Salutation (Philippians 1:1-2)

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Paul opens his letter to the Philippians as personal letters in the Greco-Roman world typically began, by identifying the senders and recipients and greeting his readers. However, as he usually did, he modifies both the senders and the recipients and says more than just “Greetings.” Thus, as Marcus Bockmuehl observes, “Instead of being a mere formality, the letter opening became charged with theological force, being enrolled to communicate from the start something of the essence of the gospel” (The Epistle to the Philippians in Black’s New Testament Commentaries, Hendrikson Publishers, 1998, page 48). I’ll comment briefly on the senders, the recipients, and the greeting.

Paul identifies the senders as “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.” His including Timothy’s name with his suggests that Timothy served as his secretary for the letter. However it’s unlikely that Timothy was involved in composing the letter as in the rest of the letter the writer is referred to as “I” (Paul) and Timothy is referred to as “Timothy.” Paul’s referring to himself as a servant (literally, a slave) rather than as an apostle, as he did in most of his other letters, suggests the friendly relationship between himself and the Christians at Philippi. As Gordon D. Fee observes, “A letter primarily of friendship and exhortation, not of persuasion, does not need a reminder of Paul’s apostleship; indeed, the summons to obedience in this letter is predicated altogether on the secure nature of their mutual friendship” (Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995, page 62).

Paul identifies the recipients as “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” He describes the believers in Philippi as “saints” or holy ones because of their being “in Christ Jesus” rather than because of their personal holiness. He may have had the disagreement between two of the church’s leaders (see Philippians 4:2-3) in mind when he included “all” and referred specifically to the leaders of the church in his address. The overseers (or bishops) were responsible for spiritual oversight of the church (see Acts 20:28 in Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders), and the deacons were responsible for matters of practical service (see Acts 6:1-6).

After identifying the senders and recipients, the salutation of letters in the Greco-Roman world generally concluded with charein (“greetings”). In his letters Paul substituted charis (”grace”), reminding his readers of God’s unmerited favour to them. He also added kai eirene (”and peace”), “peace” (shalom in Hebrew) being the standard Jewish form of greeting and referring not just to being free from war or disorder but also to being whole or complete. Even the order of “grace” and “peace” is significant, God’s grace being what brings His peace. Paul identifies the source of these blessings as both “God our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Fee comments, ”Both [grace and peace] together flow from ‘God our Father’ and were made effective in our human history through our ‘Lord Jesus Christ’” (Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, page 71). Paul’s joining “God our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” with “and” suggests the close relationship he saw between the Father and Jesus.

Bockmuehl concludes: “In his customary Christian greeting,then,Paul tersely encapsulates all that he is about. For those who have ears that can set aside the familiar drone of its liturgical declamation, Paul’s letter ends with a bang, an unassuming device that detonates with the full force of the gospel: the grace and peace of God in Christ, for Philippi and its inhabitants” (The Epistle to the Philippians, page 57).

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