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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Introduction to Philippians

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The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians

Commentary by A. R. FAUSSET

INTRODUCTION

The INTERNAL EVIDENCE for the authenticity of this Epistle is strong. The style, manner of thought, and doctrine, accord with Paul's. The incidental allusions also establish his authorship. PALEY [Horae Paulinae, ch. 7] instances the mention of the object of Epaphroditus' journey to Rome, the Philippian contribution to Paul's wants, Epaphroditus' sickness ( Phl 1:7 2:25-30 4:10-18 ), the fact that Timothy had been long with Paul at Philippi ( Phl 1:1 2:19 ), the reference to his being a prisoner at Rome now for a long time ( Phl 1:12-14 2:17-28 ), his willingness to die (compare Phl 1:23, with 2Cr 5:8 ), the reference to the Philippians having seen his maltreatment at Philippi ( Phl 1:29, 30 2:1, 2 ).

The EXTERNAL EVIDENCE is equally decisive: POLYCARP [Epistle to the Philippians, 3; 11]; IRENAEUS [Against Heresies, 4.18.4]; CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA [The Instructor, 1.1, p. 107]; EUSEBIUS [The Epistle of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne, in Ecclesiastical History, 5. 2]; TERTULLIAN [On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 23]; ORIGEN [Against Celsus, 1.3, p. 122]; CYPRIAN [Testimonies against the Jews, 3.39].

      Philippi was the first (that is, the farthest from Rome, and first which met Paul in entering Macedonia) Macedonian city of the district, called Macedonia Prima (so called as lying farthest eastward). The Greek ( Act 16:12 ) should not be translated "the chief city," as English Version, but as above [ALFORD]. Not it, but Thessalonica, was the chief city of the province, and Amphipolis, of the district called Macedonia Prima. It was a Roman "colony" ( Act 16:12 ), made so by Augustus, to commemorate his famous victory over Brutus and Cassius. A colony was in fact a portion of Rome itself transplanted to the provinces, an offshoot from Rome, and as it were a portrait of the mother city on a small scale [AULUS GELLIUS, Attic Nights, 16.13]. Its inhabitants were Roman citizens, having the right of voting in the Roman tribes, governed by their own senate and magistrates, and not by the governor of the province, with the Roman law and Latin language.

      Paul, with Silas and Timothy, planted the Gospel there ( Act 16:12, &c.), in his second missionary journey, A.D. 51. Doubtless he visited it again on his journey from Ephesus into Macedonia ( Act 20:1 ); and Act 20:3, 6, expressly mentions his third visit on his return from Greece (Corinth) to Syria by way of Macedonia. His sufferings at Philippi ( Act 16:19, &c.) strengthened the Christian bond of union between him and his Philippian converts, who also, like him, were exposed to trials for the Gospel's sake ( 1Th 2:2 ). They alone sent supplies for his temporal wants, twice shortly after he had left them ( Phl 4:15, 16 ), and again a third time shortly before writing this Epistle ( Phl 4:10, 18 2Cr 11:9 ). This fervent attachment on their part was, perhaps, also in part due to the fact that few Jews were in Philippi, as in other scenes of his labors, to sow the seeds of distrust and suspicion. There was no synagogue, but merely a Jewish Proseucha, or oratory, by the riverside. So that there only do we read of his meeting no opposition from Jews, but only from the masters of the divining damsel, whose gains had been put an end to by her being dispossessed.

      Though the Philippian Church was as yet free from Judaizing influence, yet it needed to be forewarned of that danger which might at any time assail it from without ( Phl 3:2 ); even as such evil influences had crept into the Galatian churches. In Phl 4:2, 3 we find a trace of the fact recorded in the history ( Act 16:13, 14 ), that female converts were among the first to receive the Gospel at Philippi.

      As to the state of the Church, we gather from 2Cr 8:1, 2 that its members were poor, yet most liberal; and from Phl 1:28-30, that they were undergoing persecution. The only blemish referred to in their character was, on the part of some members, a tendency to dissension. Hence arise his admonitions against disputings ( Phl 1:27 2:1-4, 12, 14 4:2 ).

      The OBJECT of the Epistle is general: not only to thank the Philippians for their contribution sent by Epaphroditus, who was now in returning to take back the apostle's letter, but to express his Christian love and sympathy, and to exhort them to a life consonant with that of Christ, and to warn them against existing dissensions and future possible assaults of Judaizers from without. It is remarkable in this Epistle alone, as compared with the others, that, amidst many commendations, there are no express censures of those to whom it is addressed. No doctrinal error, or schism, has as yet sprung up; the only blemish hinted at is, that some of the Philippian Church were somewhat wanting in lowliness of mind, the result of which want was disputation. Two women, Euodias and Syntyche, are mentioned as having erred in this respect ( Phl 4:2, 3 ). The Epistle may be divided into three parts: (1) Affectionate address to the Philippians; reference to his own state as a prisoner at Rome, and to theirs, and to his mission of Epaphroditus to them (the first and second chapters). Epaphroditus probably held a leading office in the Philippian Church, perhaps as a presbyter. After Tychicus and Onesimus had departed (A.D. 62), carrying the Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, Paul was cheered in his imprisonment by the arrival of Epaphroditus with the Philippian contribution. That faithful "brother, companion in labor, and fellow soldier" ( Phl 2:25 ), had brought on himself by the fatigues of the journey a dangerous sickness ( Phl 2:26, 30 ). But now that he was recovered, he "longed" ( Phl 2:26 ) to return to his Philippian flock, and in person to relieve their anxiety on his behalf, in respect to his sickness; and the apostle gladly availed himself of the opportunity of writing to them a letter of grateful acknowledgments and Christian exhortations. (2) Caution against Judaizing teachers, supported by reference to his own former and present feeling towards Jewish legalism ( Phl 3:1-21 ). (3) Admonitions to individuals, and to the Church in general, thanks for their seasonable aid, and concluding benedictions and salutations ( Phl 4:1-23 ).

      This Epistle was written from Rome during the imprisonment, the beginning of which is related in Act 28:16, 20, 30, 31. The reference to "Caesar's household" ( Phl 4:22 ), and to the "palace" ( Phl 1:13, Greek, "Praetorium," probably, the barrack of the Praetorian bodyguard, attached to the palace of Nero) confirms this. It must have been during his first imprisonment at Rome, for the mention of the Praetorium agrees with the fact that it was during his first imprisonment he was in the custody of the Praetorian Prefect, and his situation, described in Phl 1:12-14, agrees with his situation in the first two years of his imprisonment ( Act 28:30, 31 ). The following reasons show, moreover, that it was written towards the close of that imprisonment: (1) He, in it, expresses his expectation of the immediate decision of his cause ( Phl 2:23 ). (2) Enough time had elapsed for the Philippians to hear of his imprisonment, to send Epaphroditus to him, to hear of Epaphroditus' arrival and sickness, and send back word to Rome of their distress ( Phl 2:26 ). (3) It must have been written after the three other Epistles sent from Rome, namely, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon; for Luke is no longer with him ( Phl 2:20 ); otherwise he would have been specified as saluting them, having formerly labored among them, whereas he is mentioned as with him, Col 4:14 Phm 1:24. Again, in Eph 6:19, 20, his freedom to preach is implied: but in Phl 1:13-18, his bondage is dwelt on, and it is implied that, not himself, but others, preached, and made his imprisonment known. Again, in Phm 1:22, he confidently anticipates his release, which contrasts with the more depressed anticipations of this Epistle. (4) A considerable time had elapsed since the beginning of his imprisonment, for "his bonds" to have become so widely known, and to have produced such good effects for the Gospel ( Phl 1:13 ). (5) There is evidently an increase in the rigor of his imprisonment implied now, as compared with the early stage of it, as described in Act 28:1-31; compare Phl 1:29, 30 2:27. History furnishes a probable clue to account for this increase of vigor. In the second year of Paul's imprisonment (A.D. 62), Burrus, the Praetorian Prefect, to whose custody he had been committed ( Act 28:16, "the captain of the guard"), died; and Nero the emperor having divorced Octavia, and married Poppoea, a Jewish proselytess (who then caused her rival, Octavia, to be murdered, and gloated over the head of her victim), exalted Tigellinus, the chief promoter of the marriage, a monster of wickedness, to the Praetorian Prefecture. It was then he seems to have been removed from his own house into the Praetorium, or barrack of the Praetorian guards, attached to the palace, for stricter custody; and hence he writes with less hopeful anticipations as to the result of his trial ( Phl 2:17 3:11 ). Some of the Praetorian guards who had the custody of him before, would then naturally make known his "bonds," in accordance with Phl 1:13; from the smaller Praetorian bodyguard at the palace the report would spread to the general permanent Praetorian camp, which Tiberius had established north of the city, outside of the walls. He had arrived in Rome, February, 61; the "two whole years ( Act 20:30 ) in his own hired house" ended February, 63, so that the date of this Epistle, written shortly after, evidently while the danger was imminent, would be about spring or summer, 63. The providence of God averted the danger. He probably was thought beneath the notice of Tigellinus, who was more intent on court intrigues. The death of Nero's favorite, Pallas, the brother of Felix, this same year, also took out of the way another source of danger.

      The STYLE is abrupt and discontinuous, his fervor of affection leading him to pass rapidly from one theme to another ( Phl 2:18, 19-24, 25-30 3:1, 2, 3, 4-14, 15 ). In no Epistle does he use so warm expressions of love. In Phl 4:1 he seems at a loss for words sufficient to express all the extent and ardor of his affection for the Philippians: "My brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved." The mention of bishops and deacons in Phl 1:1 is due to the late date of the Epistle, at a time when the Church had begun to assume that order which is laid down in the Pastoral Epistles, and which continued the prevalent one in the first and purest age of the Church.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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