The letter to the Philippians—presumably written by Paul (and Timothy), some time within a couple years of 60CE, to Christians in the ancient city of Philippi, which was an important city in the Roman world. It seems clear that Paul had a close relationship with the people in this church. Not everything was perfect (it never is), but I’d have to say that Paul had had a special, generally very positive experience with these believers, leading to high expectations of their spirits and their actions.
I haven’t paid much recent attention to this gemstone in the bracelet of NT letters. I suppose the last time I studied it, I wasn’t really studying it, if you know what I mean. What that admission means to me is that, more than a decade ago, I was much more typical in my knowledge and application of “study” methodologies. Those methods led to familiarity—but very little else that was valuable. I was also much more accepting of . . .
φ perfunctory readings that failed to take historical and literary contexts into consideration
φ surface-level “word studies” based on English tools
φ jumped-to conclusions
. . . and other results of dubious “study” methods that I now reject out of hand.
Despite previous personal ineptitudes (and many remain to this day), there was at least one general conclusion I reached years ago about this letter that I believe was quite “ept”: that “verses”¹ within this letter must be read in the context of the whole. To point up this concern, in the next post about Philippians, I will share some “verses”¹ that tend to be lifted out of their contexts (both macro [book-level] and micro) and invite you to consider how you, too, might have erroneously developed an understanding of what certain Philippians words “mean” apart from the surrounding thoughts.
Given a couple of long-term opportunities coming in early 2016, I expect that my insight into Philippians specifics is about to start down a road of significant enhancement. For today, I merely want to say this, transparently: I have been struggling in recent days with two other (unrelated) essays intended for this blog. For different reasons, I am questioning their content and have been delaying in finalizing and posting them.
Rather than deal with those essays further, I thought it was far better that I spend some time reading Philippians today. So I did just that. I read the entire letter aloud in the New English Bible. At this point, no background info, no Greek, no textual criticism or consideration of textual variants, and no word studies or discourse analysis, and no commentaries. Just the letter, read as a whole. I am better for having taken in these important words.
B. Casey (12/27/15)
¹ I put “verses” in scare-quotes not only because the verse numbering is not original. More important: seeing Bible texts as “verses” can detract from the flow of a text by visually delineating things not meant to be delineated. After all, I’m focusing on contextual flow here, and verses inhibit the reader’s sense of context. It is a far better thing to consider texts in larger blocks—blocks based on contextual reading and intratextual clues.