The letter to the Philippians
Who is the Author?
There is a scholarly consensus that Paul is the author of the Letter to the Phillippians. With little way of getting around the first verse, scholars have not had much disagreement with this …so I’m not going to write anymore.
The internal evidence is pretty clear that the author of Philippians is Paul with Timothy.
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons . . .”Philippians 1:1
The first verse makes it abundantly clear of it’s intentional author. Features such as the letter’s style, content, and remarks about the author’s circumstances appear to be consistent with what we know about the Apostle Paul as well.
Irenaeus 180 AD tells us of the authorship of this letter
“But the apostle [Paul] himself also, being one who had been formed in a womb, and had issued thence, wrote to us, and confessed in his Epistle to the Philippians that “to live in the flesh was the fruit of”Irenaeus, Ante Nicene Father, Vol 1
Muratorian fragment (170 AD)
This document dating to the late second century gives us Paul’s stamp of the letters he has written according to early church tradition. We see here it affirms Paul’s authorship “As for the Epistles of (40-1) Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent. …apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor (49-50) John, writes by name to only seven churches in the following sequence: To the Corinthians (51) first, to the Ephesians second, to the Philippians third…”
Manuscript evidence for Paul’s authorship P46
The above manuscript known as P46 which is a page of an early collection of fragments containing all of the book of Ephesians (Other’s are mentioned but these are the ones relevant for us). Dating to the late 2nd century/ start of the third, the manuscript evidence gives witness to the name of Paul, his attribution of him as the author from early on which is found in Egypt and is known to be a copy pushing the original further to the event. Considering how papyrus can deteriorate within a few hundred years, this is truly remarkable fortune.
Paul was a writer/composer
Here church fathers make reference to Paul passing on commands or writing letters (with or without a scribe, likely with a scribe for all of them?). It is an additional factor for all Paul’s epistles that he was known as someone who wrote, taught truth and passed on commands, given an authority the first disciples did not possess. See two references below to this.
Ignatius wrote to the Romans ca. 105-107 AD: “I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, but I am the very least [of believers]: they were free,”
Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians ca. 115 AD: “For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter,”
Peter endorses Paul’s writings
If 2 Peter is written in the first century (though sceptical scholars have been known to attribute it to someone in the second century) this passage would bear the mark that Peter endorses Paul writing letters also
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”2 Peter 3:15-17
Audience, Location & purpose
Of the four Prison Epistles, Paul likely wrote Philippians last, near the end of his Roman imprisonment in AD 61 or 62. Paul sent the other three Prison Epistles—Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon—by the hand of Tychicus, as their destinations were near one another. However, the letter to the Philippians was to be delivered by Epaphroditus, who had come to Paul in Rome with financial help from the church at Philippi (Philippians 2:25; 4:18). But during his time in Rome, Epaphroditus took ill, which delayed his return home and, therefore, the delivery of the letter (2:26–27).
Paul is considered to be writing to the church leadership as opposed to the congregation, he needs not the requirement to affirm his status as an apostle, they seem to be happy the words come from Paul and Timothy, likely an association. We see as such in summaries from the early church fathers.
“He [Paul] keeps silence about his status as an apostle. He is writing to people who already know who he is and have an informed opinion of him. He suppresses his dignity. He declares his lowly state, because the one who confesses Christ as Lord is all the more free and has salvation”.Ambrosiaster, 5th century
“He calls himself a slave and not an apostle. This is a great honor, to be a “slave of Christ”—not merely to be called a slave but to be one. One who is a “slave of Christ” is truly free from sin. If he is truly a slave of Christ, he is not a slave in any other realm, since then he would not be a slave of Christ but only half so”.John Chrysostom, 5th century
Paul writes this letter from prison (Phil 1:7, 1:12-14). Although Paul was imprisoned for short durations during his missionary journeys, this particular imprisonment is one that is of an extended duration, since the Philippines have heard of it, sending Epaphroditus to Paul, with Epaphroditus getting sick, nearly dying and now returning as the letter is being written (Phil 2:25-30).
Although some have argued that the letter was written from Caesarea during Paul’s two year imprisonment there, the better evidence supports a writing from Rome. Paul says that his bonds are known “in all the praetorio”, a word that implies a palace in Rome with Praetorian guards. Paul mentions further “Caesar’s household” (Phil 4:22), a phrase virtually requiring a Roman origin. Paul is therefore writing from a Roman prison, but he does not yet seem to anticipate his imminent death like he does in his letters to Timothy. The most likely date for Phillippians therefore falls in the range 61-62 A.D., with Paul having been in prison in Rome for a least some time, but still not too near to the end of his life.
There is a scholarly consensus that the material in the letter to the Philippians is of a Pauline origin, but there are still opinions emerging in the 1960’s that this letter is made up of 2-3 letters. Whether that hypothesis holds or not, we have authorship status confirmed not only in the text, but in the style. [Hansen, Walter (2009). The Letter to the Philippians; Sellew, Philip (January 1994). “Laodiceans and the Philippians fragments hypothesis”. Harvard Theological Review]
What was the acceptance rate of Philippians as canonical by those early and later witnesses of the text? Polycarp uses Philippians very early on and heretics like Marcion & Valentinus also professed to use it in their canons. Generally there is a strong church acknowledgement of the letter to the Philippians as canonical in the eyes of the church fathers. Modern scholarship is in general agreement over it’s canonical status with it included in the early lists.
See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)
It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
- Ig = Ignatius
- Po = Polycarp
- M = Marcion
- Va = Valentinus
- JM = Justin Martyr
- IR = Irenaeus
- C = Clement of Alexandria
- T = Tertullian
- MC = Muratorian Canon
- O = Origen
- E = Eusebius
- CS = Codex Sinaiticus
- A = Athanasius
- D = Didymus the Blind
- P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
- V = Latin vulgate
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml
Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.2 Peter 1:16
2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrectionActs 1:21-22
One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)John 19:34-35
“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.Acts 2:32
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!Acts 3:15
We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”Acts 5:32
“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”Acts 10:39-43
[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.Romans 9:1
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.1 Corinthians 15:3-9
And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:1 Peter 5:1
Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name.
“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.Caius, Church leader
How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected.
So these summarised standards are these:
- Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
- Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
- Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
- Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
- Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?
We see in 2 Peter 3:15-17 accredit the works of Paul as scriptures, and Peter, being the lead apostle, can testify to apostolicity. Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, Paul has called himself inline with the apostles (Romans 1:1 for example) and several times in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 we see Paul associate himself with the Apostles as those to whom the risen Jesus appeared to. So Paul is an apostle and in Galatians 2:6 the Apostles Peter and James reviewed what Paul was preaching and added nothing to his message, meaning what he was preaching was inline with them. Philippians, through it’s author, has all the signs of being apostolic. Philippians 1:1 despite introducing this letter slightly differently, it is clear this is the same Apostle Paul who knew Timothy.
Like stated on the exchange in the beginning of Galatians 2, Paul got his message verified by the apostles. Paul also has a consistent message doctrinally with what Jesus teaches. There is nothing in the writings of Philippians that is said to contradict the Gospels or the Christian message.
There has been no challenge by the early church fathers to Philippians, even heretics like Marcion and Valentinus tried to use the documents. 1st century Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John even makes use of the letter. There is a strong church agreement there on from these disciples of the disciples all the way through the church fathers.
Paul’s message was to encourage church leadership, to continue proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, to stand for him in life, in death, and to encourage others in the faith
It has a timeless affect and is relevant to the teaching then and today. Much of the Israelite law was of a time, however, Christ’s law and teachings are unending.
Paul is called by God (Acts 9), claims in many of his letters to be sent as an Apostle for Christ Jesus (Romans 1 for example). He has the mandate also of the Apostles (Galatians 1:17 – 2:6; 2 Peter 3:15-17) and is considered by the church Canonical, with it being in all the Christian lists of New Testament books. They could additionally as with all New Testament books recognise the ring of truth within that shows the readers of the text that it is inspired. Galatians falls into this bracket. Paul claims clearly at the beginning of his letter that the truth he receives is not from man but from Jesus Christ and God the Father and that he is sent on his behalf (Galatians 1:1).
Bunch of sources