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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

The Letter of Paul to the Philippians - Introduction

The church of Philippi was the first Paul founded on the continent of Europe (Acts 16.11–40; 1 Thess. 2.2 ). His cordial relations with it can be seen from the unusual warmth of this letter and from the fact that it was the only one of his churches from which he accepted support (Phil. 4.15–16 ).

The letter was written from prison ( 1.7, 13, 17 ) and together with Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon makes up the group known as the Captivity Letters. Two major imprisonments of Paul are recorded in Acts, one at Caesarea ( 23.33–26.32 ), the other at Rome ( 28.16–31 ), and Rome has traditionally been identified as the place from which Philippians was written.

However, the differences in thought between Colossians (also usually assigned to the Roman imprisonment) and Philippians make it difficult to ascribe both of these letters to the same period. Moreover, Philippians speaks of four journeys made by friends between the place of Paul's imprisonment and Philippi and of a fifth which is about to take place ( 2.25–26 )–an unlikely number considering the great distance between Rome and Philippi. On the other hand, if one of Paul's many imprisonments (2 Cor. 11.23 ) occurred during his three-year stay at Ephesus (Acts 20.31 ), so many trips are easier to understand; Ephesus and Philippi were only about ten days apart. Inscriptions discovered at Ephesus show that members of the Praetorian Guard and of the imperial establishment were stationed in the Roman province of Asia; consequently, the references in 1.13 and 4.22 are as consistent with an origin in Ephesus as in Rome.

If composition at Ephesus is accepted, Philippians belongs to the period of Paul's “third missionary journey,” and may be dated around 56 C.E.

It is not certain that the present document was always a unit; it may have been assembled from as many as three originally distinct letters: a note of thanks for the gift sent through Epaphroditus ( 4.10–20 ); a letter motivated by Paul's concern for the church in the face of potentially disruptive persons whose position is not clearly defined ( 1.1–3.1a; 4.2–9, 21–23 ); and a letter warning against false teachers about whose doctrines the apostle has become better informed ( 3.1b–4.1 ).

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