Before We Begin: A Study of Philippians

Back in grade school I was taught to write stories using the five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why.  It was a great way to remember all of the important bits to writing a story that would impress my teacher. 

It’s rather funny, but studying a book of scripture requires a remarkably similar approach if we want to get the most out of our reading.  We need to know who wrote it, what sort of writing it is, when it was written, where it was written from and for whom (if applicable), and why it was written in the first place.  

Without some context, we will be prone to miss a lot of the best nuggets (at best), and mishandle scripture (at worst).  So let’s just jump right in and cover the W’s of the book of Philippians.

Who: The writer of Philippians is universally recognized as Paul.  He identifies himself, along with Timothy, as the author of the letter in the first verse and tells us the letter is to the whole church in Philippi.  

Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, was a persecutor of the early church who underwent a dramatic conversion, which is recorded in Acts 9:1-31.  He calls himself the apostle to the gentiles.  (Galatians 2:8). 

He wrote 13 or 14 of the 27 New Testament books.  (Hebrews is traditionally ascribed to Paul, but there is some debate.  However, that’s a whole other kettle of fish that we won’t get into!)

What:  Philippians is an epistle, which is a fancy word for letter.  Since the Bible is composed of many types of writing, it’s good to know this so that we read it in the correct way.  For instance, you wouldn’t a piece of poetry with the same mindset as a legal document or a movie script, right?  So it is with scripture.  Know what you’re reading!

Since this is an actual letter written to actual people, I highly recommend you sit down and read it all in one sitting.  I don’t think the Philippians read a chapter a day, do you?  Who reads a letter a tiny bit at a time?  To get the full impact of Paul’s letter to his friends in Philippi, read it like you’re a Philippian.  (You’re welcome to put on a robe or a toga if that gets you in the groove; I won’t judge.)

When/Where:  This letter was written from prison.  The general consensus is that it was written while he was on house arrest in Rome, which would place it around 62 A.D.  The letter itself mentions ‘the whole imperial guard’ (1:13) and ‘Caesars’ household’ (4:22), which seems to give credence to this theory.

However, there is some debate. (Surprise, surprise!  I’m beginning to wonder about scholars…they don’t always play well together in the academic sandbox!). Some scholars believe it’s written from Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, but there’s not a lot of evidence for that theory.  

The more credible debate, in my unlearned opinion, seems to be that it could have been written from Ephesus, which would place the time in the mid 50’s.  We don’t have a biblical record of an imprisonment there, but it’s certainly possible and there are some decent arguments to support this.  

Neither are strong enough to usurp the Roman theory, however, so we’re going with the majority on this.  I find it helpful to know where there is credible debate amongst the smart folks though.  It helps me to be teachable, to not hold too tightly to the non-essentials of Christian doctrine.

Why: Paul wrote this letter for several reasons, which we will explore in detail throughout the study.  For today’s purposes, I’ll just say he wrote this letter to thank them for their support of him and to reassure them that he was alright.  He wanted to encourage them to walk out their faith in strength and in unity.

Philippians is one of my favorite books in the Bible and I hope you’ll love it as much as I do by the time we’re finished.  Next week we’ll discuss Chapter 1, verses 1-11.  If you’d like to study along with me, here’s a few things you can do.

•Pray.  Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you.

•Read the section (Philippians 1:1-11) several times.  Try reading a few different translations.

•Ask yourself:

·What is this saying? Try to put it into your own words.

·What does this say about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?

·Is there something I need to respond to? (Is there anything I need to change, or a command to obey?)

Easy peasy, yes?  Or, if you want the more in-depth questions that I use in my own study time, feel free to message me over on my Facebook page or comment here and we’ll figure out how to get that to you.  

Grace and peace,


For an excellent overview of the book, check out this short video from The Bible Project.  This website is amazing, but be warned.  You’re likely to get hooked on their videos!


Photo by Rustu Bozkus, courtesy of Pixabay.

11 thoughts on “Before We Begin: A Study of Philippians

  1. Very neat intro. We ask what we call ‘reporter questions’ in my manuscript Bible study. Pretty much the 5 W’s! I love Philippians too, and so did my dad. Verses 4-8 in chapter 4 were sort of his life verses.

    And the mental image of the academic sandbox made me laugh!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Oh boy. Let me try to remember and be pithy.
        It’s a manuscript study—read a portion of a Biblical book with no chapter headings or verse delineations. Try to look at it as though reading for the first time, and as much as possible as if you were hearing/reading in the first century (or B.C. if studying an O.T. book)
        Look for repeated words/phrases, general to particular statements, contrasts, causes and effects,
        and keep an eye out for “but,” “so,” “therefore.” They are usually there for a reason 🙂
        Watch for literary devices, like rhetorical questions, poetic imagery and others that escape me right now.
        The method works well in a group because different people see different things. We discuss, figure out a main point and summary, and talk about the “SO WHAT?” What implications does this have for my thinking, my behavior, my faith, my relationships?
        In other words, a lot of what you are already doing!
        There is more but since I’ve only been doing this for about 15 years I can’t call everything to mind :).
        It is, as I said, best suited to group discussion but I think in private Bible Study it can help you slow down and notice things you haven’t before.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much, Anita, for taking the time to share with me. Much of this sounds similar to what I do with the COMA questions (Our COMA questions that have been modified greatly over the years…)but there’s some great nuggets here I hadn’t thought of! I appreciate your insights! ❤


  2. Very interested to see what comes out of your study of this book, as it also in one of my favorite books of the bible! Actually, my very first post when I created my poetry and writing blog was on Philippians –

    To the point related to Paul’s authorship of Hebrews; while not ultimately relevant to the discussion for this book, I would “cast my lot” into the Paul camp. Who else would have been able to write some of the mysteriously deep elements of this book connecting the Old and New Testaments together? This coupled with the warm speaking and reference to Timothy (Heb. 13:23) are some of the best indicators. However, it probably is one of the many questions we will simply get to hold onto until we meet our Lord face to face.

    The only other point I’d add onto is related to your “Why”. This is in no way to contradict your rationale given, especially since this is simply an overview “Before We Begin”, but I felt it important to share at the open. While certainly Paul wrote this letter to a specific group of people, the first church in Europe, contextually we would miss a lot if we seek only to apply it to them from a historical perspective or in a narrow way (again, not saying you are or are going to do that). Divinely inspired (2 Pet. 1:21, 2 Tim. 3:16-17) and written for all believers the reason why I believe this book was written was to show the true capability for a believer like you, and like me, and like Paul certainly did, to experience our Lord Jesus Christ. Even more specifically – as our life (Phil. 1:21), our pattern (Phil. 2:5), our goal (Phil. 3:14) our secret (Phil. 4:12) and our power (Phil. 4:13). May the God who not only desires all men to be saved, but to come to the full knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4) bless your blog and study of this marvelous book in His divine revelation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for stopping in and for your thoughtful comments. I too tend to fall into the Paul camp as the author of Hebrews, but I’m not a scholar, nor will I pretend to be, so I take Hebrews for the beautiful letter to the church (of all ages) regardless of who the author may be. The debate is a point of interest, but I’m content to wait until the hereafter to find out for sure. 🙂

      I appreciate your comments on the ‘why’. I do have a tendency sometimes to omit the most general and obvious things, not realizing it’s not always a given fact. I intend to share, from week to week, what I and my study mates are learning and applying, as I know that all of scripture is living, active, and relevant for all ages.

      Having said that, I’ve never done this before. I’m more of a teller of tales, so this format is new and frankly, I’m not quite sure how to format the weekly study yet. I figure it will form itself somewhat as I get down to the keyboard and I trust our Father will guide my steps. If there is any glaring omissions, I trust my ‘tribe’ to point them out.

      Thank you again. I appreciate the input and the follow! Grace and peace be upon you, friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amen. I trust He will lead you as well. I certainly am not a bible scholar either so my comment above or any others I might post are certainly not intended to point out omissions but rather to be knit together through yours and others contributions which can cause the growth of the Body, unto the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:16). Peace like a river to you!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your sense of humor, Rebeca. I’m just starting out and wondered if I should just write the way I talk (which tends to be silly sometimes) or should I TRY to be more straight forward. In reading this post, I think you answered my question. So, thank you, rebeca, I’ve become a follower. By the way, Philippians 4:13 is the catalyst for getting me started as you will see if my upcoming posts. God bless you; keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment! I think, when it comes to writing, being your own best self is the way to go…the good, the bad, and even on occasion, the ugly. As long as our focus is to glorify our Father, we won’t go too wrong, eh? Welcome to the blogosphere; I look forward to checking out your site! 🙂


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