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Was Paul Thinking about Committing Suicide?

A blog reader recently asked me about an intriguing passage in Paul's letter to the Philippians where he says that “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (1:21) and then goes on to say that he is not sure "what to choose" -- to "depart to be with Christ" or "to remain in the flesh" (1:22). Choose? Most people have never looked at the passage carefully, but as often happens, have simply skirted over it without paying it much attention.  But think about it.  What is Paul saying exactly?  In what sense does he have a "choice"?  Is he thinking about taking matters in his own hands?  Isn't that the ultimate sin? I talk about the matter briefly in my  textbook on the New Testament. Here is what I say there: ****************************** In an intriguing book that discusses suicide and martyrdom in the ancient world (A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among Christians and Jews in Antiquity. HarperSanFrancisco, 1992) Arthur Droge and James Tabor argue that the modern notion that suicide is a “sin” [...]

2022-10-26T18:28:27-04:00November 6th, 2022|Paul and His Letters, Reflections and Ruminations|

More Cutting and Pasting? Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

I have been discussing instances in the New Testament where letters appear to have been cut-and-pasted together.  The key example is 2 Corinthians, but one could make the case (and many have!) that something similar is true of Philippians.  Here is how I explain it in my book The New Testament:  A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.   **************************************************** The Unity of the Letter The first two chapters of Philippians sound very much like a friendship letter written by Paul to his converts. The occasion of the letter is reasonably evident (see especially 2:25–30). The Philippians had sent to Paul one of their stalwart members, a man named Epaphroditus, for some reason that is not disclosed (until chap. 4). While there ministering to Paul, Epaphroditus was taken ill; the Philippians had heard of his illness and grew concerned. Epaphroditus in turn learned of their concern and became distraught over the anxiety that he had caused. Fortunately, his health returned, and he was now set to make his journey back home to Philippi. Paul [...]

2020-04-03T01:39:22-04:00January 8th, 2018|Paul and His Letters|

My Long Favorite Pauline Letter: Philippians

There is one other book in the New Testament that may be a cut-and-paste job, and as it turns out, it is another one of Paul’s letters, Philippians.  Philippians was for a long time my favorite Pauline letter, back in my late teens when I was first starting to read the Bible.  It contains the first verse I ever memorized: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21); and it is the first book that, a couple of years later, I committed completely to memory, word for word.  Little did I know, back then, that some scholars think it is in fact two different letters of Paul’s that have been spliced together. The evidence of there being two letters in Philippians is not as clear and compelling as in the case of 2 Corinthians, and I suspect, but do not know for a fact, that the *majority* of scholars hold to the “integrity” of the letter.  In this case, the word integrity has nothing to do with “honesty.”  It is the [...]

2020-04-03T01:39:39-04:00January 5th, 2018|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Hypothetical Problems with Copies of Philippians

In trying to figure out what it even means to talk about the “original” text of Philippians (was it what Paul meant to dictate?  Was it what he did dictate, if it was different from what he intended? Was it what the scribe wrote even if it was different from what Paul dictated?  Was it what Paul corrected after he saw what the scribe incorrectly wrote?  Was it the fresh copy that the scribe made even if it was different from the corrected version Paul gave him?  What happens if in fact Philippians is two letters that have been spliced together by a later editor, as many scholars believe, rather than just one letter – is the “original” the two different letters originally sent or the spliced together version that Paul did not create but someone else did?  Etc. etc.), in trying to figure all this out, several readers have suggested that the easiest way to look at it is that the “original” of Philippians is the letter Paul sent to Philippi, whatever happened, prior [...]

Dictation of Letters: More Complications for Knowing an “Original” Text

I have been talking about the problems in knowing what the “original” text of Philippians is.   Even with the following brief review, the comments I will be making in this post will, frankly, probably not make much sense if you do not refresh your memory from my previous two posts.   Here I will be picking up where I left off there. We have seen that knowing what the original of Philippians is complicated by the facts that: 1) The letter appears originally to have been two letters, so that it’s hard to know whether the original of each separate letter is to be the original or if the final edited version which Paul himself did not produce is the original; 2) Paul dictated his letters, and the scribe who wrote down his dictation would typically have made a fresh copy of the letter after Paul had made a few corrections – so which is the original: what the scribe originally wrote or the fresh copy he made after the corrections?   3) And if Paul made [...]

What Would Be the “Original” Text of Philippians?

I have begun to answer a series of questions asked by a reader about the textual history of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  In my previous post I explained why some critical scholars maintain that the letter was originally two separate letters that have been spliced together.  That obviously makes the next question the reader asked a bit more complicated than one might otherwise imagine.  And it’s not the only complication.   Here is the reader’s next question: QUESTION:  Do you agree that the first copy of the letter written by Paul to the Philippians was also an original?  RESPONSE:  First off, my initial reaction that I gave a couple of posts ago still holds.  I’m not exactly sure what the reader is asking.  If he’s asking whether a copy of the original letter to Philippians is itself an original of Philippians, then the answer is no.  It is not the original.  It is a copy of the original.  Big difference.   But what if this copy was exactly like the original in every single respect – [...]

Are There Two Letters to the Philippians?

In my previous post I answered, in short order, a series of questions that a reader had about the “original” text of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  I will now take several posts in order to address some of the questions at greater length.  Here was the first one:   QUESTION:  Would you agree that the letter written to the Philippians was an original writing of Paul? The short answer is Yes – it is one of the undisputed Pauline letters.  The longer answer is, well, complicated.  Scholars have long adduced reasons for thinking that this letter of Paul was originally *two* letters (or parts of two letters) that were later spliced together into the one letter we have today.  I explain the reasons for thinking so in my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  Here is what I say there.  (If you want to follow the argument particularly well, I’d recommend reading the short letter of Philippians, and then reading what follows by looking up the passages referred [...]

2020-04-03T16:53:20-04:00June 11th, 2014|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

Do We Have the Original Text of Philippians?

QUESTIONS:  Would you agree that the letter written to the Philippians was an original writing of Paul? Do you agree that the first copy of the letter written by Paul to the Philippians was also an original? Assuming there were errors made by the person(s) who copied the original letter of Paul to the Philippians, would you agree that the first copy even with some errors still had the original context of the first letter.  If you do agree, then is it totally accurate to say that we don’t have the original letter of Paul written to the Philippians? Don’t you think that it’s more accurate to state that we do have the original but it has been altered to some degree?  Has the letter to the Philippians written by Paul been altered so much that we can’t really know what the original proclaimed? RESPONSE: These are great questions.  They have the benefit of making very concrete some of the things that I have said, in general terms, about the textual tradition of the New [...]

Was Paul Contemplating Suicide?

I will get back to contradictions in my next post. For now, something else has come up. In my two previous posts I’ve mentioned Phil. 1:21, where Paul says, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” I’ve been asked by several blog-readers about this, and it occurs to me that it might be useful to sketch out one set of reflections on the verse, as I lay it out in one of my side-comments in my textbook on the New Testament. Here is what I say there: ******************************************************************************************************************* In an intriguing book that discusses suicide and martyrdom in the ancient world (A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among Christians and Jews in Antiquity. HarperSanFrancisco, 1992) Arthur Droge and James Tabor argue that the modern notion that suicide is a “sin” stems not from the Bible but from the fifth-century Saint Augustine. Prior to Augustine, suicide per se was not condemned by pagans, Jews, and Christians. On the contrary, in certain circumstances it was even advocated as the right and noble thing to do. Indeed, [...]

2020-10-29T17:22:59-04:00October 30th, 2013|Paul and His Letters, Reflections and Ruminations|

Final Thoughts on the Philippians Christ-Poem

There is a whole lot more that could be said about the Christ-poem in Philippians 2.   You could literally write an entire book on just this passage.  In fact, people *have* written books on just this passage.   The most important one, a classic in the field, is by Ralph Martin, A Hymn of Christ (which in earlier editions was called Carmen Christi) (which is a Latin phrase that, unsurprisingly, means A Hymn of Christ  :-) ).  This passage has had more ink spilled over it by scholars over the last century than almost any other in the entire Bible (with the exception of John 1:1-18).   In any event, to make sense of what I want to say here, it would help, if you haven’t done so, to read the other posts I’ve made on it. Here I just want to mention briefly an interpretation that is sometimes floated for the passage which takes it in a very different way indeed, as not being about incarnation at all.  In this alternative interpretation, the passage is not [...]

More on the Philippians Christ-Poem

COMMENT: This ‘rhythmic structure’ just does not work in Greek. The first ‘stanza’ with three ‘lines’: Who, although he was in the form of God Did not regard equality with God Something to be grasped after; In Greek the ‘third line’ is only one word and it appears in the middle of the ‘second line’, after only the first word of the so-called second line. There are a few different views of the structure, but they all must be based on the Greek text.   RESPONSE AND FURTHER COMMENT: That’s exactly right – you make a good point. For my translation I arranged the poem in three stanzas of three lines each; but in Greek it’s different. But even there there are still three stanzas of three lines each, but because of the grammatical difference, it works differently. In Greek it’s like this for the first part of the poem:   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!!! ὃς [...]

The Pre-pauline “Poem” in Philippians 2

In my most recent post on Christology I began to speak about the “incarnation” Christology found famously in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, 2:6-11.  There are a lot of other things I want to say about this passage, all of them relevant to the issues I’ve been discussing.  The first and most important thing is that it has been widely recognized by scholars for a very long time that this passage is something that Paul appears to be quoting, that it is not simply part of the prose letter.  Moreover, it is frequently called (probably wrongly) a “hymn” (that’s probably wrong because – as I’ve been told by an expert in the field of ancient music, it doesn’t actually scan as music).   But in any event, it is highly structured in a balanced fashion and thus seems to be more like a poem than like prose.  The reasons for thinking that Paul is quoting rather than composing it are pretty compelling, and I will get to them eventually.  For now I want to point out [...]

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