1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Philippians, Epistle to the

20897391911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 21 — Philippians, Epistle to theJames Moffatt

PHILIPPIANS, EPISTLE TO THE, a book of the New Testament. Communications had already passed between the Christians of Philippi and Paul, not only when he was at Thessalonica. (iv. 15–16), but at some subsequent period (iv. 18), when Epaphroditus had brought him a present of money from them. It is possible that this gift was accompanied by a letter. At any rate the extant epistle is the answer to one received from the Philippian Christians, who had evidently desired information about the apostle's health and prospects (i. 12), assured him of their prayers (i. 19), and wondered whether he, their pride and glory (καύχημα), would return to them (i. 25 seq.).

After a brief greeting (i. 1, 2), Paul assures them of his loving interest in their present attainments and future progress in the faith of the gospel (i. 3–11), then, relieving their anxiety about his own prospects, he expresses the confident hope that he will be released and thus be able to return to them (i. 12–26). Meantime they were to avoid any pride or fractiousness which might break their unity[1] as a church (i. 27–ii. 18), and they are promised a visit from two of Paul's coadjutors,[2] who are well known to them (ii. 19–30). At this point the letter suddenly swerves[3] into a passionate warning against some errorists of Judaism (iii. 1–iv. 1), after which the appeal for unity at Philippi is reiterated (iv. 2–9),[4] and the epistle closes with some personal details (iv. 10–23).

Paul is a prisoner when he writes, and the place of composition may therefore be Caesarea or Rome (Acts xxviii. 16, 30–31). The evidence upon the whole seems to point to the latter. The phrase οἰκία Καίσαρος (iv. 22) suits Rome better than Caesarea, and, while πραιτώριον (i. 13) does not necessarily imply the capital, It is most naturally understood of Rome.[5] But the whole tone of the epistle suggests that Paul expected a speedy end to his case. Now at Caesarea this was out of the question. His appeal to Caesar involved a protracted process, and it is very difficult to put expressions like those e.g. of ii. 23 into such a situation. The critical outlook of Philippians does not correspond with the position of the apostle at Caesarea, nor can the latter town be said to have been a centre of vigorous Christian propaganda (i. 17). Finally, the contention that no visit of Timothy to Rome is known is an argument from silence which is of little more weight than the plea of Spitta that the cupidity of Felix (Acts xxiv. 26) was excited by the arrival of the money from Philippi (Phil. iv. 16).

A further examination of the epistle shows that it must have been written towards the close of the διετία ὅλη of Acts xxviii. 30, not in the earlier part of the Roman captivity. Paul is on the edge and eve of the great decision. Behind him (i. 12–13) lies a period during which considerable progress has been made in the local preaching and extension of the gospel, nor does the language of the apostle suggest that this fresh departure in the propaganda was stimulated by the mere novelty of his arrival. furthermore, the relations between the Philippians and himself presuppose, on any fair estimate, an interval of time which cannot be crushed into a few months. News of his arrival must have reached them, money was collected (ii. 25, iv. 18) and then forwarded by Epaphroditus, who fell sick after he reached the capital, news of this again floated back to Philippi, and subsequently Paul heard of the Philippians’ concern (ii. 26). Not till then did he compose this letter.

Philippians is thus the last extant letter we possess from Paul, unless some of the notes embedded in the pastoral epistles are to be dated subsequent to its composition. It unites the close of his career in Rome with the beginning of his mission work in Europe (iv. 13; cf. Acts xvi. 12), and illustrates not merely the situation of the apostle at Rome, but the terms of exceptional affection which existed from first to last between him and the Macedonian churches. The main argument for putting it earlier is derived from the admitted affinities between it and Romans, the Colossian and Ephesian epistles containing, it is held, a more advanced christology (so Lightfoot especially, and Hort, Judaistic Christianity, pp. 115–129). But such considerations are not decisive. Paul wrote from time to time, not in the execution of a literary plan, but as different objects or interests called out his powers. The Philippians did not require, and therefore did not receive, the same elaborate warnings as the Asiatic churches. Hence on the one hand it is unreal to lay stress on coincidences with Romans, as if these necessarily implied that both epistles must have been composed shortly after one another, while again the further stage of thought on Christ and the Church, which is evident in Colossians, does not prove that the latter must have followed the former. Upon the whole, the internal evidence of the epistle strongly favours its position as the last of the captivity epistles.

The attempts made during the 19th century to disprove the Pauline authorship now possess merely an historic interest, nor have the various hypotheses of more or less extensive interpolation won any serious support.[6] More significance attaches to the view that the epistle is made up of two separate notes, written to Philippi at different times. The fusion of the two is found in the abrupt hiatus of iii. 1, and evidence is led from supposed inconsistencies between the earlier and the latter parts of the epistle. But the flexibility of a letter-writer, under different moods of feeling, which would naturally lead to rapid transitions, may be adduced as some explanation of the latter phenomena. The exegesis does not absolutely necessitate a partition of the epistle, which (so Heinrichs and Paulus) would make iii. 1–iv. 20 a special letter addressed to some inner circle of the apostle's friends (in spite of iv. 10 seq), or take iii.-iv. (Hausrath, History of N. T. Times, iv. 162 seq. and Bacon, Story of St Paul, pp. 367 seq.) as earlier than i.-ii. Besides, as Pfleiderer points out, the hypothesis is shipwrecked on the difficulty of imagining that “each of the epistles had but one essential part: the first, in particular, lacking an expression of thanks for the gift from the Philippians, which must nevertheless, according to ii. 25, have already taken place.” In his letter to the Philippians (iii. 2) Polycarp indeed observes that Paul wrote ἐπιστολάς to them; but, even if the plural could not be taken as equivalent to a single despatch, it would not necessarily support the partition theory of the canonical Philippians. Polycarp may have known of more than one Pauline note to Philippi, no longer extant, or he may be referring loosely to 2 Thessalonians, which was addressed to a neighbouring Macedonian church. The exegetical arguments are, in short, the final court of appeal, and their verdict tells rather in favour of the epistle’s integrity. The simplest account of iii. 1 is to suppose that Paul started afresh to complete or supplement what he had already written, possibly because some fresh tidings from Philippi had reached him in the interval. Psychologically the change from ii. 19 seq., with its note of farewell, to the impassioned outburst of iii. 2 seq., is not incredible in an informal letter from a man like Paul. The hiatus is striking, but it cannot be held to necessitate an editorial dovetailing of two separate epistles. It is doubtful, therefore, if the ingenious attempts to analyse Philippians have proved much more convincing than the similar movement of literary criticism upon the first Philippic of Demosthenes, where research has swung back in the main to a conservative position (cf. A. Baron in Wiener Studien, 1884, 173–205).

The first clear echoes of the epistle are heard in Polycarp, though it was probably known to Clement of Rome and Ignatius (cf. the evidence tabulated in The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, 1905, pp. 53 seq., 71 seq., 94 seq., with R. J. Knowling’s Testimony of St Paul to Christ, pp. 111 seq. and Gregory’s Canon and Text of N. T., 1907, pp. 205–206).

Bibliography.—The ablest among recent editions of the Greek text are those of R. A. Lipsius (Hand-Commentar zum N. T., 2nd ed., 1892), E. Haupt (in Meyer’s Kommentar, 1902) and H. A. A. Kennedy (Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1903), to which may be added the older commentaries of C. J. Ellicott (5th ed., 1888), J. B. Lightfoot (6th ed., 1891) and A. Klöpper (1893), which in some respects are not yet superseded. Other modern editions by M. R. Vincent (Internat. Crit. Commentary, 1897), H. C. G. Moule (Cambridge Greek Testament, 1897) and J. M. S. Baljon (1904) are worthy of notice, as well as the Roman Catholic commentaries by P. Beelen (Louvain, 1852) and A. Bisping (1866). The earlier work on the epistle is adequately summarized by B. Weiss in his Der Philipperbrief ausgelegt u. die Geschichte seiner Auslegung kritisch dargestellt (1859). There are brief popular commentaries in German by A. Neander (En. trans., 1851, Edinburgh), K. Braune (in Lange’s Bibel-Werk, 2nd ed., 1875), Von Soden (1890), K. J. Müller (1899) and W. Lueken (in Die Schriften des N. T., 1906); in English by C. J. Vaughan, M. F. Sadler (1889), J. Agar Beet, G. C. Martin (Century Bible) and Principal Drummond (Internat. Handbooks to N. T., 1899). In addition to the literature cited in the course of this article, consult the general studies by M. Hasselmann (Analyse pragmatique de l'épître aux Phil., 1862); A. Sabatier (Encycl. des sciences relig. x. 569–573); J. Gibb (Hastings’s Dict. Bible, iii. 840–844); Sir W. M. Ramsay (St Paul the Traveller, ch. x., xv. § 4) and R. R. Smith (The Epistle of St. Paul’s First Trial, Cambridge, 1899); besides the older essays of Rettig (Quaestiones philippienses, Giessen, 1831) and C. Müller (Comment. de locis quibusdam epistolae ad Phil., 1844). The case against the Pauline authorship was stated most fully by F. C. Baur (Paulus, Eng. trans, ii. 45 seq. and in Theol. Jahrb., 1849, pp. 501 seq., 1852, p. 133 seq); E. Hinsch (Zeitschrift für wiss. Theol., 1873, p. 59 seq.); S. Hoekstra (Theol. Tijdschrift, 1875, pp. 416 seq); J. P. Straatman (De Gemeente te Rome, 1878, pp. 201 seq.); C. Holsten (Jahrb. für protest. Theologie, 1875, pp. 425 seq. 1876, pp. 58 seq., 282 seq.); and Van Manen (Handeleiding voor de oudchrist. Letterkunde, 1900, pp. 49–51, 82–84; also in Ency. Bib., 3703–3713). The most thorough replies have been those of Lünemann (Pauli ad Philipp. epistola contra Baurium defensa, 1847); Ernesti (Studien und Kritiken, 1848, p. 858–924, 1851, pp. 591–632); B. Brückner (Epistola ad Phil. Paulo auctori vindicata contra Baurium, 1848); A. Resch (De l'Authent. de l'épître aux Ph., 1850); Grimm (Zeitschrift für wiss. Theologie, 1873, pp. 33 seq.); Hilgenfeld (ibid., 1884, pp. 498 seq.); C. Weizsäcker (Apostolic Age, i. 218 seq., 279 seq., ii. 131) and Clemen (Paulus, i. 130–138). The religious ideas of the epistle are best stated in English by Principal Rainy (Philippians, Expositor’s Bible) and H. C. G. Moule (Philippian Studies, 1897). Of the numberless monographs on ii. 6 seq., the most full is Tholuck’s Disputatio christologica de loco Pauli, Phil. ii. 6–9; and discussions of special excellence may be found in A. B Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ (3rd ed., 1889, pp. 15 seq., 357 seq.); Weiffenbach’s Zur Auslegung d. Stelle Phil. ii. 5–11 (Karlsruhe, 1884); and E. H. Gifford, The Incarnation (reprinted from the Expositor, 1896).  (J. Mt.) 

  1. For the strong Christian consciousness of solidarity, presupposed in the Philippians see Von Dobschulz's Christian Life of the Primitive Church (1904) pp 93 seq
  2. The touch of acerbity in ii. 21 (after i. 14) is probably to be explained in the fact that “Paul had found some of the brethren reluctant to undertake a journey to Macedonia, or to perform some other service which he desired, and the words only express the momentary disappointment of a man who was imprisoned and ready to die for the gospel” (Drummond). Cf. Renan's Antichrist (Eng. trans. p. 48)
  3. The so called logion in (Justin’s?) De resurrect 9: εἴρηκεν ἐν οὐρανῷ τὴν κατοίκησιν ὑπάρχειν seems a mere echo of iii. 20.
  4. On iv. 8 Von Soden notes (History of Early Christian Literature, p. 114) that “It is as if we heard the ripple of the waves at the meeting of the two streams which have their source in Zion and the Parthenon”
  5. If the expression meant (a) the praefecti praetorio or officials charged with the care of prisoners under trial, i.e. the supreme imperial court, or (b) the praetorian guard, or (c) their barracks, this would almost follow But conceivably it might mean the palace i.e of Herod (Acts xxiii. 35) The balance of probabilities falls, however, in favour of the court hypothesis.
  6. To the details furnished in the present writer's Historical New Testament (2nd ed, 1901, pp. 634–635) may be added references to Volter's Paulus u. seine Briefe (1905), pp. 286-323, Belser’s Einleitung in der N. T. (2nd ed., 1905), pp. 555 seq, and Schmiedel’s paragraphs in Ency. Bib. (3147–3148). Pfleiderer (Primitive Christianity, i. 254 seq) now hesitates on ii. 6 seq alone like Bruckner and Schmiedel. The objections to Paul's authorship on the score of style and grammar are finally set aside by the philologist Nageli in Der Wortschatz des Apostels Paulus (1905), pp. 80–82.