New Testament Studies

3 John 9-10 Exegetical Commentary

The aptly named Third Epistle of John was written by the Apostle John, son of Zebedee. This letter, along with the other Johannine Epistles, was penned after John’s Gospel, somewhere between A.D. 90– 95.[1] In the first two epistles, one finds John’s treatment of heresies arising from those mishandling his Gospel.[2] Third John will function similarly, albeit with the distinction of addressing one straying from proper Christian and early-church praxis, rather than entertaining heresy. Third John was likely written from Ephesus, during the final years of the Apostle’s life.[3] This letter’s recipient, Gaius, is unknown – although he was ministering in a churched area, familiar to the Apostle. Diotrephes is similarly unfamiliar to Scripture. Of importance to this epistle is the prevalence of missionaries commissioned in the early church to teach and establish doctrine. Hospitality was expected in a Roman world where local inns were dirty, dangerous, and depraved.[4] It would have been expected for friendly locals to offer up lodging to any sojourner, especially those sharing the bond of common faith.[5] Not to do so was a fragrant display of prideful selfishness, not merely an act of preference or comfortability.  

Opting for the positional title of “the Elder,” John opens this letter with a direct address and commendation of Gaius. Gaius is clearly a beloved fellow believer of John, though his location and background is unknown. Indeed, one should extrapolate from textual evidence that John has never met Gaius personally, though the Apostle rightly assumes a position of authority. And John’s avuncular praise for Gaius is unequivocal. John writes of the positive testimony he had received regarding Gaius from various Christian brothers (cf. v. 3). The Apostle further commends Gaius for both his faithfulness to the Truth and hospitality (vv. 4; 5). Notably, these two aspects of Gaius’ faithfulness both describe his worthy walk (vv. 4b; 6b).

Recognizing Gaius’ integrity, John now requests his humble brother extend this hospitality by continuing to support those missionaries receiving Apostolic approval (v. 6b; 8). John expects humble submission from Gaius. He rightfully assumes Gaius will joyfully maintain Gospel unity by selflessly supporting strangers and accommodating fellow workers (vv. 6–8). Another church leader, from the same area as Gaius, will now be introduced in contrast to this image of Christian hospitality. This negative example will serve as a warning against not merely inhospitality, but the prideful selfishness which fuels such evil.

Commentary: 3 John 9–10

Verse 9

I wrote something to the church. Here John introduces a key fact unknown to Gaius. He had written something (implied to be a letter), in the past, as indicated by the aorist tense of Ἔγραψά. Some scholars argue this Gaius was centered in the same church as Diotrephes, whom John will condemn in short order. This cannot be the case, as John would have no need to inform Gaius of this past writing and subsequent rejection if these two believers were members of the same church.[6] Glenn Barker suggests Gaius lived in a nearby village, separated just far enough from Diotrephes’ church to be ignorant of the situation therein.[7] Quite simply, John informs Gaius of a past conflict with implications both present and future. As remains to be seen, Gaius was located near enough Diotrephes for this information to be relevant for his own ministry of hospitality.

John’s use of the definite article“τῇ” with “ἐκκλησίᾳ” (church) has proven to be a point of contention in scholarship. At first glance, it may appear John is necessarily referring to the specific church referenced in v. 6a, to which Gaius himself belongs. This conclusion, however, is gratuitous. A better inference would be that Gaius is simply familiar with this specific church, to which Diotrephes belongs.[8] One might also conclude the nature of Diotrephes’ illegitimate overextension in leadership based on the addressee being a collective church (as opposed to addressing Diotrephes individually). To be sure, the lost letter was clearly not written directly to Diotrephes, though the disgruntled leader either suppressed or destroyed it.  

but Diotrephes. Diotrephes now comes into focus, as a key point of contrast and opposition. John’s lost letter was purposeful, intended to promote hospitality, for the congregation’s benefit.[9] But Diotrephes interferes, casting himself in arrogance. Diotrephes was clearly a leader in the church, and a despotic one at that.[10] It’s unclear if Diotrephes had a legitimate leadership title in the church prior to John’s first letter. Regardless, it is evident that Diotrephes sought to usurp apostolic power while simultaneously stretching such authority beyond anything Scripturally defendable (cf. v. 10). As remains to be seen, the root of Diotrephes’ issue was simply sin; prideful selfishness leading to evil deeds.[11] Some scholars speculate that cultural, social, theological, or ecclesiastical considerations moved the leader to forcefully object outside influence. These unwarranted postulations assume about Diotrephes a background never included before or after the words “but Diotrephes”.

who loves to be first among them. This phrase constitutes a unique word in the Greek, which warrants further explication.φιλοπρωτεύων is a hapax legomenon in Greek literature.[12] Being a present participle, it has been translated by Raymond Brown as, “The-liking-to-be-first.”[13] This title suggests both Diotrephes’ arrogance in his pursuit of primacy, as well as his true position of leadership and authority.[14] In other words, Diotrephes truly had sway over “the church” to which John is referencing and thus has the capacity to destroy letters stamped with apostolic authority. Further, his power extends even to the unprecedented, despotic pronouncement of excommunication (cf. v. 10b).

Daniel Akin argues that Diotrephes’ “love for being first” indicates a desire to usurp the preeminence of Jesus. He further contests that Diotrephes isn’t desirous of John’s apostolic authority – for even this wouldn’t be sufficient to satiate his hunger for power.[15] This conclusion is unjustified, since Gaius is exclusively informed of Diotrephes’ blatant rejection of apostolic authority. If Diotrephes’ desire was to usurp the dominion of Christ, this apostacy would be treated with far greater consequence. One must conclude, however, that vying for preeminence points to the leader’s prideful heart, which places him in opposition to Christ. 

does not accept what we say. Indeed, Diotrephes’ arrogance and selfish zeal for self-sufficiency and magisterial power is no secret to John. Interestingly, the literal rendering of this phrase is “does not receive us”οὐκ ἐπιδέχεται ἡμᾶς.[16] This leads one to a better understanding of John’s abrupt use of the first-person plural pronoun here. John is drawing upon not only the cultural norm of hospitality, but more significantly, a way of thinking, “common in the Fourth Gospel, where to receive the ones sent is the same as receiving the one who sent them (cf. John 5:23; 12:44–45; 13:20; 14:24).”[17] Therefore, while John himself was not personally denied hospitality by Diotrephes, the latter’s refusal to accept the Apostle’s approved missionaries was just as unacceptable, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”[18]

Indeed, there is no justification for taking a different sense of the word ἐπιδέχεται here.[19] John had sent approved workman to minister effectively in Diotrephes’ congregation, rightfully expecting proper Christian hospitality in return. But Diotrephes, likely in his fear of losing primacy, must have seen these servants as threats and thus refused to receive them.[20]

Verse 10

For this reason. John now responds to the subversive attitude of Diotrephes. Because of Diotrephes’ refusal accept his apostolic epistles and emissaries, John will now seek further confrontation and reproof.Implied here is a clear justification for John’s authoritative condemnation and future actions; justification which the elder will further expound in turn.

if I come. After having his ministers and letter rejected by Diotrephes, John desires to further express his concerns in a personal confrontation. Commentators are split on John’s use of ἐάν (if) here. Is the Apostle expressing an uncertainty regarding the timing of his coming or is he simply unsure if he will indeed come at all? Some scholars inexplicably ascribe certainty to this statement, suggesting that although the correct translation is “if”, John still conveys certainty regarding his impending visitation.[21] Of the three possible options, the most logical conclusion is to ascribe uncertainty to this potential visitation. Indeed, this inference is most faithful to the data and bodes well with a straightforward, face-value reading of the text. Even so, it is rightly suggested that one not linger much on the reasoning behind John’s uncertainty.[22]

I will call attention to his deeds which he does. Although translated here in the NASB as “I will call attention,” the literal meaning of the Greek wordὑπομνήσω as used here is, “I will remind.” This phrase can signify a negative reminder of some past infirmity which requires correction, such as is seen in 2 Timothy 2:14.[23]  Virtually all commentators and scholars agree that this confrontation would be a public rebuke before the congregation to which Diotrephes belongs. Such would accord with the mandate of 1 Timothy 5:20, “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.”[24]John will now  reference these specific sinful deeds, which ultimately overflow from Diotrephes’ arrogant heart.[25]

John’s desire to rebuke Diotrephes displays several realities regarding the author of this epistle. Most prominently, one should rightly ascertain that the author is not merely an elder of the Johannine school – otherwise his power to rebuke would not extend over a leader of a foreign congregation. It is far more plausible that John, as the writer of this epistle, intends to assert his apostolic authority to publicly rebuke Diotrephes. Further, John will clearly seek to strip Diotrephes of his unearned leadership role, seeing as his rise to authority is faulty.

Some have concluded John’s previous uncertainty regarding a potential visit (ἐὰν ἔλθω If I come) is indicative of the author not possessing apostolic authority. These same scholars seek further support for this concept by suggesting the wording in this present phrase is rather mild. Indeed, the seriousness of this rogue leader’s sin would certainly warrant a strong rebuke.[26] A few commentators have used this supposed lack of confidence as definitive evidence against the author’s apostleship. This conjecture is simply unjustifiable. John merely displays love by abiding in the Scripture supported methodology of rebuking a brother.[27] While the congregants must be protected, it is also simultaneously true that restoration should be desired as laid out by Christ In Matthew 18:15-20. Here one should also conclude, with notable support from scholarship, that Diotrephes was at very least not a heretic. The Apostle’s words of condemnation alongside a clear desire to correct suggest Diotrephes’ had not apostatized but rather fallen into sin.

unjustly accusing us with wicked words. The Apostle now specifically mentions three “deeds” of Diotrephes which require “attention.” These deeds are clearly an overflow of the rogue leader’s arrogance and selfish desire for primacy, since he, “loves to be first.” John here uses the word φλυαρέω, which is a hapax legomenon in the New Testament (although its cognate noun is used in 1 Timothy 5:3).[28] This verb has been variously translated as, “to gossip, chatter, talk nonsense.”[29] Indeed, the cognate noun form unique to 1 Timothy 5:3 describes younger widows, who, although they’re believers, incur rebuke from Paul for being φλύαρος “gossipers.” John, however, adds that Diotrephes gossips “with wicked (evil) words.” This clearly adds to the severity and slanderous nature of such gossip, linking it indirectly with the Evil One.[30]

Regarding these “slanderous words,” some denying the apostolic authorship of 3 John have sought to categorize Diotrephes’ attacks as, “refer(ing) not to his (the author’s) personal character but to his role as an authoritative witness to the tradition.”[31] This conclusion is completely unwarranted by the text, and represents misguided eisegesis necessary to maintain authorship by a person (or persons) other than the Apostle John. Context clearly reveals the personal nature of these false charges, which again sought to cut directly at John’s Apostleship.[32] Regarding the use of the first-person plural pronoun, “us” – this is simply a logical continuation of the language used in verse 9. Again, the central thrust of this passage is the condemnation of Diotrephes for rejecting not simply John alone, but all those whom the Apostle sent out as missionaries. To reject these traveling teachers was to reject John himself.

and not satisfied with this. Here the downward spiral of Diotrephes’ prideful disposition continues past attitude and words into action. Karen Jobes argues that the writer’s use of “ἀρκούμενος ἐπὶ” represents an unusual and seemingly unnecessary use of the preposition ἐπὶ (with) in front of the dative ἀρκούμενος (which already has the propositional sense “with” built in).[33] Rather than concluding this is merely stylistic, Jobes states, “Although the preposition doesn’t change the translation, it does heighten the sense of provocation.”[34] This is the logical conclusion, and preferable to counting Paul’s use of ἐπὶ as superfluous. The author thus recognizes that Diotrephes was not content with mere slanderous words but would further express his opposition to John’s authority by rejecting even the apostolic emissaries.[35] The pronoun τούτοις (this) then clearly refers back to the “wicked (evil) words” of Diotrephes.

he himself does not receive the brethren, either. John now addresses the inhospitable schemes of Diotrephes, which are purposed to slight the Apostle’s authority. The verbs John employs are all in the present tense, signaling that Diotrephes was continuing to abide in his policies of inhospitality.[36] Notably, this verse contains a unique word mentioned in the New Testament only here and in verse 9.[37] This verb, ἐπιδέχεται, literally means, “to receive” or “to welcome.”[38] This term finds identical formation, placement, and usage in both verses 9 and 10. Even so, countless scholars argue verse 9 refers to a rejection of the author’s words.[39] Brooke explains the word’s contrived variation in meaning (as compared to the identical verse 10), as simply a usage, “ in a somewhat different sense.”[40] Regarding its operation in verse 9, Jobes states,

“English translations that render “he does not welcome us” (οὐκ ἐπιδέχεται) as “he rejects our authority” or something similar are providing an interpretation of his (Diotrephes’) motivation, which in context is likely a true insight into the relationship between the elder and Diotrephes. Nevertheless, the verb itself does not include the sense of authority and therefore should be understood as referring to a refusal to welcome those sent by the elder, regardless of the motivation.” [41]

This is incredibly significant in a proper exegesis of verse 10. Here, the identical usage of ἐπιδέχεται must be accepted as such. Both instances point to Diotrephes continual (present tense) refusal to welcome/receive those approved by the Apostle John. The repeated usage of ἐπιδέχεται emphasizes the severity of this inhospitable action specifically. Yet the second usage adds a distinct emphasis of personal, conscious rejection, “οὔτε αὐτὸς ἐπιδέχεται” properly translated, “he himself does not receive us.” The digression starts with Diotrephes’ own refusal to hospitably welcome the brothers and ends with his despotic suppression of Christian hospitality.[42]

and he forbids those who desire to do so. Diotrephes is described here as continually (present tense) disallowing congregants to extend hospitality toward the orthodox emissaries of John. Based on the grammar and syntax alone, one cannot determine whether Diotrephes had the power and position to excommunicate, or if he simply hindered the efforts of others by cunning.[43] Yet based on the cumulative evidence of verses 9 and 10, Diotrephes must have been a prominent church leader, likely even the pastor. Thus, his act of “forbidding” should be understood as the exertion of a despotic leader.

Significant also is Diotrephes’ control over those who merely “desire” to “receive the brethren.” For one, this shows Diotrephes’ utter disdain for the Apostle Paul (although the motivation for this hatred is clearly his personal quest for primacy). The disdainful leader would take whatever measures necessary to make sure he was first, as is expected from a despot.[44] Secondly, the reality that some within Diotrephes’ church did indeed desire to obey the elder is remarkable. This shows a widespread acceptance of John’s apostolic authority, bearing against the theory that Diotrephes’ entire congregation was obdurately in line with their despotic leader. It should also be concluded that the entire congregation was indeed aware of John’s requests for hospitality (one should not conclude, as Kruse, that this necessarily means they read the letter of verse 9a).[45] In conclusion, this displays the accepted apostleship of John alongside the illegitimate, albeit authoritarian, assertions of Diotrephes, who was likely viewed as a despot by his own congregation.    

and puts them out of the church. Virtually all commentatorsacknowledge that the verbal form of ἐκβάλλει represents the habitual action of expelling. Comparatively few scholars have addressed the possibility that the present tense is conative, rather than factual. If this is the case, Diotrephes would be understood as merely attempting to expel congregants.[46] Clearly this would have significant implications.

Although the conative conclusion bodes well with the idea that Diotrephes was a mere powerless congregant, it is contrived and unwarranted by the text. Although it’s impossible to say with certainty the specific leadership position he held, it’s clear Diotrephes had unprecedented power in his church. Some have argued no pastor or elder at this time would have authority to single handedly reject missionaries, let alone excommunicate congregants. Even if this cultural conclusion is valid, one must simply speculate Diotrephes acted via coercive action to sway his congregation away from proper praxis. Moreover, the Apostle John would rightly concern himself with a situation where church power structures were subverted by those with autocratical aspirations. If Diotrephes is understood as a usurper in this way, as the text warrants, then there’s no logical reason to suppose his desire to wrongfully cast out faithful congregants wasn’t realized.

With this in mind, significant conclusions can be made regarding the ἐκκλησίας “church” over which Diotrephes asserts his leadership. First of all, the term ἐκκλησίας is consequential in early Christian culture for several reasons. This word literally translates, “an assembly, or a regularly summoned legislative body.”[47] In Greek culture, public assemblies were held for the purpose of political or legislative discourse. In the Roman Empire, this practice was characteristically adapted, though as more of a cultural custom. Regardless, this nomenclature was widely recognizable in Roman culture and was understandably adapted by Christians who gathered together for purposes of worship. This is significant because the word translated “church” has none of the modern connotations now associated with specifically Christian gatherings. With the much-opposed emergence of Christianity in Rome, using the inconspicuous ἐκκλησία moniker was tremendously strategic.

Even decades after Christ’s death, these distinctly Christian “assemblies” were still scattered, unofficial (at least in government and society), small, and purposefully quiet. This explains the New Testament prominence of so called “house assemblies” (cf. Philemon 1:2; 1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:5; et. al.). These gatherings are often referenced in the New Testament in relation to the homeowner, such as in Colossians 4:15, “Νύμφαν καὶ τὴν κατʼ οἶκον αὐτῆς ἐκκλησίαν.”[48] There’s little reason to believe Diotrephes’ “church” was anything other than a “house-church.”

Given the authority Diotrephes asserts and the lack of action taken against his tyranny, as well as his ability to expel John’s emissaries, it is logical to conclude Diotrephes himself hosted a house church. This also explains his separation from Gaius, who appears ignorant of the situation with the rogue leader, despite having residence near this wayward brother. Moreover, scholars argue whether Diotrephes was expelling individuals from his home or from the church to which he belonged. With a proper understanding of “house-churches,” both conclusions would be valid simultaneously.  

Conclusion: Synthesis of 3 John 9–10

John included verses 9 and 10 in his epistle to Gaius specifically to condemn Diotrephes’ arrogant attitude, slanderous words, and inhospitable actions. The despotic church leader is described to Gaius as rejecting proper submission to apostolic authority in his quest for primacy. This unchristian love for preeminence is exemplified by a habitual rejection of the Apostle’s orthodox missionaries, as well as a continuing pattern of deeds rightly described as evil. Although Diotrephes was a brother in Christ without any heretical variation in teaching, he was also a deeply egocentric man who required face to face rebuke from John himself. Without this intervention, Diotrephes would continue spreading lies about the Apostle and his ministers, while refusing to welcome missionaries associated with the Apostle whom he felt threatened by. Indeed, Diotrephes’ sinful rejection of John’s apostolic authority was so rampant, the tyrant was willing to excommunicate those with the mere desire to display Christlike hospitality to John’s missionaries.


Backgrounds, Surveys, and Introductions

DeSilva, David Arthur. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

Hill, Charles E. The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016.

Concordances, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias

Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick William Danker. Translated by William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Elwell, Walter A., Peter C. Craigie, and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Freedman, David Noel. Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 3. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Silva, Moisés, and Merrill C. Tenney. The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.


Akin, Daniel L. 1, 2, 3 John. New American Commentary 38. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001.

Barker, Glenn. W. 1, 2, 3 John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 12. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004.

Brooke, Alan E. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles. International Critical Commentary. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912.

Brown, Raymond Edward. The Epistles of John. Anchor Yale Bible 30. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982.

Burdick, Donald W. The Letters of John the Apostle: An In-Depth Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1985.

Derickson, Gary W. 1, 2 & 3 John. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Edited by H. Wayne House. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014.

Hodges, Zane C. 3 John. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures 2. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Jobes, Karen H. 1, 2, and 3 John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 19. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Kruse, Colin G. The Letters of John. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

MacArthur, John. 1, 2, 3 John. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007.

Marshall, I. Howard. The Epistles of John. New International Commentary on the New Testament 8. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Rosscup, James E. “Exposition of III John.” Unpublished class syllabus. The Master’s Seminary, 2004.

Smalley, Stephen S. 1, 2, 3 John. Word Biblical Commentary 51. Dallas: Word Books, 1984.

Stott, John R. W. The Epistles of John. Tyndale New Testament Commentary 19. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Thompson, Marianne Meye. 1–3 John. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series 19. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Walls, David, and Max Anders. I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude. Holman New Testament Commentary 11. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger, Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016), 895.

[2] Ibid., 904.

[3] Ibid., 905.

[4] Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 89.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Glenn W. Barker, 1, 2, 3 John, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 12, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 374.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Raymond Edward Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Yale Bible 30 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), 715.

[9] Even those who posit 1/2 John constitutes the “lost letter” argue that these related epistles specifically promote hospitality (love). Thus, by rejecting either (or both) former epistles, Diotrephes was displaying his heart set on denying hospitality to John’s emissaries. This fits well with a larger, more significant understanding of Diotrephes’ obdurate lust for preeminence and tendency toward rejecting Apostolic authority, but there is simply no reason to postulate the lost letter was necessarily 1/2 John. More significant is Diotrephes’ blatant rejection of Johannine instruction regarding hospitality. For an argument defending the lost letter’s identity as 1/2 John, see: James E. Rosscup, “Exposition of III John,” unpublished class syllabus (Sun Valley, CA: The Master’s Seminary, 2004), 6.

[10] This is perhaps most evident by Diotrephes’ unprecedented power to excommunicate – see notes on verse 10.

[11] John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary 19, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 234.

[12] Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, World Biblical Commentary 51 (Dallas: Word Books, 1984), 357.

[13] Brown, The Epistles of John, 717.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, New American Commentary 38 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 246.

[16] Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 226.

[17] Ibid, 227.

[18] John 13:20, New American Standard Bible: 1995 update.

[19] As is further argued regarding the use of ἐπιδέχεται in verse 10b.

[20] Rosscup, “Exposition of III John”, 6.

[21] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 357.

[22] Alan E. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, International Critical Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), 189.

[23] Brown, The Epistles of John, 719.

[24] Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, 248.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Brown, The Epistles of John, 719.

[27] Howard I. Marshall, The Epistles of John, New International Commentary on the New Testament 8 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 91.

[28] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 358.

[29] Brown, The Epistles of John, 719.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Zane C. Hodges, 3 John, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures 2, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 914.

[33] Karen H. Jobes, 1, 2, and 3 John, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 19 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 320.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Brown, The Epistles of John, 719.

[37] Brooke, Johannine Epistles, 189.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Hence the NASB translation, “does not accept what we say.”

[40] Brooke, Johannine Epistles, 189.

[41] Jobes, 1, 2, and 3 John, 313.

[42] Ibid., 320.

[43] Brooke, Johannine Epistles, 190.

[44] Kruse, The Letters of John, 228.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Gary W. Derickson, 1, 2 & 3 John, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, ed. H. Wayne House (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 692.

[47] Walter Bauer, “ἐκκλησία,”A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., ed. Frederick William Danker, trans. William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 303.

[48] Translated, “Nympha and the assembly that is in her house.”

Essay New Testament Studies

Understanding the Praetorium of Philippians 1:13

ABSTRACT: Paul understood Praetorium as the Imperial Guard centralized in Rome, not a palace or building.



Praetorium as a Building

Flaws of the Palace View

Praetorium as the Imperial Guard

Praetorium, Provenance, and Purpose



Key to understanding the provenance and purpose of Philippians is one historical term. This single word can potentially altar the reader’s exegesis of Paul’s inspired epistle. Philippians 1:13 contains this Pauline anomaly, praetorium, “so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorium and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ.” The term, often translated as “palace guard,” “imperial guard,” or “governor’s palace,” is, “one of the cruxes of this letter and impinges on the question of Paul’s location at the time of writing.”[1] More specifically, “the (Greek) phrase ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ, “among the whole imperial guard,” uses πραιτώριον, a loanword from the Latin praetorium.”[2] If praetorium specifies the Praetorian Guard – the Roman emperor’s personal, elite soldiers – the provenance of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome can be affirmed.[3] Along with a mention of “the saints of Caesar’s household” in Philippians 4:22, the reference to praetorium in 1:13 sufficiently refutes theories that Paul’s correspondence with Philippi originated from Ephesus or Caesarea Maritima. But this task is more than a mere academic exercise, for great theological weight rests upon the traditional rendering of praetorium, as used in this thoroughly Roman epistle.

In order to assert a non-Rome provenance, one must argue praetorium refers to a building (henceforth the “palace view”). This paper will explicate the dissenting palace view before revealing its flaws, and offering the “imperial guard” position as far more theologically, historically, and biblically consistent. Finally, it will be shown how one’s understanding of this single term affects his interpretation of Philippians as a Christian hortatory letter of friendship.[4]

Praetorium as a Building

The ongoing debate over the provenance of Paul’s prison epistles, and thus Philippians, is crucial for identifying bias in one’s interpretation of Philippians 1:13. If one assumes a Roman provenance, Paul’s use of praetorium is best translated “imperial guard”. Yet any other theory of provenance essentially and necessarily limits praetorium to designate a royal building. Keener explains, “Some commentators have suggested that “palace” or “praetorium” here may refer to a provincial governor’s residence, such as the place of Paul’s detention in Caesarea (Acts 23:35).”[5] By this reckoning, praetorium must be understood as a metonym, “The phrase ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ signals a metonym, a spatial descriptor to indicate the people (τοῖς λοιποῖς πάσιν) who had access to the πραιτώριον.”[6]

Those arguing for the palace view understand praetorium as being used broadly in the Julio-Claudian period. It must be acknowledged that praetorium has a wide lexical range, with abounding extra-biblical evidence of its usage. It originally denoted a general’s tent or his staff or council.[7] Subsequently, the term was variously adapted to signify the residence of a provincial governor, a pleasure villa, official road-side rest-house, or emperor’s residence.[8] In a permanent fort, praetorium was distinguished from the principia – with the former designating the commander’s house and the latter a headquarters building.[9] Aside from this diversity of possible designations regarding physical buildings, praetorium, “is also regularly used for the forces or services of the Praetorian Prefect.”[10]

Recognizing the extra biblical data, one must give even greater credence to the canonical context of Scripture. How did the New Testament authors understand and utilize πραιτώριον? Those ascribing to the palace view conclude Paul’s usage of πραιτώριον in Phil 1:13 mimics Luke’s designation of the same term in Acts 23:35. In this Lukan text, πραιτώριον clearly refers to the residence of a provincial governor. Taking Acts 23:35 plainly, Luke clearly relates that Paul is facing an impending trial before Felix, who, “(gave) orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.” Here the Latin loan word πραιτώριον is used in the dative πραιτωρίῳ, being the subject of the possessive genitive τοῦ Ἡρῴδου, thus the reading “πραιτωρίῳ τοῦ Ἡρῴδου.” Seven of the eight uses of πραιτώριον in the New Testament are similarly translated into English as the subject of a possessive not specified in the Greek, “the governor’s headquarters” (Mt 27:27; Mk 15:16; Jn 18:28 NASB, ESV), “his headquarters” (Jn 18:33, Jn 19:19 NASB, ESV). Suffice it to say that seven of the eight uses of πραιτώριον in the New Testament indisputably reference a building. This leaves Philippians 1:13 as the only anomalous usage and sole instance within Paul’s letters.

If the palace view of πραιτώριον is to be accepted in Philippians 1:13, very little limitation can be offered regarding provenance for Paul’s letter. One may posit any locale within the Roman Empire – assuming the praetorium represented some administrative subsection of a complex or building. Those functioning within a “headquarters building” would necessarily be tied to a provincial government role, owing to another significant verse, Philippians 4:22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.”[11] Paul’s reference to Caesar’s household (τῆς Καίσαρος οἰκίας), so often linked to 1:13, certainly refers to the familia Caesaris.[12] If Paul’s location is understood as static during his penning of Philippians, the praetorium and “those of Caesar’s household” must be understood as existing in the same municipality.

Where the palace view is espoused, it is commonly suggested that slaves and freedmen within Caesar’s household were spread throughout the empire. These individuals would be serving governmental functions – and thus necessarily tied to a Roman praetorium building.[13] Interestingly, only a Roman provenance for Paul’s Epistle is untenable where πραιτώριον is understood as a palace. Lightfoot explains, “While ‘prætorium’ is a frequent designation of splendid villas, whether of the emperors or others, away from Rome, the imperial residence on the Palatine is not once so called. Indeed the word seems to have suggested to a Roman the idea of a country seat… In Rome itself, prætorium would not have been tolerated.”[14] In other words, praetoriums such as those at Jerusalem (Mt 27:27; Mk 15:16; Jn 18:28, Jn 18:33, Jn 19:19) and Caesarea (Acts 23:35) were the seats of local rulers who derived their power from the emperor. The imperial residence on Palatine Hill in Rome would not be equated with headquarters located elsewhere in the empire.

Of secondary significance to the palace argument is Colossians 4:10–15, wherein Paul lists an extensive group of helpers alongside him in his imprisonment. As a prison epistle, this letter is thought to have the same provenance as Philippians. Scholars have thus questioned how a detained Paul could have such an abundance of assistance while imprisoned. Due to this circumstance, some have concluded that Paul was imprisoned in Asia or Syria-Palestine (specifically Ephesus or Caesarea Maritima).[15] Either provenance would certainly explain the large number of coworkers, given Paul’s ministries in both locales. Paul simply did not have the same influence in Rome.[16] In addition, Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years (cf. Acts 24:27) and held perhaps his most impactful, personal Asian ministry at Ephesus (see Acts 20:17–38).

Flaws of the Palace View

Several critical assumptions must be made to hold the palace view of praetorium in Philippians 1:13 and the associated conclusion of non-Roman provenance. It should be stated at the outset that a wide variety of scholars adopt this non-traditional view, including some conservative scholars who affirm biblical reliability.[17] Nevertheless, it bears mentioning that dismissal of Roman provenance, and thus the imperial guard conclusion, commonly stems from source-critical biases. More specifically, a rejection of congruity between the undisputed Pauline Epistles and Acts (as well as the pastoral epistles) is typically assumed.[18] While this certainly does not represent every scholar asserting non-traditional provenance, it’s often critical scholars who have no desire to synthesize all the new Testament data.

A timeline considering Acts and the Pastorals suggests two Roman imprisonments. In contrast to this orthodox assumption, many critical scholars deny that Paul ever made it to Rome.[19] It remains to be shown that a synthesis considering all 27 New Testament books as of equal historical value presupposes a Roman imprisonment that best fits Paul’s bondage as described in Philippians. Here it will prove beneficial to briefly relay the orthodox, traditional timeline of Paul’s arrival in Rome.

In Acts, Luke recorded the life and ministry of Paul as essentially progressing toward his ultimate imprisonment in Rome. After three missionary journeys, Paul set his mind on Jerusalem – understanding he would be persecuted and arrested (cf. Acts 20:22–23). The Apostle was indeed arrested in Jerusalem, and would then spend two years in custody at Caesarea Maritima (cf. Acts 24:22–27). Because of his appeal to Caesar, Paul assures a capital trial in Rome (Acts 25:11; 26:32; 28:19). The Apostle then finds himself under house arrest in the capital city, “And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him,” (Acts 28:16). Luke further records that Paul was “wearing a chain” (cf. 28:20). And finally, Acts ends abruptly with Paul still imprisoned, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance,” (28:30–31).

Since critical scholars largely reject this narrative, they feel no obligation to factor in a Roman imprisonment in Paul’s timeline. Acts 28 in particular is often rejected as spurious.[20] Without being bound to correlate Acts 28 with Philippians 1:13 and 4:22, these scholars simply suggest a different provenance that concurs with Paul’s self-testimony in the undisputed letters. This is especially prevalent in the prominent offering of Ephesus as the place of writing, which is more easily concluded without Luke’s testimony. Alternatively, the less commonly held Caesarea Maritima provenance finds corroboration with Paul’s two-year imprisonment found in Acts 24. Since scholarship appears to be moving toward Ephesian/Asian provenance, this view will be considered over others.[21] The historical reliability of the New Testament will heretofore be assumed.
Ephesian provenance for Philippians is lacking in several key respects. To start, the Acts narrative relates two instances where Paul was imprisoned for a sufficient period of time to account for his language in the Macedonian letter. Paul’s suffering and imprisonment are central themes in Philippians. Paul expresses his situation repeatedly by the phrase “δεσμούς μου” (Lit. “my chains”); in Philippians 1 vv. 7, 13, 14, and 17; “in my imprisonment,” “my imprisonment is for Christ,” “by my imprisonment,” “afflict me in my imprisonment.” It’s widely acknowledged that Paul is awaiting a capital trial while writing this, as his life-or-death language makes clear (cf. 1:19–25).

These verses alone correlate well with the house arrest situation of Acts 28. Luke records Paul himself describing his first Roman imprisonment as, “τὴν ἅλυσιν ταύτην περίκειμαι (lit. “wearing this chain”). There is striking similarity between Paul’s bondage in Philippians and that of Luke’s Acts 28 narrative. Luke’s account further specifies that Paul’s bondage took place in “his own hired dwelling” wherein he “welcomed all who came to him” (Acts 28:30). This bears a striking correlation with Paul’s successful prison ministry detailed in Philippians 1:13 and 4:22. If it can be shown that Philippians 1:13 and 4:22 are best explained by a Roman provenance, the correlations go even deeper.

Paul in Philippians 1:13 recorded his successful witness to the Praetorium, who, if understood to be the imperial guard, are also apart of Caesar’s household (4:22). Further, it has been noted that based on a less reliable textual tradition, Acts 28:16, “Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him,” speaks specifically of a soldier within the praetorian guard.[22] Even if the textual variant is rejected, the current reading of Acts does not preclude that this soldier was a part of the Praetorium. Both the Lukan and Pauline texts bear significant similarities and no major diverging details. The wholistic narrative unity of Acts and Philippians must therefore be maintained. The student of Scripture should presuppose unity within the text, rather than dismissing certain books, chapters, or verses that don’t fit an arbitrary or presupposed narrative. Holloway rightly dismisses the Ephesian provenance theory as the work of redaction critics.[23] Further, to suggest Paul faced a drawn-out imprisonment in Ephesus, while awaiting a capital trial, dismisses the biblical witness which would suggest otherwise.[24]

Another weakness of the palace view lies in the grammar of Philippians 1:13 and 14. Holloway contends,

The whole expression reads ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν, “in the whole πραιτώριον and all the rest,” where “and all the rest,” given Paul’s usage elsewhere, is most naturally interpreted as a reference not to other buildings but to other personnel, something like “and everyone else.” This would imply that πραιτώριον similarly is a reference to personnel. This interpretation makes excellent sense of 1:14, where Paul continues, “and the majority of the brothers in the Lord, etc.” Taken together, vv. 13–14 would then describe the effect of Paul’s imprisonment first on persons outside the church (v. 13) and then on persons inside (v. 14).[25]

Those “outside the church” are best understood as Romans within this same circle as the praetorium, who were forced to accompany Paul. Therefore, καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πάσιν must be more closely linked to ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ in Philippians 1:13. The second phrase, “all the rest” necessarily precludes the palace view of praetorium.[26] Paul clearly speaks of personnel, not buildings here. To be sure, this accords with the central thrust of his letter – that even through trials and chains, the Gospel was still advancing to the top echelons of society. If praetorium here is not understood as metonymy, the connected phrase “all the rest” would be rendered unintelligible. One could scarcely imagine the Gospel writers or Luke utilizing this phrase in conjunction with Herod’s Palace, for example. As will be argued in defense of the imperial guard view of praetorium, Philippians 4:22 is central to understanding the present text.

Praetorium as the Imperial Guard

Lightfoot has most convincingly defended the position that Praetorium, as utilized in Philippians 1:13, signifies a body of men.[27] He argues, “…more frequently it denotes the prætorian regiments, the imperial guards. This in fact is the common use of the term.”[28] Evidence of this common usage abounds in Latin inscriptions and literature.[29] One early Greek example utilizing the Latin loaner word is found in Josephus, “…and the very emperor’s guards seemed under the like fear and disorder with private persons, the band called pretorian, which was the purest part of the army, was in consultation what was to be done at this juncture.”[30] Latin historians from Tacitus to Pliny similarly appropriated this word.[31]

This imperial guard was first established by Augustus in Rome and adjacent municipalities.[32] Tiberius would then bring all these elite soldiers to Rome, giving them a permanent camp.[33] The praetorians were well paid, highly respected, and influential.

Grammatically, the use of “all the rest” makes little sense alongside a translation rendering preatorium as “the governor’s headquarters.”[34] If the palace view is to be followed, the translation of Philippians 1:13 must be rendered, “So that is had become known throughout the whole governor’s headquarters and to all the rest…” At best this leaves tremendous ambiguity in identifying the broad, undefinable “all the rest”. Again, if “governor’s headquarters” is taken as a metonym, the phrasing would still be awkward and unnatural.[35] Taking this position would also divorce Philippians 1:13 from 4:22, verses that are better understood in harmony. To be sure, one could not confidently assert that those in a provincial governor’s headquarters belonged to Caesar’s household. When the letter is understood holistically and interpreted as a single unit, Paul’s appeal to a far-reaching Roman ministry best stratifies the textual evidence. Caesar’s personal, imperial soldiers, with about 9,000 total in Rome, would be given the task of defending Paul – who was awaiting a high profile capital trial (1:13).[36] These elite bodyguards would by necessity belong to Caesar’s household (4:22),

They were the emperor’s elite bodyguard under the praetorian prefect. Viewed as clients of the emperor (thus part of his household), they were kept loyal with the highest pay in the Roman military; they were also kept loyal by the leadership of a prefect who could never legally become emperor (being a knight rather than a senator).[37]

Holloway offers one final clue for the present conclusion, “The hyperbolic rhetoric of 1:13—“in the whole πραιτώριον and all the rest,” where both “whole” and “all” are emphatic by position—also supports a reference to the Imperial Guard, which by this time was at least six thousand. Roman governors, on the other hand, typically had relatively small staffs.”[38] The impact of Paul’s language, which serves to emphasize his successful Gospel ministry in Rome, would be dulled if Praetorium refers to a colonial palace.

Michael Flexsenhar’s conclusion that Paul was too unimportant a prisoner to warrant tying up Nero’s most valuable bodyguards must be rejected at this point. This conclusion is simply conjecture, that again undermines Acts and the historical realities of Paul’s movement, the radical Jewish opposition he faced, and his opportunity to defend himself before Felix, Festus, Herod Agrippa, and Bernice. (Acts 24–26).[39] Paul certainly caused great tension within the Empire, and especially in the notoriously volatile Judea. And even the waves of this far-reaching ministry were subsumed under the far greater Christ-movement. Ultimately, even Flexsenhar admits some prisoners were worthy of being guarded by the Empire’s most elite.[40] He just doesn’t consider Paul important enough, or his trail significant enough, to enjoy the emperor’s involvement. This judgement call is far too subjective and arbitrary, without any real methodology offered for how the emperor may have allocated his praetorian guard. Addressing Acts 25:11–12, F. F. Bruce emphatically concludes, “Having made his appeal to the emperor, Paul was the emperor’s prisoner (although he preferred to think of himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus”), and while he waited for his case to be heard, he “was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him” (Acts 28:16).”[41]

Numismatology has also helped scholars better understand Rome’s relation to Philippi and the colony’s experience with the Praetorium. The existence of the Praetorian guard is witnessed on coinage dating to the time of Claudius or Nero. The editors of RPC have dated RPC 1651 to the time of these Julio-Claudian, emperors based on metallurgical studies.[42] This coin, which commemorates Augustus’ victory over Mark Antony at the battle of Actium in 31 BC, has the reverse legend COHOR PRAE PHIL for “Cohort Praetorium Philippi”.[43]  It’s been suggested that Augustus himself sent retired praetorian guards to Philippi, a province quickly becoming a haven for veterans.[44] RPC 1651 thus affirms that Philippi was aware of the Praetorium in the time of Paul, when these coins were in circulation. It has additionally been suggested that the coin itself celebrates Augustus’, “settlement at Philippi of a cohort of praetorians when he refounded the colony in 30 BCE.”[45] If this coin was indeed minted during the reign of Claudius, as all evidence seems to suggest, Paul’s reference to the imperial guard in Philippians 1:13 takes on incredible significance. Burnett states in RPC, “The types of the larger presumably refer to the battle of Actium (VIC AVG) and the settlement of veterans from the praetorian cohort at Philippi (COHOR PRAE PHIL).”[46]

With RPC 1651 circulating in Paul’s time, the Philippians present in Macedonia would be familiar with the Latin inscriptions and imagery on their coins. They would transact daily with these very pieces of copper, seeing the clear inscription Praetoria and acknowledging its relation to Philippi. One might conclude this is exactly why Paul uses the terminology of “the whole Praetorium” in Philippians 1:13.[47]Any suggestion that this coin, fraught with the imagery of war banners and Victoria, refers to an administrative palace must be rejected. It is far more likely that the Philippians understood Praetoria, the Latin loan word for Praetorium, to mean the imperial guard. Holloway concludes, “It not only dates the striking of the coin close to the time of Paul’s letter but, more importantly, attests to Philippi’s continuing pride in its praetorian foundations, a fact that Paul, now a prisoner of the Guard, would presumably to be alluding to.”[48]

Vincent summarizes the imperial guard position of Philippians 1:13 thusly, “The unquestionable fact that ‘prætorium’ was used to denote the prætorian guard makes it unnecessary to assume that the apostle in this passage refers to any place, and furnishes a simple explanation and one entirely consistent with the narrative in Acts 28.”[49] The coherence of Paul’s imprisonment narrative under the watch of imperial guards best synthesizes the biblical data. It must lastly be shown why alternate understandings of praetorium provenance are untenable. Bo Reicke convincingly argues that, “the word (πραιτώριον) was not used for the personnel of a governor either in Greek or in Latin.”[50] This would severely handicap the conclusion that πραιτώριον is simply a metonym, applicable to a wide range of administrative or provincial personnel. Regarding 1:13 potentially speaking of Ephesus, Reicke further states that the governor of Ephesus was a proconsul, not a propraetor.[51] The author also rejects a Caesarean provenance, stating, “Auxiliary troops under the supervision of the procurator were stationed here (Caesarea), but none of the élite soldiers of the praetorium.”[52]

Praetorium, Provenance, and Purpose

Although scholarship is far from a consensus on the matter, there’s sufficient reason to conclude Paul wrote Philippians from Rome. Some of the earliest attestations to Roman Province include that of the Marcionite Prologues, “According to the Prologues, Paul wrote to the Colossians from Ephesus, already in chains (iam ligatus), and to the Philippians from prison in Rome.”[53] Concurring with this conclusion are Philippians 1:13 and 4:22, as detailed above. While it’s certainly true that Paul’s proximity to the praetorian guard tells us something about provenance, it’s also significant what an assumed Roman provenance tells us about the praetorium. Indeed, if Paul was writing from Rome, the reader can better understand his purpose in mentioning the Praetorium at all. Surely great significance must be ascribed to Paul’s claim of evangelizing some of the Roman Empire’s most elite and powerful individuals. This is absolutely crucial to the main contentions and intentions of this apostolic letter. Paul’s witness to the imperial guard, who were included in Caesar’s household, highlighted his focus on heavenly citizenship, joy amidst suffering, and a radical gospel focus.

Philippi’s history as a Roman colony, and even its founding under Philip II of Macedonia, all highlight the military foundations of this colony. From Macedonia to Julio-Claudain Rome, some of the world’s most powerful leaders purposefully packed Philippi with significant military figures – including soldiers from the Praetorian guard. And Rome was especially generous in granting this Macedonian colony the title and benefits of Roman citizenship. That Paul wrote from Rome itself, the heartbeat of Philippi and her citizens, thus carries significant importance.

Reicke comments, “The Roman capital also provides the background for those images used by Paul in Philippians which refer to the political realm. This is true in the case of the exhortation to a worthy evangelical behaviour as a citizen (πολιτεύεσθε, Phil. 1:27), as well as of the reference concerning the true, heavenly commonwealth (πολίτευμα, 3:20).”[54] The Philippians understood who Paul was as a Roman citizen, imprisoned for the gospel.[55] Paul was willing to suffer all things for the Gospel. His allegiance was not to Rome, but to Christ. Paul was a citizen of heaven. This message, which Paul calls the Philippians to emulate (3:17), becomes all the more powerful given Paul’s situation in Rome, under the praetorium. The Apostle evangelized even Rome’s most elite soldiers, the empire’s top citizens. The proud Romans citizens of Philippi would have recognized Paul’s courage, drive, and submission to God’s will. As is apparent by their coinage, the Philippians were fully aware of the praetorian guard. It was a source of pride, in that the praetorium was the progenitor of their own Roman identity in many ways.

Regarding joy and suffering, Paul faced unjust trial and restrictive imprisonment in the kingdom he rightfully belonged to. The Apostle was able to confidently assert, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). He saw even his chains as an opportunity to reach others with the gospel, that “most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (v. 1:14). The Christians in Philippi were facing the same persecution under the same Roman yoke,For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (vv. 1:29–30). Undoubtedly the Philippians, within the context of their thoroughly Roman colony, faced persecution by Pagan Romans.[56] Yet there was hope. God sovereignly planned to use even Paul’s suffering for His glory, evidenced by the Apostle’s incredible opportunity to witness to Rome’s elite,

“It is in this light that the Philippians would hear Paul’s triumphant note about the whole Praetorian Guard—the emperor’s own select troops—coming to know about the gospel through Paul’s imprisonment. So also with the final word of the letter (before the concluding grace-benediction), “all the saints (in Rome) greet you, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household”—who themselves join you in saying “Jesus is Lord.” The gospel, with its proclamation of a heavenly Lord who had become the incarnate Savior, had penetrated the household of the (merely earthly) Roman “lord and savior,” who stands ultimately behind “the same struggle” both Paul and the Philippians are currently experiencing.”[57]

Much would be lost if praetorium in Philippians 1:13 is not understood as the emperor’s personal guard, centralized in Rome. Paul’s gospel appeals, empathetic statements, and focus on heavenly citizenship would be deprived of their personal force. Further, the Apostle’s permeating appeal to the struggles and benefits of life as Roman citizens would be lost if an Asian or Syria-Palestinian provenance is asserted. Ultimately, Paul’s desire for this unique letter – a Christian hortatory letter of friendship – would become far less clear if God was not truly using the Apostle’s suffering to reach the highest levels of Rome.[58] Reciprocal, empathetic motifs of friendship are what pervade this epistle. Paul encourages his Philippian friends as fellow Christians, not fellow Romans, by showing how God had placed him before even “Caesar’s household” and “the imperial guard.” All this was to advance the Gospel as a worthy citizen of heaven.


[1] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 113.

[2] Mark J. Keown, Philippians, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, ed. H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris III, and Andrew W. Pitts (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 190.

[3] This is the conclusion most notably defended by Lightfoot. Commenting on Philippians 1:13, he noted, “‘throughout the prætorian guard,’ i.e. the soldiers composing the imperial regiments. This seems to be the best supported meaning of πραιτώριον.” Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (London: Macmillan and Co., 1913), 88.

[4] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 32.

[5] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Php 1:13.

[6] Michael Flexsenhar, “The Provenance of Philippians and Why It Matters: Old Questions, New Approaches,” Journal for the study of the New Testament 42, no. 1 (September 2019), 36.

[7] Ian Archibald Richmond, “Praetorium” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed, ed. N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Sculland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 874.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Flexsenhar, “The Provenance of Philippians,” 19.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 23.

[14] Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 100.

[15] See Michael J. Hugh for Ephesian provenance view: Michael, J. Hugh, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, The Moffatt New Testament Commentary, ed. James Moffatt (London: Hodder and Stroughton, 1928). And Gerald Hawthorne for the Caesarean Provenance view: Gerald F Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, Rev. ed. (Word Biblical Commentary 43. Dallas: Word Books, 2004), 43–44.

[16] Paul first arrived in Rome c. 60 AD for his first imprisonment. Although he had not previously ministered in Rome, a church was already established there (Acts 28:14–15).

[17] See Hugh, Philippians, 1:13 and Hawthorne, Philippians, 43–44.

[18] Michael Flexsenhar, “The Provenance of Philippians and Why It Matters: Old Questions, New Approaches,” Journal for the study of the New Testament 42, no. 1 (September 2019): 18–45.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Paul A. Holloway, Philippians: A Commentary, ed. Adela Yarbro Collins, Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017), 21.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 21–22.

[26] Lightfoot, Philippians, 99-101.

[27] Ibid., 101–102.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston (Project Gutenberg, 2001), 19.3.1.

[31] Lightfoot, Philippians, 102.

[32] Marvin Richardson Vincent, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon, International Critical Commentary (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1897), 16–17.

[33] Ibid.

[34] See note under “Flaws of the Palace View” above.

[35] Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Company, 2011), 79.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Php 1:13.

[38] Holloway, Philippians, 22–23.

[39] Flexsenhar, “The Provenance of Philippians,” 18–45.

[40] Ibid.

[41] F. F. Bruce, Philippians, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Peabody, MA: Baker Books, 2011), 41.

[42] A. Burnett, M. Amandry, P.P. Ripolles, Roman Provincial Coinage, vol. I (The Julio-Claudians) (London: British Museum Press, 1992), 308.          

[43] Ibid.  

[44] Theodore John Cadoux, “Philippi” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed, ed. N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Sculland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 816.

[45] Holloway, Philippians, 88.

[46] Ibid., 308.

[47] Ibid., 88.

[48] Ibid., 88.

[49] Marvin Richardson Vincent, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon, International Critical Commentary (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1897), 52.

[50] Bo Reicke, “Caesarea, Rome, and the Captivity Epistles,” Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce, ed. W. Ward Gasque & Ralph P. Martin (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1970), 284.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Niles Dahl, “The Origin of the Earliest Prologues to the Pauline Letters,” Semeia 12: The Poetics of Faith, Part 1: Rhetoric, Eschatology, and Ethics in the New Testament (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1978), 246.

[54] Reicke, Caesarea, 285.

[55] After being wrongfully beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, Paul asserted his privilege as a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 16:37). This displays Paul’s understanding of the prerogatives of Roman Citizenship and longstanding willingness to face injustice for the Kingdom. Further, the Philippian official’s response speaks to their understanding and respect of Roman citizenship (cf. Acts 16:38–39).

[56] As opposed to the common persecution from Jews, who had a miniscule presence in Philippi (cf. Acts 16).

[57] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 32.

[58] Ibid. 34.


Backgrounds, Surveys, and Introductions

DeSilva, David Arthur. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Magie, David. Roman Rule in Asia Minor to the End of the Third Century after Christ. 2 Vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950.

Concordances, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996.

––––––. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001.

Freedman, David Noel. Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 Vols. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Silva, Moisés, ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis. 5 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick William Danker. Translated by William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Blass, Friedrich, and Albert Debrunner. A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Translated by Robert W. Funk. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.

Hammond, N. G. L. and H. H. Sculland. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Hornblower, Simon, Anthony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.


Hawthorne, Gerald F and Ralph P. Martin. Philippians. Rev. ed. Word Biblical Commentary 43. Dallas: Word Books, 2004.

Lightner, Robert P. “Philippians.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures 2. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Bruce, F. F. Philippians. Understanding the Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.

Bruce F. F. The Books of Acts. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Melick, Richard R. Jr. “Philippians, Colossians, Philemon.” The New American Commentary 32. Edited by David S. Dockery. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1991.

Polhill, John B. “Acts.” The New American Commentary 26. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1992.

Reumann, John. Philippians. Anchor Yale Bible 33B. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Acts of the Apostles. Anchor Yale Bible 31. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

Hansen, G. Walter. The Letter to the Philippians. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Anders, Max. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.

Silva, Moisés. Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.

Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.

Martin, Ralph T. Philippians. Tyndale New Testament Commentary 11. Edited by Leon Morris. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987.

Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentary 5. Edited by Leon Morris. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980.

MacArthur, John. Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2001.

Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd ed. German Bible Society: Stuttgart, 1994.

Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

Witherington III, Ben. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Series. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.

Witherington III, Ben. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Series. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Whitacre, Rodney A. John. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series 4. Edited by Grant R. Osborne. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Fowl, Stephen E. Philippians. The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2005.

Fee, Gordon D. Philippians. The IVP New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Bockmuehl, Markus. The Epistle to the Philippians. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997.

Thompson, James W. and Bruce W. Longenecker. Philippians and Philemon. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016.

Vincent, Marvin. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and Philemon. International Critical Commentary. Edited by Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles Augustus Briggs. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1897.

Barrett, C. K. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Volume 2. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998.

Holloway, Paul A. Philippians: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017.

Keown, Mark J. Philippians: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Edited by H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris, and Andrew W. Pitts. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017.

Reumann, John H. P. Philippians. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

Hawthorne, Gerald F. and Ralph P. Martin. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 43: Philippians. Rev. Ed. Word Biblical Commentary. Thomas Nelson: Edinburgh, 2004.

Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Schnabel, Eckhard J. Acts. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014–2015.

Lightfoot, Joseph Barber. Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament. London: Macmillan and Co., 1913.

Michael, J. Hugh. The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. The Moffatt New Testament Commentary. Edited by James Moffatt. London: Hodder and Stroughton, 1928.

Journals and Dissertations

Gasque, W. Ward., Ralph P. Martin, and F. F. Bruce. Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F. F. Bruce on His 60th Birthday. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970.

Bruce, F. F. “St Paul in Macedonia.” Academic Journal Article (1979): 337–354.

Burnett, A. M., Amandry, P.P. Ripolles, Roman Provincial Coinage, vol. I (The Julio-Claudians). London: British Museum Press, 1992. Reprinted with corrections 1999, reprinted 2006.

Dahl, Nils. “The Origin of the Earliest Prologues to the Pauline Letters.” Semeia 12: The Poetics of Faith, Part 1: Rhetoric, Eschatology, and Ethics in the New Testament. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1978.

Flexsenhar, Michael. “The Provenance of Philippians and Why It Matters: Old Questions, New Approaches.” Journal for the study of the New Testament 42, no. 1 (September 2019): 18–45.

Reicke, Bo. “Caesarea, Rome, and the Captivity Epistles.” Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce. Edited by W. Ward Gasque & Ralph P. Martin. Exeter, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1970.

Translated Volumes

Eusebius. “Ecclesiastical History, Books 1–5.” In the Fathers of the Church 19. Edited by Roy Joseph Deferrari. Translated by Roy Joseph Deferrari. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953.

Jerome. “Against Palagians.” In Dogmatic and Polemical Works. Translated by John N. Hritzu. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1965.

Rufinus. History of the Church. The Fathers of the Church 133. Translated by Philip R. Amidon. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2016.

Herodotus. The Persian Wars. 8 Vols. The Loeb Classical Library: English. Translated by A. D. Godley. London: Heinemann, 1922.  

Appian. Roman History, Volume I. Loeb Classical Library. Edited and translated by Brian McGing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019.

Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Translated by William Whiston. Project Gutenberg, 2001.