Philippians 1:1-2: The GreetingText and Translation
Paul and Timothy, slaves of-Christ Jesus, to-all the saints
Παυλος και Τιμοθεος δουλοι Χριστου Ιησου πασιν τοις αγιοις
in Christ Jesus, the-ones being in Philippi together-with
εν Χριστω Ιησου τοις ουσιν εν Φιλιπποις συν
overseers and deacons; Grace to-you and peace from God
επισκοποις και διακονοις, χαρις υμιν και ειρηνη απο θεου
[the] father of-us and [from the] Lord Jesus Christ
πατρος ημων και κυριου Ιησου Χριστου.NOTES
: The translation is a literal one from the Greek text. I've omitted all diacritical markings (including accents, breathing marks, and subscripts) from the Greek text due to the incompatibility of the font with some web browsers.Background
The consensus of conservative scholarship places Paul in Rome at this time (the highlighted area on the far left of the image is Rome; the other highlighted area is Philippi). But he is not merely passing through or visiting the church at Rome—he is in prison. He indicates as much no fewer than four times in chapter one alone. In 1:7 he first mentions his “bonds” (or “chains”), and follows that up later with more explicit language. In 1:13 he indicates he is “in chains for Christ”; and because of those “chains” the brothers in Rome have been emboldened to proclaim the gospel all the more clearly (1:14). Some are preaching out of sincerity, even though others are attempting to stir up trouble for him “while in chains” (1:17).
Written sometime in the early 60s, this is likely Paul’s final imprisonment before his martyrdom under Nero a few short years later. He may have been released from this imprisonment (a possibility that Paul entertains throughout this letter) only to be re-arrested and put to death shortly thereafter. We do not know for certain. What we do
know is the mindset
Paul had while under these extremely adverse circumstances—certainly one of the major themes, if not the primary theme of this letter.
Paul had visited Philippi (Macedonia) a number of times, as is well attested not only in the Acts but also in many of his letter (especially the two letters to the Corinthians). His first visit there landed him in jail for his proclamation of the gospel (Acts 16); and so the Philippians were well acquainted not only with Paul as a dear friend, but also with the demands of the gospel itself, not to mention its attendant consequences in persecution and suffering. Paul elaborates on this theme a great deal in this letter, but does so in such a way as to portray suffering for Christ as a privilege
graciously granted in behalf of Christ. But this suffering has nothing whatever to do with the monastic--in reality, Gnostic
--self-flagellation and other forms of self-inflicted "suffering" practiced by some Roman Catholic groups. Rather, true Christian suffering is that which occurs over the gospel. Similarly, Paul portrays persecution over the proclamation and defense of the gospel as part and parcel of the Christian life, and something through
which we have cause to "rejoice in the Lord."
The overarching theme of this letter is living out the gospel of Jesus Christ
aided by the right mindset
. To Paul, the former can be accomplished only by first adopting the latter. This mindset is one that is singularly focused on Christ and the gospel--so much so that the very essence of the Christian life is one that views itself as a mere vessel to be used up and disposed of by and for Christ and the gospel, and at His good pleasure.Commentary1:1 Paul and Timothy
; At first blush there seems to be a dual authorship to this letter (Paul and Timothy). Yet, that Paul is the primary (or even sole) author is evident from the fact that he switches so soon to the first-person singular beginning in v. 3 (“I give thanks,” not “we give thanks”). How, then, is Timothy involved in this? He may be Paul’s personal amanuensis (secretary) for this letter. We know from other letters that Paul did not personally write the body of many of his letters (Rom 16:22), but rather dictated the letter to a scribe and then added a personalized postscript (1 Cor 16:21, Col 4:18, Gal 6:11, 2 Ths 3:17, Phm 19). Or, Paul may simply be including Timothy in the greeting because he wants the Philippians to know Timothy is by his side, ministering to his needs while in prison. Later in this letter, Paul will commend Timothy to the Philippians for that very reason, knowing that he will soon send Timothy to them (2:19-30).
Paul identifies himself and Timothy as slaves of Christ Jesus
, a near understatement where Paul is concerned. Paul’s singular mindset, as the rest of the letter reveals, is one of complete and carefree self-abandonment to service in the gospel and to Christ.
The title “slave” (doulos
) is not an unusual title for Paul to give himself. But it is usually accompanied by another title, apostle of Jesus Christ
. Much ink has been spilled over speculation as to why Paul does not identify himself by his apostleship here as he does in the greeting of so many other letters. A common explanation is that Paul is writing to people he knows personally (leaving little need to identify himself by a title they would already have known very well), and that these were close friends (making it counter-productive in a letter of “friendship” to use a title that might be interpreted as an authoritative power play over them). While there is no doubt that Paul uses his title of apostleship to establish authority in many of his other letters, he doesn’t always use it for this reason. The fact that Paul can use this title in the greeting to both of his letters to Timothy (a trusted and faithful traveling companion whom Paul himself commends to the Philippians as having a “proven character” over everyone else he might send to them; 2:19-22), while omitting it in his letters to the Thessalonians (in which he must engage in corrections of certain members of the church), causes that argument to lose much of its force. But if that’s the case, then we cannot make much of the absence of the title either. It’s probably best to withhold judgment on the precise reason he omits it here.
Paul writes to all the holy ones
, or saints
(so most translations). The word “saint” in modern parlance usually connotes an elite class of Christians (e.g., St. Augustine), to the exclusion of all other Christians. Such a usage could scarcely be further away from the New Testament meaning. Paul applies this term to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:2; 6:2; 2 Cor 1:1), arguably the most carnal group of Christians in the entire New Testament. One is rather a “saint” (in biblical parlance, no less in the context of this verse) by virtue of being in Christ Jesus
. The word hagios
(translated “saint”) refers to one who has been “sanctified” (hagiazo
), or “set apart” from
the world and unto
Christ. There is an ongoing aspect of sanctification that works itself out in perseverance, according to which the believer is progressively being conformed to the image of Christ. But initial sanctification, which occurs immediately at the point of justification, is what is primarily in mind in the word “saint.”
The particular saints
addressed here are those who are in Philippi
—and not them only; they are addressed [together
] with overseers and deacons
. The word “overseer,” or “bishop” in some archaic translations (Gr., episkopos
, from whence comes Episcopalian), is used synonymously in the New Testament with “elder” (presbuteros
, from whence comes Presbyterian) and “shepherd” (or pastor; poimen
) (compare Acts 20:17, “elders,” with 20:28, “overseers” who “shepherd” the flock; also 1 Pet 5:1-2). All three titles refer to the same leaders in the church, and they lend absolutely no support for a hierarchical structure of leadership. The title of “deacon” (lit., “servant”), like “elder” (Titus 1:5) or “overseer” (1 Tim 3:1), is an official function
(not “office,” which is far too formal a designation for NT usage) in the church (1 Tim 3:8-13).
It is noteworthy that Paul addresses the congregation directly, not through
the leadership of the church (though, clearly he addresses the leadership as well). Leadership in the New Testament was officially recognized and authoritatively conferred, but in many ways was much more organic and dynamic than in most churches today. The esteem one was afforded as a leader was linked much more to the work he did in the gospel than the official title he may have held. Paul later makes this very point about Epaphroditus:
“Receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me” (Phil 2:29-30).
This is not a rare teaching in Paul, but one he communicates on a number of occasions:
“You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it” (1 Cor 16:15-16).
“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work” (1 Thess 5:12-13).1:2
Paul concludes his greeting: Grace to you all, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
. We should avoid reading too much into what is, after all, a common blessing in the salutations of Paul’s letters. But, as common as it may be, the blessing is (in true Pauline style) as theological as it is subtle. The NIV’s “Grace and peace to you” fails to capture the intended order of “grace” in relation to “peace.” The literal reading above is Paul’s intent, here as well as the other letters in which this greeting occurs (Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thes 1:1; 2 Thes 1:2; Phm 1:3). One must first be the recipient of grace before one can possibly have peace; and that is just how the NASB (not to mention the Greek text) has it: It is first grace to you
, then—and only
then— peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Exegesis is only the preliminary step to discovering how to be pleasing to Him in every way. We welcome comments, insights, suggestions, and questions on how to do that based on this text, including . . .
1. Themes for relection
2. Life application
3. Exegetical insights
4. Exhortations and admonitions