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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Addressees.

1.

Philippi (Bormann 1995 ) stood on the plain of eastern Macedonia, about 16 km inland from its port Neapolis. It was refounded as a city by Philip II of Macedon in 358–357 BCE. Prosperous from mineral deposits and its location on a main east–west route, Philippi came under Roman rule in 167 BCE. Octavian, after gaining supreme power in 31 BCE, settled veterans here and gave the city the status of a colonia with citizenship by ius italicum. The population would have been mainly Macedonians, Greeks, and Romans. Acts 16:12–40 recounts Paul's visit with Silas (about 50 CE), conversion of Lydia, and misfortunes before he revealed his citizen status. The alarm of the city magistrates and their anxiety to see the last of Paul and Silas doubtless gave Christianity a prejudiced start.

2.

Apart from Acts, Philippians is our only source for the origins of this church. Lydia had been a Jewish God-fearer. All the people named in Philippians except Clement are Greek, but this does not exclude their having become Christians via Judaism. The church was doubtless mixed in ethnic and social character. It probably met in house-groups (Peterlin 1995: 135–70). By the time of the letter it had officers called episkopoi and diakonoi ( 1:1 ); presbuteroi are not mentioned. Paul refers to the Philippians' suffering for Christ ( 1:27–30; 2:15–17 ) and refers to ‘opponents’ ( 1:28 ), but without identifying them. Motives for hostility can be imagined on the part (respectively) of the civic authorities, the pagan public, Jews opposed to Christians, and Jewish Christians opposed to Paul.

3.

The references to disunity have evoked many hypotheses (O'Brien 1991: 26–35). Theories of Gnostic opponents (Fee 1995: 19–32) are unconvincing. Tellbe (1994 ) plausibly suggests a crisis facing Gentile Christians unprotected by Jewish exemption from Roman cult practices. Others propose grounds for the quarrel mentioned in 4:2 , especially disagreement over financial support for Paul (Peterlin 1995: 101–32, 171–216). This letter of only rarely polemical tone is subjected by some to a process which Barclay (1987 ) calls ‘mirror-reading’; both the method and its criteria are open to criticism (Fee 1995: 7–10). Discord in the Philippian church at this time is probably best explained by the situation of Gentile converts vis-à-vis Roman civic pride and official cult and a tempting compromise offered by Jewish Christians (Tellbe 1994 ).

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