We’re continuing to dig into the book of Philippians through our “Shout Joy!” series. Over the past two weeks, we’ve taken a look at a few sections from the Philippians Intro Booklet. Remember, you can find all of the resources for this series, including the sermon video and audio, sermon notes, community group discussion guides, and an introduction to the book of Philippians here. Last week we discussed the author and genre of Philippians and can find that post here. This week we continue our discussion on the book of Philippians by unpacking some of the background information on the city of Philippi.
Getting to Know Philippi
Like many of the cities Paul visited, Philippi had its own unique history that played into how Paul ministered in the city. Situated in northeast Greece, Philippi was inhabited by the fourth century BCE. Originally populated because of its gold and silver mines, it would later be taken over by Philip of Macedonia, Alexander the Great’s father, turning it into a significant military garrison post. By the second century, Rome conquered Philippi, making it a Roman outpost. Philippi became famous in 42 BCE when Marc Antony and Octavian defeated the assassins of Julius Caesar, Brutus and Cassius. After this, “the victors settle[d] a number of their veteran soldiers there and established Philippi as a Roman colony.”1
The settlement of Roman soldiers in Philippi was a significant element to the city’s history and importance. Because of the high population of Roman soldiers, Philippi
was given the highest privilege possible for a Roman provincial municipality—the ius Italicum—which meant that it was governed by Roman law. The rights of the purchase, ownership, and transference of property, together with the right to civil lawsuits, were privileges included in the ius Italicum. The citizens of this colony were Roman citizens, while the constitution was modeled on that of Rome itself, with two collegiate magistrates at the head. Philippi itself was modeled on the mother city, Rome: it was laid out in similar patterns, the style and architecture were copied extensively, and the coins produced in the city bore Roman inscriptions. The Latin language was used, and its citizens wore Roman dress.2
The Via Egnatia, a major thoroughfare cut through the middle of Philippi. The Via Egnatia was a “great Roman military and commercial artery that transversed the whole province of Macedonia,” making it a road Paul would certainly have traveled on during his missionary journeys.3 From the evidence in Acts we can conclude two things regarding the religion of Philippi. First, few Jews lived in the city. Jewish law required at least ten men living in a city for a synagogue to be formed. In order to find anyone following Judaism, Paul had to go to the river outside the city, rather than a synagogue, where he found a group of women praying (Acts 16:13). Also, we see a high consecration population of paganism in Philippi. After healing a demon-possessed girl in Philippi, Paul and Silas incite a riot and are later imprisoned because they disrupted the economic realities connected to pagan worship (Acts 16:16-40).
1Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 4.
3Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within its Cultural Contexts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 353.