Back in grade school I was taught to write stories using the five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why. It was a great way to remember all of the important bits to writing a story that would impress my teacher.
It’s rather funny, but studying a book of scripture requires a remarkably similar approach if we want to get the most out of our reading. We need to know who wrote it, what sort of writing it is, when it was written, where it was written from and for whom (if applicable), and why it was written in the first place.
Without some context, we will be prone to miss a lot of the best nuggets (at best), and mishandle scripture (at worst). So let’s just jump right in and cover the W’s of the book of Philippians.
Who: The writer of Philippians is universally recognized as Paul. He identifies himself, along with Timothy, as the author of the letter in the first verse and tells us the letter is to the whole church in Philippi.
Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, was a persecutor of the early church who underwent a dramatic conversion, which is recorded in Acts 9:1-31. He calls himself the apostle to the gentiles. (Galatians 2:8).
He wrote 13 or 14 of the 27 New Testament books. (Hebrews is traditionally ascribed to Paul, but there is some debate. However, that’s a whole other kettle of fish that we won’t get into!)
What: Philippians is an epistle, which is a fancy word for letter. Since the Bible is composed of many types of writing, it’s good to know this so that we read it in the correct way. For instance, you wouldn’t a piece of poetry with the same mindset as a legal document or a movie script, right? So it is with scripture. Know what you’re reading!
Since this is an actual letter written to actual people, I highly recommend you sit down and read it all in one sitting. I don’t think the Philippians read a chapter a day, do you? Who reads a letter a tiny bit at a time? To get the full impact of Paul’s letter to his friends in Philippi, read it like you’re a Philippian. (You’re welcome to put on a robe or a toga if that gets you in the groove; I won’t judge.)
When/Where: This letter was written from prison. The general consensus is that it was written while he was on house arrest in Rome, which would place it around 62 A.D. The letter itself mentions ‘the whole imperial guard’ (1:13) and ‘Caesars’ household’ (4:22), which seems to give credence to this theory.
However, there is some debate. (Surprise, surprise! I’m beginning to wonder about scholars…they don’t always play well together in the academic sandbox!). Some scholars believe it’s written from Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, but there’s not a lot of evidence for that theory.
The more credible debate, in my unlearned opinion, seems to be that it could have been written from Ephesus, which would place the time in the mid 50’s. We don’t have a biblical record of an imprisonment there, but it’s certainly possible and there are some decent arguments to support this.
Neither are strong enough to usurp the Roman theory, however, so we’re going with the majority on this. I find it helpful to know where there is credible debate amongst the smart folks though. It helps me to be teachable, to not hold too tightly to the non-essentials of Christian doctrine.
Why: Paul wrote this letter for several reasons, which we will explore in detail throughout the study. For today’s purposes, I’ll just say he wrote this letter to thank them for their support of him and to reassure them that he was alright. He wanted to encourage them to walk out their faith in strength and in unity.
Philippians is one of my favorite books in the Bible and I hope you’ll love it as much as I do by the time we’re finished. Next week we’ll discuss Chapter 1, verses 1-11. If you’d like to study along with me, here’s a few things you can do.
•Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you.
•Read the section (Philippians 1:1-11) several times. Try reading a few different translations.
·What is this saying? Try to put it into your own words.
·What does this say about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?
·Is there something I need to respond to? (Is there anything I need to change, or a command to obey?)
Easy peasy, yes? Or, if you want the more in-depth questions that I use in my own study time, feel free to message me over on my Facebook page or comment here and we’ll figure out how to get that to you.
Grace and peace,
For an excellent overview of the book, check out this short video from The Bible Project. This website is amazing, but be warned. You’re likely to get hooked on their videos!
Photo by Rustu Bozkus, courtesy of Pixabay.