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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

- Philippians

by Philip Schaff


1. Of the history of Philippi 2 . First preaching of the Gospel there 3. Growth and character of the Christian Church in Philippi 4. Time and place of writing this Epistle 5. Characteristics of the Epistle 6. Its contents 7. Importance of the-Epistle 8. Its genuineness.


PHILIPPI, [1] one of the principal cities of Macedonia, was historically famous in the annals both of Greece and Rome, while to the Christian it is still more worthy of notice as being the first place in Europe which heard the message of the Gospel from the lips of an apostle. It is needful to say something of the history of the place before the arrival of St. Paul, that the mixed nature of its population may be fully understood. The city of Philippi was distant about ten miles from the coast, and its harbour was Neapolis. It was situate on the banks of a small stream called the Gangites, in a plain to the north of that ridge of hills which connects Mount Pangæus with the mountainous parts of the interior of Thrace. It was founded by Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, and called after his own name. In B.C. 355 he conquered the country from the Thasians, who for a long time had held the country and worked the gold mines [2] in the mountains round about. Philip was anxious to be master of this source of revenue, and he established colonists in Philippi, not only to secure to himself the possession of the mines, but also to be a sort of advanced post against the incursions of the northern barbarians. In Roman history, Philippi is best known as the scene of the victory (B.C. 42) gained by Augustus and Antony over Brutus and Cassius. It was by Augustus that the city was raised to that dignity among the dependencies of the Roman Empire which it enjoyed when St. Paul first visited it. Like Philip, Augustus recognised the importance of the position as an outpost, and established here a Roman colony. Thus we have an infusion of Romans, following on the previous introduction of Greeks, into what was at first a barbarian possession; and from the character and employment of many of those who dwelt there, it must have continued to be in a great measure always a wild and unsettled region. The manner of establishing a Roman colony was on this wise. A number of Roman citizens were conveyed to the place, lands were assigned to all who were willing to go, and they continued, in their distant home, to enjoy all the privileges and rights, as well as the name of Roman citizens, and so were the specially favoured inhabitants of such settlement. They, as well as the earlier occupants, were under the government of two magistrates specially appointed from Rome, and named in Latin Duumvirs. They were also fo nd of being styled Praetors, a title which is represented by the στρατηγοί in the notice of the magistrates of Philippi in the Acts (Acts 16:20, etc.). The ῥ αβδο ῦ χοι of that narrative (A.V. sergeants) is the Greek equivalent of the Latin lictores, the attendants on the chief magistrates in the colonies, as they were on the consuls in Rome.

[1] For details of the locality and character of the country near Philippi, see Clarke’s Travels, chap. 12 and 13; Cousinéry, Voyage dans la Macédoine, ii. 1; Leake’s Northern Greece, Php iii. 214, etc.

[2] For notices of these mines see Herodotus, vi. 47, vii. 112; also Grote’s History of Greece, chap. 26 and 47; and Boeckh’s Public Economy of Athens, p. 8.

No doubt in process of time, through the changes brought about by intermarriage and commerce, many of the Greek population dwelling in and around such colonies as Philippi came to be included among the number of those who possessed the rights of Roman citizenship, and by the date of St. Paul’s visit (A.D. 52), nearly a century after the colony had been established, we can well understand that this condition was already reached at Philippi. The city was inhabited by a mixed population of which the Greek element was more likely to increase than the Roman, and this should be borne in mind in reading the history of St. Paul’s visit. In the narrative there seem to be points at which, if he had fully comprehended all that was passing, he might have protested against his treatment sooner than he did. But while for general converse, the language, by reason of the larger proportion of Greek population, would be Greek; and so for his purpose of preaching he was able to appeal to most, if not all the population; yet the law proceedings would be conducted in the language of the minority who were the conquerors.

Among the mixed Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians, there had settled at the time of St. Paul’s first visit some few Jews. These were not, however, in sufficient numbers to have been able to build themselves a synagogue, but had only a proseucha or place appointed for prayer, beyond the gate of the city, by the river-side a site perhaps marked by little or no building, and virtually in the open air.


To this city, as if to set a special mark upon the first ministrations of an apostle in Europe, St. Paul was called by a special revelation (Acts 16:9) during the course of his second missionary journey. He had at the time, as companions of his travels and labours, Silas, Timotheus, and, to judge from his language (Acts 16:10, etc.), the writer of the Acts. The preachers, as was their wont, addressed themselves first to the Jewish dwellers in Philippi, and sought out the proseucha outside the city, and among the worshippers there they won some attention for their message. Lydia and her household were baptized, and the apostle and his companions seem to have become accepted teachers among the Jewish settlers. But it came to pass on many occasions, while they were on their way to the place of prayer, they were pursued by the cries of one of those strangely afflicted persons of whom we read both in sacred and profane history. A girl possessed with a spirit (recognised by the heathen as supernatural possession by Apollo, and for which state the writer in the Acts employs the classical term, [1] which was, no doubt, used by those who dwelt at Philippi), followed the apostle on several occasions, and proclaimed to the people that he and his companions were servants of the most high God, and were showing the way of salvation,’ At the rebuke of St. Paul, according to the promise of Jesus, the evil spirit departed from her. But her raving utterances had been made a source of gain by some persons in the city of Philippi, who had traded on the superstitions of the multitude, and set forth her words as veritable predictions of the future. Now that her frenzy ceased, there was an end too of their profit; and in anger at such a result, the farmers of the possessed damsel brought the preachers before the magistrates, and succeeded in raising such a cry against them, that Paul and Silas were first publicly scourged and then cast into prison. But the seed of the Gospel had been sown in the hearts of some of the river-side worshippers, and the events of the night in which the preachers were imprisoned, but by a miracle were set free from their chains, added to the number of Christians, the jailor and his household; and although it was found best for St. Paul presently to leave Philippi, yet before their departure the narrative speaks of the ‘brethren’ apparently gathered at the house of Lydia, which may thus be counted the first European church, and speaks of them in such wise as to leave no doubt but that even in those troublous days the teaching had already struck root, and the foundation of the church was laid of which the apostle in his letter speaks as ‘the saints which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons’ (Philippians 1:1).

[1] ἴ χουσα πνε ῡ μα πύθωνος, or as some read πύθωνα.


We next read of Philippi in the narrative of the Acts (Acts 20:2-6), at the time of St. Paul’s return from Greece to Asia. On that occasion the apostle and the writer of the history, if no others, tarried at Philippi, and from the special notice that it was during ‘the days of unleavened bread’ we may almost certainly infer that the Jewish population of the city were those with whom St. Paul was most brought into contact. The remainder of his travelling companions had gone straight on to Troas, and thither he followed.

There is no other mention of Philippi in the New Testament history, but we have abundant tokens that in Macedonia the Gospel had been firmly planted, and was bringing forth fruit, and that the disciples in that country were objects of earnest care to St. Paul and his fellow-labourers. While he was staying in Ephesus, we are told (Acts 19:21) that he had formed his plans for a journey into Macedonia; and that the churches there might not be left uncared for during his own residence in Asia, he sent before him Timotheus (who had been his companion at his first visit) and Erastus. Circumstances arose which forced him to leave Ephesus, and then he came into Macedonia at once (Acts 21:1); but that his previous labours had yielded him cause for rejoicing, we may see, for we find in the narrative of the Ephesian uproar, which caused St. Paul to leave that city, that Gaius and Aristarchus, who were seized by the mob, and who are spoken of as ‘Paul’s companions in travel.’ were both ‘men of Macedonia,’ while later on in the history, Aristarchus, ‘a Macedonian of Thessalonica,’ is the apostle’s attached friend (Acts 27:2), and was one of those who accompanied him in his perilous voyage to Rome.

But it is from the Epistle itself that we can gather the fullest proof that the work of the Gospel, though begun amid such tribulation, was never slackened in Philippi; that the apostle, though departing, had found means to comfort the brethren and to keep alive the Church of Christ among them; while we find that their love to St. Paul was most notably manifested. The apostle thanks God (Philippians 1:5) for their ‘fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now.’ He has the Philippians ‘in his heart’ (Philippians 1:7), and ‘longs after them all in the tender mercies of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:8). He testifies (Philippians 2:12) that they, his beloved, have always obeyed, ‘not as in his presence only, but much more in his absence.’ He hopes (Philippians 2:19) to ‘send Timotheus unto them shortly, that he may know their state.’ He alludes (Philippians 3:18) to his frequent communication with the Philippian church either by letter or in person, and he shows by his concluding words in the Epistle (Philippians 4:21-22) that not only were the Christians of Philippi beloved by himself, but by all those who were with him in Rome at the time of his writing, and that even to the converts in the Imperial household the story of the Philippian church had been told in such wise as to create a special interest therein. From Cæsar’s household goes a greeting, though those who sent it were probably strangers to those to whom it was given, and had only found an interest in the distant church by reason of their communication with St. Paul concerning its affairs.

And while such were the feelings of the apostle and his companions towards the Philippian Christians, we see that they were most devotedly attached to St. Paul He bears them witness (Philippians 4:15) that ‘they alone of all the churches of Macedonia had communicated with him as concerning giving and receiving. ‘‘They had sent (Philippians 4:14) relief unto him in his Roman imprisonment, by the hands of Epaphroditus;’ and this was not the first or second exhibition of such care, for even while he was in Thessalonica (Philippians 4:16) they had sent ‘once and again unto his necessity.’ He strove throughout all his ministry to be no burden to any of the churches, but in these his times of need he recognises the spirit in which the gifts of the Philippians were sent, calling them (Philippians 4:18) ‘an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.’ Nor was it only in the matter of ministering to his wants that the church of Philippi showed its zeal for the apostle; they gave that greater token of love, they followed out his teachings and walked as Christian brethren. He addresses one of them (Philippians 4:3) in terms which bespeak how earnestly and equally some had borne with him the labours of the Gospel. Who his ‘true yokefellow’ was we are not told, but the expression indicates fully the nature of his service. And we cannot be surprised, when we remember that Lydia is the first Philippian convert of whom we hear in the Acts of the Apostles, if we find from the apostle’s letter that ‘women laboured with him in the Gospel,’ and in such wise as to be mentioned (Philippians 4:3) at the head of the list of fellow-workers ‘whose names are in the book of life.’

From all these allusions, supplementing the brief narrative given in the Acts, we can have no doubt that the church of Philippi was firmly established during that first missionary visit made by St. Paul under Divine monition. The Lord who called him to go, did not let his journey be in vain. We may see, too, that from the first day till the time when this Epistle was written, a space of about nine or ten years, the work of Christ had been constantly spreading there, the Christian Church had received her appointed ministry and was fully ordered, when the apostle and his companions in travel were withdrawn, by those whom they had set over it, and appointed as ‘bishops and deacons.’


The place where the Epistle was written is sufficiently clear from several expressions contained in it. The apostle writes (Philippians 1:13) that his bonds in Christ are ‘manifest in all the Prætorium,’ that is, the barrack of Caesar’s soldiers at Rome, and to the Philippians he sends greetings specially from ‘those of Caesar’s household.’ There can therefore be no doubt that the letter was sent to Philippi from Rome, and was written probably at the apostle’s hired lodging where he was suffered to dwell with the soldier that guarded him. St. Paul appears, it may be from some infirmity, generally to have made use of an amanuensis in his Epistles, and personally to have done no more than subscribe them. And from the circumstance that during this imprisonment he was chained [1] to his guard, we may be sure that the hand of some friend was employed for this work at this time. He had with him Timotheus and Epaphroditus as we know, and the way in which (Philippians 4:21-22) he speaks of ‘the brethren which are with him and ‘all the saints,’ makes it evident that he was not with attendants.

The date of the Epistle must be between A.D. 61-63, the two years during which St. Paul’s first Roman imprisonment lasted. Whether it was nearer the beginning or the end of this imprisonment that he wrote to Philippi is not so easy to decide. He scarcely speaks with such confidence of his speedy release as he does in the letter to Philemon. In Philippians 2:23, alluding to his intention of sending Timothy to Philippi, he says this shall be done at once when he finds how it will go with him. Therefore he would appear to have been looking for some movement in his affairs, but yet not such as would end in his own immediate release, though it might enable him to send his companion away for a time. Yet he adds in the very next verse, ‘But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.’

[1] Cf. Acts 28:20.

But even if it were not so near the close of the imprisonment when he wrote, still some portion of the period of its duration must have passed. For Epaphroditus had been sent from Philippi to him, when the Philippians had heard that he was a prisoner, and with their messenger they had also sent their bounty (Philippians 4:18) in full measure. On his arrival, Epaphroditus had been zealous in ministering to the wants of St. Paul, but before long he fell sick in Rome, and was nigh unto death. Of this sickness his fellow-citizens had heard, and had been greatly disturbed thereby. For this cause the apostle is preparing to send him back to them, now that he is recovered, and with him he sends [1] this letter. We may feel certain, then, that several months, it may well be a year, had passed between the apostle’s arrival in Rome and the despatch of this letter to Philippi. If, therefore, we place its date in the early part of the year A.D. 62, we shall not be far from the precise time, and it was most likely the earliest written of all the Epistles of this first imprisonment.

[1] See Philippians 2:25; Philippians 2:28-29, where the tense ἴ πεμψα has t he same force as in Philemon 1:11-12.

The events passing in Rome at this period receive no notice from St. Paul even though he has appealed to the emperor. Yet the emperor was Nero, and it was the eighth year of his rule. He had just begun to cut off all those who were in any way connected with himself by family relationship, and all those who had any regard for their own safety were anxious to withdraw from public affairs and offices. Burrhus was just dead, and it was suspected that he had been poisoned by Nero’s order; Tigellinus was rising in favour with his vicious master, while Seneca was seeking some excuse that would be accepted for assuming a private station. St. Paul and his concerns were of too unimportant a character, and offered too little chance of gain, to be of interest to either the emperor or his favourites. So he was allowed to receive all that came unto him, and to teach the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him (Acts 28:30-31). And we are neither told by the historian, nor by the apostle himself, how his release came about; but we may almost conclude from the narrative in the Acts that he was released because the charge against him was ill supported from Judaea (Acts 28:21), and so far as it could be inquired into was found to be groundless.


The Epistle to the Philippians stands high among the letters of St. Paul for several reasons. First, it is distinguished because the writer has so little to say of reproof to those whom he addresses. He exhorts them (Philippians 1:27), it is true, ‘to stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel.’ And from such language we might infer that he had heard of divisions of some kind among them. And later on (Philippians 4:2) we find that this was so; for he speaks of certain persons by name, exhorting them to be ‘of one mind in the Lord.’ But this is his only direct reproof. Whatever other exhortation against error is found in the letter, be it against Judaizing teachers (Philippians 3:2 seqq.) or against those who walk lawlessly, rejoicing in their shame (Philippians 3:13 seqq.), there is no indication that the words are more than those of warning, no sign that the Philippians had fallen into one error or the other. Thus we can understand the jubilant and thankful tone which pervades the whole Epistle. ‘I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.’ ‘If I be poured out as a drink-offering at the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all.’ And they are to rejoice also. ‘Rejoice in the Lord.’ ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I will say, Rejoice.’ In no other Epistle does the apostle either himself attain such a pitch of Christian exaltation, nor seek to infuse such joy into his readers.

Further, the whole Epistle is replete with signs of the tender-heartedness and affection of the apostle, and of his keen sense of the marks of love which had been shown him by the Christians of Philippi. They have been his friends in the fellowship of the Gospel from the first day that he preached unto them. He longs after them all with a Christian yearning of heart. He will be of good comfort if only he knows of their welfare. He would not detain Epaphroditus with him in Rome, because it would be a joy to them to welcome back their messenger, and to thank God for his recovery, and he fails not to mention that the sickness had been caused by zealous service to himself, rendered in the name of the church of Philippi. The Philippians are his brethren dearly beloved and longed for. He testifies with the most delicate language, while mentioning the services they have done him, that if opportunity had offered they would have done more, and that their devotion to him was beyond that of other churches in which he had laboured as among them.

These peculiarities give to the Philippian Epistle a character all its own, and we think of the apostle, though in his imprisonment, as not on that account cast down, but thankful that he sees some fruit of his labours, and as filled with hope that he ‘may rejoice in the day of Christ, that he has not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.’


The Epistle opens, like all St. Paul’s Epistles, with a salutation and invocation; then follow next (Philippians 1:3-11) some expressions of thanksgiving and prayer, which, like the salutations and prayers that occupy the last five verses of the fourth chapter, may be regarded as the setting of the Epistle, and a setting of a true Christian kind. The rest of the letter deals with three main subjects. The first of these may be termed personal, and embraces chaps. Philippians 1:12-26, Philippians 2:19-30, and Philippians 4:10-18. The apostle in the first passage sends news to his friends at Philippi of the success of Christ’s Gospel, even in spite of the imprisonment of himself the preacher, which might have seemed to be a hindrance of the work. He tells them also that when hindrances do arise, as they do, through contention, yet all is made to further the preaching of Christ. His joy over this result leads him to dwell on his own state of mind, and especially on his readiness to die, though he feels confident that he will be continued in life because he perceives that there is more fruit yet to be reaped for Christ even in the church of Philippi.

The second personal portion of the letter (Philippians 2:19-30) deals with his desire to send Timotheus to Philippi, to bring him a report of their condition, and with the praise of this his like-minded fellow-labourer. He mentions his own hope of coming in person, and the present sending of Epaphroditus, whose services to himself and zeal for the cause of Christ are such as to commend him to the esteem of his Christian brethren at home.

In the third notice of matters personal (Philippians 4:10-18), St. Paul dwells at length not only on the last act of affection exhibited towards him by the Philippians, but also on the previous similar tokens of their love, which he accepts not only as ministration to his needs, but also as the best evidence which they could give him that his labour for and among them is bearing worthy fruit.

The Epistle contains also two sections (Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 2:18, and Philippians 4:1-9), which may be styled hortatory, and which deal with some faults which need to be remedied. We can gather from them, that either in conversation with Epaphroditus, or by some other means, St. Paul had heard of some disunion and contention among them. A portion of these defects, however, viz. the want of unity in striving boldly for the faith, seems to have been caused by adversaries (Philippians 1:28), and in reference to this the apostle ventures to remind them of his own sufferings, which they themselves had seen at Philippi, and which they knew him to be at present undergoing in Rome. He then proceeds to exhort them against all vainglory in themselves (which is the fruitful parent of division), and this lesson he enforces by the example not of himself, but of Christ. He recurs to this subject of the discord in the church in the last chapter, and there specially mentions two female members of the congregation, Euodia and Syntyche, as examples of a spirit of contention, against which he entreats the whole church to strive. Thus shall they have cause for joy, and God’s peace, yea, the God of peace, shall dwell among them.

The third topic of the Epistle is a warning against false teachers, which takes up the whole of chapter 3. In the church of Philippi, as in other churches, the teaching of the Judaizers, that circumcision was necessary for all men, had caused much trouble to the Gentile converts. St. Paul’s feeling towards these teachers is fully shown by the language which he employs both about them and their doctrines. The teachers he calls dogs, a name the insult of which is grasped only by an Oriental; and their teaching he styles concision, by which he means that they are advocates of a mangling of the flesh for the mere sake of mangling. He turns in refutation of these men to his own life’s history. He had been born and trained as the strictest Israelite. He had prized to the full the ordinances of the Law, until he had been led to Christ. Then legal observances had lost their value. He no longer laboured for his own righteousness. All that now was excellent was the knowledge of Christ, and to attain thereunto (which is a work ever doing, never done, in this world), the old things of the law are to be left behind, and the new hopes of the Gospel embraced and earnestly held fast. But this does not imply that the Christian will be without law. His constant struggle to win Christ will gain for him constant increase of knowledge, and new light about his duty. St. Paul’s own life showed this. Therefore, he concludes, ‘Be joint-imitators of me, and shun those who are a law unto themselves, and who mind earthly things.’ The citizenship of Christians is not on earth but in heaven, from whence they look for Christ to come again to renew the body of their humiliation, and to conform it to the likeness of the body of His glory.


The importance of the Epistle to the Philippians, viewed historically, lies in the language of the first verse. There the words seem to allude, if read by themselves, to a condition of the Christian Church in which a considerable advance had already been made in the organization of the ministry in that direction which it permanently assumed. The bishops and deacons are singled out for express mention in the apostolic salutation. In those Epistles of St. Paul which in date precede this letter to the Philippians, we have no trace of any such well-defined organization. In the First Epistle to the Corinthians (written probably in A.D. 57) we read (1 Corinthians 12:28) of ‘first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that, miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.’ But all this speaks of a time when the manifestation of the Spirit was displayed in the same kind as at Pentecost, and is not such an arrangement as in any way reminds us of the threefold order of the ministry which obtained in later times in the Christian Church. So, too, in the Epistle to the Romans (which may probably be assigned to A.D. 58), we read (Romans 12:6-8) of the gifts of prophecy, of a ministry, of exhortation, but nowhere of such definite official positions in the Church as are spoken of in this letter to Philippi. We need not, however, conclude from what we find there, that an order of ‘bishops’ as distinct from ‘presbyters’ had already been established in the Philippian church. These two titles can be shown to have been for a long time applied to the same [1] office. So that in Philippi the persons addressed might with equal propriety have been addressed as ‘presbyters and deacons.’ Just so in the First Epistle to Timothy, St. Paul (Philippians 3:1) describes the duties of a ‘bishop;’ and then passes on (Philippians 3:8) to speak of what is required of deacons,’ evidently implying by his language that there were then the two divisions of the ministerial office; and as we know from other places that the two ministers of the early Church were ‘presbyters’ and ‘deacons,’ we can see that the two tides ‘bishop’ and ‘presbyter’ were for some considerable time employed as interchangeable.

[1] On this whole subject the reader will do well to consult Bishop Lightfoot’s essay on ‘The Christian Ministry,’ appended to his edition of the Epistle to the Philippians, and also that author’s note on ‘The Synonymes “Bishop “and “Presbyter,”’ in the same volume.

No doubt, just as in the church of Jerusalem, as we see it depicted in the Acts (Acts 15:19), one presbyter assumed the lead, and was admitted to a position of preeminence in each church as its numbers increased, and he in time came to be called ‘bishop,’ though we cannot say precisely when this practice first obtained. But the use of ‘bishop’ for ‘presbyter’ in the church of Philippi, before we find it so used in any other church, and the fact that a more definite recognition of official persons is made in that church than in others at the same time, is highly interesting in itself. There can be no question that the arrangements of church order were much influenced, in these early days, by the arrangements which prevailed for the administration of the secular power. Wherever a Roman official of rank was resident, there, in after days, the chief ecclesiastic became distinguished by the title of ‘bishop;’ and as the lay magistrate had oversight in the secular affairs of the district in which he was placed, so this principal presbyter, called the bishop, took the oversight of the ecclesiastical order and discipline in the same place. It seems, therefore, not improbable that even in this early stage of the Church’s life, the presbyters of Philippi, especially as this was not only the seat of the ‘duumviri,’ but also the first church established in Europe, assumed a sort of pre-eminence or oversight among the churches of Macedonia, and that for this reason St. Paul uses the word ‘bishops’ rather than ‘presbyters’ in writing to them. Having Epaphroditus present with him in Rome, he would be enabled to get information of the most minute character concerning the affairs of Philippi; and he would not be unwilling, if they were prominent above other churches in their zeal, to give them the title of ‘overseers,’ or ‘bishops,’ to impress them to the full with the responsibility which he would wish to lay upon them. [2]

[2] See more in the notes on Philippians 1:1, and comp. St. Paul’s language to the Ephesian presbyters at Miletus (Acts 20:28).

The passage of most doctrinal interest in the Epistle is that (Philippians 2:5-8) which speaks of Christ’s humiliation in His life on earth, and which some have interpreted as an evidence against the Divine nature of our Blessed Lord. The apostle is there wishing to enforce a lesson of self-denying humility, and to do so more effectually he appeals to the example of Christ ‘Let this mind (he says) be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being (in the time before His humiliation) in the form of (i.e., a participator in all that essentially belongs to) God, did not regard (through His self-sacrificing humility) equality with God as a state to which He must cling and not let go, but emptied Himself by taking the form of (becoming a sharer in all that makes up the character of) a servant, becoming of the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming subject to death, even the death of the cross.’ The significance of the various words here employed for ‘form,’ ‘fashion,’ ‘likeness,’ will be found discussed in the notes on the passage. But here it may be right to dwell on the necessity which exists, if the true sense of these verses is to be arrived at, of taking the clause in conjunction with its context, and remembering the lesson which it is intended to teach. St. Paul wishes to give, to those whom he exhorts to count ‘others better than themselves,’ the most forcible illustration of such conduct that he can find. They are to disregard themselves and their own rights and claims, and consult rather for the advantage of their brethren. For Christ, their exemplar, who, ere He appeared in the world, was essentially God, yet for our sakes did not refuse to let go the glory of the Godhead for a time, but accepted the garb of humanity willingly, and thus divested Himself of the prerogatives of the Divine nature, and went so far in His humiliation as to be servant where He might be Lord, and at last consented to die on the cross. Now it is the very point and grandeur of the illustration, that the conduct described went so far beyond what men can do towards one another. Therefore in any way to detract from the glory which Jesus had before His humiliation is to weaken the apostle’s argument, and make it less suitable for his purpose. It is because Jesus was God and became man, that He must ever be the most astounding example of self-sacrifice for the good of others, and so is the pattern unto which the apostle urges on the Philippians to strive to conform, that they in some degree may follow in His steps. Jesus might have clung fast to His heavenly glory, and to His divine prerogatives, but He laid them by for us men and for our salvation. Yet in this doffing for a season what was His own, it did not in any degree cease to be His still. Though ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,’ yet the same Word was in the beginning, and then was with God and was God.’


We have abundance of evidence, both external and internal, to the fact that this is a genuine Epistle of St. Paul. It is mentioned among the Pauline Epistles by the Muratorian Canon (A.D. 170), and was included in the very early Latin version of the New Testament which was made before the close of the second century; while Tertullian (flor. A.D. 200), in his treatise against Marcion, [1] devotes a whole section to this letter, and quotes from it largely. Among still earlier testimony is the statement of Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, in his letter to the Philippians. [2] ‘Paul,’ he says, ‘when among you, accurately and stedfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive, and when absent from you he wrote you a letter.’ And in another place [3] he speaks thus: ‘You, in the midst of whom the blessed Paul laboured, and who are commended in the beginning of his Epistle.’ Also there seems to be a quotation from our Epistle in the letter [4] of Ignatius (A.D. 107) to the Philadelphians. Other allusions, in considerable abundance, will be found recorded in Bishop Lightfoot’s Introduction to the Epistle to the Philippians, where are given [5] many coincidences of language from the writings of Justin Martyr, who lived in Palestine (A.D. 140), from a fragment of Melito, Bishop of Sardis (A.D. 150), from the apologetic writings of Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 168), and from an Epistle of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons (A.D. 177), which is preserved by Eusebius ( H. E. v. 2). Some expressions derived from this Epistle to the Philippians are also found in the ‘Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,’ a work which dates from an early time in the second century. So that from Asia Minor, from Africa, from Palestine, and from Gaul, we have independent witnesses to our Epistle before it was a century and a half old.

[1] Tart. adv. Marcion, v. 20.

[2] Polycarp ad. Philipp. chap. 3.

[3] Ibid. chap. 4.

[4] Ignat ad Philad. viii.

[5] Introduction to Philipp. pp. 73-76.

But the letter by its contents bears witness to itself. It harmonizes in tone and feeling, and largely in language too, with the other Epistles of St. Paul, and especially with the Epistle to the Romans. [6] It is rich likewise in allusions to the historical events connected with the foundation and growth of the church at Philippi, allusions of such a nature as could only have been made by him who himself had been the chief instrument in carrying the Gospel at first to Philippi. Then the position in which the writer represents himself, a prisoner at Rome for the sake of Christ’s Gospel, is in precise accord with what we know of St. Paul from the history in the Acts, and from the other Epistles of the Captivity. While the dangers against which the Philippians are warned are just those with which they were most likely to be assailed at this period of the Church’s history, the stern language used against Judaizers is quite in the spirit of the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians.

[6] Bishop Lightfoot in his Introduction has gathered a long list of these resemblances of language between the two Epistles, pp. 42, 43.

Therefore, though some few [7] have cavilled at the Epistle and denied its genuineness, it seems needless to spend time in replying to such objectors, when both from within and without the letter is so fully attested to be the work of the great apostle of the Gentiles, and has been included in all the lists of the acknowledged Scriptures of the New Testament from the earliest times.

[7] Schrader, Der Apostel Paulus, 5 p. 201; Baur, Paulus, p. 458.

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