An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 1 - Section 9


§ 9. The Epistle to the Philippians.

[Cf. H. A. W. Meyer, vols. viii. and ix., 4: Philippians by E. Haupt (1897), together with Colossians, Philemon and Ephesiansand an Introduction of 104 pages entitled ʽDie Gefangenschaftsbriefe neu bearbeitet.ʼ In the ʽHand-Commentar,ʼ Galatians, Romans and Philippians are undertaken by R. A. Lipsius (vol. ii., 2, 1892). See also the ʽInternational Critical Commentary,ʼ by M. Vincent (1897). For special commentaries see B. Weiss (1859), J. B. Lightfoot (1896), and A. Klöpper (1893); also C. Holstenʼs investigation in the ʽJahrbücher für protestantische Theologieʼ (1875 and 1876), in which he sides with those who dispute the authenticity.]

1. The Epistle to the Philippians is written with unusual warmth, in a tone almost of familiarity, and with a certain lack of form. In it Paul opens his heart freely, and hence his subjects and moods are variable. But the writer who, even with this simplicity, has such marvellous power to exalt and edify becomes only the more dear to us; his tenderness is never shown more abundantly than in the way in which he speaks of the gift bestowed on him by the Philippians, nowhere is his ʽspiritual giftʼ of treating even the small events of common intercourse in a lofty way, and of illuminating them with his religious idealism, more brilliantly manifested.

After the address and greeting1 and the thanksgiving and prayer for the community2 he informs his readers as to the state of his own affairs and as to his experiences and prospects.3 To this4 he skilfully appends the exhortation: by looking on Jesus as the example of lowliness and self-sacrifice, nay even as a personal joy and glory to himself, they are to put an end to the factiousness of their common life. Next he announces the approaching visit of Timothy and the return of the faithful Epaphroditus, lately recovered from a serious illness,5 and with the charge, ʽFinally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord,ʼ6 takes up his exhortation once more.7 In the first place we have an urgent appeal to his readers to seek their progress only along the path in which they now stand,8 and above all things not to renounce their high spiritual possessions—righteousness through faith, perfection, knowledge—for the sake of the pitiful glory of a carnal circumcision and of a supposed righteousness through the Law. Then follow9 certain special exhortations to individual members of the community, viz. to two women who, though they had laboured zealously for the Gospel, had recently fallen out one with another. In iv. 4 and again in iv. 8 Paul rouses himself to bid a particularly warm and vigorous farewell, but returns again in vv. 10-20 to express his grateful joy in the Philippiansʼ gift, which, he declares, was precious to him, not for its assistance in his own need, but as the fruit of their faith. Greetings and salutations end the Epistle.10

2. At Philippi, an inland town in eastern Macedonia, Paul had preached at the time he first set foot on the soil of Europe; there he had been shamefully ill-treated and finally driven from the town,11 but he had left behind him a community so faithfully attached that when he was at Thessalonica it had twice already sent him voluntary help, and afterwards did so yet again.12 Since he never accepted money from other communities, the relations he had had with the Philippians since the ʽbeginning of the gospelʼ13 (these words being spoken, of course, from their point of view) had always been unique. For some time after this they had had no further opportunity of proving their zeal for their beloved Apostle, but the relations between them had not grown cold.14 Now15 the Philippians had sent a gift to Paul through Epaphroditus, a member of their community, and had strictly charged the latter to stay and render personal service to the Apostle.16 Their messenger had, however, become dangerously ill, and was besides tormented with home-sickness, so that Paul considered it his duty to send him back as soon as he was recovered. But whether the Philippians, who had heard of his illness,17 had made inquiries after him by letter is just as impossible to determine as the question whether their ʽgift of loveʼ was accompanied by a joint epistle or not. Paul makes no reference whatever to any epistle of theirs. He had enough reason for writing to them without this; he must provide Epaphroditus, who had, after all, only half fulfilled his mission, with a letter of excuse; he must express his thanks for their gift, give them the desired information as to the state of his suit, report to them as to his present condition and his prospects, and, since he had heard of their earnest longing for another visit, at all events promise them an equivalent—the approaching visit of Timothy. That he would not do this without adding to it ʽsome spiritual giftʼ for their encouragement needs no explanation; some of their faults he may have heard of through Epaphroditus, and others he may have contended against more than once already; at any rate he knows how to discharge this duty as well as the others in a paternal spirit.

The question as to whether the community consisted of Gentile or Jewish Christians need concern us little, however probable the former may be, even from iii. 3 fol. In any case it adhered implicitly to Paul,18 and the divisions that existed in it were mainly founded on personal vanities and jealousies. Even at Philippi, however, everything was not perfect19; but the ʽdogs, the evil workers, the concision,ʼ against whom Paul breaks out so fiercely in wi. 2, were certainly not members of the community, but agitators from outside, new-made Proselytes, who sought to advance the cause of Moses amid the religious ferment of such societies. This exhortation is not sufficient evidence from which to conclude that the Philippians were inclined towards Judaising. If Paul means by those ʽwho mind earthly things, whose god is the belly,ʼ of iii. 18 fol., the same persons as those he attacks in iii. 2—and the ʽenemies of the Cross of Christʼ could scarcely have been degenerate though professing Christians—then we must conclude that he had already warned the Philippians of the ʽevil workersʼ etc., and they are either to be found not far removed from the ʽadversariesʼ of i. 28 (that is, in a powerful Jewish community at Philippi, intent upon suppressing its Christian rival), or else we must assume that a Judaistic agitation pure and simple—-like that in Galatia—was still going on in the East, and that Paul looked upon it as on a level with unbelieving Judaism itself, if not even below it. In either case no more is implied as to the attitude of the Philippians towarde matters of faith than that the Apostle, already inclined as he was to look on the dark side of things, did not credit all members of the community with so mature a knowledge as to be proof against every argument that these agitators could bring forward. Paul knew how lovingly the community clung to him, and that his word had absolute authority over it; as long as he lived, indeed, it would not fall; but what if he were now to be called away? For this contingency, then, the faithful of Philippi shall possess a testament from him which leaves nothing to be desired in point of clearness. If seducers press upon them, they shall know—even though Paul himself can no longer be asked for counsel—what his opinion of their temptersʼ religion and morals had been, so that even if their judgment waver, piety towards himself may keep them in the right way.

3. Paul was a prisoner when he wrote the Epistle,20 and moreover the words ʽpraetorian guardʼ21 and ʽthey that are of Caesarʼs householdʼ22 point decidedly towards the Roman imprisonment. His expectation, too, of a speedy termination to his suit23 would fit Rome better than Caesarea, and still more would the fact that he was once more directing his thoughts, in the event of his being set at liberty, towards a journey to his old communities,24 whereas from Caesarea he must have turned them towards Rome. From i. 14 it appears that he was surrounded by a considerable Christian community, from which he can send greetings to Philippi.25 As a prisoner he could not, of course, have had direct relations with this whole body, but he had special friends among his guards, and even his older fellow-workers had not, according to ii. 20 fol., all forsaken him. He complains,26 however, of a minority who preached Christ out of evil motives of envy and strife—his imprisonment having naturally left the field open to them. He does not expressly say that these τινές belonged to his immediate vicinity, but if their intention really was to ʽraise up afflictionʼ for him ʽin his bondsʼ by their proceedings, we should certainly look for them in Rome. What they preached was not a false gospel, so that they must have disclosed their possible Judaistic leanings still more cautiously than had Paulʼs Corinthian adversaries, and the Roman community, on which Paul was in no position to press the true wine, and with which he was not on terms of personal intimacy, entertained no suspicions against them. It seems probable under these circumstances that the Epistle should be placed between the years 61 and 68, but of these 61 is the least likely, since we must allow time for three events: the Philippians hear of the arrival of Paul in Rome, they send a gift to him there, and the bearer of it falls ill and recovers again. More than this, however, I should not venture to assert, for the expressions of longing for death27 are certainly conceivable from Paulʼs lips before the last months of his life, while the complaint of ii. 20 fol. against all his entourage, with the exception of Timothy, might have given place to a more cheerful verdict, supposing, for instance, that these companions had been replaced by others; we need not necessarily regard it as the result of years of observation and disappointed hope. And the ʽallʼ of ii. 21 is clearly hyperbolical. Paul was human, after all, and had a right to give utterance in his epistles even to passing moods and feelings.

4, This should never be lost sight of in dealing with the attempts of some critics to apply the pruning-knife to our Epistle. The theory of the Tübingen school, that the whole Epistle is post-Pauline, is indeed almost universally abandoned, for the language corresponds exactly with that of the recognised Epistles, while the tone is Pauline beyond the possibility of imitation.28 Any difficulties arising from the doctrines of Christology and Soteriology of ii. 6-11 and iii. 6-11—which are held to represent in the first case an exaggeration and in the second a relaxation of the Pauline conception—are set at rest when we apply an unprejudiced exegesis to the passages in question, in the light of our knowledge that Paul did not make use of fixed dogmatic formula, but of religious experiences which could admit of very various expression and the content of which was ever growing wider. The special mention of the bishops and deacons in the address29 was probably owing to the fact that they had managed and carried out the Collection on Paulʼs behalf, while the mere existence of such Church officials is not more suspicious than that of the men ʽwho are over youʼ of 1. Thessalonians.30 More remarkable certainly is the fact that the anti-Pauline evangelists are here judged so mildly that Paul can actually say of their doings ʽChrist is proclaimed,ʼ31 and can therefore rejoice in them still, whereas in the Epistle to the Galatians he had cursed them. But is not the same idea expressed in 9. Corinthians xi. 4, only in different words, and may not personal experience have convinced the Apostle that a large number of his opponents did actually help to spread the Gospel by their preaching? Did Paulʼs enemies consist only of bigoted Judaists?

Under these circumstances other critics have only pointed to the directly opposite strain in which the adversaries are disposed of in chap. iii. and demand that since such contradictions are inadmissible in so short a letter, we should either remove certain passages as interpolations, or rather that we should divide the Epistle into two documents addressed to Philippi at different times. In this case it was most natural to mark the boundary at iii. 1 and 2, where it must be admitted that a remarkable change of tone occurs. Such an hypothesis—no matter whether chaps. ili. and iv. were then held to form the later or the earlier epistle—is certainly to be preferred to the bold venture of piecing together two Epistles to the Philippians out of fragments lying scattered through all the four chapters, although the need for such a flimsy construction testifies again to the impracticability of the first hypothesis. Both classes of critics consider themselves further entitled to appeal to an external witness, since Polycarp in his Epistle to the Philippians32 speaks of ʽepistlesʼ of Paul to that community which they would do well to read and digest. That Paul corresponded frequently with the Philippians, in any case, will hardly be doubted even apart from the words of iu. 1, but that in Polycarpʼs time there should have existed two or more such epistles which were only later pieced together into our present Epistle is — impossible. The bishop of Smyrna was the victim of some confusion, or else his plural (ἐπεστολαί) is only rhetorical, or perhaps generic, like the ʽother churchesʼ of 2. Corinthians xi. 8. If, however, 2. Corinthians can best be understood as a whole, there can be no possible reason for the dismemberment of Philippians; the Apostleʼs mood had simply varied as he wrote, had alternated between eagerness for life and rejoicing in death. And so—especially under the influence, perhaps, of some new exasperating experience—Paul might have directed the stormy outbursts of iii. 2 fol. against the same persons as those whom, from another point of view, he had judged with comparative mildness, say, the day before.33 But he has not the same foes in his mind in these two passages: in chap. i. he is thinking of certain persons who were a personal annoyance to himself; in chap. iil. of men who might become dangerous to a community most dear to him. The former were helping, though unwillingly, to spread the word of the Cross; the latter were exerting all their strength to undermine it. Nevertheless, the passionate tone of iii. 2 and iii. 18 fol. will always be remarkable, since there is apparently no question of an immediate menace to the faith of the Philippians, and Paulʼs picture of the ʽdogsʼ is drawn rather from recollections of past struggles; but all will be clear if we give their psychological significance to the moods of an imprisoned, sickly and solitary man.



1) i. 1 fol.

2) i. 3-11

3) i. 12-26.

4) i. 27-ii. 18.

5) ii. 19-30.

6) iii. 1.

7) iii. 1-iv. 9.

8) iii. 16.

9) iv. 2 fol.

10) iv, 21-23.

11) 1 Thess. ii. 2.

12) Philipp. iv. 15 fol.; 2 Cor. xi. 8 and 9.

13) iv. 15.

14) iv. 1, i. 8.

15) iv. 14 and 18.

16) ii. 30.

17) ii. 26.

18) ii. 12, iii 17.

19) iii, 15, 16; ii. 12.

20) i.7, 13 fol. and 17.

21) i. 13.

22) iv. 22

23) ii. 23:

24) ii.24, i. 25-27.

25) iv. 22a.

26) i. 15 and 17.

27) i, 20 fol.

28) i. 20 fol., iv. 10 fol.

29) i. 1.

30) v. 12.

31) i, 15-18.

32) iii. 2.

33) i. 15 fol.