The letter was composed sometime between 59 AD and 61 AD, and though the place of writing is never going to be known for certain, Ephesus is the prime consideration. The messenger is generally accepted as, Epaphroditus, a member of the congregation at, Philippi.
Christian historians tell us that this 'church' was being torn apart by persecutions and they were without leadership. Paul's letter was significant for this purpose. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 985: 860a)
(This picture of the Philippians, however, is to be contested by other authorities as being inaccurate.)
Since Peake's tells us that the leaders of the church had been done away with, it seems odd that Paul would address himself as he does, "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons..." (Philippians 1:1; RSV) (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 985: 860a)
However, the Greek means only "overseers and assistants." Thankfully, theologians find it necessary to point out that we must use the meaning for these 'titles' as they were understood in Paul's time, and not today. This is amazing since the common practice today is to take the ancient Greek and substitute the modern 21st century idiom for their meanings, a practice which can only end in disaster.
Apostles, prophets and teachers, were charismatic offices. The terms used here are technical titles. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 985: 860d)
In this, we have more evidence that Paul was apportioning 'commissions' like they were candy, rewards for 'services rendered', 'loyalty to him', or for 'talents' exhibited within the church. In continuing this practice, Paul diminished the distinction and authority of Jesus' chosen Apostles. The more there were of these offices, the less importance could be placed on the original commission.
If his 'gospel' had not sufficiently diminished the light of the true 'church,' if his 'theology' had not controverted Jesus' mission and intent enough, then this custom was washing away the influence of the Jerusalem Church and its leaders. After offering his diligent prayers in greeting this congregation, he turns to elaborating on his own plight. But here, Paul leaves himself open to some very damaging criticism.
"...I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel..." (Philippians 1:7 King James Version)
The Revised Standard Version, reads, "I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel."
Paul uses this self-imposed predicament to indicate that he has been confined, and is being tried, for the gospel he preaches. Nothing could have been further from the truth!
In this, The Interpreter's Bible, agrees with this student. Paul was not arrested for preaching the Gospel, and his words can in no way lead to this conclusion. He was placed in protective custody after starting a riot in Jerusalem which had nothing to do with his missionary practices. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 24-25)
Paul asserted that he was warned to leave Jerusalem in a vision, but in truth he was forced to leave because the Jews, in a mob scene, were attempting to kill him. It was a matter of having his life threatened, not by the divine intercession of another of his many 'visions.'
Once again we see Paul's word set against that of Luke. In Chapter 9 of Acts, the impression is given that Paul returned to Jerusalem immediately after his conversion. He contradicts this statement in Galatians. Here Paul says he left because of a vision. The truth is that he was sent away by "the brethren" because the Jews were trying to kill him. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 9: Page 292)
In his defense, as the account is told by Luke, Paul retells the vision in its original form, but this is a version that Paul has already denied. So once again Luke and Paul are at odds, but the good physician repeats that which he believes is the truth. It would be easy to find ways to defend Paul's activities if we could count on Luke, but Paul has contradicted his 'friend' at every turn. By his own words, Paul denies everything Luke has recounted.
Another matter that needs be brought up during this episode, is Paul's intentional insult of the High Priest. By his own admission, Paul lived in Jerusalem and studied under one of the most famous Rabbi's of all time, Gameleil. In this, he most certainly would know who the High Priest was, yet Paul's excuse for insulting that figure was that he did not know who he was. (Acts 23:1-5)
This overall picture is a perfect example of how Paul used events to his own purposes, such as changing his story about the vision despite Luke's version. It is possible that Paul did this because no healing took place as it was supposed to in the original story. Here, he was finally seized by the Jews after speaking of his persecution of the Hellenists and his part in the death of Stephen. Nothing was discussed concerning his preaching the Gospel.
In the tribunal that was held, Paul reveals that he is a Roman citizen, thereby escaping a scourging which was to be administered by the Romans.
"Paul said, "But I was born a citizen." So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him instantly..." (Acts 22:28-29; RSV)
Paul was no fool, and he takes the logical way of slipping away from the 'noose'.
"But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial... Then a great clamor arose... And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them and bring him into the barracks." (Acts 23:6-10; RSV)
The truth of it is that Paul was not put into prison for preaching the gospel, he was not put into prison for preaching Christ, and he would never have been put into prison for preaching the 'resurrection of the dead' since all Pharisees argued that point. But it is interesting to note, as a by-product of this examination that Paul's basic theology about the resurrection came from Judaism and not some great revelation.
Therefore, preaching the resurrection of Jesus was no effort for Paul, who was steeped in Jewish theology. The rest of his dogma could be easily assimilated into his New Covenant doctrine.
Whatever plight Paul finds himself in, it fits a pattern, and that pattern always serves to advance the cause to which he has become devoted. No human being could ever plot such a course of endeavor without an unseen power guiding the entire production. The endeavor of criticism is to discover from whence that power emanates.
Within his confines Paul now has access to the Roman guard, a situation that might have taken years via another route. As Mythranism, was the religion of the soldier, now Paul's version of Christianity was going to take hold within the guard.
"I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard..." (Philippians 1:12-13; RSV)
Please note, Paul does not decry his situation but exclaims it almost as a godsend. After all, it came about by his own wishes.
Whether or not Paul ever conceived of himself as being used by a dark, unseen power, we will never know, but it is doubtful. If he could deceive others concerning his calling, and his visions, he would never have admitted to being the pawn in a game whose scope was beyond his ability to comprehend.
At any rate, we have it on good authority that Paul was not, "...put here for the defense of the gospel..." (Philippians 1:16; RSV)
Comparing Paul's situation to that of the Philippians has been taken too literally. Though it has been said that they were going through a persecution like his own, there is no evidence of this. What Paul says about their hardships could apply to Christians in general at many times during their history. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 41)
It is at this point, seemingly in deepest sympathy with the Philippians' situation, whatever that might have been, that Paul makes his most profound theological statement.
"...who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:6-7; RSV)
Now Paul expands his gospel to include, Incarnation. Jesus who was called the Christ, God incarnate, come to earth in human form. This doctrine finds itself firmly entrenched in the church today. It is evident every time a, 'Hail Mary', is spoken. "Holy Mary, mother of God..." But scholars in a less 'catholic' role suggest that Paul's ideology presents great problems.
"The whole passage turns upon this clause, which is exceedingly difficult, and has been interpreted in many different ways..." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 48) Paul preaches that Christ existed in the form of God, i.e; Christ was of the same nature as God, therefore he was essentially divine.
Paul also taught that Jesus created all things, "...in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities" (Col. 1:16). (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 12: Page 376)
It is impossible to distinguish at which point Paul wandered into a deified existence for Jesus, but the fruit of that seed takes place in this letter, without reservation.
In Paul's mind, Jesus is, "...Oti Ego Eimi....", 'I Am that I am', in other words, The Godhead, from which all things spring. He is equal with God the Father, he is in every facet, God Himself. Far be it for Jesus to have denied this, far be it for Jesus to have warned us that this heresy was coming, (The New Testament: Mark 13:6: The interlinear Greek-English New Testament). This is further proof that Paul knew nothing of Jesus' mind or his teachings. Regardless, he would have it his own way.
His philosophical meanderings have had their way with the world, and it is established tradition among the vast majority of Christians that the nature of Jesus was nothing less than divine. How one kills God has never been fully explained except to offer us the dogma of a god who took on the form of a man, and in doing so, also took on his vulnerable human condition by giving up his immortality.
The unsophisticated mind of the church finds this acceptable enough to satisfy their needs. The Christian scholar seeks something more definitive than the Hellenistic theorizing of an expatriate, pharisaic Jew who has taken Greek mythological characteristics and applied them to God's most high prophet and, "... a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedeck." (Hebrews 7:17; RSV)
Paul goes on with his closing salutations, which include his instructions for a Christian life together, and then to his plans for sending Timothy to visit them. Here, once again, Paul takes the opportunity to remind the congregation that he is a Jew who was circumcised as the Law considered proper, that he was born a Pharisee, a persecutor of the 'church', and, "...as to righteousness under the law blameless." (Philippians 3:6; RSV)
In regard to this statement, I would refer the reader to Proverbs 6:16, which I will recount here, in deference to those who do not wish to hear it.
"There are six things which the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers."
Anyone who reads this thesis and verifies God's scriptures, should have no trouble in listing examples of all seven, of which Paul was guilty, including two murders.
Paul looks forward to attaining the resurrection from the dead, but as a Pharisee, he has already accepted that doctrine. Now, however, it becomes a joint endeavor with Christ. Why this becomes necessary is hard to determine. Perhaps it was to set up the conditions for his theology in the minds of others. Since he has discarded the body of the Law, and Judaism in general, he appears to have no other choice than to incorporate pagan ideals into his theology. His bridges are burned behind him.
More than one expert, speaking from an experienced study of Paul's theology will maintain that he was influenced by the mystery religions of his time. The idea that an initiate who took part in the secret rites, actually experienced the act of a divine being who had been slain and miraculously restored to life. They also agree that it is very possible that Paul's ideas and phrases were taken from the religious thinking of his day. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 86)
The cult of Cybele, is indicative of these activities. During a "passion week", in celebration of Attis' death, a pine tree, representing his corpse, was carried through the streets, "...and three days later his devotees joyfully celebrated his "resurrection" as the guarantee of their own immortality." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 10: Page 496) (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 7: page 92)
Mythranism was the strongest rival of Christianity during Paul's lifetime. The winter solstice was the time of the rebirth of Mithra. They observed the birthday of Mithra on December 25. "...As Christianity gained the ascendancy over its rival, it became a custom to use the old festival day for the celebration of the birth of Christ." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 7: Page 93) (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 7: Page 89)
There are striking similarities in both of these "mystery cults". One of the rituals of the cult of Cybele is compared to the carrying of the crucifix through the streets during various Catholic festivals, the reference to the resurrection three days after the god's death, and the celebration of the 'resurrection' during the spring, and Jesus birthday on December 25th.
The resemblance of certain ritual observances between Mythranism and Christianity are obvious and do not need to be pointed out. And so, the "seasons" of the death and resurrection of Paul's, Christ, come to be the same as several pagan religions, and are based on similar principles.
If it were necessary to draw additional parallels, the choices are myriad. Isis, and immortality as a major theme, found its way into man's major religions long before Paul began his search for "life immortal."
Those who were initiated into the secret rites of these pagan religions, like Osiris, believed they could triumph over the death. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 7: Page 93)
None of this was new to the thoughts of man, Paul merely had to adapt it to suit his own purpose and another doctrine was set into place. An escape from death became the major theme, and it was accomplished through the blood offering of a human sacrifice and thence, the resurrection of the 'dead' god. There is no difference here between the beliefs that were very much alive in Paul's time, and that which he preached. Aware or not, he was framing the establishment that would rule men's lives for almost two thousand years.
And it is proper for this student to note that none of these beliefs were in evidence in the practices of the Disciples, or in, The Jerusalem Church, or in the minds of those who knew The Christ, until Paul unleashed his theological tirades.
Now, as compassionate as this letter was meant to be, Paul follows his method of operation to the last letter. How many times does this man end his salutations to a congregation with an open threat? In the midst of his platitudes, Paul takes time to remark on the fate of 'other' Christians who do not completely follow his gospel.
"For many of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction... " (Philippians 3:18-19; RSV)
If Peake's Commentary, is attempting to be sarcastic, or is simply reflecting Paul's own opinion, we do not know, but the reference to his example of perfect Christian living is listed here as information. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 988: 862e)
In the final section of his letter, Paul makes reference once again to two women, "...Euodia and Syntyche... help these women, for they labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers..." (Philippians 4:3; RSV)
Both Peake's, and The Interpreter's Bible, believe that one of these women may have been the, Lydia, referred to in Acts. Obviously, they had been a vital part of Paul's ministry early in Philippi, possibly allowing him to use their homes as meeting places, or places of worship, within the congregational network.
But Paul still must be sure that his work and authority are recognized.
"What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:9; RSV)
And if you didn't...
Paul ends with a thank you 'note', for the money gift that the Philippians have sent to him. Some theologians have considered Paul's statement as being 'trite' and a 'thanks' that may have been more in a sarcastic mode than any other. We do not know how large an amount was given.
Lohmeyer considers this as the 'thankless thanks'. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 988: 863b)
He may also have been insulted by the amount they sent him, considering it beneath his 'worth'. However, Paul's staunch defenders do not weaken, even in the sight of contradiction.
A final word in conclusion of this letter, referring to Paul's use of the phrase, "...the book of life." (Philippians 4:3; RSV and KJV)
This is another invention 'of speech' originated by Paul for his 'congregations, which was taken from the practice of listing the inhabitants of towns and cities in a book for an approximate census.
This phrase is also used in Apocalyptic thought. It appears several times in the book of Revelation." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 108)
That which Paul evolves through his letters finds expression in Philippians. Its final exposition is contained in Ephesians.