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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Critical Questions.

1.

Pauline authorship of Philippians is almost universally acknowledged, apart from some theories about 2:6–11 .

2.

The letter's unity and integrity have been challenged on grounds of apparent breaks in coherence and an order thought to be unsuited to its purpose (e.g. Collange 1979 ). Many hold that it has been re-edited from two or three letters by Paul, but disagree on where the cuts and rejoins are. The main reasons offered are an apparent ending and abrupt new start at 3:1 , and the improbability that Paul left his thanks to the end.

3.

Criticism (cf. O'Brien 1991: 10–18): no manuscript evidence suggests disturbance of the text. Any theory that an existing text has been rearranged by a redactor must show that it solves difficulties in the text better than maintaining the traditional arrangement. For Philippians it must explain credibly why and how the supposed redactor wove several letters by Paul into a new composition. In fact the problem at 3:1 is not solved but shifted from Paul to an unknown X with unknown motives. As for the postponement of thanks, Polycarp, writing to the same church at twice the length, likewise keeps business to the end (Phil. 13, see Lake 1912–13: i). The strongest argument, however, for the integrity of Philippians rests on appreciation of the whole as a structured masterpiece (Garland 1985 ; see PHIL F).

4.

The theory that 2:6–11 is an already existing hymn that Paul quotes for his purpose, first proposed by Lohmeyer (1928 ), has come to dominate both exegesis of Philippians and study of early Christology and credal formulas, though the term ‘hymn’ remains imprecisely defined and the theory still takes various forms, including earlier composition by Paul. The literature is enormous; with the standard survey by Martin (1983); see now O'Brien (1991: 186–271). A rare voice questioning the theory's solidity and value for exegesis is raised by Fee (1992; 1995 ).

5.

Evaluation: whatever the origin of this undeniably poetic passage, it actually exists only in Phil 2 ; the exegete must expound it in that context. If Paul quoted an existing text, by himself or another, it became part of his letter; any argument for its detachability raises similar problems to those for denying the letter's integrity (Hooker 1978 ). Arguments against Pauline authorship risk being circular (Fee 1995: 45). Hypotheses about the development of Christology have been allowed to determine the exegesis of the passage, again producing circular arguments. Heightened poetic style does not prove non-Pauline origin (Martin 1983: 57; Fee 1992 ). Recent literary analysis emphasizes that the passage is integrally embedded in its context and the whole letter. Many of its keywords recur, subtly transposed, in ch. 3 (Dalton 1979: 99–100; Garland 1985: 158–9). This does not prove it was not an already existing text, but isolating it becomes increasingly problematic.

6.

These expressions of reserve, however, do not deny that the passage's theological importance reaches wider than its immediate function in Philippians, or that its pattern of Christ's descent and ascent is paralleled in other early Christological statements in solemn style.

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