Modelling the Gospel in Joyful Partnership: Exemplars and the Uniting Theme of Philippians -- By: Annang Asumang

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 13:1 (Mar 2012)
Article: Modelling the Gospel in Joyful Partnership: Exemplars and the Uniting Theme of Philippians
Author: Annang Asumang

Modelling the Gospel in Joyful Partnership:
Exemplars and the Uniting Theme of Philippians

Annang Asumang1


Most interpreters now recognize the literary unity and integrity of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This consensus has however made the question of the letter’s uniting theme a matter of urgent inquiry for biblical scholars and preachers alike. Even here, significant advances have of late been made; but, questions remain. The aim of this article in the light of this progress is threefold. It will first evaluate some of the key proposals for the letter’s uniting theme. Secondly, it will propose that ‘modelling the gospel in joyful partnership’ best represents the uniting theme of Philippians. And thirdly, it will demonstrate that Paul extensively employs positive and negative exemplars to illustrate this theme in each section of the letter. The article concludes by highlighting the contribution of Philippians to current reflections on New Testament ethics.

1. Introduction

1.1. Background to the problem

Tremendous strides have been made towards resolving several of the hitherto uncertain introductory questions with regard to Paul’s letter to the Philippians (Bockmuehl 1997:20-35; Fee 1995:1-15; Fowl 2005:8-12; Garland 2006:178-182; Hartog 2010:475-503; Hawthorne 1983:xl-xliv; O’Brien 1991:3-39; Silva 2005:1-36; Still 2011:1-12; Witherington III 2011:1-30). Therefore, it is appropriate to summarise these consensuses as a way of setting the background for the present investigation.

Firstly, most interpreters agree that Paul wrote this letter from a Roman prison to a group of Christians in Philippi. The chief occasion for the letter, most would also agree, was the reception of a generous gift from the Philippians, for which Paul expresses his heartfelt gratitude.

Secondly, the consensus also appears to be that in its overall form, this letter was largely influenced by the ancient Mediterranean ‘letter of friendship’ genre. So, in accordance with this genre, Paul, in the letter alternately discusses his affairs and those of the Philippians and employs moral exhortations to fulfil goals he mutually shared with the recipients. There are competing alternatives to this consensus on the genre, such as ‘letter of consolation’ (Holloway 2001), or ‘family letter’ (Alexander 1989:87-101; cf Witherington III 2011:14). But by-and-large, most interpreters view these other suggestions as compatible with the ‘letter of friendship’ genre (cf. Hartog 2010:482).

Thirdly, most interpreters are in agreement that at the time of writing, the Philippia...

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