Exegetical Study Notes on the Greek Text

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These exegetical notes are available for download in the form a 137p A5 PDF eBook Commentary on the Greek text of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. Follow the link at the bottom of the page.


Philippi was the first church on European soil. Paul, Timothy, Silas and Luke, following the vision of "a man from Macedonia", visited the town on their second missionary journey, Acts 16. Members of an unofficial Jewish synagogue (obviously there were less that ten male members), led by Lydia, were evangelized by Paul. Lydia became the founding church in Philippi which, in the early years, meet in her home. Paul and Silas were jailed after a riot, and were then forced to leave the town. On Paul's third missionary journey he again visited the Philippian church, Acts 20. It soon developed into a mainly Gentile church, very supportive of Paul's ministry. This, Paul's thank-you letter to the church, evidences the deep affection that existed between Paul and the members of the Philippian fellowship. The ongoing character of the church is evident a century later when they gave wholehearted support to Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, when facing martyrdom.

The structure of Philippians

1. Introduction, 1:1-11

Greeting, thanksgiving and prayer for the church, 1:1-11

2. Paul's personal situation. 1:12-26

i] Paul describes his difficulties, 1:12-18b

ii] Through Paul's difficulties Christ is glorified, 1:18c-26

Struggle together for the truth of the gospel, 1:27-30
Argument Proper

3. Exhortations, 2:1-18

i] Steadfast in Christian unity, 2:1-4

ii] Humility based on the example of Christ, 2:5-11

iii] An appeal: Work out your salvation, 2:12-18

4. Personal information, 2:19-30

The forthcoming visit of Timothy and Epaphroditus, 2:19-30

5. Warnings and appeals, 3:1-21

i] Paul warns of the Judaizers (nomists), 3:1-4a

ii] Seek the prize of knowing Christ, 3:4b-11

iii] Seek the high calling in Christ Jesus, 3:12-16

iv] Stand firm in the Lord, 3:17-21

6. Practical pastoral issues, 4:1-9

i] A personal appeal for unity, 4:1-3

ii] Christian virtues, 4:4-9

7. A word of appreciation. 4:10-20

God provides all our needs, 4:10-20

8. Conclusion. 4:21-23

Personal greetings and benediction, 4:21-23.


Philippians presents as a letter with a prescript, 1:1-2, and conclusio, postscript, 4:21-23, although, given that Paul intends for it be read to an assembled congregation, he employs some of the rhetorical forms and conventions of the day to progress his argument. This is evident in the structure of the letter, although only generally so - it is dangerous to impose an artificial scheme on the text.

A rhetorical scheme for deliberative rhetoric, where the author / speaker seeks to persuade his audience concerning a particular matter, presents as follows:

Exordium - an introduction serving to introduce the subject matter while eliciting the sympathy of the audience;

Narratio - a narrative section providing background information;

Partitio - summary proofs / thesis to be tested, and/or Propositio, proposition;

Probatio - rhetorical proofs, arguments in favor of the proposition, often with a refutatio, a refutation of the opponents arguments;

Digressio - a digression where a proof or refutation is covered in more detail;

Exhortatio - exhortation;

Peroratio - a concluding recapitulation of the main theme.


Watson in A Rhetorical Analysis of Philippians, 1988, proposes the following structure:

Exordium, 1:3-26;

Narratio, 1:27-30;

Probatio, 2:1-3:21;

Peroratio, 4:1-20.


Witherington argues for the following divisions in the first two chapter:

Exordium, 1:3-11;

Narratio, 1:12-26;

Propositio, 1:27-30.


Black in the Discourse structure of Philippians, 1995, divides the central argument into:

Propositio, 1:27-30;

Probatio, 2:1-30;

Refutatio, 3:1-21.


Philippians is a thank-you letter outlining Paul's affairs and plans. First and foremost it serves to say thank you to the church for a gift sent to Paul while in prison. The gift came via Epaphroditus, who, after a serious illness, carried Paul's thank-you letter back to the church.


Baur, in Paul: His Life and Works, English translation 1875, was the first to seriously challenge Pauline authorship, although his arguments have not stood the test of time. Only in recent times has there been a revival of the idea that the letter is pseudonymous / a forgery, and this by means of a statistical analysis of the language used in Paul's letters. None-the-less, the vast majority of commentators regard Paul the apostles as the author of Philippians.

Date and place of writing

The letter tells us that Paul is in prison, but it doesn't tell us where he is imprisoned. Paul mentions that during his ministry he was imprisoned a number of times, 2Cor.6:5, 11:23, 24. We know that Paul was a prisoner at Philippi, Jerusalem, Caesarea and Rome. There is strong evidence that he spent time in an Ephesian prison, although this is not recorded in Acts, and in any case, the reference to the praetorian guard rules this out. Caesarea is certainly a possibility because Paul was imprisoned for two years (AD 57-59) in Herod's palace, rightly designated a praetorium. Yet, Caesarea is a political backwater and an unlikely setting for Paul's enthusiastic account of the gospel's advance while in prison. So, it is likely that Philippians was written while Paul is in prison in Rome. If Rome, then it is during or after the period recorded in Acts 28, that is, around AD 60-63.


There is some evidence that Paul wrote more than one letter to the Philippians and that both letters are present in our one letter. It is argued that from 3:1b there is a dramatic change in tone, indicating the incorporation of a different document. Although the Church Father Polycarp said, when addressing the Philippian church, that Paul, "being absent, wrote letters to you", there is little possibility that our letter is a compilation of two letters.


This is a personal letter, a thank-you letter outlining Paul's affairs and plans, along with an exhortation toward unity in the church through humility. It is, above all, a word of appreciation. It rings with joy and gratitude. Although ostensibly a word of appreciation, Paul does touch on some important theological issues: justification, mystical union, the second coming.... In particular, Paul establishes the pre-existence of Christ, and the two states of his being, namely, humiliation and exaltation.

A synopsis of the letter presents as follows:

• After a greeting and an expression of appreciation, 1:1-11;

• Paul explains how his present troubles are serving a positive end, 1:12-26. Paul is able to witness to unbelieving Roman officials and at the same time encourage the local Christian congregation. So, the gospel is proclaimed, and for this Paul rejoices;

• Paul then follows up with an exhortation for harmony in the Philippian congregation, asking that they depreciate personal squabbles by recognizing the servanthood of Christ, 1:27-2:18;

• Personal information follows concerning Paul's intention to send Timothy to them and of the present visit of Epaphroditus who is charged with carrying Paul's thank-you letter to the church, 2:19-30;

• Paul seems ready to end the letter at this point, but then he launches into a warning, 3:1-4a. He wants his readers to be on guard against those who undermine their faith;

• To this end Paul sets out to summarize the key components of faith in Christ and its fruit of love, 3:4b-4:1. Paul follows up with an appeal for unity and for an application of the seven steps to peace, 4:2-9;

• This is followed by a word of appreciation for the gift carried by Epaphroditus from the Philippian fellowship, 4:10-20;

• The letter ends with personal greetings and a benediction, 4:21-23.

English Bible Commentaries on Philippians

Level of complexity:

1, non-technical, to 5, requiring a workable knowledge of Greek.

Deceased: D. For publications no longer in print.

Other identifiers: Recommended R; Greek Technical G; Theology T


Beare, Blacks, 1959. 3

Bruce, NIBC, 1989. 3R

Caird, New Clarendon 1977. 2D

Caudill, Blue Ridge Press, 1980. 1D

Fee, NICNT, 1995. 4R

Ferguson, LS, Banner of Truth, 1997.1

Fowl, Horizons, 2005. 3

Grayston, EPC, 1957. 2

Hanson, Pillar, 2009. 4

Hawthorn, Word, 1983. 4

Hellerman, EGGNT, 2015. 5

Hendriksen, Banner of Truth, 1963. 4

Houlden, Westminster / Pelican, 1970. 2D

Koehne, ChiRho, 1987. 2DR

Lightfoot, Macmillan. 1890. Reprinted. 5D

Martin, NCB, 1976. 2D

Melick, NAC, 1991. 3

Motyer, BST, 1994.

Muller, NICNT, 1955. 3D

O'Brien, NIGTC, 1991. 5R

Reumann, Anchor, 2008. 4

Silva, BECNT, 2005. 3

Synge, Torch, 1951. 1D

Verner, HGT, 2016. G

Vincent, ICC, 1897. 4G

Witherington, Trinity, 1994. 3


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