The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: P-Q

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Phi, overview

Author: Paul.

Time: Prob AD 60 or 61.

Origin, place of writing: Since Paul was a prisoner at the time Philippians was written (Phi 1:7,13,16), identification of this imprisonment would make possible the fixing of the date and place of origin of the Epistle. Three possibilities must be considered:

  1. Caesarea. Paul was a prisoner in Caesarea for two years (57-59) and his friends had access to him (Acts 24:23,27). The fugitive slave Onesimus could have fled there (this assumes that the Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon came out of the same imprisonment as Philippians). The "praetorium" (Phi 1:13; NIV, "palace guard") could [possibly] be understood of Herod's palace at Caesarea (Acts 23:35). Furthermore, the warning and argument against Jewish teachers (Phi 3:1-16) fits well the period of Jewish-Gentile controversy. This theory has not been widely adopted, because there is no positive evidence favoring it. Paul expected prompt release (Phi 2:24), but there was little reason for optimism while he was at Caesarea, and this prospect was no longer possible after he had appealed to Caesar. Lack of any mention of the prominent Philip, who lived at Caesarea and had been Paul's host (Acts 21:8-10), also makes this view doubtful.
  2. Rome. The traditional view places the writing of Philippians during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome during 59-61 (Acts 28:30). This is the most natural understanding of "palace guard" (Phi 1:13) and "Caesar's household" (Phi 4:22). Paul's trial was evidently going on during the writing, and its outcome could bring either life or death. Apparently there could be no appeal from its verdict (Phi 1:19-24). This was not the situation at Caesarea, for there he could appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:10-12). His circumstances reflected in the letter fit the Roman imprisonment better than the one at Caesarea, since he had freedom to arrange travel plans for his associates and opportunity to carry on considerable correspondence. He hoped to visit Philippi soon (Phi 2:24); at Caesarea, however, his aim was to go to Rome, and his appeal to Caesar made a trip to Philippi out of the question. The Marcionite Prologue (c 170) states that Philippians was sent from Rome. This view is the one most widely held.
  3. Ephesus. This view places the writing in 53-55 during Paul's three-year stay in Ephesus (Acts 19). The problem that Acts mentions no imprisonment of Paul in Ephesus is met by explaining Rom 16:4,7; 1Co 15:32; 2Co 1:8-10; 11:23 as pointing to such an imprisonment. But this is by no means established, for it demands treating these passages in Corinthians with wooden literalness rather than as the dramatic figures they are. Furthermore, this view requires taking Rom 16 as written to Ephesus rather than to Rome, a conclusion not warranted by the documentary evidence.
Summary: Paul's main purpose in writing this letter seems to have been to thank the Philippians for the gift they had sent him when they heard he had been imprisoned at Rome (Phi 1:5; 4:10–19). But Paul also discusses several other issues. He encourages the Philippians to stand firm in the face of persecution, and he exhorts them to humility and unity. He also commends Timothy and Epaphroditus to the church and warns the Philippians against people who encourage a return to the Jewish law. The letter is outstanding in its emphasis on joy; the word "joy" occurs 16 times.

Key verse: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phi 4:6,7).


Phi 1: Christ the Christian's life.
Phi 2: Christ the Christian's pattern.
Phi 3: Christ the Christian's object.
Phi 4: Christ the Christian's strength.


Greetings and thanksgiving: Phi 1:1–11

Paul's personal circumstances: Phi 1:12–26

Exhortations: Phi 1:27 – 2:18

Living a life worthy of the gospel: Phi 1:27–30

Following the servant attitude of Christ: Phi 2:1–18

Timothy and Epaphroditus: Phi 2:19–30

Warnings against false teachers: Phi 3:1 – 4:1

Final exhortations, thanks and conclusion: Phi 4:2–23

Exhortations: Phi 4:2–9

Thanks: Phi 4:10–20

Greetings and benediction: Phi 4:21–23

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