Pauline Letter Structure In Philippians -- By: Ronald Russell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 25:3 (Sep 1982)
Article: Pauline Letter Structure In Philippians
Author: Ronald Russell


Pauline Letter Structure In Philippians

Ronald Russell*

In 1939 Paul Schubert made the statement that the formal study of Pauline letters had not yet outgrown the experimental stage.1 Some ground-breaking work had been done,2 yet it has taken Pauline studies more than forty years to be on the verge of understanding the form and function of the Pauline letter3 Adolf Deissmann made initial observations that the Pauline letters should be related to Greek epistolography: “The classic value of the letters of Paul lies in their being actual letters, that is to say, in their being artless and unpremeditated; in this respect they resemble those of Cicero.”4 He saw the letters of Paul as having form without literary exactness and setting forth not systematic theology but personal reflections on the Christian faith occasioned by a situation. With the extension of form criticism to the Pauline material, the observations of Deissmann on letter structure have been challenged. This form-critical study of the influence of the milieu and tradition on Pauline letter structure has increased scholarly understanding of the nature, growth and function of Pauline composition.

The benefits of this new flurry of scholarly activity give us insights into Pauline letter structure for particular letters and facilitate the interpretation of any

*Ronald Russell is associate professor of Biblical studies at Los Angeles Baptist College in Newhall, California.

structural section in terms of the whole letter. William Doty and Robert Funk extend these by stating that structural information will aid the reconstruction of letters rearranged in transmission (Corinthian and Philippian as composite correspondence) and will enable the differentiation between authentic and inauthentic Pauline letters.5

There must be caution, however, in this extension of form criticism to the Pauline epistles. Will a knowledge of Pauline letter structure really give us a better interpretation of the “real Paul”? The Paul of these letters is problem oriented, bringing apostolic presence and power to a situational context. “The real, the historical, Paul does not live on the pages of his letters but behind them,” says Schubert.6 Yet a sociological understanding will aid in the interpretation of Pauline communication. The form of the Pauline letters contains elements of contemporary letter writing, b...

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