Epistle to the Philippians

{fil - ip' - ee - uhnz}

General Information

The Epistle to the Philippians, the 11th book in the New Testament of the Bible, was written by Saint Paul to the Philippians - a Christian community in eastern Macedonia - from prison in Ephesus in AD 57 or, as some scholars believe, in Rome in the early 60s. Some scholars think that the present letter is a composite of three different ones. In one (4:10 - 20), Paul thanks the Philippians, with whom he had good relations, for a gift they sent him. In another (1:1 - 3:1), Paul gives them a hopeful report of his legal situation and encourages them to Christian living. In a third (3:2 - 4:3), he attacks a Judaizing Gnostic group trying to mislead the Philippians. The epistle is noted for the hymn to Christ in 2:6 - 11 and for its generally joyful tone.

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Anthony J Saldarini

F Craddock, Philippians: Interpretation (1984); J Fitzmeyer, The Letter to the Philippians (1968); J J Muller, Epistles of Paul to the Philippians (1985); M Silva, Philippians (1988).

Epistle to the Philippians

Brief Outline

  1. Greetings and thanksgiving (1:1-11)
  2. Progress of the Gospel (1:12-20)
  3. Working and suffering for Christ (1:21-30)
  4. Exhortations to humility (2:1-13)
  5. Exhortation to the Christian life (2:14-18)
  6. Personal remarks involving Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30)
  7. Exhortations and warnings (3:1-4:9)
  8. Thanksgiving (4:10-20)
  9. Final greetings (4:21-22)


Advanced Information

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Epistle to Philippians

Advanced Information

The Epistle to Philippians was written by Paul during the two years when he was "in bonds" in Rome (Phil. 1:7-13), probably early in the year A.D. 62 or in the end of 61. The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus, their messenger, with contributions to meet the necessities of the apostle; and on his return Paul sent back with him this letter. With this precious communication Epaphroditus sets out on his homeward journey. "The joy caused by his return, and the effect of this wonderful letter when first read in the church of Philippi, are hidden from us. And we may almost say that with this letter the church itself passes from our view. To-day, in silent meadows, quiet cattle browse among the ruins which mark the site of what was once the flourishing Roman colony of Philippi, the home of the most attractive church of the apostolic age. But the name and fame and spiritual influence of that church will never pass. To myriads of men and women in every age and nation the letter written in a dungeon at Rome, and carried along the Egnatian Way by an obscure Christian messenger, has been a light divine and a cheerful guide along the most rugged paths of life" (Professor Beet).

The church at Philippi was the first-fruits of European Christianity. Their attachment to the apostle was very fervent, and so also was his affection for them. They alone of all the churches helped him by their contributions, which he gratefully acknowledges (Acts 20:33-35; 2 Cor. 11: 7-12; 2 Thess. 3:8). The pecuniary liberality of the Philippians comes out very conspicuously (Phil. 4:15). "This was a characteristic of the Macedonian missions, as 2 Cor. 8 and 9 amply and beautifully prove. It is remarkable that the Macedonian converts were, as a class, very poor (2 Cor. 8:2); and the parallel facts, their poverty and their open-handed support of the great missionary and his work, are deeply harmonious. At the present day the missionary liberality of poor Christians is, in proportion, really greater than that of the rich" (Moule's Philippians, Introd.). The contents of this epistle give an interesting insight into the condition of the church at Rome at the time it was written.

Paul's imprisonment, we are informed, was no hindrance to his preaching the gospel, but rather "turned out to the furtherance of the gospel." The gospel spread very extensively among the Roman soldiers, with whom he was in constant contact, and the Christians grew into a "vast multitude." It is plain that Christianity was at this time making rapid advancement in Rome. The doctrinal statements of this epistle bear a close relation to those of the Epistle to the Romans. Compare also Phil. 3:20 with Eph. 2:12, 19, where the church is presented under the idea of a city or commonwealth for the first time in Paul's writings. The personal glory of Christ is also set forth in almost parallel forms of expression in Phil. 2:5-11, compared with Eph. 1:17-23; 2:8; and Col. 1:15-20. "This exposition of the grace and wonder of His personal majesty, personal self-abasement, and personal exaltation after it," found in these epistles, "is, in a great measure, a new development in the revelations given through St. Paul" (Moule). Other minuter analogies in forms of expression and of thought are also found in these epistles of the Captivity.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Caesara Philippi

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Caesara Philippi was a city on the northeast of the marshy plain of el-Huleh, 120 miles north of Jerusalem, and 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, at the "upper source" of the Jordan, and near the base of Mount Hermon. It is mentioned in Matt. 16:13 and Mark 8:27 as the northern limit of our Lord's public ministry. According to some its original name was Baal-Gad (Josh. 11:17), or Baal-Hermon (Judg. 3:3; 1 Chr. 5:23), when it was a Canaanite sanctuary of Baal. It was afterwards called Panium or Paneas, from a deep cavern full of water near the town. This name was given to the cavern by the Greeks of the Macedonian kingdom of Antioch because of its likeness to the grottos of Greece, which were always associated with the worship of their god Pan. Its modern name is Banias. Here Herod built a temple, which he dedicated to Augustus Caesar. This town was afterwards enlarged and embellished by Herod Philip, the tetrarch of Trachonitis, of whose territory it formed a part, and was called by him Caesarea Philippi, partly after his own name, and partly after that of the emperor Tiberius Caesar. It is thus distinguished from the Caesarea of Palestine.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Epistle to the Philippians

Catholic Information


The Philippians, who were much endeared to St. Paul (i, 3, 7; iv, 1) had already on former occasions and under various circumstances sent him pecuniary aid, and now on learning of his imprisonment at Rome (Acts 27-28) they sent him to Epaphroditus, one of their number, to bear him alms and minister to his needs (ii, 25-29; iv, 18). St. Paul received him gladly, rejoicing in the affectionate and Christian sentiments of the Philippians (iv, 10-19), and in the generally satisfactory condition of their Church as reported to him by Epaphroditus. It may be that Epaphroditus had been the Apostle's companion and assistant at Philippi (ii, 25); at least he became such at Rome (ii, 30), but he fell dangerously ill and was at the point of death (ii, 27). This news was distressing to the Philippians, and as soon as he recovered he was eager to return home (ii, 26). Paul therefore hastened to send him (ii, 26-28) and profited by the opportunity to confide to him a letter to the faithful and the heads of his Church. In this letter, probably written by Timothy at his dictation, Paul expresses the sentiments of joy and gratitude which he cherishes in regard to the Philippians. This is the keynote of the letter. It is an outpouring of the heart, breathing a wholly spontaneous and paternal intimacy. In it the loving heart of the Apostle reveals itself completely, and the affectionate tone, sincerity, and delicacy of the sentiments must have charmed its readers and won their admiration and love. Hence, this letter is much more epistolary in style than the other Epistles of St. Paul. Familiar expressions of joy and gratitude are mingled with dogmatic reflexions and moral exhortation, and it is useless to seek for orderly arrangement or strict sequence. On the other hand, although the general condition of the Church of Philippi was excellent and St. Paul did not have to deal with grave vices, there were nevertheless certain things which were not altogether satisfactory or which aroused apprehension. Paul had heard that the pride and vainglory of some, especially of two women, Evodia and Syntyche, had aroused misunderstandings and rivalries. Moreover a greater and more serious danger threatened them, perhaps on the part of Judaizers, who, though there is no need to assume their presence or propaganda at Philippi itself, had, it seems, disseminated their baneful doctrines throughout the neighbouring regions. Hence the exhortations to fraternal charity and concord as well as to disinterestedness; these exhortations (i, 8, 27; ii, 2, 3, 14, 16; iv, 2 sq.) Paul bases on exalted dogmatic considerations taken from the example of Christ, and he also proposes to them the example of his own way of thinking and acting, which had but a single object, the glory of God and Christ. But when he warns the Philippians against the Judaizers he returns to the tone of deep sorrow and unmitigated indignation which characterizes the Epistle to the Galatians.


For the reasons stated above a definite plan or clear division must not be sought in this Epistle. The Letter is a succession of exhortations and effusions which may be collected under the following heads:

A. Introduction

After the superscription, in which he addresses himself to bishops, deacons, and faithful (i, 1-2), St. Paul rejoices in the excellent condition of the Church of the Philippians and gives thanks that by their alms they have shared in the merits of his captivity and the spread of the Gospel (3-8); he loves them with an intense love, ardently desiring and urgently entreating that God would deign to complete in them the work of perfection (9-11).

B. Body of the Epistle

(1) Paul begins by giving news, as a whole very satisfactory -- with regard to his own situation and that of the Church in Rome. But what he relates concerning himself must have been meant for a tacit but no less eloquent appeal to abnegation and detachment, for Paul depicts himself as seeking in all things not his own glory or personal advantage, but solely the glory of Christ. His captivity becomes to him a cause of joy, since it avails for the propagation of the Gospel (i, 12-14); what does it matter to him that some preach the Gospel out of unworthy zealotry, provided Christ be preached? (15-18); given a choice of life and death he knows not which he prefers, life which permits him to do good for souls, or death, which shall be a testimony for Christ and shall unite him to Him (19-25). He thinks, however, that he will be set free and may still labour for the spiritual progress of the Philippians.

(2) he exhorts them more directly to lead a life worthy of the Gospel (i, 27a), and especially to concord and abnegation (i, 27b-ii, 4) (i) by the example of Christ Who being in the Divine form and possessing supreme independence nevertheless, for our good, annihilated himself and assumed the condition of a slave, even undergoing death; (ii) by the desire for a heavenly reward, such as Christ received (ii, 5-11). He concludes by repeating his general exhortation to Christian perfection and by affirming that to procure them this perfection he would gladly sacrifice his life.

(3) The Apostle tells the Philippians that as soon as he knows the outcome of his affairs he will send to them Timothy, his devoted companion, who is so well-disposed towards the Philippians (ii, 19-24); in the meantime he sends them Epaphroditus, his fellow-labourer and their delegate to him (see above); he asks them to receive him with joy and to honour him greatly, because of the love which he bears them and the danger of death to which he was exposed while fulfilling his mission (25-30).

(4) Desiring to end or abbreviate his Epistle Paul begins the conclusion (iii, 1a, the To loipon), but suddenly interrupts it in order again to put the Philippians on their guard against the Judaizing teachers, which he does by once more presenting to them his own example: Has he not all the benefits and titles in which the Judaizers are accustomed to glory and much more? But all this he has despised and rejected and counted as dung that he might gain true justice and perfection, which are secured, not by the works of the law, but by faith (iii, 1-11). This perfection, it is true, he had not yet attained, but he never ceased to press toward the mark and the prize to which God had called him, thus refuting by his own example those who in their pride call themselves perfect (12-16); he incites his readers to imitate him (17) and not to follow those who loving the things of this world, have depraved habits (18-iv, 1).

(5) To this general exhortation Paul adds a special admonition. He binds two women, Evodia and Syntyche, to concord (iv, 2-3), and exhorts all to spiritual joy, urging the observance of goodness and gentleness among them (5), bidding them be disturbed by nothing, but have recourse to God in all their anxieties (6-7), and endeavour to attain to Christian perfection in all things (8-9).

C. Epilogue

Paul concludes his Epistle by a more explicit renewal of thanks to the Philippians for their alms, using the most delicate expressions and making his manner of acceptance a final exhortation to detachment and abnegation (11-19). This is followed by the Doxology and salutations. Especially noteworthy are his salutations to those of the household of the emperor (20-23).


The authenticity of the Epistle as a whole, which was generally accepted until the middle of the nineteenth century, was first denied by the Tübingen School (Baur, 1845; Zeller; Volckmar). Their arguments, namely lack of originality, the evidence of a semi-Gnostic idea, a doctrine of justification which could not be that of St. Paul etc., were triumphantly refuted by Lünemann, Brückner, Schenkel etc. But other contradictors subsequently arose, such as van Manen and especially Holsten (for their chief arguments see below). At present the authenticity may be said to be universally admitted not only by Catholic exegetes but also by most Protestants and Rationalists (Hilgenfeld, Harnack, Zahn, Jülicher, Pfleiderer, Lightfood, Gibb, Holtzmann).

(1) External Criticism

Arguments from external criticism permit no doubt on the subject. We will not deal with the quotations from or reminiscences of the Epistle which some authors profess to find in early ecclesiastical writers, such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle to Diognetus etc. (see Cornely, "Introductio", IV, 491; Jacquier, p. 347; Toussaint in "Dict. De la Bible", s.v. Philippiens). About 120 St. Polycarp speaks explicitly to the Philippians of the letters (or the letter, epistolai) which Paul has written to them, and some passages of his letter prove that he had read this Epistle to the Philippians. Subsequently the Muratorian Canon, St. Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and the Apostolicon of Marcion attribute it expressly to St. Paul. After Tertullian the testimonies become numerous and incontestable and the unanimity was maintained without the slightest exception until the middle of the nineteenth century.

(2) Internal Criticism

The difficulties drawn from the Epistle itself, which some authors have urged against tradition, are misleading, as is now admitted by the most prominent Rationalists and Protestants.

(a) Language and style. The hapax legomena (which occur about forty times) prove nothing against the Pauline origin of the Epistle, since they are met with in almost the same proportion in the certainly authentic Epistles. Moreover, certain words (about twenty) quite peculiar to the Epistles of St. Paul, certain forms of expression, figures, methods of style (i, 22, 27, 29; iii, 8, 14), and repetitions of words demonstrate the Pauline character of the Epistle. (b) Doctrine. The two chief objections brought forward by Holsten (Jahrb. Für Prot. Theol., I, 125; II, 58, 282) have found little credit among exegetes, while Holsten himself in a more recent work ("Das Evangelium des Paulus", Berlin, 1898, II, 4) concedes that the theology of the Epistle to the Philippians is thoroughly Pauline. In fact (a) the Christology of the Epistle to the Philippians, which portrays Christ pre-existing in the form of God and made man through the Incarnation, does not contradict that of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (xv, 45), which depicts the Risen Christ as a heavenly Man, clothed with His glorified body, or that of the other Epistles which, in a simpler form, also show us Christ pre-existing as a Divine Being and made man through he Incarnation (Galatians 4:4; Romans 7:3; 2 Corinthians 8:9). (b) The doctrine on justification by faith and not by works set forth in the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, is not contradicted here (iii, 6); if indeed St. Paul speaks here of legal justice it is obviously to show its powerlessness and nothingness (7-9).

The unity and integrity of the Epistle have also been denied or doubted by some authors. Völter and Spitta maintained that this Epistle is a compilation of another authentic Epistle to the Philippians and an apocryphal one written about A.D. 120. Clemen saw in it a compilation of two authentic Epistles. These theories met with little success while the arguments which have been brought forward in their behalf, viz. The double conclusion (iii, 1, and iv, 4) mingled with personal details, moral counsels, doctrinal instructions etc., are sufficiently explained by the familiar and consequently free and unrestrained character of the Epistle.

Place and Date

There is not the shadow of a doubt that the Epistle to the Philippians was written during the Apostle's captivity (i, 7, 13, 14, 17; ii, 24). Moreover, it is certain that it was written not at Cæsarea, as some have maintained, but at Rome (A.D. 62-64). Such is the nearly unanimous opinion even of those who claim that the three other Epistles of the Captivity were written at Cæsarea [see i, 13 (the prætorium); iv, 22 (the house of Cæsar); i, 17 sqq. (this supposes a more important Church than that of Cæsarea)]. Critics do not agree as to whether the Epistle was written at the beginning of the sojourn at Rome or at the end, before or after the other three Epistles of the captivity. Most of them incline towards the second view (Meyer, Weiss, Holtzmann, Zahn, Jülicher etc.). For the arguments pro and con see the works of the various critics. The present author, however, is of the opinion that it was written towards the end of the captivity.

Publication information Written by A. Vander Heeren. Transcribed by Paula J. Eckardt. Dedicated in loving memory, and with deep gratitude, to my father, Paul A. Eckardt, 1917-2000 The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


The following are general works and commentaries, in which the reader will find a more extensive bibliography, and information concerning earlier works and commentaries.

BEELEN, Commentarius in Epistolam S. Pauli ad Philippenses (2nd ed., Louvain, 1852); IDEM, Het nieuwe Testament (Bruges, 1892); BISPING, Erklärung der Briefe an die Epheser, Philipper und Kolosser (Münster, 1866); LIPSIUS, Brief an die Galater, Römer, Philipper (Handcommentar zum N. T.), adapted by Holtzmann (2nd ed., Freiburg, 1892); MOULE, The Epistle to the Philippians (Cambridge, 1895); CORNELY, Introductio specialis in singulos N. T. libros (Paris, 1897); MÜLLER, Der Ap. Paulus Brief an die Philipper (Freiburg, 1899); VAN STEENKISTE, Commentarius in omnes S. Pauli Epistolas (Bruges, 1899); FUNK, Patres Apostolici (Tübingen, 1901); VINCENT, The Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon (2nd ed., Edinburgh, 1902); HAUPT, Die Gefangenschaftsbriefe (8th ed., Göttingen, 1902); JACQUIER, Historie des livres du Nouveau Testament, I (Paris, 1904); SHAW, The Pauline Epistles (2nd ed., Edinburgh, 1904); CLEMEN, Paulus, sein Leben und Wirken (Giessen, 1904); BELSER, Einleitung in das neue Testament (2nd ed., Freiburg, 1905); LE CAMUS, L'œuvre des Apotres (Paris, 1905) PÖLZL, Der Weltapostel Paulus (Ratisbon, 1905); LIGHTFOOT, St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians (16th ed., London, 1908); FILLION IN VIGOUROUX, Dict. De la Bible, s. v. Philippes; TOUSSAINT, ibid, s. v. Philippiens; IDEM, Epitres de S. Paul (Paris, 1910); PRAT, La Théologie de S. Paul (Paris, 1909); FOUARD, Saint Paul, ses dernières années (Paris, 1910); VIGOUROUX-BACUEZ-BRASSAC, Manuel Biblique, IV (Paris, 1911).

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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