This past Sunday marked our second week walking through the book of Philippians in our “Shout Joy!” series. 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. We continue our introduction to the book of Philippians this week by looking at when and where Paul wrote this letter.
When & Where Did Paul Write Philippians?
Of all the issues related to the book of Philippians, the most confusing seem to be when and where Paul wrote the letter. Throughout the book, Paul does provide his readers with some evidence as to the answers to these questions. In the first chapter, Paul mentions two things that provide some evidence as to when and where he wrote this letter. In Philippians 1:12-13, he writes, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all therest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”At the conclusion of his letter, Paul provides another clue. He writes, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22). From these verses, we can at least assume Paul is imprisoned. It also seems that he is imprisoned near Roman authorities. The “whole imperial guard” refers to the Roman Praetorium. While some debate exists as to what praetorium means, we can at least say it refers to a large encampment of soldiers, and could actually refer to the Roman emperor’s bodyguard. Paul’s mention of Caesar’s household “refers not to the members of the Emperor’s family or relations but to the great number of slaves and freedmen from who ranks the imperial civil service was staffed.”
The issue with this information is that we know Paul was imprisoned more than once. So, the location of Paul’s imprisonment would determine the date when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. Here are the three possibilities for when and where Paul wrote this letter:
- Rome, 60-62 CE
Rome has traditionally been the accepted location where Paul authored his letter to the Philippians. "Reference to Caesar’s household (Phil. 4:22), the praetorium or palace guard (1:13), as well as the ability to receive visitors (Acts 28:16, 30-31) like Epaphroditus and the possibility of execution (Philippians 1:20-26) seem to mesh well with the imprisonment described in the closing verses of Acts.” However, some debate of this theory has arisen due to the massive distance between Philippi and Rome. The significant distance between the two locations seems to diminish the possibility of Paul completing all of his journeys between Philippi and the place of his imprisonment. Nonetheless, much of the evidence still seems to point to Paul writing his letter in Rome between 60 and 62 CE.
- Caesarea Maritima, 57-59 CE
Caesarea Martima has garnered some support as a possible location over the years for a few reasons. First, Paul was imprisoned in this city. In Acts 23, Paul is transferred from Jerusalem to Caesarea to keep him safe from attacks. In Acts 23:35, we are told that Paul was to be “guarded in Herod’s praetorium,” potentially the same praetorium guard Paul references in Philippians. This could have been an official praetorium guard considering “here the Roman procurator of Judea had his headquarters, and since he had auxiliary troops under his command it could properly be called the praetorium.”Also, from Acts 24:23, it seems as though Paul had significant freedom in Caesarea. The text says that Paul “should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.” This statement seems to corroborate with the situation Paul paints regarding himself. Still, Caesarea is as far from Philippi as Rome, and so the distance between the two locations is still problematic. Also, Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea does not seem to include the same possibility of execution as does his stay in Rome. Thus, while Caesarea is a possibility, it seems as though this was not where and when Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians.
- Ephesus, 54-55 CE
Finally, some have argued that Paul wrote his letter while imprisoned in Ephesus between 54 and 55 CE. Paul certainly had conflicts in Ephesus (see Acts 20:18-19) and of all the places he visited, Paul stayed in Ephesus the longest. However, the greatest weakness of this argument lies in the fact that we have no idea whether or not Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus. At best, this theory is a guess. From that weakness alone, we can assume Ephesus was not where Paul wrote Philippians.
From the evidence, Rome seems to be the most probable location from which Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians. He was imprisoned in Rome between 60 and 62 CE and therefore would have written this letter then.
1. Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 93.
2. Ibid., 554.
3. Michael Martin, “Philippians, Letter to the,” in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2003), 1290.
4. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 21.
5. Ibid., 23.