Philippians is one of my favorite Pauline epistles. I invite you to come along as I study the history, background and teachings of Paul over the coming weeks.
We begin our story in Macedonia (eastern Greece) in the fourth century before Christ.
Eight miles from the azure waters of the Aegean Sea at the foot of a mountain sits the town of Crenides (lit. springs). King Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) gained control of the city after the residents appealed to him for help against the neighboring Thracians. He renamed the city Philippi. “There was no more strategic site in all Europe. There is a range of hills which divides Europe from Asia, the east from the west. Just at Philippi that chain of hills dips into a pass; and, therefore, Philippi commanded the road from Europe to Asia, for through the pass the road must go.” The main highway, Via Egnatia, brought much commerce and many travelers to Philippi. The neighboring gold and silver mines made Philippi a great commercial centre of the ancient world.
“In 42 B.C., Brutus and Cassius assassinate Julius Caesar. Caesar’s heirs, Octavian and Mark Antony, triumph over the two betrayers on the plain of the city at the Battle of Philippi. The victors then release some of their soldiers and colonize them at Philippi. After Octavian becomes ‘Caesar Agustus’ he establishes more settlers there.”
“It was the custom of Rome to send out parties of veteran soldiers, who had served their time, and who had been granted citizenship, and to settle them in strategic road centres. Usually these parties consisted of three hundred veterans with their wives and children. These colonies were the focal points of the great Roman road systems. The roads were so engineered that reinforcements could speedily be sent from one colony to another. They were founded to keep the peace, and to command the strategic centres in Rome’s far-flung Empire. These colonies had one great characteristic. Wherever they were they were little fragments of Rome, and their pride in their Roman citizenship was their dominating characteristic. The Roman language was spoken; Roman dress was worn; Roman customs were observed; their magistrates had Roman titles, and carried out the same ceremonies as were carried out in Rome itself. Wherever they were these colonies were stubbornly and unalterably Roman. They would never have dreamt of becoming assimilated to the people amidst whom they were set.”
So, in the midst of Greek Macedonia sits this little Roman colony that enjoys higher status in the empire than its neighboring cities. Only about one in three of Philippi’s citizens is Roman, but the city’s Latin-speaking minority Romans rule the Greek underclass and give Philippi it’s distinct Roman flavor.
In A.D. 52, on his second missionary journey, Paul first came to Philippi. As told in Acts 16, Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, head for Troas near the coast. (It is believed Dr. Luke joins Paul at this point as the “they” sections in Acts 16 now is in the first person of “I” and “we”). Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man who pleads for his help. The band of brothers set sail for Neapolis and from there walk to Philippi to spread the gospel in what will later become Europe.
For some extra fun, take a little sight seeing tour with Google Earth. Click on the “Google Earth” icon at the top of the page to take a birds eye look at the Ruins of Philippi.
By Shirley Pittenger, FBC Bixby Staff
Frappe with Philippians by Sandra Glahn
Notes on Philippians by Dr. Thomas Constable
The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians by William Barclay