Bible Gateway is launching a new blog series today with content from biblical scholar Scot McKnight. McKnight is Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois. He is the author of more than eighty books, including the award-winning The Jesus Creed.
In this blog series, we’ll be sharing Scot’s insights and wisdom on the book of Philippians. It is available as a book as well: Philippians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians: Kingdom Living in Today’s World.
Each week for the next 12 weeks Bible Gateway will publish a chapter from the Bible study book, taking your through the full text of McKnight’s study on Philippians. For this week, here is Scot’s introduction to the letter of Philippians:
Philippians is one of the favourite letters of Paul for many Christians, not least because of its crisp ideas and special terms like joy and fellowship (a common life with others) and unity. Then too it has some of our favourite passages, like the poem of Philippians 2:6–11, and favourite verses, not least 4:13’s “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” That Paul was in a tough situation, in prison in probably Rome, causes many to turn to this short letter for wisdom and comfort. He tells the Thessalonians that he “was treated outrageously in Philippi” itself (1 Thessalonians 2:2).
Philippi is a Roman colony, located between Thessalonica and today’s Istanbul, and not far from the coast of the Aegean. It is a beautiful city and was proud of its Roman connection. Paul founded a church in Philippi, as recorded in Acts 16, which we can read about in the story of Lydia’s conversion. Perhaps she has died and makes no appearance in this letter.
Most date this letter to Paul’s time of imprisonment in Rome, thus about 60–63 AD, while others think he may have been in Ephesus, which would mean a date around 55 AD or so. We don’t know for sure, though some make very strong statements of certainty. At least the expression “Caesar’s household” in 4:22 sure does sound like someone in a Roman prison.
To read Philippians well I suggest reading it front to back several times and then read it slowly again, marking major themes and terms, like joy and common life. One of the more fascinating threads in this letter, and I encourage you to keep your eyes open for suggestions, is about financial support of Paul. There are lots of economic terms in this letter, especially in the last chapter, but the word often translated “fellowship” or “partnership,” which we translate as “common life,” has to do with this kind of generous sharing between them and Paul. Because this theme is not as easy to detect, I will begin the study guide with the most important passage on this theme, Philippians 4:10–20. Starting there changes how one reads the letter.
Overall, Paul writes an encouraging letter to the Philippians about his own life, about his confidence that he will be released, and about their value to him. Through the whole letter we sense the importance of a common life for the earliest Christians, and hence he urges them to think about this new way of life with one another. He wants them to learn humility in relating to one another.
Thanks for reading through this introduction to Philippians by Scot McKnight from his book Philippians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Scot has recently published New Testament Everyday Bible Study series with Harper Christian Resources. McKnight combines interpretive insights with pastoral wisdom for all the books of the New Testament.
To be cont’d on Saturday