The Scope of the Study*
The hypothesis of the composition of Philippians, or parts
thereof, during a presumed Ephesian imprisonment has become a critical
commonplace. There are good reasons for such a view, as we shall show. Yet
there has been some lack of precision in placing Philippians during Paul’s
period of work in Ephesus.
The paper will first set out the evidence from the letter
itself as a kind of template against which to assess the various solutions;
then it will summarize what we can know from the other letters about
Paul’s work in Ephesus; following this it will review the reasons for
assigning Philippians to Ephesus; then it will assess the two principal ways
which have been proposed for locating the point of the Ephesian imprisonment: the “beasts in Ephesus” episode, or the “crisis in
Asia” episode; and finally it will explore other options for identifying
the point of composition for Philippians.
This article presupposes the unity of Philippians.1
It employs a methodology based upon the priority of the letters,2
and, in the present instance, based exclusively upon the letters.3 (Click
on Letters Based Chronology (1)
to (4) for further details.)
* This article is a revision of “Paul at Ephesus
and the Composition of Philippians,” Proceedings:
Eastern Great Lakes and Midwest Biblical Societies 8 (1988), 61-76.
1Partition theories have enjoyed rather wide acceptance.
However, it is possible to argue on the basis of formal analysis that the
troublesome third chapter of Philippians is really an extended digression,
identifiable by what Burke O. Long calls “framing repetitions;” see his
“Framing Repetitions in Biblical Historiography,” JBL 106 (1987)
385-99. See also the important articles by D. E. Garland (“The Composition
and Unity of Philippians: Some Neglected Literary Factors,” NovT 27
 141-73) and D. F. Watson (“A Rhetorical Analysis of Philippians and
Its Implications for the Unity Question,” NovT 30  57-88).
2We acknowledge the importance of the work of John
Knox, Chapters in a Life of Paul, rev. ed. (Macon, GA: Mercer, 1987).
Niels Hyldahl, in Die paulinische Chronologie (Leiden: Brill, 1986)
has come to be included in the ranks of those who follow the methodology of
Knox, and refers to it as the “new chronology” (p. 2).
3The seven certainly authentic letters
(1 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon
and Romans) are presupposed. Click on The Pauline Legacy
The accompanying chart illustrates the
application of this methodology to establishing sequences in the apostle’s
relationships with Philippi. By anticipation, it lays out some of the
conclusions for which this article will argue.
|Jerusalem Visit 1
Syria and Cilicia
Galatia (former visit)
|Founding Visit; “. . . in the beginning of the
gospel” (Phil. 4:15)
» Special financial arrangement with Philippi (Phil. 1:5)
|Thessalonica (1 Thess.
» 1 Thessalonians written
» Aid from Macedonia, probably Philippi, (2 Cor. 11:9)
|Jerusalem Visit 2
|Agreement on the collection (Gal.
Beginning of collection in Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1)
|Ephesus: founding visit
» Letter P to Corinth, Previous Letter
» Episode of fighting with beasts in Ephesus, 1 Cor.
» Timothy is sent to Corinth: from ? via?
» Letter L to Corinth = 1 Corinthians
» Travel plan: Ephesus/ Macedonia/ Corinth/ Jerusalem, 1 Cor.
» Composition of Galatians
|PAUL IMPRISONED IN EPHESUS
(thus, unable to depart after Pentecost for Macedonia, etc., as
|The situation in Philippi:
» Problem of false teachers
|The Philippians learn of Paul’s trouble, Phil.
[Trip #1, Ephesus to Philippi]
» Delivers gift to Paul
» Informs Paul of dissension, and false teachers in Philippi
|The Philippians send a gift by Epaphroditus
[Trip #2, Philippi to Ephesus]
» Timothy’s presumed return to
(possibly earlier), bringing news from Corinth
|Illness of Epaphroditus
Appearance of Onesimus
|The Philippians learn of his illness
[Trip #3, Ephesus to Philippi]
|Epaphroditus is distressed that the Philippians have
heard of his illness, Phil. 2:26
| [Possible additional trip, Philippi to Ephesus,
from which Epaphroditus learns that the Philippians have heard of his
|Paul writes Philippians
» Travel plans: Timothy is to be sent to Philippi,
Phil. 2:19, to bring word from Philippi; Paul hopes to travel there
later, Phil. 2:24
Paul writes Philemon; sends Onesimus back (to Colossae?)
|Epaphroditus is sent back to Philippi
[Trip #4, Ephesus to Philippi]
|PAUL, RELEASED FROM PRISON late August» Sends Timothy on to Macedonia
|Paul makes intermediate visit to Corinth, and
back to Ephesus, 2 Cor. 2:1; 12:14; 13:1-2
Paul writes Letter H/10-13 to Corinth mid-September
Travel plan: Titus to Corinth to Troas; Paul to Troas
(Possible) return of Timothy, with news of Philippi
|Crisis in Asia (probably
Ephesus); escapes death
(2 Cor. 1:8)
|Paul departs for Troas, 2 Cor.
2:12, but does not
find Titus there
|Paul proceeds on to Macedonia/ Philippi, 2 Cor.
» Finds fighting without, fears within, 2 Cor. 7:5
» Meets Titus, with good news of reconciliation from Corinth
» “Voluntary” collection in Macedonia, 2 Cor. 8:1-4
» Writes Letter R/1-9 to Corinth, with Timothy,
2 Cor. 1:1
|Paul winters in Macedonia, and proceeds to Corinth in
the spring; or to Corinth during mid-winter travels by land
» Completes work on the collection
» Writes Romans
Travel plans: to Jerusalem, to deliver collection; to Rome;
Jerusalem Visit 3 [projected]
Information from Philippians
We begin with a summary of the information in Philippians
concerning Paul’s situation as he writes; this summary forms a kind of
profile or template against which we can test various theories of the
1. Paul is in prison, and he is
in danger. As a number of passages make clear, Paul is in prison
(Philippians 1:7, 12-14, 17), and his life is at risk (1:20,
the outcome of his trial uncertain, though he is gamely optimistic.
2. Paul refers to a praetorium or praetorian guard, and the
household of Caesar, where he is imprisoned. In outrageously bold
assertions, Paul claims that his imprisonment has become well known
throughout the whole praetorian guard as an imprisonment for Christ
(Philippians 1:12-13), and concludes the letter with greetings from all the
saints, especially from the household of Caesar (4:22).
3. Travel plans. His fate is
still in doubt, but he hopes that he will soon be able to send Timothy to
Philippi (Philippians 2:19, 23), and that he himself will also, upon his
release, come quickly to Philippi (2:24; cp. 1:26).4
4. Frequent travel between the
place of imprisonment and Philippi. The letter presupposes a number of
trips and exchanges of information between himself and Philippi. These may
be reckoned at some three or four, not including the letter itself:5
The Philippians hear of Paul’s imprisonment;
They send a gift to Paul by Epaphroditus;
Information reaches the Philippians of Epaphroditus’
illness; and possibly
Word reaches Epaphroditus of their concern.6
5. Opposition. In the midst
of a generally hopeful outlook evident in the letter, we pick up a clear
note of opposition from Christians in the city where Paul is in prison
(Philippians 1:15). They have made things more difficult for Paul in his
imprisonment, perhaps by failing to support his defense, or by opposing him
in some way.7 It is doubtful whether these opponents are the
Judaizers of Galatia, whom Paul could accuse of preaching another gospel,
since these do preach Christ. Otherwise, our information is insufficient for
4This might well be the first visit of Timothy and Paul to
Philippi since the founding of the church (see Hyldahl, Chronologie
19-20; cp. n. 4).
5On the hypothesis of the partition of the letter into two
or three parts, the number of exchanges naturally increases.
6This item is perhaps unnecessary, since Epaphroditus
might know that if information reached the Philippians they would be
7Less likely, they are the cause of his imprisonment and
February 7, 2003
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