The Unity of Philippians

The question of unity in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians has reached a stalemate. The predominate camps support either a singular, unified Pauline work or a collection of 2-3 Pauline works later edited together to form a single document. I am convinced that the epistle is a single Pauline work.

The two most persuasive arguments for fragmentation were 1) the abrupt shift in tone in chapter 3 and 2) the seemingly out of order nature of some of its pieces. While the tonal issue in 3:2 has not been accounted for by any psychological or circumstantial insight into Paul (Garland, 147), I am persuaded it can be accounted for by interpretational issues. As for the epistles adherence to standard Greco-Roman conventions and formats, I feel this can be attributed to problems we create when a generalized perspective is applied to a specific circumstance. I’m unconvinced that the epistle breaks from expected Greco-Roman format in such a way as to become evidence against a single letter.

Instead, we find that the epistolary thanksgiving in Ph 1:3-11 is connected with themes found in the parts of the letter in question. To this end, Jewett says

When one adds to his analysis the aberration that the themes of suffering (1:7), joy (1:4), and mental attitude (1:7) which so dominate the last three chapters of the letter are all announced in the epistolary thanksgiving, the letter takes on an impressive unity. (Jewett, 53)

Furthermore, the vocabulary found in the epistle helps to unify the text. Garland notes that the uncommon greek phrases found in Ph 1:27 (translated “standing firm” and “side by side,” ESV) are found again in the same uncommon Greek in 4:1 and 4:3. (Garland, 160). These rare Pauline words act to bind the letter across the most common divisions.

Outside of the actual textual criticism, we should also consider that there exists no extant MS evidence that would support the theory of a compilation of multiple individual letters. (Carter and Levine, 199).

Finally, I thought that Garland made a compelling case for interpretational issues in Ph 3:1-11. He begins by establishing that the translation “Look out for” (Ph 3:2) is misleading, and agrees with Caird that Paul wants the Jews perceived as a cautionary tale instead of strictly avoided (Garland, 166). Garland then furthers the position that Paul uses the term “dogs” in 3:2 as an inverted slur against Jews, who themselves used the term to describe non-Jews. Paul follows with “evil workers” (KJV), which Garland posits is less about evil and more about works-righteousness, which again points to Jewish belief. Paul continues this derision of Jewish culture by claiming that “we are the circumcision” (Ph 3:3). This connects well with the rest of the chapter, as Paul the former persecutor and works-righteousness Pharisee recounts that Christ is his gain.

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