the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
Philippi was a city in the E. of Macedonia, re-founded in the middle of the 4th cent. b.c. by Philip of Macedon, who made it one of his frontier strongholds. Built on an outlying spur of the Pangaean range (‘Pangaea nivosis cana jugis’ [Lucan, Phar. i. 680]), and separated by that range from its seaport Neapolis, it looked westward and northward over a vast green plain watered by many springs, from which it derived its original name of Crenides (Strabo, vii. p. 331). In 168 b.c. Macedonia was subdued by the Romans, who broke up her national unity by dividing the country into four districts, the inhabitants of which were forbidden to marry or hold property outside their respective boundaries (Livy, xlv. 29). Philippi was included in the first region, of which Amphipolis was the capital. In 42 b.c. the Roman Republic made its last stand on the plains of Philippi, and to commemorate the victory of Imperialism the city was re-founded by Octavian under the name of Colonia Julia Augusta Victrix Philippensium. Receiving the Jus Italicum, it became a miniature Rome, enjoying equal privileges with the mother-city. After the battle of Actium it provided a home for the defeated veterans of Mark Antony. Even the Greek natives (incolae), who still probably outnumbered the coloni, caught the now prevailing spirit and gloried in being Roman (Acts 16:21). Latin was the official language of the colonia, whose magistrates, chosen by a senate of the citizens, were attended by lictors (‘sergeants,’ Acts 16:35) bearing fasces. The Via Egnatia, the second part of the great overland route between Rome and Asia, passed through the city.
Christianity first came to Philippi in the autumn of a.d. 50 (so Turner; Harnack, 48; Ramsay, 51 [see HDB_ i. 424]). In response to the appeal of ‘the man of Macedonia,’ whom Ramsay wishes to identify with St. Luke, St. Paul crossed the aegean to Neapolis, took the Egnatian Way over Mt. Symbolum, and reached the colonia. The change from ‘they’ to ‘we’ in the narrative after the departure from Troas (Acts 16:10) indicates that the historian accompanied the Apostle on this journey into Europe.
Philippi is described as ‘a city of Macedonia, the first of the district, a Roman colony’ (Acts 16:12 RV_). The words πρώτη τῆς μερίδος form an exegetical crux. (1) Conybeare and Howson hold that they ‘must certainly mean the first city in its geographical relation to St. Paul’s journey’ (The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, i. 341), i.e. the first he came to in the district; but this seems a feeble observation for a first-rate historian to make, and moreover one not strictly accurate, as Neapolis, which had just been left behind, belonged to the same μέρις as Philippi. (2) F. Blass (Philology of the Gospels, 1898, p. 68) and others emend the text (though it is found in àAC) into πρώτης μερίδος, so that Philippi would be described as ‘a city of the first region of Macedonia’; but it is unlikely that St. Luke wished to refer to the old and now almost forgotten division of the country into tetrarchies. (3) Van Manen (EBi_ iii. 3702) thinks that Philippi was a ‘first’ city in the same sense in which Ephesus, Pergamus, and Smyrna bore that distinction-a ‘first-class’ city; but it does not appear that this phraseology was used outside the Commune of Asia. (4) WH’s_ ingenious proposal (Appendix, p. 97) to rend Πιερίδος for μερίδος-‘a city of Pierian Macedonia’-has not commended itself. (5) It is best to take the phrase as an obiter dictum of St. Luke, who unofficially confirms the great Roman colony’s estimate of itself as the most important city of the district. ‘Of old Amphipolis had been the chief city of the division, to which both belonged. Afterwards Philippi quite outstripped its rival; but it was at that time in such a position that Amphipolis was ranked first by general consent, Philippi first by its own consent’ (Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 206 f.).
Had there been a synagogue in Philippi, St. Paul would, according to his invariable practice, have visited it without delay. But a military colony did not offer the same attractions as a commercial city to the Jews of the Diaspora, and apparently the sojourners in Philippi were few. There was, however, a προσευχή, or place of prayer, outside the gate by the side of the river-the Ganges or Gangites, a tributary of the Strymon-where some women were in the habit of meeting on the Sabbath (Acts 16:13; Acts 16:16). προσευχή evidently denotes something simpler than a fully organized συναγωγή with all the proper officials and appointments. It is true that Philo and Josephus employ the two terms as synonymous (Schürer, HJP_ II. ii.  68-73). The latter, e.g., describes the προσευχή of Tiberias as μέγιστον οἴκημα καὶ πολὺν ὄχλον ἐπιδέξασθαι δυνάμενον (Vita, 54). But the fact that St. Luke everywhere else uses the word ‘synagogue’ indicates a distinction in his own mind. Only women attended the Philippian προσευχή, whereas the presence of at least ten adult male persons was required for the conduct of the regular worship of the synagogue. The Philippian worshippers had doubtless some enclosure which marked off their meeting-place as sacred, but no roofed building like a synagogue. The river-side gave them the means of Levitical washings, as well as a refuge from the interior of a city tainted with idolatry. Philo (in Flaccum, 14) mentions the instinctive desire of Jews residing in a foreign city to pray ἐν καθαρωτάτῳ, in the purest place they could find. It was in green pastures and beside still waters that St. Paul won his first European convert, the proselyte (σεβομένη τὸν θεόν, Acts 16:14) Lydia.
Another Philippian woman, who was attracted by the Apostle and his message, was well known in the city as a soothsayer (Acts 16:16). She was in the hands of a syndicate of masters who exploited her strange powers, advertising her as the possessor of a Python. According to Plutarch (de Defec. Orac. 9), Python was a name assumed by ἐγγαστρίμυθοι (ventriloquists), persons whom the LXX_ identifies with diviners. Popularly regarded as inspired by the Pythian Apollo, the girl was evidently no mere impostor, but a person of abnormal gifts and temperament, perhaps with symptoms of epilepsy, who believed herself to be the mouthpiece of a divine power, and gave free expression to her intuitions, often astonishing those who consulted her by the justice and truth of her oracular words. She was irresistibly drawn to the evangelists, rightly divining that they had brought to Philippi another and greater power than that of Apollo. She calls them servants of ‘God the Most High’-an expression widespread in paganism, as Ramsay notes (St. Paul, p. 215). St. Paul’s mode of saving her is an example of the mighty workings (δυνάμεις) of which he speaks (1 Corinthians 12:28). An authoritative word in the name of Christ broke the spell of her unhappy possession, and liberated her to serve a new Master.
Her conversion was the signal for an outburst of pagan hatred, to which St. Paul alludes years afterwards (προπαθόντες καὶ ὑβρισθέντες … ἐν Φιλίπποις [1 Thessalonians 2:2; cf. Philippians 1:30]). Enraged at the loss of their income (τῆς ἑργασίας, ‘business,’ ‘gain’), the girl’s owners avenged themselves by contriving to get the apostles charged with disturbing the peace and teaching a religio illicita. St. Paul and Silas were dragged before the magistrates, scourged without a hearing, and flung into the innermost prison. Weizsäcker (p. 285) thinks that ‘the story is rendered impossible by the conduct of Paul; he lets himself be chastised illegally, in order afterwards to secure greater satisfaction. Paul could not have acted so.’ But in the tumult he may well have made a protest which was drowned by a babel of hostile voices. Or who will blame him if he sometimes chose to suffer in silence-τρὶς ἐρραβδίσθην (2 Corinthians 11:25)-like ordinary Christians, who could not shelter themselves under the aegis of the Roman citizenship?
The magistrates of Philippi are first called ἄρχοντες (Acts 16:19) and then στρατηγοί (Acts 16:20; Acts 16:22; Acts 16:35-36; Acts 16:38). Ramsay (St. Paul, p. 217) thinks that the two clauses, ‘dragged them into the agora before the rulers,’ and ‘brought them before the magistrates’ (Acts 16:19-20), mean the same thing, and holds that if St. Luke had revised his narrative he would have struck out the one or the other. Blass says, ‘non licet distinguere inter ἄρχοντες et στρατηγοί’ (Acta Apostolorum, 1895, p. 180). The former is the ordinary term for the supreme board of magistrates in a Greek town, the latter the popular equivalent of praetores. St. Luke knew no doubt that in a colonia like Philippi the highest governing power was in the hands of duumviri (see inscriptions in J. B. Lightfoot, Philippians, p. 51), the exact translation of which would have been δύο ἄνδρες, but he preferred good Greek to slavishly technical accuracy on such a point. His use of στρατηγοί, therefore, does not prove either that the magistrates of Philippi had duly received the dignity of the praetorship, or that they had assumed it without leave, as provincial duumviri were said sometimes to do (Cicero, de Leg. Agr. ii. 34).
St. Luke is characteristically careful to make it clear that the majesty of Roman law might have been invoked against the Philippian authorities and on behalf of the apostles. By illegally punishing Roman citizens-Silas was apparently one as well as St. Paul (Acts 16:37)-the magistrates had rendered themselves liable to be degraded and counted unfit ever to hold office again (Cicero, in Verr. II. v. 66). The scourging and imprisoning were acts of high-handed violence. The accused were subjected to these indignities ‘without a trial’; that is the meaning of the word ἀκατακρίτους, which is translated ‘uncondemned’ (Acts 16:37). In the end the magistrates saved themselves by begging the prisoners to leave the town quietly, and the historian’s point is that in acceding to this request the apostles forfeited the unquestionable right to appeal against a gross maladministration of justice.
Many writers regard the story of the earthquake and the conversion of the jailer as legendary. H. J. Holtzmann asserts that this is the view of the whole critical school (‘Apostelgeschichte’ in Hand-Kom. zum NT i.  389). The interpretation of such a passage is naturally affected by one’s whole attitude to the miraculous. The older view is defended by Ramsay, whose acquaintance with Turkish prisons helps him to remove some of the difficulties of the narrative (St. Paul, pp. 220-222).
Five years later, probably in the autumn of a.d. 55, St. Paul re-visited Macedonia, giving the believers ‘much exhortation’ (Acts 20:2); and in the spring of the following year, having unexpectedly to begin his journey from Greece to Palestine by land instead of by sea, he had the happiness of keeping the Passover with the brethren of Philippi (Acts 20:6). None of his converts gave him the same unalloyed satisfaction as the Philippians, his ‘beloved and longed for,’ his ‘joy and crown’ (Philippians 4:1). He repeatedly showed his confidence in them by accepting at their hands favours which he refused from every other church. To Thessalonica, and again to Corinth, their messengers followed him with the tokens of their love (Philippians 4:16, 2 Corinthians 11:9); and when he was a prisoner in Rome, Epaphroditus of Philippi made a journey of 700 miles over land and sea to bring him yet another gift, which was acknowledged in the most affectionate letter St. Paul ever wrote (see Philippians, Epistle to the).
The prestige of women in the Church of Philippi, as in the other Macedonian churches (Acts 17:4; Acts 17:12) is a striking fact, only to be compared with their prominence at an earlier date in the personal ministry of our Lord’ (Lightfoot, op. cit. p. 57). St. Paul’s first Philippian audience consisted entirely of women (Acts 16:13); his first convert was a woman of influence, whose familia was baptized with her, and who became his hostess (Acts 16:14-15); and the only element in the Philippian Church which called for reproof in his letter was the variance of two prominent Christian ladies, both of whom he remembered gratefully as his fellow-workers in the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3). Lightfoot (op. cit. p. 56) quotes a number of Macedonian inscriptions which ‘seem to assign to the sex a higher social influence than is common among the civilised nations of antiquity.’
In the time of Trajan-i.e., before a.d. 117-Philippi became a stage in the triumphal progress of St. Ignatius from Antioch to Rome, where he was to die in the arena. His visit made so deep an impression on the Philippian Church that they soon after requested the martyr’s young friend Polycarp to write them and send them copies of St. Ignatius’ own letters. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians was the response, and it is still extant. The writer congratulates the Church of Philippi on ‘the sturdy root of their faith, famous from the earliest days’ (1), warns them against certain doctrinal and practical errors, and sets before them the example of apostles and saints who have gone to their rest. The later history of this remarkable church is almost a blank.
The village of Filibedjik (Little Philippi) is all that remains of the once famous city.
Literature.-W. M. Leake, Travels in Northern Greece, 1835, iii. 215-223; J. B. Lightfoot, Philippians4, 1878, p. 47 f.; Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul, new ed., 1877, i. 341 f.; W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, 1895, p. 213 f., The Church in the Roman Empire, 1893, p. 158 f.; C. von Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age of the Christian Church2, Eng. tr._, i.  279 ff.; A. C. McGiffert, Apostolic Age, 1897, p. 239 f.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Philippi'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​p/philippi.html. 1906-1918.