Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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Philippians and Philemon are considered to be the last extant letters of Paul, written from Rome. In Philippians Paul looks back on his long, tough ministry and reflects on his experiences. The structure of the letter suggests that it is an amalgam of three fragments of Pauline writing (1: 1–3: 1; 3: 2–4: 1; 4: 10–20). The allusion to bondage in 1: 13 may reflect a term of imprisonment in Rome (cf. 1: 12–26). Paul's personal faith is clear: ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (1: 21), and the dilemma facing him is defined as: ‘For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you’ (1: 23–4). 2: 5–11 contains what is regarded by some exegetes as an ancient christological hymn: ‘Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ This hymn shows a considerable move away from the Jesus depicted in the Gospels (cf. Matt. 7: 21), and indicates how quickly Christ's divinity had become central to Christian belief. A great deal of the letter is devoted to encouragement, and warnings against heretics: ‘Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh’ (3: 2–3). A tension between Paul's high claims and his actual experience leads to more circumspect aspirations: ‘That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus… I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (3: 10–12, 14). Yet he can also say: ‘For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself’ (3: 20–1).117 He ends by advocating virtues as much Stoic as Christian: ‘Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things’ (4: 8). James would have been proud of him! (See on James below.)

Chapter.  595 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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