INTRODUCTION TO THE LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS
Most from the book
New Testament Survey
Robert G. Gromacki
Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan
copyright © 1974
AFTER READING PLEASE CLICK HERE TO ANSWER THE QUESTIONS TO STUDY ONE.
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Before analyzing the text of any book of the Bible, it is well to learn the historical background. Also, it is best to make a mountain top view of its general contents.
- TIME AND PLACE
- The following is a time line:
- Paul was arrested in Jerusalem (57 A.D., Acts 21:33)
- Paul is transferred to Rome to stand at trial before Caesar (59-60 A.D., Acts 25:10-28:16)
- Paul awaits for trial in Rome under house arrest. Acts is penned by Luke who was with Paul. (60-61 A.D. Acts 28:17 to end)
- Paul underwent his first Roman imprisonment during which he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and this letter. (61-62 A.D.)
- Paul was released from prison. (between 62 and 64 A.D.)
- The complicated background behind the writing of the Epistle can best be illustrated through a series of five directional arrows.
Paul --- 1 -----> Church
in <-- 2 ------ in
Rome --- 3 ----> Philippi
- News of Paul's imprisonment in Rome had come to the Philippian church by some unknown means, and it created a great deal of concern and anxiety (arrow 1).
- To get firsthand information on Paul's predicament, the church authorized Epaphroditus to go to Rome to confer with Paul and to present him a monetary gift for his financial needs (4: 10, 14-18; arrow 2).
- When Epaphroditus saw that Paul's material needs were much greater than the size of the Philippian gift, he stayed on in Rome, working to raise more money for Paul (2:25, 30). In doing this, Epaphroditus became very ill and almost died (2:27, 30). Word of his severe sickness somehow reached Philippi and caused a new concern for the church (2:26; arrow 3).
- The fact that the church knew about his illness then reached Epaphroditus in Rome and became a burden to him (2:26; arrow 4).
- During the time period covered by the third and fourth communication, God had healed Epaphroditus totally or at least sufficiently so that he was well enough to return to Philippi (2:27). Paul determined then to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi so that the church might rejoice at his return (2:28). The apostle thus used this occasion to write this Epistle and to send it to Philippi by way of Epaphroditus (arrow 5).
- It probably was written near the end of Paul's two years of imprisonment at Rome (A.D. 59-61) because Paul was confident about an imminent acquittal or release (1: 25; 2:24).
- There has been some thought that Paul wrote this letter from an imprisonment in Ephesus. Some plausible arguments have been set forth for this position.
- Paul planned to send Timothy to Philippi, and he did just that from Ephesus (2:19-23; cf. Acts 19:22), but why did Paul not mention Erastus in the Epistle if these two sending of Timothy are identical?
- It is possible that there was a Praetorium guard" stationed at Ephesus (1: 13) and that "Caesar's household" referred to imperial civil servants (4: 22) located in Ephesus, but the natural use of those phrases argue for a Roman setting.
- It is argued that Luke is not mentioned in Philippians although he was in Rome with Paul and was listed both in Colossians and Philemon. Since Luke was not with Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19), that city seems to be more likely as the place of origin. However, Luke was not mentioned in Ephesians either. Also, if Paul did write from Ephesus, why did he not include the names of those who were with him in that city (e.g., Gaius and Aristarchus, Acts 19: 29)?
- The Ephesian proponents say that too much time would have been involved in the five exchanges of communication; however, it only required a month to travel from Rome to Philippi. These exchanges could have taken place within a six-month period. well within the two-year limits of Paul's Roman imprisonment. Until more objective evidence is forthcoming, the traditional view that Paul wrote from Rome must stand.
Paul learned about the spiritual needs of the church through conversations with Epaphroditus and with those who came to Rome with the report of the church's concern over the illness of Epaphroditus.
- Paul wanted to relieve their anxiety over the circumstances of his imprisonment (1: 1-30). They thought that the apostle's ministry had been brought to an abrupt stop, but Paul assured them that God was using the episode for the advancement of the gospel.
- There apparently was a growing disunity among the members because Paul appealed to them to manifest humility and unity (2:1-8).
- He wanted to inform them of a possible imminent visit by Timothy to them (2: 18-24).
- He attempted to explain the reasons behind Epaphroditus' sickness and healing (2:25-30).
- He desired to warn them against the deceitful tactics and doctrines of the Judaizers (3:1-4:1).
- He admonished two women, Euodias and Syntyche, to maintain spiritual unity (4:2-3).
- He prescribed truth that would give them mental and emotional stability to replace their anxiety (4 :4-9).
- He wanted to thank them for their financial assistance (4: 10-20).
- He expressed greetings to all of them (4:21-23).
As you conclude your overview of Philippians, ponder over the key verse 1:27-28: "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved--and that by God."
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