The Bad: V 6 Paul wants his followers to continue his work “until the day of Jesus Christ” (KJV). Ditto v 10. This is interpreted by most Christians as “until Christ returns” (the NLT actually says that), but as someone who read this post pointed out, it doesn’t actually say that. Think about it – Paul could have been waiting for Jesus to arrive the first time. Either way, I’d guess he died still waiting.
V 12-19 make it clear that Paul is now in prison, but don’t weep for him; he revels in the suffering and uses it as an opportunity to boast about what a good martyr he is and how many more people he can evangelize. Also note that he is still battling all those other competing preachers – they are false of course, and only Paul’s religion is the right one.
The Ugly: V 10-14 Is Paul any different from any other religious fanatic willing to die for his faith? Nope…
The rest of the chapter – boring Christianese sermon material. zzzz
The Good: V 2-4 Just remove the unnecessary religious references.
The Bad: V 6-11 are the pre-Pauline Kenosis Hymn. In a discussion of this hymn in his book Nailed!, David Fitzgerald explains that it is based on Isaiah 45:22-23, and the line about dying on the cross was not part of the original hymn, but was added later, to make it fit the scenario. But he makes another point that is even more significant in relation to the historicity of Jesus – Christ was given the name Jesus after his death on the cross. This would imply there was no ‘baby Jesus’ in a manger. Hmmm. My church used to sing a hymn at church based on these lines.
Funny, the YouTube video refers to it as Catholic, although I was Anglican – but then the Anglican church is just Henry VIII’s splinter group from Catholicism, so they share many of the same traditions.
The Ugly: V 12-18 They’re not all bad, but they contain some of the elements that I find most disturbing –
1. obey and fear god (v 12)
2. do everything without complaining or arguing (v 14)
3. willingness to die for the faith (v 17).
Basically – STFU and do whatever the boss thinks god says, and if you die as a result, no big deal!
Quotes: V 10
The Bad: V 17 – what an ego! And besides, I thought we were supposed to be following Jesus! And v 18-19 – Paul thinks that people who worship in other ways, or who focus on their life here on earth, are the enemy, and headed for destruction (that would be hell, I assume).
Look at v 20-21 – it’s more evidence that the Jesus of Paul’s letters is not the earthly Jesus of the gospels, but a heavenly (mythical? imaginary?) figure.
The Ugly: V 2 If you can’t figure out what this verse means in the KJV, try the NLT – “Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved” – uh, that would be the Jews. There’s no doubt about Paul’s anti-Semitism.
Or how about the last part of v 3 “we put no faith in human effort”. Yup, just trust in god… no thanks. I remember once actually reading somewhere that tornado-related deaths in the US are correlated to degree of religiosity (higher death rate in more religious area), and that psychologists believe it is because devout Christians take fewer precautions, thinking that whatever happens is god’s will.
V 7-9 declare that everything is worthless except Christ, and that righteousness is not achieved by obeying the law, but by obeying the scriptures. These verses allow fundamentalist Christians to be proud of rejecting science, education, and government, and anything else that doesn’t support their worldview.
Quotes: V 14 (like it’s a competition?)
The Bad: A lot of this chapter is idle chit-chat and blah blah blah Christianese.
V 6 Here we go again – don’t worry about anything, just ask god to take care of you. Be the grasshopper! Why work and worry like that poor old ant? V 18 – we’re back to that sweet savor. Yuck, so sick of it!
Quotes: V 4-6 are the basis of the lyrics for a well-known traditional anthem by baroque composer Henry Purcell (a staple of choir repertoire back in the day, but now mostly of interest to classical musicians).
V 7, known in my church as ‘The Peace’, was often recited at the close of services or meetings. And v 13 – sports teams like to use it as their motto, and its use has gotten more than one school in trouble.
In v 22, there’s a reference to the Caesar’s household. I looked up at least half a dozen apologist bible commentaries to try to understand it. The most helpful explanation I found was this bible commentary. The gist that I got from it is that while Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he may have come into contact with some of Caesar’s staff and converted them, resulting in Christians living in the household of their main oppressor, the Roman emperor. So because of that circumstance, they merited special recognition from Paul. Why in this letter, though? Surely members of Caesar’s household did not reside in Philippi. That’s the problem with trying to understand the bible, every question answered leads to another one…
Interestingly, just recently I was reading Hector Avalos’ new book, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics, and I came across this passage on p 165: “The familia caesaris, the family or household of Caesar, was a very well-developed concept in the Roman empire. The household of Caesar, regarded as the pater familias, consisted of slaves, freedmen, as well as official. Those who had the closest or equal relationships to kings were called ‘friends’ or ‘brothers’.”