Sending Letters In The Ancient World: Paul And The Philippians -- By: Stephen Robert Llewelyn

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 046:2 (NA 1995)
Article: Sending Letters In The Ancient World: Paul And The Philippians
Author: Stephen Robert Llewelyn

Sending Letters In The Ancient World: Paul And The Philippians

Stephen Robert Llewelyn


How did Paul maintain contact with believers in Philippi whilst he was imprisoned? Does the number of journeys implied in Philippians argue against the letter’s composition in Rome? The conveyance of letters and news in antiquity is discussed with particular reference to the imperial post and the suggestion that Paul may have used it. The nature of the contact between Paul and the Philippians is investigated. The conclusion is reached that the Macedonian church most probably learned of Paul’s despatch from Caesarea to Rome whilst he was en route. Epaphroditus may have already been in Rome when Paul arrived. The number of journeys implied in Philippians does not preclude a Roman provenance.

I. Introduction

C.J. Hemer1 offers the suggestion that the ‘sequences of journeys implied by Philippians are more easily explained within the facilities offered by the presence of Christian couriers in the imperial service to and from Rome (cf. Phil. 4:22)’. In a footnote he continues: ‘The journeys implied be-tween Rome and Philippi were probably not all private and sequential, but part of a continuous passage of Christian intelligence by frequent travellers along the whole route.’2 The

proposition is that there were Christian slaves and/or freed-men of Caesar’s household who, as tabellarii (couriers), used the facilities of the imperial post and who could be imposed upon whilst performing their official duties to carry private letters and news between Paul imprisoned in Rome and the community of believers situated at Philippi.3 The proposition rests on the number of journeys implied in the text of the letter.

The first journey must be inferred from the Philippians’ response in sending Epaphroditus with their gift to Paul. How and from whom they learned of Paul’s situation is unknown. The second journey is that of Epaphroditus who brought the Philippians’ gift to Paul in prison (Phil. 4:10, 14 and 18; cf. also 1:7). He may also have carried news about the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2). The third and fourth journeys relate to the news of Epaphroditus’ illness. The Philippians ha...

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