole palace guard” was a contingent of soldiers numbering several thousand, many of whom would have had personal contact with Paul or would have been assigned individually to guard him during the course of his imprisonment (1:13)? Did you know that the winner of the Greek races received a wreath of leaves and sometimes a cash award (3:14)? Did you know that “those who belong to Caesar’s household” were not blood relatives of the emperor but those employed (as slaves of freedmen) in or around the palace area (4:22)?


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