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Audience • This letter was written to Gentile converts in Galatia, a region in central Asia Minor. • Unlike most of Paul’s other letters, it was not written to a single church in a specific city, but rather to several churches in a larger area. He doesn’t name these churches, so we don’t know exactly to whom he was writing. • According to Acts, Paul visited the region of Galatia twice, during his second (Acts 16:6) and third (Acts 18:23) missionary journeys; however, no specific cities are mentioned in these accounts. Occasion • One of the early Christian controversies was over whether Gentile converts had to become Jews and live the Law of Moses (see Acts 15:1–35). Sometime after his visit to Galatia, the Gentile saints there turned to a Judaized form of Christianity, which Paul calls “another gospel” (1:6–9). In his letter he lays out his argument for why living the Law of Moses is unnecessary and an obstacle to God’s plan of salvation. Date • Paul doesn’t mention any specific events or individuals that would help us identify when and where he wrote this epistle. • The style of writing and the arguments he makes are more like his early letters, so the general consensus puts Galatians between A.D. 52 and 54, possibly written from Ephesus or Corinth. • Some scholars have argued for an earlier date in the late 40s, before even 1 Thessalonians. Themes • Paul’s authority as an apostle. The Galatians have been seduced by false teachers into following another gospel. Paul recounts his calling as an apostle and his withstanding of other JewishChristians (including Peter) to show the Galatians that his teaching is correct. • Justification by faith, not the Law of Moses. Paul’s central message in Galatians is his argument that it is not necessary for Gentile Christians to become Jews and follow the Jewish Law in order to be justified (found innocent) before God. What is needed instead is faith in Christ, baptism, and receiving the Spirit of God. (Paul will later expound on this in greater detail in his letter to the Romans.) Structure Introduction (1:1–9). • Salutation (1:1–5). • His purpose in writing: The Galatians have turned to “another gospel” (1:6–9). The nature of Paul’s apostleship (1:10–2:14). • Paul’s early life as a Jew and his conversion (1:10–24; cf. Acts 8:1–3; 9:1– 30). • Paul’s version of events of the Jerusalem Council (2:1–10; cf. Acts 15:1–35). • Paul’s conflict with Peter and his separation from Barnabas (2:11–14). Paul’s argument against Gentiles living the Law of Moses (2:15–4:31). • Introduction: Jews and Gentiles are both justified through Christ (2:15–21). • Proof #1: The Galatians have received the Spirit through faith, not through living the Law (3:1–5). • Proof #2: Believers are the sons of Abraham and heirs of the promise (3:6– 14). • Proof #3: An example from the secular law of inheritance (3:15–18). • Digression: The reason for the Law (3:19– 25). • Proof #4: Baptism into Christ makes believers children of God instead of slaves to the Law (3:26–4:11). • Proof #5: Paul’s friendship with the Galatians (4:12–20). • Proof #6: Hagar and Sarah as an allegory of the two covenants (4:21–5:1). Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians (5:2–6:10). • A warning against accepting the Jewish Law, including circumcision (5:2–12). • Live by the Spirit, not by the flesh (5:13– 26). • Support one another (6:1–6). • The law of the harvest (6:7–10). Conclusion (6:11–18). • A final call ignore those who are requiring them to live the Law of Moses (6:12–16).
Adapted from Hans Dieter Betz, “Galatians,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), 2:873.
Audience • This epistle was written to the church at Philippi in Macedonia. • Philippi was the first church established in Europe, by Paul during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:12–40). He also passed through there at least once, and maybe twice, during his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1–6). Occasion • While Paul was in prison, the Philippian saints sent Epaphroditus to him, bearing gifts (4:18). While he ministered to Paul, Epaphroditus became been so ill that he nearly died, but after his recovery he returned to Philippi, probably carrying this letter (2:25–30). • Because it contains several abrupt changes of topic (especially between 3:1 and :2, and 4:3 and :4), some scholars have concluded that this epistle is a compilation of as many as three separate letters to the Philippians. Date • This letter was written by Paul from prison (1:7, 12–14), although he doesn’t say where or when. • The traditional date is A.D. 61–63, during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:16– 31; cf. Philippians 1:13; 4:22). • It could also have been written during his time as a prisoner in Caesarea (A.D. 58–60; Acts 23:23–26:32), or perhaps during an earlier, undocumented imprisonment. Themes • Unity and faithfulness. Unlike the recipients of most of Paul’s other letters, the Philippians didn’t have any doctrinal or procedural errors that needed to be corrected. Paul’s letter instead encourages them to continue in faithfulness and to follow his example in imitating Christ (1:27–2:18; 3:2–4:8). • Warning against false teachers. Although the Philippian saints had not yet fallen to false teachers, Paul warns them of “evil workers” who are encouraging them to practice circumcision (3:2–21). • Be content with what you have. Using himself as an example, Paul exhorts them to be content no matter what their condition is (4:10–20). Structure Introduction (1:1–11). • Greeting (1:1–2). • Thanksgiving and prayer for the Philippian saints (1:3–11). Paul’s situation and his reactions to it (1:12– 26) • His imprisonment has helped spread the gospel (1:12–18). • His hope and confidence in Christ (1:19– 26). First exhortation on discipleship (1:27–2:18). • Steadfastness in the face of opposition (1:27–30). • Unity of minds and hearts (2:1–4). • A hymn: Christ, the focus and model for discipleship (2:5–11). • The response Paul desires from the Philippians (2:12–18). Timothy and Epaphroditus, Paul’s messengers (2:19–30). Second exhortation on discipleship (3:1–4:1) • [Transition: separate letters?] (3:1). • Paul’s has lost everything so that he may gain Christ (3:2–11). • Following the upward call with Paul (3:12– 16). • Citizens of earth vs. citizens of heaven (3:17–4:1). Final exhortation, thanks, and conclusion (4:2–23). • An appeal for harmony between two church leaders in Philippi (4:2–3). • Last call to joy, peace, and pure living in Christ (4:4–9). • Be content in all circumstances (4:10–20). • Final greetings (4:21–23).
Adapted from Robert Murray, “Philippians,” The Oxford Bible Commentary (2001), 1181–90.
Audience • This brief letter is written to three individuals—Philemon, Apphia, Archipus —who were the leaders of a house-church. (It’s likely that Apphia was Philemon’s wife, and Archipus, their son.) • The city in which they lived isn’t named in this letter, but it could be Colossae (see Colossians 4:9). Occasion • While Paul was in prison, a slave named Onesimus came and served him. While Onesimus was there, Paul converted him to the Christian faith (1:10). • Onesimus had formerly been Philemon’s slave. He had run away from Philemon (perhaps after causing his master loss— 1:18), which was a capital offense under Roman law. • Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter, containing Paul’s request that Philemon receive him not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ (1:16). Date • This letter written by Paul from prison (1:1, 9–10), although he doesn’t say where or when. • The traditional date is A.D. 61–63, during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:16– 31). Themes • Unlike Paul’s other letters, in this epistle he does not make any theological arguments. It is a personal letter, asking Philemon to do a good deed willingly, based on his love for Paul. • The major theme of the letter is forgiveness, asked of Philemon by Paul. • It’s possible to see the characters in the letter as representations: Philemon as God the Father, Paul as Christ, and Onesimus as all of us. Paul asks Philemon to forgive Onesimus, not because Onesimus deserves to be forgiven, but simply because Philemon loves Paul. Likewise, each of us is forgiven, not on our own merits, but because of the grace of Jesus Christ. Structure Salutation/opening greetings (1:1–3). Thanksgiving and praise for Philemon (1:4–7). Paul’s appeal on behalf of Onesimus (1:8–22). Conclusion/final greetings (1:23–25).
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