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

‘Stoicism’ in Philippians.

1.

The frequency of Stoic language in Philippians is emphasized by Engberg-Pedersen (1994 ). The evidence is seldom noted even in larger commentaries. When compelling examples such as autarkēs ( 4:11 ) cannot be denied (e.g. Fee 1995: 427–35), commentators insist that Paul radically transforms Stoic themes, which are generally disparaged. Yet the use of Stoic ideas in Luke's account of Paul's sermon in Athens (Acts 17:22–31 ) is matched by passages in Paul's letters. In fact Stoicism had appeal for both Jewish and Christian preachers. 1 Clement, which should be dated not much later than 70 CE (Herron 1989 ), that is, only about ten years after Philippians, is full of Stoic ideas and terms, all interwoven with biblical, Jewish, and Christian themes.

2.

Romans shows Paul readily adopting Stoic language for his message (e.g. 1:28, 12:2 ); perhaps he did this whenever he addressed converts with any degree of philosophical education. Whatever the reason, in Philippians his use of Stoic language is pervasive, serving most of his main themes: the emphasis on keeping a right mind (phronein), discernment to choose the better (dokimazein ta diapheronta), aiming (skopein) at the right end (telos); seeking contentment (autarkeia) in one's state, with joy (chara) even when suffering; community (koinōnia) lived out in good citizenship (politeuesthai) related to a state or model (politeuma), and still more. These expressions prove serviceable to Paul, though only up to a point; the reality of Jesus and the supreme value of knowing him in life and death, through faith and hope, are grasped only by experience ( 3:8–11 ). Yet the paradox seems true that ‘it is when Paul is at his most Stoic that he is also at his most Christian’ (Engberg-Pedersen 1994: 280). Paul's harnessing of Stoic ideas to the gospel in Philippians does not enter those areas where Christian Stoicism was to reveal its dangers (e.g. excessive anthropocentrism and distortions of asceticism).

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