Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


18. Philippians

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of Philippians, followed by discussion of historical background and major themes.

In terms of historical background, the letter is written by Paul from prison to the Macedonian congregation in Philippi (often identified as the first Christian church in Europe). It is notable for its especially joyful character, and it serves as a good example of a “friendship letter.” The date of composition depends upon where Paul is thought to have been in prison when the letter was written: if he was in Ephesus, it could be one of his earliest letters, but if he was in Rome, it could be one of his latest.

Theological interest in Philippians centers on the “Christ hymn” quoted by Paul in chapter 2. This liturgical material provides what might be the earliest Christian reference to belief in the incarnation and preexistence of Christ. Paul’s primary interest in quoting the hymn, however, is to encourage the virtue of humility, exemplified by Jesus in taking human form and dying on a cross. Timothy, Epaphroditus, and Paul himself also provide role model examples for this prime virtue. The letter to Philippians also reflects upon the inevitability and potential value of human suffering. Further, it stresses the fellowship that Paul experiences with the Philippian believers.

Study Questions

  1. Describe Paul’s relationship with the Philippian church: how and when did he found this congregation, what was their relationship like, and what might have prompted Paul to write to them at this particular time?

  2. Outline what the “Christ hymn” details as stages in the career of Christ. Why does Paul cite this hymn as an illustration for the Philippians?

  3. What does Paul mean by “humility,” and how might this virtue be expressed in Christian living? List at least three examples Paul offers the Philippians as persons who model this virtue for them.

  4. Why should the Philippians view suffering for Christ as a favor or privilege from God?

Video: Suffering