While reading the Epistle to the Philipians in Wikipedia found the following remark

Starting in the 1960s, a general consensus has emerged among biblical scholars that Philippians was not written as one unified letter, but is rather a compilation of fragments from three separate letters from Paul to the church in Philippi. (Sellew, Philip (January 1994). ""Laodiceans" and the Philippians Fragments Hypothesis". Harvard Theological Review. 87 (1): 17–28.)

Is Phillipians a combination of more than one letter?

  • It can't be proven definitively either way. In what way would it matter?
    – David D
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 21:50
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    The article in Wikipedia is self-contradictory by stating (1) there is a general consensus about Philippians being a compilation, and, (b) "a number of scholars believe this" and (3) no clear consensus about who compiled Philippians.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 21:53
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    @DavidD it can have various implications. For example, if we see to be more than one based on arguments focusing in transitions, then we it leaves space to explore the "why?". Also, if it's a compilation, then it becomes a substantial precedent. Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 22:02
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    I disagree with the proposed closure reason regarding the Q not referencing a specific passage. This kind of authorship and text origination question belongs squarely in the hermeneutics field of study, and for a text as small as Philippians seems appropriately scoped. If there was agreement that the question is too vague or widely scoped to be answerable, we would normally suggest splitting it out into more specific questions - but in this case that kind of approach seems like overkill.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 11:46
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    The Wikipedia article is definitely a combination of several sources, as are most Wikipedia articles. Whether Phillippians is too, is another matter ;-) Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 0:21

1 Answer 1


It has become commonplace in recent scholarship to try to split ancient letters into multiple parts, and claim that the letters as we have them to today are composites of multiple originals (e.g. Romans, 2 Corinthians, Polycarp, etc. have been accused of this).

I agree with Dottard's point in the comments that the Wikipedia argument contradicts itself.

These theories--including composite theories regarding Philippians--suffer from 4 major shortcomings:

  1. They are supported by 0 manuscript evidence. As it relates to Philippians, every manuscript in every language treats Philippians as 1 letter
  2. They are supported by 0 citations by early historians. Not only does the Muratorian fragment explicitly indicate that Romans & Philippians are single letters (not composites), but nowhere is there any hint that the early church ever had to debate this--all references to Philippians in the Patristic writings are of a single letter
  3. They treat authors as robotic entities who only think about one thing at a time. How many times in the present day does someone write a letter as long as Philippians and cover one and only one topic?
  4. They ignore the flow & structure of the letters. Philippians follows much the same structure of Paul's other letters; breaking it into pieces would disassemble what the author has created, and leave individual pieces that do not constitute full, Pauline letters on their own.

For a look at what a genuine composite letter looks like, consider the long recensions of the letters of Ignatius. The composite nature and later date of the long recensions leave a mark on the manuscript evidence.

Is Philippians a compilation of letters?

This is very doubtful. The theory has more to do with imaginative revisionist history than it does with historical evidence.

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