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Philippians is Paul’s most warmly personal letter. After initial difficulties in the city of Philippi (Acts 16), a strong bond developed between Paul and the converts there. Paul wrote to thank the church for a gift it had recently sent him in prison and to inform them of his circumstances.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING
AUTHOR: Paul the apostle wrote this short letter, a fact that no scholar seriously questions.
BACKGROUND: The traditional date for the writing of Philippians is during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment (AD 60–62); few have challenged this conclusion.
Paul planted the church at Philippi during his second missionary journey (AD 51) in response to his “Macedonian vision” (Ac 16:9–10). This was the first church in Europe (Ac 16).
The text of this letter from Paul suggests several characteristics of the church at Philippi. First, Gentiles predominated. Few Jews lived in Philippi, and, apparently, the church had few. Second, women had a significant role (Ac 16:11–15; Php 4:1–2). Third, the church was generous. Fourth, they remained deeply loyal to Paul.
Philippi, the ancient city of Krenides, had a military significance. It was the capital of Alexander the Great, who renamed it for his father Philip of Macedon, and it became the capital of the Greek Empire (332 BC). The Romans conquered Greece, and in the civil war after Julius Caesar’s death (44 BC), Antony and Octavius repopulated Philippi by allowing the defeated armies (Brutus and Cassius) to settle there (eight hundred miles from Rome). They declared the city a Roman colony. It flourished, proud of its history and entrenched in Roman political and social life. In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul alluded to military and political structures as metaphors for the church.
Paul wanted to thank the church for their financial support (4:10–20). He also addressed disunity and the threat of heresy. Disunity threatened the church, spawned by personal conflicts (4:2) and disagreements over theology (3:1–16). The heresy came from radical Jewish teachers. Paul addressed both issues personally and warmly.
The church at Philippi sent Epaphroditus to help Paul in Rome. While there Epaphroditus became ill (2:25–28). The church learned of his illness, and Paul wished to ease their concern for him. Some people possibly blamed Epaphroditus for failing his commission, but Paul commended him and sent him home. Perhaps Epaphroditus carried this letter with him.
CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIBLE
Paul’s letter to the Philippians teaches us much about genuine Christianity. While most of its themes may be found elsewhere in Scripture, it is within this letter that we can see how those themes and messages impact life. Within the New Testament, Philippians contributes to our understanding of Christian commitment and what it means to be Christlike.
Holman Bible Publishers, CSB Disciple’s Study Bible: Notes (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1845.