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Bible Commentaries

Dunagan's Commentary on the Bible


- Philippians

by Mark Dunagan


I. The city of Philippi:

A. Geographical Location:

“Philippi is situated fully ten miles inland from the Gulf of Neapolis. By Paul’s time it must have been regarded as a city in the North, for while the place of his birth, Tarsus, was situated 37 degrees N. lat. (like Springfield, Missouri), and Jerusalem where he received his training 32 degrees N. lat. (like Montgomery, Alabama), Philippi was located 41 degrees N. lat. (like the city of New York)”. [Note: _ New Testament Commentary. “Philippians”, William Hendriksen p. 5.]

“The city had been founded by Philip, father of Alexander the Great. Philip had founded Philippi in 368 B.C. because there was no more strategic site in all Europe. There is a range of hills which divides Europe from Asia, east from west and just at Philippi that chain of hills dips into a pass so that the city commanded the road from Europe to Asia” [Note: _ The Daily Study Bible Series. “Philippians”, William Barclay p. 3.]

“Philippi was located in eastern Macedonia in a plain E of Mount Pangaeus between the Strymon and Nestos Rivers. It was near the banks of a deep and rapid stream ( Act_16:13 ), the Gangites to the SE ran the Via Egnatia (Roman highway) over a very rocky ridge to the port of Neapolis ( Act_16:11-12 ). In ancient times, the city derived its importance from the fertile plain that it commanded, its strategic location and the gold mines in the mountains to the north”. [Note: _ The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. “Philippi”, Volume M-P, p. 759.]

B. Historical Background:

The original name of the city has been "Krenides" (the little fountains or springs), because of the many springs in the area. When Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, seized the throne, the "Macedonia" that he ruled over was about the size of Maryland or Vermont. Immediately he began his quest for world conquest. He annexed the gold-region, and renamed the city of Krenides, “Philippi”, which means pertaining to Philip. The gold from the mines, which yielded more than one thousand talents a year, funded his military operations and was used to buy the loyalties of neighboring cities. “That no fortress was impregnable to whose walls an ass laden with gold could be driven”, is a statement commonly attributed to him. In 168 B.C. this city was annexed by the emerging Roman Empire. The survival and enlargement of the city is attributed to an event which took place here in the Autumn of 42 B.C. It was the historic battle between the forces of Brutus and Cassius, who had killed Julius Caesar in the hopes of restoring the Roman Republic, and the forces of Octavian (the eventual Caesar Augustus) and Mark Antony. Octavian and Antony were victorious and soon afterward the city of Philippi was made a Roman colony( Act_16:12 ).

C. A Roman Colony:

Some eleven years following the above battle, the forces of Octavain defeated the forces of Antony at the battle of Actium (31 B.C.). “The city was enlarged by a colony of Roman veterans after the war. Augustus Caesar later opened up the city for supporters of Antony who had been stripped of their holdings in Italy” (Zond. Ency. p. 760).

Because it was a Roman colony, the citizens of Philippi enjoined certain privileges: It had a form of government which was independent of the provincial administration ( Act_16:35 ), that is the freedom from interference by the provincial governor. The citizens of Philippi had the full rights of Roman citizenship, such as freedom from scourging, from arrest except in extreme cases, and the right to appeal to the emperor. In addition, they enjoyed freedoms from certain taxes, and the right to acquire, hold, and transfer property.

D. The type of people who lived in Philippi:

“The Roman citizens naturally took great pride in being Romans. Their language was Latin. They loved to dress according to Roman style” (Hendriksen pp. 6,7).

“The population of Philippi consisted largely of Roman military personnel, either retired legionaries and officers who made it their permanent home or those who were stationed there on duty. They guarded their privileges jealously and resented any activity that might evoke official disapproval”. [Note: _ New Testament Times. Merrill C. Tenney pp. 255,256.] See Act_16:20-23 ; Act_16:35-39 .

“The Macedonians, like the old Romans, were manly, straightforward, and affectionate. They were not skeptical like the philosophers of Athens, nor voluptuous like the Greeks of Corinth. Few Jews lived at Philippi, doubtless because it was a ‘military colony’. That is why there was no synagogue, but only the legally proper, ‘prayer-place’ outside the walls, by the river Gangites ( Act_16:13 )”. [Note: _ Explore the Book. J. Sidlow Baxter pp. 181-182.]

In this city we also find that some people were gripped by the preoccupation with the occult ( Act_16:16 ).

In view of this information many references in Act_16:1-40 and the book of Philippians take on greater meaning:

His reference to the gospel penetrating the Praetorian guard (1:13), would generate intense interest in a city made up of military families and veterans. The idea of "citzenship" (3:20), would be appreciated by such people, and Christians in this "priviledged" city needed to be reminded that an even more important citizenship existed than Roman citizenship. Obviously, the church in this city had encountered some suffering (1:27-30). Hendriksen points out: “Philippi being Roman to the core, had its imperial cult. It can be assumed that the non-Christian community who deified the emperor--exerted heavy pressure upon the Christians to join in this emperor-worship. Here in a Roman colony, more than almost anywhere else, there was a tendency to flatter Nero with divine titles and honors. Hence, it is in such an epistle as this that the glory of Christ, His full deity, is set forth (2:5-10)” (p. 8).