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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary
Philippians

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4

Book Overview - Philippians

by Henry Alford

CHAPTER III

THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS

SECTION I

ITS AUTHORSHIP AND INTEGRITY

1. IT has been all but universally believed that this Epistle was written by St. Paul. Indeed, considering its peculiarly Pauline psychological character, the total absence from it of all assignable motive for falsification, the spontaneity and fervour of its effusions of feeling, he must be a bold man who would call its authorship in question(33).

2. Yet this has been done, partially by Schrader (der Apost. Paulus, vol. v.: see especially p. 233, line 14 from bottom, and following), who supposed ch. Philippians 3:1 to Philippians 4:9 interpolated, as well as shorter passages elsewhere, conceding however the Pauline authorship in the main: and entirely by Baur (Paulus Ap. Jesu Christi u.s.w., pp. 458–475), on his usual ground of later Gnostic ideas being found in the Epistle. To those who would see an instance of the very insanity of hypercriticism, I recommend the study of these pages of Baur. They are almost as good by way of burlesque, as the “Historic Doubts respecting Napoleon Buonaparte” of Abp. Whately. According to him, all usual expressions prove its spuriousness, as being taken from other Epistles: all unusual expressions prove the same, as being from another than St. Paul. Poverty of thought, and want of point, are charged against it in one page: in another, excess of point, and undue vigour of expression. Certainly the genuineness of the Epistle will never suffer in the great common-sense verdict of mankind, from Baur’s attack. There is hardly an argument used by him, that may not more naturally be reversed and turned against himself.

3. In external testimonies, our Epistle is rich.

( α) Polycarp, ad Philipp. 3. p. 1008, testifies to the fact of St. Paul having written to them,

( β) And ib. xi., pp. 1013 f., he writes,

“Ego autem nihil tale sensi in vobis, vel audivi, in quibus laboravit beatus Paulus, qui estis (laudati) in principio epistolæ ejus. De vobis etenim gloriatur in omnibus ecclesiis quæ Deum solæ tunc cognoverant.” Cf. Philippians 1:5 ff.

( γ) Irenæus, iv. 18. 4, p. 251:

“Quemadmodum et Paulus Philippensibus (iv. 18) ait: Repletus sum acceptis ab Epaphrodito, quæ a vobis missa sunt, odorem suavitatis, hostiam acceptabilem, placentem Deo.”

( δ) Clement of Alexandria, Pædag. i. 6 (52), p. 129 P.:

αὐτοῦ ὁμολογοῦντος τοῦ παύλου περὶ ἑαυτοῦ οὐχ ὅτι ἤδη ἔλαβον ἢ ἤδη τετελείωμαι κ. τ. λ. Philippians 3:12-14.

In Strom, iv. 3 (12), p. 569 P., he quotes Philippians 2:20; in id. 5 (19), p. 572, Philippians 1:13; in id. 13 (94), p. 604, Philippians 1:29-30; Philippians 2:1 ff., Philippians 2:17; Philippians 1:7; and Philippians 2:20 ff., &c. &c.

( ε) In the Epistle of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne, in Euseb. H. E. Philippians 2:2, the words ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ are cited. Cf. Philippians 2:6.

( ζ) Tertullian, de resurr. carnis, c. 23, vol. ii. p. 826:

“Ipse (Paulus, from the preceding sentence) cum Philippensibus scribit: siqua, inquit, concurram in resuscitationem quæ est a mortuis, non quia jam accepi aut consummatus sum,” &c. &c. Philippians 3:11 ff.

( η) The same author devotes the 20th chapter of his fifth book against Marcion (p. 522 f.) to testimonies from this Epistle, and shews that Marcion acknowledged it. And do præser. c. 36, p. 49, among the places to which ‘authenticæ literæ’ of the Apostle’s ‘recitantur,’ he says, ‘habes Philippos.’

( θ) Cyprian, Testt. iii. 39, p. 756:

“Item Paulus ad Philippenses: Qui in figura Dei constitutus,” &c. ch. Philippians 2:6-11.

4. It has been hinted above, that Schrader doubted the integrity of our Epistle. This has also been done in another form by Heinrichs, who fancied it made up of two letters,—one to the Church, containing chaps. 1, 2, to ἐν κυρίῳ, Philippians 3:1, and Philippians 4:21-23; the other to private friends, beginning at τὰ αὐτὰ γράφειν, Philippians 3:1, and containing the rest with the above exception. Paulus also adopted a modification of this view. But it is hardly necessary to say, that it is altogether without foundation. The remarks below (§ iv.) on its style will serve to account for any seeming want of exact juncture between one part and another.

SECTION II

FOR WHAT READERS AND WITH WHAT OBJECT IT WAS WRITTEN

1. The city of PHILIPPI has been described, and the πρώτη τῆς μερίδος τῆς ΄ακεδονίας πόλις, κολωνία discussed, in the notes on Acts 16:12 ff., to which the student is referred. I shall now notice only the foundation and condition of the Philippian Church.

2. The Gospel was first planted there by Paul, Silas, and Timotheus (Acts 16:12 ff.), in the second missionary journey of the Apostle, in A.D. 51. (See Chron. Table in Prolegg. to Acts.) There we read of only a few conversions, which however became a rich and prolific seed of future fruit. He must have visited it again on his journey from Ephesus into Macedonia, Acts 20:1; and he is recorded to have done so (a third time), when, owing to a change of plan to avoid the machinations of his enemies, the Jews at Corinth, he returned to Asia through Macedonia; see Acts 20:6. But we have no particulars of either of these visits.

3. The cruel treatment of the Apostle at Philippi (Acts 16, l. c. 1 Thessalonians 2:2) seems to have combined with the charm of his personal fervour of affection to knit up a bond of more than ordinary love between him and the Philippian Church. They alone, of all churches, sent subsidies to relieve his temporal necessities, on two several occasions, immediately after his departure from them (Philippians 4:15-16; 1 Thessalonians 2:2): and they revived the same good office to him shortly before the writing of this Epistle (Philippians 4:10; Philippians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 11:9).

4. This affectionate disposition may perhaps be partly accounted for by the fact of Jews being so few at Philippi. There was no synagogue there, only a προσευχή by the river side: and the opposition to the Apostle arose not from Jews, but from the masters of the dispossessed maiden, whose hope of gain was gone. Thus the element which resisted St. Paul in every Church, was wanting, or nearly so, in the Philippian. His fervent affection met there, and almost there only, with a worthy and entire return. And all who know what the love of a warm-hearted people to a devoted minister is, may imagine what it would be between such a flock and such a shepherd. (See below, on the style of the Epistle.)

5. But while this can hardly be doubted, it is equally certain that the Church at Philippi was in danger from Jewish influence: not indeed among themselves(35), but operating on them from without (ch. Philippians 3:2),—through that class of persons whom we already trace in the Epistle to the Galatians, and see ripened in the Pastoral Epistles, who insisted on the Mosaic law as matter of external observance, while in practice they gave themselves up to a life of lust and self-indulgence in depraved conscience.

6. The slight trace which is to be found in ch. Philippians 4:2-3, of the fact related Acts 16:13, that the Gospel at Philippi was first received by female converts, has been pointed out in the notes there.

7. The general state of the Church may be gathered from several hints in this Epistle and others. They were poor. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-2, we read that ἡ κατὰ βάθους πτωχεία αὐτῶν ἐπερίσσευσεν εἰς τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς ἁπλότητος αὐτῶν. They were in trouble, and probably from persecution: compare 2 Corinthians 8:2 with Philippians 1:28-30. They were in danger of, if not already in, quarrel and dissension (cf. ch. Philippians 2:1-4; and Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:12; Philippians 2:14; Philippians 4:2); on what account, we cannot say; it may be, as has been supposed by De W., that they were peculiarly given to spiritual pride and mutual religious rivalry and jealousy. This may have arisen out of their very progress and flourishing state as a Church engendering pride. Credner supposes (Davidson, p. 381), that it may have been a spiritual form of the characteristic local infirmity, which led them to claim the title πρώτη πόλις for their city; but this falls to the ground, if πρώτη be geographically explained: see note Acts 16:12.

8. The object of the Epistle seems to have been no marked and definite one, but rather the expression of the deepest Christian love, and the exhortation, generally, to a life in accordance with the Spirit of Christ. Epaphroditus had brought to the Apostle the contribution from his beloved Philippians; and on occasion of his return, he takes the opportunity of pouring out his heart to them in the fulness of the Spirit, refreshing himself and them alike by his expressions of affection, and thus led on by the inspiring Spirit of God to set forth truths, and dilate upon motives, which are alike precious for all ages, and for every Church on earth.

SECTION III

AT WHAT TIME AND PLACE IT WAS WRITTEN

1. It has been believed, universally in ancient times (Chrys., Euthal., Athanas., Thdrt., &c.), and almost without exception (see below) in modern, that our Epistle was written from Rome, during the imprisonment whose beginning is related in Acts 28:30-31.

2. There have been some faint attempts to fix it at Corinth (Acts 18:11, so Oeder, in Meyer), or at Cæsarea (so Paulus and Böttger, and Rilliet hesitatingly; see Meyer). Neither of these places will suit the indications furnished by the Epistle. The former view surely needs no refuting. And as regards the latter it may be remarked, that the strait between life and death, expressed in ch. Philippians 1:21-23, would not fit the Apostle’s state in Cæsarea, where he had the appeal to Cæsar in his power, putting off at all events such a decision for some time. Besides which, the καίσαρος οἰκία, spoken of ch. Philippians 4:22, cannot well be the πραιτώριον τοῦ ἡρώδου at Cæsarea of Acts 23:35, and therefore it is by that clearer notice that the πραιτώριον of ch. Philippians 1:13 must be interpreted (see note there), not vice versâ. It was probably the barrack of the prætorian guards, attached to the palatium of Nero.

3. Assuming then that the Epistle was written from Rome, and during the imprisonment of Acts 28 ultt., it becomes an interesting question, to which part of that imprisonment it is to be assigned.

4. On comparing it with the three contemporaneous Epistles, to the Colossians, to the Ephesians, and to Phlippians, we shall find a marked difference. In them we have (Ephesians 6:19-20) freedom of preaching the Gospel implied: here (ch. Philippians 1:13-18) much more stress is laid upon his bondage, and it appears that others, not he himself, preached the Gospel, and made the fact of his imprisonment known. Again, from this same passage it would seem that a considerable time had elapsed since his imprisonment: enough for “his bonds” to have had the general effects there mentioned. This may be inferred also from another fact: the Philippians had heard of his imprisonment,—had raised and sent their contribution to him by Epaphroditus,—had heard of Epaphroditus’s sickness,—of the effect of which news on them he (Epaphroditus) had had time to hear, ch. Philippians 2:26, and was now recovered, and on his way back to them. These occurrences would imply four casual journeys from Rome to Philippi. Again (ch. Philippians 2:19; Philippians 2:23) he is expecting a speedy decision of his cause, which would hardly be while he was dwelling as in Acts 28 ultt.

5. And besides all this, there is a spirit of anxiety and sadness throughout this Epistle, which hardly agrees with the two years of the imprisonment in the Acts, nor with the character of those other Epistles. His sufferings are evidently not the chain and the soldier only. Epaphroditus’s death would have brought on him λύπην ἐπὶ λύπην (ch. Philippians 2:27): there was then a λύπη before. He is now in an ἀγών—in one not, as usual, between the flesh and the spirit, not concerning the long-looked for trial of his case, but one of which the Philippians had heard (ch. Philippians 1:29-30), and in which they shared by being persecuted too: some change in his circumstances, some intensification of his imprisonment, which had taken place before this time.

6. And if we examine history, we can hardly fail to discover what this was, and whence arising. In February, 61, St. Paul arrived in Rome (see Chron. Table in Prolegg. to Acts, Vol. II.). In 62(36), Burrus, the prætorian præfect, died, and a very different spirit came over Nero’s government: who in the same year divorced Octavia, married Poppæa(37), a Jewish proselytess(38), and exalted Tigellinus, the principal promoter of that marriage, to the joint prætorian præfecture. From that time, Nero began ‘ad deteriores inclinare(39):’ Seneca lost his power: ‘validior in dies Tigellinus(40):’ a state of things which would manifestly deteriorate the condition of the Apostle, and have the effect of hastening on his trial. It will not be unreasonable to suppose that, some little time after the death of Burrus (Feb., 63, would complete the διετία ὅλη of Acts 28:30), he was removed from his own house into the πραιτώριον, or barrack of the prætorian guards attached to the palace, and put into stricter custody, with threatening of immediate peril of his life. Here it would be very natural that some of those among the prætorians who had had the custody of him before, should become agents in giving the publicity to “his bonds,” which he mentions ch. Philippians 1:13. And such a hypothesis suits eminently well all the circumstances of our Epistle.

7. According to this, we must date it shortly after Feb., 63: when now the change was fresh, and the danger imminent. Say for its date then, the summer of 63.

SECTION IV

LANGUAGE AND STYLE

1. The language of this Epistle is thoroughly Pauline. Baur has indeed selected some phrases which he conceives to savour of the vocabulary of the later Gnosticism, but entirely without ground. All those which he brings forward, οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο,— ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν,— μορφὴ θεοῦ,— σχῆμα,— καταχθόνιοι,—may easily be accounted for without any such hypothesis: and, as has been already observed in Prolegg. to Ephesians, peculiar expressions may just as well be held to have descended from our Epistles to the Gnostics, as vice versâ.

2. The mention of ἐπίσκοποι καὶ διάκονοι in ch. Philippians 1:1, has surprised some. I have explained in the note there, that it belongs probably to the late date of our Epistle. But it need surprise no one, however that may be: for the terms are found in an official sense, though not in formal conjunction, in speeches made, and Epistles written long before this: e.g. in Acts 20:28; Romans 16:1.

3. In style, this Epistle, like all those where St. Paul writes with fervour, is discontinuous and abrupt, passing rapidly from one theme to another(41); full of earnest exhortations(42), affectionate warnings(43), deep and wonderful settings-forth of his individual spiritual condition and feelings(44), of the state of Christians(45) and of the sinful world(46),—of the loving counsels of our Father respecting us(47), and the self-sacrifice and triumph of our Redeemer(48).

4. No Epistle is so warm in its expressions of affection(49). Again and again we have ἀγαπητοί and ἀδελφοί recurring: and in one place, ch. Philippians 4:1, he seems as if he hardly could find words to pour out the fulness of his love— ὥστε, ἀδελφοὶ μου ἀγαπητοὶ καὶ ἐπιπόθητοι, χαρὰ καὶ στέφανός μου, οὕτως στήκετε ἐν κυρίῳ, ἀγαπητοί. We see how such a heart, penetrated to its depths by the Spirit of God, could love. We can see how that feeble frame, crushed to the very verge of death itself, shaken with fightings and fears, burning at every man’s offence, and weak with every man’s infirmity, had yet its sweet refreshments and calm resting-places of affection. We can form some estimate,—if the bliss of reposing on human spirits who loved him was so great,—how deep must have been his tranquillity, how ample and how clear his fresh springs of life and joy, in HIM, of whom he could write, ζῶ δὲ οὐκ ἔτι ἐγὼ, ζῇ δὲ ἐν ἐμοὶ χριστός (Galatians 2:20): and of whose abiding power within him he felt, as he tells his Philippians (ch. Philippians 4:13), πάντα ἰσχύω ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί με.

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Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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