UNDERPINNING THE ARGUMENTS FOR THE
COMPOSITE NATURE OF PHILIPPIANS
Duane F. Watson
It is well-known that the structure and coherence of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians is continually debated. Contributing to this debate are the epistolary conventions and formulae that are found earlier or later than expected in a single letter. In other words, epistolary conventions indicative of the letter body-opening, middle, or closing are found scattered throughout the letter. These conventions are observed in concert with i) the abrupt shift at 3:2 from a friendly to an agitated tone, from concern about the Philippians to invective against opponents, 2) the interruption of the flow of the letter by 3:2–4:3, with 4:4 seeming to be the natural conclusion of 3:1 and its reference to joy, and 3) the unusual placement of thanks to the Philippians for their gift at the end of the letter in 4:10—20, and seemingly after a delay from the reception of the gift, for Epaphroditus who brought the gift has had time to recover from a subsequent illness (2:25–30). These and other features have led many scholars to affirm that Philippians is a composite of three letters. With subtle variations, these three letters are labeled Letter A, a letter of thanks (4:10–20); Letter B, the letter sent to the Philippians with Epaphroditus (1:1–3:1; 4:4–9, 21–23) and Letter C, a polemical letter (3:2–4:3).
It is not my purpose to rehearse all the arguments for the unity and disunity of Philippians, for there are many recent reviews of this issue.1
1 For recent discussion of the composition of Philippians, see Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 21–23; John T. Fitzgerald, “Philippians, Epistle to the,” ABD 5.320–22; David E. Garland, “The Composition and Unity of Philippians: Some Neglected Literary Factors,” Nov T 27 (1985) 141–73; Timothy C. Geoffrion, The Rhetorical Purpose and the Political and Military Character of Philippians: A Call to Stand Firm (Lewiston, NY: Mellen Biblical Press, 1993) 1–22; Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians (WBC 43; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983) xxix-xxxii; Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) 10– 18; Berthold Mengel, Studien zum Philipperhrief (WUNT 2/8; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1982) 286–316; Jeffrey T Reed, A Discourse Analysis of Philippians: Method and Rlieloric