Hooker, Morna D. Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections on the Letter to the Philippians. Article in The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume XI, Leander Keck Convener and Senior New Testament editor. (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2000).
Thurston, Bonnie B. and Judith M. Ryan. Philippians & Philemon. Part of the Sacra Pagina Biblical commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S.J.. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2005).
This letter is generally accepted as authored by Paul.
The letter contains an ancient and well known hymn and also features (don’t they all?) Paul battling with some folks over circumcision.
Thurston p. 8,9: A major Roman road ran through Philippi making it a trading center. In Paul’s era there were about 10,000 people living there. Paul would have set up in the market area as a tent-maker when he founded the church there. It was a diverse city with numerous gods. Scant evidence of Jews in the city implies that the church here was mostly of Gentile origins. Philippi is in Greece, not far from Thessalonica.
Paul founded the community somewhere between 49 to 52 AD on his second missionary journey (see Acts). As part of this effort Paul was harassed by the authorities and crowds in Philippi (for exorcising a profitable spirit from a slave of a non-Christian). A famous first convert (along with her household) in Philippi was Lydia – who sold purple cloth.
The Letter to the Philippians was written from prison / while under arrest – but this was the case for Paul numerous times from the mid-50’s to mid-60’s. It is hard to date it exactly therefore. It is relatively late and reflects Paul’s mature thinking.
This is the first mention in Paul’s letters of “bishops and deacons” or leaders of the local church in Philippi. Unfortunately – n o names, no list of duties etc., no information as to the way they became the leaders of the community. Generally we think that it took about 50 to 60 years for the church to sort of standardize leadership roles and processes across communities.
Hooker p. 480 prefers to translate “overseers” and “ministers” since the terms otherwise translated as bishops and deacons had not yet, in the early church, become specific hierarchical terms or offices.
Thurston p. 52: “Paul is grateful for the Philippians for a number of reasons, but primarily for their fellowship in the gospel, which has included not only provision for his ministry but also their own proclamation of it.”
Hooker p. 497 – the suffering of Philippians may have been primarily economic – not able to participate in the economy of the pagans because they would not offer the sacrifices, no alternative economy such as a Jewish community may have created for itself. Or, it may have been more than that – no details are provided.
Thurston p. 75: “At 2:1 Paul’s focus changes to become intra-church, stressing the danger of division and divisiveness in the community. Apparently dissension within the church was occurring at the same time that it faced persecution from without. Paul recognized this as an especially perilous position. In the long run only internal unity would allow the Philippians to “stand firm in one spirit, on soul” against external pressure.”
Thurston p. 78: Other biblical verses that were probably independent hymns: Col. 1:15-20; John 1:1-14; Heb 1:3; 1 Tim 3:16; I Pet 2:21-25; many acclamations from Book of Revelation, and more.
Thurston p. 79: “A hymn is a poem, a song, an element of worship. While it may reflect Christology, its intention is not systematic theology, but praise and worship.” Paul puts it here for a reason and it’s not to make a theological point but a pastoral one. (Unity in the church)
In the Roman empire one bent the knee toward the emperor. Thurston points out p. 84 that this phrase indicates loyalty / subjection to Jesus – not a posture of prayer.
Thurston points to Proverbs 8:22-31 as a biblical hymn about wisdom to which this hymn has some points of contact:
“The LORD begot me, the first-born of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
From of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
Before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet the earth and the fields were not made,
nor the first clods of the world.
“When he established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
When he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
When he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
Then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
Playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the sons of men.
It (in Philippians) may have been a pre-existing hymn (no evidence). May have been written by Paul or within the early church (no evidence).
Hooker p. 512, discussing what the Philippians are to do in light of the hymn: “The Philippians are to be obedient; the verb echoes the “obedient” used of Christ in verse 8 (of hymn). And they are to work out their own salvation “with fear and trembling.” Such fear and trembling are not caused by any uncertainty regarding their salvation but are the appropriate attitude in the presence of God, an attitude that might better be described in English as “awe.””
Thurston p. 108: dogs at the time were not household pets but scavengers. Jews at the time considered Gentiles unclean “dogs” (Jesus in the gospels made a similar reference) hence it is quite ironic that Paul is using the term toward Jewish Christians trying to push circumcision!
Hooker p. 527: “Just as Christ considered the privileges that belonged to equality with God as something he should not exploit, and therefore abandoned them, so also Paul has now abandoned all the privileges that belonged to him as a Jew, because the does not consider them of value in comparison with knowing Christ.”
Thurston p. 128: “The issue is how to be related to God. What opens the door to fellowship with God? It is not, Paul asserts, one’s family inheritance, or one’s own qualifications or achievements, or even the Law, but faith, understood in this case as a verb, “believing in,” not a noun, “the faith” (a body of doctrine). The object of the verb “faith” is “Jesus Christ.””
Mentioning the names of the two women who are having a dispute is sign of their importance in the community.
Money was a touchy subject even then!