Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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PHILIPPIANS - Introduction

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Philippians - Introduction

Supplemental Commentary:



Philippi was famous in history.  When Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, refounded the city about 360 B.C., he gave it his name.  Three centuries later the place was the scene of the battle in which Augustus and Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius (42 B.C.).  In St. Paul's day the city was the capital of a district of Macedonia, a trade center due to its site on the Egnatian Way linking Rome and the East, a military colony whose citizens enjoyed the special privilege of jus italicum, the full rights of those living in Italy itself.  The Acts describe St. Paul's ministry there (16, 9-40).

Occasion.  At least twice afterwards St. Paul visited Philippi (Acts 20, 1-6).  But whether present or absent, he was in the heart of its people.  They were so dear to him, that the church at Philippi can be called his favorite.  The immediate purpose of the letter is to express gratitude for the gift his converts had sent him.  Learning the St. Paul had been imprisoned at Rome, the Philippians had sent Epaphroditus, one of their number, to the Apostle with money for his needs and with instructions to assist him by any service possible.  While devoting himself unsparingly to the saint, Epaphroditus fell sick and nearly died.  On his recovery he seems to have had a touch of homesickness, and the Apostle determined to send him back to Philippi.  This present letter praises his work highly and serves to forestall any suspicion that Epaphroditus was deserting his post.

At the same time Paul warns the congregation against two dangers.  One comes from the Judaizers, Jewish converts who wished to maintain as obligatory certain practices of the Old Law.  He reminds the Philippians that all grace comes from Christ alone and, once the law of Grace began, the Mosaic rites ceased to have any efficacy.  The second danger consists in the dissensions which had sprung up among the Philippians.  These are indicated in his appeal to the two women, Syntyche and Evodia, that they be reconciled.  It has been said that the church at Philippi offered to the Apostle a bright picture marred by only one shadow, the darkness of disunion and uncharitableness.  However, Paul feels certain his readers will correct this defect, and joy breaks forth so constantly in his letter that with good reason its theme has been found in the words, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice (4, 4).

The Time and Place of Composition can be gathered from the Epistle itself.  The Apostle writes as a prisoner expecting an early release.  This imprisonment would seem to be that which early tradition places at Rome during the years 61-63 A.D.  The mention of the praetorium (1, 13) and Caesar's household (4, 22) lends support to this interpretation.  The hope of a speedy release (2, 24) would indicate a period near the end of the captivity so that we may conclude the Epistle came from Paul's hand in the spring or summer of 63 A.D.



Introduction 1, 1-11

I. Personal News 1, 12-26

II. Exhortation 1, 27 -- 2, 18

III. Timothy and Epaphroditus 2, 19-30

IV. Warning Against False Teachers 3, 1 -- 4, 1

Conclusion 4, 2-23.

Confraternity Bible:



The church at Philippi was St. Paul's first foundation on European soil.  The vision of a man of Macedonia calling for aid brought the Apostle, St. Timothy and their comrades from Asia into Europe.  In Acts (16, 11-40) St. Luke narrates the conversions at Philippi, the cure of a girl possessed by a demon, the Apostle's imprisonment, his release and departure from that city.

On at least two other occasions Philippi had the joy of welcoming its beloved Apostle.  The people were deeply attached to St. Paul, helping him by alms in his missionary work; and Paul's special affection for them manifests itself in this Epistle.  He hopes to be able to visit them soon.

The occasion of its composition can be gathered from the Epistle.  Learning that St. Paul had been cast into prison, the church at Philippi, in order to assist him, sent Epaphroditus with a sum of money and with instructions to remain beside the Apostle as his companion and servant.  While thus employed, Epaphroditus fell sick and nearly died.  Upon his recovery, St. Paul decided to send him back to Philippi.  The Epistle expresses gratitude to the church for its gift and commends the service rendered by Epaphroditus. 

At the same time Paul takes the opportunity of exhorting the faithful to compose their dissensions, and he warns them against Jewish converts who wished to make Old Testament practices obligatory for Christians.

No one but St. Paul could have composed such a letter.  It was written from Rome in the year 63 A.D.