Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Philippians, The Letter of Paul to the. N.T. book, a letter from Paul to members of the church he had founded at Philippi; probably written when Paul was a prisoner in Rome, around A.D. 63. Paul wrote to thank the Philippians for a gift they had sent him and to encourage them to hold fast to the faith in spite of false teachers.

Harperís Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Philippians, the Letter of Paul to the, a letter or possibly an edited collection of letters written by the apostle Paul to the Christians in the Macedonian city of Philippi and subsequently included in the nt canon.


The Letter of Paul to the Philippians

Despite certain problems and growing pains, the Philippian Christian community had been especially responsive to and supportive of Paul, and he in turn reveals in this document a special affection for them as he urges them to greater unity among themselves and to a more profound reliance on Christís saving power. With this community he could freely share his own varied feelings as he sat in chains, facing a possible death sentence (Phil. 1:12-26), and in one of his most moving passages he could offer them a veritable spiritual last will and testament (3:1-4:1). In recounting his own situation Paul invites the Philippians to observe how Christís power has been at work in him and to imitate this in their own lives. Paul also urges his audience to imitate the total self-surrender of Christ himself (2:1-13). Using (and possibly editing) an older Christian poetic composition or Ďhymní that recalled Christís descent into the physical world, his death, and his exaltation by God (2:6-11), a text that itself provides important evidence for beliefs about Christ held by certain groups within earliest Christianity, Paul challenges the Philippians to turn from self-centeredness to a giving of themselves for others.

Composition: While almost no one doubts the Pauline authorship of Philippians, many argue that the present canonical text actually combines two or three shorter letters. At Phil. 3:1 there is a very harsh transition: 3:1a seems to begin the concluding words of a letter (cf. 2 Cor. 13:11; Gal. 6:17) while 3:1b (or certainly 3:2) begins a strongly worded condemnation of advocates of circumcision, probably, given the language of 3:2, Jews rather than Jewish Christians. The first three words of Phil. 4:4 exactly repeat the last three words of 3:1a, a feature that can signal the later insertion of material into a prior textual unit. Further, it is somewhat strange that Paul would have failed to acknowledge the Philippiansí gift until the end of a relatively long letter. Phil. 4:10-20 may therefore originally have been a separate brief thank-you note.

Those who divide Philippians into three separate fragments believe that Phil. 4:10-20 (4:10-23?) was written first by Paul while in prison and before Epaphroditusí illness (2:26-27); that 1:1-3:1a (3:1a and b?) and 4:4-7 (4:2-9?) and 4:21-23(?) formed a second letter from prison; and that 3:1b(3:2?)-4:3(4:1?) and 4:8-9(?) derived from a third letter written probably when Paul was no longer a prisoner. The proponents of a two-letter hypothesis combine 4:10-20 with the second prison letter. Following either hypothesis, the editing (certainly before a.d. 90) of these shorter letters into a single document was part of a more general and widespread effort to collect and prepare Paulís writings for use in community worship and instruction.

However, a multiple-letter theory has not yet been as clearly demonstrated for Philippians as for 2 Corinthians. No agreement exists on how Phil. 4 is to be divided, and even the sharp break at 3:1 is not altogether unparalleled in Paulís writings (see Rom. 16:17). In addition, the supposedly separate fragments share common vocabulary to some degree, even words found rarely or not at all in Paulís other Letters.

Date: References to Paulís imprisonment serve as the best clue for determining when Philippians or its relevant fragments were written. Earlier investigators thought that Paulís mention of the Ďpraetoriumí (1:13) and of ĎCaesarís householdí (4:22) clearly indicated a Roman origin for the Letter, but in fact these entities existed in any Roman provincial capital. Since Paul makes reference to much traveling back and forth between Philippi and his own place of imprisonment (1:26; 2:19; 2:23-24; 2:25-30; 4:18), it is unlikely that he was in Rome or, as others have proposed, at Caesarea, since these cities are quite distant from Philippi. Probably Paul also was a prisoner at Ephesus ca. a.d. 55 (see 1 Cor. 15:32; 2 Cor. 1:8-10), and it is much more likely that he wrote from here or from some other place of incarceration (see 2 Cor. 11:23) closer to Philippi. If 3:1b-4:3 plus 4:8-9 was indeed originally part of a separate letter, its testamentary form (cf. Acts 20:18-35) may well point to a period closer to the end of Paulís life for its composition.

Bibliography Beare, F. W. Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians. Blackís New Testament Commentaries. 2d ed. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1969. Houlden, J. L. Paulís Letters from Prison. Pelican New Testament Commentaries. Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1970. Pp. 31-116. Kümmel, Werner. Introduction to the New Testament. 2d ed. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1975. Pp. 320-35.


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