Third and Last Section – f. Philippians

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by Neil Godfrey


The Letter to the Philippians.

The dependence of the author of the Letter to the Philippians on gnostic ideas has also been demonstrated by Mr. Baur, and again we can only disagree with the same scholar in the way he seeks to explain the relationship of the Catholic writer to those assumptions.

It concerns the passage in chapter 2, verses 6-8, in which the humiliation of Christ is contrasted with the possibility that he did not desire, that is, to be equal to God.

At this point, the author of the Letter to the Philippians, as a Catholic, assumes that Christ existed in the form of God before his self-emptying *), that he was essentially equal to God – thus contradicting his own assumption when he speaks in the same breath as if Christ could have avoided self-emptying and made himself God equal from the outset if he had so desired.

*) Ch 2:6 ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ ὑπάρχων

In his heavenly home, before his self-emptying for the historical-human appearance, he presents the Lord with a temptation that was not possible for him in his divine state.


The gnostic Sophia, on the other hand, the last Aeon of the divine ideal world, could truly feel the urge to absorb the Absolute into herself, to come to an agreement with the Father, to grasp him and seize his divine greatness.

She is a part of the divine world, but only one of the determinations in which the Absolute has unfolded itself. She, who is in communion with the Absolute but is not it itself nor has grasped it, has the self-consciousness of lack that is grounded in her determination and can succumb to the desire for union with the ground from which she has arisen. For her, the difference and contradiction between her being-in-itself and her reality have meaning and significance. On the other hand, on the basis of the Catholic presupposition to which the author of the Philippians letter has transferred it, it is impossible. The gnostic Sophia could attempt the theft and feel the desire to seize the Absolute, whereas the Christ of the Catholic presupposition, who possesses the form and shape of the Absolute from the outset, could not and did not need to conceive the idea of this theft.

The attempt of the gnostic Sophia fails. Arising from the self-consciousness of her inner negation, her determination and limitation that separates her from the Absolute, it has only the consequence that her otherness is posited and she herself falls into the realm of emptiness and self-abnegation *). Therefore, she succumbs to the necessity contained in her determination. The Catholic Christ of the Philippians letter, on the other hand, voluntarily relinquishes himself.*)  He does what the gnostic Sophia experiences and suffers as her inner necessity. That is to say, the metaphysical category of Gnosticism is transformed into a religious and moral one.

*) κενωμα

*) Ch 2:7 ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε


What time period does this polemic against gnostic categories and their catholicization belong to?

We have already answered this question, and if Dr. Baur asserts the same for the position of the Epistle to the Philippians as he has done for the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, we can only repeat what we have remarked on the relation of the latter to Gnosticism.

The ideas catholicized in the Epistle to the Philippians do not inherently bear “the stamp of Gnosticism,” as Dr. Baur puts it,**) but presuppose the systematic elaboration of Gnosticism – they are not “taken in a still entirely unprejudiced manner,” rather they form the subject of explicit polemics (Christ did not have in mind, like the Gnostic Sophia, to obtain equality with God by means of robbery), but they have already, as is always the case in the final stage of the conflict between metaphysics and theology, acquired such a great power as categories that they have subjected even their ecclesiastical opponents.

**) The Apostle Paul p. 464.



Except for this interesting aside that makes the Philippians letter a companion to the letters to the Colossians and Ephesians, it contains only phrases that the author has taken from the already existing Pauline letters and loosely strung together using the recurring keyword of joy.

Right at the beginning (C. 1, 4) he offers his prayer for the Philippians “with joy”; about his experiences in prison (E. 1, 18) “he rejoices and will also rejoice”; he will be preserved for the Philippians “for the joy of their faith” (C. 1, 25); he beseeches them to “fulfill his joy” and be of one mind (C.2,2); even if he is sacrificed, he “rejoices and rejoices with all of them, and in the same way they should also rejoice and rejoice with him” (C. 2, 17, 18); he has sent them Epaphroditus so that they may rejoice (C. 2, 28) and asks them (V. 29) to receive him with all joy; “finally” (C. 3, 1) i.e. when he does not immediately know what to say to them, he calls out to them: “rejoice in the Lord”; when he comes to the end, he again calls out (C. 4, 4): “rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice”; finally, he “rejoiced greatly in the Lord” (C. 4, 10) when they took care of him again.

He himself feels that all of this is rather monotonous and repetitive — after his call (C. 3, 1): “rejoice in the Lord,” he therefore admits to his readers that he is always writing “the same thing” to them, and he helps himself out rather unsuccessfully with the remark that this constant repetition is not burdensome to him, but provides security to them, i.e. impresses the main thing on them. However, the embarrassment that drives him to this excuse arises not only from the feeling that he is always repeating the same phrase in the course of his letter, but also from the awareness that almost everything he writes is taken from the other supposedly Pauline letters.


For example, the remark in chapter 4, verse 15, that the Philippians “were the only church that shared with him in giving and receiving” when he left Macedonia, is a convoluted imitation of the assumption in 2 Corinthians that the apostle only accepted support from the Macedonians. (It is not necessary to explain in detail how the author, in this forced sentence, betrays his late era with the positive determination “church” and with his reflection on the early days of the Gospel).

He hopes to soon send them Timothy, just as he announces the same assistant to his readers in the first Corinthians letter; he also sends back their Epaphroditus, just as he sends back the deacons of the Corinthian community and, in the letter to the Colossians, Tychicus and Onesimus. (Colossians 4:7, 9).

The supposed apostle wants to send Timothy to the Philippians (2:19) so that he can find out how they are doing – just as he sends Tychicus to the Colossians so that he too can find out how they are doing; he recommends Epaphroditus to the Philippians just as he recommends the deacons to the Corinthians; the epistle is even so dependent on its original that in the same breath in which it recommends only Epaphroditus to its readers, it speaks as if it has several people to recommend to them *); and finally, when Epaphroditus of the Philippians was in the service of the apostle (2:30) and he lacked the help of his compatriots, he “made up for the deficiency” – a false imitation of the remark in 1 Corinthians (16:17) that the deacons made up for the deficiency of their community in general.

*) Phil 2:29 προσδέχεσθε οὖν αὐτὸν . . . . . καὶ τοὺς τοιούτους ἐντίμους ἔχετε
1 Cor. 16:18 [corrected from 16:8] ἐπιγινώσκετε οὖν τοὺς τοιούτους


The Paul of the Philippians strives (E. 3:10) to know the Lord and “the fellowship of His sufferings, if by any means he may attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” This is a highly confused and uncertain imitation of that passage in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians where the apostle (C. 4:10) boasts with complete confidence that he carries about in his body “the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”

The Christ of the Philippians will (at the resurrection, C. 3:21) “transform our lowly body, that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” This is an irrelevant reflection on the all-conquering and subduing power that the Lord in the First Epistle to the Corinthians demonstrates in his struggle against all the enemies of God, including death (1 Cor. 15:25-28).

The Paul of the Philippians also wants to fight with the Jews, but his polemic and language are so uncertain that it cannot even be determined whether he wants to fight against real Jews or Jews who have turned to Christianity. He wants (C. 3:18) to fight against the enemies of the cross of Christ like the apostle of the other letters, but he remains at the level of intention, and can only refer to having often spoken to his readers about these shameless ones, and can only attest to speaking of them “now with tears.” The more abstract his intention is, the more he can only rely on throwing exaggerating insults (C. 3:2): “Look out for the dogs, look out for the mutilation” (that is, not circumcision, because we are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit) – his boast that he can boast more about the flesh than anyone else (C. 3:4) is borrowed from the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (C. 11:18, 22) – and the note that he is of the tribe of Benjamin (C. 3:5) is from the Epistle to the Romans (C. 11:2).


He knows the Letter to the Romans and would like to give its dialectics in brief – but his consciousness is already too rigidly dogmatic, his language too ungainly, for his reproduction to consist of anything other than a clumsy combination of cliches. His sentence (3:9) “That I may be found in Christ, not having my own righteousness which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” we need to add to with the cumbersome antithesis “not my own righteousness which is from the law,” and the laborious double explanation of true righteousness, just to let the compiler characterize himself. *)

*) Also compare V. 10 and Rom. 6:5.

Finally, in the exhortation (4:1) “stand firm in the Lord” and in the hope that the steadfastness of the Philippians will provide him with the glorious testimony that he (2:16) has not worked in vain, keywords from the Letter to the Galatians (5:1, 4:11) return and their glory, that they are the joy and crown of the apostle (4:1), the Philippians owe solely to the first letter to the Thessalonians (2:19).



(Regarding the letter to Philemon, no further explanation is needed after Dr. Baur has shown that its motif, in which the apostle sends back to Philemon his runaway slave Onesimus, whom he has converted, not as a slave but as a companion and brother, is a variation on the theme of the Clementine Christian novel, which states that the separation of related individuals leads to a more intense union when they find themselves on the ground of Christianity. We only note that the author’s skill in intelligently interweaving the keywords of the letters to the Philippians and Ephesians into the limited framework with his new theme has made this letter, which belongs to the group of letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians, a truly cohesive and self-contained whole – a glory that the author shares within this Pauline epistolary literature only with the creator of the great dialectical work that we possess in the first section of the letter to the Romans.)




How easily do historical Jesus scholars drop in that “interpolation card” when it suits

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Catching up with Géza Vermes’ The Changing Faces of Jesus I was surprised to find Vermes suggesting that the entire Philippian Hymn (2:6-11) is an interpolation inserted probably around the early second century!

I guess anti-mythicist crusaders have been on my back so much that I had begun to lose sight of what is acceptable and respectable fare in the works of mainstream biblical scholars.

For those not in the know Géza Vermes, according to the Wikipedia article (and I don’t apologize for using Wikipedia since, for all its many faults, it has been recognized by a study published in Nature as no less authoritative than the Encyclopedia Britannica in science articles, so we may reasonably feel entitled to some confidence in the rest) is described as:

a noted authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient works in Aramaic, and on the life and religion of Jesus. He is one of the most important voices in contemporary Jesus research,[1] and he has been described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time.[2] (I retain the linked footnotes)

In the prologue Vermes reinforces his well-groundedness within the scholarly mainstream:

I have read a great deal over the years and learned much, positively and negatively, from other scholars. I have assimilated their learning and understanding and stored everything up in my heart. (p. 4) Continue reading “How easily do historical Jesus scholars drop in that “interpolation card” when it suits”


Turning the Philippian Hymn into a Precambrian Rabbit

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Precambrian rabbit “© Glendon Mellow” See the Glendon Mellow : Art in Awe of Science for more.

This post attempts to build on my two recent posts about classicist John Moles’ discussion of the meaning and power of the name “Jesus” in the earliest Christian literature through reflections on a Hymn in Paul’s letters that seems impossible for most scholars to accept at face value.

I’ve made positive use of two of Alan F. Segal‘s major publications (Two Powers in Heaven and Paul the Convert) so when I saw his chapter on the resurrection in The Resurrection of Jesus (compiled/edited by Robert B. Stewart) I was not expecting what I in fact found there in his discussion of the Philippian Hymn — Phil. 2:5-11. Segal begins admirably but within a few lines he suddenly does a complete flip flop and it is difficult to understand how certain explications he offers have anything to do with the Hymn at all.

Being able to read the Hymn for what it is takes on a special significance if one goes along with widespread scholarly opinion that it had an independent and liturgical life before Paul added it to his letter, and that Paul’s own writings well preceded the Gospels. In other words, it is possibly one of the earliest clearly Christian writings that we know about.

I suspect that the Hymn (read without Gospel presuppositions) is exactly the sort of fossil that the rest of the evidence tells us to expect at this earliest strata of evidence. But the way it is interpreted by many biblical scholars actually makes it look like a precambrian rabbit.

What one observes across the New Testament epistles, Gospels and Acts is a general trajectory from a very high Christology to an increasingly humanized Jesus. The epistles (written before the Gospels) speak of a divine Christ figure worshipped alongside God. The Gospel of Mark gives us a Jesus who is the Holy One of God with power over all demonic forces and the forces of nature and by the time we read Luke and Acts we are reading about a Jesus who weeps and whose death has no greater significance than that of another human martyr. Given this trajectory from divine to increasingly human, with its implication that Christianity from its earliest days worked to steadily develop a more humanized Jesus, one would expect to find anything preceding the epistles will contain a Jesus with precious little humanity about him.

When Segal begins his discussion of the Philippian Hymn he sounds like he is about to demonstrate just this: Continue reading “Turning the Philippian Hymn into a Precambrian Rabbit”