Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Paul's Letter to the Phillipians

Paul’s relationship with the church at Philippi was always close and cordial. Paul established the church at Philippi during his second missionary journey. This church had on at least two occasions helped Paul financially before Philippians was written[1] and having heard of his confinement in Rome, the church sent Epaphroditus with another gift. Philippians is a thank-you letter for that gift and is the most personal letter Paul wrote to a church. Paul may have been subjected to some criticism for keeping Epaphroditus with him instead of sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi sooner. Paul made certain the Philippians knew that Epaphroditus has accomplished his task and was in danger at times for having done so.[2] Another reason for writing may have been to prepare the Philippians for Timothy’s arrival. Perhaps the Philippians did not know Timothy well and Paul sought to ensure Timothy would receive a warm welcome.[3]

As previously stated, it is believed that Philippians was written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. To say this is settled scholarship is far from the truth. Strong arguments can be made that Paul may have been imprisoned during his three years in Ephesus and may have written one or more of the so-called Prison Epistles during this period. 2 Corinthians 11:23, written towards the end of Paul’s stay in Ephesus, informs us that by comparison with other Christian workers he had experienced ‘far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death’. In I Corinthians 15:32 Paul wrote that he ‘fought with beasts at Ephesus’, a phrase which was probably not meant to be understood literally, but as a figure of speech could easily describe a trial preceding imprisonment. Again, 2 Corinthians 1:8 speaks of ‘the affliction we experienced in Asia’, the Roman province of which Ephesus was the capital, while in Romans 16:7, written shortly after he left Ephesus, Paul refers to two people as ‘my fellow prisoners’.

Other evidence that Paul was imprisoned at Ephesus is to be found in the Latin introductions to New Testament books that were written in the second century under the influence of the Gnostic Marcion. The second-century Acts of Paul includes the account of an imprisonment at Ephesus, followed by an encounter with lions in the arena, from which Paul was delivered by supernatural intervention. While these last pieces of evidence are of variable quality, the combination of such information with the clues provided by Paul’s own writings makes it quite likely that he did suffer a period of imprisonment during his three-year stay in Ephesus.[4]

As with many of Paul’s other letters, he confronts opponents in Philippians. It is possible that Paul was dealing with more than one problem in the church.[5] There may have been members of the church that were making life difficult for Paul but Paul later refers to these people as opposing the church itself.[6] In 3:1-6 Paul seems to be addressing the recurring issue of Judiazers followed in verses 18-20 where there are those who pretend to practice perfectionism and libertinism.[7] As we have come to expect during our study of Paul, he confronts these opponents directly and sternly.

[1] Phil 4:6

[2] Carson, D A, and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction to The New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 507.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Drane, John William: Introducing the New Testament. Completely rev. and updated. Oxford : Lion Publishing plc, 2000, S. 365.

[5] Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: It's Background And Message (2nd ed). (Nashville: Broadman & Hollman Publishers, 2003), 444.

[6] Phil 1:28-29

[7] Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: It's Background And Message (2nd ed). (Nashville: Broadman & Hollman Publishers, 2003), 444.

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