Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bible Study Series: Philippians Intro

Philippians is a favorite letter for many Bible readers, due to its mostly positive tone. One can really sense the affection that Paul has for the Philippian church, which he founded sometime around 50 AD. The founding of the church at Philippi is recorded in Acts 16, which should be consulted before engaging this letter. Philippians is also unique in the fact that it doesn't seem to be addressing any problems concerning doctrine or behavior. Rather, Paul seems to be encouraging these young Christians to remain faithful, while remaining joyful in imitating the Lord. There are a few other issues concerning themes and characteristics that will come up while examining each section, such as the unity of the letter.

Philippi was a a city in north east Greece in the province of Macedonia. Named after Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, this former Greek city had become a Roman colony during the reign of Augustus. This made Philippi unique, in that it had a large population of Roman veterans who resided there and had received full citizen rights due to their years of service. It also seems that there was only a small population of Jews there. Of note historically, Philippi was the site of a major battle during the Roman civil war between Mark Antony and Octavian (Augustus) and Brutus and Cassius in 42 BC.

Paul is the author of this letter, along with his spiritual son Timothy. It was written during a time of Paul's imprisonment (1:7), but a precise date is difficult to attain since he was imprisoned at various points during his apostolic work. If the "praetorian guard" mentioned in 1:13 and "Caesar's household" in 4:22 mean that he is under arrest in Rome, a date somewhere around 62 AD is possible. However, other scholars think the letter was written earlier, perhaps in the middle or late 50's, while Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea or Ephesus.

Finally, we will break Philippians into six manageable sections:

I: Opening Address (1:1-11)
II: Progress of the Gospel (1:12-26)
III: Exhortation to the faithful (1:27-2:18)
IV: Travel Plans (2:19-30)
V: The Way of Salvation (3:1-21)
VI: Final Instructions and Conclusion (4:1-23)

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