Comments on Philippians

Submitted by admin on Sun, 2007-02-25 13:09.

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About 50 CE, Paul and his companions, including Silas, Timothy, and Luke, arrived in Philippi. While in Troas, the apostle saw a night vision in which a man of Macedonia pleaded, “Come to Macedonia to help us.” Based on the vision, Paul concluded that it was God’s will for the evangel about Christ to be proclaimed in Macedonia, and he and his associates set sail from Troas. After making a straight run for the island of Samothrace in the Aegean Sea, the ship arrived at the seaport of Neapolis the next day. Paul and his companions traveled overland for about ten miles (c. 16 kilometers) over a rocky ridge and then into a plain to Philippi, a Roman colony. There does not appear to have been a large Jewish population in the city, as Paul and his companions headed for the river on the sabbath day, thinking that they might find a place where Jews convened for prayer. They did locate a group of women who had assembled for worship, including Lydia, a seller of purple (either purple dye or purple cloth or garments). Lydia responded in faith to the glad tidings about Jesus Christ, was baptized along with her household, and extended an invitation to the group to stay at her home, making her offer of hospitality in such a way that it could not be refused. (Acts 16:7-15)

Later a problem arose with a slave girl whom the populace regarded as having a “spirit of python.” According to Greek mythology, the god Apollo killed python, the serpent guarding the Delphic oracle. The association of python with the oracle apparently is the basis for the expression “spirit of python” as designating a spirit of divination. When seeing Paul and his companions as they made their way to the place of prayer, the slave girl would shout, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who are proclaiming the way of salvation to you.” As this continued for many days, Paul became annoyed and, in the name of Jesus, caused her to lose her powers of prediction. Her owners became furious, as they had profited handsomely from her divination. They seized Paul and Silas, dragged them before the magistrates or the chief officials of Philippi, and made serious false charges against them. Paul and Silas were beaten on their bare skin with rods and then imprisoned. Ordered to guard them securely, the jailer put them in the inner prison and confined their feet in stocks. (Acts 16:16-24)

During the night, a strong earthquake opened the prison doors and released the prisoners from their bonds. Fearing that they had escaped and that he would be executed for having failed in his duty to guard them, the jailer was at the point of committing suicide with his sword. Seeing this, Paul shouted, “Do not harm yourself, for all of us are here.” The jailer’s question about what he needed to do to be saved opened the opportunity for him and his household to hear the good news about the Son of God. That very night he and his household responded in faith and were baptized. He also attended to the wounds that had been inflicted on Paul and Silas from the beating and served them a meal. (Acts 16:25-34)

The next morning the magistrates sent lictors, lesser officials, with the directive that Paul and Silas be released from prison. As their rights as Roman citizens had been violated and this secret release could have given the wrong impression to the people of Philippi, Paul insisted that the magistrates personally come to the prison and publicly release them. Alarmed that they had trampled on the rights of Roman citizens, the magistrates complied but did request that Paul and Silas leave the city. Before departing, Paul and Silas stopped at the home of Lydia and encouraged the believers who had assembled there. (Acts 16:35-40)

In intervening years, believers in Philippi continued to assist Paul materially. While the apostle was imprisoned, they sent Epaphroditus with funds and to minister to his needs. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians during the period of his confinement. The letter itself does not say where the apostle was then imprisoned. In his letter, Paul mentions the “praetorium” (1:13), which can designate the imperial guard in the city of Rome. The designation “praetorium” can, however, also mean the official government house or the governor’s residence. Based on Paul’s mentioning his fighting beasts in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32) and the extreme danger he faced in the province of Asia (2 Corinthians 1:8), some commentators have suggested Ephesus as the place of imprisonment and understand persons of Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22) to be minor Roman officials, including slaves or freedmen in their service. It does, however, seem less interpretative to regard Rome as the place of Paul’s imprisonment, taking “pratorium” to mean the imperial guard and the “household of Caesar” to refer to members of Caesar’s household in Rome, including slaves. Moreover, the book of Acts makes no reference to an extended period of imprisonment in Ephesus but concludes with Paul’s confinement in Rome. According to the book of Acts, Caesarea was the only other place where the apostle was imprisoned for an extended period, and some have concluded that his letter to the Philippians was written from there. (Acts 24:27) This view requires interpreting “praetorium” and “Caesar’s household” in the same way as when Ephesus is thought to have been the place of imprisonment.

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