Philippians: From People To Letter -- By: Peter Oakes

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 47:2 (NA 1996)
Article: Philippians: From People To Letter
Author: Peter Oakes


Philippians: From People To Letter1

Peter Oakes

This thesis explores the idea of listening to Philippians from the viewpoint of reconstructions of its first recipients. It first considers the development of the Roman colony of Philippi and the social composition of a church likely to arise in that context. It then defends the idea that there was suffering in the Philippian church and considers the probable nature of that in the social setting of Philippi. The model of the hearers developed in this way is put to work in three key exegetical areas. First, two imaginary hearers, one suffering and one not, listen to the letter—in particular to the material on the major theme of suffering. Second, the Philippian Christians listen to material on Christ’s Lordship in the light of their experience of Imperial ideology. Third, the preceding work is drawn together as the Philippians listen to the juxtaposition, in 2:1-11, of the themes of suffering and unity.

The first three chapters are introductory and historical. One major conclusion is that most Philippian Christians were probably Greeks and not Roman citizens. Chapter four defends the conclusion that Christians at Philippi were suffering. The most likely source of suffering would be opposition engendered by Christians ceasing to honour the gods and persuading others to do the same. Also, once some Christians became known as troublemakers, others would face opposition if they associated with them. The most probable form of suffering would be breakdown of relationships, often leading to economic suffering.

Chapter five reconstructs two imaginary Philippian hearers of the letter, Jason and Penelope. Jason has suffered a great deal; Penelope, very little. I imagine how each of these might have heard

the letter. Jason was waiting to hear from his suffering hero. In 1:1-11, he heard Paul expressing warmth towards the Philippians as they shared with him in similar experiences of suffering. Penelope was waiting to hear from the missionary she supported. In 1:1-11, she heard Paul expressing appreciation for their financial support. Each hearer ‘filled in’ relatively open terms from their own perspective. This raises questions about whether Paul might be deliberately leaving the terms open.

In 1:12-26, Penelope heard a ‘missionary report’; Jason heard a model for behaviour under suffering. In 1:27-2:18, Penelo...

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