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The Apostle Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) is arguably the most influential member of the early Christian church outside of Jesus himself, because Paul's teaching and missionary work laid the social and theological foundations for the worldwide religion known as Christianity. Not only did Paul expand and refine Jesus' message, he carried this message to a much wider audience than ever before, preaching to Jews and Gentiles alike while traveling throughout the Roman empire. One of the most well-recorded of these travels is Paul's second missionary journey, which began in Jerusalem but then moved throughout the empire. By examining Paul's second missionary journey, and particularly his visit to Philippi, it will be possible to not only trace Paul's travels on one of his most important missionary trips, but also understand how these travels influenced the theological content of his later epistles.
Paul set out to begin his second missionary journey around 48-49 CE, traveling from Jerusalem to Antioch (Pollock 101). Paul had begun his journey with Barnabas, a fellow Christian, but something occurred at Antioch which created a dramatic rift between the two men. There are two accounts of incident, and they give slightly different reasons for the split between Barnabas and Paul. In Acts it appears that the two men disagreed about bringing someone named John Mark with them, with Barnabas saying that he should join them while Paul disagreed, due to the fact that John Mark had abandoned them on a previous journey (Acts 15:37-38). However, the true reason for their split is somewhat more complicated, because in Galatians, Paul reveals how he and Peter had a bitter disagreement regarding the status and behavior of Gentiles, a disagreement in which Barnabas sided with Peter ( Gal. 2:11-13, Pollock 103-104). Thus, it seems that the split between Paul and Barnabas must be considered both personal and public; not only did they personally disagree about a potential traveling companion, but they also had a fairly public falling out over matters of theology. Thus, Paul and Barnabas separated, and Barnabas went with John Mark while Paul was accompanied by Silas (Acts 15: 39-41).
From Antioch, Paul and Silas traveled to Derbe and Lystra by way of Tarsus (Paul's hometown), and in Lystra they met Timothy, who would eventually become one of Paul's greatest companions and proteges. Timothy is included as an author in many of Paul's epistles, and Paul frequently dispatched Timothy as an independent missionary, "sent at Paul's behest to resolve problems in the mission churches" (Schnelle 149). At this point it is worth noting the particular method of missions work Paul engaged in, because it differed somewhat from earlier missionaries. While missionary journeys were something of a tradition, Paul expanded on this idea by attempting to establish "a church, that is, one or more house churches, in each provincial capital," so that any converts might still have a community even after the missionaries leave (Schnelle 149). Thus, Paul and his companions would travel somewhere, establish a church, and then remain "in each location long enough for the church to develop its own leadership structure, and [their] own presence was no longer necessary" (Schnelle 149). Of course, at various times certain circumstances conspired to confound this plan, for instance whenever Paul was thrown in prison, but all in all Paul's particular missionary "style" proved highly effective, because it ensured that the Christian community would remain robust even when the missionaries were no longer present.
When Paul and Silas left Lystra, Timothy accompanied them, and the three traveled throughout Asia on the way to Greece, although they were "forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia" (Acts 16:6). They traveled all the way to Philippi, and it was there that a number of things occurred which would be important for Paul's later ministry, including the conversion of the first Christians in Europe. However, before discussing Paul's time in Philippi, it will be instructive to consider the social, cultural, and historical background of the city itself, in order to better appreciate both Paul's time there and his later epistle to the Philippians.
Philippi was a city in Greece relatively close to the Aegean Sea, although at the time of Paul's visit it was a Roman colony, and had been for some time. Located on the Roman highway the Via Egnatia, the city of Philippi had originated as a Greek colony named Krenides, but just six years after its founding 560 BCE, the city was conquered by Philip II of Macedonia and renamed (Fant & Reddish 100-101). Philip reinforced the city both economically and militarily, so that it became a major economic and political hub due to its proximity to the sea and its ample natural resources in the form of freshwater springs, gold, and silver (Fant & Reddish 101).
Of the various places Paul visited, Philippi was one of the most "Roman," because it had been "refounded as a colony by Augustus in 30 BCE, shortly after the military victory that solidified his status as emperor" (Finlan 139). Augustus (previously Octavian), with the help of Mark Antony, defeated Brutus and Cassius "on the plains just outside the west wall of Philippi," avenging Julius Caesar's murder and bringing an end to the Roman Republic "Fant & Reddish 101). Because of this, the city was heavily populated by Roman veterans and their families, such that the social, cultural, and historical makeup of the city after its Romanization is inextricable (Finlan 139). Augustus, like Philip II before him, reinforced the city and settled it with veterans, so that by the time Paul, Silas, and Timothy arrived around 49-50 CE, the city of Philippi had become "the political center of a large Roman colony, eventually covering more than 700 square miles, including the seaport of Neapolis (modern Kavala) to the south" (Fant & Reddish 101). Thus, it makes sense that Paul would be certain to visit Philippi, not only because the city itself was heavily populated, but also because it was a crucial hub where ideas could quite easily spread throughout the empire.
That Philippi was distinctly Roman by the time of Paul's arrival is evident in Paul's later epistle to the Philippians, because he seems to be directly and deliberately challenging "the Roman hierarchical value system" in his description of Christ's simultaneous humility and divinity (Finlan 139). Paul notes that Christ "has power equal to God," yet "not only endures submission to human status, he allows himself to suffer a slave's death," and this characterization stands in stark contrast to the Roman system of honors and titles, which places undue value on symbolic demonstrations of political and economic power (Finlan 139). In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul is essentially arguing "that honors are rubbish, and challenges the elites to use their power differently than the Roman value system has taught them" (Finlan 139-140). This is notable because the residents of Philippi, more so than residents of other cities Paul visited, would have been raised in a culture of strict adherence to Roman values of honor as a result of the cities status as a predominately military colony, populated by Roman veterans whose entire existence was dependent on a set of honors and titles.
Most likely Paul wrote his epistle to the Philippians while he was imprisoned in Rome, which is somewhat serendipitous considering the fact that Paul's first major visit to Philippi during his second missionary journey ended with his imprisonment. However, before discussing the circumstances of Paul's imprisonment in Philippi, it will be useful to first note the founding of the Philippian church during Paul's second missionary journey. When Paul, Silas, and Timothy arrived in Philippi, they met a woman named Lydia, and after converting her and her household, they were allowed to stay with her, marking the beginning of the church in Philippi (Acts 16:13-15). Although it is not entirely clear if Lydia's house actually served as the first house church in Philippi, it is central in the narrative of Paul's time in Philippi, so it is reasonable to view Paul's meeting with Lydia as the beginning of the Philippian church (although as will be seen, the conversion of the Philippian jailer also contributed to the establishment of the church in Philippi).
While Paul was in Philippi, he cast a "spirit of divination" out of a young slave girl who had been following him around the city (Acts 16:16-18). Her owners were furious, because they used her ability to charge people for their fortunes, and so they had Paul and Silas brought before the city's magistrates (Acts 16:19). Tellingly, the girl's owners do not condemn them for casting out the spirit, but rather for advocating "customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice," revealing just how central Roman tradition and customs were to the society and culture of Philippi (Acts 16:21). After being stripped and beaten, Paul and Silas were imprisoned, but soon after an earthquake hit the region, freeing them from their…[continue]
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